Has Globalization Reinforced or Undermined the Legitimacy of the Nation-State?

Globalisation is a phenomenon that has been increasingly used in the lexicon since the latter half of the 1980’s, achieving widespread and common currency amongst politicians, political analysts, academics, economists, the media, business, trade and finance. The term has become synonymous with the “global village” concept, where nations and states are drawn closer together; where economic, political and cultural spheres extend across the world’s major regions and continents. A world where development in one part of the globe will impact life in another part of the globe.

The polemic surrounding the process of globalization has hitherto been a highly contentious and controversial matter, whilst at the same time achieving a level of fashion in its use. The many debates over globalization and governance have concentrated upon its implications for the nation-state and that globalization is depriving the state of its sovereignty. Furthermore analysts and commentators have linked the growth of global relations to the diminished nation-state, the decline of the nation-state and the retreat of the state.

Others have gone further still to debate the ‘crisis of the nation-state’, ‘the obsolescence of the state’ and even the ‘extinction of the state’. What is certain is that the nation-state is evolving and is being reshaped before our eyes. This essay will examine the contention of whether globalization has reinforced or undermined the legitimacy of the nation-state? Globalization entails a concept of deterritorialization and a spread of supraterritoriality particularly with the growth of transnational political organizations such as the UN, the EU and others. Hence what is the future for the nation-state?

Will state borders disappear and herald a new global polity and order as we enter into the twenty first century? The term globalization has been used in a wide range of contexts and is often used in loose and vague contexts. It has been used to describe a process of modernity pertaining to the rapidly evolving information and technological age, communication and global media, for example CNN or News Corporation. Moreover it has been associated with progress, prosperity and peace. For others it is viewed as a modern form of imperialism and colonialism. A McDonalds or Hollywood encroachment, impacting on a nation’s culture and traditions.

Or the challenge to a country’s economy, viewed as exploitation. Globalization might be viewed from an ideological perspective as ‘a stage of capitalism’ or success of the neo-liberal economic project and economic liberalization, in trade and finance. Paul Hirst and Grahame Thompson identify globalization as a new stage in international economic, political and cultural relationships, and specifically ‘large and growing flows of trade and capital investment between countries’ (1996). McGrew defines it as an ‘intensification of global interconnectedness’(1998).

In order to understand how globalization is challenging the nation-state, we must examine the concept of sovereignty and how it historically defined the contemporary nation-state. The Peace of Westphalia, in 1648, established the states-system in Europe creating distinct territorial states, each ruled by its distinct and separate government. Hence the Westphalian system defined the principles of statehood and sovereignty which subsequently has been a guiding principle of international relations, since 1648. The state could now exercise ‘comprehensive, supreme, unqualified, and exclusive control over its designated territorial domain.

’(Baylis and Smith 2001, pp20). As a consequence this would mean that comprehensive rule would allow the sovereign state complete jurisdiction over all affairs within the state, whilst supreme rule would mean, recognizing no superior authority(such as Papal authority) and that the sovereign state would be the final arbiter in its territory. This would confer upon the state a legal status over and above all external laws. Unqualified rule established the state’s right of complete authority over its territory, to be respected by other states, which was crucial after years of war that led to violation of each others political entities in Europe.

Exclusive control meant an end to sharing joint sovereignty with other states, pertaining to their respective domestic jurisdictions. In the nineteenth and twentieth centuries, as states transformed into nation-states, the Westphalian system came to be regarded as the international system. Therefore with the advent of international relations between states and globalization, it becomes immediately obvious that the Westphalian system is obsolete, although the state survives in a more advanced and robust form.

The concept of sovereignty originally intended to establish order within a state at the Peace of Westphalia, has been interpreted as legally, placing the state above the authority of all external laws. However in the real world today, international, political, judicial and practical obligations of states in the international system, such as becoming signatory to an international treaty, or when states are bound to abide by customary international law, the criteria of sovereignty as it was originally conceived in the Seventeenth Century is no longer is tenable.

However it is testament to the resilience of sovereignty, that it persists in the age of globalization and manifests in the state’s functions and exercise of domestic law and maintaining order, the printing of currency, collection of taxes, conducting foreign policy or regulating commerce. These are all functions reserved exclusively for the state; however being increasingly challenged by the European Union, in many aspects of governance in today’s political landscape. Globalization poses three important challenges to the nation-state.

The first and the most visibly apparent is the economic challenge of globalization in undermining the legitimacy of nation-states; where the nation-state’s capacity to control huge economic and financial flows in the global market economy has been severely reduced. There is thus a decrease in legislative ability and sovereign control over markets within the state. Holton (1998) states that “flows of investment, technology, communications, and profit are the most striking symptom of global challenge to the nation-state”.

