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Maria Lagutina

The Global Region: a Concept for understanding Regional Processes in Global Era

(2020 Special Issue)
Open Access


This article develops a new concept “global region” intro-duced by the Russian school of regional studies. It offers a new approach to the study of the process of regional structures formation in the era of globalization. Major trend of regionalization nowadays is its global character and the emergence of a large variety of regional, interregional and transregional relations. At the same time, taking into account all variety of forms and levels of development of regional relations, it is possible to identify some general features of new regional forms, which are defined in this article as “global regions”. These general characteristics are the “multiplicity” of integration spac-es, multi-level governance, supranationality, transnational network linkages and institutionalization. This term takes us away from a narrow geographical understanding of regional entities and reflects the functional characteristics of modern regional relations in differ-ent parts of the world. The formation of global regions takes place within the framework of the so-called “global regionalization”, as a result of which a “multilevel structure” of the world system is formed, where along with the nation-state regions are becoming its key elements.


1Currently two processes, globalization and regionalization, have been considered as the leading trends shaping developments across the world. Importantly, the two trends for a while were considered as opposed to each other (Gilpin, 1987; Thurow, 1992). The world order that emerged after WWII was mainly aimed at the creation and development of glob-al mechanisms of international cooperation, the basis of which was the United Nations (UN). The second half of the 20th century became a period of an “active globalization”, whose purpose was to form a single world, similar to the “universal free market, where representative democracies grew and countries were united in regional blocs” (Troyjo, 2017). At the same time, the formation of regional blocs was considered as a process parallel to globalization because it resulted in the formation of alternative centers and mechanisms to global governance – regional governance.

2However, nowadays globalization and regionalization have been re-garded as complementary processes. Regional approach has been actively deployed in the framework of the UN (Burmester and Jankowski, 2014), i.e. regional organizations are involved in the UN’s peacekeeping activi-ties and used as a platform for member states of the Security Council and the General Assembly to agree on common regional positions. Regional-ization is seen as a reaction of the developing countries to the processes of globalization and, on the one hand, contradicts it in that, unlike glo-balization, it “entails the creation of several interacting and competing integration groups providing for multipolar governance of the world sys-tem” (Shirokov, 2004). Today each “regional power” is trying to create its own zone of stability and security by forcing the integration processes in its region. On the other hand, regionalization acts as the most important component of globalization, involving the adaptation of global processes at the regional level. As a result, “today the regional integration complex-es are an integral part of the international cooperation structure and both directly and indirectly change the traditional model of global governance” (Mekhdiev and Ermolaev, 2017; Weiss and Daws, 2007, pp. 217-232). In fact, the development and emergence of multiple forms of integration was a response to the crisis of global governance resulting from the 2008 global financial crisis. In other words, regional governance has become a part of current “multilayered global governance” (Söderbaum, 2016, p. 34) and regions have become core actors of world politics.

3In practice, today we have a variety of integration forms: from regional organizations to interregional and transregional linkages1, that are created with both regional and global contexts been taken into account. Be-sides that there is an overlapping membership of a large number of states in various regional structures, the inclusion of non-state participants in the integration processes, the addition of formal interstate interactions at the regional level with expanding sustainable informal ties, and finally, the intensification of direct relations between interstate unions of differ-ent regions. All this is a complex “multi-tier structure” that has gradually come into being in the process of evolution of regionalism: from “old” regionalism to “new” one and, ultimately, to “comparative” or “global” regionalism.

4The correlation of global and regional policy levels has always been a problematic field in the framework of the classical theory of international relations. Most researchers focused on global processes within the framework of globalism or analyzed the problems of a particular region within that of regionalism. Within this paradigm, the global context of regional processes was often missing. Hence, this paper seeks to develop conceptual framework that would give proper attention to both global and regional perspectives with equal attention. Specifically, the article introduces the concept of “global region” in order to provide a comprehensive overview and classification of various forms of integration and to identify general mechanisms of their functioning. The concept of “global region” draws on constructivist apparatus. Constructivism in many respects layed foundation for the “new regionalism” turn by B. Hettne (1994, 1999), A. Inotai (1999), A. Hurell and L. Fawcett (1995) and others. The latter made a contribution to the rise of “comparative regionalism” (A. Acharya (2012), L. van Langenhove (2011a, 2011b), F. Söderbaum (2016), M. Telo (2013, 2017), etc.). The above works strove to provide a new interpretation of the concept “region” and generate new prospect of regional studies in the global context. In this framework, the current regionalism is treated as a structural component of global politics while the world order is defined mostly as a regional world order.

