Nation states in a globalizing world Joachim Barfod Koefoed

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Nation states in a globalizing world

Joachim Barfod Koefoed


B.Sc. International Business and Politics

Copenhagen Business School 2013

Political Science

Final exam, winter 2013
Tutorial group XD

December 19th 2013

Word count: 3.519
STU count: 21.809


Introduction 3

Theory 4

Analysis 5

Discussion 9

Conclusion 10

Reference list 12


We live in a world where democratizing in developing countries is a big deal, we live in a world where its population is in anxiety of a hypothetical third World War, and we live in a world where globalization is being talked about every day. Several international organizations and institutions have been founded in the post-World War II period indeed to promote democracy, free trade and global peace. Hence the following paper will attempt to answer the following problem statement, in the backlight of the World Word II, is it still relevant to consider the nation state as a central concept in Politics? Through the paper three different presumptions will be advanced from the just presented problem statement. The presumptions will be compared to the main statement and empirical information hence a liberal and realistic view on international relation (IR) and with examples from the Arab Spring. Finally, the presumptions will be verified or not and the problem statement will be answered. These presumptions are that in post-World War II period nation states are interdependent through international organizations like NATO, the EU and the UN. Secondly, a country might be better off using a realistic perspective in their foreign policies rather than a liberal one and thirdly, a nation state is not relevant in the future as the world is developing to be liberal, international, and global in its environment.

First in the paper, key concepts of the nation state and globalization will be defined according to different political philosophers and theorists. Secondly, an analysis of the statement will follow where classical theories of IR are compared with the developing and global organisations and nation states. Afterwards, several topics concerning the main theme of nation states in a globalizing world will be discussed and finally a conclusion will be drawn. In conclusion of the paper it will be determined that in the backlight of the World Word II, it is still relevant to consider the nation state as a central concept in Politics as the nation states are sovereign and they are the only institution which have independent military forces, however, if international organizations like EU and UN keep on developing towards global governance, nation states, in the end, will turn out non-existing hence non-relevant.


To examine the presented claims, different key concepts will be needed to be defined; these will be the nation state and globalization.

The nation state

A nation state is an institution that has sovereignty and a monopoly of the legitimate power for instance within the police- and military force. Max Weber (1862-1920) defines it like this; "A compulsory political organization with continuous operations will be called a state insofar as its administrative staff successfully upholds the claim to the monopoly of the legitimate use of physical force in the enforcement of its order.” (Weber, 1978: 54) From Weber’s definition we get that a state has its own administrative staff and a legitimate police force, we know that politicians come and go, Presidents are elected, Prime Ministers are nominated and so on but operations are continuous; the state keeps on making and implementing policies. Last but not least, the state has monopoly within physical enforcements thus the state has sovereignty and identification with a specified territory. Also Heywood has an interpretation which has similarities to Weber’s definition; the nation state is a “sovereign political association within which citizenship and nationality overlap; one nation within a single state” (Heywood, 2013: 58), this means sovereignty and legitimate power only exists within the nation state but also that citizens should have some kind of national feeling of ownership within the nation state.


The expression globalization is very commonly used daily both in the news channels and in colloquially but what does it really mean? According to Heywood, “globalization is the emergence of a complex web of interconnectedness that mean that our lives are increasingly shaped by events that occur, and decisions that are made, at a great distance from us” (Heywood, 2013: 142), this means that events happening outside from our hypothetically independent nation-state, say wars, hunger, or Political issues might interfere within our society. Heywood continues “the central feature of globalization is therefore that geographical distance and territorial boundaries, such as those between nation-states, are declining relevance“ (Heywood, 2013: 142) hence border crossing, access to international travels, and the technologically advanced digital and internet-based information gathering between nation states has become easier with the globalization. So far Heywood only explains the globalization by leaving the domestic and national levels out but he also argues that they are interlinked and only work together is some sort of cooperation “by no means, however, does globalization imply that ‘the local’ and ‘the national’ are subordinate to ‘the global’. Rather, it highlights the deepening, as well as the broadening, of the Political process, in the sense that local, national and global events constantly interacts” (Heywood, 2013: 142).

