Martin Shaw

The state of international relations

Chapter from Sarah Owen-Vandersluis, The State and Identity Construction in International Relations. London, Macmillan 2000, pp. 7-30.Contents:


At the turn of the millennium, International Relations theory and practice presents a paradox. On the one hand, the ‘new’ critical, post-Realist International Relations, which Millennium has increasingly promoted, appears stronger than ever before. An impressive literature has developed, roughly during the quarter century of Millennium’s contribution - and in no small part through it - which has attacked the theoretical foundations of Realist approaches which dominated in the previous quarter century. If the balance of argument in recent years were all, Realism might well have disappeared from the intellectual landscape. Straightforward defenders are few - at least in the UK. Yet modified accounts of Realism remain mainstream. Most importantly, Realist assumptions (e.g. the centrality of power-projection, states as unitary and dominant actors) remain powerful in the practice of International Relations analysis, certainly where military issues are still discussed. From however many angles the critics criticise, Realism is a position which refuses to go away.

How to explain this paradox? It is not at all obvious that it results from the strength of Realist resistance to the rise of the new, since writers from the former position have rarely engaged fully in theoretical terms with the many new, critical versions of International Relations. Nor is it clear that it arises simply from the intellectual and institutional inertia that means that practitioners are embedded in traditional modes of analysis, although this plays a part. Most simply, it refers to the fact, despite the development of ‘post-international’ politics, state institutions and relations between them remain remarkably central to world politics, and military relations remain a crucial form of power.

While few if any advocates of ‘new’ approaches would actually dispute either of these assertions, and many pay lip-service to their importance, it remains true - as I demonstrate below - that the thrust of most critical perspectives is (explicitly or implicitly) to diminish their significance, along with Realist explanations. Realists, whatever the naivety of their explanations of state and war, at least see these as key realities to be explained. They hold this ground, perhaps long after they deserved to lose it, because their critics have not challenged them on it . Instead the critics have opened up new terrains of intellectual struggle in economy, society, environment, gender, democracy and human rights. These are all important in their own right, but theorising them will not deal with a Realism which is centred elsewhere.

Because Realism has been challenged in this roundabout way, Realists have achieved their own integration of the new challenges in International Relations. They have simply expanded the issue-agenda of the subject, adding on economic and environmental (or even human rights or gender) issues, to a core Realist-influenced perspective centred on conceptions of the nation-state and its interests, together with the centrality of military relations in achieving them. Some have even partially substituted ‘nation’ or ‘society’ for ‘state’ in the understanding of security. A deeper conceptual challenge to this perspective cannot be achieved, therefore, merely by questioning the terrain on which Realism operates, but only by confronting Realist assumptions about its core military-state field.

In this chapter, I develop this challenge in three stages. First, I discuss the main limitations of critical international theory, in its neglect of the state. Second, I summarise relevant perspectives from historical sociology - but also highlight some difficulties in integrating this approach into global theory. Thirdly, I outline seven major theses of a globalist historical sociology of the state. In my concluding remarks, I offer this as the axis of a new post-international, global theory which may define a future role for a transformed International Relations.

The limits of political economy

Symptomatic of the problematic way in which critical International Relations has been developing has been the debate about globalisation. Much literature in the social sciences as a whole has discussed globalisation as though it were primarily a set of economic processes linked to the market liberalisation of recent decades. In this way, the concept of globalisation as ‘undermining’ the state has been given credence. This in turn opens up the argument to the easy rebuttal which shows how much of world trade, investment, etc., remain within national economies.

Most important theoretical work in International Relations, of course, has gone further than this and has attempted to redefine the roles of states in a more sophisticated way. Nevertheless I will suggest, in a brief survey of some major tendencies, how far critical International Relations has been influenced by ‘economism’ (and to a lesser extent ‘sociologism’) and has advanced over-economic (or narrowly social) interpretations of world politics and the changing roles of states. These failings can be found in the broadly liberal-pluralist and Marxist literatures.