5While this approach is underdeveloped in Russian regional studies, this article explicates attainments of the Russian school of regionalism. Meanwhile, as far the representatives of the Russian school of regionalism is concerned, we should mention the concept of macroregionalism and trans-regionalism developed by A. D. Voskresensky (2015, 2016) and D. A. Kuznetsov (2016) and the “alternative regionalism” put forward by E. B. Mikhayilenko (2016). Additionally, this paper draws on the works of A. Makarychev (1999), O. Leonova (2013) and S. Peszov (2006). This article comprises four parts. The first part re-defines the key term of this research – the “region” and analyzes how it evolved from internal structural unit of a state to an actor of world politics. The second part analyzes causes and conditions of the emergence of new regional forms. In the third part, we introduce the concept of “global region” and point out main characteristics of this phenomenon. Finally, we outline the place of global regions in modern world system and present a comparative analysis of the existing regions in practice with a global dimension.

What is the region?

6Recent debates in the studies of international relations have suggested that “regions” (“regional organizations”, “regional blocs”, etc.) are becoming actors in world politics and key elements of global system. (Acharya, 2007, 2014, pp. 99-132; Acharya and Johnston, 2007; Langenhove, 2013, pp. 13-14; Söderbaum, 2016, pp. 194-215, etc.). That is why it is important to define the term “region” and make clear the nature of this phenomenon. It is known that the term “region” comes from the Latin word regio, which since the Roman period had different meanings, connoting “direction”, “position, state”, “border, line”, “part of the world”, “country”, “region, district, area”. The verb regere, which means “to manage”, is also etymologically close to it, i.e. from the beginning this concept has contained a functional, governing component. Later on, the concept of region began to denote any boundaries or limited spaces (oftentimes provinces) giving it a geographical content, which for a long time dominated the study of regional phenomena, including the Soviet studies.

7However, today the term region is a multidimensional concept, which according to many specialists should be studied through an interdisciplinary approach (Borzel et al., 2012, p. 3-4; Paul, 2012, p. 4; Gunnarsson, 2002; Sergunin, 1994; Makarychev, 1999, etc.). Most of them are convinced that the definition of the region depends on the characteristics of the branch of knowledge in which the researcher works (geography, politics, economics or international relations). Drawing on the terms of different disciplines, one can list the following approaches to the term region:

  1. Geographical approach: regions are areas that are broadly divided by physical characteristics, human impact characteristics, and the interac-tion of man and environment;

  2. Historical approach was proposed by J. Bruhnes (1956) and A. Demangeon (1905, 1927), M. Sorre (1943, 1954), who understood the regions as “way of life” (landscapes, ways of life and human practices);

  3. Philosophical approach: region is looked upon as a special world with its own mentality, outlook, traditions, etc. (Braudel, 1967);

  4. Functional approach: regions are regarded as the operational struc-tures of its activities (Christaller, 1980);

  5. Administrative approach: region as an administrative area, division, or district; subject of a federation;

  6. International politics approach: in this case the “region” can be de-fined as “international region”, “transnational region” or “trans-border” region, etc.

  7. “Mixed” approach is an attempt to mix several characteristics of the “region” in its definition: historical, geographical, social and cultural, etc. (for example, Markusen, 1987, p. 17, 251).

8Thus, today the “region” is one of the most difficult concepts to define in modern political and international studies, the so-called “super-term” (Braudel, 1967), which has undergone a certain substantial evolution: from internal structural unit of a state to an actor of world politics.

“Regionalization 1.0”: internationalization of the “region”

9As it was noted above, the second half of the 20th century was a period of “active globalization” and in parallel with it the regionalization of the first generation, or “regionalization 1.0” developed (Langenhove, 2011b; Fioramonti, 2012).

10Trend “regionalization 1.0” can be traced back to the mid 20th century, when the principle agents in the integrational space were nation-states and the primacy of sovereignty was the ultimate principle of international relations, with the most popular form of regionalization being a regional structure of a closed type. This type of regionalization corresponds to the phenomenon of the “international region” whose appearance was due to the following factors:

  • globalization of the system of international relations (the bipolar system of the Cold War was already global), which predetermined the new principles of interaction of the international system’s elements (multilateralism, integration, etc.) and their interdependence;

  • emergence of global problems, new challenges and threats, which required states to search for new integrative approaches to interna-tional cooperation and governance;

  • entry into the international arena of a large number of new inde-pendent states, which regard the international integration as a way of inclusion in modern international processes;

  • level of economic interdependence resulting from the internation-alization of the production and transition of society to the post-in-dustrial era.

11Thus, it was the “international region” that the founders of the integra-tion theory wrote about (K. Deutsch, B. Buzan, etc.). They conceptualized it as a number of states, which are united by some common characteris-tics and problems. According to K. Deutsch’s definition, the region is a group of countries that are more interconnected in many ways than with other countries (Deutsch, 1981, pp. 2-8). Buzan viewed the region as “a geographically clustered subsystem of states that is sufficiently distinctive in terms of its internal structure and process to be meaningfully differ-entiated from a wider international system or society of which it is part” (Buzan, 2012, p. 22). Among Western scholars there is a strong opinion about the criteria for determining the “international region” formulated by B. Russett: geographical proximity and at the same time isolation from other regions, interdependence in the field of economy and homogeneity of cultural and value positions of the countries (Russett, 1969).

