Academic journal article Contemporary Southeast Asia

Collective Action Problems and Regional Integration in ASEAN

Academic journal article Contemporary Southeast Asia

Collective Action Problems and Regional Integration in ASEAN

Article excerpt

Regionalism and regional integration have been one of the most dynamic phenomena in the current international setting. Since the early 1990s the initiative to develop and strengthen regional institutions has intensified on a global scale. This move led to the creation of the European Union (EU) in Europe, the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) in North America, and Mercosur in Latin America.

Regionalism has been of great importance in terms of international relations (IR) theory. Regional integration is an attempt to realize mutual gains from cooperation within a group of self-motivated states in an anarchic international system. In order to attain successful regional cohesion, the states have to overcome collective action problems that are endemic to international cooperation. The IR theory has provided an explanation of how and under what conditions states have promoted cooperation to achieve the collective interests of the entire region.

The successful experiences of regional integration in Europe have been regarded as a model for similar attempts in other parts of the world. The European nations have established solid and institutionalized mechanisms for inter-state cooperation largely under the leadership of major states and the creation and advancement of supranational agents. If European integration is evaluated in terms of the states' interest coordination, it might be alleged that the core factor producing the European fortune lay in the states' successful resolution of dilemmas resulting from their strategic interaction. It is, therefore, valuable to examine how states can overcome the dilemma of collective actions pertinent to regional integration.

In considering collective action problems in international relations, two kinds of games matter. The first is collaboration games where actors are lured to defect from an agreement in order to obtain short-term gains. The problem in this game is to attain a better-off situation by making the actors abandon a dominant strategy. The second is coordination games where actors face difficulty in reaching an agreement on certain points. The problem in this game is to coordinate the actors' behaviour and avoid undesirable outcomes by reaching an agreement on a set code of conduct. The dilemma resulting from the two games impede the states from entering into cooperative action.

This article examines the states' attempt to overcome collective action problems for promoting regional integration, by highlighting such attempts by the members of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN). The central arguments that this article advances are threefold. First, although ASEAN countries have not intended to establish a supranational body to resolve collective action problems, they have gradually developed feasible enforcement mechanisms by intensifying the centralized nature of the regional organization. Second, some states within the region began to play a "focal point" role in resolving coordination problems resulting from accelerated regional integration and market liberalization. Third, the resolution of coordination problems has been pursued in a framework where extra-regional countries and environments play a significant role.

In the following section, I take a look at the literature on collective action problems concerning inter-state cooperation, and identify two kinds of dilemma. I then investigate collaboration problems pertinent to regional integration in Southeast Asia and examine ASEAN members' responses to the problems. The third section considers coordination problems with respect to regional integration in Southeast Asia.

Collective Action Problems and Regional Integration

There are two kinds of collective action dilemma in promoting international cooperation: collaboration game and coordination game. The collaboration game depicts a situation in which "independent decision making leads to equilibrium outcomes that are Pareto-deficient--outcomes in which all actors prefer another given outcome to the equilibrium outcome" (Stein 1983, p. …

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