Global Politics

First edition

by Andrew Heywood

Chapter notes


1 – Introducing Global Politics

  • What is meant by ‘global politics’?
  • How has international politics been transformed into global politics?
  • What have been the implications of globalization for world politics?
  • How do mainstream approaches to global politics differ from critical approaches?
  • How has global politics changed in recent years in relation to the issues of power, security and justice?

How should we approach the study of world affairs? How is the world best understood? World affairs have traditionally been understood on the basis of an international paradigm. In this view, states (often understood as ‘nations’, hence ‘international’) are taken to be the essential building blocks of world politics, meaning that world affairs boil down, essentially, to the relations between states. This suggests that once you understand the factors that influence how states interact with one another, you understand how the world works. However, since the 1980s, an alternative globalization paradigm has become fashionable. This reflects the belief that world affairs have been transformed in recent decades by the growth of global interconnectedness and interdependence. In this view, the world no longer operates as a disaggregated collection of states, or ‘units’, but rather as an integrated whole, as ‘one world’. Global politics, as understood in this book, attempts to straddle these rival paradigms. It accepts that it is equally absurd to dismiss states and national government as irrelevant in world affairs as it is to deny that, over a significant range of issues, states now operate in a context of global interdependence.

However, in what sense is politics now ‘global’? And how, and to what extent, has globalization reconfigured world politics? Our understanding of global politics also needs to take account of the different theoretical ‘lenses’ though which the world has been interpreted; that is, different ways of seeing the world. What, in particular, is the difference between mainstream perspectives on global politics and critical perspectives? Finally, the world stubbornly refuses to stand still. Global politics is therefore an arena of ongoing and, many would argue, accelerating change. And yet, certain aspects of global politics appear to have an enduring character. What is the balance between continuity and change in global politics?

  • Global politics is based on a comprehensive approach to world affairs that takes account not just of political developments at a global level, but at and, crucially, across, all levels – global, regional, national, sub-national and so on. In that sense, ‘the global’ and ‘the international’ complement one another and should not be seen as rival or incompatible modes of understanding.









  • ‘International’ politics has been transformed into ‘global’ politics through a variety of developments. New actors have emerged from the world stage alongside states and national governments. Levels of interconnectedness and interdependence in world politics have increased, albeit unevenly. And international anarchy has been modified by the emergence of a framework of regional and global governance.
  • Globalization is the emergence of a complex web of interconnectedness that means that our lives are increasingly shaped by events that occur, and decisions that are made, at a great distance from us. Distinctions are commonly drawn between economic globalization, cultural globalization and political globalization. However, there are significant debates about whether globalization is actually happening and how far it has transformed world politics
  • The two mainstream perspectives on global politics are realism and liberalism; these are both grounded in positivism and focus on the balance between conflict and cooperation in state relations, even though they offer quite different accounts of this balance. Critical theories, by contrast, tend to adopt a post-positivist approach to theory and contest the global status quo by aligning themselves with the interests of marginalized or oppressed groups.
  • Global politics is an ever-shifting field, with, if anything, the pace of change accelerating over time. Debates have emerged about the changing nature of power and the shifting configuration of global power, about whether national security has been displaced by international, global or even human security, and about the extent to which justice now has to be considered in cosmopolitan or global terms.

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2 – Historical Context

  • What developments shaped world history before the twentieth century?
  • What were the causes and consequences of World War I?
  • What factors resulted in the outbreak of the World War II?
  • What were the causes and consequences of the ‘end of empire’?
  • Why did the Cold War emerge after 1945, and how did it end?
  • What are the major factors that have shaped post-Cold War world history?

Politics and history are inextricably linked. In a simple sense, politics is the history of the present while history is the politics of the past. An understanding of history therefore has two benefits for students of politics. First, the past, and especially the recent past, helps us to make sense of the present, by providing it with a necessary context or background. Second, history can provide insight into present circumstances (and perhaps even guidance for political leaders), insofar as the events of the past resemble those of the present. History, in that sense, ‘teaches lessons’. In the aftermath of 9/11, President George W. Bush thus justified the ‘war on terror’ in part by pointing to the failure of the policy of ‘appeasement’ in the 1930s to halt Nazi expansionism. The notion of ‘lessons of history’ is a debatable one, however; not least because history itself is always a debate. What happened, and why it happened, can never be resolved with scientific accuracy. History is always, to some extent, understood through the lens of the present, as modern concerns, understandings and attitudes help us to ‘invent’ the past. And it is also worth remembering Zhou Enlai (Chou En lai), then Premier of the People’s Republic of China, who replied, when asked in the 1960s about the lessons of the 1789 French Revolution, that ‘it is too early to say’. Nevertheless, the modern world makes little sense without some understanding of the momentous events that have shaped world history, particularly since the advent of the twentieth century. What do the events that led up to the outbreak of World War I and World War II tell us about the causes of war, and what does the absence of world war since 1945 tell us about the causes? In what sense were years such as 1914, 1945 and 1990 watersheds in world history? What does world history tell us about the possible futures of global politics?

  • The ‘modern’ world was shaped by a series of developments. These include the final collapse of ancient civilizations and the advent of the ‘Dark Ages’; the growing dominance of Europe th
    rough the ‘age of discovery’ and, eventually, industrialization; and the growth of European imperialism.
  • WWI was meant to be the ‘war to end all wars’ but, within a generation, WWII had broken out. The key factors that led to WWII include the WWI peace settlements, the global economic crisis of the 1930s, the programme of Nazi expansion, sometimes linked to the personal influence of Hitler, and the growth of Japanese expansionism in Asia.
  • 1945 is commonly seen as a watershed in world history. It initiated two crucial processes. The first was the process of decolonization and the collapse of European empires. The second was the advent of the Cold War, giving rise to bipolar tensions between an increasingly US-dominated West and Soviet dominated East.
  • Cold War bipolarity came to an end through the Eastern European revolutions of 1989–91, which witnessed the collapse of the Soviet Union. This was a result of factors including the structural weakness of Soviet-style communism, the impact of Gorbachev’s reform process, the advent of the ‘Second Cold War’ and the wider implications of economic and cultural globalization.
  • ‘Liberal’ expectations about the post-Cold War period flourished briefly before being confounded by the rise of forms of ethnic nationalism and the growth of religious militancy. This especially applied in the form of 9/11 and the advent of the ‘war on terror’, which has sometimes been seen as a civilizational struggle between Islam and the West
  • Power balances within the global economy have shifted in important ways. While some have linked globalization to the growing economic dominance of the USA, others have argued that the global economy is increasingly multipolar, especially due to the rise of emerging economies.

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3 – Theories of Global Politics

  • Why have realists argued that world affairs should be understood in terms of power and self-interest?
  • Why do liberals believe that world affairs are biased in favour of interdependence and peace?
  • How have critical theorists challenged mainstream approaches to global politics?
  • In what ways have critical theorists questioned the nature and purpose of theory?
  • What are the empirical and moral implications of global interconnectedness?
  • Do theoretical paradigms help or hinder understanding?

No one sees the world just ‘as it is’. All of us look at the world through a veil of theories, presuppositions and assumptions. In this sense, observation and interpretation are inextricably bound together: when we look at the world we are also engaged in imposing meaning on it. This is why theory is important: it gives shape and structure to an otherwise shapeless and confusing reality. The most important theories as far as global politics is concerned have come out of the discipline of International Relations, which has spawned a rich and increasingly diverse range of theoretical traditions. The dominant mainstream perspectives within the field have been realism and liberalism, each offering a different account of the balance between conflict and cooperation in world affairs. Why do realists believe that global politics is characterized by unending conflict, while liberals have believed in the possibility of cooperation and enduring peace? And why have realist and liberal ideas become more similar over time? However, from the 1980s onwards, especially gaining impetus from the collapse of communism and the end of the Cold War, a series of new theoretical voices have emerged. These ‘new voices’ have substantially expanded the range of critical perspectives on world affairs, once dominated by the Marxist tradition. How have theories such as neo-Marxism, social constructivism, poststructuralism, feminism, postcolonialism and green politics cast a critical lens on global politics, and how do they differ from one another? Finally, the emergence of globalization has posed a series of new theoretical challenges, most significantly about the moral and theoretical implications of global interconnectedness. How is it possible to ‘think globally’? Does global interconnectedness require that we re-think existing theories, or even abandon theoretical paradigms altogether?