12In his turn, the Russian scholar A. D. Voskresensky introduces the con-cept of “international political region” and defines it as “a relatively in-dependent subsystem of inter-state relations united, first and foremost, by the common features of certain political problems characteristic of this particular region and their respective relations” (Voskresensky, 2006, p. 7).

13Thus, based on these definitions, the following typological features of the phenomenon “international region” can be identified. First of all, the elements that make up the international region are nation states. Undoubt-edly, this category is traditionally defined on the basis of the geographical principle (this is a territory that includes several neighboring states) and the geographical factor still plays a leading role in this case. However, in the case of the formation of the international region the other factors are important: the common historical, cultural, economic and political ties, i.e. a whole complex of relations. The main motive for the formation of international regions was the presence of regional problems that required the joint participation of all interested states. Finally, the most important thing is that the international region should be regarded as a subsystem, a complex element of the international system, but located between the global and local levels of the system. At that time Europe became the center of regional integration processes and then the integration process-es covered all regions of the world.

“Regionalization 2.0”: globalization of the “region”

14However, under the influence of objective trends, which have been accompanying globalization since the late 1970s, the regional integra-tion processes, and hence the “international region”, gradually began to evolve, gaining a global dimension. These objective trends include:

  • transnationalization, which is a process that largely determined the new state of the world political system as a “transnational environ-ment of global interaction” (Keohane and Nye, 1972) and provided the system with such characteristics as multi-levelness and interde-pendence;

  • democratization of the world political practice by which I mean such a manifestation of this process as “the formation of a multi-lateral approach to decision-making at the international level, the expansion of participation in the formation of world politics and global governance” (Chikharev, 2009); by the beginning of the 21st century, the most popular form of cooperation has become the “new multilateralism” (Nuscheler, 2001), which provides the inter-action between state and non-state actors;

  • finally, by the end of the 20th century, the wide penetration of the In-ternet has established new principles of the organization of human life, such as network, virtual and interactive, and has extended them to almost all spheres of human life, including politics; in particular, within the framework of the information society’s formation the re-gional space has a major structural changes: instead of the hierar-chy of the territories the so-called “network organization” (Castells, 2001) and later the concept of “networking region” are emerging (Baldersheim et al., 2011).

15In practice, regional associations, as active actors of the world political processes, are beginning to create and develop new forms of multilateral cooperation at different levels: interaction with the third states (mainly through the creation of free trade zones), among themselves (interregion-al and transregional relations), with other international organizations and even with non-state actors (transnational projects).

16Finally, by the beginning of the second decade of the 21st century globalization has entered a new stage of development: the starting point was the global financial crisis of 2008, which resulted in discussions about the crisis of globalization, and then such recent events of world politics as Brexit, the realist policy of the new President of the USA D. Trump and, in particular, his decision to withdraw the USA from the megaproject Trans-Pacific partnership (TPP), etc. marked the beginning of the process of “deglobalization”. Meanwhile, to my mind, the discussion about the “end of globalization” is premature and one should rather speak about a kind of “reverse wave” in the development of global processes, beyond which a qualitatively new stage of globalization would come. Despite these events, which directly affected the development of world integration processes, regional integration still remains attractive for different countries of the world. Moreover, since the beginning of the 21st century there has been a growing complexity of integration ties, involving not only national states, but also other participants interested in integration and multilateral cooperation. Today such countries as, for example, the BRICS countries, Latin America, Southeast Asia, etc., are starting to participate very actively in the processes of “regionalization 2.0” (Langenhove, 2011b; Fioramonti, 2012) or “global regionalization” (Leonova, 2013). This has made it possible to create world order alternative to the Liberal one, because the variety of integration forms contributes to pluralism in international relations and formation of a polycentric world system. “Regional powers” are coming to the fore trying to create their own belt of stability and security through the active development of regional integration processes, taking into account the global context.

17Today, in most cases the emergence of regional integration groups is due to the development of both region and world systems in order to ensure the multi-aspect integration (economic, political, cultural), coordi-nation of the positions of member countries in international organizations and in relations with other states or groups of states, as well as the tasks of creating new mechanisms of international cooperation that will be more effective in the conditions of the high degree of interdependence of the current world community and stabilization of the world system.