Let us start with liberal-pluralist versions of transnationalism. In Keohane and Nye’s argument about ‘complex interdependence’, they saw Realism quite explicitly as characterised by a false conception of the issue agenda. They emphasised the ‘absence of a hierarchy among issues’ which meant that ‘military security does not consistently dominate the agenda’. They also emphasised that military force was no longer used by governments within the transatlantic region against each other. Both these assertions were (and are) empirically valid and important, but Keohane and Nye set a trend when they drew - despite some qualifications - the false conclusion that military force now had a ‘minor role’ in international politics.

Keohane and Nye’s work made a major contribution to broadening international theory beyond traditional Realism and a largely military-political agenda. They pushed International Relations towards ‘political economy’ and the concept of ‘complex interdependence’ itself remains seminal. There were however fundamental problems with their approach. They failed to refine, let alone redefine, explicitly the conception of the state which Realism had left behind. The state, for them, was still the nation-state and interdependence at the political level was only conceived in terms of ‘international organisation’ and above all a variety of issue-based ‘regimes’. Partly because they had no coherent new conception of the state to set against Realism, they failed to define the continuing importance of military power.

In this last respect, Keohane and Nye also set the standard for later liberal-pluralist versions of transnationalism. Like interdependence and regime theory, ‘global governance’ approaches took the definition of state as nation-state as unproblematic. Instead, both mainstream and radical versions of the governance debate accentuated the idea that the state was increasingly supplanted by other institutions - international, corporate or civil-society based. In the ‘turbulence’ of ‘postinternational’ politics, of which James Rosenau wrote, states were surrounded by other actors above and below the state level. This was strikingly complemented by the idea of ‘governance without government’ as the emergent pattern of this new order.

In the radical project of Richard Falk, there is a more decisive transcendence of ‘international’ relations in favour of a specifically ‘global’ definition of world politics. For Falk the emergent form of ‘inhumane’ global governance is centred on global market relations and corporate power rather than states. Indeed, in a recent lecture he has gone so far as to talk of ‘post-statist’ world politics. This is complemented by a normative approach which aims to define a globalist alternative, a ‘humane governance’. For Falk, ‘Not necessarily government but governance seems an ingredient of the envisioned promised land. The quest is for the gentlest forms of authority, forms that do not intrude on freedoms, do not create a huge gap between citizens and institutions established for their benefit and yet facilitate security, resource use, and environmental quality.’ Thus post-statism is a political - in a certain sense even an anti-political - as well as a theoretical project. This goal has been articulated, too, in Ken Booth’s concept of a ‘community of communities’, the visionary ingredient of his particular version of ‘utopian realism’.

Keohane and Nye eschewed grand theoretical alternatives to Realism, and especially Marxist-derived ideas. While Rosenau has presented his work as an overall theoretical alternative and Falk’s critique of a market-centred global governance aligns him with the left, they too resisted the tendency in the 1970s (especially in Europe) for radical approaches in the social sciences to base themselves on Marxism. However political economy approaches which developed in International Relations, even in North America, did follow this trend. In the 1980s, Robert W. Cox introduced a loosely Gramscian conception of international power relations. His somewhat bowdlerised Marxism was heavily centred on the concepts of ‘production’ and ‘social forces’, with ‘states’ and ‘world orders’ seen as dependent on the ‘historic blocs’ or configurations of social forces which underpinned them.

Where Keohane and Nye saw complex interdependence, Cox emphasised the ‘internationalisation of production’. Where the former saw regimes and international organisation, the latter talked of ‘the internationalising of the state’. This concept could have represented a major forward movement in thinking about the state, but its potential was hardly developed. This was partly because Cox devoted most emphasis to the domestic blocs underlying ‘neoliberal’ and ‘developmental’ nation-states. It was also, however, because the concept was internally weak, being defined as ‘the global process whereby national policies and practices have been adjusted to the exigencies of the world economy of international production.’ The problems were therefore that Cox saw ‘internationalisation’ in purely economic terms, and primarily as a process whereby national policies were adjusted to the exigencies of international capitalism. Even the ‘internationalised’ state was still essentially the (national) state-unit of traditional theory, with a revised role. Cox saw the European Economic Community as a prime instance of internationalisation, but this too was defined in purely economic terms. The opportunity to examine this as a case of a more general transformation of the state form was missed.

