Globalization and Nation-state

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Globalization and Nation-state

By- Dr. S A Hamed Hosseini, UoN,

April 1, 2010 — Dr Hosseini

Introduction: key questions

Last week, our discussion was structured around economic globalization (the integration of world economy) and the centrality of capitalism as the most dominant economic system. This week’s debate will be revolving around the political aspect of globalization. When dealing with this aspect of global change, the question of global political integrity will be at the centre of our attention. This question has been formulated in different ways such as:

  • Does globalization undermine the nation-state?

  • Has globalization integrated nation-states and local communities into one single political system world order? Or, are we living in a politically integrated world (i.e. a solid global polity)?

  • Has globalization overwhelmed the primacy/sovereignty/autonomy of nation-states? Is there a power shift from national governments to the evolving systems of regional and global governance? Do all nation-states experience the challenges of global change to their sovereignty in similar ways? What would be the implications of growing global problems like climate change that cannot be dealt with by nation-states individually?

  • How are we governed, by whom, in whose interest and to what ends? (how are the power relations are transforming in the post-Cold War era?)

  • Are we moving towards a single political community with a particular system of power sharing and decision-making, by the means of (inter/trans-)national organizations? If yes, to what extent this system is democratic? And to what extent this has affected local and national autonomy/sovereignty?

  • It is not difficult to predict how each of the main theoretical perspectives would answer the above questions. Globalists argue that globalization has undermined the sovereignty of nation-states due to the growing number of powerful supranational/supraterritorial forces as well as global problems (like the climate change, MNCs, terrorism, international non-governmental organizations, new communication technologies like Internet). Sceptics would argue that nation-state is still important and we still live in an international system rather than a truly global one where nation-state is expected to be diminished. The rise of China, the rise of far right nationalist sentiments in Europe, the significant role played of the G8/G20 in forming the international relations, conflicts of interest between the US, Russia, Iran, North Korea and China all point to the importance of nation-state. Transformationalists hold a moderate position and while acknowledging the challenges of global problems they do not see a decline in the importance of nation-state. Instead, they believe nation-states are transforming in response to the requirements of globalization and its complexities. However, they believe that in dealing with global problems, a system of global governance with a democratic covenant (i.e. cosmopolitan democracy) is needed. According to a transformationialst point of view, globalization is both founded on and produces the transformation of state. Globalization must not be considered as opposite to nation-state system. The structure of modern state and national citizenship systems have been globalized in the last few centuries and have been evolving. Therefore, the question that needs to be raised must be around the nature of this evolution. Our answer will depend on the way we may define globalization, the state, and its sovereignty, autonomy, territoriality, and primacy


There are some key concepts that we will be using in our discussion this week. These are as follows:

-Power means having control over social relations; politics is about how to use power and democracy is a mechanism that allows the use of power by people’s representatives for the interest of their constituencies;

Polity: a particular form or system of government; political community; a complex of decision making roles and sharing power

Global polity: consists of collective structures and processes by which “interests are articulated and aggregated, decisions are made, values allocated and policies are conducted through international and transnational political process” (Ougaard 2004: 5); an imagined integrated political community at the global level.

Global governance: a system of political coordination among public authorities (states and intergovernmental org.), private agents (corporations) and civil societal actors (NGOs, INGOs), seeking to realize common purposes or resolve shared problems through making and implementing of transnational norms, rules, programs and policies (see Baylis et al, 2008: 581)

Global covenant: shared norms, values, rules which govern the global society of states.

Territoriality of state:  a political space which is confined by internationally recognized borders. The formal international recognition of state territoriality was started from the establishment of the Westphalian state system in 17th century Europe and then expanded through colonial border making among colonial societies. They have been problematic from the beginning for many native colonized societies. Borders are now being penetrated by huge amounts of transnational flows (legal or illegal).

Scholte in Baylis and Smith (2001: 22) argues that the state can be conceptualized as a space of flows regarding the diversity of many supraterritorial influences. The following figure illustrates such a conception (we may add flows of organs and sex workers, smuggled women and children, or human trafficking to the figure).

State Sovereignty: is defined as the entitlement of a state to rule within its own territorial space; From a transformationalists view, globalization processes have challenged the sovereignty of different states to different degrees, but one can hardly argue that they have totally eroded the sovereignty of any state; states still have significant sovereignty but this is less bound with their territorial space. During the last fifty years, the world has witnessed a significant increase in the number of intergovernmental organizations (like EU, ASEAN, G7, G8, G77) and international non-governmental organizations (see the following figure)

-This implies that the more interactions societies have across their borders and the more international and transnational bodies are involved in the formation of global governance, the more an individual state will be confined by external factors. However, this situation has been facilitated through new international legislations made by nation-states and the current global governance today has become a field of competition and contention as much as cooperation among nation-states. Stronger nation-states (the North American and European states as well as China and Japan) exercise greater levels of power in such a system and therefore their sovereignty is less challenged by global issues like global poverty, corruption or crime. They are in a better position to deal with such global problems.


