The study of global politics includes exploring the different ways the world is connected. One way global politics is connected is through regionalism. Countries face similar problems all over the world. Regionalism is a method that is used to tackle them. We will explore what regionalism is, the different types of regionalism, the significance of regionalism in globalisation, regional governance and state sovereignty.

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Table of contents

    Regionalism: Definition

    Regionalism is all about teamwork! Have a look at the definition below to understand why.


    Regionalism is the idea that political power and influence is strengthened in specific geographic regions by the unity of nation-states known as ‘blocks’. They are united by their shared goals, incentives, interests and aims.

    The main reason there has been an increase in regionalism is a result of the increasing interconnectedness of the world. In recent times, we have seen issues arise which have needed a worldwide effort and for this reason some countries are choosing to work together, forming institutions such as the European Union (EU). This results in an increase in regionalism.

    Cold War 1980, Regionalism, StudySmarterCold War 1980, NightRider6658, CC-BY-SA-4.0 via Wikimedia Commons

    It can be said that regionalism originated after the end of World War Two and during the Cold War, in order to gain economic stability, increase regional stability and increase political influence.

    During the Cold War there were not multiple blocks but rather two distinct blocks. This increased the partnership between nation-states and increased globalisation.

    Regionalism examples

    There are key actors within regionalism, which include:

    1. Trade blocks: a group of countries in a geographical region who maintain good trade relations:

    Members of the European Union are part of a trade block, whereby they form a single market and tariffs as reduced.

    2. International organisations: organisations which work on a global scale to form treaties and agreements between states:

    The United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change works to form agreements between countries on how to tackle climate change.

    3. Supranational organisation: a multinational union that influences and forms agreements collectively:

    The World Trade Organisation is a supranational organisation as it is involved with trade rules of its member states.

    Characteristics of regionalism

    Let's explore the three main characteristics of regionalism: economics, security and politics.

    Characteristics of regionalism: Economic

    This form of regionalism focuses on economic and financial aspects, called trade blocs. Trade blocks usually form free trade agreements, whereby states agree to reduce or even abolish taxes, tariffs and embargoes to increase trade between states and help strengthen their economy.

    The Comprehensive and Progressive Agreement for Trans-Pacific Partnership (CPTPP) is a trade deal between Australia, Brunei, Canada, Chile, Japan, Malaysia, Mexico, New Zealand, Peru, Singapore, and Vietnam.

    Characteristics of regionalism: Security

    This form of regionalism focuses on peace and security. Security regionalism can be seen in efforts to increase allies in order to avoid war and unite against a common enemy.

    This was seen to be the reason why the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) was created in order to unite against the growth of communism in South-East Asia and the creation of the North Atlantic Treaty Organisation (NATO), which was formed to defeat communism during the cold war.

    Characteristics of regionalism: Political

    This form of regionalism focuses on the shared aims of the nation-states and also work on any issues that any state may face. It can be regarded as a deeper form of regionalisation as they tend to share culture and values. Political regionalism usually has long-term plans to encourage greater integration between regional nation-states.

    This can be seen with the African Union (AU) and the Arab League whose formation was to serve the purpose of political regionalism.

    Overall, it can be argued that all three forms of regionalism are interconnected and overlap, and although some institutions form for one purpose they can progress into others as well. This can be seen in the EU, which has developed policies that cover the economy, security and politics.

    Regionalism in world politics

    Regionalism has a significant place in global politics. As a block of countries united, they are able to have significant worldwide policies, which we will be exploring in the context of globalisation.

    Earth, Regionalism, StudySmarterEarth, NASA, PD NASA via Wikimedia Commons

    Globalisation is the process that has led to the relationship between individuals, companies and governments throughout the world. This trend leads to greater global interconnectedness.

    Regionalism and globalisation

    The main aim of globalisation is to increase the interconnectedness of the world, and regionalism is a way in which this can be obtained, especially as regionalism already includes a number of states.

    In one respect the ‘blocks’ of regionalism aid globalisation as they encourages greater integration between regional states. For instance, when regional states reach a political consensus on shared laws, such as EU immigration, this can encourage key aspects of globalisation, such as the interstate movements of goods, people and services.

    Regional blocks

    A group of countries in a geographical region who share similar political aims

    The European Union has a single market, this means most trade barriers have been removed, which benefits the citizens of states and they have lower costs and a variety of choices.