So in the first major text to address the fact that transnationalism extended to the state itself - rather than leading to a ‘post-statist world order’ - Keohane and Nye’s concept of the shift in the ‘issue agenda’ and the post-military state was still intact. Moreover, there was little attention to the forms of the transnational state, which still tended to be collapsed back to its national constituents in the analysis. Indeed, the new transnationalism was still subject to a double reduction - of politics to economics, and of internationalised state to nation-state.

While Cox adapted Marxist economics and Gramscian political sociology, he too set a trend, for Marxist-influenced international theorists, in not referring to Marx’s own writing on the state with its conception of it as a coercive institution comprising ‘bodies of armed men’. The military-political side of the state was not even granted the residual role which it had played in the account of Keohane and Nye, who were still debating with traditional Realism. In Cox, who seemingly takes this settling of accounts for granted, the state was subsumed entirely in socio-economic dynamics, and world politics defined as the formation of blocs based on social interests. In his shadowy references to military activities and expenditure, it is clear that military power has become a mere function of political economy.

If the significance of state ‘internationalisation’ is limited by Cox’s presentation, it is more clearly indicated in Stephen Gill’s work which takes its cue from the same Gramscian source. In Gill’s book on ‘trilateralism’ the Marxist basis of the argument is more clearly indicated - but still fails to include the theory of the state, the author preferring to start from world systems theory and Gramsci. Gill’s work is also a considerable advance on Cox, who had seen the new situation as a decline of American hegemony, in defining the emergent forms of power as an ‘American-centred transnational hegemony’ based on the trilateral relations between Japanese, European and American power. Gill considers the military dimensions of power more explicitly than Cox, but still under the rubric of political economy. Finally, Gill contributes a sociological dimension with his study of an emerging ‘international establishment’. Still missing, however, are any explicit reconsideration of the nature of the state in this process of internationalisation, and any overall evaluation of the role of military power.

Gill’s work is more sophisticated than Cox’s, particularly in the way it utilises Gramscian concepts, he does little more than add a ‘sociologism’ to the ‘economism’ of previous post-Realist international theory. The pervasive ‘socio-economism’ in the critical and Marxist-influenced literatures is linked to deep embeddedness of assumptions that states and the state-system are bypassed or undermined by socio-economic changes. In a recent collective volume with the significant subtitle Challenges to the State System, Gill confirms this trend by emphasising the analysis of globalizing Úlites, invoking a dialectic of Úlites and social movements, and talking of its implications for ‘groups, classes, coalitions, nations’ - everything except states.

While clearly globalizing Úlites are located partly in state institutions, the logic of this discourse is such that it is possible to discuss only the social forces, not the state forms themselves. Perhaps the purest representation of this tendency is the work of Kees van der Pijl, who first established the project of a class rather than state analysis of transnational power in his pioneering study of The Making of an Atlantic Ruling Class in the 1970s. In a companion contribution to the Global Transformations volume, van der Pijl continues this approach. His problem is the managerial stratum of capitalism, the ‘cadre class’: he recognises the state not as a set of institutions but through what he calls a ‘state class’ of bureaucrats. This account completes the transformation of an economistic into a social reductionist version of the state.

In the Gramscian-Marxist as much as the liberal transnational literature, therefore, the internationalisation of power is still discussed in terms of international economic and social forces. The form of the internationalisation of the state, and especially the role of military power within this, remain almost completely elusive. The literature certainly raises, by implication, the prospect of a major transformation of the state. States are surrounded by social forces, complemented by international institutions, share global governance with these other actors, are embedded in globalized socio-economic relations, even inhabited by globalizing Úlites and state classes. But it is as though the transnational and global literatures, in escaping Realist state-centrism, have not so much reproduced the sociologically reductionist 1970s Marxist views of the state, but have exceeded them by dissolving state power almost completely into market and class relations.

