A term that has carved its own niche in today’s political, economic, and cultural lexicon; a term that has firmly entrenched itself in the minds of the various peoples around the world; a term that has represented a dichotomy of a dark, pessimistic future for some, and a brilliant and prosperous one for others; a term that has spawned countless debate and stirred a hornet’s nest across the board- Globalisation. This is a term that is multi-faceted and there, tough to capture its precise definition. The nuances inherent in this seemingly simple word are slight, but many. Its ramifications on the multiple aspects of the nation-state as we know it today are deep, and, some claim, even treacherous.


                                                 Firstly, what do we understand by the word “Globalisation”? Secondly, what do we mean by “nation-state”? Which aspect of this nation-state is being threatened (if at all it is) by globalisation? How accurate is this threat? What are some of the implications of such a threat? These are some of the questions that my paper shall attempt to shed light on. Due to certain constraints, I shall discuss the various implications of globalisation on the nation-state today and in the process, reach a conclusion as to whether the autonomy of the state has been eroded, is eroding or will be eroded gradually by it, or, if the converse is true. Thus, I am limiting the scope of my paper to primarily the aspect of sovereignty of the nation-state with regards to globalisation.



             Tackling the definition of globalisation can prove a real challenge to most. This is due to the intricacies that are involved in the concept of globalisation itself. However, from the ideas people have about globalisation, five fundamental components of this concept can be teased out. First, many people equate the term ‘globalisation’ with ‘internationalisation’. This essentially boils down to the notion that a global situation is one that is marked by “intense interaction and interdependence between country units”[1]. Secondly, there is the economic dimension to globalisation, where ‘globalisation’ is held to be synonymous to ‘liberalisation’. This means that globality here refers to an ‘open’ market where resources, specifically capital and labour, are mobilised with minimal governmental intervention/interference. Thirdly, some consider globalisation to mean ‘universalisation’. This simply indicates that globalisation is a process that has permeated its way into all corners of the planet. Fourthly, some understand the term ‘globalisation’ as ‘westernisation’, or, more recently, as ‘Americanisation’ where the world is becoming increasingly Americanised in terms of political structure (liberal democracy) and culture (nothing buttresses this idea more than the sweeping process of ‘McDonaldisation’ of the world). Lastly, some researchers identify ‘globalisation’ as ‘deterritorialisation’. Here, globalisation seems to occur without a sense of physical space.[2] This last component of globalisation is the most relevant to this paper, although the other four are also relevant to the nation-state in their own right. A second definition of ‘Globalisation’ is one proposed by Thomas Friedman. He defines globalisation as “ the integration of trade, finance, and information that is creating a single global market and culture.”[3]


                                                 Moving on to the definition of the “nation-state”, I have a problem narrowing down to just one definition. The definition is just too broad and all encompassing for me to single out one and say that is the best there is. Owing to this snag, I shall provide a cornucopia of meanings attached to the nation-state; some by well-known figures in the fields of political and social sciences. The first definition of a nation-state is that it is a set of institutional forms of governance maintaining an administrative monopoly over an economic, political, social and cultural territory with demarcated borders, its rule being sanctioned by law and direct control of the means of internal and external violence exists when a state has a unified administrative reach over the territory over.[4] A nation-state is in existence only when this “unified administrative reach” covers a SOVEREIGN territory. Thus, it is clear that sovereignty is of utmost importance to any nation-state.


                                                 The second definition of the nation-state is that dictated by Rousseau. According to him, the sovereign nation-state must have a “universal and compelling power to move and dispose of each part in whatever manner is beneficial to the whole”. Negroponte creates the third, and final definition of the nation-state in my paper. He argues that the nation-state is “a unitary object. Something that, is tied to atoms rather than bits. It is tied to space and place, geometry and geography.”[5]


                                                 The nation-state is further defined in terms of its ability to mobilise its sub-state actors to provide for their safety, economic welfare, cultural identity and its environmental concerns, such as emissions controlled/regulated by domestic legislation, and by the agreements signed in its name with other states, such as, for instance, the Biodiversity Convention.[6]


                                                 Having talked at length about both the nature and scope of globalisation and the nation-state, it is only right that we form the link between the two (as far as this essay is concerned) now. Like I have stated earlier, the focus of this paper shall be if the nation-state’s sovereignty comes under fire and if yes, how. State autonomy is defined as “the capacity to follow independent polices within a domestic and international context”. State autonomy can also be differentiated by its scope and the domains in which it can be exercised, with scope meaning the level of constraints experienced due to state action, and domains meaning the policy areas on which such constraints operate.[7] 


                                                 Using these three concepts, that of the nation-state, globalisation and state autonomy or sovereignty, a tapestry so fine can be woven around them. Have the forces of globalisation led to a decline of the nation-state? Or have they actually reinforced its strength? I shall attempt to engage in this discussion, showing both sides of the argument, and then come to a conclusion with regards this topic.

