The Role of the Nation-State

31.03.2020 in Sociology Essay
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How has the Role of the Nation-state changed in a Globalised Society?

The rapid growth of the global economy, increased interdependence of the economic and social forces, and globalization of economic, social, political, and cultural processes have become one of the central objects of sociological and international relations research. The growing popularity of the topic is justified by a common assumption that “the growth of a global economy in conjunction with the new telecommunications and computer networks that span the world has profoundly reconfigured institutions fundamental to processes of governance and accountability in the modern state” (Saskia 2013, p. 1). An emerging consensus is that economic globalization, coupled with the emergence of transnational institutions and global financial apparatuses, destabilizes the traditional concepts of a nation-state, nation-based citizenship, and state sovereignty (Saskia 2013, p. 1). Globalization transforms nation-states, turning them into a matter of secondary importance in the globalized world. Yet, the reality is not as one-dimensional as some scholars try to describe it. As such, it is not enough to say that globalization simply leads or does not lead to the decline of the nation-state. Apparently, globalization is a complex process that has profound, but highly uneven impacts on various spheres of nation-state performance. Moreover, globalization by itself is not as new as to trigger any dramatic shifts in the roles and powers of nation-states. As such, it would be fair to say that, in the era of globalization, the role of the nation-state has shifted to achieving and sustaining a reasonable balance of the national and global, but even under the pressure of globalization, it is wrong to believe that the nation-state as a unit of the international order will decline any time soon.

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In order to understand how globalization changes the roles of the nation-state, its meaning and implications for the international order need to be understood. It is not enough to say that globalization is the integration of powers, processes, and relations across borders (Keohane & Nye 2000, p. 105). Undoubtedly, globalization is a multidimensional construct that incorporates the elements of economic, political, and security changes. Economic globalization exemplifies one of the major sources of powerful shifts in the territorial and politico-economic organization of nation-states (Saskia 2013, p. 5). Globalization is a term that is closely associated with the new economies and geographies of power, as it leads to the emergence of new transnational institutions and results in the creation of a new cross-border legal regime that facilitates economic transactions between nation-states (Saskia 2013, p.7). One of the central tenets of economic globalization is the creation and rapid growth of multinational corporations, followed by equally dramatic transformations of financial markets (Strange 1997, p.365). Economic globalization implies that nation-states are losing their power to more influential transnational economic organizations, although many of these assumptions are either exaggerated or oversimplified. 

Still, it is difficult to deny the fact that economic and political globalization go hand in hand. More specifically, politics and economy are the two powerful dimensions of one globalization phenomenon. In politics, globalization manifests in shifting the political authority, power, and rule away from the nation-state reach (Held & McGrew 1998, p.226). Yet, again, the mere presence of global organizations and transnational bodies of power does not necessarily entail the eroding power of the nation-state. Even a profound shift toward the global security mentality does not deprive the nation-state of its historic role in ensuring the security of its communities and citizens (Held & McGrew 1998, p.226). As a result, while globalization implies the rise of transnational mentality in all spheres of state life, it does not necessarily lead to the subsequent loss of power and authority by nation-states. To a large extent, in the era of globalization, the role of the nation-state has shifted towards attaining and sustaining a reasonable balance of the national and global interests, without any risks to its historical centrality in the international order.

A popular argument in the international relations literature is that globalization is a powerful force that alters the existing balance in international relations, by erasing the territoriality of nation-states and making them a subordinate element of the new global order. The assumption underlying this argument is that globalization leads to the emergence of new practices and institutions, including the creation of global financial markets and the geographical dispersal of firms, which inevitably erase the importance of geographic boundaries, making nation-states insignificant (Saskia 2013, p. 9). Saskia (2013) is right by stating that economic globalization favors offshoring and other forms of economic activity that no longer fit under the small umbrella of the state (p. 9). Many economic activities that used to be tied to a specific location in the past have progressively become global (Tanzi 1998, p. 7). As a result, many economic and state bodies face the risks of denationalization, especially in the developed world. However, in reality, the argument that globalization makes the nation-state play secondary roles in the world order is very misleading: in no way do the emerging economic activities diminish the role and centrality of the nation-state. Rather, it emphasizes the need to achieve and maintain a reasonable balance of the national and global, and this is the primary role the nation-state is expected to fulfill in the global world.

Indeed, the geographical dispersal of firms, services, businesses, and functions is accompanied by the growing power of centralized management functions (Saskia 2013, p. 10). In other words, managing highly dispersed economic functions is impossible without a strong central power of the nation-state. All these functions, bodies, and services require solid centralized control, whose origin rests with the nation-state, whose new role in the globalized world is to balance its economic interests with those of the globalized community. Even though many economic bodies move geographically to other locations, they manage to retain their national and state identity. A multinational corporation may have thousands of affiliations overseas, but its headquarters will still belong to and preserve the major economic, social, and cultural influence of the state of origin. In most cases, the central functions of highly dispersed economic bodies are concentrated in a country of origin, meaning that the nation-state has to readjust itself to the new role of finding and maintaining an appropriate balance of the local and global.