The limits of existing historical sociology

This failure of critical international theory appears all the more paradoxical given that alternative theories of the state and its military dimension, which might have provided the basis for a challenge to Realism, were available in the Marxist and, especially, the broader sociological traditions which the new approaches often utilised. Marxist theories of the state emphasised organised violence and coercive apparatuses. Of course, they have been skewed towards class explanations, which appear inappropriate when one considers that it is wars, rather than class struggles, which have forced the major transformations of states in the twentieth century. But despite this major defect, the classical Marxist tradition did take the coercive state seriously, and might have provided at least a starting point for a more relevant contemporary analysis. Instead the revival of Marxist-influenced thinking in International Relations has bypassed state theory.

In this context, we need to ‘bring the state back in’, as an influential school of sociologists proposed in the 1980s. A starting place for this enterprise is the literature developed by these social theorists. This recent sociological tradition, eschewing Marxist class reductionism, refers to the German historical tradition and especially to Max Weber. His definition of the state as an organisation claiming a monopoly of legitimate violence in a given territory has provided a benchmark for major texts such as those of Skocpol, Giddens and Mann - which in the 1980s and 1990s have superseded the revived Marxist theories of the state which held sway in the 1970s. While these works are known in International Relations, they have been less influential than the ideas of Critical Theory and political economy which have offered much less of a direct challenge to Realism. Indeed, they have sometimes been seen by critical international theorists as sociological counterparts of Realism.

There is, one has to acknowledge, a real problem here. The world which Giddens posited, for example, is one of militarily competing nation-states, and in this sense his description of reality is not far from that which Realism assumes. Nevertheless his explanations of militarism, which look at the interactions between externalised military power and surveillance, industrialism and capitalism, are far in advance of Realism, and offer insights which have hardly been incorporated in International Relations. Mann especially offers an account substantially more sophisticated than anything which Realism could provide, in which complex interactions of states and social forces, resulting in societal as well as state militarism, are interpreted in terms of dynamics of nation and class.

The new historical sociology’s most obvious common ground with Realism lies primarily, therefore, in its assumption of the continuing salience of state and military power. The apparent convergence is accentuated, however, because the major works referred to all deal with the historical period which closed in 1945. Mann, for example, is attempting to explain the world of militarily competing nation-states which is invoked, if not explained, by Realism. Although the third volume of his major study will bring him up to the present day, he has not yet presented a full account post-1918, let alone of the contemporary world. For this kind of reason alone, historical sociology appears biassed towards older forms of world order, and congruent with international theories which reflected them.

The shape of the ‘historical sociological’ contribution to understanding contemporary state forms remains unclear. But this is more than a simple underdevelopment. There are obvious divergences over the significance of contemporary transformations. Thus, although Giddens has not written extensively about the state and violence since 1985, his account of globalisation as a major consequence of modernity has, inevitably, consequences for understanding the state. Mann, on the other hand, has been more cautious about globalisation, while some writers who have followed him, like John Hobson, have seen historical sociology as an alternative mode of explanation for the given categories of International Relations.

Giddens represents, therefore, the most relevant view for global theory, but his ideas have not been fully developed. In his 1988 lectures, he partially accepts the view that globalisation - defined as ‘the intensification of worldwide social relations which link distant localities in such a way that local happenings are shaped by events occurring many miles away and vice versa’ - undermines the nation-state. He endorses Daniel Bell’s view that the nation-state becomes ‘too small for the big problems of life, and too big for the small problems’. Nevertheless, he points out, while the sovereignty of Western nations (Giddens does not distinguish clearly between nations and states) may have diminished, that of ‘some Far Eastern countries’ may have grown. And more generally, there is a ‘"push and pull’ between tendencies towards centralisation inherent in the reflexivity of the system of states on the one hand and the sovereignty of particular states on the other. Thus, concerted action between countries in some respects diminishes the individual sovereignty of the nations involved, yet by combining their power in other ways, it increases their influence in the state system.’ Mann is more sceptical about the effects of globalisation: evertheless, he acknowledges the significance of transnational and global networks of social power.

