Regional Approaches to Peace Conflict and Development

Regional Approaches to Peace Conflict and Development

Regions are groups of states tied together by common characteristics. Regional groupings promote common interests, give states stronger negotiating power, and can defend member states from aggression. The success of regional institutions is determined by their goals, with some institutions performing better than others. Despite their mixed record, regional institutions are likely to remain important players in global affairs.

Meaning and Concept of Region

Each continent is divided into several groups of people tied together with similar climates, histories, cultures, and languages. A group of states within proximity to each other may be considered a region constituting a unit for geographical, functional, or historical reasons.

To Bruce Russett, a region is constituted by a group of states with common characteristics, such as social and cultural homogeneity and economic interdependence, as evidenced by intra-regional trade and geographic proximity.

Others have canvassed certain factors, such as geographical contiguity, historical patterns of political interaction, common political ideas, religion, moral values, class structure, and common aspirations.

Sheila Page defines a region as “a group of countries which have created a legal framework of cooperation covering an extensive economic relationship, with the intention that it will be of indefinite duration and with the possibility foreseen that the region will evolve or change.”

The main organs of the UN are represented on a regional basis.

The fact that Kofi Annan has been a Secretary-General since 1997 is due to the fact that he represents Africa. [Former Secretary-General Boutros Boutros-Ghali (1992-96) was not considered an African as he belonged to Egypt].

Of the 15 judges of the UN International Court of Justice, 4 are from Asia, 3 from Europe, and 2 each from Latin America and Africa, besides 4 from the members of the Security Council. The non-permanent members of the Security Council are elected on a region-wise basis (2 are from Asia – in 2005 Japan and the Philippines represented Asia in the Council).

Compulsions and Consequences of Regional Groupings

In the existing political environment, a question may be asked as to how a state can control its own destiny in an increasingly interdependent world. Can it exercise “real” instead of just “nominal” power over its territory?

To protect statehood, they need to seek cooperation and assistance from neighboring or regional states. It is a political reality that a state can wield more power if it acts together with a group of states. That is why regional groupings occur within a region to promote common interests.

The compulsions and the consequences of regional groupings of states can be, among others, described as follows:

  • A regional group acting together can have more military power than other groups of states.
  • A visible regional grouping can command more commercial interests.
  • A regional grouping gives them stronger negotiating power.
  • A regional grouping between states with different interests allows the states to “trade” or to “sell” their support for issues that are important to other members in exchange for support for issues that are important to themselves.
  • A regional grouping can collectively defend a member state from any aggression.

The term “common security” of a regional grouping of states embraces not only security from aggression but also economic, social, cultural, and resource issues. They must defend all these interests at all costs. In defining a secure future, predictability is an important ingredient.

Given this fact, achieving peace with security is the goal of each state.

The Cold War era gave rise to many regional groupings or umbrella structures in all continents. These institutions have the following common aims;

  • Promotion of regional investment.
  • Trading arrangements.
  • Common immigration policy.
  • Promotion of shipping/transport/communication links.
  • Promotion of environmental and resource management policy.
  • Conflict resolution/mediation/peacekeeping and peacebuilding.

Success of Regional Institutions

Success is determined by the achievement of its stated purposes and goals. The regional institutions are ordinarily set up with high hopes and noble objectives, and often, they could not live up to their expectations. Many political observers believe that regional institutions, except the European Union and ASEAN, have not been able to achieve the goals.

Other regional institutions, such as the Arab League, SAARC, African Unity, and OAS, performed poorly.

ASEAN made progress in regional cooperation in both economic and political areas. ASEAN had adopted a common policy towards the Vietnam War in the 60s and the 70s. There exists a sense of regional common interest or identity.

By moving from economic cooperation to a common security strategy, ASEAN demonstrates that strong regional ties have been built. Political analysts believe that despite the poor record of some regional institutions, there are strong reasons that they will remain to confront issues of global affairs. Regional trading groups are being constituted worldwide and are likely to move towards more integration.

In the South Asian context, the South Asian Preferential Trade Agreement (SAPTA) has been converted into the South Asian Free Trade Agreement (SAFTA).

Regional institutions have a critical role to play in the Doha Round of trade negotiations of the World Trade Organization (WTO), which commenced in November 2001. It was reported that virtually every member country of the WTO belonged to at least one regional economic grouping.

Regional states have engaged themselves to protect the regional environment, prevent and control communicable diseases, and cooperate with each other to prevent or control natural disasters.

Regular regional monitoring of weather has helped states in the region to receive early warnings of natural calamities. Illegal trafficking in drugs and women and children is being coordinated region-wise. Terrorism is also being handled region-wise for security.

Peacemaking and Conflict Resolution by Regional Institutions

Peace is imperative for economic growth and development. Regional states must ensure that all inter-state disputes within the region are settled peacefully. Conflict resolution is not about strategic deterrence; it is a practical response to solving conflicts.

It is about using predictive decision making to avoid conflict. Inter-state problems require a solution, not suppression. Creative solution is possible when there is recognition that the consequences of conflicts are against long-term costs.

Many of the current conflicts in the developing world are a direct consequence of the past. For instance, the Kashmir dispute between India and Pakistan was a creation of British authorities.