18Global regionalization is “a regionalization process of the world space that in practice presents a multilevel structure (sub-, meso-, macro-regions and global regions) and the term ‘region’ is a core element of this multilevel structure of the global world” (Leonova, 2013). Thus, global regionalization finds itself in the following statements:

  • global regionalization at the same time is a consequence and an integral part of the process of globalization, which leads to the frag-mentation of the world into “macro-regions” (and even “mega-re-gions”) and the formation of a complex, multi-level global system;

  • integration of local communities and combining them into a mac-ro-region/global region; the basis for such integration are both internal (economic partnership, similarity of political culture and institutions, socio-cultural proximity) and external factors (general guidance of foreign policy, strategy of interaction with the global world and its actors, etc.);

  • there is the spatial localization of the self-sufficient integrational entity; these structures can be defined as the so-called “functional regions”, which operate as a sovereign state;

  • a qualitatively new geopolitical and geo-economic entity appeared on the basis of integration and localization, whose members (sov-ereign states) delegate the part of their functions to the supranation-al level; the boundaries of these macro-regions can coincide with the boundaries of geo-civilizations (for example, the EU) (Leonova, 2013);

  • within the framework of “global regionalization” non-state actors began to act as participants in regional processes along with states and these non-state participants introduced new tools and princi-ples of interaction, such as the creation of transnational projects, integration from “below” with the participation of business commu-nity and civil society, establishment of informal ties, etc.;

  • global regionalization means the elimination of the state monopoly on the governance of processes of global restructuring of political, economic and social spaces that leads to the formation of a wide variety of forms and ways of global regionalization of the world system;

  • evaluating the process of global regionalization in general, it should be emphasized its objective nature; this process is not spontaneous, it is a “process, which can be planned, organized, requires a lot of preparatory work and perceived by its participants as an objective necessity” (Leonova, 2013).

19As a result we have a network regional multipolarity in the making, marked by growing importance of openness, transparency, multi-actorness, cross-borderness and multi-levelness. Meanwhile, in practice, regionalization, which has received a global dimension, has not yet become a widespread fact of the international life which is caused by the asynchronous nature of world political development, as a result of which in the modern world there are still both generations of regionalization. Today there are some signs that “regionalization 2.0” is partially already there, but in the same time there are also strong forces wishing to continue with “regionalization 1.0”.

The Global Region: introducing a Concept

20The emergence of a new evolutionary form of the region, which I call “global region”, is the result of “globalization” of regional processes and can be defined as a segment of the global space where there are cross-border interaction of states, businesses and civil society on a mul-tilateral basis to address common problems of the modern development of the global society.

21First of all, “globalization” of the region finds itself in its transition from the territorial/geographical dimension to the spatial one (common spac-es without any connections with geography): “global region” is formed not within a certain geographical area, but through the establishment of spatial relations that can exceed the territorial basis of the region in practice (for example, thanks to this approach, Armenia’s participation in the Eurasian Economic Union (EEU) became possible). According to the Russian researcher M. V. Strezhneva, the main “reason for the emer-gence of ‘spaces’ is the appearance of larger multifarious activities and forms of ownership beyond national borders“ (Strezhneva, 2011, p. 25), the emergence of global problems and transnational relations and in this case we deal with a “functional region“. The introduction of this type of region allows us to solve one of the problems of the classical theory of international relations – the problem of interface between global and re-gional levels, because through the category of “space” it becomes possi-ble to connect the regional and global levels, to build a multidimensional picture of the world political system of the 21st century. Besides that the “global” character of the “global region” manifests itself in the new ap-proaches and principles of its functioning (development of the new forms and the line-up of participants of the integration, new multilateralism, new transborder and transnational mechanisms of cooperation, etc.).

22Based on the above definition of “global region”, I consider their main characteristics. Firstly, “the multiplicity” of integration spaces. An impor-tant characteristic of the modern world system, the elements of which are becoming “global regions”, is the presence of multiple or “multi-lay-ered” (Voskresensky, 2015, p. 146) spaces (for example, economic, in-formation, civilization, etc.; or global space, regional space and local space, etc.). As a result, the spatial dimension of modern world politics acquires such an important characteristic as “multidimensionality”, los-ing its “plane” and “one-dimensionality”, which have become an ob-jective consequence of the complexity of world-system relations since the 1970s. Consequently, the processes of global regionalization have spread not only to the traditional trade and economic spheres of integra-tion, but also to other ones – political, cultural, social, etc., as well as at various levels of the world system (from local to global). Thanks to that the development of the “global region” is not limited exclusively by the regional level (the so-called “structural multilevelness”) or any one area of activity (not only trade and security as it was in time of “old region-alism”, but also in the field of culture, environment, politics, economy, information, etc.) and it gives the functional nature to this new phenom-enon. For example, “comparative regionalism” implies six main types of regions: physical, geographical and environmental (Black sea region, Amazon region, Baltic region, etc.); cultural regions; economic regions; administrative regions (for example, regions created by the UN to collect statistics); political regions; security regions (Söderbaum, 2016). In reali-ty, they often intersect with each other.

