2BA Group B Seminar: Does the (Nation) State Make sense anymore in a Globalized world?

Image is open source and used here for educational purposes: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:The_Ratification_of_the_Treaty_of_Munster,_Gerard_Ter_Borch_(1648).jpg

The signing of the peace of Münster (1648, above image) between the Dutch State and the Spanish State was the start of the so called Treaty or Peace of Westphalia, and therefore the beginning of the end of 30 years of warfare in Europe, and the start of the modern era, featuring European domination through a nation state based international order. By this account, each nation state was supposed to have its own clearly marked out territory, its own subjects who were expected to be loyal, and with whom other states were not expected to meddle. The topic for discussion wonders to what extent globalization has made such a conception, of the centrality of states being at the heart of international politics today, more or less irrelevant?

The title above of course is not quite the question for discussion in our Seminar during Halloween week (October 31st), but it is in some ways what the Chapter by Cerny in your reading pack and real question is driving at. In fact, the question you have to answer if your doing the IR course is as follows: “What do you think is the most significant aspect of Cerny’s (2010) discussion about the state and globalization from your study of IR so far”.

Notice here that the key word ‘significant’ is rather bland. The essay would look a bit different if we replaced it with the word ‘problematic’ or ‘worrying’. Is Cerny simply saying that nation states are no longer tenable in the face of vast raging processes of globalization, or is he saying something more muted and subtle?

For example what do you think he means by ‘neo-medievalism’ (1) in relation to the current era of state power….. he talks about states participating in future world politics as part of a multi-nodal and multi-level reality…but what does he actually mean by this, and what examples does he give?

Cerny’s describes what he calls a crisis of the state…but are the trends he describes (such as greater multi-lateral diplomacy and institutions) necessarily hard proof that nation states are in a profound crisis? Might not some of these regional and global forums not be quite fragile and brittle…for example witness the contemporary crisis of the EU and the Eurozone?

What does Cerny mean by governmentality, and why is that concept relevant for figuring out what is happening to our nation states today?

In what sense are today’s nation states then classic Westphalian exemplars or are they post-Westphalian in their nature and governmentality? How has the importance of territory to states changed…is it more or less important to today’s nation states?

Cerny goes on to give examples of how modern states as organizational entities are challenged-what are these three different challenges and how credible are they? Do they really make nation states irrelevant…..and would these challenges be the most significant aspect of Cerny’s discussion?

Cerny offers a discussion on state capabilities, and gives the example of military power. To what extent are modern nation states leaving this type of power behind and opting for, or being forced to fall back on, softer forms of power and capability(2)?  Does this mean many of our future nation states will be effectively de-militarized lacking any serious military capabilities? Is this credible, and if so could it be the most significant message he has to impart?

He also discusses sharp socio-economic divisions within states-between those who benefit from and participate in globalized varieties of capitalism, and those local and national populations who cannot benefit from such economic developments and essentially ‘left behind’ by globalization. To what extent to these different classes (3) have radically different politics-one residually nationalist and seeking to control capital the other globalized in focus and neo-liberal?

Finally the exact institutional pattern of the state is changing according to Cerny. Instead of vast top down bureaucracies modern states are trying to become flatter and leaner structures, with many state activities ‘contracted out’ to private actors and some state functions even moved upwards from the national level.

He speaks of a competition state, which is different from the old warfare state of Westphalia, and the Welfare state of the post WW2 era. What does he mean by a competition state? Could this be his most significant argument?

Overall, what might be the flaws in Cerny’s analysis? For example, is the argument for seeing major changes in state power and capacity not somewhat weakened by his admission of the persistence of many old nation states that continue to exert a powerful role-including many of those that signed the Treaty of Westphalia?

He also cites the technological developments such as the internet challenging nation state power…yet how may some powerful nation states be able to police the internet? Could not the example of China’s ‘great firewall’(4) not serve as an example of how powerful nation states consciously embrace some aspects of globalization while they also try to heavily control, somewhat successfully, other features of it-such as internet based freedoms to communicate?

(1) An interesting book which discusses the concept of neo-medievalism is Jan Zielonka’s (2007) Europe as Empire: the nature of the enlarged European Union. Its in the library at: 320.9409049 ZIE . Use the index to find the precise discussion on neo-Medievalism. See also Henry, Nicholas (2010) ‘Politics Beyond the State: Europe as Civilization and Empire’, Comparative European Politics, Vol.8, No.2, pp.262-280. In this review he discusses the concept as developed Jan Zielonka and Hedley Bull (2002).

(2) For an accessible discussion of changes in the use of military power by states see Nye, Joseph (2010) ‘Is Military Power becoming Obsolete’, Op Ed, The Korea Times, January 13th, 2010 available at:  http://www.seguridadfip.org/boletinestudiosdefensa/boletin37estudios/IsMilitaryPowerBecomingObsolete.pdf

(3) For an interesting discussion on the concept of a transnational class emerging of globalized capitalists see Sprague, Jeb (2009) ‘Transnational Capitalist Class in the Global Financial Crisis: A Discussion with Leslie Sklair’, Globalizations, Vol. 6, No. 4, pp. 499–507.

(4) See for more details: MacKinnon, Rebecca (2011) “China’s “Networked Authoritarianism”, Journal of Democracy, Vol.22, No.2, pp.32-46.





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