  • The realist model of power politics is based on the combined ideas of human selfishness or egoism and the structural implications of international anarchy. While this implies a strong tendency towards conflict, bloodshed and open violence can be constrained by the balance of power. The key dynamics in the international system flow from the distribution of power (or capacities) between and among states.
  • The central theme of the liberal view of international politics is a belief in harmony or balance. The tendency towards peace, cooperation and integration is by factors such as economic interdependence, brought about by free trade, the spread of democracy and the construction of international organizations. However, over time, liberalism (or neoliberalism) has become increasingly indistinct from realism.
  • The key critical perspectives on global politics are Marxism in its various forms, social constructivism, poststructuralism, feminism, green politics and postcolonialism. In their different ways, these theories challenge norms, values and assumptions on which the global status quo is based. Critical theorists tend to view realism and liberalism as ways of concealing, or of legitimizing, the global power asymmetries.
  • Many critical theorists embrace a post-positivist perspective that takes subject and object, and therefore theory and practice, to be intimately linked. Post-positivists question the belief that there is an objective reality ‘out there’, separate from the beliefs, ideas and assumptions of the observer. Reality is therefore best thought of in ‘inter-subjective’ terms.
  • Increased levels of global interconnectedness, linked to accelerated globalization, has brought a series of new theoretical challenges. These include the difficulties that complexity poses to conventional linear thinking, the possibility that the world now constitutes a single moral community, and reduced value of theoretical paradigms. Paradigms may bring insight and understanding, but they may also limit our perceptual field.

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4 – The Economy in a Global Age

  • What are the main types of capitalism in the modern world?
  • Why has neoliberalism become dominant, and what are its chief implications?
  • How can economic globalization best be explained?
  • To what extent has the modern world economy been ‘globalized’?
  • Why does capitalism tend towards booms and slumps?
  • What have recent economic crises told us about the nature of global capitalism?

Economic issues have long been at the centre of ideological and political debate. For much of the nineteenth and twentieth centuries, the core battleground in politics was the contest between two rival economic models, capitalism and socialism. This nevertheless culminated in the victory of capitalism over socialism, registered in particular through the collapse of communism. As the market, private property and competition were accepted worldwide as the only viable ways of generating wealth, capitalism became global capitalism. However, capitalism did not cease to be politically contentious. In the first place, capitalism is not one system but many: different forms of capitalism have taken root in different parts of the world. How do these capitalisms differ, and what are the implications of these different forms of socio-economic organization? Moreover, a particular form of capitalist development has gained global ascendency since the 1980s, usually dubbed neoliberalism. What have been the chief consequences of the ‘triumph’ of neoliberalism? A further development has been a significant acceleration in the process of economic globalization, usually associated with the advance of neoliberalism. Has neoliberal globalization promoted prosperity and opportunity for all, or has it spawned new forms of inequality and injustice? These questions have become particularly pressing in the light of a tendency towards seemingly intensifying crisis and economic instability. Are economic crises a price worth paying for long-term economic success, or are they a symptom of the fundamental failings of global capitalism?

  • Capitalism is a system of generalized commodity production in which wealth is owned privately and economic life is organized according to market principles. Enterprise capitalism, social capitalism and state capitalism nevertheless differ in relation to the balance within them between the market and the state.
  • The advance of neoliberalism reflects the ascendance of enterprise capitalism over rival forms of capitalism. While supporters of neoliberalism claim that, in association with economic globalization, it is a reliable vehicle for generating global growth, its critics have associated it with widening inequality, financial crises and political ‘shocks’ of various kinds.
  • Economic globalization is the process whereby all national economies have, to a greater or lesser extent, been absorbed into an interlocking global economy. However, there have been major debates about the extent to which economic life has been globalized as well as about the impact, for good or ill, of economic globalization.
  • Despite its global success, capitalism has always been susceptible to booms and slumps. While Marxists have explained these crises in terms of an inherent tendency of capitalism towards over-production, Schumpeter drew attention to the business cycle, stemming from the disposition within capitalism towards ‘creative destruction’.
  • Modern crises and ‘contagions’ have derived from the trend, implicit, some argue, in neoliberal globalization, in favour of ‘financialization’. This has created what has been dubbed ‘casino capitalism’, a highly volatile and unpredictable economic system that allows speculative bubbles to develop and then collapse, their impact extending, potentially, across the world.
  • The origins of the global financial crisis of 2007-9 are hotly disputed, with disagreement about whether the crisis was rooted in the US banking system, in Anglo-American enterprise capitalism, or in the nature of the capitalist system itself. The crisis may have accelerated important shifts in global power, but it is far less clear that it will result in a major shift in favour of national or global financial regulation.

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5 – The State and Foreign Policy in a Global Age

  • Is sovereignty statehood compatible with a globalized world?
  • Have nation-states been transformed into market or postmodern states?
  • In what ways, and why, has the state become more important?
  • To what extent has national government given way to multi-level governance?
  • Is the concept of foreign policy any longer meaningful?
  • What is the most persuasive theory of foreign policy decision-making?

The state has long been regarded as the most significant actor on the world stage, the basic ‘unit’ of global politics. Its predominance stems from its sovereign jurisdiction. As states exercise unchallengeable power within their borders, they operate, or should operate, as independent and autonomous entities in world affairs. However, the state is under threat, perhaps as never before. In particular, globalization, in its economic and political forms, has led to a process of state retreat, even fashioning what some called the post-sovereign state. Others, nevertheless, argue that conditions of flux and transformation underline the need for the order, stability and direction that (arguably) only the state can provide is greater than ever. Are states in decline, or are they in a process of revival? Globalizing trends have also had implications for the nature and processes of government. Once viewed as ‘the brains’ of the state, controlling the body politic from the centre, government has seemingly given way to ‘governance’, a looser and more amorphous set of processes that blur the distinction between the public and private realms and often operate on supranational and subnational levels as well as the national level. Why and how has government been transformed into governance, and what have been the implications of this process? Finally, foreign policy is important as the mechanism through which usually national government manages the state’s relations with other states and with international bodies, highlighting the role that choice and decision play in global politics. How are foreign policy decisions made, and what factors influence them?

  • The state has four key features: a defined territory, a permanent population, an effective government, and the capacity to enter into relations with other states. Its core feature, however, is sovereignty, the principle of absolute and unlimited power. There are nevertheless internal and external dimensions of sovereignty.
  • Globalization has widely been seen to curtail state sovereignty, creating ‘post-sovereign governance’. In particular, economic sovereignty has been compromised by transborder trading, capital and other flows. Some believe that such developments have transformed the nature of the state, giving rise to the ‘competition’ state, the ‘market’ state or the ‘postmodern’ state.
  • Contrary to the ‘declinist’ literature, there is growing evidence of the return of state power. This has occurred as a response to new security threats, the increasing use of the state as an agent of economic modernization and through an emphasis on state-building as a means of promoting development.
  • Changes in the environment in which the state operates have also, many claim, meant that government is being displaced by governance, implying a shift away from command-and-control and towards coordination. This trend has been associated with the ‘stretching’ of government across a number of levels, giving rise to multi-level governance.
  • The making of foreign policy has traditionally been regarded as one of the key features of international politics, reflecting the importance of statecraft. However, some question whether foreign policy is any longer meaningful given factors such as the structural dynamics of the international system and the advance of globalization.
  • A number of general theories of foreign policy decision-making have been advanced. The most important of these are rational actor models, incremental models, bureaucratic organization models and cognitive processes and belief-system models, although they are not necessarily incompatible.

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6 – Society in a Global Age

  • What have been the social implications of the emergence of postindustrial societies and the communications revolution?
  • Why have risk and insecurity become such prominent features of modern society?
  • How, and to what extent, has globalization altered social norms and cultural beliefs?
  • Why have NGOs and social movements grown in recent years?
  • Is global civil society a force for good or for ill?

The study of international politics has conventionally paid little attention to social forces or social factors. ‘States’ rather than ‘societies’ were viewed as the principal actors on the world stage, and relations between and amongst them were thought to be determined by strictly political considerations (linked to power and security),not to sociological ones. In some ways, the advent of globalization accentuated this disregard for ‘the social’, as hyperglobalists in particular portrayed globalization as a strictly economic, or even technological, phenomenon. Both such views, however, fail to recognize the extent to which institutions such as the state and the economy are embedded in a network of social relationships, which both help to shape political and economic developments and are, in turn, shaped by them. Indeed, modern societies are changing as rapidly and as radically as modern economies. Key shifts include the changing nature of social connectedness, especially in the light of the rise of so-called post-industrial societies and the massive growth in communications technology. Are ‘thick’ forms of social connectedness being replaced by ‘thin’ forms of connectedness? Furthermore, the advance of cultural globalization is reshaping social norms and values, especially, but by no means exclusively, in the developing world, not least through the spread of consumerism and the rise of individualism.What are the major drivers of this process, and is it leading to the spread of a global monoculture? Finally, the growth of transnational groups and global movements has led some to suggest that social relations and identities are in the process of being reshaped through the emergence of what has been dubbed ‘global civil society’. Is there such a thing as global civil society, and what are its implications for the future shape of global politics?

  • Societies are fashioned out of a usually stable set of relationships between and among their members. However, the ‘thick’ social connectedness of close bonds and fixed allegiances is giving way to the ‘thin’ connectedness of more fluid, individualized social arrangements. This reflects the impact of post-industrialism and the wider use of communication technology.
  • The thinning and widening of social connectedness has been associated with a general increase in risk, uncertainty and instability. The risks and instabilities of modern society include growing environmental threats, economic crises due to an increase in economic interconnectedness and the emergence of new security threats.
  • Cultural globalization is the process whereby information, commodities and images that have been produced in one part of the world enter into a global flow that tends to ‘flatten out’ cultural differences between nations, regions and individuals. It is often associated with the worldwide spread of consumerism and the rise of individualism.
  • The image of an emerging global monoculture has nevertheless been challenged. Diversity and pluralisation have increased in modern societies due to factors such as the adaptation of cultural products to local traditions and understandings to facilitate their spread and because of the backlash against the perceived domination of foreign ideas, values and lifestyles.
  • The rise, during the 1990s, of a mosaic of new groups, organizations and movements which sought to challenge ‘corporate’ globalization has been interpreted as the emergence of global civil society. However, global civil society has been interpreted differently depending on whether transnational social movements or NGOs have been viewed as its key agents.
  • Supporters of global civil society argue that it has effectively reconfigured global power, providing a kind of ‘bottom-up’ democratic vision of a civilizing world order. Critics, on the other hand, have questioned the democratic credentials of social movements and NGOs, condemned their use of direct action, and accused them of distorting national and global political agendas.

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7 – The Nation in a Global Age

  • What is a nation? How is nationalism best understood?
  • How, and to what extent, has nationalism shaped world politics?
  • Is nationalism inherently aggressive and oppressive?
  • Is nationalism in the process of being displaced by transnationalism or multiculturalism?
  • Why has nationalism resurfaced since the end of the Cold War?
  • Does contemporary nationalism differ from earlier forms of nationalism?

Nationalism has, arguably, been the most powerful force in world politics for over 200 years. It has contributed to the outbreak of wars and revolutions. It has been closely linked to the birth of new states, the disintegration of empires and the redrawing of borders; and it has been used to reshape existing regimes as well as to bolster them. The greatest achievement of nationalism has been to establish the nation as the key unit for political rule, meaning that the so-called nation-state has come to be accepted as the most basic – and, nationalists argue, the only legitimate – form of political organization. However, the character of nationalism and its implications for world politics are deeply contested. Has nationalism advanced the cause of political freedom, or has it simply legitimized aggression and expansion? Nevertheless, modern nations are under pressure perhaps as never before. Globalization is widely seen to have weakened nationalism as territorial nationstates have been enmeshed in global political, economic and cultural networks, and significantly increased international migration has led to the development of transnational communities, giving a growing number of societies a multicultural character. Is nationalism a political force in retreat? Can nationalism survive in a context of hybridity and multiculturalism? Finally, despite frequent predictions to the contrary, there is evidence of the resurgence of nationalism. Since the end of the Cold War, new and often highly potent forms of nationalism have emerged, often linked to cultural, ethnic or religious self-assertion. Nationalism has also reemerged as a reaction against the homogenizing impact of globalization and as a means of resisting immigration and multiculturalism. How can the revival of nationalism best be explained, and what forms has it taken?

  • Nationalism is a complex and deeply contested political phenomenon. This stems in part from the fact that all nations comprise a blend of cultural and political, and objective and subjective, characteristics. Nationalism has also been a cross-cutting ideology, associated with a wide range of doctrines, movements and causes.
  • From the perspective of primordialism, national identity has been seen to be rooted in a cultural heritage and language that may long predate statehood or the quest for independence. From the contrasting perspective of modernism, national identity is forged in response to changing social and historical circumstances, especially linked to industrialization.
  • The liberating ‘face’ of nationalism is reflected in the reconfiguration of the world into a collection of nationstates, based on the principle of self-determination. However, it oppressive ‘face; is evident in a common link to the politics of aggression, militarism and war.While some argue that nationalism is inherently aggressive and oppressive, others suggest that there are ‘good’ and ‘bad’ nationalisms.
  • Nationalism in the modern world has been weakened by an upsurge in international migration which has led to the growth of hybridity and multiculturalism in most, if not all, societies. Migratory flows have led to the formation of transnational communities and the diasporas that some believe provide an alternative to conventional nations.
  • Multiculturalism not only recognizes the fact of cultural diversity, but it holds that such differences should be respected and publicly affirmed. This, however, has created widespread debate, not least about the extent to which cultural diversity can be reconciled with political cohesion.
  • Nations and nationalism have demonstrated remarkable resilience. Indeed, nationalism has revived in that it has been used to underpin state self-assertion in a ‘de-ideologized’ post-Cold War period. It has also reemerged in the forms of cultural and ethnic nationalism, and it has provided a vehicle through which the transformations brought about through globalization can be challenged and resisted.

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8 – Identity, Culture and Challenges to the West

  • Why has identity politics become a prominent feature of world affairs?
  • Has culture displaced ideology as the organizing principle of global politics?
  • Is there an emerging ‘clash of civilizations’?
  • How important is religion in modern global politics?
  • Is conflict between Islam and the West unavoidable?
  • How has the West sought to deal with the ‘Muslim question’?

The end of the Cold War, and particularly developments such as September 11 and the ‘war on terror’, has altered thinking about global order and the balance between conflict and cooperation in world affairs in an important way. In addition to – and, some would argue, in place of – a concern with shifting power balances between and among states, global order appears to be increasingly shaped by new forces, especially those related to identity and culture. Some even argue that culture has replaced ideology as the key organizing principle of global politics, reflected in the growing significance in world affairs of factors such as ethnicity, history, values and religion. How can this trend towards so-called ‘identity politics’ best be explained, and what have been its implications? Most importantly, does the increasing importance of culture mean that conflict, perhaps conflict between different civilizations, is more likely, or even inevitable? The growing salience of culture as a factor affecting world affairs has been particularly evident in relation to religion. Not only has there been, in some cases, a revival in religious belief, but more radical or ‘fundamentalist’ religious movements have emerged, preaching that politics, in effect, is religion. To what extent has religious revivalism, and especially the trend towards religious fundamentalism, affected global politics? Finally, issues of identity, culture and religion have played a particularly prominent role in attempts to challenge and displace the politico-cultural hegemony of the West. The process through which former colonies have tried to establish non-western and sometimes anti-western political identities has affected Asia, but it has been especially crucial in the Muslim world, encouraging some to talk in terms of a civilizational clash between Islam and the West. What is the basis for conflict between Islam and the West, and can this conflict be overcome?

  • Western societies have conventionally been portrayed as ‘developed’ or ‘advanced’ societies, implying that they offer a model that will, over time, be accepted by all other societies. Westernization is linked to the growth of a market or capitalist economy, the advance of liberal democracy, and the spread of values such as individualism, secularism and materialism.
  • Politics since the end of the Cold War has been structured less by ideological rivalry and more by issues of cultural difference, especially those related to identity. Identity politics, in its various forms, seeks to challenge and overthrow oppression by reshaping a group’s identity through a process of politico cultural self-assertion.
  • ‘Clash of civilizations’ theorists argue that twenty-first century global politics will increasingly be characterized by conflict between nations and groups from ‘different civilizations’. However, such a view ignores, amongst other things, the complex and fragmented nature of civilizations, and the extent to which different cultures have coexisted peacefully and harmoniously.
  • The most prominent aspect of the growing political importance of culture has been the rise of religious movements. This has been most evident in the fundamentalist upsurge, in which fundamentalism is expressed through a religio-political movement sometimes, but not necessarily, linked to a belief in the literal truth of sacred texts.
  • The issues of identity, culture and religion have acquired particular prominence through their association with attempts to challenge and displace the politico-cultural hegemony of the West. This has been reflected in the general phenomenon of postcolonialism, but it has also been expressed through the idea that there are distinctive Asian values and cultural beliefs.
  • The most significant challenge to the West has come from the rise of political Islam. The image of a clash between Islam and the West may nevertheless be based either on the implacably anti-western ideas of Islamism or on the extent to which Islam, and especially the Arab world, have consistently been a victim of western intervention and manipulation.

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9 – Power and Twenty-first Century World Order

  • What is power?
  • How, and to what extent, has the nature of power changed?
  • What were the implications for world order of the end of the Cold War?
  • Is the USA a hegemonic power, or a power in decline?
  • To what extent is the world now multipolar, and are these trends set to continue?
  • How is growing multipolarity likely to affect global politics?

The issue of world order is vitally important because it reflects the distribution of power amongst states and other actors, affecting the level of stability within the global system and the balance within it between conflict and cooperation. However, this raises questions about the nature of power itself. Is power an attribute, something that states and other actors possess, or is it implicit in the various structures of global politics? Does power always involve domination and control, or can it also operate through cooperation and attraction? During the Cold War period, it was widely accepted that global power had a bipolar character: two superpowers confronted one another, the USA and the Soviet Union, although there was disagreement about whether this had led to peace and stability or to rising tension and insecurity. Since the end of the Cold War, nevertheless, there has been deep debate about the nature of world order. An early view was that the end of the superpower era had given rise to a ‘new world order’, characterized by peace and international cooperation. But what was the ‘new world order’, and what was its fate? A second view emphasized that the emergence of the USA as the world’s sole superpower has created, in effect, a unipolar world order, based on US ‘hegemony’. Is the USA a ‘global hegemon’, and what are the implications of unipolarity? A third view highlights the trend towards multipolarity and the fragmentation of global power, influenced by developments such as the rise of emerging powers (China, Russia, India, Brazil and so on), the advance of globalization, the increased influence of non-state actors and the growth of international organizations. Will a multipolar world order bring peace, cooperation and integration, or will it herald the emergence of new conflicts and heightened instability?

  • Power, in its broadest sense, is the ability to influence the outcome of events. Distinctions are nevertheless drawn between actual/potential power, relational/structural power and ‘hard/soft’ power. The notion of power as material ‘power over’ others has been subject to increased criticism, leading to more nuanced and multidimensional conceptions of power.
  • The Cold War was marked by bipolar tension between a US-dominated West and a Soviet-dominated East. The end of the Cold War led to proclamations about the advent of a ‘new world order’. However, this new world order was always imprecisely defined, and the idea quickly became unfashionable.
  • As the sole remaining superpower, the USA has commonly been referred to as a ‘global hegemon’. The implications of US hegemony became particularly apparent following September 11, as the USA embarked on a so-called ‘war on terror’, based on a neoconservative approach to foreign policy-making. This, nevertheless, drew the USA into deeply problematical military interventions.
  • Although neo-con analysts argued that the USA had established a ‘benevolent global hegemony’, critics, who included realists, radicals and many in the global South, particularly in Muslim countries, argued that the USA was motivated by a desire to ensure economic advantage and to secure control of vital resources, even acting as a ‘rogue superpower’.
  • Twenty-first century world order increasingly has a multipolar character. This is evident in the rise of so-called ‘emerging powers’, notably China, but it is also a consequence of wider developments, including the advance of globalization and global governance and the growing importance of non-state actors.
  • For neo-realists, a multipolar diffusion of power amongst global actors is likely to create a tendency towards instability and even war. On the other hand, multipolarity may strengthen the trend towards multilateralism, leading to stability, order and a tendency towards collaboration.

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10 – War and Peace

  • What is war? What types of war are there?
  • Why do wars occur?
  • How, and to what extent, has the face of war changed in the post-Cold War era?
  • Why has it become more difficult to determine the outcome of war?
  • When, if ever, is it justifiable to resort to war?
  • Can war be replaced by ‘perpetual peace’?

Military power has been the traditional currency of international politics. States and other actors have exercised influence over each other largely through the threat or use of force, making war a ubiquitous feature of human history, found in all ages, all cultures and all societies. However, even though war appears to be as old as humankind, there are questions about its nature. What distinguishes war from other forms of violence? What are the main causes of war and peace? And does the declining incidence of war in some parts of the world mean that war has become obsolete and military power is a redundant feature of global politics? Nevertheless, the nature of warfare has changed enormously over time, particularly through advances in the technology of fighting and military strategy. The longbow was replaced by the musket, which in turn was replaced by rifles and machine-guns, and so on. Major shifts were brought about in the twentieth century by the advent of ‘total’ war, as industrial technology was put to the service of fighting. The end of the Cold War is also believed to have ushered in quite different forms of warfare. So-called ‘new’ wars tend to be civil wars (typically involving small-scale, low intensity combat), which blur the distinction between civilians and the military and are often asymmetrical. In the case of so-called ‘postmodern’ warfare, a heavy reliance is placed on ‘high-tech’ weaponry. How new are these new forms of warfare, and what are their implications? Finally, there are long-standing debates about whether, and in what circumstances, war can be justified. While some believe that matters of war and peace should be determined by hard-headed judgements about the national self-interest, others insist that war must conform to principles of justice, and others still reject war out of hand and in all circumstances. How can war be justified? Can and should moral principles be applied to war and its conduct?

  • War is a condition of armed conflict between two or more parties, traditionally states. However, the nature of war and warfare has changed enormously over time, as they have been refashioned by developments in military technology and strategy. There is nevertheless considerable debate about why wars occur, with explanations focusing on human nature, the internal characteristics of states, or structural or systemic pressures.
  • The classic account of war, developed by Clausewitz, views it as a continuation of politics by other means. However, the Clausewitzian conception of war has been criticized for ignoring the moral implications of war, and on the grounds that it is outdated, either because war has become a less effective policy instrument or because modern wars are less easy to interpret in instrumental terms.
  • Many argue that the nature of war has changed in the post-Cold War period. So-called ‘new’ wars tend to be civil wars rather than inter-state wars, often fought over issues of identity. They are also commonly asymmetrical wars, fought between unequal parties, tend to blur the civilian/military distinction, and, arguably, involve higher levels of indiscriminate violence.
  • War and warfare have also been affected by the development of ‘hi-tech’ technology and ‘smart’ weapons, giving rise to so-called ‘postmodern’ warfare. Although such warfare was effective in the Gulf War and in Kosovo, its strategic effectiveness has been called into question, especially in the context of small-scale, low-intensity wars, when the enemy is highly mobile and difficult to distinguish from the civilian population.
  • Three broad positions have been adopted on the issue of the relationship between war and morality. Realpolitik suggests that war, as a political act, needs no moral justification. Just war theory seeks to justify war but only if it conforms to moral principles about both the just recourse to war and the just conduct of war. Pacifism suggests that war, as an unnecessary evil, can never be justified.

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11 – Nuclear Proliferation and Disarmament

  • How do nuclear weapons differ from other kinds of weapons?
  • How can nuclear proliferation best be explained?
  • Do nuclear weapons promote, or threaten, international peace and stability?
  • How can the spread of nuclear weapons best be controlled, or even reversed?
  • Is a post-nuclear age possible or desirable?

The development and use of nuclear weapons in 1945 marked a major turning point in the history of warfare and, indeed, in the history of humanity. Very quickly, enough nuclear warheads had been created and stockpiled to destroy civilization many times over, giving humanity, for the first time, the capacity to end its own existence. As the Cold War developed, the world thus fell under the shadow of ‘the bomb’. However, while some saw nuclear weapons as the lynchpin of a deterrence system that effectively ruled out war between major powers, others viewed the nuclear arms race as a source of unending tension and insecurity. Does the theory of nuclear deterrence work? Do nuclear weapons promote responsible statesmanship, or do they fuel expansionist ambition? Nevertheless, anxieties about nuclear proliferation have, if anything, intensified during the post-Cold War period. Not only has the ‘nuclear club’ grown from five to at least nine, but many argue that the constraints that had previously prevented nuclear weapons from being used have been dangerously weakened. In what ways have the incentives for states to acquire nuclear weapons intensified? Is it now more likely that nuclear weapons will get into the ‘wrong’ hands? Finally, greater anxiety about nuclear proliferation has been reflected in an increasing emphasis on the issues of arms control and disarmament. Although non-proliferation strategies have ranged from diplomatic pressure and the imposition of economic sanctions to direct military intervention, nuclear arms control has been notoriously difficult to bring about. In this context, non-proliferation has increasingly been linked to a commitment to nuclear disarmament. Why is it so difficult to prevent states from acquiring nuclear weapons? Why has greater emphasis been placed on the goal of creating a world free of nuclear weapons?

  • The massive destructive capacity of nuclear weapons means that they have affected international and domestic politics in a way that no other weapons ever have. Vertical nuclear proliferation during the Cold War period witnessed the build-up of massive nuclear arsenals in the USA and the Soviet Union.
  • While some believe that the Cold War nuclear arms race effectively underpinned the ‘long peace’ of the post-1945 period, especially once the condition of Mutually Assured Destruction was achieved, others have associated the ‘balance of terror’ with instability and the ever-present danger that deterrence would fail.
  • The post-Cold War era has been characterized by heightened anxiety about nuclear proliferation. This occurred for reasons such as a growth in the number of states that have shown an interest in acquiring nuclear weapons, the easier availability of nuclear materials and technology, and the increased danger that nuclear weapons get into the hands of actors who may use them.
  • Despite the development of an extensive non-proliferation regime, effective arms control has been difficult to bring about because states tend to place concerns about national security above their obligations under bilateral or multilateral agreements. Particular anxiety has been expressed about nuclear proliferation in relation to North Korea and Iran, based on the supposedly unstable and risk-prone natures of their regimes and the existence of significant regional tensions.
  • The idea of a nuclear-free world has been advanced by both peace activists and, more recently, senior politicians in the USA and Russia. The Obama administration’s defence strategy links a commitment to nuclear disarmament to the ability to exert strong moral and diplomatic pressure to ensure non proliferation.
  • Non-proliferation strategies may nevertheless have little impact on nuclear and would-be nuclear ‘rogue’ states. They may also fail to enjoy unanimous backing from major powers, possibly make inter-state war more likely, and may intensify defence anxieties in states that once benefited from the USA’s nuclear umbrella.

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12 – Terrorism

  • What is terrorism?
  • What are the key perspectives on terrorism?
  • Has the nature of terrorism changed in recent years?
  • Has terrorism ‘gone global’?
  • How significant is modern terrorism?
  • How can, and should, the threat of terrorism be countered?

Until the 1990s, terrorism was widely considered to be a security concern of the second order, often being ignored by standard text books on international politics. However, the events of 11 September 2001 changed this dramatically, encouraging a major reappraisal of the nature and significance of terrorism. For some, what was variously dubbed ‘new’ terrorism, ‘global’ terrorism or ‘catastrophic’ terrorism had become the principal security threat in the early twenty-first century, reflecting the fact that, in conditions of globalization, non-state actors (in this case terrorist groups) had gained important advantages over states. Beyond this, the inauguration of the ‘war on terror’ suggested that resurgent terrorism had opened up new fault lines that would define global politics for the foreseeable future. However, terrorism is both a highly contested phenomenon and a deeply controversial concept. Critical theorists, for example, argue that much commonly accepted knowledge about terrorism amounts to stereotypes and misconceptions, with the significance of terrorism often being grossly overstated, usually for ideological reasons. How should terrorism be defined? Why and how have scholars disagreed over the nature of terrorism? Does modern terrorism have a truly global reach and a genuinely catastrophic potential? Disagreements over the nature and significance of terrorism are nevertheless matched by debates about how terrorism should be countered. Not only are there divisions about the effectiveness of different counter-terrorism strategies, but there has also been intense debate about the price that may have to be paid for protecting society from terrorism in terms of the erosion of basic rights and freedoms. Should terrorism be countered through strengthening state security, through military repression or through political deals, and what are the implications of such strategies?

  • Terrorism, broadly, refers to attempts to further political ends by using violence to create a climate of fear, apprehension and uncertainty. Terrorism is nevertheless a deeply controversial term, not least because it is highly pejorative and tends to be used as a political tool. Mainstream, radical and critical perspectives offer quite different views on the nature of terrorism and the value of the concept.
  • Proponents of the idea of ‘new’ terrorism suggest that since the 1990s a more radical and devastating form of terrorism has emerged whose political character, motivations, strategies and organization differs from ‘traditional’ terrorism, particularly in the growing importance of religious motivation. But serious doubts have been cast on the value of this distinction.
  • It is widely assumed that September 11 marked the emergence of a profoundly more significant form of terrorism, which can strike anywhere, any time. However, although many accept that there are important links between modern terrorism and the processes of globalization, many have questioned whether terrorism has genuinely gone global.
  • The impact of terrorism has increased supposedly because of the advent of new terrorist tactics and because of easier access to, and a greater willingness to use, WMD. However, critical theorists argue that the threat of terrorism has been greatly overstated, usually through discourses linked to the ‘war on terror’ and often to promote the ‘politics of fear’.
  • Key counter-terrorism strategies include the strengthening of state security, the use of military repression and political deals. State security and military approaches have often been counter-productive and have provoked deep controversy about the proper balance between freedom and security.
  • Effective solutions to terrorism have usually involved encouraging terrorists to abandon violence by drawing them into a process of negotiation and diplomacy. Although such an approach has sometimes worked in the case of nationalist terrorism, it has been seen as an example of appeasement and as inappropriate to dealing with Islamist terrorism.

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13 – Human Rights and Humanitarian Intervention

  • What are human rights, and on what basis can they be claimed?
  • How, and how effectively, have international human rights been protected?
  • On what grounds has the doctrine of human rights been criticized?
  • What explains the growth of humanitarian intervention, and its subsequent decline?
  • Under what circumstances is it right to intervene in the affairs of another state?
  • Why has humanitarian intervention been criticized?

Moral and ethical questions have always been important in international politics. However, since the end of the Cold War they have attracted intensified interest, as issues of global justice have come to vie with more traditional concerns, such as power, order and security. Moreover, when matters of justice and morality are raised, this is increasingly done through a doctrine of human rights that emphasizes that people everywhere enjoy the same moral status and entitlements. Human rights have come to compete with state sovereignty as the dominant normative language of international affairs and human development. This has created tension between human rights and states’ rights, as the former implies that justice should extend beyond, as well as within, national borders. Difficult questions have nevertheless been raised about human rights. Not the least of these are about the nature of, and justifications for, human rights. In what sense are these rights ‘human’ rights, and which rights do they cover? Other debates concern the extent to which human rights are protected in practice, and whether they are genuinely universal, applying to all peoples and all societies. How far are human rights applied in practice, and how far should they be applied? Tensions between states’ rights and human rights have become particularly acute since the 1990s through the growth of so-called ‘humanitarian intervention’. Major states have assumed the right to intervene militarily in the affairs of other states to protect their citizens from abuse and possibly death, often at the hands of their own government. How, and to what extent, is such intervention linked to human rights? Can intervention ever be genuinely ‘humanitarian’? And, regardless of its motives, does humanitarian intervention actually work?

  • Human rights are supposedly universal, fundamental, indivisible and absolute. Distinctions are nevertheless drawn between civil and political rights, economic, social and cultural rights, and solidarity rights. Human rights imply that national governments have significant foreign domestic obligations, and that justice has acquired a cosmopolitan character.
  • Human rights are protected by an elaborate regime that involves an expanding array of international human rights documents, with supporting UN bodies, a wide range of human rights NGOs and states committed to advancing human rights. Nevertheless, states are also the greatest human rights abusers, reflecting an inherent tension between human rights and states’ rights.
  • Since the 1970s, the universalist assumptions that underpin human rights have come under growing pressure. Communitarians and postmodernists argue that human rights are philosophically unsound because morality is always relative. Postcolonial theorists often view the doctrine of human rights as an example of western cultural imperialism, even though they may accept the broad notion.
  • Humanitarian intervention is military intervention carried out in pursuit of humanitarian rather than strategic objectives. It flourished in the 1990s due to the liberal expectations linked to the prospect of a ‘new world order’ and the (temporary) hegemony of the USA. However, deep concerns have been thrown up about humanitarian intervention by US military involvement in Afghanistan and Iraq.
  • The R2P has laid down conditions for humanitarian intervention, based on a large-scale loss of life, possibly due to ethnic cleansing, where the state in question is unwilling or unable to act itself. Such thinking has often involved attempts to reconceptualize sovereignty, particularly through the idea of ‘responsible sovereignty’.
  • Humanitarian intervention works when its benefits exceed its costs, in terms of lives lost and human suffering. Although this calculation is difficult to make in objective terms, there have clearly been examples of successful intervention. Other interventions, however, have possibly done more harm than good, sometimes because of the intractable nature of underlying economic and political problems.

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14 – International Law

  • How does international law differ from domestic law?
  • What are the sources of international law?
  • Why is international law obeyed?
  • How and why has international law changed in recent years?
  • What are the implications of holding individuals responsible for violating international humanitarian law?

International law is an unusual phenomenon. As traditionally understood, law consists of a set of compulsory and enforceable rules; it reflects the will of a sovereign power. And yet, no central authority exists in international politics that is capable of enforcing rules, legal or otherwise. Some, therefore, dismiss the very idea of international law. Nevertheless, international law has greater substance and significance than first appearances suggest. In particular, more often than not, international law is obeyed and respected, meaning that it provides an important – and, indeed, an increasingly important – framework within which states and other international actors interact. However, what is the nature of international law, and where does it come from? Also, if international law is rarely enforceable in a conventional sense, why do states comply with it? The growing significance of international law is reflected in changes in its scope, purpose and operation since the early twentieth century. These include a shift from ‘international’ law, which merely determines relations between and among states, to ‘world’ or ‘supranational’ law, which treats individuals, groups and private organizations also as subjects of international law. This has drawn international law into the controversial area of humanitarian standard-setting, especially in relation to the so-called ‘laws of war’. It has also, particularly since the end of the Cold War, led to attempts to make political and military leaders at all levels personally responsible for human rights violations through a framework of international criminal tribunals and courts. To what extent has ‘international’ law been transformed into ‘world’ law? How have the laws of war been developed into international humanitarian law? And have international criminal tribunals and courts proved to be an effective way of upholding order and global justice?

  • International law is law that governs states and other international actors, although it is widely considered to be ‘soft’ law, because it cannot, in most circumstances, be enforced. The two most important sources of international law are treaties and international custom. In the former, legal obligations are clearly rooted in consent, while in the latter obligations arise from long-established practices and moral norms.
  • International law is largely obeyed because states calculate that in the long run abiding by laws will bring them benefit or reduce harm. Other reasons for obedience include a fear of disorder, a fear of isolation, a fear, in some cases, of punishment and the wider belief that international law is rightful and morally binding.
  • In its classical tradition, international law has been firmly state-centric, being based on the cornerstone principle of state sovereignty However, this conception has increasingly been challenged by a ‘constitutionalist’ conception of international law, sometimes called ‘supranational’ law or ‘world’ law, whose scope includes the maintenance of at least minimum standards of global justice.
  • One of the clearest examples of the shift from ‘international’ law to ‘world’ law has been the evolution of the laws of war into a body of international humanitarian law. This has largely happened through the development of the idea of war crimes, which allows individuals to be held to be criminally responsible for violations of the customs of war, and through the notion of crimes against humanity.
  • The end of the Cold War allowed international humanitarian law to be implemented more widely through international tribunals and courts. This happened through ad hoc tribunals set up to examine reports of atrocities carried out in former Yugoslavia and Rwanda in particular, but the most significant development was the establishment of the International Criminal Court, which came into operation in 2002. However, the Court has sometimes been seen as a threat to international order and peace.

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15 – Poverty and Development

  • What is poverty?
  • How should ‘development’ be understood?
  • What are the key trends in global poverty and inequality?
  • Has globalization increased, or decreased, global poverty?
  • How successful have official development policies been?
  • Do international aid and debt relief work?

The issues of development and poverty reduction have become increasingly prominent since the end of WWII. In the early phase, this occurred as decolonization failed to bring about economic and social progress in what was then portrayed as the Third World, at the same time that industrially advanced western countries were experiencing historically unprecedented levels of economic growth. As global economic disparities widened, some argued that colonialism had given way to ‘neocolonialism’, political domination having been replaced by more subtle but no less effective economic domination. Others heralded the emergence of a ‘North–South divide’. In this context, bodies as different as the World Bank and the IMF, on the one hand, and a host of development NGOs and activist groups on the other, came to view the task of reducing the gap between rich countries and poor countries as a moral imperative. However, poverty and development are complex and deeply controversial issues. Is poverty merely an economic phenomenon, a lack of money, or is it something broader and more profound? Does ‘development’ imply that poor societies should be remodelled on the basis of the rich societies of the so-called developed West? A further range of issues address the nature, extent and causes of global inequality. Is the world becoming a more, or less, equal place, and, in particular, what impact has globalization had on global patterns of poverty and inequality? Finally, there have been passionate debates about the surest way of bringing about development. These debates have focused in particular on the merits or otherwise of the market-orientated approaches to development that have dominated especially since the early 1980s. Have bodies such as the World Bank and the IMF failed the world’s poor? Do rich countries have a moral obligation to help poor countries? If so, how should that obligation be discharged: by providing international aid, cancelling debt, changing trading practices or whatever?

  • A distinction is commonly drawn between absolute poverty, founded on the idea of ‘basic needs’, and relative poverty, in which the poor are the ‘less well off’ rather than the ‘needy’. However, narrowly income-based definitions of poverty have increasingly been viewed as limited or misleading, as greater attention is paid to the broader notion of human development.
  • The ‘orthodox’ view of development takes economic growth to be its goal and understands modernization in terms of western-style industrialization. The ‘alternative’ view of development rejects such technocratic, top-down and pro-growth strategies, but it encompasses a wide range of views and approaches.
  • Trends in global inequality are often highly complex and contradictory. It is widely believed that in recent decades the growing importance of emerging economies has had an equalizing impact, counter-balanced by deepening poverty in sub-Saharan Africa and a general trend towards greater within-country inequality.
  • The impact of globalization on levels of poverty and inequality cannot be resolved through empirical trends alone. Some claim that globalization, like a rising tide, will eventually ‘raise all boats’, but others argue that globalization is based on structural disparities that inevitably benefit some countries and areas at the expense of others.
  • Official development policies, particularly during the 1980s and 1990s, were based on structural adjustment programmes that sought to remove blocks to economic growth in the developing world. These proved to be highly controversial, sometimes resulting in deeper, not reduced, poverty, and have, in some respects, been modified in recent years.
  • International aid is often viewed as the key mechanism of development. It is justified by a development ethic that suggests that rich countries have an obligation to support poor countries and reduce global inequality. Critics, nevertheless, have argued that aid provides ineffective support for the world’s poor because it undermines markets and tends to promote corruption and oppression.

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16 – Global Environmental Issues

  • How and why has the environment developed into a global issue?
  • Do modern environmental problems require reformist or radical solutions?
  • What are the causes and major consequences of climate change?
  • How far has international action over climate change progressed?
  • What obstacles stand in the way of international cooperation over climate change?
  • How has energy security shaped conflict both between states and within states?

The environment is often viewed as the archetypal example of a global issue. This is because environmental processes are no respecters of national borders; they have an intrinsically transnational character. As countries are peculiarly environmentally vulnerable to the activities that take place in other countries, meaningful progress on environmental issues can often only be made at the international or even global level. Nevertheless, international cooperation on such matters has sometimes been very difficult to bring about. This has occurred for a number of reasons. In the first place, the environment has been an arena of particular ideological and political debate. Disagreements have emerged about both the seriousness and nature of environmental problems and about how they can best be tackled, not least because environmental priorities tend to conflict with economic ones. Can environmental problems be dealt with within the existing socio-economic system, or is this system the source of those problems? Such debates have been especially passionate over what is clearly the central issue on the global environmental agenda, climate change. Despite sometimes catastrophic predictions about what will happen if the challenge of climate change is not addressed, concerted international action on the issue has been frustratingly slow to emerge. What have been the obstacles to international cooperation over climate change, and what would concerted international action on the issue involve? Finally, climate change is not the only issue on the global environmental agenda. Another issue of major concern is energy security, with some talking in terms of a new international energy order in which a country’s ranking in the hierarchy of states is being increasingly determined by the vastness of its oil and natural gas reserves, or its ability to acquire them. To what extent has energy security reshaped global order, and are natural resources always a blessing?

  • The environment is often seen as the archetypal example of a global issue. The intrinsically transnational character of environmental processes means that countries are peculiarly environmentally vulnerable to the environmental activities that take place in other countries. Meaningful progress on environmental issues can therefore often only be made at the international or even global level.
  • Disagreements about the seriousness and nature of environmental problems, and about how they can best be tackled, are rooted in deeper, often philosophical debates about the relationship between humankind and the natural world. Reformist and radical strategies are influenced by contrasting views about whether human needs (anthropocentrism) or larger ecological balances (ecocentrism) should take precedence.
  • Climate change has dominated the international environmental agenda since the early 1990s. Although some disagreement persists, there has been a growing consensus that climate change is happening, and that it is the product of human activity, notably the emission, since the beginning of the industrial age, of greenhouse gases. However, substantial disagreement persists both about its consequences (and so the seriousness of the problem) and, most particularly, about how it should be tackled.
  • Effective international action to tackle climate change is hampered by a variety of obstacles to international cooperation. The most significant of these are: (perhaps fundamental) conflict between national self-interest and the common good; tensions of various kinds between developed and developing states; biases within capitalism in favour of growth; and a deeply-rooted ethic of materialism and consumerism.
  • Energy resources have come to be seen as having a growing bearing on matters such as security, development and conflict, particularly as access to oil, gas and coal has become a crucial factor in determining the shape of twenty-first century world order. However, it is by no means clear that natural resources are always a source of national power, in that resources may be a ‘curse’ when they, for instance, create economic imbalances and attract unwanted foreign interference.

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17 – Gender in Global Politics

  • What are the main schools of feminist theory, and over what do they disagree?
  • What is gender, and how does it affect political understanding?
  • How have feminists understood security, war and armed conflict?
  • Are states and nationalism constructed on the basis of masculinist norms?
  • How does an awareness of gender relations alter our understanding of issues such as globalization and development?

The study of international politics has traditionally been ‘gender-blind’. In a discipline that focused primarily on states and inter-state relations, sexual politics and gender relations appeared to be of little or no relevance. Since the 1980s, however, feminist perspectives on world affairs have gained growing prominence. To a large degree, this reflected a growing acceptance that people’s understanding of the world is shaped by the social and historical context in which they live and work. This implied, amongst other things, that global politics could be understood through a ‘gender lens’. But what does it mean to put a ‘gender lens’ on global politics? How has feminism changed our understanding of international and global processes? One implication of adopting a gender perspective on such matters has been to make women visible, in the sense of compensating for a ‘mobilization of bias’ within a largely male-dominated discipline that had previously been concerned only with male-dominated institutions and processes. Women, in other words, have always been part of world politics; it is just that their role and contribution had been ignored. At a deeper, and analytically more significant, level, putting a ‘gender lens’ on global politics means recognizing the extent to which the concepts, theories and assumptions through which the world has conventionally been understood are gendered. Gender analysis is thus the analysis of masculine and feminine identities, symbols and structures and how they shape global politics. Not only does this involve exposing what are seen as ‘masculinist’ biases that run through the conceptual framework of mainstream theory, but this conceptual framework has also, in some ways, been recast to take account of feminist perceptions. Do women and men understand and act on the world in different ways, and what is the significance of this for the theory and practice of global politics?

  • Feminism can broadly be defined as a movement for the social advancement of women. However, it has taken a wide range of forms, with distinctions particularly being made between feminist traditions orientated around the goal of gender equality and those that place a greater emphasis on women being ‘woman-identified’.
  • The ‘gender lens’ of empirical feminism is primarily concerned to ‘add women’ to existing analytical frameworks, especially in the attempt to tackle gender gaps between women and men. Making feminist sense of international politics therefore means recognizing the previously invisible contributions that women make to shaping world affairs.
  • The ‘gender lens’ of analytical feminism is concerned, by contrast, to highlight the gender biases that pervade the theoretical framework and key concepts of mainstream international theory, and particularly realism. These are deconstructed to reveal masculinist biases that, in turn, help to legitimize gendered hierarchies and perpetuate the marginalization of women.
  • Feminists have drawn attention to the gendered character of states and nations. Patriarchal biases within the state dictate that states will be competitive and at least potentially aggressive, while nations and nationalism are commonly entangled with gendered images that may place a special emphasis on female ‘purity’.
  • Feminists have been critical of the conventional notion of national security, seeing the broader idea of human security as a better means of highlighting women’s concerns. War is often also viewed as a gendered phenomenon, reflecting tendencies such as the prevalence of men in senior positions in political and military life, and the impact of myths about masculinity and militarism and about the need for male ‘warriors’ to protect women and children.
  • Feminist theorizing on economic issues has tended to stress the ways in which the sexual division of labour serves the economic interests of capitalism as well as the extent to which the conceptual framework of conventional political economy has been constructed on a masculinist basis. Such ideas have influenced feminist thinking about both globalization and development.

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18 – International Organization and the UN

  • What is international organization?
  • Why are international organizations created?
  • What have been the implications of the growth in international organization?
  • How effective has the UN been in maintaining peace and security?
  • What impact has the UN had on economic and social issues?
  • What challenges confront the UN, and how should it respond to them?

The growth in the number and importance of international organizations has been one of the most prominent features of world politics, particularly since 1945. Some of these are high profile bodies such as the United Nations, the World Bank, the World Trade Organization and the International Monetary Fund, while others are lesser known but still play key roles in particular fields. By providing a framework for cooperative problem-solving amongst states, international organizations have modified traditional power politics without, at the same time, threatening the emergence of a global or regional superstate. However, the phenomenon of international organization also raises a number of important questions. For example, what factors and forces help to explain the emergence of international organizations? Do such bodies genuinely reflect the collective interests of their members, or are they created by and for powerful states? To what extent can international organizations affect global outcomes? Many of these questions, however, are best addressed by considering the case of the world’s leading international organization, the United Nations. The UN (unlike its predecessor, the League of Nations) has established itself as a truly global body, and is regarded by most as an indispensable part of the international political scene. Its core concern with promoting international peace and security has been supplemented, over time, by an ever-expanding economic and social agenda. Has the UN lived up to the expectations of its founders, and could it ever? What factors determine the effectiveness of the UN, and how could it be made more effective?

  • An international organization is an institution with formal procedures and a membership comprising three or more states. These bodies can be thought of as instruments through which states pursue their own interests, as arenas that facilitate debate, and as actors that can affect global outcomes.
  • International organizations are created out of a composite of factors. These include the existence of interdependencies among states which encourage policy-makers to believe that international cooperation can serve common interests, and the presence of a hegemonic power willing and able to bear the costs of creating, and sustaining, an international organization.
  • The United Nations is the only truly global organization ever constructed. The UN is nevertheless a hybrid body, configured around the competing need to accept the realities of great power politics and to acknowledge the sovereign equality of member states. This, in effect, has created the ‘two UNs’.
  • The principal aim of the UN is to maintain international peace and security, with responsibility for this being vested in the Security Council. However, the UN has been restricted in carrying out this role particularly by the veto powers of the P-5 and the lack of an independent military capacity. The UN’s mixed performance in the area of peacekeeping has led to an increasing emphasis instead on the process of peace-building.
  • The UN’s economic and social responsibilities are discharged by a sprawling and, seemingly, ever-enlarging array of programmes, funds and specialized agencies. Its main areas are human rights, development and poverty reduction, and the environment. Such widening concerns have ensured strong support for the UN, particularly across the developing world.
  • The UN faces a range of important challenges and pressures for reform. These include those generated by the changing location of global power in an increasingly multipolar world, those associated with criticisms of the composition and powers of the Security Council, and those related to the UN’s finances and organization.

19 – Global Governance and the Bretton Woods System

  • What is global governance?
  • Is global governance a myth or a reality?
  • How and why was the Bretton Woods system established?
  • How were the Bretton Woods institutions converted to economic liberalization?
  • Why have the Bretton Woods institutions attracted so much criticism?
  • What does the 2007–09 global crisis tell us about the need for global economic governance?

The issue of global governance has received growing attention, particularly since the 1990s. This has occurred for a number of reasons. The end of the Cold War meant that increased expectations fell on international organizations in general and on the United Nations in particular. Accelerated globalization stimulated discussions about the relationship between trends in the world economy and the institutional frameworks through which it is supposedly regulated. And there has been a general recognition that a growing number of worldwide problems are beyond the capacity of individual states to solve on their own. However, hovering somewhere between a Westphalian world of sovereign states and the fanciful idea of world government, global governance is profoundly difficult to analyze and assess. How is global governance best understood? Does it actually exist, or is global governance merely an aspiration? The arena in which global governance is most advanced is nevertheless the field of economic policy-making. This stems from the 1944 Bretton Woods agreement, which sought to establish the architecture for the postwar international economic order by creating three new bodies: the IMF, the World Bank and GATT (later replaced by the World Trade Organization), collectively known as ‘the Bretton Woods system’. This system, however, has evolved significantly over time, as it has adapted to the changing pressures generated by the world economy. From an initial concern with postwar reconstruction in Europe and later development in the Third World, its key institutions were drawn into deeper controversy from the early 1970s onwards as they were converted to an agenda of economic liberalization and became inextricably linked to the forces of neoliberal globalization. What factors lie behind the creation of the Bretton Woods system, and how did its mission subsequently change? Have the Bretton Wood institutions been a force for good or for ill?

  • Global governance is a broad, dynamic and complex process of interactive decision-making at the global level. It hovers somewhere between the Westphalian state-system and the fanciful idea of world government. Although it involves binding norms and rules, these are not enforced by a supranational authority.
  • Liberal theorists argue that there is an unmistakable, and perhaps irresistible, trend in favour of global governance, reflecting the growing interdependence and a greater willingness of states to engage in collective action. However, global governance is more an emerging process than an established system.
  • The trend towards global governance has been particularly prominent in the economic sphere, where it has been associated with the Bretton Woods system that emerged in the aftermath of WWII. This system was based on three bodies: the International Monetary Fund, the World Bank and the General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade, replaced by the World Trade Organization in 1995.
  • The Bretton Woods system initially supervised the world economy largely though the maintenance of stable exchange rates. This system nevertheless broke down in the early 1970s as floating exchange rates replaced fixed exchange rates, starting the process through which the Bretton Woods institutions were converted to the cause of economic liberalization.
  • The IMF, the World Bank and the World Trade Organization have each, in their different ways, been drawn into controversy through their association with the processes of neoliberal globalization. Although supporters argue that they have contributed to a remarkable expansion of the global economy, critics claim that they have deepened global disparities and helped to produce an inherently unstable financial order.
  • The 2007–09 global financial crisis has raised pressing concerns about the effectiveness of global economic governance, leading to calls for reform. However, major obstacles stand in the way of reform, not least the continuing dominance, in many countries, of neoliberal principles and the more diffuse location of global power.

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20 – Regionalism and Global Politics

  • What is regionalism, and what are the main forms it has taken?
  • Why has regionalism grown in prominence?
  • What is the relationship between regionalism and globalization?
  • How does regionalism in Europe differ from regionalism in other parts of the world?
  • What is the nature and significance of European integration?

The common view that world politics is being reconfigured on global lines has been increasingly challenged by the rival image of an emerging ‘world of regions’. In this view, regionalism is both the successor to the nation-state and an alternative to globalization. Since 1945, regional organizations have sprung up in all parts of the world. The first phase of this process peaked in the 1960s, but the advance of regionalism has been particularly notable since the late 1980s. This has given rise to the phenomenon of the so-called ‘new’ regionalism. Whereas earlier forms of regionalism had promoted regional cooperation, and even integration, over a range of issues – security, political, economic and so on – the ‘new’ regionalism has been reflected in the creation of regional trade blocs, either the establishment of new ones or the strengthening of existing ones. Some even believe that this is creating a world of competing trading blocs. But what are the main forces driving regional integration? Is regionalism the enemy of globalization, or are these two trends interlinked and mutually reinforcing? Does the advance of regionalism threaten global order and stability? Without doubt, the most advanced example of regionalism anywhere in the world is found in Europe. The European Union (EU) has engaged in experiments with supranational cooperation that have involved political and monetary union as well as economic union. In the process, it has developed into a political organization that is neither, strictly speaking, a conventional international organization nor a state, but has features of each. How is the EU best understood? To what extent does the EU constitute an effective global actor, or even a superpower? And is the European experience of integration unique to Europe itself, or does it constitute a model for the rest of the world to follow?

  • Regionalism is a process through which geographical regions become significant political and/or economic units, serving as the basis for cooperation and, possibly, identity. Regionalism takes different forms depending on whether the primary areas for cooperation are economic, security or political.
  • The tendency towards regional integration, and particularly European experiments with supranational cooperation, have stimulated theoretical debate about the motivations and processes through which integration and institution-building at the international level are brought about. Federalism, functionalism and neofunctionalism are the main theories of regional integration.
  • So-called ‘new’ regionalism is essentially economic in character, usually taking the form of the development of regional trade blocs. However, while some see these trade blocs as the building blocks of globalization, enabling states to engage more effectively with global market forces, others see them as stumbling blocks, defensive bodies designed to protect economic or social interests from wider competitive pressures.
  • Although forms of regionalism have emerged in Asia, Africa and the Americas, regional integration has been taken furthest in Europe, precipitated by a particular, and possibly unique, set of historical circumstances. The product of this process, the EU, is nevertheless a very difficult political organization to categorize.
  • The EU’s capacity to act within the global system as a single entity has been enhanced by attempts to develop a common foreign defence policy. Nevertheless, tensions between ‘Atlanticists’ and ‘Europeanists’, sensitivity about the implications of security regionalism for NATO and the EU’s relationship with the USA, and anxieties about the erosion of state sovereignty each help to explain why progress on this issue has been slow.
  • After the renewed impetus that was injected into European integration in the 1980s and 1990s, concerns have emerged about the stalling of the European project. These have been associated with tensions between the goals of widening and deepening, about the EU’s declining global competitiveness, and about whether or not monetary union can be made to work in the long run.

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21 – Global Futures

  • How do images help us understand reality?
  • What role does image play in global politics?
  • What have been the most influential images of modern global politics?
  • What have been the key strengths and weaknesses of these images?
  • Can images help to uncover the global future?
  • Is it possible to know the future?

Theories can help us to understand the world. But as the preceding chapters make clear they have significant limitations in helping us to predict the likely shape of global politics in the twenty-first century. A useful starting point for such a discussion is perhaps provided by a range of sometimes stark, even dramatic, images, which academics, policy analysts or political commentators have advanced, often with the explicit intention of predicting the global future. Frequently having an impact well beyond academic circles, and influencing popular discourse about world affairs, these have, amongst other things, announced the arrival of a ‘borderless world’, proclaimed the ‘end of history’, predicted an emerging ‘clash of civilizations’ and announced the birth of the ‘Chinese century’. Such images have been thrown up by the shifts and deep transformations that have occurred in global politics in recent decades – the advance of globalization, the end of the Cold War, the advent of global terrorism and so forth. As old certainties have been thrown into question and the contours of global politics have become more indistinct, a thirst has grown for pithy explanations and neat hypotheses – that is, for images.What trends do these images highlight, and how persuasive are they as visions of the global future? These images nevertheless raise still larger questions, notably about whether we can ever know the future, and, if so, how far into the future we can see. Although greater resources than ever before are currently devoted to forecasting economic, financial and other matters (not least the weather), there is little evidence that we are much better off as a result. Are these efforts worthwhile? Or do they merely sustain delusions about the extent and reliability of human knowledge?

  • An image is a representation or likeness of an individual, a group or a thing (an institution, event, system and so on). As such, images are nothing more than illusions or constructs of our mind. However, images may play an important role in building up knowledge and understanding by imposing meaning on an otherwise shapeless reality.
  • As the basis for explaining the behaviour of actors on the world stage, image is important in shaping both how people see themselves and how they see others. This is perhaps most clear in relation to nationalism and the role of national image. The emphasis on the role and significance of image in modern global politics has nevertheless been taken furthest by poststructuralist theorists.
  • Images may also serve as wider explanatory tools, graphic ways of highlighting important trends and developments in global politics. Influential images of modern global politics have highlighted trends such as the declining significance of national borders, the spread of democracy, the growth of cultural conflict, the rise of China, the increasing importance of international community, the emergence of the global South, the greater likelihood of environmental catastrophe and the democratization of international organizations.
  • The value of examining images arises less from the insight they give us into the shape of the global future and more from their ability to highlight important trends in the global present. The one thing that these images share is that they will each, in their different ways, be confounded by events.
  • The future is unknowable, in part, because extrapolations from present trends are always incorrect due to the fact trends inevitably, sooner or later, diverge from their course. Moreover, our knowledge of the present is always limited, a problem that is more acute the larger the scale of our thinking, because of the greater number of factors that may influence outcomes. This implies that the future of global politics is, and must remain, unknowable.

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