23Secondly, multi-level governance. As a result of the expansion of the number of participants of global regionalization, levels and spheres of integration, there is a demand for global governance mechanisms within the framework of region’s functioning, in particular, multi-level govern-ance. Within the classical regional organizations such mechanisms were not in demand due to their narrow specialization. Taking into account the multiplicity’ of integration spaces in the case of “global region”, it is possible to speak about a more “universal” nature of its activities. We are talking about the redistribution of rights and powers to “non – na-tional” levels from the national center “up” (to supranational structures) and “down” (to sub-national bodies). According to the Russian researcher M. A. Ramonova, “multi-level governance means the cooperation by-passing what formerly seemed to be insurmountable borders between levels rather than cooperation between levels” (Ramonova, 2012). To-day, many organizations, which spring up as regional, have a multi-level system of governance, carrying out interaction at the level of states, min-istries, parliaments, regions and even people and business communities.

24Thirdly, it is supranationality. Today, more and more organizations from various levels are striving to create supranational institutions, such as su-pranational Commissions, Parliaments, Courts, etc. The most successful example in this case is the European Union. It is widely believed that supranationality is used to solve problems that the state cannot solve on its own and that go beyond its competence. Acquiring supranational features, regional organizations are changing and becoming “global” in nature, as they cease to be only an association of sovereign states and become a source of power and regulation of internal issues of states. Moreover, with the approval of the supranational approach, we can talk about the emergence of such a new phenomenon: a mechanism gen-erated by the state which affects the policy of this state in accordance with the interests of a higher order – the organization and the region as a whole. According to the Russian researcher V. N. Zuev, “supranational structures have become a more solid foundation of a single integration complex, which is gradually being freed from dependence on market changes in the policy of national government structures. It turns into a monolith, which can be described as an integration unity” (Zuev, 2011).

25Fourthly, transnational networks and ties. This characteristic of the “global region” is based on the expansion of the number of non-state par-ticipants in the integration processes that bring the network principle into the activities of the regions. The matter is that the various interregional structures are beginning to interact actively with their partners abroad and involve non-state actors in this interaction. This characteristic contributes to the development of integration processes from “below” – on the part of business community and civil society, within the global region.

26Finally, the creation of “global region” implies institutionalization, which, in the absence of clear geographical parameters, gives the new regional format certain framework. To conclude, the complex phenom-enon of “global region” can be defined as the “response” of the world system to the “challenges” of the dichotomy of globalization-regionalization. As a basic element of a multi-level polycentric system, the global region is called upon to ensure interaction between its levels. At the same time, the position of global region is not between the global and local levels, it is actually present at all levels due to its key characteristics.

Global regions in the world system of the 21st century

27The current stage of global regionalization is represented by a large variety of different levels and forms of regional integration associations.

28Because of this diversity, in my opinion, the concept of “global region” is in demand, as it allows, on the one hand, to unify this diversity as an element of the global political system (the presence of common char-acteristics: transboundary, multi-actorness, etc.) and, on the other hand, take into account the specific features of each type of region.

29Global regionalization is a process of region-building, and at the global level – the regional structuring of the world space and forming the “world system of regions”. That is why the forming world order can be described not as a state-centric one, but as a “world order of global regions”. Many Western and Russian researchers come up with this idea. Thus, for exam-ple, P. Katzenstein denies “the stubborn persistence of the national state”, while agreeing that the world community is moving towards a “world of regions” (Katzenstein, 2005, p. i). In the same vein, another researcher A. Acharya notes “the emergence of regional architecture of world pol-itics” (Acharya, 2007) while B. Buzan and O. Weaver write about the “world order of strong regions” (Buzan and Weaver, 2003, p. 20). In their turn, the Russian political experts are also inclined to believe that “in the era of globalization, national states can be replaced by ‘region-states’, or regions of former countries (‘micro-regions’), or blocks of countries (‘macro-regions’)” (Shchebarova, 2005, p. 348). Therefore, it can be ar-gued that the current trend of world development is the strengthening of new centers of power – regions at different levels of the world politi-cal system, which are gradually becoming subjects of the world political processes. As a result, there is a question of the need for “recognition of regions along with the state as full participants in international legal re-lations” (Vertinskaya, 2000, p. 3). Consequently, the forming regio-polar world order can be presented as a complex, multi-level structure consist-ing of several levels of regional relations, each of which, along with the classical regional forms, already present new types of regional construc-tion – “global regions”.

30The first level is represented by cross-border regional associations, where the interaction of internal regions is taking place. Today, internal regions are becoming independent actors of modern world politics and, although they are not subjects of international law, they are quite successful in implementing external relations in various fields (trade, culture, sports, etc.). As examples of this level, let’s consider two regional organizations: the Barents Euro-Arctic Council (BEAC) and the Association of North East Asia Regional Governments (NEAR).

