The state as an actor in global politics

Term Paper 2004 9 Pages

Politics - International Politics - Topic: Globalization, Political Economics



1. Introduction

2. Three approaches to the nature and role of the state
2.1 Advocates of the “weakened state”
2.2 Advocates of the “transformed state”
2.3 Advocates of the “unchanged state”

3. A different approach

4. Conclusion

5. Bibliography

1. Introduction

As the title of this paper suggests, the state is seen by many scholars as the central actor as far as global politics is concerned. Some see it weakened, some see it transformed, and others do not seem to observe any substantial change at all. This paper is intended to give a brief – and by no means comprehensive – overview on the current discussions in the field.

In the first part of this paper I will examine the main arguments put forward by different scholars. I will do so by dividing them up into three categories: 1) advocates of the “weakened state”, 2) advocates of the “transformed state” and 3) advocates of the “unchanged state”. In the second part I will include a very different scholarly approach, namely that the state is the wrong unit of analysis as far as global politics is concerned and thus the question of its transformation or weakening is of little interest for the analysis of politics on a global level. The third and last part consists of a brief summary of the observations made in the previous chapters and ends with some conclusions drawn from these observations.

2. Three approaches to the nature and role of the state

Trying to assign different scholars to distinct groups is always a difficult task as the dividing lines between the different groups are normally rather fuzzy and the groups that are established are somewhat arbitrary in the first place. Nevertheless, I find it helpful to distinguish between the aforementioned three groups, as it helps to somehow identify the different directions of the scholarly debate.

2.1 Advocates of the “weakened state”

There are scholars arguing that the state has lost power in regard to its influence in global political decision making processes. James Rosenau, for example, sees the reason for the weakened position of the state in global politics as a result of a loss of authority. He states this in a metaphor:

“[W]here states used to be like museum curators, planning, arranging and funding their exhibits, today they resemble museum guards, guiding the flow of visitors through the exhibits, protecting against vandalism and ensuring that all the rules are obeyed.”[1]

This metaphor makes clear that the loss of authority, manifesting itself in the inability to control the flow of ideas, production facilities or terrorism across borders, weakens the state. Furthermore, Rosenau identifies different spheres of authority (SOA), for example professional societies, neighbourhoods, corporations or codes of conduct.[2] These SOAs are not confined to the territoriality of a nation state but can reach across its borders and thus weaken it. One example for this loss of authority is put forward in a case study done by Bernedette Muthien and Ian Taylor on the financial politics of Sierra Leone, where the IMF had a large influence on the political decision-making processes in the country. In their study, these two authors identify “… [] a system where international financiers have displaced states in […] political and economic decision-making”.[3]

This concept of diminishing power goes hand in hand with the concept of relative power. The term “relative” indicates that power is not an absolute concept but can differ according to the issue that is involved and depends on the prevailing conditions.[4] If the term power is seen as a relative concept it becomes clear that state authority cannot be as encompassing as it used to be, because, in times of greater mobility of capital, ideas and technology, there are many actors besides the state, which all enact some sort of power in certain realms of international politics. Therefore, the capacity of the state to enact political power, here defined as the authoritative allocation of values, is not a given fact but can change according to the issue at hand. One example would be the realm of international sports, where the International Olympic Committee (IOC) has considerable power in controlling the way in which Olympic Games are held and exerts massive pressure on national governments to meet their demands.

So, is the state losing it? According to the scholars discussed in this chapter, nation states clearly lose influence in the global arena. This is attributed to the fact that there are many spheres of influence that are inhabited by different actors in world politics. These actors possess power in their realms and the state is not able to extend its power to these realms. Thus, the state loses authority and is weakened. This development, according to the advocates of the “weakened state” is enhanced by the increasing flow of capital, ideas and technology across nation state borders, because actors are no longer confined to these borders.


[1] James Rosenau , Distant Proximities. Dynamics beyond Globalization. (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 2003), p. 66.

[2] Ibid. p. 294-295.

[3] Bernatdette Mushien / Ian Taylor, The return of the dogs of war? The privatization of security in Africa. in: Rodney Bruce Hall / Thomas J. Biersteker (eds), The Emergence of Private Authority in Global Governance. (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2002), p. 193.

[4] Yale H. Ferguson. The Illusion of Superpower., in: Asian Journal of Political Science, p. 8


ISBN (eBook)
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544 KB
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Institution / College
Rutgers The State University of New Jersey – Graduate School of Global Affairs
1 (A)
Global Governance



Title: The state as an actor in global politics