The concepts of the nation state and globalization will be used in both the following analysis and discussion to elaborate and to link theory with empirical issues and events from the real developing and globalizing world.


From the listed statement in the introduction of this paper; "In the backlight of the World Word II, is it still relevant to consider the nation state as a central concept in Politics, we can examine different presumptions. ‘A country might be better off using a liberal perspective in their foreign Politics rather than a realistic one’ hence in the analysis foreign Politics of a state will be explained from both a liberal and a realistic perspective. Furthermore the following analysis will attempt to verify the mentioned presumption through the use of the presented concepts of a nation state and globalization in the previous chapter. But first a historical view from the end of the World War II and the post period will be presented to put things into perspective.

Post-World War II

Most people will agree that the Nazi regime under Adolf Hitler (1989-1945) within the Second World War and the actions the Germans made was horrible but what actually happened in the post period may have contributed to the developing global order. After the War, we were left in a world of two superpowers; in a bipolar world order where USSR dominated east and USA dominated the West. This lasted until 1991 where the Soviet Union collapsed and several minor states became independent in the Eastern-Europe, afterwards, the USA emerged and became a hegemonic superpower (Opello & Rosow, 2004: 1-2). In 1945, the larger states and especially the two superpowers got together after the war and agreed that the world needed to establish an organization which purpose was to safeguard peace and security, to maintain and uphold fundamental human rights, to advance social development and better standards of living and advocate international law (Heywood, 2013: 437-438) hence the UN was established in San Francisco; the same year as the war ended. The UN started out with 51 committed countries and currently, about 200 countries are involved within UN (UN website). Though the main mission of UN was basically to maintain peace, it is being said that the UN has three sister organizations; the ‘global economic rulers’; The World Bank, The International Monetary Fund (IMF) and The World Trade Organization (WTO), these organizations was also established just after the World War II in 1945, 1944 and 1948 respectively and developed exceptionally through the next 30-40 years.

Realism and liberalism in International Relations

Classical realism is the traditional approach to international relations (IR); a classical realist theorist thinks that in Politics, the most essential before anything is about power. Therefore in an international frame, states attempt to advance and defend their own interest through their foreign policies. Thus wars and conflicts between countries are predestined to happen over and over again, it also implies that they believe that there is no valuable or efficient international authority and that the international state system can be compared with anarchy. It also implies that there is a hierarchy of power among states in world of Politics (Jackson & Sørensen: 2013, 67-72). This means, that if a nation state uses realism when doing foreign policies, they will need to have an agenda behind making it beneficial for the nation state within the frame of realism hence for instance entering the UN. Countries with a realist agenda of foreign policies might then only enter such organizations to uphold peace within or in the environment of the state. In a globalizing world you can also argue with a realist approach that nation states only will to enter organizations as the EU or WTO to get a part of the market share and to have easier opportunities to export the goods of the state and make profit.

One of the other schools of IR theory is liberalism. The main issue that liberals try to achieve in IR is to maintain a lasting peace and cooperation between states. Liberalism in IR has three main imagination; the belief of advancement, the belief of sensibility at the individual and last but not least the faith in democracy which is the most important pillar in society. In the liberalistic approach to IR the condition of the world is going through a development towards a more peaceful settlement. This starts at some sort of total anarchy, then some regime establishments, collective security and finally a common ship of security, this happens through the expansion of sensibility, democracy and interdependence; states engage and take part, because they are dependent on each other both economically and politically. This implies that if a nation state uses liberalism when doing foreign policies it does not, as with the realistic approach, need to have a beneficial agenda for the state itself so with a liberal view on IR, states would go into organizations like the UN and NATO just to promote democracy or human rights in developing countries also where it would not benefit the state itself. (Jackson & Sørensen: 2013, 100-103).

