Essay on What is Globalisation?

What do we understand by the word: ‘Globalisation’?

The word Globalisation can be used when describing the process of integrating societies into a world society where political, economic, cultural and social events have become more and more interconnected. The extent of these effects on societies have become more significant and the ‘intensification of worldwide social relations which link distant localities in such a way that local happenings are shaped by events occurring many miles away and vice versa’ (Anthony Giddens, 1990).

In this essay I will attempt to distinguish the characteristics of globalisation by outlining and analysing the key issues and history.

The word globalisation was first entered into a dictionary in 1961 and became a standard term used by academics in the 1980’s, however globalisation is not recent, and the evolution of international societies dates back much further.

The emergence of ancient Greece 500 –100 BC was the first sign an international society, it was recognised as an geographical area and a cultural unity but not a single political entity or state.

Headly Bull said in 1977 that ‘ the starting point of international relations is the existence of states, or independent political communities, each of which possesses a government and asserts sovereignty in relation to a particular segment of the human population’. As a global system can not be formed before a national system, it was not until the 17th century an international system emerged.

States are political actors made up by a structured institution who have the ability to impose decisions and exercise power over a society or distinct territory. It is national states that make up the international system, it is therefore important that we distinguish between international systems and globalisation.

Global politics do not only includes state actors but also an unlimited number of other non-state actors such as individuals, groups and co-operations and institutions such as United Nations, European Union and The World Trade Organisation.

There are three main theories of world politics, Realism, Liberalism and Marxism.

Realism have been the most dominant theory throughout history, the realist theory is concerned with the states as they are seen to be main actors, other actors all have to operate within the state rules. They argue that the mechanism of balance of power represents the struggle of states to gain and sustain power and prevent other states from dominating, the most important tool to implement states foreign policies being military force. As all states are seen to be sovereign actors, no other actors above can direct the states to act a certain way, world politics is therefore seen to be a self-helped system where every state ensures its own survival. Classical theorist of Realism offered state leaders ‘the fundamental principle of conduct’ (Friedrich Meinecke, 1957) known as raison d’etat.

There are different types of realism, the historical type sees Realism as a justification for a license to act in any way in order to secure political survival, or the preparation for further conflict seen by structural realism.

Liberalism is another traditional theory and is a rival to realism, although realism have been the dominant theory of world politics, liberalism have been a strong historical alternative. It beliefs in progress of human kind, the key to progress of human perfectibility is through democracy.

Liberalist belief, unlike realists, that the states are not the only actors in global politics and multinational organisations, trans-national actors and national actors play an equally important part. They also belief that military force to protect the state is not as important as the realists and that environmental, technological and economic issues are just as important national interests.

The traditional 19th century international liberalism changes significantly into the idealist movement in the early nineteen hundreds through to nineteen thirties. Idealism focused its theory on preventing war, J. A. Hobson argued that subjugation of foreign peoples and their resources was the main cause for war. Liberalists earlier theory that peace was a natural condition proved wrong by the outbreak of World War One and recognised that peace could only be achieved by constructive mechanisms.

The League of Nations was formed to ensure peace and set up a collective security system to control states and convince members that security for one state is the concern of all. However by the late nineteen thirtees League of Nations reach its end, as it did not convince states to stop focusing on themselves, which consequently marked the end of Idealism. United Nations was formed in 1945 and unlike the League of Nations it has nearly a global membership and great powers feel security from any enforcement to their interests.

The third theory Marxism, also known as Structuralism or World-System theory has been the less influential out of the three. Marxist theory focuses on world politics in a capitalist economy where classes, multinational corporations and international organisations being the most dominant, are the most important actors and not states whose behaviour is explicable by class forces, international capitalism is the dominant power. Global politics are seen to be a field where class conflicts occur and unlike Realism and Liberalism, Marxism beliefs world order is achieved economically rather the military.

Marxism’s four theories, world-system theory, Gramscianism, critical theory and New Marxism have all made major contribution to world politics. The underlining theory of the social world as totality is common throughout his theories, for example economics, political science, international relations and sociology cannot be understood separately without the understanding of the others.

These theories are the background understanding to how political leaders, states, multinational organisations all have acted throughout history, I will now look at the political, social, economic and environmental implications of globalisation.

A key element of globalisation has been to prevent war, communication between states has not always been peaceful and the human desire to develop and improve has often caused conflict. States sovereignty have been more and more demolished and international governmental organisations (IGO’s) such as the United Nations who has proved to be one of the most important organisations of our time, aim to bring together states and take on responsibility to help achieve something previously impossible. Each specialised IGO focuses on different areas, for example global economic issues are handled by The World Trade Organisation (WTO) and help states communicate with each other.

