The Department of General Studies (KFUPM) hosted a special workshop on "Regional Integration" on Wednesday, 20 December 2017. Regional Integration refers to the process by which geographically proximate nation states create institutionalized accords designed to further common interests. Integration can take different forms, but in general it focuses on issues such as removing barriers to trade by allowing greater freedom of movement for labor, goods, and capital, improving regional peace and security, and cohesive policy formation. This special workshop provided an overview of the historical and theoretical background of integration in general, followed by an examination of regional integration in current practice. Specifically, the history and structure, as well as the successes and challenges of integration were examined through case studies of the ASEAN (Association of Southeast Asian Nations), the EU (European Union) and the GCC (Gulf Cooperation Council).
The workshop began with an introduction by Dr. Shafi Aldamer, the Chairman of the General Studies Department. Dr. Aldamer introduced the topic of Regional Integration and its importance in promoting international relations and economic development for people all over the world. The chairman's introduction was followed by presentations from four members of the General Studies Department who specialize in international relations. Dr. Curran Flynn explained several important theories of integration. Dr. Xiaolin Duan provided an overview of the history and structure of the Association of South East Asian Nations. Dr. Abdurrahim Siradag discussed nature and evolution of the European Union. Finally, Dr. Mark Thompson delivered a detailed case study of the Gulf Cooperation Council.
Dr. Flynn, in his discussion of theories related to integration, covered several important approaches to understanding its processes and rationale. By introducing perspectives such as Realism, Constructivism, and the Theory of Liberalism, this portion of the workshop allowed attendees to better understand why nation-states are tending to move towards greater integration as well as many of the challenges and contradictions involved in this process.
Dr. Duan's talk on the ASEAN gave a clear picture of the many challenges involved in integrating the economies of a region which includes an enormous variety of cultures, religions, political systems and levels of economic development. At the same time, it also illustrated some clear economic benefits that have arisen as a result of greater cooperation and freedom of movement across the region. Dr. Duan also discussed the challenges ahead for the ASEAN. For instance, the current decision-making of the ASEAN is based on long-term formal and informal consultation and extreme consensus building, which limits its efficiency, and sometimes makes collective action extremely difficult, if not impossible.
In his discussion of the European Union, Dr. Siradag traced the evolution of economic cooperation in this region beginning with a push for peace and rebuilding in the aftermath of World War 2 through the present day. Again, this case study highlighted a number of tremendous successes related to economic development and the promotion of peaceful relationships within the region, while also illustrating the many challenges that can arise when attempting to integrate the widely disparate cultures and economies in a region such as Europe.
The final case study of the afternoon was presented by Dr. Thompson, an expert on the Gulf Cooperation Council. Dr. Thompson discussed the history of and progress made to date within the GCC in areas such as economic development and free trade, as well as political stability, peace, and stability. Dr. Thompson also highlighted many of the current challenges and future directions faced within the region, such as the possibility of a GCC union.
Dr. Aldamer followed up these formal presentations with a brief overview and integration of the important points covered, followed by a panel discussion in which he and the four presenters answered audience questions about a wide range of related topics.