Amitav Acharya (born 1962) is an Indian-born Canadian scholar and author, who is Distinguished Professor of International Relations at American University, Washington, D.C., where he holds the UNESCO Chair in Transnational Challenges and Governance at the School of International Service, and serves as the chair of the ASEAN Studies Initiative. Acharya has expertise in and has made contributions to a wide range of topics in International Relations, including constructivism, ASEAN and Asian regionalism, and Global International Relations. He became the first non-Western President of the International Studies Association when he was elected to the post for 2014–15.
Life is a series of natural and spontaneous changes. Don’t resist them – that only creates sorrow. Let reality be reality. Let things flow naturally forward in whatever way they like.
Acharya was born in Jagatsinghpur, Orissa (now Odisha), India. After completing a BA in political science at Ravenshaw University and an MA in political science at Jawaharlal Nehru University in India, he obtained his doctorate from Murdoch University in Australia in 1987. After brief teaching and research stints in Singapore at the Institute for Southeast Studies (now ISEAS–Yusof Ishak Institute) and the National University of Singapore, he joined the faculty of York University, Toronto in 1993. He was a Fellow at Harvard University’s newly established Asia Center in 2000–2001, while concurrently being a Fellow of the Center for Business and Government at Harvard’s John F. Kennedy School of Government. From 2001 and 2007, he served as Deputy Director and Head of Research at the Institute of Defence and Strategic Studies (which in 2007 became the S. Rajaratnam School of International Studies), at Nanyang Technological University in Singapore. In 2007, he was appointed Chair of Global Governance and Director of the Centre for Governance and International Affairs at the University of Bristol. In 2009, he moved to his present position at American University.
Acharya has held various visiting positions throughout his career, including as the ASEM Chair in Regional Integration at the University of Malaya, the Direk Jayanama Visiting Professor of Political Science at Thammasat University, Visiting Professorial Fellow at the Institute of Southeast Asian Studies, Singapore, Visiting Professor at the Lee Kuan Yew School of Public Policy, Nanyang Technological University, Singapore, and Visiting Professor in the Faculty of Economics at Chulalongkorn University. He has also held visiting positions at Australian National University, Stanford University, Sydney University, United Nations University Institute on Comparative Regional Integration Studies, Vietnam National University, Central European University, and Ritsumeikan University. He was elected to a Christensen Fellowship at St Catherine’s College, University of Oxford in 2012. In 2012–13, he was appointed to the Nelson Mandela Visiting Professorship in International Relations at Rhodes University, South Africa. In 2016, he was appointed to be the Inaugural Boeing Company Chair in International Relations in the Schwarzman Scholars Program at Tsinghua University.
In 2016, Acharya was awarded the prestigious Odisha Living Legend Award from the Odisha Diary Foundation in his native state of Odisha and delivered the Living Legend Oration at Bhubaneswar.He has received two Distinguished Scholar awards from the International Studies Association: one from the Global South Caucus in 2016, and another from the International Organization section in 2018.
In 2020, he received American University’s highest honor: Scholar-Teacher of the Year Award.
Norm localization and norm subsidiarity
While norm localization emphasizes the agency of local actors in adapting prevailing transnational norms, norm subsidiarity is concerned with the creation of new norms by local actors. Norm subsidiarity posits that local actors create new norms and rules with a view toward protecting the norm’s autonomy from violation and abuse at the international level. In contrast to localization, which is inward-looking, subsidiarity is outward-looking. Acharya again uses a case from Southeast Asia to illustrate the concept. In resistance to the US-led collective defence organization of the Southeast Asia Treaty Organization signed in 1954, the leaders of South and Southeast Asia met at the Bandung Conference in 1955 and established their support for the norm of collective defence but rejected the use of such an arrangement for the defence of a single country. In so doing, the leaders at Bandung not only rejected the central position of the United States in regional security arrangements, but also created a new norm of collective defence that accorded importance to all treaty members.
