Globalisation is used to describe international politics after the Cold War, in some ways as a replacement for the bipolar model of world politics. It has been termed “the buzzword of the 1990s”1 by some. This illustrates that globalisation has grown in importance for academics, policy-makers, civil society and the public as a whole during the last twenty years. In this essay I will investigate the three major theories of globalisation and use them to discuss the idea of undermining the nation state.
As globalisation is a contested idea, the theories must be explored to be able to answer questions about the effects of globalisation (if there are any). I will demonstrate the weaknesses of each theoretical approach by contrasting its position with arguments from the other perspectives examined. I will argue that the realist theory is the best representation of globalisation. I do not believe that the other two theories are wrong but they each have flaws that I believe make them impossible to be correct ideas on globalisation
Globalisation’s existence is a contested idea but there seems to be greater support behind the idea that globalisation does if fact exist. Throughout this essay I will prove the existence using visible examples and effects of globalisation but this still leaves the question, if it exists what actually is globalisation? For example some say globalisation is a “historical process, the result of human innovation and technological progress. It refers to the increasing integration of economies around the world, particularly through trade and financial flows. 2 These definitions do not ignore the other forms of globalisation such as the movement of people and technology but they put less emphasis on these areas. Many theorists contend that these processes are not taking place evenly in the whole globe but only partially in the areas of advanced countries and thus it cannot truly be globalisation.
Another definition states that “by globalisation we simply mean the process of increasing interconnectedness between societies such that events in one part of the world more and more have effects on people and societies far away. 3 I do not believe that any of these definitions are adequate so I will evaluate the theories, first by their own definition of globalisation, then by what the other theories have to say about the adequacy of the definition and way of conceptualising globalisation. Before the discussion of whether globalisation is undermining the role of the nation state can take place we must first discuss what is meant by a nation state. It might appear a problem free task but in fact it is more difficult than first seems.
It can be said to be a territory with well-defined boundaries, a population to be governed, a government to make binding decisions, and sovereignty. For others the state is just the organisation that creates a structure with the “agencies and institutions of governance”4. Ultimately a state must have “monopoly of the legitimate use of physical force within a given territory. “5 As has often been said and is well illustrated by Steve Smith and John Baylis there are three theories of globalisation6.
These three theories correspond to three different approaches to world politics, those of realists, liberals and Marxists. For realists globalisation has had no effect on the division and construction of nation-states and how they interact. They believe that the nation-states continue to retain their sovereignty but globalisation has effected society, economy and culture. Liberals on the other hand have a completely different idea on the effect of globalisation.
Liberals believe that globalisation fundamentally undermines nation states and their position as central actors in world politics. The final theory of thought, that of the Marxists, believe that in fact globalisation is really nothing new and is not the huge event it is made out to be, they see it as just another chapter in the continuing development of international capitalism. From these brief outlines of the three schools of thought it can be seen that they each have their own opinions on the idea of globalisation undermining the role of the nation state.
Realists appear to believe that globalisation has not undermined the nation state but has effected some powers, practices and traditions while liberals believe that globalisation has fundamentally undermined the concept of the nation state. Marxists see globalisation just another stage in international capitalism and in saying this it appears to suggest that they believe that globalisation is undermining the state but is just part of a larger process. Before analysing the above three theories on globalisation we must first analyse their relationship with each other.
Realists and liberals are arguing at the two opposite sides of the debate and thus the evidence for the realist argument is the evidence to disprove the liberal argument and vice-versa. Marxists on the other hand take a completely different stance in the debate. They seem to put forward an argument comprising parts of the realist argument and parts of the liberals argument tied together by the idea that globalisation is nothing new and is just part of the larger process. Which of these theories represents globalisation the best?
Liberals are the section of theorists that are proposing the argument that globalisation is undermining the nation state so their argument is probably a good place to start. Liberals see international bodies such as the EU or the WTO as eroding nation states’ powers and effectively removing their power to govern and decided on issues. The WTO for example has been said to be a “rule-making and rule-supervisory organisation”. 7 Due to its procedures and rules it has gradually taken power away from nation states and in turn gained much greater power.
In opposition to this argument the WTO Director General has been quoted mainly by realists as saying “e are not a world government”8 but instead are democratically accountable. The argument carries on and he says that representatives from governments negotiate all created policies and each government has a power to veto and thus ultimately the people have the power. This argument is not entirely plausible, as it is hard to say that the people still retain the power but this is more a question of the problems with the democratic process.
I accept the idea that in essence governments’ still have the power as they retain power in the right to veto. In practice though this power is rarely used as it causes international insecurity and thus the question must be asked whether the power to veto actually does exist. For many liberals the nation state has become something that is unnatural and incapable of operating in the current global economy9. This suggests that a nation state on its own could not function due to the fact that it would not be part of the global marketplace that liberals believe now exists.
Meaning that globalisation is progressively creating a more and more borderless world that is overcoming state sovereignty and thus the nation state. Realists again contest this argument stating for example that even though “nation states are penetrated by crossborder networks of trade, finance and production”10 states still remain the central components of world politics. They say this as they believe that the stronger more powerful states retain a firm control over social and economic policy making.
These are generally seen as realists’ main arguments that nation-states continue to retain their sovereignty by using their power to veto and change policies of international organisations. The realist argument does not reject the whole concept of globalisation but they believe that globalisation has effected society, economy and culture while nation states maintain their powers. This discussion has dealt with the main arguments for and against both realists and liberals so the Marxist theory must now be considered.
This theory is based on the fact that globalisation is just the latest chapter in the growth of international capitalism. It is clear then that Marxists will be opposed to globalisation just from saying this as Marxists definitely cannot be seen as pro-capitalism. Marxists do not try to deny that the typical trends of globalisation are in fact occurring but that they are something novel. As Chase-Dunn has put it, globalisation is the continuation “of trends that have long accompanied the expansion of capitalism”11. This in essence is a correct statement but it seems to underestimate the new scope and nature of globalisation.
It is hard to argue that globalisation trends such as the Internet and the increase in international commerce are just expansions of capitalism. Many writers have stated the difference and the new phenomenon of globalisation. “Globalisation can… be defined as the intensification of world-wide social relations which link distant localities in such a way that local happenings are shaped by events occurring many miles away and vice versa. “12 Statements like this make it hard to believe that globalisation is in fact just an expansion of capitalism and not a new phenomenon.
An even stronger and more comprehensive discussion of this states that “lobalisation is not just a recent phenomenon. Some analysts have argued that the world economy was just as globalised 100 years ago as it is today. But today commerce and financial services are far more developed and deeply integrated than they were at that time. The most striking aspect of this has been the integration of financial markets made possible by modern electronic communication. “13 Thus I reject the Marxist theory due to this theory that I believe is flawed. It appears that all three concepts of globalisation have their supporters and also their critics.
It can be seen that there are two theories supporting the idea that globalisation is undermining the nation state, those of liberals and Marxists. Having said this though, I personally side with the realist theory as I do not believe that globalisation is undermining the nation state. Their arguments regarding the power to veto and the fact that they have admitted some power has taken away gives the argument more credibility in my eyes. I say this because ultimately nation states still have the power to withdraw from any international body or agreement, regardless of the consequences.