It is noteworthy that neither Giddens nor Mann departs from the characterisation of state as nation-state, and although Giddens talks about tendencies towards ‘centralisation’ in and reflexivity of the ‘system’ of states it is not clear how this works. Indeed, as a recent critic in International Relations has argued, historical sociology as a whole lacks clear concepts of the international system. Nevetheless both Giddens and Mann see contemporary developments as raising critical questions about the nature of states and their interrelations, however limited their answers. Hobson, on the other hand, has attempted to systematise historical sociology as a contribution to International Relations, in a way which implicitly blocks such critical questions. In his work, historical sociology becomes an alternative approach to understanding the given categories of International Relations.

Hobson presents six principles of historical sociology. These are:

(1) history and change - we should approach state forms not as ‘a natural product of an alleged liberal social contract’, but as ‘forged ... in the heat of battle and warfare’;

(2) multi-causality - we should understand state forms as the products of intersecting forms of power;

(3) multi-spatiality - Mann’s perspective, quoted by Hobson, suggests a very important view of societies as ‘constituted by multiple overlapping and intersecting sociospatial networks of power’;

(4) partial autonomy - ‘power forces and actors’ constantly ‘interact and shape each other in complex ways’ and hence are not ‘wholly autonomous and self-constituting’;

(5) complex change - understanding change flexibly, emphasising the ‘discontinuities’ and moments of ‘tracklaying’ and ‘converting to a new guage’;

(6) a ‘non-Realist’ concept of state autonomy - introducing the important notion of state embeddedness within society, developed particularly in Hobson’s own work.

This is a useful statement of general principles. But Hobson advocates a historical sociology which is rooted in the old national-international, pre-global categories. Only the explanations differ from Realism. Instead of criticising the weaknesses of previous historical-sociological work - which led to critical International Relations thinkers suspecting it of Realist tendencies - Hobson entrenches them, seeing the principles of historical sociology only as a different guide to the old realities of a national-international world order.

Thus Hobson misses overwhelmingly most of the contemporary significance of his arguments. Indeed, ‘the anarchic system of sovereign states [should not] be regarded as natural.’ So true is this, that the ‘international system’ and relations between its ‘state’ members have been transformed almost out of recognition. National state institutions have become much more universal, but many no longer denote largely autonomous centres of power. In the half-century transition since 1945, and especially its latest phase since 1989, the nation-state and the international system have come to mean very different things. And yet Hobson writes as though the changes of the last half century have not occurred. Accounts of state-society relations in the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries are offered as models for contemporary international relations. The dualism of state and society is tackled but its sister error, the dualism of national and international, remains firmly in place. The global is not in view.

Historical sociology is thus informed by a curiously limited sense of history. It is the historical sociology of the past, where present is acknowledged only through the prism of prior ages and the possibility of a radically different future is absent. Its abstractly correct insistence on multi-causality recognises the variables of of the old order - ‘states, state systems, the international economy and social forces’ - but not those of the new - globalized authority networks, globally legitimated policing, global markets, global communications and global social movements.

Hobson sums this up by collapsing Mann’s multi-spatiality into the idea of the dual reflexivity of the ‘international’ and ‘domestic’ spheres. The standard of ‘dual reflexivity’ may be relevant to a world in which these are the two main spatial dimensions. But in the emerging global world they are intersected by many others - conventionally described as local, regional, transnational, world-regional and global, although these terms only partially capture contemporary ‘sociospatial networks of power’. Development cannot therefore remain defined by the dualism, ‘national and international’: we must conceive of historical change which disrupts these very categories which international relations has taken as constitutive. We need a sense of contemporary changes, discontinuities and the moments of tracklaying we are currently living through. We need to conceive of state forms larger than the nation-state - global or regional in character - and of ‘nation-states’ which are embedded not merely in ‘their’ societies but in these larger state contexts and in the multi-layered socio-spatial networks of an emergent global society.

To conclude this discussion: while radical and Marxist-influenced theories in International Relations have given us accounts of global power relations from which state forms are largely absent, historical sociology, while offering a transformed perspective on state forms in previous historical periods, has barely begun to confront the novelties of contemporary state forms. The nature of an alternative agenda for state theory can be discerned, but it involves overcoming the limitations of both these perspectives.