    For instance, the European Union has a set of standards for pharmaceutical production so drugs can easily be transported within the member block. Additionally, the EU has also established a set of 'white list' countries such as Japan and Australia where they would need less documentation in order to import drugs. This enables globalisation as these countries are easily available to import and export drugs with less restriction.

    In addition, regionalism has the same goals as globalisation but just a smaller version of it. It therefore seeks to encourage and enable globalisation. The fact that most regional blocks have the same aims and values also makes this process easier.

    An organisation such as the Association of Southeast Asian Nations wants to increase trade within their block. This goes hand-in-hand with the goal of increasing trade between countries in terms of globalisation

    Flag map of the EU, Regionalism, StudySmarterFlag map of EU, own via Wikimedia Commons

    However, it is important to note that regionalism and globalisation don't always go hand in hand. This is because regional blocks are primarily interested in their own collective goals and often these can diverge with the interests of globalisation. For example, a region may want to focus on investing sustainable energy only within their block and not with the rest of the world.

    Additionally, regional economic prosperity is a central goal of regionalism and therefore this can mean that regional blocks prioritise their own economies ahead of interconnected global trade. Such a trend prevents wider cooperation between states and instead splits the world into different areas of economic collaboration.

    Advantages of regionalism

    So far, we have explored regionalism, its history and the relationship between regionalism and globalisation, so what are the advantages of regionalism?

    Advantages of regionalism

    An increase in regionalism helps manage states easily and gives a voice to smaller, less politically prominent states.

    It encourages regional governments to collaborate, pool resources and approach challenges more effectively. This is particularly relevant to large, global issues such as the ongoing climate crisis.

    Cooperation between regional states can boost economic prosperity, or increase the political stability and security of a region.

    Can provide benefits to citizens, such as freedom of regional movement or access to cheaper goods and services.

    Disadvantages of regionalism

    It is important to note that while regionalism can have its disadvantages. Take a look at the table below to explore these. When considering these analytical points, think about how you could apply these to many of the examples we've discussed throughout the article.

    Disadvantages of regionalism

    Interconnectedness between states can blur the lines between the cultural, political and economic identities and sovereignty of nation-states. Sovereignty describes the authority of a state to govern itself. For instance, during the EU referendum campaign in the UK, many politicians advocated for Brexit based on the argument that membership of the European Union had eroded domestic control over UK laws.

    Despite representing many nation-states, regional organisations can become dominated by a region's largest and richest countries.

    Despite belonging to regional blocks, nation-states can disagree on key political, economic and cultural decisions. This can result in deadlocks and inaction.

    Regionalism - Key takeaways

    • Regionalism is the idea that political power and influence is increased in specific geographic regions by the unity of nation-states known as ‘blocks’. They are united by their shared goals, incentives, interests and aims.

    • The main reason why there has been an increase in regionalism is as a result of the increasing interconnectedness of the world.

    • There are three forms of regionalism: economic, political and security.

    • Regionalism enables globalisation as it makes things easier to handle as there are fewer barriers. It is a smaller version of globalisation.

    • An increase of regionalism helps manage states easily and gives a voice to smaller less politically prominent states, it helps the security and economy of states and makes it easier to help on global problems such as climate change.

    Frequently Asked Questions about Regionalism

    What is the purpose of regionalism?

    The purpose of regionalism is to strengthen political power and influence in specific geographic regions.

    What is an example of regionalism? 

    A key example of regionalism can be seen in the European Union, which is known as one of the most established forms of regionalism in the world.

    What is regionalism in simple terms?

    Regionalism is the idea that political power and influence is strengthened in specific geographic regions.

    Is regionalism good for democracy?

    There are varying opinions. Some argue that it decreases democracy as state sovereignty is lost, whereas some argue it decreases democracy as smaller states who are less politically prominent to have a bigger voice.

    How is regionalism different from globalisation?

    Regionalism is different from globalisation as regionalism focuses on states from a specific geographical area, whereas globalisation focuses on the whole world.

    Test your knowledge with multiple choice flashcards

    When was regionalism said to have started?

    What is regionalism?

    Which form of regionalism considers a variety of state and non-state actors (such as NGOs and businesses)?


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    Team Regionalism Teachers

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