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  • Path Dependence, Resilience, and the Gradual Transformation of Regional Architectures in Asia
  • Kei Koga (bio)

Andrew Yeo's new book, Asia's Regional Architectures: Alliances and Institutions in the Pacific Century, provides a comprehensive overview of Asia's regional security architecture in the post–World War II period, exploring why Asia's regional institutions have overlapped and coexisted for so long and how they have been shaped and are shaping regional actors' ideas and behavior. Just as international relations scholars have begun looking at historical institutionalism to explain international issues, ones ranging from interstate relations to regional security institutions to nonproliferation regimes, Yeo employs its theoretical approach to analyze the establishment and evolution of regional architecture from the postwar period onward. He provides detailed yet succinct accounts of the main political, economic, and security regional institutions in Asia.1

A plethora of insights are contained in this book, and among them three elements stand out. First, the book's definition of "regional architecture" allows readers to look at the big picture of regional institutions and governance in Asia. According to Yeo, regional architecture refers to "an overarching, comprehensive institutional structure within a geographic region that facilitates the coordination, governance, and resolution of a range of policy objectives of concern to states within that area" (p. 8). This broad definition is important because it does not solely focus on "multilateralism" or "bilateral alliances" in Asia, which is a tendency in conventional studies on this subject. Rather, the definition enables us to understand the dynamic interaction of two main regional institutional frameworks: the U.S. hub-and-spoke network and the multilateral institutions led by the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN). Given that these institutions functionally overlap and contribute to maintaining regional [End Page 135] stability, it is imperative to examine both in parallel. Yeo's definition is therefore an innovative way to comprehend Asia's regional architecture.

Second, the book's emphasis on the importance of regional institutions' historical development deepens our understanding of the nature and characteristics of the current regional architecture in Asia. Ahistorical theories in the international relations field, such as realism, too often overexplain the causes of institutional sustainability and development. For example, realists consider the U.S. bilateral alliance network as the outcome of common threats between countries and tend to see the network as a way to counter a particular state, namely the Soviet Union during the Cold War and China in the post–Cold War period. Though such strategic considerations are important, the ties that bind U.S. allies and partners together include not only common threats but also the promotion of economic cooperation and the management of nontraditional security issues like counterterrorism following the September 11 attacks. The book's treatment of the robustness of U.S. bilateral alliances and how consensus on the importance of being a U.S. ally was nurtured among domestic elites effectively illustrates the significance of the various engagements that bind partners together. History shapes the objectives and functions of institutions, and this nuanced understanding helps us discern why each institution in Asia has differential growth.

Third, the book articulates the underlying characteristics of Asia's regional architecture through a theoretical treatment of the "complex patchwork." This term, originally coined by Victor Cha, refers to "a regional architecture characterized by a variety of institutional arrangements, including bilateral alliances, trilateral relationships, mini-lateral meetings, and multilateral forums" (p. 6).2 Indeed, most of Asia's regional frameworks have developed by building on the U.S. hub-and-spoke system and ASEAN. Yeo explains this phenomenon by using historical institutionalism's concept of institutional layering. Rather than create a new institution from scratch or one that displaces an old institution, sunk costs and positive feedback compel an existing institution to add new objectives, functions, or organs. The major institutions built in the post–Cold War era are based on U.S. bilateral alliances and ASEAN multilateralism, which are embedded in regional ideas and interests, explaining the robustness of these institutions. [End Page 136]

Despite the important insights that Yeo's book offers, there are several points that require some clarification. First and foremost, the book's perspective tends to...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1559-2960
Print ISSN
1559-0968
Pages
pp. 135-138
Launched on MUSE
2020-02-21
Open Access
No
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