National governments have taken many forms and remain diverse in their structure and ideology. However, the end of the cold war has seen the triumph of Western Liberal Democracy, a process that had been gaining momentum in Asian, Latin American and African countries. With the integration of former Soviet states into the global economy and the broad coalition against Saddam Hussein’s Iraq in the first Gulf War President George Bush was able to envision a New World Order, a neo-liberal vision which espoused ‘A world where the rule of law supplants the rule of the jungle. A world in which nations recognise the shared responsibility for freedom and justice. A world where the strong respect the rights of the weak’ (Bush, 1991). This liberal vision of global consensus was to be led by the USA, as President Bush made clear; ‘In the pursuit of these goals America will not be intimidated’ (Bush, 1991). Furthermore, with the United Nations freed from cold war Security Council veto’s it was hoped that the UN would play a lead role in global management, in truth an effective world authority overarching the anarchic nature of the state system.
President Bush’s new world order faltered, most notably due to inaction in Rwanda and Sudan allied with the U.S. failure in Somalia and mistakes in Kosovo. This has weakened the belief in the ability of the USA to police the globe. The UN’s inaction in the face of a continued use of the Security Council veto and an inability to gain the resources both financial and political to adopt the lead role has further undermined the hope of a global consensus.
This would seem to indicate that national governments continue to be dominant in formulating and directing state policy both internally and also internationally, with a general public perception that the Westphalian structure of territoriality, sovereignty and autonomy of the state remaining universal. However, it can be argued that national governments are becoming increasingly obsolete, being directed by the global elites and acting in response to the demands of international business and transnational organisations.
A term rarely used before 1989, globalisation ‘describes a one-world system where all actors have to play by the same economic rules’ (Baylis, 2008, 75). Globalisation theory is hotly debated but it is generally recognised that post cold war we live in an interconnected global society dominated by transnational business with a one world economy dependent upon universally available technology. Globalisation theory also considers global warming theory as well as other international issues such as the non-proliferation of nuclear weapons. Key to Baylis’s description of globalisation is ‘same economic rules’ which states such as Russia and China are currently attempting to advance by calling for the International Monetary Fund to institute a new global reserve currency.
The globalisation of the world economy has seen a failure of the liberal capitalist system that is worldwide in its scope, with a global recession that is currently dominating international politics. Although international collaboration subsequent to the end of the Cold War, scientifically, politically, economically and through increased migration assisted the economic boom of recent years it is the economic collapse that will shape the years to come. This collapse of the world financial system has forced international reversals and revisions of national economic policies. Britain’s Prime Minister, Gordon Brown who stated that his policies as Chancellor would see the end of boom and bust, has opted for a propping up of the financial institutions that we are told caused the global economic crisis. President Barak Obama’s key appointments have been made with officials drawn from Wall Street. Vast amounts of money have been handed over to the banking institutions, often without an audit trail or clear guidelines as to how the money is to be used.
It can be argued that the current economic collapse was designed by a global elite of senior bankers who run institutions that straddle the globe and that this collapse not only mirrors the collapse of the Great Depression, as a period of bust that was engineered by the then banking elites, but that it was predicted, most notably in 2006, following leaks from that years Bilderberg conference. If this is the case, then national governments would at best seem to be pawns in the hands of the global banking elite and whose economic policy is simply a reaction to the greed of these behind the scenes actors.
The Bilderberg conference is a secretive yearly meeting of the world’s elites and attended by leaders of industry, financial institutions and governments. Whilst the 2006 conference was taking place Daniel Estulin, a Bilderberg researcher, said ‘They needed to create the illusion that everything was going well – so over the next year and a half they are going to bring the market back up to 1998/99 levels – they are going to get all the suckers to invest what money they have left over and then that is when they will collapse the economy’ (Estulin, 2006). Estulin went on to say that his sources were Bilderberg Club members. Estulin’s ‘predictions’ played out exactly as described just two years later. Perhaps then national governments are not able to control the economic future but must support the policies of the elite groups such as the Bilderbergers.
Furthermore, with the ability to transfer capital from one state to another with relative ease business can search the globe for the most profitable situations. Governments therefore can no longer rely upon a stable manufacturing base, for instance, increasing their inability to effectively plan for a strong and stable economy. Poor countries court the transnational corporations who are able to pressure their governments to develop policies within the market capitalism and liberal democracy model in return for investment and jobs whilst richer countries governments can be influenced by such transnationals, again in return for investment and jobs. Some transnational corporations, it can be argued, can exert a powerful influence on national governments. News Corporation for instance, a privately owned global news and media empire certainly has the ability to influence governments and to set public agendas.
