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Reimagining the Governance
of Globalization



Richard Falk

Visiting Distinguished Professor, Global Studies, University of California, Santa Barbara and Milbank Professor of International Law Emeritus, Princeton University

TFF associate

August 22, 2003

I. "Globalization" under Stress

In the 1990s it was evident that "globalization," despite objections about the unsatisfactory nature of the term as misleading or vague, was widely accepted as usefully descriptive and explanatory: namely, that the world order sequel to the cold war needed to be interpreted largely from an economic perspective, and that the rise of global market forces was displacing the rivalry among sovereign states as the main preoccupation of world order. This perception was reinforced by the ascendancy of Western style capitalism, ideologized as "neo-liberalism" or as "the Washington consensus," a circumstance reinforced by the collapse of the Soviet Union and the discrediting of a socialist alternative. It seemed more illuminating to think of the 1990s in this light by reference to globalization than to hold in abeyance any designation of world politics by continuing to refer to the historical period as "the post-cold war." Others spoke convincingly of this being "the information age" highlighting the re-structuring of international life that was being brought about by the computer and Internet, but such a label seemed less resonant with the wider currents of emphasis on economic growth on a global scale than did the terminology of globalization.

But then came September 11, simultaneously reviving and revolutionizing the modern discourse of world politics, highlighting the severity of security concerns, war/peace issues, but also giving rise to doctrines and practices that could not be understood by reference to the prior centuries of interaction among territorial sovereign states. The concealed transnational terrorist network that displayed the capability to inflict severe substantive and symbolic harm on the heartland of the dominant state could not be addressed, or even comprehended, by resorting to a traditional war of self-defense. There was no suitable statist adversary that could be defeated once and for all, although this fundamental and disquieting reality was provisionally disguised, by the seemingly plausible designation of Afghanistan as responsible for the attacks by giving safe have to al Qaeda. But with the Afghanistan War producing a "victory" in the form of the replacement of the Taliban regime and the destruction of the al Qaeda infrastructure, it became clear that such a campaign was only marginally related to this new type of "war." For one thing, most of the al Qaeda leadership and many among the cadre apparently escaped, indicating the absence of any fixed territorial base or meaningful victory, and the US Government shifted its focus from the threat of mega-terrorism to the quite different issue of "axis of evil" countries. These moves in world politics dramatized the originality of the global setting after September 11, and raised anew the question of discourse and terminology.

To the extent that globalization is retained as the naming dynamic, its net must be cast far more broadly. The following section will present this argument by considering the relevance of the September 11 attacks to the reconfiguration of conflict on a global level, as well as to suggest how the quest for a new framework of regulatory authority has changed from the 1990s. At the same time, the central contention of this essay is that "globalization" retains its relevance as a descriptive label, but that it needs to be interpreted less economistically since the events of 2001. The final section will consider approaches to global governance given this altered understanding of "globalization."


II. The Changing Geopolitical Context of Globalization and Global Governance

To set the stage for this extended view of globalization as incorporating the new geopolitics of post-statist political conflict, it is necessary to review briefly the evolution of world politics after the cold war.

The breakdown of the geopolitical discipline of bipolarity that had managed conflict during the cold war era generated a security vacuum that could be and was filled in various ways. The Iraqi conquest of Kuwait in 1991 was an initial expression of this breakdown. It would have seemed virtually certain that during the cold war epoch, without the approval of Moscow and Washington, Iraq would not have embarked on a path of aggressive warfare against its small neighbor. The American-led coalition that restored Kuwaiti sovereignty was the mark of a new era being shaped by American leadership, seemingly a geopolitical debut for unipolarity. The fact that the UNSC endorsed the defensive effort, American operational control of the Gulf War, and the subsequent ceasefire burdens imposed on Iraq was far more expressive of the actuality of unipolarity than it was a sign that Woodrow Wilson's dream of an institutionalized international community was finally coming true. What emerged from the Gulf War more than anything else was the extent to which the UNSC seemed willing to allow itself to be used as a legitimating mechanism for controversial US foreign policy initiatives.