Certainly, the scope of economic globalization’s influences on the nation-state can hardly be overstated. Globalization, being accompanied by information and technological changes, produces revolutionary shifts in all economic policies and activities, nationally and globally (Tanzi 1998, p. 7). Information technologies have decreased dramatically the costs of transmitting, accessing, and using information (Tanzi 1998, p. 7). The growing speed of communication and information exchanges simply eliminates the need for many economic activities to have a distinct nationality (Tanzi 1998, p. 7). Even then, the nation-state retains its leading role in balancing the national and the global, because many economic activities comprise the elements of being both national and global. Under the influence of globalization, the quality of interactions between market and authority is undergoing major changes, while shifts in technology intensify flows of information regardless of country borders (Reis 2004, p. 253). Capital, economy, and business seem to have no motherland, but this conclusion is highly misleading. Although globalization has made it easier for stockholders and capitals to move across the borders, “a national basis plays a key role in entrepreneurial calculations, be it to raise protective barriers, to extract public incentives, or manipulate currency advantages” (Reis 2004, p. 253). In sociology and international relations, the focus is still on nation-states and their needs (Robinson 1998, p. 572). Nation-states still think in terms of nation-states, although becoming more receptive to the benefits and demands of globalization. This is why the only change the nation-state has undergone in the globalized world order is in the need to be patient, respective and responsive to the needs of the global world, while being equally protective of its national interests and the interests of its communities and citizens. 

The role of the nation-state in the globalized order has not changed dramatically, at least because globalization by itself is not a new phenomenon. Pinder (2011) writes that the world has already undergone several waves of internationalization, although the current scope of globalization is incomparable to the internationalization of the world order at the beginning of the 1980s. Objectively, the process of globalization has been much longer than many contemporary scholars tend to believe, and its origins can be traced to the beginning of the 20th century (Cable 1995, p. 24). Many of today’s economic institutions, powers, and organizations have long existed in identical or similar forms (Cable 1995, p. 24). Therefore, the nation-state had enough time to adjust itself to the new conditions of global performance, and it is difficult to admit that the recent shifts in the world order could have induced any dramatic shifts in the role played by the nation-state. Today, more than ever before, the nation-state seeks to accept and deal with the tradeoffs and constraints imposed by globalization, while trying to retain its power and influence on the major economic, political, social, and cultural processes. For instance, with the growing movement of peoples and capitals across state borders, governments’ controls over such movements also tightened (Wolf 2001, p. 184). “With the exception of the free immigration policy among members of the European Union, immigration controls are generally far tighter now than they were a hundred years ago” (Wolf 2001, p. 184). In this way, the nation-state tries to fulfill its new role of being a balancing power between the growing power of globalization and the equally strong power of the national interests and priorities. At the same time, it is difficult to imagine that globalization will erase the power of the nation-state any time soon.

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Apparently, nation-states feel quite comfortable in the new global order, which renders their restructuring efforts either insignificant or totally unnecessary. Simply stated, nation-states do not need to undergo any revolutionary changes, in order to fit into the new globalization reality. The global and the national can successfully co-exist, and the role of the nation-state is simply to monitor both aspects of their political, economic, and social performance. Indeed, many trends in the new world order reinforce the centrality of the nation-state, while also suggesting that eroding its historical power can be close to impossible. Many international and global treaties emphasize the historical exclusivity of the nation-state, such as the Charter of the United Nations and the Millennium Declaration (Dhanapala 2001, p. 5). To a large extent, these treaties are particularly helpful in preserving the historical roles of the nation-state, while enabling them to meet the new demands and requirements of the global order. Today, it is clear that if the nation-state cannot implement effective policies, global society structures will help (Meyer, Boli, Thomas, & Ramirez 1997, p. 159). This process has nothing to do with the authoritarian imposition of new rules on nation-states; rather, it represents an effective authoritative external support provided to nation-states that cannot meet their own and global legitimate purposes on their own (Meyer et al. 1997, p. 159). Thus, globalization does not compromise the historical power and role of nation-states; rather, it simply implies the need to balance their global and national efforts in an attempt to promulgate policies and provisions that are crucial for their national growth. Many countries have achieved these goals, by separating global governance and national governments. As a result, the forces of global interdependence influence them without challenging their ability to exercise independence and sovereignty in daily politics (Carayannis et al. 2012, p. 72). Today’s nation-states simply need to be more perseverant in the provision of their domestic policies, while fulfilling the role of an independent actor in international affairs (Carayannis et al. 2012, p. 72).

In conclusion, globalization is an extremely complex, multifaceted phenomenon that has diverse impacts on nation-states. As such, the chief question facing scholars and policymakers is how exactly the role of the nation-state has changed under the influence of globalized forces. There is no single answer to this question. Still, it would be fair to say that, in the era of globalization, the role of the nation-state has shifted to achieving and sustaining a reasonable balance of the national and global, but even under the pressure of globalization, it is wrong to believe that the nation-state as a unit of the international order will decline any time soon. The belief rests on the assumption that globalization by itself is not a new phenomenon; consequently, there is no definite reason why the role of the nation-state has to change dramatically and unexpectedly. Moreover, nation-states mostly feel quite comfortable being part of the global order, which means that their readjustment efforts are either insignificant or unnecessary. Even in the presence of new revolutionary technologies that facilitate and speed up the transfer of goods and services across borders, the national basis keeps playing a central role in international order calculations and decisions. The only change facing nation-states is their heightened concern about balancing the global and national demands, but today’s nation-states simply have to be more perseverant in their pursuit of domestic priorities while playing a role of an independent actor in international and global affairs. Given the sustained power of nationalism as the vital force of nation-state building, globalization will hardly change the situation in the nearest future, while the nation-state as a unit of the global order will hardly decline any time soon.

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