The word “Globalization” is largely used nowadays to explain all the problems especially economic problems that the societies face, either to praise the easiness with which we can communicate, or to criticize its negative effects. And it is true that this word conceals a number of changes; Alan Cochrane and Kathy Pain have identified four main changes: Stretched social relations e.g. the existence of cultural, economic and political networks of connections across the world, intensification of flows that transcend nations-states, increasing interpenetration of economic and social practices and global operative and institutional infrastructure.
On the fact that globalization is a new and inevitable phenomenon, three different conceptual approaches can be found: the globalist, divided in positive or pessimistic, the inter-nationalist and the transformationalist one. We will study the strengths and the weaknesses of each of them on a political point of view.
Globalists see “globalization as a new and inevitable development which cannot be resisted or significantly influenced by human intervention, particularly through traditional political institutions such as nations-states”. For them, it is a completely new and inevitable trend which establishes itself upon people and nations.
The evidence that they use on a political point of view are numerous.
The flow of migration between countries increased from the 50s onwards, mixing the population and creating important minorities in countries or diasporas. Thus, the Chinese communities existing in some African countries in which China builds up infrastructures have triggered a change of political and diplomatic relationships between these countries. The flow of migration can also create a political problem of integration in some countries. It is the case in France with the problem of “banlieux” surrounding the cities.
Some issues became global; it is for example the environmental problems caused by pollution. We can remember the damages caused by the radioactive cloud due to the explosion of Chernobyl’s facility. Political decisions on the use of nuclear energy not only impact the country in which the decision is taken but have consequences on other countries. The realization of this fact explains the development of international organizations at a global or regional level. Nowadays, the multiple agencies of the United Nations rule areas as diverse as atomic energy, water, human rights… The European Union starts to take an interest in health, migration…. All these domains were before the Second World War the exclusive preserve of each nation-state. Now, the Security Council of the United Nations can decided to send troops in countries in order to maintain the peace.
The globalists use also as evidence the intensification of flows of communication due to the new technology; this has changed the way to rule the countries as political decision taken by one country will be worldly broadcast: It was the case with the incidents occurred during the Olympic Games about the Chinese policy in Tibet. Television broadcast news from other countries; the development of multinational companies such as coca cola or McDonalds imposes a standardised way of life.
For the inter-nationalists, on the contrary, globalization is not new and inevitable. The nation-states have still the political power even if the way of exercising this power has changed. The evidence that they use are mostly historical. They argue that migrations have always existed, driven even by curiosity, political or economical conquests or starvation.
They do not deny the multiplication of international organizations but for them it is is a new area where national interests are discussed and fought for by governments. Inter-nationalists develop the theory of hegemonic governance, e.g. the government by the great power(s) of the day. Anthony McGrew evokes the case of the US management of the East Asian crisis in 1997-98 where the United States imposed their own policy based on their national interests while refusing the proposals of Japan.
Inter-nationalists argue also that the intensification in the communication flows did not weaken the power that the nation-states have on the population within their territory. The Westphalian system based on the organization of humanity into sovereign, territorially exclusive nation-states is still strong, with states having full authority on economic, human and natural resources within their boundaries. They
use their authority at a regional or global level as a way for bargaining national interests and their objective is to ensure the security and the well-being of their citizens while preventing them from any interference.
The position of transformationalists is close to the globalists’ one and more realistic. For them, the ‘state is a space of flows’. they argue that political power is not exercised at a national but at a transnational, regional or global level. Therefore, politics are becoming more internationalized.
Anthony McGrew took the example of the drugs traffic to show the extensive power of structures such as the G8 or the United Nations on the definition of politics. This is not the only area in which decisions taken at a global level are taken. Global politics are decided in domains such as taxation, social security, environment… and this has an impact of each citizen of the world whatever his nationality. We observe the internationalization of the sates. For example, some nation-states have delegated complete politics area to the EU such as monetary policy where national governments do not have any more direct power of decisions.
In parallel, the power at the national level becomes more diluted within the country itself for the benefit of local level which establishes direct contact with international structures or counterparts. The global governance is becoming multilayered and we can observe suprastate, substate, transnational layers. The suprastate layer includes the inter-governmental organizations that were already mentioned: United Nations agencies or sister organizations, EU, but also regional blocks such as MERCOSUR, NAFTA or APEC or the G8. Different government departments can attend to the meetings of these different organisations which triggers the fragmentation of central government as not all the departments have the same position on the same issue.
The substate layer includes local and municipal authorities such as Coventry or Glasgow City Council in UK. Some have representatives at an international level.
Then the transnational layer encompasses the NGOs which draw their influence from their capacity ‘to organize people and resources across national frontiers in the pursuit of collective goals’. This is the case of Amnesty International.
Furthermore, we assist to the transnationalization of political activity particularly through NGOs. The transnationalization is defined as the growth of contacts, networks and organizations which link people, business and communities across national boundaries. Quantitative data show that from a few hundred transnational non-governmental organizations recorded at the beginning of the twentieth century, we went up to more than 5 000 NGOs at the beginning of the twenty-first century. Not all the NGOs have the same weight in terms of organisations and resources. Nonetheless, we can observe the emergence of a global civil society with a political impact thanks to NGOs such as Green Peace, OXFAM,…
For the transformationalists, the globalists and inter-nationalists over-emphasize structure at the expense of agency. They combine the arguments of both globalists and inter-nationalists even if they think that they are too determinist. They do not answer to the question on the novelty of globalization or on the fact that it is inevitable. They rather argue that the nature of political power is changing and they emphasize the importance of political agents in shaping global politics. Thus Anthony McGrew took the example of the ‘Stop the MAI’ campaign to evidence the political power of NGOs’ actions which organize transnational civil society and global networks. And this is a new phenomenon that new technologies in communication have made possible.
The consequences of this change and thus the systemic risk created by these global activities are difficult to measure. We could notice it with the multi-dimensional crisis that we are facing since 1998 and which is financial, environmental and social.
It is a fact that the political power shift and become more globalized; from an anarchic world with no authority beyond the state, an heterarchy emerges , e.g. a system in which political authority is shared and divided between different layers of governance and in which many agencies share in the task of governance. It is not the first time that political changes are noticed in the human kind history. And if change is not new, it is inevitable even if the outcomes are not predictable today.
McGrew, A. (2004) ‘Power Shift: from national Government to Global Governance’ in Held, D. (ed.) A globalizing World? Culture, Economics, Politics, London, Routledge/ The Open university.
Cochrane, A. And Pain, K. (2004) ‘A Globalizing Society?’ in Held, D. (ed.) A globalizing World? Culture, Economics, Politics, London, Routledge/ The Open university.
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