Another course of action could have been followed, and was even encouraged by the first President Bush's rhetorical invocation of "a new world order" as a means of generating public and governmental support in the UN for authorizing a collective security response to Iraqi aggression. Such reliance on the procedures of the Security Council to fashion and supervise a response would have been a genuine expression of the Wilsonian project to shift the locus of authority in war/peace matters from the level of the state to that of the world community. But there was no such disposition. Instead, the United States moved to fill the security vacuum by acting on its own to the extent that it deemed necessary, while seeking Security Council approval for the sake of a legitimating rationale whenever it would be forthcoming. The initiation of the Kosovo War under NATO auspices in 1999 made this new American orientation toward law and power clear. With the prospect of a Soviet and Chinese veto in the offing, the US Government avoided the UNSC, while organizing "a coalition of the willing" under the formal umbrella of NATO, a deliberate step away from multipolarity of independent policymaking in the Security Council. This departure from the discipline of international law and the UN Charter was widely, although controversially endorsed, throughout Europe and in the United States. It was justified as an exceptional claim necessitated by the perceived imminence of an ethnic cleansing crisis in Kosovo and against the background of the failure to protects the Bosnian peoples, as epitomized by the 1995 Srebrenica massacre of up to 7,000 Bosnian males while UN peacekeepers stood by as disempowered spectators.

The Iraq Crisis was a more revealing and consequential departure from the UN framework of restraint with respect to the use of international force in circumstances other than self-defense. Instead of circumventing the Security Council as in Kosovo, the US tried hard to enlist the UN in its war plans, and initially succeed in persuading the entire membership of 15 countries to back SC Res. 1441, which implicitly accepted the American position that if Iraqi weapons of mass destruction were not found and destroyed by Baghdad's voluntary action or through the United Nations inspection process, then an American-led war with UN blessings would obtain political backing and international legitimacy. Tensions within the Security Council surrounded mainly the timing and the alleged requirement of an explicit authorization for recourse to war. Evidently concerned that inspection might obviate the case for war, and that the mandate for war might after all not be forthcoming, the US went ahead on its own in early 2003, inducing a coalition of more or less willing partners to join in the military effort, which produced a quick battlefield victory, but a bloody and inconclusive occupation.

In an important sense President George W. Bush was implementing a vision of a new world order, but not the one that his father appeared to favor in 1990-91 or that Wilson pushed so hard for after World War I. Unlike The Gulf War where the response, which was endorsed by the United Nations Security Council, was one of collective defense against prior aggression and conquest or the Kosovo War where the military action appeared necessary and justified as humanitarian intervention, the war against Iraq rested on neither a legal nor moral grounding that was persuasive to most governments in the world, was opposed by an incensed global public opinion, and even seemed politically imprudent from the perspective of meeting the al Qaida challenge of transnational terrorism. The Bush Doctrine of preemptive war, without a persuasive factual showing of imminent threat, represented a flagrant repudiation of the core international law prohibition of non-defensive force as generally understood, and established a precedent that, if followed by other states, could produce a series of wars and undermine the authority of the UN Charter and modern international law. The United States approach filled the security vacuum after the cold war with the unilateralism and lawlessness of hegemonic prerogatives, and seemed to widen even the claimed right of preemptive defense by resorting to war in the absence of an imminent threat, and possibly in the absence of any threat whatsoever, thereby extending unilateralism and discretionary recourse to war even beyond the expansiveness of so-called "preventive war." For the United States to attack Iraq, at every stage a weak state beyond the reach of its regional status, and weakened further by its exhausting stalemate of the 1980s in relation to Iran, by a devastating defeat in the Gulf War, and by more than a decade of harsh sanctions, involved launching a war without international or regional backing in a context where there was no credible past, present, or future threat.