                                                 A cardinal point to note while on this topic, is what globalisation constitutes of. I have given the five components of globalisation earlier, but they were more perceptions and themes of this phenomenon rather than the actual, hard-core, physical manifestations of globalisation. The massive forces of globalisation take on much forms- economic, technology and communication, political, and cultural. I shall be exploring each of these four spheres of globalisation and how each affects the nation-state, as we know it today.


                                            THE ECONOMIC SPHERE 

                                                 The primary aspect of globalisation is the economic realm. More than ever, it is the “international financial market which now largely determines the economic policies of national governments”.[8] This market engenders the free market economy, deregulation of the economic sector and disengagement of the government from the provision of goods and services. The worth of the nation is now measured in terms of its credit assessment. Politics and economics have become so closely intertwined due to an assessment that is taken from time to time on a particular country’s political stability, decision-making, social stability, etc just because they impinge of the country’s debt repayment. National government are therefore compelled to bow to the economic pressures and implement policies, not only economic, but also social, to ensure that they provide comfort to the demands of capital.


                                                 The modern globalisation process is very much a private-sector driven ideological agenda. Thus, we see a visible shift of power form the hands of the nation-state to the hands of either than transnational organisations or, from the hands of the governments to those of the private sector. Where the transnational actors intervene and influence the nation-state’s decisions, it can be seen quite clearly that national sovereignty has been dissolved as the underlying concept of “territorial integrity” is violated. Some examples of transnational actors are the United Nations (UN), World Trade Organisation (WTO) and the International Monetary Fund (IMF). These organisations have a tremendous impact on the decisions taken by even the highest levels of the government as they control certain portions of the budget funds needed by these governments for state expenditure. Bodies such as the UN can seriously undermine the sovereignty of a state by imposing military intervention and  economic sanctions on it. A classic example of the power that rests with the UN would be the status of the countries of Iraq/Iran and Afghanistan after the Talibans took over. Another type of a transnational organisation which has successfully wrested power from the governments is the Multi-National Corporations (MNCs). For instance, those vertically integrated structures of US corporations have served as powerful vehicles of US national influence over the affairs of every nation-state across the globe.


                                                 However, it is naďve to think that just because the NGOs and such transnational organisations have come up fast and furious, we can universalise them and bestow upon them power, which they do not have. States still propose and dispose of international agreements and these transnational organisations, especially the MNCs, need government endorsement to secure influence in that particular country.[9] Another counter to the point that global economy has eroded sovereignty is that governments tend to try and control more as integration increases, rather than be swallowed by this burgeoning trend and be fazed by it. Secondly, although markets have a say on governmental expenditure, this is not a recent phenomenon. Part of the government’s role is to set conditions for a stable economy to ensure that investment monies will not be evaporated by high inflation or low interest rates. From this, it follows that the government policies will always, to some extent, be governed by economic concerns.[10]


                                   TECHNOLOGY AND COMMUNICATIONS  

                                                 Technological advancements, especially in the field of communications, have occurred in leaps and bounds over the past couple of decades, thus further catalysing the process of globalisation. Information Technology (IT) as successfully managed to completely revolutionise the way business around the world used to operate. The Internet has erased geographical demarcations and led to a sort of a “borderless” world, so to speak. Spatial distances have come to mean naught, well almost, with the introduction of the Internet. Ohmae indicates htat “national borders have effectively disappeared and along with them the economic logic thay the continuous development of telecommunications technology is moving the world towards a conception of the death of distance and the furthering of the dynamic through which national borders are practically obsolete.”[11] An interesting structural change that will begin to emerge, as a result of this technological development will certainly have a lasting impact on the way society works now. This change has indeed already been visible. The way it has become an accepted manner to ask people their e-mail addresses rather than their telephone numbers is a strong indicator of this paradigm shift in people’s mentality insofar as communications are concerned. The world we live in today has become highly reliant on technology for businesses in particular. This same technology has what efficaciously caused the “death of distance”. For instance, some of Hong Kong’s paging services are manned from China, and EMS control in western Australia monitor air-conditioning, lighting, lifts and security in office blocks in Singapore, Malaysia and other countries.[12] Moreover, with the inception of the Internet, there has been wide speculation about the formation of  “virtual communities”.[13] This is particularly worrisome because the nation-state thrives on its citizens and the citizens’ sense of belonging to it. Once this thread of belonging is unravelled, the nation-state loses much of its meaning.