A number of IR scholars have built on, engaged with, and challenged Acharya’s work on norms, including Antje Wiener, Lisbeth Zimmerman, and Kathryn Sikkink. Through her concept of “norm protagonism”, Sikkink goes beyond Acharya by divorcing the formation and diffusion of norms in the Global South from the North. She illustrates how Latin American countries were protagonists of human rights norms and, among other things, adopted the American Declaration of the Rights and Duties of Man in April 1948, eight months before the Universal Declaration of Human Rights was adopted by the United Nations General Assembly in December 1948.
Acharya’s most prolific work has been on ASEAN. In Constructing a Security Community in Southeast Asia, Acharya traces the evolution of ASEAN and the ASEAN Way of conflict management, which is based on the ASEAN norms of non-interference and avoidance of confrontations in word and deed.Building upon the work on the concept of a security community—a region where the outbreak of war has become almost unthinkable—by Karl Deutsch and Emanuel Adler and Michael Barnett, Acharya finds that ASEAN exhibits the characteristics of a nascent pluralistic security community.
Acharya has also been critical of the Eurocentrism prevalent in comparative regionalism, whereby the European Union (EU) is considered as the best way to regionalize—a model for regional integration—and regionalism projects in other parts of the world are judged against the EU. Rather than compare with the EU, Acharya calls for studies in comparative regionalism to focus more on the specific regional contexts of regionalism projects and to develop more general criteria for comparison that are not based solely on the European experience.
Global IR and a multiplex world order
One reason Acharya and Buzan transitioned from “non-Western” to “Global” IR theory is that Global IR, while challenging traditional IR’s neglect and marginalization of the Global South, does not reject the mainstream theories, thus differentiating Acharya from postcolonial IR scholars. Global IR revolves around six main dimensions:
– It is based on pluralistic universalism that recognizes diversity and abjures universal imposition
– It is grounded in world history
– It supplements and subsumes, rather than supplants, traditional IR
– It includes the study of regions as a core part of IR
– It eschews exceptionalism
– It recognizes both ideational and material forms of agency
Acharya’s concept of the “multiplex world order” captures his understanding of the ongoing changes and future directions in the landscape of international relations. While not arguing that the United States is in decline per se, Acharya contends that the “American world order”, whereby the United States played a hegemonic role in shaping the international system—or the “liberal world order”—to its own benefit through its dominant role in international institutions and its interventionalist foreign policy, is coming to an end. In this respect, Acharya disagrees with John Ikenberry, who highlights America’s important role in designing, spearheading, and maintaining postwar “constitutional orders”.In contrast to Ikenberry, Acharya finds evidence of an emerging “multiplex” world order, where there is an array of plots (ideas), directors (power), and action (leadership) under one roof (the international system) to choose from.
He is the joint chief editor of the Studies in Asian Security series for Stanford University Press.
Acharya’s work has been influential in shaping policy on Asian regionalism and human security. His 2001 book, Constructing a Security Community in Southeast Asia, was the primary basis of the initial Indonesian concept paper which ultimately resulted in the establishment of the ASEAN Political-Security Community. His work on human security led to him being invited to address the UN General Assembly on the subject of human security on 14 April 2011.
He has been interviewed as an international affairs expert by CNN International, BBC, BBC World Service Radio, CNBC, Channel NewsAsia, Canadian Broadcasting Corporation, Radio Australia, National Public Radio (NPR), and Al Jazeera.
Acharya regularly writes op-eds for international newspapers and magazines including The Financial Times, the International Herald Tribune, The New York Times,National Public Radio (NPR) online,The Huffington Post, The Australian Financial Review, Asia Times, The Times of India, The Indian Express, The Straits Times, The Jakarta Post, the Bangkok Post, Asiaweek, the Far Eastern Economic Review, The Japan Times, the South China Morning Post, YaleGlobal Online covering such topics as international and Asian security, regional integration, the war on terror, and the rise of China and India.