Theses on the state in a global world

What we need today are theoretical approaches which go beyond ‘traditional IR concerns’. We need sociological approaches, historical in character, which address the fundamental transition towards a different world order which is underway in our times. Many of the ideas of critical international theory, global political economy and neo-Weberian historical sociology can be integrated, with critical transformation, into a new global state theory. The outlines of such an approach can be defined in a number of key theses which I shall lay out in summary form, to clarify the argument.

1 Globality is more than a process: it is a structural principle

In some corners of International Relations, the term ‘global’ is still used interchangeably with ‘international’. The difference between ‘international’ and ‘global’ political economy, for example, is commonly blurred. More commonly, ‘global’ is used as a spatial concept - sometimes in the ecological sense of the ‘globe’ as a natural environment, more commonly to indicate social relations which stretch across the globe as a whole. It is in this sense that ‘globalisation’ is usually invoked: as a transformation of spatial relations, so that social relations are conducted across worldwide distances, often with the meaning of ‘intensification’ to which Giddens referred in the passage quoted above. As a spatial term, however, globalisation is often seen as competing with the concept of regionalisation.

It is contended here, however, that these usages indicate only part of the meaning of the global. They do not indicate its full meaning, which is the unification of world society, the creation of ‘one world’ and a more or less unified framework of social relations. In this sense, the global is more than a spatial concept among others, or a measure of the reach of social relations, and more even than a time-space concept, a measure of their intensity. It is principally a structural concept of world social relations, and as such it is a direct competitor of the old national-international structural concept of the social sciences.

Hitherto social understanding and knowledge were formerly structured on the basis that economy, society, culture and politics were essentially contained within national shells, relations between them seen as international. This basis produced the division of labour between the ‘domesticated’ core social sciences - economics, sociology, politics - and International Relations. In this context, globalisation has generally been seen as a process (or series of processes) which transcend borders. Curiously, in all the debate about globalisation, relatively little attention has been given to the meaning of the global, or the state of globality. The global should be understood, however, not just as a process which undermines, but as an alternative structure of world society and politics.

Globality does not just weaken, but if it is taken seriously fundamentally breaches the given intellectual structure of International Relations. For whereas economics and sociology oscillated between implicitly transnational or global meanings and the national frameworks within which these were generally understood, politics and above all International Relations were constituted by this structure. A global world is one in which national-international division is no longer the fundamental structure. Instead of anarchy, there is the structure of a unitary world, in which all divisions - whether of states or cultures - are relativised. To those who do not perceive the transformation as a whole, the process of unification appears instead, in all its potential disturbance, as one of postmodern fragmentation.

2 State politics is the core of globality, not its epiphenomenon

Contrary to the assumption that has prevailed in International Relations, as elsewhere in the social sciences, the global is not constituted by global market relations or global communications, which then affect non-global political structures and insitutions. Rather, it is the case that globality is constituted by state politics, quite as much as contemporary state politics by globality.

World politics, economy and society were previously highly structured by the national-international division, and although this was rooted partly in divisions of nations, these were made manifest in and organised around divisions of states. The national-international structure was defined by states and inter-state relations: to this extent, contrary to naive economism or sociologism, economy and society were shaped by states.

Globality, as much as national-internationality, is state-constituted. The emergence of globality in the second half and especially at the end of the twentieth century has been a state-driven process. The structure of world division constituted in terms of states could only be transformed into, a ‘post-statist world order’, another form of state division or a world of state unification. Some believe, as we have seen, that the first alternative is what is emerging: but ‘post-statism’ is partly rhetorical, based on the knowledge that states are not disappearing, but are being complemented by other sources of power. The second possible outcome was in part the result of the Second World War crisis: a division of the world between competing nation-state empires gave way to one between two major state-blocs. However, given the disparities in resources and structure of the two blocs, the latent process was one of the globalisation of Western power. With the collapse of bloc rivalry, the unification of the world quickly became manifest in the 1990s.

