Academic journal article Parameters

Redirecting US Diplomacy

Academic journal article Parameters

Redirecting US Diplomacy

Article excerpt

ABSTRACT: The international system of nation-states is evolving into something more complex and indeterminate. One important development has been the creation of regional communities. If these are to thrive in their own distinctive way, national governments, including the United States, will need to support creative policies that harmonize interests, not only within such communities but also among them. Policy planners, therefore, must think globally and act regionally.


Not so long ago, "international relations" meant "inter-state relations." Issues of war and peace belonged exclusively to the governments of states. They ruled the world. This was commonly called "the Westphalian system," after the 1648 Peace of Westphalia, which dictated the principle of independent national sovereignty and laid the geopolitical foundation for the next several centuries.

It replaced a more decentralized system that was much like the system now emerging in this age of transition. The Westphalian system has given way to one in which the dominance of nation-states is challenged by global and regional entities, as well as subnational ones. (1) National governments no longer have a monopoly over the use of force on a large scale and, hence, over decisions concerning war or peace. Their power is seeping away.

Fragmentation, or disintegration, appears to be the inevitable "other side of the coin" from the integration inherent in the process of globalization. The reasons for this are not altogether clear. Perhaps the disintegration has occurred because power has been reallocated within the international system. Perhaps global institutions seem too remote. Certainly, the export of jobs and competition with workers in distant countries breed reactions leading to barriers between nations.

Probably a mix of all these factors has contributed to this reaction, and we might reasonably invoke the philosophy of Hegel to suggest that a new system of governance will be a synthesis of globalization and localization. In any case, arguably, all of the conflict and turmoil that has affected the Euro-Atlantic region since the end of the Cold War, perhaps even the end of the Cold War itself, has resulted from the ambitions of actors operating below the level of states. Ethnic cleansing, the rise of political Islam, the dissolution of multinational states, over-reaching by financial organizations--all these are evidences of fragmentation. The correlation with the successes of globalization during this same period is too strong to ignore.

National governments are fighting to retain their authority but it appears to be a losing battle. The technologies and tools they deploy to preserve their share of power also undermine it, as individuals and networks have become empowered by information technology. Barriers to trade only serve to weaken that power further. The process of creating new forms of governance continues unabated, but in a more or less haphazard fashion.

This development does not mean that nation-states are going away or that their powers are permanently lost. In fact, one of the striking things about the history of nation-states is not merely how enduring they have been, but also how successful most have been in adapting to new geopolitical and economic conditions.

A European Example

The archetype of cooperation is still the "European project," despite its many internal tensions. In Europe, a true security community has been constructed, where its members never entertain the thought of war among themselves. But even in Europe, nation-states survive and in a few cases appear to thrive. The half-century of European integration has served them well. To use the language of one of contemporary Europe's best known historians, the late Alan Milward, supranationalism has served to rescue the nation-state. (2) This verdict is not universally held but nation-states do coexist with other structures designed both to limit and to extend their power. …

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