State Autonomy or self-governance: can be defined as an internationally recognized right given to a state to rule without interference from other states. Challenged by recent global transformations, states are sandwiched between demands from within to protect the interests of different groups of society against global challenges and from without to collaborate (or comply). This can have more sever consequences for the autonomy of powerless states compared to powerful states.


Primacy of the state: modern states are given the most important authority in exercising power over their citizens. However, the growing number of new centers of public authority above and below the state as well as private authorities (like MNCs) and civil societal authorities (NGOs, INGOs, and transnational social movements) have challenged and transformed such primacy.


Activity 1:

Watch the two following online video clips, and then try to explain them by drawing on the theoretical perspectives reviewed above. Which perspective can help us better understand the two apparently contradictory stories in concert. Try to develop one coherent explanation of both stories together.

  1. The Beast File: Google (HUNGRY BEAST)(

  2. Great Firewall Of China (HUNGRY BEAST)(


Globalization of modern state: a short historical account

The nature of Western modern state from the beginning has been problematic (similar to the nature of capitalism); the ‘modern state’ was initially born out of rivalries among European Imperial powers (known as the Westphalian state system). It was based on a rationalized monopoly of force and only later under the pressure from social movements; it became gradually democratic although power is still channeled through political parties and their ideological discourses. This system was exported to other societies during the colonization time and then it was kept by the post-colonial societies as the only viable option to run their political systems in the modern time. The modern state then was married to a problematic establishment of national borders among former colonies with manipulated identities (take the example of Pakistan and India and their conflicts since their independence). Then these post-colonial states were targeted by the superpowers during the Cold War through proxy wars and competitions between the Capitalist and Communist camps. Finally, after the collapse of Soviet, the Westphalian state became more vulnerable to the challenges caused by the forces of market, transnational flows and requirements of joining different regional and international free trade agreements.


Today, the world politics (or global governance) is structured around decisions made by many international governmental bodies influenced by powerful states, private actors (like MNCs), and non-governmental players. It might look too premature or too idealist to talk about the emergence of a “global state”. However, we can attribute some general features to this system of governing the world politics:


1- Global governance is hegemonic (stronger nations play greater roles): Global governance remains hegemonic (the US and some other powerful states still have the capacity to bypass or veto the decisions made by international bodies like the UN security council).


2- This hegemonic structure is oriented towards protecting a globalist agenda: even the US is engulfed by the imperatives of global markets. Underlying the world order is a mechanism that pursues the global interests of capitalist systems and transnational elite networks. The political imperial agendas of the past are replaced with corporate imperial agendas whether financial or military and interventions by the US, G8/G20 and the IMF are all about securing and managing the capitalist global order (Hardt and Negri 2000). However, this capitalist global order also provides, in turn, a hierarchal structure for the stronger actors to keep their privileges/upper hand


For instance, the 2008 Global Financial Crisis sparked new plans by the transnational elite networks including many politicians, finance ministers, central bankers, bureaucratic and corporate bodies to return stability to the system while maintaining the supremacy of global capitalist markets.


3- However, we may add to this gloomy picture the people’s power to challenge the system (governance from below); this is to say that there is not any determinism (made by state or market); social agents can play significant roles as oppositions to the World Trade Organization across the world created a global consciousness/awareness about the roots of poverty, inequality and environmental crises. Neoliberalism has lost its currency and demands for global justice have been rising among the grassroots. From opposition to the Atlantic Slave Trade in 18th-19th centuries , to the 1970s Third World demands for a new international economic order; from the success of anti-MAI movement in halting the OECD secret negotiations for MAI (multilateral agreement on investment) in the late 1990s, to the Battle Seattle in 1999, and a series of oppositions to the WTO ministerial meeting across the world can all be considered as signs of such a social change from below. This has resulted in greater pressures from public opinion, greater divisions within the OECD and WTO members in the recent rounds of negotiation as well as the emergence of anti-War and anti-debt movement in recent years.

In sum, the world politics today is a hierarchical field of contention, competition and collaboration in which there are strong non-state forces (such as MNCs and transnational networks of elite) that pursue their political-economic interests through the trans-nationalizing power relations (e.g. integrating national economies into a capitalist system); there are also forces that re-actively pursue nationalism or other alternative agendas (like socialism or fundamentalism) in order to protect their endangered interests and/or to disturb the hegemonic expansion of Western/capitalist values. Besides, there are hegemonic (inter-)governmental forces (like the US, Russia, China, G8, OECD and the EU) that use their (inter-)nationally based sources of power to influence global relations and thereby take the maximum advantage of such relationships like trade and investment for maintaining their supremacy. However, there are also independent players from below that struggle for the democratization of global governance and the realization of justice in both economic and political relationships.


Baylis, J. and Smith, S. (eds.) (2001) The Globalization of World Politics: an Introduction to International Relations. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

Hardt, M. and Negri, A. (2000) Empire, Cambridge; London: Harvard University Press.

Ougaard, M. (2004) Political Globalization: State, Power and Social Forces, New York: Palgrave Macmillan.

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