International Relations in the Arab Spring

Is the solution to the problems of the world just the UN and its methods, can the UN solve every humanitarian crisis, like hunger and lack of democracy and freedom all over the world? According to theory, nation-states are sovereign and does have their own legitimate military force, these two things does the UN nor the EU not have hence this may be the biggest difference between nation states and the UN and the EU (Heywood, (2013): 439-441). Let us look at two examples:

The current civil war in Syria; there are reports saying that the Syrian government has been using poising gas to kill civilians under President Assad then why has UN not intervened with military forces to uphold human rights? – Simply because of their lack of military force. On the other hand let us look on sovereign nation states, say their foreign policies are based on liberalism, where democracy and freedom is fundamental; the nation states would have intervened, now say their foreign policies are based on realism, where the state gains are essential, nation states would not intervene in the Syrian conflict as the benefit from it might seem very small to the nation state itself, however, the situation may have been different if, for instance, there were large oil deposits in Syria. Another example is the conflict in Egypt; the removal of the Mubarrak in 2011 where Egypt had been under military dictatorship for decades, some sort of representative democracy was introduced and then Morsi, the leader of the Muslim Brotherhood which might be seen as religious fundamentalist, was parliamentary elected as the President but within less than a year the Egyptians removed him with the use of military power. Both liberal nation states and the UN entered severely before the coup (or revolution as many liberal Egyptians would argue) not with military help but with guidance to NGO’s and liberal Political parties towards the thought of Egypt without such a leader. You might argue that it have worked, as the Egyptians are facing both a constitution referendum and a parliament election in the upcoming spring 2014. Hence when it comes to democratization without military enforcements both nation states and organizations like the UN can take part.

In a globalizing world, happenings outside our nation state interfere within our society according to theory but what if the nation state’s foreign policies a based on a realist approach (Heywood, 2013: 142)? Realist states would not care about the conflict in Syria or the happenings in Egypt if there was no benefit from intervening hence we might say that if all states were acting realistic in their international relations, globalization would not occur. On the other hand, liberal nation states will definitely be affected of the conflicts in the two examples both economically and politically. From the analysis’ made, you might say that the “UN’s capacity to enforce a system of collective security is severely limited. It can do no more than its member states, and particularly the permanent members of the Security Council, permit” (Heywood, (2013): 439). This implies that you may say that UN and liberal nation states are in some way similar though the nation state is sovereign and has its own military, realist nation states are in a whole other category.

Hence we have determined that in the post- World War II period liberal nation states are interdependent through international organizations like UN though realist states might just leave some projects of the same organizations out if that was possible. In further discussion we will look at how the nation state is better off; acting liberal or realistic in the foreign policies, it can also be discussed whether the nation state is still relevant in the globalizing international world.


Liberalism vs. realism

Economists might argue that nation states may be better off using a realistic perspective in their foreign Politics rather than a liberal one in coherence with economic challenges in intervening in countries where there is no absolute or economics gains for the state itself. Thus, in a globalizing world others might argue that nation states acting liberal in their foreign policies are better off as it might be the right thing working to implement international law and democracy; this might be seen as an investment to obtain and maintain peace both within the nation’s region but also in the world as wars have huge economic losses. In dimension to the economic scale, larger countries, say China, Russia or USA, might be better off acting realistic in their foreign policies as the losses for acting liberal in an IR perspective are huge. In comparison with smaller countries and economies as Greece, Italy or Turkey, their losses from acting liberal in economics of scale will be even larger and they might not even be able to achieve anything that the liberal perspective of IR wants. Though if you look at Europe all together, like the EU, with both a larger geographical area and a larger economy, it might be better off acting liberal in its foreign policies.