31The Barents region is an association of regions and countries (the Northern regions of Russia, regions of Finland, Sweden, Denmark, Norway and Iceland) that are very different in terms of economic and social development, but have a certain commonality that allow us to consider it as a separate region of the world. Most projects are carried out in the field of culture, education, youth policy and environment, which generally reflects the “multidimensionality” of spaces of cooperation in the region. The work is based on building “horizontal contacts and connections across borders between organizations and residents of the regions” (Chekushin, 2016). The system of governance in the region has a two-level character: interaction at the level of ministries (BEAC) and contacts between the heads of the administrative units forming the Barents region (Regional Council). As far as the supranational nature of the Barents region is concerned, one should mention the so-called “ideology of Northern identity”, the concept that was developed in the 1920s to build “joint supranational forms of integration” (Chekushin, 2016). However, the critical attitude of participants to non-state forms of integration determined the fact that the main areas in which the Northern countries have achieved outstanding success are social policy, culture, education, civil legislation and economy. Nevertheless, cooperation between public non-governmental organizations (NGO) and local administrative bodies has gained an unprecedented scope, which contributed to the strengthening of the horizontal regional ties between the Northern countries and the internal openness of Northern European society. As examples of network cooperation we can mention such projects as the Barents Protected Area Network (BPAN), the Barents Forest Sector Network (BFSN), etc. Thus, the Barents region is fully compliant with the criteria of the “global region”.

32In its turn, the Association of North East Asia Regional Governments (NEAR), which is an international organization composed of 29 regional administrations of the 4 countries in North-East Asia: the People’s Republic of China, Japan, the Republic of Korea and the Russian Federation, is an example, in many ways, similar to the Barents region, but in practice it does not have a “global” dimension. As in the case of the Barents region, NEAR has a “multidimensional” nature of cooperation spaces: its members develop the international exchanges in the fields of culture, science, economy, ecology and tourism due to its close historical and geographical location. However, with regard to the criteria of governance and supranationality, the governance of the Association is carried out only by the Working Commission, which is formed from regional representatives at the level of heads of departments, and supranational and transnational projects and ties are totally absent.

33On the second level there are regional organisations, representing different groups of states of one regional zone. In this case, we are talking about a higher degree of institutionalization, larger tasks and areas of cooperation and the member states aim at coordinating their positions on the international arena. This level is the most convenient and attractive form of interstate interactions and represents the numerous levels of organizations that bring together all or the majority of the countries within a particular macro-region (EU, ASEAN, MERCOSUR, USMCA, etc.). Here I consider as examples the European Union (EU), Eurasian Economic Union (EAEU), Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC), Southern Common Market (MERCOSUR) and United States-Mexico-Canada Agreement (USMCA, ex-NAFTA). Despite the common regional nature and even similar initial model of integration, three of these cases have a global dimension – the EU, the EAEU and APEC, and MERCOSUR continues to maintain the classical form of a regional organization. USMCA is a signed, but not ratified free trade agreement of three countries – the United States, Canada and Mexico.

34The European Union (EU) has long been seen as a “typical” model of regional integration, but with the development of regionalism it has become clear that the European model can no longer be seen as universal with respect to other regional spaces. Meanwhile, this integration organization is undoubtedly an example of the most successful integration, which continues to set new integration rules already taking into account the global context. So, today the EU is a common economic, social, cultural, information, etc. space of 27 member-states (without the UK). It is within the EU that the multi-level governance mechanisms have been established: the EU operates through both inter-state and supranational bodies, and the principle of subsidiarity makes possible the interaction between regional, national and supranational levels of the EU. The EU is actively involved in the development of transcontinental relationships with other regional blocs (ASEAN, MERCOSUR, etc.). In the framework of EU policies there are a number of transnational programmes, which give a transboundary nature to the regional European development (e.g., the Baltic Sea Region (BSR) 2007-2013 that was developed within the framework of the objectives of the European Union for the development of territorial cooperation, and which integrates the objectives of cross-border cooperation of the European Instrument of Neighbourhood and Partnership (ENPI CBC) – Russia and Belarus).

35The next case here is the EAEU, which is an international organization whose members are Russia, Belarus, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan and Armenia.

