regional security complex south asia

Written by Asra Zahid 5:27 pm Articles, Current Affairs, International Relations, Pakistan, Published Content

Understanding the Regional Security Complex Theory in South Asia

The regional security complex theory (RSCT) is primarily based on the notion of security dynamics and regional models. According to Barry Buzan and Ole Waver, most threats travel more easily over short distances than over long ones, and security interdependence is normally patterned into regionally based clusters. Asra Zahid analyzes South Asia through the lens of the regional security complex theory at four levels: local, regional, interregional, and global.
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Asra Zahid is pursuing her bachelor's in peace and conflict studies at National Defence University. Her areas of interest include ethnic conflicts, ideological conflicts, international politics, and current affairs.


As indicated by Barry Buzan and Ole Wæver, the regional security complex theory proposes that most dangers travel more effectively over brief distances than over lengthy ones, and the security relationship is typically designed into regional groups known as security clusters. Security complexes can be characterized as units whose significant cycles of securitization, desecuritization, or both are interlinked to the point that their security issues can’t sensibly be settled separately from each other.

The regional security complex theory’s notion of security is not only based on material capabilities but also on the ideas and actions of state actors involved and hence depicting that the theory is embedded in constructivism. It is proposed in theory that power is not the only element that alone defines the dynamics of conflict.

Factors such as historical grievances, and shared communal, ethnic, or religious sentiments lead to patterns of amity or enmity between states which ultimately describes a regional security complex.

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A comprehensive analysis of the regional security complex theory is required at the four levels mentioned below.

  • The local level explains the security policies of an individual state and its actors towards other states. It also defines loopholes in the security and power structure at the local level.
  • The regional level explains the dynamics of relations and patterns of amity and enmity between states of the same region. This leads to the formation of regional security complexes (RSCs).
  • The intra-regional level explains patterns of relationship between different regions and how these patterns influence RSCs.
  • The global level analyzes the role and interests of great powers and superpowers in different regions and how they influence RSCs

In a nutshell, the regional security complex theory focuses on two important aspects. Firstly, it highlights the importance of security dynamics concerning geographical boundaries, and secondly, the transcendence of boundaries to pursue interests.

Case of South Asia

As per Buzan and Wæver, “South Asia is a clear example of a security complex centered on the rivalry between India and Pakistan,” and this contention welcomed numerous outside powers to enter the region including China. In the post-cold war scenario, numerous outer powers entered the regional security complex of South Asia, but none of these powers could reshape the security dynamics of the region.

Domestic Level Analysis

Domestic level security in South Asia is defined by political instability and structural violence. Politics is divided based on ethnicity, religion, and sects which has given rise to increased internal violence, terrorism, civil wars, inequality, unequal representation of communities, and hence, a constant state of conflict and deprivation of human rights. All of the abovementioned factors can be seen as manifested in the politics of Sri Lanka, India, Pakistan, and other South Asian states.

Sri Lanka is once again suffering from a political and economic crisis after a long bloody civil war against the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE). Pakistan, too, is countering the deeply-rooted Balochistan insurgency and terrorism sponsored by Islamist militant groups such as the Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP).

India and the Naxalites, Nepal and the Maoists, Sri Lanka and the Tamils, the current US withdrawal from Afghanistan depict a larger picture of the unstable domestic politics of South Asia defined by communal violence. However, another important factor is interference by the South Asian states in each other’s internal conflicts.

Both India and Pakistan accuse each other of supporting separatists and militants to create unrest in their respective countries. India blames Pakistan for supporting the Sikh Khalistan secessionist movement. Simultaneously, Pakistan blames India for sponsoring terrorism in Pakistan.

In 2016, the Indian Prime Minister expressed his support for the Balochi separatist movement. The same year, Pakistan captured an Indian covert operative named Kulbhushan Jhadav at the Pak-Iran border. Later on, he admitted that he was a serving Indian maritime official, and his goal was to create chaos in Balochistan and Karachi by sponsoring Indian terrorism.

In the Sri Lankan conflict, India’s RAW supported LTTE against the Sinhalese, the Sri Lankan government, and the armed forces. When the LTTE was categorized as a terrorist organization by the international community in the 1980s, India switched its side and supported the Sri Lankan government. Sri Lanka’s effective elimination of the civil war was an important event in South Asian politics. However, even today, Sri Lanka is in the worst economic crisis followed by political crises.

In the case of India, democratic secularism has been corroded by the Hindu nationalist ideology of Narendra Modi and violence against Muslims. Even where democracy operates, as most consistently in India, the democratic process is increasingly captured by divisive political mobilizations along ethnic, religious, or caste lines.

Regional Level

Both Pakistan and India are in a constant state of low-intensity or high-intensity conflict in the form of interference in domestic politics, accusations, exchange of cross-border fires, or sponsorship of terrorism. Notwithstanding irregular upgrades and arrangements in the region, India has unfortunate relations with its small neighbors.

There is a progression in arguments about ecological issues in the context of sharing waters: India-Pakistan, India-Nepal, and India-Bangladesh. Maybe the subject of sea level rise, especially in connection to Bangladesh, is presently more important on the national security plan, however, just marginally so. The issue of migration between India and Bangladesh isn’t new, yet despite India’s structure of a regulation obstruction around Bangladesh, it has not yet arrived at a potential emergency level.

To ease down geostrategic and geopolitical issues, economic interdependence and trade can play a vital role but, unfortunately, South Asian states have failed to develop a significant or mentionable economic dependency. According to figures, intra-regional trade in South Asia has been recorded lowest in the world.