If the district “Gurdaspur” of the Punjab province was not given to India by the British at the time of partition of British India in 1947, there would not have been a road communication between Kashmir valley and India, and possibly conflict on the territory would not have arisen.

There are many approaches to conflict resolution. Conflict resolution is not simply resorting to peaceful methods of settlement such as negotiation, mediation, and conciliation.

It is to be appreciated that with all the possible goodwill and skilled mediation, deep-rooted conflict is not likely to be resolved unless confidence-building measures are first adopted.

Some authors suggest that the role of a third party in conflict resolution must be an innovative one, drawing attention to human aspirations, questioning the assumptions made by the parties, inducing consideration of issues that do not emerge in mediation and bargaining situations.

The question is: can a regional institution resolve conflicts? It can be argued that regional organizations have opportunities to resolve problems in more constructive and problem-solving ways than have been attempted in the past.

The confidence-building measures among member states envisage creating trust among states that result in peace and harmony in the region. The UN document Agenda For Peace (1992) concentrated on “four P’s” – preventive diplomacy, peacemaking, peacekeeping, and peacebuilding. In the late 80s, nearly one-fourth of all conflicts were dealt with by international and regional organizations.

It is acknowledged that regional conflicts require regional solutions, and regional solutions require regional responsibility

President Carter underscored the need for the role of non-governmental organizations in conflict resolution. Central to the effectiveness of NGOs in easing tension is their credibility with warring parties. The role of some regional organizations in conflict resolution is described below:


The Association of South East Asian Nations (ASEAN) was established in 1967 by five countries, namely, Indonesia, Malaysia, the Philippines, Thailand, and Singapore. The Bangkok Declaration of 1967 envisaged regional cooperation among the countries in the region.

Its immediate objective was economic cooperation to accelerate economic growth and to promote regional peace and stability. Later, another five countries, namely, Brunei (1984), Vietnam (1995), Laos and Myanmar (1997), and Cambodia (1999) joined the organization.

It is noted that although its aims were directed at economic cooperation, in the late 60s there was fear of communism spreading in the region from Vietnam.

Political observers believe that the formation of ASEAN was to deter communist influence in the region by making concerned efforts to exploit natural resources to improve the quality of life of people so that they did not fall victim to the ideology of communism.

ASEAN accepted its regional responsibility and diplomatically intervened in Cambodia and coordinated its actions with the UN in peace-building measures in Cambodia from 1993 to 1998.

It was able to diffuse tension concerning conflicting claims over Spratly Islands in the South China Sea of Brunei, Vietnam, the Philippines, China, and Malaysia. ASEAN assisted to ease tension between Myanmar government and the Opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi.

As a result, she was released from detention in 2002 after 19 months of house arrest, although she was planned into house-arrest again. The ASEAN Foreign Ministers signed an Anti-Terrorist Agreement with the US in 2002 that would give access to US expertise and finances to destroy the terrorist network in the region.

African Union (AU) [Former Organization of African Unity (OAU)] The Organization of African Unity was established in 1963 in Addis Ababa (Ethiopia) to look after the interests of all 53 African countries. The organization was built on the idea of promoting Pan-Africanism.

However, its cherished goals were not met because some of the leaders of the newly independent countries became dictatorial and disregarded the interests of the people. In 2002, OAU has changed its name to the African Union (AU).

During the 1967 secessionist movement of creating an independent state, “Biafra,” in eastern Nigeria, OAU supported the territorial integrity of Nigeria, and the secessionist movement was defeated in 1970. The Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) deployed its soldiers in Sierra Leone and Ivory Coast for the maintenance of peace.

A contingent of a 1,264-strong peacekeeping force from ECOWAS arrived on 17 January 2003 in Ivory Coast to diffuse tension between rebels and government forces in Ivory Coast. South Africa agreed in principle in January 2003 to send its troops to Burundi as part of an African Union force which comprised of troops from Ethiopia and Mozambique.

OAU was able to achieve a peaceful solution to the conflicts in the Democratic Republic of Congo (formerly Zaire) in 2003. The UN maintained close contact with OAU/AU. The appointment of a joint UN/OAU Special Representative for the Great Lakes region in central Africa to keep peace was an instance in point.

Organization of American States (OAS) The Organization of American States was formally launched in 1948. It aims at regional solidarity and cooperation.

This is the only regional organization of which a superpower (the US) is one of the members. The organization’s solidarity has been marred by continuing antagonism between the US and Cuba.

However, the OAS had played a constructive role in mediating between the US and Nicaragua in the mid-80s that preventing overt military conflict between the US and Nicaragua. OAS was involved in a peacekeeping mission in Haiti from 1993-96.

The above paragraphs demonstrate that many regional organizations have been able to remain as a group with common interests over a wide range of matters.

Some authors suggest that developing country groups that do not have the institutional strength and identity of the more advanced regions will have the disadvantage of being fluctuating groups without internal stability or the external negotiating power given by a mature regional group.


At the initiative of Bangladesh’s President Ziaur Rahman in 1977, the South Asian Association For Regional Cooperation (SAARC) was formally established in 1985 in Dhaka with seven member-states, namely, Bangladesh, Bhutan, India, Maldives, Nepal, Pakistan, and Sri Lanka.

The Charter of SAARC does not envisage any role in settling bilateral disputes, and that is why SAARC has been a silent spectator to many disputes among member-states of SAARC.