Whose Ideas Matter: Agency and Power in Asian Regionalism

Whose Ideas Matter: Agency and Power in Asian Regionalism

"Whose Ideas Matter," by Amitav Acharya, is a handy and elegant book. All the footnotes correspond to the author's careful and well documented study of Western international relations theories, especially their divergence and difference from Asian regionalism. For example, why doesn't Asia have an "Asian Nato" ? Why did it become averse to collective security in the 1960s when the Cold War was simmering to the kilt between the US and Soviet Union ? Certainly, there was no lack of ideas, such as SEATO to be the Asian version of NATO.

In very compelling and comprehensive manner, perhaps befitting the genius of Amitav Acharya as a world class scholar adept at marshaling different archical resources to explain arcane international issues, the author single handed explained the importance of local agency. That no foreign ideas could have gained traction and ground in any part of Asia, not unless the Asian governments had "framed" and "grafted" the issue into a regional context. Indeed, contrary to the argument of "moral cosmopolitanism," that all good ideas would be adopted anyway by local and regional actors, Amitav Acharya clevely argued that had this been the case, the effort to remove land mines from mine fields, would have been universally accepted without fail. Yet, this was not the case. In other words, not unless local and regional actors adapted the mores and values of the importance of removing such lethal devices, no institutional progress and forward movement were to be expected.

Agency, in this sense, belongs to local Asian actors, scholars, and decision makers. Why were they more adamant than others in emphasizing the importance of local and regional values ? A strong part of the motivation boils down to their roles as ex colonies. As ex colonies, the emergent nation states in Southeast Asia were in no mood to participate in any Cold war like structures and initiatives. It was better to strike it alone. Asian regionalism, in this sense, marks an attempt to learn from the strengths and shortfalls of European nationalism, short of introducing a bevy of institutions to buffet against the blow back of the national states.