George Kaloudis is Professor and Director of History and Government at Rivier College in Nashua, New Hampshire.
The term globalization is a highly charged one. The strong reactions, both positive and negative, that globalization often invites are an indication of how people think about globalization. Recent meetings in Seattle, Prague, Milan, etc. are examples of the passions sparked by globalization. In addition, and more important, globalization is an ill- defined term. Although some might believe that there is agreement regarding the definition of the term, there is nothing further from the truth. As Scholte (2000) states, there are four commonly found definitions of globalization: Globalization as internationalization, liberalization, universalization, and westernization.
Internationalization refers to the increased interaction among people from different countries. Liberalization refers to the reduction of regulatory barriers. Universalization refers to the spread of people and cultural phenomena to all corners of the globe. Westernization refers to the process of greater homogenization and of the world becoming more western. Scholte believes that all these definitions are old definitions and as a consequence do not present any new insights. In turn, he defines globalization as "deterritorialization--or...the growth of 'supraterritorial' relations between people. In this usage, 'globalization' refers to a far reaching change in the nature of social space. The proliferation and spread of supraterritorial--or what we cal alternatively term 'transworld' or 'transborder'--connections brings an end to what could be called 'territorialism,' that is, a situation where social geography is entirely territorial. Although...territory still matters very much in our globalizing world, it no longer constitutes the whole of our geography."1
Such definitional disagreements make discussions about globalization too difficult, too general, and too unruly. For that reason the author thinks that discussing the global transformation resulting from geopolitical and economic changes since the mid-1970s and especially after 1989 to be more confined, more constructive, and more reflective of current developments. This global transformation provides reasons for optimism for some and reasons for concern for others.
After World War II the nature of the international system was bipolar, with the United States and the Soviet Union as the leaders and superpowers. This bipolar system remained constant, with few modifications after the 1960s, until the late 1980s and early 1990s with the revolutions in Eastern Europe and the collapse of the former Soviet Union. The post-1945 era was, of course, the epoch of the Cold War. The Cold War was a period of an intensive, extensive, and expensive competition between the United States and the Soviet Union. Despite the high tensions and many crises the international system was stable. There was no World War III and the two superpowers acted in a manner that was rational enough to do what was necessary to avoid direct confrontation. There was continuity and predictability regarding the behavior of the superpowers and their allies. There were certain "rules of the game," which, for the most part, were observed by the participants. The Cold War provided coherence, and the existence of economic, cultural, territorial, religious and ideological boundaries reinforced existing identities.2
During the Cold War years there were periods of detente, which reached its apex after Gorbachev came to power in 1985. Gorbachev introduced Glasnost (Openness) and Perestroika (Restructuring) in order for the Soviet Union to more successfully compete with the United States in the new global system. Even though his intention was to strengthen the Soviet Union, his policies led to its disintegration. As Russett and Oneal state: "He instituted substantial political liberalization and movement toward democracy in the Soviet Union, with consequent improvements in free expression and the treatment of dissidents. …