World Prisms

By Falk, Richard | Harvard International Review, Summer 1999 | Go to article overview

World Prisms


Falk, Richard, Harvard International Review


Abstract:

As the century closes, the contradictory organizational energies associated with globalization and fragmentation are mounting concerted attacks on the primacy of the sovereign, territorial state as the sole building block of world order. Transnational social forces seem on the verge of forming some kind of global civil society over the course of the next several decades, providing a foundation for the project of global democracy. Also significant is the resurgence of religion, and closely linked, the rise of civilizational consciousness. However, the resilience of the state and its twin, the ideology of nationalism, suggests that the waning of the state system is yet to be experienced. Whether the UN can retrieve its reputation as relevant to peace and security while continuing to engineer a myriad of useful activities beyond the gaze of the media is also discussed.

Text:

Headnote:

The Future of Sovereign States and International Order

As this century closes, the contradictory organizational energies associated with globalization and fragmentation are mounting concerted attacks on the primacy of the sovereign, territorial state as the sole building block of world order. To begin with, transnational social forces seem on the verge of forming some kind of global civil society over the course of the next several decades, providing a foundation for the project of "global democracy." Also significant is the resurgence of religion, and closely linked, the rise of civilizational consciousness.

At the same time, the resilience of the state and its twin, the ideology of nationalism, strongly suggest that we have yet to experience the definitive waning of the state system, which is the form of world order that has dominated political imagination and history books for several centuries. And let us not overlook, in this preliminary examination of the world order, the potential of regionalism, which is often underestimated. Our dialistic mental habits lead many of us to think only of "states" and "the world," which involves comparing the most familiar part of our experience to an imagined whole while excluding from consideration all other possibilities:

Several salient issues warrant attention. Given the potent dynamic of economic globalization, how can market forces become effectively regulated in the future? The mobility of capital and the relative immobility of labor will challenge governments to balance their interest in promoting trade and profits against their concern with the well-being of their citizenry. At the same time, economic globalization and the information revolution, with their accompanying compression of time and space, could encourage an emerging political globalization; the processes and institutional and ethical consequences associated with this transformation have many ramifications for the future of a globalized international community. Within this changing global milieu, world cities are becoming political actors that form their own networks of transnational relationships that are producing a new layer of world order.

Other lines of inquiry point to the uncertain nature of international institutions in today's world. Is there a crucial role for regional institutions as a halfway house between utopian globalism and outmoded statism? Also at issue is whether the current eclipse of the United Nations is merely a temporary phenomenon associated with the high incidence of civic violence, or rather a more durable development that reflects the peculiarities of the current phase of peace and security issues dominated by civil wars and ethnic strife. Are the main political actors, especially states, adapting their roles in response to new challenges and realities, or are they being superseded and outflanked by alternative problem-solving and institutional frameworks? What is the impact of the particular style and substance of global leadership provided by the United States, and is this likely to change due to internal developments, lessons learned, and external challenges? …

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