But whose responsibility is it to get developing states on the right track, is it the larger or smaller economies or is it the nation state itself? States acting liberal have the moral to help other states out when they are going through a rough time hence liberal nation states might argue that it is ethical incorrect not to, as a nation state acting realistic. In a globalizing world, where events happening internationally will have consequences domestically, saying that all countries are a part of a community, for instance NATO, where it has economic consequences when military troops are sent to Iraq or Afghanistan, nation states will need to act liberal but as these communities are growing larger and larger, the economic losses becomes smaller and smaller to the single nation state itself. On the other hand, the large economies in the already developed countries as the USA and EU (considering Europe as one nation) could just leave out all other countries and focus on their own economy acting realistic.

Relevance of the nation state

As we are living in a globalizing world where many foreign policies of a nation state are decided within international organizations like EU and NATO, some might argue that the nation states are not relevant in the future as the world is developing to be liberal in the international environment. Same group of people might argue that the optimal goal is one single organization or institution having world governance or European governance, like if the EU kept on developing in an expanding way. We could keep on arguing for ages whether a Global or European state is good or bad but nation states would definitely say that it is a bad idea as they would have to give away their sovereignty and as they would not exist anymore, according to theory, because both of the lost sovereignty but also because there would be more than one nation within a single state (Heywood, 2013: 58). As it is currently in both the EU and the UN, they have no complete sovereignty or an independent military power and all actions for instance when intervening in developing countries, the power lies on the member states which most commonly are sovereign nation states. Hence, you could interpret that if the EU and/or the UN got independent military troops, they would be sovereign and independent of nation states this might lead to what was expressed earlier: a European or Global state. Others might argue that this is too much power to give international authorities and this power lies at the national and local level where the nation state itself are to spend its own expenditures both domestic and internationally.

Hence we have examined that it depends both on the size of the country’s economy and how morality- and ethical gains are weighed in order to determine whether a country might be better off using a realistic perspective in their foreign Politics rather than a liberal perspective. Moreover, it has been examined that international organizations could not exist without nation states currently, because of its sovereignty and military force therefore nation states are relevant now but might not be in the future as the these organizations as the UN and EU might be developing their own military force.


In the start of the assignment two presumptions was advanced, first, that in post-World War II period nation states are interdependent through international organizations like NATO, the EU and the UN. This presumption can both be verified and not because it depends on whether the nation state is acting liberal or realistic in its foreign policies. Secondly, a country might be better off using a realistic perspective in their foreign politics rather than a liberal one, this presumption also have two views; economically speaking, acting realistic larger countries will be better off while smaller countries will not though morally speaking, it depends on how much you weigh out the morality and ethical gains from acting liberal instead of acting realistic. Thirdly, a nation state is not relevant in the future as the world is developing to be liberal, international and global in its environment, this presumption can also both verified and not as the future is a wide expression; if international organizations develop their own military force and might turn into a global state, the nation states would not exist are thereby not be relevant, though currently, international organizations do not have sovereignty and an independent military this implies that nation states are indeed relevant for foreign policy making today.

In final conclusion, it can be concluded that in the backlight of the World Word II, it is still relevant to consider the nation state as a central concept in Politics as it is sovereign and the only institution which have an independent military force though if international organizations like EU and UN keep on developing towards global governance, nation states, in the end, will turn out non-existing. Further investigation in the topic could be to examine the impact which would happen if the large contributors to developing countries like USA and EU now acting liberal turned 180 degrees around and only acted realistic in international relations, you could also investigate in how global governance could be achieved and whether it is better for the global society today.

Reference list


Heywood, A., (2013): Politics, London: Palgrave Foundations

Jackson, R. & Sørensen, G., (2013): Introduction to International Relations, Oxford University Press

Opello, W. C. & Rosow, Jr. and Stephen J., (2004): the Nation-State and Global Order, Lynne Rienner Publishers, Inc.

Weber, M., (1978) Economy and Society: An Outline of Interpretive Sociology, University of California Press


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