                                                 Focusing further on the Internet, since information is so easily accessible and readily available, vital information as well as certain unsavoury pieces of information is made available to all and sundry. For example, pornography on the web is one major controversial issue all over the world. With a mushrooming number of children and minors accessing the internet very regularly, sexually explicit material floating around the web has become of prime concern to parents. Nations are forced to regulate the information that its citizens are able to view and consume. Cyberlaws have to be made and this is especially difficult, as they are tough to execute. It is an arduous and time-consuming process to monitor (pun unintended!) every computer in a country. Yet another issue about the information flow on the web is one that could potentially threaten the defence of the state itself. Certain military secrets that are put up on their sites can be accessed by hackers and this greatly undermines the sovereignty of the state, as it is unable to even contain such information of paramount importance. The recent hullabaloo over the scientist siphoning US military information to China in Los Alamos is but one example of what could happen if such information of national importance were to fall into the wrong hands.


                                                 But, we must not be too hasty to overstate the predominance of the Internet. While it is true that it is a pervasive mode of communication, not everyone has access to it. Many of the developing nations have only as little as 3% of their populations having access to the internet. There is a highly lopsided usage of the internet currently: there are 5 million net nodes around the globe. 3.4 million are located in North America, just over a million in Western Europe, 46,000 in Eastern Europe, 27,1000 in Africa, 16,000 in central and south America, 13,8000 in the Middle East, 150,000 in Asia and nearly 200,000 in Australia.[14] When China has as few as 4 net nodes whilst housing 25% of the world’s population, it does seem a tad foolish to claim that the Internet is AS global a phenomenon as we deem it to be. However, we must realise that technological inventions and communications, aside from just the Internet, have shrunk the world considerably and the one thing that leads us surely and steadily towards global integration is telecommunications technology.[15]



                                                 THE POLITICAL ARENA

                                                 If we examined a particular definition of ‘globalisation’ by Laurence Van Der Post, it goes something like this- “…more and more men and women who are not in touch with one another but nonetheless already belong to a community that is still to some and as yet has institutions to serve and express it.” [16] This last phrase denotes the diminishing role of the government in today’s hi-tech and economy/finance-oriented world. As I have already discussed before, economy is at the forefront of all governmental agendas. A nation’s economy is its true gauge. Thus, the role of the nation-state has devolved to “an ultra-minimalist one as simply a guarantor of debt repayment, of contract enforcement, and of social control within agreed territorial boundaries.”[17]


                                                 Globalisation as previously defined has several repercussions on the political culture of the nation-state. Four possible ramifications have been listed out- multilayered governance, some privatisation of governance, moves to construct collective identities, and citizenship. Together these four developments have contributed to the end of sovereign statehood.[18]


                                                 Firstly, multilayered governance. Prior to escalated globalisation, regulation was focused almost exclusively on national-level laws and institutions. But since the last three-four decades, the emphasis has been on a three-pronged approach to the government- local, regional and international. Global business associations, grassroot organisations, NGOs, trade unions and the like have directed their lobbying at whichever layer of governance seems relevant to their cause. Since these civic associations wield considerable power, both in terms of finance and prestige, the governments have been forced to eat humble pie and be receptive to them. This is transparent typically in the US where the lobbying groups have under their command a fair bit of political clout and they use this to sway the government to their tune.


                                                 Secondly, the global civil society has often become directly involved in the formulation and implementation of regulations. Thus, not only has the governmental level multipled to three, its sphere has spilled over from the public to the private sector. This trend too, has reduced “state-centrism” in politics. Governments can no longer hold claim to being the only class of elites- it is now increasingly shared by the top businessmen and the leaders of certain civil societies, like the NRA.


