In This Article Expand or collapse the "in this article" section Regional Security

  • Introduction
  • Arctic

Political Science Regional Security
James Sperling
  • LAST REVIEWED: 28 July 2015
  • LAST MODIFIED: 28 July 2015
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780199756223-0048


The intellectual roots of regional security studies can be traced to the geopolitical writings of the late 19th and early 20th centuries, although the definition of critical regions and the source of that criticality have changed over time. During the Cold War, regional security and stability were defined largely in terms of the place that a region occupied in the strategic calculation of the United States or the Soviet Union. The contemporary preoccupation with regional security reflects a confluence of the continuing relevance of traditional geostrategic calculations and the emergence of new security challenges that have redefined the content and scope of order in the contemporary international system. The rising salience of regional security and regional security orders across every dimension of interaction has generated a surprisingly large number of formal international arrangements that vary in scope, complexity, and strength. The scholarship on regional security is preoccupied with three major questions: What variables contribute to regional (in)stability and (dis)order? Is the Euro-Atlantic form of security governance transferable to other regions of the world? What is the nature of the interaction between the regional and international systems of order?

General Overview

The scholarship on regionalism is fairly developed. The antecedents to contemporary scholarship can be traced to the late 1940s when scholars became particularly interested in the notion of regional integration and regional security institutions in the aftermath of World War II (Nye 1968). This early literature tended to be as descriptive and prescriptive as theoretical, whereas the subsequent literature has been divided between those engaged in heated theoretical debates and those treating regional security as a policy issue. Buzan and Wæver 2003 has had an outsized impact on the study of regional security owing to the authors’ elaboration and empirical application of the concept of regional security complexes. Lake and Morgan 1997 also draws on the concept of regional security complexes in a comparative study of the major regional systems, while Kelly 2007 places regional security into the general framework of the “new regionalism.” Katzenstein 2005 introduces the concept of “porous regional orders” to explore American agency in shaping Asia and Europe as regions. Solingen 1998 treats regional security orders as the joint product of domestic and interstate coalition formation, while Achyarya and Johnston 2003 is preoccupied with the problem of institutional design. Lemke 2002 generalizes power transition theory to capture the dynamic of regional security systems, while Fawn 2009 represents the major strands of international relations (IR) theory and comprehensive accounting of the rising saliency of regional security systems despite the countervailing imperative of globalization.

  • Achyarya, Amitav, and Alistair Iain Johnston. “Comparing Regional Institutions: An Introduction.” In Crafting Cooperation: Regional International Institutions in Comparative Perspective. Edited by Amitav Achyarya and Alistair Iain Johnston, 1–31. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press, 2003.

    This brief essay provides a superior overview of how the theory of regionalism evolved in the postwar period as well as the more general problem of institutional design.

  • Buzan, Barry, and Ole Wæver. Regions and Powers: The Structure of International Security. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press, 2003.

    The most influential work on regional security and regional security complexes. Magisterial in scope, the authors identify a comprehensive list of regional security systems on a global scale. Substantive chapters best treated as reference source; theoretical chapters essential.

  • Fawn, Rick. Globalising the Regional, Regionalising the Global. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press, 2009.

    The introductory theory chapters address three important issues: regional hierarchies, the problem of overlapping security orders, and the propensity of regional security orders to peace and war. The substantive chapters cover the world’s major regional systems from a variety of theoretical perspectives. First published as a special issue of Review of International Studies 35 (2009): 1–257.

  • Katzenstein, Peter J. A World of Regions: Asia and Europe in the American Imperium. Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press, 2005.

    This work represents Katzenstein’s major defense of analytical eclecticism. His most important contribution is the concept of “porous regional orders.” This concept provides the foundation for capturing the interaction between the core and the periphery in the construction of a region along several dimensions: material interests, culture, and regional identities.

  • Kelly, Robert E. “Security Theory in the ‘New Regionalism.’” International Studies Review 9 (2007): 197–229.

    Explicitly places security theory into the “new regionalism” discourse. Kelly adopts the notion of porous regional orders toward understanding the opportunities for regional institutions to mitigate regional security dilemmas and enhance regional autonomy.

  • Lake, David, and Patrick M. Morgan, eds. Regional Orders: Security in the New World. University Park: Pennsylvania State University Press, 1997.

    An important early work on regional security orders. Empirical chapters on Latin America, the former Soviet republics, the Asia-Pacific, the Middle East, Africa, and Southeast Asia are framed by the concept of regional security complexes. Conceptual contributions useful, particularly those on regional security complexes, concerts, multilateralism, and geostructuralism.

  • Lemke, Douglas. Regions of War and Peace. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press, 2002.

    Lemke undertakes two tasks in this study: establishing criteria for consistently defining viable regional security subsystems and modifying power transition theory in order to explain the dynamic interactions of small and medium powers. Case study on Africa is superb.

  • Nye, Joseph S., Jr. International Regionalism: Readings. Boston: Little, Brown, 1968.

    This collection presents important postwar (1945–1968) statements on economic and security regionalism. The articles universally adopt an institutional perspective and most betray a bias toward the integration process. The suggested further reading will acquaint the reader with the major literature up to that time.

  • Solingen, Etel. Regional Orders at Century’s Dawn: Global and Domestic Influences on Grand Strategy. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 1998.

    Solingen’s point of departure is the obsolescence of traditional IR theories for understanding regional security orders. She relies upon coalition theory to integrate the internalization of security policy debates with the regionalization of security free from the shadow cast by superpower competition.

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