A world of regions

DISCLAIMER: All opinions in this column reflect the views of the author(s), not of EURACTIV Media network.

Jeffrey Sachs argues that as US power declines the need for regional cooperation to ensure peace and prosperity will increase. He believes the European Union provides the best model for such cooperation and should inspire other regions of the world.

Jeffrey D. Sachs is a professor of economics and director of the Earth Institute at Columbia University. He is also special adviser to the United Nations Secretary-General on the Millennium Development Goals.

"In almost every part of the world, long-festering problems can be solved through closer cooperation among neighbouring countries. The European Union provides the best model for how neighbours that have long fought each other can come together for mutual benefit. Ironically, today's decline in American global power may lead to more effective regional cooperation.

This may seem an odd time to praise the EU, given the economic crises in Greece, Spain, Portugal and Ireland. Europe has not solved the problem of balancing the interests of strong economies in the North and those of weaker economies in the South. Still, the EU's accomplishments vastly outweigh its current difficulties.

The EU has created a zone of peace where once there was relentless war. It has provided the institutional framework for reuniting Western and Eastern Europe. It has fostered regional-scale infrastructure. The single market has been crucial to making Europe one of the most prosperous places on the planet. And the EU has been a global leader on environmental sustainability.

For these reasons, the EU provides a unique model for other regions that remain stuck in a mire of conflict, poverty, lack of infrastructure and environmental crisis. New regional organisations, such as the African Union, look to the EU as a role model for regional problem-solving and integration. Yet, to this day, most regional groupings remain too weak to solve their members' pressing problems.

In most other regions, ongoing political divisions have their roots in the Cold War or the colonial era. During the Cold War, neighbours often competed with each other by 'choosing sides' – allying themselves with either the United States or the Soviet Union.

Pakistan tilted towards the Americans; India towards the Soviets. Countries had little incentive to make peace with their neighbours as long as they enjoyed the financial support of the US or the USSR. On the contrary, continued conflict often led directly to more financial aid.

Indeed, the US and Europe often acted to undermine regional integration, which they believed would limit their roles as power brokers. Thus, when Gamal Abdel Nasser launched a call for Arab unity in the 1950s, the US and Europe viewed him as a threat. The US undercut his call for strong Arab cooperation and nationalism, fearing a loss of American influence in the Middle East. As a result, Nasser increasingly aligned Egypt with the Soviet Union, and ultimately failed in the quest to unite Arab interests."

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Published in partnership with Project Syndicate.

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