Mainstream and Alternative Approaches to Regional Subsystems

Small Logo By: Andrew Korybko

Mainstream and Alternative Approaches to Regional Subsystems

Multipolarity, Big Spaces, Eurasianism, Ethnogenesis, and the Clash of Civilizations

[The following brief is from a series in our exclusive collection of the previously unpublished notes and works of the author – Ed. (JV Capone)]

old-english-calligraphy-alphabet-the mainstream approach towards regional subsystem (RSS) formation is that it is formed on the common perception of friends vs. enemies, amity vs enmity. Buzan and Weaver also state that a RSS is a so-called “structured region” that may not necessarily be geographically contiguous. Continuing along the tangent of a RSS being created through perceptions (the constructivist IR school), then it is evident that there most definitely exists RSS in North America and Europe. North America (the US, Canada, and to a large extent, Mexico) have the same perceptions of threats and challenges. All three states also cooperate extensively in their economic relations via NAFTA, reinforcing the liberalist theory that institutional measures may bring states closer together through shared interests.

1393162473821Europe, in the context of the EU, contains a myriad of states, but by and large, none of the members have any uncontrollable enmity towards one another. They do not view the governments of fellow EU members as threats to their security, although they may have internalized certain stereotypes about their neighbors that affect their dealings with other ethnic groups.  Nonetheless, none of the EU member states are preparing for war against one another, and any type of rivalry between them is principally economic, not military.

o.w wolters

Dr. O. W. Wolters

Grant Evans, in his review of O.W. Wolters’ book, speaks about three types of formations: regions, nation-states, and cultural areas. Within regions, there are political, economic, cultural, and academic exchanges between the nation-states constituting the said region. This interplay between various intangible factors can reinforce a sense of regional identity.

It is debatable whether or not nation-states are the primary actor within these regional constructions, as Taylor (in Evans’ review of Wolters) criticizes what he feels to be an inappropriate focus on “the nation” by certain historians when analyzing various regions (such as Southeast Asia). Cultural areas were not explicitly termed that way by Wolters, but he did expand upon their idea.  They are understood as areas with “widespread cultural traits”. Wolters addresses the difference between the “localization” of foreign cultural elements versus cultural borrowing. An example of the former would be the influence of Chinese culture on Vietnam, whereas the latter could bolster traditional ideas at the expense of a fundamental shift in the native culture.

If one analyses RSS on the basis of cultural areas, then provocatively, it can proclaimed that Southern and Eastern Ukraine, on the basis of their culture, belong in a RSS influenced by Russia. Looking at the Middle East through the perspective of this theory, then the Gulf Kingdoms could form their own RSS.


Professor Dr. Barry Buzan

(Dr. Barry) Buzan postulates that the world is moving towards multipolarity, which he sees as becoming a multi-centered core that can facilitate more points of contact for the periphery. Although describing a certain “concentric circle”-based model to explain the US’ first war against Iraq in 1991, he does not feel that this structure will repeat itself in the future. Instead, he addresses the possibility of a series of regional and economic spheres blossoming around the EU, Japan, and North America. Channeling the “Clash of Civilizations” approach, Buzan sees Islam as a rising anti-Westernization ideology, and he feels that it could come into conflict not only with the West, but also with the Hindus to its civilizational east. This may even result in the occurrence of what he terms a “civilizational cold war”. Internally, immigration flows from the (Islamic) periphery may disrupt the social character of Western (European) states and inhibit their ability to reproduce their culture and traditions as they are prone to do. The result of this development would be a type of internal clash of civilizations.

Lucian Pye

Dr. Lucian Pye

(Dr. Lucian) Pye touches upon some of the intrinsic characteristics of Asian cultures, generally theorizing that Western approaches are not only foreign to the region, but also largely inappropriate for analyzing developments there. Asia is traditionally known for its hierarchical society and respect for authority, and the nation-state has not been the primary unit of governance. Instead, this falls upon the shoulders of empires, shogunates, kingdoms, and tribal gatherings.

In the case of Southeast Asia, the region never had any formalized system of interstate relations owing to the absolute lack of states throughout its history. The idea of nation-states is very foreign to the region, and Pye even quips that “China is a civilization pretending to be a nation-state”.  Asian countries that are searching for a national identity are recommended to create new national myths based upon the collective memories of the people. Some countries will have more difficulty with this than others, as for example, Japan is still in collective denial over its memory of relations towards Asia during World War II.  Pye concludes by stating that the plethora of cultures in Asia are currently undergoing existential changes in order to better incorporate themselves into the modern political system.


