"Politics among Nations in the 21st Century: A Study of Regional Order in Southeast Asia and the Indo-Pacific"
// Thu 13th of January 2022, 11:000 onwards (CET) - Online public event
This thesis analyses the struggle over regional order in Southeast Asia and the wider Indo-Pacific. Specifically, it develops a novel ‘progressive realist’ analytical framework for the study of regional order based on Hans J. Morgenthau’s ‘normative concept of interest’. Contributing this novel perspective to the International Relations (IR) literature on regionalism and regional order is vital because existing perspectives tend to ignore a dynamic central to regional order: the normative dilemma of politics. This dilemma, the thesis argues, is that while political decisions always benefit some people, they disadvantage others. Regional orders are always inclusive towards some interests and exclusive towards others. This leads to a normative dilemma: who should decide what ‘order’ is as well as how and on which grounds and why should this choice become acceptable to the others? Consequently, progressive realism argues that the central problem to understand about regional order is the normative struggle over what the region ought to be, what the position of certain states within the region ought to be and who should be able to define what counts as legitimate political action.
The thesis empirically demonstrates the relevance of this argument by analysing regional ordering processes in Southeast Asia and the evolving struggle to order the Indo-Pacific region between 1967 and 2020. This analysis draws on thirty-one interviews with Association of Southeast Asian Nation (ASEAN) member state diplomats, officials and regional experts, as well with diplomats, officials and regional experts from China, Germany, the UK and the United States. Analysis finds that the ultimate problem to order Southeast Asia and the wider Indo-Pacific region is how to reconcile the different political interests and moral principles that nation-states pursue in order to reinforce the vision of order that best supports the various national interests in the region. For the evolving normative struggle to order the Indo-Pacific sets an ASEAN-centred vision of regional order in a contest with a more liberal and west-centric vision supported by a coalition of western powers, on the one hand, and a more non-western or western resistant vision supported by China, on the other.
The thesis concludes that progressive realism is ideally equipped to explore regional ordering processes because, in contrast to extant perspectives, it does not foreclose scrutiny of regional orders’ normative dilemma. This thesis therefore develops a much needed and novel perspective for IR regionalist research in order to understand politics among nations in the 21st century.
Chair: Prof. Dr. Andreas von Staden (UHH)
Co-Supervisor: Prof. Dr. Kai-Uwe Schnapp (UHH)
Co-Supervisor: Prof. Dr. Shaun Breslin (UoW)
External Examiner: Prof. Dr. Jürgen Haacke (LSE)
Other member: Prof. Dr. Elvira Rosert (UHH)