And by this audacity on the part of the US Government, repeatedly justified by the distinct challenge of mega-terrorism made manifest in the attacks of September 11, the United States was also reconstituting world order in three crucial respects: seriously eroding the sovereignty of foreign countries by potentially converting the world as a whole into a battlefield for the conduct of its war against al Qaida; discarding the restraints associated with international law and collective procedures of the organized world community in the name of anti-terrorism; reestablishing the centrality of the role of war and force in world politics, while dimming the lights that had been illuminating the rise of markets and the primacy of corporate globalization. In effect, the focus on the terminology of globalization and the operations of the world economy were superseded by a novel 21st century pattern of geopolitics in which the main adversaries were a concealed transnational network of political extremists and a global state operating without consistent regard for the sovereign rights of normal territorial states. For both of these political actors the framework of diplomacy and restraint that evolved since the Peace of Westphalia in 1648 to regulate political behavior in a world of sovereign states was being treated as obsolete with respect to the resolution of acute transnational conflict. Reliance on the discourse of globalization seems useful to emphasize the extent to which the crucial dimensions of world history are being addresses with a much diminished role for the boundaries of states. These boundaries continue to identify a significant class of political actors on the world stage, but these actors are no longer appropriately treated as the defining forces shaping the history of our times.


III. Five Globalizations for the 21st Century

Whether this current rupture with the past is an aberration to be corrected shortly or the new framing of global governance is uncertain. The contours and ideological orientation of globalization and governance are almost certain to remain highly contested and fluid, far more so than during the 1990s, and the future of world order will hang in the balance. The old political language of statism will persist in many formal settings, but it will not illuminate the changing structure of world order nearly as effectively as a revamped reliance on the language of globalization.

Five overlapping approaches to governance can be identified as the structural alternatives for the future of world order. These will be briefly depicted, and a few conclusions drawn: corporate globalization; civic globalization; imperial globalization; apocalyptic globalization; and regional globalization. The emerging structure of world order is a complex composite of these interacting elements, varying with conditions of time and space, and therefore incapable of an authoritative "construction." In other words, many constructions vie for plausibility, but none can be prescriptive. The contours and meanings of globalization are embedded in a dialogic process.

Corporate globalization. In the 1990s, with the resolution of the East/West conflict, the center of attention shifted to the ideas, arenas, and practices associated with the functioning of financial markets and world trade, as guided by a privileging of capital formation and efficiency. The role of governments was increasingly seen in relation to this dynamic, and political elites to be "legitimate" had to win the endorsement of private sector elites. Ideological adjustments were made to upgrade markets, privatize a wide range of undertakings previously situated within the public sector, and to minimize the role of government in promoting social goals. New arenas of policy formation emerged to reflect this shift in emphasis, giving prominence to the World Economic Forum organized as a gathering of business leaders, but soliciting the participation of the top political figures who came to Davos with the purpose of providing reassurance that they too were championing corporate globalization. Governments and international financial institutions accepted and promoted this economistic agenda, creating arenas designed to facilitate the goals of the private sector, such as the annual economic summit (Group of Seven, then Eight) that brought together the political heads of state of the principal advanced industrial countries in the North.

In the 1990s there seemed to be a rather neat displacement of the territorial and security features of the state system with the capital-driven concerns of the world economy organized according to the ideology of the free market. It appeared that a new non-territorial diplomacy associated with trade and investment was taking precedence over older concerns with alliances, as well as with friends, enemies, and the security and well being of the territorial community of citizens. As long as corporate globalization was sustained by impressive growth statistics, even if accompanied by growing indications of persistent massive poverty, widening disparities with respect to income and wealth, and a disturbing neglect of economic stagnancy in sub-Saharan Africa, there was little mainstream questioning directed at the pro-globalization consensus. This consensus was seen as a panacea by important champions of globalization, producing also a drift toward constitutional democracy.[See T. Friedman, The Lexus and the Olive Tree]

It was only in the wake of the Asian Financial Crisis that began in 1998, and its reverberations in such disparate countries as Argentina, Japan, and Russia that serious criticism began to produce a controversy as to the future of corporate globalization. In such an atmosphere, the reformist voices of such insiders as George Soros and Joseph Stiglitz began to be heard more widely, lending credibility to the previously ignored leftist critics. And then in late 1999, the Seattle demonstrations directed at an IMF ministerial meeting signaled to the world the birth of a wide and deep anti-globalization movement deeply opposed to the basic policies associated with the implementation of neo-liberalism. The reaction to Seattle finally generated a debate about the effects of globalization, assessing its benefits and burdens, and focusing especially on whether the poor of the world were being victimized or impressively helped.[This debate persists see The Economist an intelligent recent restatement of the pro-globalization spin.]