Recent wars have tended to be within states, for example the conflicts in what was Yugoslavia. However, following the attacks of 9/11 on the World Trade Centre President Bush embarked upon the War on Terror. The policy of pre-emptive wars, known as the Bush Doctrine, fundamentally altered the nature of Sovereign State status in international relations. In a world in which terrorism is global, President Bush argued that there must be a global war on terror and that if governments did not ally themselves with this war on terror they were to be regarded as suspect. This dominance of US policy, enabled by the collapse of the Soviet Union and the emergence of the US as the unipolar power, is evidence of political globalisation, with western liberalism being the dominant force and being encouraged globally.
Britain’s support for the war in Afghanistan and Iraq, it can be argued, was coerced by a hegemonic power seeking control of natural resources required for continued growth of the world economy. Prime Minister Tony Blair argued that these wars were to capture Osama bin Laden and to remove the threat of Weapons of Mass Destruction. It is interesting to note that it was known that Iraq did not have WMD’s and that despite initial intelligence as to the whereabouts of Osama bin Laden no real effort has been made to capture him. The national government of Britain was lied to regarding WMD’s and so were unable to properly reflect on the issue of war, war, it is said, being the most serious issue that a government can discuss. With the UK government being manipulated by senior representatives in support of a hegemonic powers global doctrine, it can be argued that such a government is obsolete, that Parliament was sitting simply to empower the executive.
The globalisation of world politics has seen a proliferation of organisations that influence national governments. These include regional bodies such as NATO or the EU and global such as the IMF or the UN. Political activity is further confused by the influence of multinational business interests and international pressures exerted by non-governmental organisations and well co-ordinated campaigns by groups as diverse as students, environmentalists and terrorists. This complex web of influence effects national government decision making in many ways. `In some instances a government will be bound to adhere to the policies of a body it has membership of, such as the UK to the EU. The European Commission develops and administers European policy and this does impact upon the sovereignty of member states. Also the European Court of Justice can act against member states for failing to comply with EU directives. Action by environmentalists campaigning for the banning of whaling led to a virtual worldwide ban. The success of this campaign was in part due to the dramatic TV footage of environmentalists, placing themselves in between whaling ships and whales. This was enabled by global communications systems and the ability of the campaign groups to fundraise and to communicate to a wide audience, enhanced today by the ease of communication and file sharing. These examples clearly show that governments are not the policy makers that they once were but are being forced to adopt policy either because of memberships/agreements or by pressure applied by increasingly influential and well organised groups.
An excellent example of this pressure and influence is the environmental lobby and global warming theory. A global catastrophe is foreseen by those who subscribe to the theory that the warming of the planet is a man made phenomena, a direct result of industrialisation. Governments have been persuaded to accept that carbon emissions are the cause and international agreements including carbon emission targets have been set. This carbon reduction is costly and offers little immediate domestic political advantage. National governments, it would seem, are making long term policy commitments in response to a global movement that has been advanced by scientists.
Globalisation has seen the decline in geographical and territorial relevance as these organisations, corporations and groups have developed. Technological advances have and will continue to speed up the process, in effect making us all citizens of the world and dependent upon the welfare, security and economic prosperity of each other. National governments have clearly stated that we live in a global society and that decisions made at a state level ought to reflect this understanding of an increasingly complex global political scene. National governments have, in general, been increasing in size, perhaps in response to the greater complexity of international politics, to address concerns of the public with regards to issues as diverse as immigration and global warming and to administer the directives and policy agreements made by external agencies.
Perhaps then, as a direct result of globalisation, national governments operating in an interdependent global society have become increasingly reactive to and dependent upon the decisions made by global and regional groups and organisations and therefore have become increasingly obsolete with regards to both the domestic and international policy making and delivering duties that have traditionally been their role.
Baylis, Smith, Owens (2008) The Globalization of World Politics, Oxford, Oxford University Press
Bush, G.H.W. (1991) Speech to joint session of Congress and the nation, http://www.sweetliberty.org/issues/war/bushsr.htm (Accessed 24/03/09)
Estulin, D (2006) Endgame 1.5, http://prisonplanet.tv/articles/end_game_1p5.htm (Accessed 24/03/09)