Regional Integration and Regional Orders. Power Configurations and Asymmetries

Essay, 2011
11 Pages, Grade: 2.0
Ron Böhler (Author)


`[T]he long history of failed regional agreements in South America and some
developments in the integration process have raised some doubts about the
capacity of bloc members to accomplish their ambitious intentions' (de Azevedo
2004, p. 585). The hesitant progress in Latin Amerian regional integration
(Mercosur) caused increasing distrust if the uneven distribution of power
resources and abilities within the region can lead to successful and steady
integration processes. Is the regional hegemon Brazil perhaps too powerful in
order to let this demanding project succeed?
Power configurations in regional orders are, so will be argued, a double-
edged sword: While asymmetric power structures are possibly a prerequisite for
deepening integration processes, but they can also cause conflict between less
powerful states on the one hand and leading ones on the other. According to
power transition theory (Kugler and Organski 1989), satisfaction about the
prevalent power structures among actors can be assumed to be the second
precondition for effective integration. Conflict is then guaranteed when power
parity between two or more dissatisfied actors is established. Both perspectives
will be discussed and assessed in the subsequent sections, after the concept of
power in multilateral relations is defined and asymmetries detected. Two
examples, the European Union and Mercosur, shall exemplify the efficacies and
tensions behind imbalanced power structures among regional powers and their
will and ability to integrate further.

& T
Some states are more powerful than others. Their predominance is based on the
uneven distribution of resources and capacities. While some states accumulate
high economic potential, others possess huge military resources and men power
or spread cultural and normative values, which is often referred to as soft power
(Nye 1990; Nye 2008). Other states, such as the United States, consolidate power
in all of these aspects.
In regional orders, such as the European Union (EU), the African Union
(AU), the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN), or the Common
Market of the South (Mercosur), power configurations are one of the key factors
of success or failure of regional integration processes. In this essay, instead of
traditional integration approaches power transition theory shall be applied.
Power transition is hereby defined as the `asymmetry in power after a change in
the distribution of capabilities within a regional hierarchy' (Efird and Genna
2002, p. 269). Accordingly, power transition theory provides a convincing
attempt to explain regional integration processes along power distributions and
asymmetries in and beyond Europe. It is based upon three distinctive
assumptions of international relations: a) the international system is not a
system under anarchical disorder but fragmented in a hierarchical pyramid with
dominant nations, great, middle and small powers underneath and colonies at
the bottom, b) states are in steady competition over dwindling resources, and c)
states aspire net gains rather then maximizing their power (Kugler and Organski
1989, p. 172-173). At this point, the theory rejects balance-of-power theory,
which assumes that states will in any case pursue absolute power gains
(Morgenthau 1993, pp. 183-216).

The second crucial variable to explain the tendency of states to either
cooperate or engage in conflict is the degree of satisfaction with international
power configurations: `peace in the international order is assured by the
dominant nation with the support of the great powers that are satisfied with the
distribution of benefits and the rules by which it is run' (ibid., p. 173). Efird and
Genna easily transferred this approach from peace studies to generalized
regional integration theory (2002). The authors terminologically replaced peace
with integration and conflict with disintegration or stagnation. In their
adaptation, power asymmetries after a change in the allocation of capabilities
within the regional hierarchy, that is a power transition, is more likely to end in
integration than is pre-transition asymmetry (ibd., p. 269). Integration thus
becomes more likely given an asymmetric power structure between two
countries as well as overall satisfaction between the dyads about the status quo
(ibid., p. 274-275). As transnational growth rates never develop evenly, the
subordinate country may surpass the preponderant one. This is assumed to be
satisfactory to the former subaltern country, which benefitted from the
cooperative composition. Power asymmetry and satisfaction with the status quo
more or less form a symbiosis. Efird and Genna conclude that,
`[a]s satisfaction increases and power remains asymmetrical, cooperation
may be the better option for maximizing the attainment of goals because
countries tend to be synergistic in satisfied dyads. Therefore, integration
intensifies as countries become more jointly satisfied' (ibid., p. 273).
The other way around, dissatisfaction is accordingly not conducive to the
integration process.

': T
The history of the European Union provides appropriate examples of how power
distribution and disparities lead to successful integration in case of satisfaction
with power asymmetries among the participants and failed integration in case of
dissatisfaction. The Franco-German axis has often been referred to as a promoter
of integration (Wood 1995, p. p. 221; Pedersen 1998). Efird´s and Genna´s study
indicates that the political developments leading to the foundation of Europe´s
Economic and Monetary Union (EMU) can be traced back to the 1950s and are
significantly influenced by the German-French bond throughout the decades
(2002, pp. 285-288). According to the theoretical expectations, deepening
integration took place under satisfaction of both actors and came to nothing
under dissatisfaction. The negotiations leading to the Treaty on European Union
(TEU), which included EMU, shall serve as a successful example.
In the early 1990s, Germany and France agreed on the idea for the TEU.
Not at least because of its reunification in 1990 has Germany acquired ever more
the dominant role in Europe at that time. It established the status quo for the
introduction of the single currency, although France believed the franc to be
more important than the Deutsche Mark (Dinan 2005, pp. 118-121). It was
nevertheless France and Germany, who more or less set the agenda. Not least
because of Jacques Delors, who proposed as president of the European
Commission at that time the creation of an autonomous European System of
Central Banks (ESCB) as well as a European Central Bank (ECB). France´s
worries about German economic strengths after 1990 vanished quickly for the
certainty of self-committed cooperation (ibid., pp. 121-123). French satisfaction
with German´s leading role prior to the entry into force of the TEU is explained
Excerpt out of 11 pages


Regional Integration and Regional Orders. Power Configurations and Asymmetries
University of Bath
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Region, Integration, Orders, South America, Latin America, Brazil, Power
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Ron Böhler (Author), 2011, Regional Integration and Regional Orders. Power Configurations and Asymmetries, Munich, GRIN Verlag,


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