In the Bush presidency, despite the focus on global security and the war against mega-terrorism, the US Government has dogmatically and unconditionally reinforced its commitment to corporate globalization as the sole foundation of legitimate governance at the level of the sovereign state. [Most authoritatively in NSS September 2002] These policies are being promoted without much fanfare because of the preoccupation with the war/peace agenda, but corporate globalization is being challenged both by the realities of a sharp global recession and by a robust worldwide grassroots movement that has shifted its goals from anti-globalization to alternative globalization.

Civic Globalization. As suggested, the effects of corporate globalization have generated a counter-movement on the level of ideas and practices, seeking a more equitable and sustainable world economy, although not necessarily opposed to "globalization" as such. That is, if globalization is understood as the compression of time and space as a result of technological innovation and social/economic integration, if people-oriented rather than capital-driven, then support for "another globalization" best describes the identity of the popular movement.[See Falk, Predatory Globalization] Over the years, civic globalization has clarified its dominant tendencies, although diverse constituencies from North and South, from activist groups mainly concerned with human rights, economic well being, and environmental protection, and from commitments to global democracy have produced a somewhat incoherent image of what is meant by a people-oriented approach. As suggested, especially through the annual gatherings in Porto Allegre, Brazil, civic globalization has been shedding its negative image of merely being against corporate globalization, and can no longer be accurately described as an anti-globalization movement, despite a continuing repudiation of the main tenets of corporate globalization. In the search for coherence and a positive program, there is an increasing disposition to view civic globalization as essentially a movement dedicated to the achievement of global democracy, which includes a major stress on a more participatory, transparent, and accountable process of shaping and implementing global economic policy.

As might be expected, those concerned with the impact of corporate globalization are also deeply disturbed by the American response to the September 11 attacks, and view resistance to imperial globalization as ranking with, or even regarded as more serious and urgent, opposition to corporate globalization. The mobilization of millions to oppose the Iraq War in early 2003 was mainly a phenomenon in the countries of the North, but it attracted the many of the same individuals who had earlier been part of the grassroots campaigns associated with opposition to corporate globalization. There is an uncertainty, at present, as to whether anti-war and anti-imperial activism will merge successfully with the struggle for another globalization.

Imperial Globalization. Even at the high point of corporate globalization in the mid-1990s, there were a variety of assessments that pierced the economistic veil to discern an American project of global domination. [For two very different assessments of pre-Bush imperial geopolitics see Hardt & Negri, Empire and Bacevich, America's Empire] It was notable that during the 1990s the United States failed to use its global preeminence to promote nuclear and general disarmament or to create a more robust UN peacekeeping capability or to address the major unresolved conflicts throughout the world. Instead, the United States Government put its energies into the discovery of new enemies justifying high defense spending, perpetuating a network of military bases and regional naval commands, developing its nuclear arsenal, and embarking on an expensive program for the militarization of space. In retrospect, it seems difficult to deny the charges that US policy, whether or not with full comprehension, was seeking a structure for world order that rested on American imperial authority. True, the apparent priority function of this authority was to make the world safe and profitable for corporate globalization, especially in the face of growing opposition.

September 11 gave an opening to the most ardent advocates of imperial globalization. It converted the undertaking from one of indirection to that of the most vital security imperative in the history of the country. In the immediate aftermath of the attacks it provided the most effective rationale for US global leadership since the cold war era, and it did so in a setting where the absence of strategic and ideological statist rivalry allowed the US Government to project a future world order at peace, and enjoying the benefits of a reinvigorated corporate globalization. [See Bush forward to NSS] As suggested earlier, the anti-terrorist consensus loomed large at first, giving rise to widespread support for the US decision to wage war against Afghanistan, and to dislodge the Taliban regime from control. The move toward war with Iraq disclosed the limits of this consensus as well as the diplomatic limits of American power to induce political support for its project of global dominance. As with Afghanistan, the Iraqi regime was widely deplored as oppressive and militarist, but unlike Afghanistan, Washington's claims of preemption as directed toward Iraq seemed much more connected with geopolitical expansion, especially in the Middle East, than with a response to the continuing threat of the al Qaeda network.