Trade among the South Asian states (comprehensively from Kabul to Chittagong) was all around as high as 19% in 1948. Not long after, the nations acquired freedom from British rule. Be that as it may, the trade declined to a simple 2% by 1967. Trade has increased a bit lately, yet it still stays under 6% of South Asia’s all-out economic cooperation with the world.

South Asia is additionally the most uncoordinated region of all. Intra-regional trade as a share of the region’s total trade is 4%. It addresses around 2% of regional GDP, contrasted with above 30% in East Asia. It even falls behind sub-Saharan Africa, the Middle East, and North Africa. High intra-regional exchange and FDI boundaries contribute a lot to this issue. Exchange is vigorously one-sided towards extra-regional economic sectors. For instance, India’s economic cooperation with its neighbors is under 3% of its total trade.

If analyzed based on the material capabilities of India, South Asia is unipolar, but at the same time, India lacks the essential legitimacy and offensive abilities to be defined as a hegemon. India’s quest for financial development not only provides practically the main component of rationality in its foreign policy but also coaxes India out of South Asia, without tackling either its homegrown or regional security issues.

India looks for status more outside of South Asia than inside it. Not many states in the region consider India’s political system to be a model for themselves, and not very many would submit to reliance on Indian security arrangements. India neither sets plans nor leads in the local intergovernmental associations (IGOs). It instead attempts to keep outer players out of the region, but that isn’t exceptionally effective.

The US is also involved in India and Pakistan, and India presently invites this more than it used to, mainly to counter China, and because the US settles the occasionally hazardous India-Pakistan relations. In this manner, while the case for a shift to unipolarity in South Asia is not difficult to make, in material and customary military terms, it is considerably less clear in political ones.

Inter-regional Level

The inter-regional level is about how the South Asian regional security complex connects with that of the Middle East and East Asia. There is a steadiness between the South Asian and Middle Eastern regional security complexes despite all the political chaos in Afghanistan. There is a pattern toward expanding commitment and the development of an Asian supercomplex focused on the rise of China.

China, Japan, South Korea, Myanmar, and Australia are spectators in the South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation (SAARC), whereas India and Pakistan are part of the ASEAN Regional Forum (ARF) and the Asia-Europe Meeting (ASEM). India is also part of the East Asia Summit (EAS).

Sino-Indian relations are characterized by border disputes, atomic weapons, maritime competition, financial relations, and global status. China has nowadays been attempting to keep India out of East Asian IGOs and the UN Security Council. China has tried to divert it inside South Asia by giving help to Pakistan, Myanmar, Nepal, and Sri Lanka. It likewise expects to develop its tactical presence in the Indian Ocean.

Like the US, India stays mindful of the infiltration of Chinese capital into delicate ventures like power and correspondence. India’s principal offset against China is a closer relationship with the US beginning around 2000, one product of which has been an acknowledgment of India’s atomic status. In playing the US card, India needs to stay away from entanglement in the US-China competition.

Pakistan’s contribution to Afghanistan in the quest for more prominent vital strategic depth is longstanding. The expanded expansion of Indo-Pakistan contention into Afghanistan is surely critical, just like the more extensive connecting component of China. Yet, none of these advancements challenges Afghanistan’s status as an insulator, and there is no recognizable expansion in the linkage between the security elements in the Gulf and those in South Asia.

Afghanistan assimilates the effects of its neighbors substantially more than it joins them together across regional security complexes. Since the mid-1990s, India has had a ‘Look East’ arrangement. Initially, it was about engaging with the financial dynamism of East Asia, yet it has advanced into a more full-range commitment. India rivals China for impact in Myanmar, and develops a nearby (and longstanding) companionship with Vietnam, wanting to resemble China’s impact in Pakistan.

In Southeast Asia, India additionally develops great relations with Singapore and Indonesia. The Indian Navy directs joint activities in Southeast Asian waters and with its companions there, who discreetly welcome India’s commitment to Southeast Asia as assisting with adjusting the Chinese presence. India appears likewise to be turning into a player in seabed resource extraction in the South China Sea in regions that are challenged by China and the other littoral conditions of that Sea.

From around 2000, India has worked on its relationship with Japan, coming full circle in a joint ‘Security Declaration’ in 2008. This phenomenal relationship is essentially political, very obscure, and isn’t upheld either by military responsibilities or by a solid financial relationship. All things considered, the Indian naval force has expanded its reach north from the South China Sea to make visits to Japan and South Korea.

Global Level

At any rate, China is now influential in South Asia. China’s role in assisting Pakistan into an atomic weapon state is the clearest model. Moreover, recent developments would recommend that China’s great relations with Pakistan are not of potential to lessen the strains in India-Pakistan relations yet there is a captivating chance of joining the idea of economic reliance with that of the new Asian supercomplex.

The US has continued fortifying its relations with India since the last part of the 1990s and the role of the US in both East and South Asia as an outside ring holder stays comparative. Be that as it may, India’s need to be acknowledged as a great power at the worldwide level has made significant advances based on these close ties with the US, and there is presently considerably less propensity in India to consider the US to be a foe.

Moreover, with the withdrawal of the US from Afghanistan, the economic and political instability of Pakistan, and its inclination toward Russia, the US is looking forward more towards India than Pakistan. However, at the same time, the US also wants to maintain good ties with Pakistan.

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