Dr. Lev Gumilev

Naarden’s exposition about Gumilev sheds some light on the principle foundations of Eurasianism, of which the philosopher-writer is attributed as being one of the creative influences.  Gumilev writes deeply about the influence of the ethnos and ethnogenesis throughout the history of mankind, and he uniquely describes the Tatar Yoke as a positive development in Russia’s history that shielded the Eurasian civilization from corruptive Western influences.

Taken together with Mackinder’s 1904 “Heartland” theory and Haushofer (the father of modern geopolitics), Gumilev forms the third wheel of Eurasian geopolitical thought.

Alexandr Dugin, political scientist, philosopher. 2008

Dr. Alexander Dugin, political scientist, philosopher

Eurasianism interprets history as an enormous episode of the Sea versus the Land, which  Alexander Dugin later reformulates as Atlanticism versus Eurasianism (Continentalism).  On the web portal, Dugin continues his geopolitical musings by predicting the future creation of “Great/Big Spaces” that follow civilizational patterns. He believes that this will be a macroregional precursor towards the formulation of a multipolar world. As for Gumilev, one of his ideas that has the most universal application is the suggestion that Russia’s (or any country’s, for that matter) national and ethnic identification and past can influence future actions and groupings.

In 2008, John McCain, advocating the idea initially proposed by James Lindsay in 2004, supported the creation of a League of Democracies, an idea which would have essentially divided the world into “democratic” and “non-democratic” (in the subjective Western understanding of the name) states. In this sense, the ideology of internal governance would have become a focal point for the creation of global alliances which most certainly would have had regional implications. The reinsertion (if it has not been done so already) of ideology into global politics can polarize (or in the sense of multiple ideologies, fragment) regions along certain fault lines, and each ideological center could theoretically assert some degree of influence upon its client.

To summarize, Buzan and Weaver’s constructivist approach towards shared values and norms being the foundation for RSS continues to be the mainstream approach towards the issue. Wolters sees cultural areas as having the potential to create large regional systems, and this could also theoretically filter down to the sub-regional level.  Buzan’s 1991 writing suggests that regional structures can form around the leaders of a multipolar world, which during his time he specifically saw as the EU, North America, and Japan. Samuel Huntington would later go on to write his 1996 book about the “Clash of Civilizations”, proclaiming that macroregional civilizations will likely come to blows in the future. Peripheral states may be caught up in the competition between civilizations as well. Pye presents more questions than answers about Asia’s possibility to form regional subsystems, and his selecting article posits that Asian identity and cultural practice is so vastly different than that of the West, that it is hard for Westerners to comprehend its currently transformative nature.

[This leads to the following questions for further inquiry:]

What situations and/or contexts could potentially disprove/challenge or support/affirmBuzan and Weaver’s mainstream theory of RSS?

How do culture, civilization, and identity influence the formation of RSS? Can these factors become the primary catalysts for RSS integration?

What are one’s predictions for the formation of RSS in East and Southeast Asia (if any)? Around what ideas or which states will they be centered? What are the fulcrums and insulators of these RSS?

Which ideologies can be used to create RSS? How likely is it that the League of Democracies concept will de-factor/jure be placed into motion (if it has not been already)? What would the consequences be? Can any other ideologies oppose it? What is needed to combat Liberal-Democracy on the normative and moral fronts?

How does Eurasianism compare to the Clash of Civilizations? How do these two ideas differ? Which is more likely – a clash of civilizations or a conversation of civilizations?


Works Referenced:


Barry Buzan. New Patterns of Global Security in the 21 Century, International Affairs, 67 (3), pp. 431-51


Evans, Grant. Between the Local and the Global There are Regions, Cultural Areas, and NationalStates. Review of History, Culture and Region in Southeast Asian Perspectives, by O.W. Wolters. Journal of Southeast Asian Studies 33, 2002, no.1, pp. 1467-161


Naarden, Bruno (1996) “’I’m a Genius, But Not More Than That’. Lev Gumilev (1912-1992), Ethnogenesis, the Russian Past and World History”, Jahrbucher fur Geschichte Osteuropas, New Folge, 44, 1,  54-82


Pye, Lucian W. International Relations in Asia^ Culture, Nation and State.Sigur Center Asia Papers no.1.Washington, D.C.SigurCenter for Asian Studies, GeorgeWashingtonUniversity, 1998


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3 thoughts on “Mainstream and Alternative Approaches to Regional Subsystems

  1. How can Eurasianism ever hope to create an independent track when its entire theoretical framework is derived from “Anglo-(Jewish-occupied)-American” sources?

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