The perception of imperial globalization is a matter of interpretation, as are its probable effects on the governance of political behavior in the world. The advocates of the new imperialism emphasize its benevolent potentialities, with reference to the spread of constitutional democracy and human rights, and the provision of peacekeeping capabilities that could act far more effectively than what could be achieved by the United Nations. [See Robert Kagan, "Benevolent Empire," Michael Ignatieff, "Burden"] The critics are concerned with arousing a geopolitical backlash in the form of a new strategic rivalry, possibly involving a Sino-European alliance, and about the prospect for a further abandonment of American republicanism at home and abroad under the pretext of responding to the security threats that are present. In this setting, it seems prudent to worry about the emergence of some new oppressive political order that might be most accurately described as "global fascism," a political fix that has no historical precedent. [See Falk, "Will the Empire be Fascist?"; Sheldon Wolin] Of course, the proponents of imperial globalization resent the frictions associated with civic globalization, and despite the claims of support for "democracy" prefer compliant governmental elites and passive citizenries. Bush "rewarded" and lavishly praised governments that ignored and overrode the clearly evidenced anti-war sentiments of their citizens, especially Britain, but also Italy and Spain, while "punishing" those that refused to support fully recourse to aggressive war against Iraq, including France, Turkey, and Germany.

Apocalyptic Globalization. There is no entirely satisfactory designation for the sort of political stance associated with Osama Bin Laden's vision of global governance. It does appear dedicated to extreme forms of political violence that challenge by "war" the strongest consolidation of state power in all of human history. Its capability to pose such a challenge was vividly demonstrated on September 11, attacking the United States directly and more effectively than had been done by any state throughout the course of its entire history. The Bin Laden vision also embodies very far reaching goals that if achieved would restructure world order as it is now known: driving the United States from the Islamic world, replacing the state system with an Islamic umma, and converting the residual infidel world to Islam, thereby globalizing the umma. It is here characterized as "apocalyptic" because of its religious embrace of violent finality that radically restructures world order on the basis of a specific religious vision, as well as its seeming willingness to resolve the historical tensions of the present world by engaging in a war of extermination against the "Crusader" mentality of those designated as enemies, including Jews, Christians, and atheists. Since the United States as the target and opponent of al Qaeda also expresses its response in the political language of good and evil, but with the moral identities inverted, there seems to exist grounds for the term "apocalyptic globalization."

Perhaps, it confers on al Qaeda an exaggerated prominence by treating its vision as sufficiently relevant to warrant this distinct status as a new species of globalization that approaches the future with its own formula for global governance. At present, the scale of the attacks, as well as the scope of the response, seems to validate this prominence, even though it may seem highly dubious that such an extremist network has any enduring prospect of toppling statism or challenging corporate globalization. As far as civic globalization is concerned, there exists a quiet antagonism, and an even quieter basis for limited collaboration. The antagonism arises because the main support for civic globalization comes from that regard themselves as secularists, or at least as opponents of extremist readings of any world religion that gives rise to a rationale for holy war. The collaboration possibility, undoubtedly tacit, arises because of certain shared goals, including justice for the Palestinians and opposition to imperial and corporate globalization.

