TOWARDS A “RESPONSIBLE” INTERNATIONAL HEGEMONY
Globalization presents a profound contradiction for international relations. On the one hand, the current ethos is one of universal democracy - the construction of a global society composed of cooperating and peacefully competing democracies. Implicit for this perspective is the inherent right of all countries to self-determination. On the other hand, international organizations have placed on nations quite strong conditionalities, directly and indirectly dictating their economic policies and increasingly political arrangements. Reflected is the expansion and cementing of a “responsible” international hegemony, the governing of countries to adopt and maintain neoliberalism economically and politically.
Crucial to this shift has been the supposed transition from governments to governance. The ascendancy of capitalism in the 1990s was met with prevalent fears that established forms of sovereign government were no longer capable of managing the complexities of the modern economy. As Kooiman (1994) observed at the time “the growing complexity, dynamics and diversity of our societies as caused by social, technological and scientific developments put governing systems under such new challenges that new conceptions of governance are needed.” This shift toward governance rather than governments was directly associated with globalization. It was thought that:
[S]ates are no longer the only actor who initiate and dominate the cascades which radiate out from the epicenter ... [thus], a theory needs to be developed that treats globalized space as the locale of the epi, as a vast arena composed of actors and processes that are not limited by territorial boundaries of sovereign rights, as a bifurcated system composed of both state-centric and multi-centric worlds. (Rosenau, 2000: 188)
Ironically, though, this trumpeting of the need for governance was associated in practice with the reaffirmation of both the nation and state. The almost exclusive association of democratization with liberal democracy confined such changes to national boundaries. As Ahrne et al. (2005: 3) maintain: “Since political parties as organizations ... are strongly related to the nation state for gaining power, there are few incentives in the short run for political parties to work outside the nation state.” This on-the-ground reality belied the hope of some to build upon this embrace of trans-national governance to similarly “reconstruct contemporary democracy” (Scholte, 2008). In fact, the engagement in regional forms of governance by states is commonly done for the purpose of “sovereign boosting” by national governments seeking to popularly legitimate their power domestically (Soderbaum, 2004).
Further, such democracy promotion is undermined by the overriding aim of needing to ideologically and practically reinforce neoliberalism within these countries. The fostering of a strong and independent civil society has perpetuated and deepened marketization, marginalizing popular and participatory movements. Here the replacing of state function by NGOs, for example:
[U]ndermines the institutional capacity of Latin American countries to define and defend alternatives to the development agenda articulated by international financial institutions and development agencies. This mutes voices of opposition and fundamentally weakens democratic political processes. It is ironic that NGOs, which generally see themselves and are often seen by others as agents of democracy, have been instrumental in undermining the institutional bases of political participation in this way. (Arellano-Lopez and Petras, 1994: 567)
At the international level, activists committed to the global spread of democracy commonly feel as if they are “double agents” having to simultaneously serve the cause of nurturing genuine political change and the interests of their superpower backers (Guilhot, 2005).
Crucial, in this respect, is the prioritization of stability above all other normative political considerations. Despite rhetoric to the contrary, “donor’s goals of democracy promotion is balanced against - or outweighed by - their desire for political stability in a country or a region” (Brouwer, 2000: 22). These realist considerations represent the fundamental desire of elite national and international actors to retain their influence and advantage. Accordingly, “Western democracies do not unequivocally engage in democracy promotion. Similar to nondemocratic regimes, they have a tendency to prioritize stability and security over democratic change.” Moreover, “non-democratic regimes do not necessarily engage in autocracy promotion. Rather, they seek to undermine Western efforts at democracy promotion if they see their political and economic interests or their political survival at stake.” (Borzel, 2015: 520).
This emphasis on stability is meant ultimately to ensure the success of neoliberalism. Specifically, “civil society serves as an arena where different groups manifest and use political and economic power to perpetuate or balance out pre-existing power dynamics within an/or between the economy and the state” (El-Mahdi, 2011: 26). Likewise, the state is empowered to regulate the civil sphere to minimize threats to this system. As Jha (2004: 531) observes, “globalization is basically the extension of capitalism by other means.” It involves a continually evolving reshaping of civil society and the state for imposing economic marketization.
This simultaneous and compatible emphasis on stability and market- ization combines to encourage political authoritarianism. Importantly, “the ‘rhetoric’ of globalisation is paralleled by and facilitates the emergence of more authoritarian or at least autocratic forms of governance” (Swyngedouw, 2000: 63). A strong sovereign actor is required to maintain order, especially as globalization seems to be undermining traditional political and social safety nets. Thus the “end of history” has been witness to the rise in some places of new strongmen able to deliver social stability, regardless of the cost. Duffield (1998: 65) observes:
Warlords, for example, have forged new and viable links with international organizations and global markets ... At the same time, many post-adjustment rulers, in terms of state debureaucratisation and the embrace of the free market have adopted warlord-type strategies. The changing architecture of the nation-state has also weakened the rule of law and blurred traditional responsibilities. This has created a demand for private protection at all levels within the emerging system.
Such insights challenge established understandings of globalization and governance as a fundamental process of weakening state power. Echoing this perspective, Scholte argues (2005: iii) “In terms of governance, the key trend promoting neoliberal policies has been a shift from statist to decentered regulation. With respect to production, the pre-eminence of neoliberalism has resulted from certain turns in contemporary capitalist development.” Nevertheless, the state has by no means disappeared or even been substantially disempowered. Rather, its role has been redirected away from economic regulation and toward social and political regulation. Bowles (2005) notes that “neo-liberal globalization” is less a singular definition and more a set of perspectives for reconfiguring the relation of the state and market. In this respect, corporate globalization has produced a “reconstructed state” that must serve global as well as national constituencies (Scholte, 2005: 193).
The central function of this “reconstructed state” is to ensure a country upholds its global economic “responsibilities.” More precisely, that regardless of any other desires it or its population may have, that they maintain their commitment to marketization. Sarfaty (2012) speaks of competing post-Cold War logics between efficient markets and “social contract liberalism.” The World Bank, for instance, usually does not take human rights into consideration when lending and implementing policies, yet those within the Bank who do care about these issues must justify them in the language of neoliberalism (Weiss, 2000). Analogously, to retain its international legitimacy, governments must make their policies and aims compatible with priorities of deepening economic marketization.