The latest wave of regional organizations may pose a more serious risk of fragmentation in global governance than earlier regional initiatives. Although these new organizations offer additional resources for global ends, the benefits of specialization, and innovation that could improve global governance, they also risk uncoordinated fragmentation, competition that undermines global norms, and a neglect of important global policy aims. Reinforcing global institutions, building consensus on global purposes and a global-regional division of labor, and establishing informal and formal organizational links between regional and global institutions can offset risks and expand the benefits of the new regionalism.
Regional institutions and initiatives have proliferated in the twenty-first century. The latest wave of regional innovation raises a long-standing conundrum for global order: When is regional organization a useful, even essential, complement to the ends of global governance – financial stability, an open trading system, sustainable development, robust protection of human rights, or the end of civil wars – and when does it threaten or undermine the achievement of those goals? How the challenges and risks of the new regionalism are addressed will determine whether a fragmented global order or more effective global and regional governance emerge over the next decade.