                                                 The third way that the autonomy is challenged is when people form affiliations and find solidarity out of the national borders. This has become increasingly an entrenched trend since the advent of the internet and advances in global travel. Mobility has escalated greatly and people have the tendency to migrate to places that give them the greatest economic incentive. This had lead to the decline of loyalty to one’s nation as one always has the sense of transience in this particular usage of the word. There is the constant thought that one might be uprooted from his or her place of birth and move on to “greener pastures” and so, there needs to be a re-adjustment of nationalistic sentiments and so on. This creates led to the unloosening of the fibre of collective identity, which held people together previously.


                                                 Finally, the issue of citizenship has become a rather ambiguous one now. Previously, citizenship used to be very much a question of legal nationality and the various entitlements and responsibilities that go along with it, but now, with the facility of holding a dual passport and with there being international civic groups that heighten one’s sense of “world citizenship”, people no longer pledge the same kind of allegiance to their nations like before. Their base of belonging has become much wider and this, in turn, has lead to the narrowing of one’s patriotic feelings.


                                                 Although the sovereignty of the nation-state has been challenged fiercely by these consequences, in no way have they completely eaten away at the core of nationhood. NGOs and other transnational organisations maybe riding the tidal wave, but citizens of a particular country still firmly believe their loyalty is first to their country. For instance, let us consider the EU. Recently, the EU wanted to pass some bills without the governments consulting and gathering public opinion from their respective countries. When this came out in the open, the electorate in London was furious with the lack of transparency and for the blatant disregard their government had shown them. If the citizens were truly apathetic, as proponents of globalisation claim, they wouldn’t have reacted in so strong a manner to this issue. So, despite globalisation’s nature of marginalising the government’s power over its territory, the nation-state is still very much in business.


                                            THE CULTURAL DIMENSION

                                                Lastly, globalisation is primarily a western concept, more specifically, an American one. If we looked around us today, the mode of dressing, food and some of the “high culture” (music, books, films) are very much an imitation of American culture. Hollywood is all-pervasive and American TV has percolated right down to the very lowest echelons of society. Liberal democracy is touted as THE form of political structure to follow. This cultural hegemony is by far the most thorough effect of globalisation on most nation-states because culture affects and attacks people at their very rudimentary levels of the mind and firmly buttresses itself there. It is no wonder that for many, globalisation is tantamount to Americanisation. Since mobility has been enhanced greatly (as discussed earlier), travel has helped spread the culture even further. All this takes away some of the indigenous culture and ethnicity from the nation-states.


                                                 Once again, in spite of such a crippling effect of globalisation, we cannot make a sweeping statement saying nation-states have lost all sense of an indigenous culture and are swamped by American culture alone. Nationalism and nationalistic fervour runs high around the world. Even as I type out this essay, Aceh clamours for secessionism. The Sri Lankan Tamils are shedding every drop of their blood for a separate state. Israel and Palestine are constantly engaging in talks to resolve their religious and cultural differences. If the world were truly to be a monolithic place in terms of culture, how would we hope to explain these conflicts?



                                                     Globalisation is indeed a formidable force to reckon with. It has brought about changes so rapid and so diverse that it leaves us gaping in wonder at the constant state of flux that we seem to be living in right now. It has emphasised the dichotomy between the transnational organisations and governments and yet, has fused the two in a subtle fight for dominance. It has accelerated the competitive spirit in all men and women and brought out the best in them, but it is also guilty of having widened the North-South divide and made the lot of the poor even worse. Globalisation has impacted on governments and on nation-states like no other phenomenon in recent history. The tentacles of globalisation have spread far and wide and have got a stranglehold on most of the governments in the world today. Championing free trade and finance at its fore, globalisation has managed to weaken the amount of control governments had the luxury of commanding previously. However, it is only wise to bear in mind that while globalisation has achieved in snatching away some of the power from the government, the idea of the nation-state, as we know it today, is far from dead. It still commands a certain amount of respect and is still the individual unit that the world is comprised of. But decidedly, globalisation HAS weakened the modern nation-state in terms of its sovereignty.

















1.Approaches To Global Governance Theory, Ed., Hewson. Martin and Sinclair.J Timothy; State University of New York Press, 1999


2.Globalisation and Global Governance, Ed., Vayrynen. Raimo; Rowman & Littlefield Publishers, Inc, 1999


3.Toward Genuine Global Governance: Critical Reactions to “Our Global Neighbourhood”, Ed. Harris.E, Errol and Yunker.A, James; Praeger Publishers, 1999






























Any comments or questions regarding this essay can be addressed to: Radhika Prabhakar

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