The nation-state is “sidelined by world market forces which are stronger than even the most powerful states” (Hirst and Thompson, 1996). The problem that confronts states is ceding sovereign control, whilst being subjected to increasing control from global organizations and global trends transcending and perhaps ultimately replacing the nation-state as the primary actors of international organization. Oran Young identifies this as “a retreat from the postulate of the state as the fundamental unit of world politics” (Young in McGrew and Lewis, 1992).

The financial and banking crises post 2007 have exposed the weaknesses inherent in individual states having to deal with and almost being overwhelmed by the international financial systems, until governments in the United States and Europe stepped in to avert a global banking meltdown. In this situation it was ultimately national governments which saved the system. The second challenge to the nation-state is the increase in proliferating and increasing power of transnational organizations.

These can be political and economic InterGovernmental Organizations (IGOs) such as the United Nations, the European Union, International Monetary Fund or World Bank and the World Trade Organization. Such bodies are increasingly challenging traditional nation-state sovereignty by their international legislative powers; although limited and subordinate(to state laws), but nevertheless reducing governmental control. The International Monetary Fund and the World Trade Organisation can have a major impact on a nation’s economy and hence the autonomy and social well-being and security and life of that nation.

Intervention by the IMF, when a nation’s economic situation is serious is clear evidence of undermining the independence of nation-states and their ability to act within its territorial boundaries. For example, riots and social instability have been provoked in the developing states, as a direct consequence of IMF structural adjustment programs. Similarly organizations such as the UN or NATO, by undertaking military intervention or placing economic sanctions on states can undermine a nation’s sovereignty and even question the legitimacy of a nation-state and determine its internal state policy.

When a state enters into international treaties, whether bilateral or multilateral, will cede a part of that state’s sovereignty for some objective. International Non Governmental Organizations (INGOs)such as Greenpeace International and Amnesty International “outflank nation-states and threaten borders while their complexity defies command and their capacity to link diverse people […]to common causes and interests undermines the saliency of the state”(Waters, 2001,pp117). INGOs have the ability to unite people across many nation-states into new groups based on shared interests or values.

This may empower such groups to wield substantial global political and financial influence, particularly through lobby groups that may affect individual nation-state autonomy. Finally Trans National Corporations(TNCs), are often “larger and more powerful than many governments”(Waters, 2001,pp124) therefore may have the power and ability to affect the sovereignty and autonomy of a nation state, whilst pursuing its economic and even political objectives. The third challenge to the nation-state is the emergence of super-national and sub-national centres of power (ranging from the UN to local councils).

In an rapidly interconnected globalized world, the nation-state is less able to deal with global problems because it is either too small, and conversely it is too large and unwieldy in dealing with regional governance and regional matters, for example environmental, transport, social, education matters amongst many others. Therefore power is shifted to super and sub-national levels. At the international level, power may be shifted to the UN, the EU, and WTO and a plethora of others. Such bodies may have some form of legislative and coercive powers, to deal effectively with international matters.

At the local or sub-national level, state sovereignty may be challenged by regional governments, like the Scottish Parliament or the Basque Parliament in Spain. Such devolving of powers to numerous authorities, would mean that the state is now one form of authority “among several, with limited power and resources” (Strange, 1996,pp 73). In conclusion, it is obvious that globalization has ended the state-centric sovereignty based on the Westphalia model, because ultimately it is untenable in a globalized world; built on international cooperation.

However it does not mean the dissolution of state sovereignty, which has endured. Despite the challenges it still continues to exist; maintaining its territorial borders and national governments, which prove to be highly robust. The state remains central to international negotiations or agreements, despite rapid and complex changes to the international economy, global technological interconnections or the increased threats of global violence and terrorism.

However the state is not the sole source of authority, although it remains central to dealing with such global issues, it is now an actor amongst new and novel forms of transnational authorities. Some sovereignty has been ceded to facilitate these newer forms of international institutions and governance. Nevertheless the classical notions of fixed territory and borders are yielding to a larger supraterritorial concept, for example most obviously with the EU and its increasing shift away from mere economic union to that of the political.

It is recognized that bodies such as the UN or the EU are dependent on its member states which are nation-states and that the UN or the EU are only as good as the effective and proactive participation of its member states. References: Baylis,J. & Smith,2001, The Globalization of World Politics, 2nd edn. Oxford: Oxford University Press. Scholte,J. A. , 2005, Globalization a critical introduction, 2nd edn. Hampshire & New York:Palgrave Macmillan. Is there a future for the nation-state in an era of globalisation? ,www. shaneland. co. uk/academic/ma/globalisationessay1. pdf.

Sarah from Law Aspect

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