36From the point of view of the declared goals and content, according to the Treaty on the EAEU, it is a regional project with purely economic goals. In this sense, the Eurasian agreement reminds of the Treaty of Rome on the creation of the European Economic Community in 1957. Nevertheless, in the Treaty on the Eurasian Economic Union, signed in 2015, we can see the prerequisites for the creation of a “global Eurasian region”. The Treaty on the EAEU “contributes to the free movement of goods, services, capital and labor, provides a coordinated and coherent common policy in the economic sectors” (Dogovor o Evraziyskom ekonomicheskom soyuze, 2014). It should be mentioned as well that Armenia is only member of the EAEU which has no borders with the other member states, but which successfully has created a common economic space with them. According to the EAEU Treaty a succession of supranational bodies is to be set up: for instance, in February 2013 the Eurasian Economic Commission, an equivalent of the European Commission, became operational. As the official web-site puts it, the Eurasian Economic Commission is “a permanent supranational regulatory body of the Customs Union and Single Economic Space”. Besides that, the EAEU activity is carried out at two levels – an interstate and direct format of cooperation with business community. Moreover, other supranational structures are also to be established in the future (for example, the Council of Republics and Governments’ Heads of the EAEU, the EAEU Parliament, etc.). Meanwhile, the problem is that in the main, Eurasian integration is going “from above” – due to the initiatives of political leaders of member-states, but aspirations and initiatives come from “from below” – on the part of business community and civil society. Today it seems utterly ineffective to resort only to state structures and ignore civil society and business-structures while building up Eurasian integration.

37Another interesting example is Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC), which is not a typical regional organization, but is a forum of 21 Pacific economies (formally not Member States, but Member Econo-mies) that seeks to promote free trade, economic and business coopera-tion in the Asia-Pacific region. The main principles of APEC development are “open regionalism”, non-discrimination, consensus in decision-making, mutual respect and equality. In the framework of APEC a two-level character of interaction has been implemented: at the level of states and at the level of business communities (Business Advisory Council (BAC)). The transnational nature of APEC is embodied in the format of the forum “economies” of the region, where the leading role in the integration process belongs to TNC – the development of economic ties through in-tra-firm trade of TNCs.

38In the case of MERCOSUR, however, there is no multi-level governance or supranational elements. MERCOSUR is the common economic space of 6 countries of South America (Argentina, Brazil, Uruguay, Paraguay, Venezuela and Bolivia). It should be noted that within MERCOSUR an attempt to create a supranational Parliament was made, but it did not receive any support from the members of the organization.

39It is also important to emphasize that one of the trends of modern de-velopment is the establishment of broad international contacts between developed regional structures. I am talking about the development of ex-tra-regional, interregional connections as EU-MERCOSUR, EU-ASEAN, ASEAN-MERCOSUR, CIS-MERCOSUR, etc. In the activities of the leading international regional organizations a foreign policy component, aimed at the development of relations between different regions and elaboration of common positions on a number of urgent problems of development, is becoming increasingly important.

40The third level is represented by transregional associations (alterna-tive regionalism, hybrid regionalism) that cross the borders of individ-ual states. As examples, we can look at TPP and BRICS. Undoubtedly, such new phenomena as BRICS and the TPP are difficult to study within the framework of classical theories of integration and the concept of the international region. However, in the context of global regionalization, transcontinental interaction of states is gaining strength as a trend of rap-prochement and interaction of states that are located thousands of kilom-eters away from each other.

41The emergence of a new integration group on the world integration map, built on the basis of the free trade zone – the TPP was an important event in 2015. The significance of this event can be determined by the fact that “it is <…> a kind of ‘the highest stage of regionalism’, as it marks the cre-ation of the first transcontinental integration group, which will radically affect trade and investment flows not only in the Pacific region, but also in the entire world” (Lisovolik, 2015). Thus, with the advent of such large transcontinental blocks the current regionalism, undoubtedly, goes to a new level, taking the form of “megaregionalism”, “which undermines the multilateral liberalization of world trade and brings to the fore the right of the strongest and most prosperous countries to determine the vectors of economic integration” (Lisovolik, 2015). Even after USA’s withdrawal from the TPP in 2017, the Partnership continues to exist and is looking for new partners for cooperation.

42As I noted above, the emergence of a number of developing powers has also become an important factor in global regionalization. These, in fact, have initiated the appearance of a multipolar and then polycentric world. In practice, such leading powers of the developing world are the leading regional powers in certain regions of the world – for example, South America (Brazil), South Asia (India), the Eurasian post-Soviet space (Russia), and South Africa (South Africa): “the rise of China, India, Bra-zil, and others provides grounds for rethinking the goals of regionalism and the role of regional institutions, at the same time strengthening or undermining them” (Acharya, 2012, p. 10). This situation gives grounds to experts to say that the emergence of a polycentric world contributes to the increase of the level of political and economic organization of the region’s system, thereby strengthening the general trend towards “greater regionalization of the international order” (Acharya, 2014; Buzan, 2011).