International non-governmental organisations (INGO’s) are groups of any size that set out to change states behaviour, for example Greenpeace or much smaller local groups. Their power depends on their size, but a well organised and structured organisation is crucial if they are to successfully achieve their goals and change states behaviour.

Multi-national organisations (MGO’s) have become very important actors in global politics. They may join together to form INGO’s and together they have very clear political impacts. States may be played against each other to benefit INGO’s economically, they may derive power on virtue on strength on state and they are often very hard for states to control, for example Microsoft.
IGO’s, INGO’s and MGO’s are partly responsible for globalisation and the decline of states authority. Political changes have been forced, authoritarian systems that previously ruled states have been forced out and replaced by democratic systems. Law is now based on justice and equal rights are seen to be the principle of politics on national and international level.

Globalisation of the world have caused an economic transformation into a more integrated and interdependent world economy were trade barriers have been broken down and opening of borders have made it possible for multinational organisations to trade anywhere regardless of their own location. It is a result of the ever-growing Western liberal democratic societies that has been victorious over authoritarian systems that previously dominated the world.

The first sign of a reduction in tariffs, quotas, taxes and other measures to enable trade over boarders came in 1947, the General Agreement on Trade and Tariffs (GATT) was the first trade organisation. The GATT managed to reduce trade quotas and tariffs from 40 per cent in the late 1930’s to just 6 per cent when it was replaced by the World Trade Organisation (WTO) in 1995 as it failed to control mayor economic and political powers in Europe and America.

The WTO function was to continue a forum for National Governments to raise issues and handling disputes, monitoring national trade policies, cooperate with international organisations and provide assistance for developing countries.

The relationships between developed and undeveloped countries are a major concern, much attention is put on states to improve economic inequalities and close the gap between them.

Trade Unions such as EU, NAFTA, ASEAN and CEFTA all have state members who wish to reduce trade barriers and increase trade, investment and capital and thereby promote trade, investment, efficiency and relations.

The reduction of geographical barriers has also lead to social changes in the world. Drastic technological improvements during the 20th century, the era of globalisation, changed social, communicational and travel patterns, we are now experiencing ‘shrinking time and space’ through new technology. We are now interacting in a much bigger social society.

Political and economic changes through globalisation have been strong influences on society, for example international access to education and health care is now available, living standards in the majority of the world have been improved, food and housing is readily available, but the gap between the rich and poor is increasing and poverty has become a major concern.

Growing markets and stimulation of trade have boosted employment, work can now be gained globally and no longer necessarily nationally.

Environmental changes has developed social implications and effected the society we live in today and environmental issues has become a major focus in Global Politics, although environmental problems are not new, exploitation of nature, rapid industrialisation and population growth accounts for a faster growing problem.

Many of the environmental problems are inherited globally, for example the pollution of air via carbon dioxide emissions contributes to global climate change, depletion of resources such as oil, loss of wilderness by mankind destruction of the rainforest and loss of natural environment. These global problems and many more can only be solved if states work together as a global ruler to prevent such effects on the earth that will eventually lead to self destruction.

To solve the environmental issues political decisions have to be made, in 1972 The United Nations Conference was held in Stockholm. It marked a turning point in the development of international environmental politics and set about co-ordinating a structure for states to help prevent and solve pollution problems and helps to manage resources. The UN Environmental Programme (UNEP) was formed to regulate environmental issues concerning organisations other then the UN and promoting environmental consideration to production and work.

Many more conferences where held during the 1970’s and 1980’s, for example in 1987 at Montreal, issues surrounding the pollution of the ozone layer and how to prevent further damage was discussed and limits were put on the use of CFC’s. Industrial and environmental non-governmental organisations (NGO’s), who closely monitored the development and to put political pressure on conferences such as the Green peace and Friend of the Earth established themselves as strong actors in international environmental politics.

It is difficult to stop organisations polluting the air when producing products, as is it to persuade humans to be environmentally friendly and use the bus instead of the car? The question of values for human beings come into play, how does one justify their values? Do all humans have an obligation to respect nature? If so who decides what is important and not?

These are all question debated by the government to set a model for organisations and humans on how to act, but it is extremely hard to solve global environmental problems or any other problems when human kind is clearly self-interested, as argued in Liberal theories.

Or is it the human self-interest and obsession to develop and communicate that has driven us to explore the world and eventually merging small societies into larger and larger ones?

I belief that this may be the case and through this essay I hopefully explained the history of globalisation and the changes we have experienced.

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