Regional Globalization. As with apocalyptic globalization, the terminology is an immediate problem. Does not the postulate of a regionalist world order contradict trends toward globalization? The language may seem to suggest such a tension, but the intention is coherent, to imply the possibility that global governance may in the future be partially, or even best, conceived by reference to a world of regions. The basic perspective, longer range than the others, is to view European regionalism as an exploratory venture, which if it succeeds, will lead to imitative behavior in other principal regions of the world. What succeeds means is difficult to discern, but undoubtedly includes economic progress, social democracy, conflict resolution in relation to ethnic and territorial disputes, resistance to, or at least the moderating of, imperial, apocalyptic, and corporate manifestations of globalization. Such regionalizing prospects are highly speculative at this stage, but still worth entertaining, given the dramatic transformations experienced by Europe during the past fifty years, and the difficulties associated with world order alternatives.

Regionalism is conceptually and ideologically appealing as a feasible synthesis of functional pressures to form enlarged political communities and the rise of identity politics associated with civilizational and religious orientations. Regionalism is geopolitically appealing as augmenting the capabilities of the sovereign state without abandoning its centrality in political life at the national level, especially to allow non-American centers of action to compete economically and to build bulwarks of political resistance to the threats posed by imperial and apocalyptic globalization.

It is also well to acknowledge grounds for skepticism with respect to regional globalization. The United States, as well possibly as China, Russia, Japan, Brazil, and India, seem likely to oppose any strong regionalizing moves outside of Europe. The disparities in the non-Western regions are so great as to make ambitious experiments in regionalism seem rather utopian for the foreseeable future. Also, the regional frameworks are not entirely congruent with the supposed acknowledgement of civilizational and religious identities. Even in Europe there are large non-Western, non-Judeo-Christian minorities, and in Asia and Africa, the civilizational and religious identities cannot be homogeneously categorized without neglecting the realities of their basic condition of heterogeneity.


IV. A Concluding Observation

The basic argument made here is that it remains useful to retain the descriptive terminology of globalization in addressing the challenge of global governance, but that its provenance should be enlarged to take account of globalizing tendencies other than those associated with the world economy and the anti-globalization movement that formed in reaction. The discourse on globalization to remain useful needs to extend its coverage to the antagonism produced by the encounter between the United States and al Qaeda, acknowledging its borderless character and the degree to which both antagonists sponsor a visionary solution to the problem of global governance, neither of which seems consistent with the values associated with human rights and global democracy. As well, the European experiment in organizing many aspects of political community on a regional basis, thereby suggesting an alternative to reliance on statism, (which had been unquestioned at the time the United Nations was established) as well as a potential source of resistance to both imperial and apocalyptic menaces.

Such an appreciation of various globalizations is not intended as a funeral rite for the state system that has shaped world order since the mid-seventeenth century or to deride the achievements of territorial sovereignty in promoting tolerance, reason, and a liberal conception of state/society relations. The state may yet stage a comeback, including a normative comeback, providing most of the peoples of the world with their best hope for blunting the sharp edges of corporate, imperial, apocalyptic, and even regional dimensions of globalization. [This possibility is explored in Falk, "State of Siege" Journal of International Affairs, 199-] The recovery of a positive world order role for the state may be further facilitated by collaborative endeavors joining moderate states with the transnational social energies of civic globalization. Such a possibility has already been manifested in impressive moves to support the Kyoto Protocol on climate change, the outlawry of anti-personnel landmines, and especially by the movement to establish the International Criminal Court.

The whole project of global governance has been eclipsed by the events of recent years, especially the unleashing of the borderless war and the deliberate Washington effort to sideline the United Nations to the extent that it refuse to implement the policies of imperial globalization. Part of the rationale for reimagining globalization is to encourage a more relevant debate on the needs and possibilities for global governance, that is, suggesting that the world situation is not altogether subject to this vivid clash of dark forces, that constructive possibilities exist, and deserve the engagement of citizens and their leaders throughout the world. Of course, it will be maintained by some commentators that such an undertaking is merely rescuing globalization from circumstances that have rendered the discussions of the 1990s irrelevant to present realities, and that it is better to deal with the current world by reference to its distinctive, rather unique, characteristics. My concluding view is that despite some merit in this view favoring an entirely fresh language, it is advantageous to retain and revise the globalization discourse, especially in the context of global governance. A different conclusion might well result if the context was an appraisal of "political economy" or "global security."


© TFF & the author 2003  


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