Acharya is the author of:
- U.S. Military Strategy in the Gulf: Origins and Evolution under the Carter and Reagan Administrations, Routledge, 1989
- The Quest for Identity: International Relations of Southeast Asia, Oxford University Press, 2000
- Singapore’s Foreign Policy: The Search for Regional Order, World Scientific, 2007
- Whose Ideas Matter? Agency and Power in Asian Regionalism, Cornell University Press, 2009
- Civilizations in Embrace: The Spread of Ideas and the Transformation of Power, Institute of Southeast Asian Studies, 2012
- The Making of Southeast Asia: International Relations of a Region, Cornell University Press, 2012
- Rethinking Power, Institutions and Ideas in World Politics: Whose IR?, Routledge, 2013
- Constructing a Security Community in Southeast Asia: ASEAN and the Problem of Regional Order, Routledge, 2001, 2009, 2014
- Indonesia Matters: Asia’s Emerging Democratic Power, World Scientific, 2014
- East of India, South of China: Sino-Indian Encounters in Southeast Asia, Oxford University Press, 2017
- The End of American World Order, Polity, 2014, 2018
- Constructing Global Order: Agency and Change in World Politics, Cambridge University Press, 2018
He has also co-authored or edited:
- New Challenges for ASEAN: Emerging Policy Issues, with Richard Stubbs, UBC Press, 1995
- Asia-Pacific Security Cooperation: National Interests and Regional Order, with See Seng Tan, Routledge, 2004
- UN Peace Operations and Asian Security, with Mely Caballero-Anthony, Routledge, 2005
- Non-Traditional Security in Asia: The Dynamics of Securitization, with Mely Caballero-Anthony and Ralf Emmers, Ashgate, 2006
- Reassessing Security Cooperation in Asia-Pacific, with Evelyn Goh, MIT Press, 2007
- Crafting Cooperation: Regional International Institutions in Comparative Perspective, with Alastair Iain Johnston, Cambridge University Press, 2007
- Theorizing Southeast Asian Relations: Emerging Debates, with Richard Stubbs, Routledge, 2008
- Bandung Revisited: The Legacy of the Asian-African Conference for International Order, with See Seng Tan, National University of Singapore Press, 2008
- Living with China: Regional States and China through Crises and Turning Points, with Shiping Tang and Li Mingjiang, Palgrave Macmillan, 2009
- Non-Western International Relations Theory: Reflections on and Beyond Asia, with Barry Buzan, Routledge, 2010
- Why Govern? Rethinking Demand and Progress in Global Governance, Cambridge University Press, 2016
- Africa in Global International Relations: Emerging Approaches to Theory and Practice, with Paul-Henri Bischoff and Kwesi Aning, Routledge, 2016
- The Making of Global International Relations: Origins and Evolution of IR at Its Centenary, with Barry Buzan, Cambridge University Press, 2019
Acharya has also published several articles in a wide range of International Relations journals. Some of his widely cited articles include:
- Ideas, Identity, and Institution-Building: From the ‘ASEAN Way’ to the ‘Asia-Pacific Way’?, The Pacific Review, 10, no. 3 (1997)
- Human Security: East versus West, International Journal, 56, no. 3 (2001)
- Will Asia’s Past Be Its Future?, International Security, 28, no. 3 (2003/04)
- How Ideas Spread: Whose Norms Matter? Norm Localization and Institutional Change in Asian Regionalism, International Organization, 58, no. 2 (2004)
- The Emerging Regional Architecture of World Politics, World Politics, 59, no. 4 (2007)
- Norm Subsidiarity and Regional Orders: Sovereignty, Regionalism, and Rule-Making in the Third World, International Studies Quarterly, 55, no. 1 (2011)
- Global International Relations (IR) and Regional Worlds: A New Agenda for International Studies, International Studies Quarterly, 58, no. 4 (2014)