43In this context, it is sensible to apply the concept of “global region” for the analysis of such phenomenon as BRICS. According to experts (Shilyan, 2017; Lisovolik, 2017 etc.), today, BRICS can become the basis for a new type of world order: a regional world order, where different types and forms of region-building will become a key element. Thus, the informal structure of BRICS through the concept of a global region can put into practice the idea of a non-Western world order based on pluralism and poly-centricity of regional centers: each BRICS member is also the leading economy in the region that actively developing regional integration: Russia in the EAEU, Brazil in MERCOSUR, South Africa in South African Development Community (SADC), India in South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation (SAARC) and China in Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO), within the framework of the China-ASEAN free trade agreement and, as well as in the perspective Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership (RCEP). All BRICS countries in these regional integration structures can form the so-called “internal regional partner circle of BRICS countries” (Lisovolik, 2017) that will be opened to numerous and flexible formats of cooperation on a bilateral or regional basis and not only through trade liberalization. An important role in the interaction of the BRICS countries is played by transnational corporations and transnational ties are becoming essential taking into account the geographical remoteness of the countries from each other. At the same time, one should note the so-called problem of “integration limits” of the BRICS, namely the lack of institutions. However, the BRICS today has already got several working groups, the institution of the BRICS chairmanship has been created, as well as the New Development Bank. All this gives the researchers a reason to make assumptions about the emergence of a new integration model – “alternative regionalism” (Mikhaylenko, 2016).

44This scheme is conditional, as modern world political practice contains a huge number of new forms of regional cooperation, which require fur-ther study. However, it is obvious that today the “global” format of re-gional construction is becoming more and more popular, giving more opportunities for the development of regional space in global times. At the same time, the comparative analysis of the different types of modern regions showed us that today as classical “international” forms of regional structures continue to be developed in practice, as new “global” ones ap-pear and become even more complicated in forms and structures under the influence of globalization.


45The reality of the modern world is the presence of a wide variety of new forms of regional relations, the analysis and study of which does not fit into the framework of classical theories of regional integration anymore. In this regard, today the expert community is actively discussing new ap-proaches to the study of regional processes in the global era.

46One of such approaches could be the concept of “global regionalism” that allows to reveal the integrity of the modern world system whose el-ements are regional structures of the new generation, which are different in form and level of its activity. I called them “global regions”, which have functional nature of formation and development, rather than traditional geographical one. This approach is aimed at the systematization of mod-ern forms of integration and identification of the general principles of their formation and functioning: the “multiplicity” of integration spaces, multi-level governance, supranationality, transnational network ties and institutionalization. The term “global region” takes us away from geogra-phy and reflects the global (in the sense of “functional”) characteristics of modern regional relations in different parts of the world. In other words, in the case of a “global region” it does not matter whether there are com-mon borders, it is important to have common problems and approaches to solving them in various spheres and regional ties are built not only on regional, but also interregional and transregional formats.

47According to the classical geopolitics and political geography the “glob-al region” is nonsense, undoubtedly. However, it is necessary to take into account, on the one hand, such important characteristic of the phenomenon “region” as its “multidimensionality”, and, on the other hand, the current practice and the emergence of new forms of integration (for example, TPP projects, “Belt and Road Initiative”, “regional circle of BRICS”, etc.) indicate the demand for non-classical approaches to the study of the modern system of “multi-level functional integration”.

48It is also important to emphasize that current regions are actors of mod-ern world political processes and regional governance has become a part of current “multilayered global governance” system that means quali-tative changes in the structure of world system: the transition from the classical state-centered Westphalian system of international relations to the global system, the set of elements of which is more diverse and com-plex in its structure. However, all this does not mean that today there is a complete withdrawal of national states from the world arena, and all regions are “globalized”. At this stage of regionalization, which has re-ceived a global dimension, has not yet become a widespread fact of the international life which is caused by the asynchronous nature of world political development, as a result of which in the modern world all types of regions and regionalism are still in demand. As far as the nation state is concerned, this approach should not be seen as a complete alternative to state-centered world, but rather as a strategy to enhance the capacity and protect the national interests of states in the new context of global development and interdependence.

49In many ways, thanks to its “globalization”, the current regional inte-gration becomes a symbol of an alternative world order, creating new multilateral platforms for cooperation (for example, within BRICS+) that are based on integration between different regions, where “developing countries” are the engines of the development of integration processes.


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1 Examples for interregionalism are the ASEAN-EU dialogue, ASEAN-MERCOSUR re-lations, EU-MERCOSUR, etc. Such a relationship can be defined as group-to-group di-alogue with more or less regular meetings and it is based on a low level of institutional-ization, usually at the ministerial, ambassadorial and senior officials‘ levels, sometimes supplemented by permanent or ad hoc experts‘ working groups. As far as transregional institutions are concerned (for example, the Asia-Europe Meeting (ASEM) ) have a more diffuse membership which does not necessarily coincide with regional organizations and may include member states from more than two regions (Ruland, 2002).

To cite this article

Maria Lagutina, «The Global Region: a Concept for understanding Regional Processes in Global Era», The Journal of Cross-Regional Dialogues/La Revue de dialogues inter-régionaux [En ligne], 2020 Special Issue, 15-39 URL :

About: Maria Lagutina

Maria L. Lagutina, PhD in Political Science, Associate Professor, World Politics Department, School of International Relations, Saint Petersburg State University, Russia, email: