Global Politics

by Andrew Heywood

Chapter 5 Notes: 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.