In retrospect, at least, the heyday of the national-international world order was the first half of the twentieth century, during which nation-states gained in strength over economies and societies, and the international absolutely divided world society. Its crisis was the Second World War, during and following which the most fundamental changes were made. The most extreme model of the nation-state empire, National Socialist Germany, was defeated; the bonds of postwar Western interdependence were forged; military rivalry with a lesser world power provided disciplinary reinforcement for Western unity; and the legitimate political and economic global insitutions of a global liberal order were created.

These political-military events and institutional developments were the framework for the increasingly global world which has emerged in the subsequent half-century - although of course, the growth of market relations and common culture also contributed to undermining the national-international structure. The crisis of 1989-91 removed the principal obstacle to the recognition and explicit constitution of a global order. Ironically, of course, in recognising globality, many failed to recognise its political and indeed specifically state context. State leaders themselves saw global order as less of a priority than domestic popularity. Culturally, fragmentation and hybridisation were recognised more than unification.

3 A global state conglomerate is developing, bordered by violence

Contrary to analyses which locate global governance in a wide range of institions ‘above’ and ‘below’ the state level, governance is still centred on the state: but the state is now global (or at least, global-cum-national) in form. Classic theorists of the state, such as Marx and Weber, were not mistaken to believe that states were constituted by relations of violence. What has changed in the global era is not that the state as a monopolist of violence has disappeared: rather that the relations of violence have changed, and the contemporary state has taken a new form. I have argued elsewhere that the state of the era of globalisation is indeed a global state, to which the criteria of statehood developed by writers like Weber and, in his study of nineteenth century states, Mann, apply.

Mann’s most recent definition of a state as a ‘differentiated set of institutions ... embodying centrality ... to cover a territorially demarcated area over which it exercises some degree of authoritative, binding rule making, backed by some organised force.’ In Mann’s loosening of Weber, I find some useful clues to understanding contemporary forms of state. In essence, the problem is what happens to the concept of state when nation-states cease (as the central groups of nation-states in the world system have at least partially ceased) to be autonomous centres of legitimate violence within given territories. My answer accentuates Mann’s case that even classical nineteenth- and early twentieth-century nation-states were not unitary organisations of violence, but ‘institutional messes’, internally fragmented and with contradictory relations with other aspects of social and economic relations.

I argue, therefore, that a historical account of the state must acknowledge that from the Second World War onwards, and especially during the Cold War, states in the West have been absorbed into an increasingly unified state conglomerate, within which borders of violence were abolished, but between which and other centres of state power, the potential for war remained. The Western state, as I call it, was originally structured internally around US dominance, although this has given way to a more complex structure in which the US is much more a primus inter pares. Although this concept has something in common with Gill’s concept of ‘trilateral’ Western hegemony, discussed above, it is important to emphasise that the Western state was from the start a complex structure based on much more than American leadership.

Building on the Western alliance of 1939-45, the Western state began to be consolidated in the late 1940s in the formation of NATO. State leaders gradually developed a raft of integrated state institutions which incorporated not only the USA, UK, France, West Germany, Italy, Japan, Canada, but in varying degrees the states of the British Commonwealth and non-Communist Europe (even the neutrals depended implicitly on it). The Western state was defined primarily by its conflict with the Soviet state, but from the earliest times it involved other sorts of common project: European reconstruction, European economic integration, a liberal world economic order, economic management, and integration of post-colonial states into the world order.

Part of the failure to recognise the signficance of Western state development lies probably in the illusion of symmetry with the Soviet bloc which was sustained by the political (and intellectual) structures of bipolarity. The Soviet bloc’s ultimate failure derived partly from its inability to develop consensual international structures in which Central European and other non-Russian nations could be viably represented. Also because of the bipolar conflict, the significance of the the United Nations system as a legitimate global framework was underestimated. And yet throughout the Cold War epoch it provided part of the framework - the rest was bilateral - in which the conflict was managed, chiefly by the dominant Western bloc (as well as leading to other kinds of institutional development).

With the collapse of the Soviet state-bloc in 1989-91, the Western state bloc could be seen as the basis of a global state structure, legitimated by the UN. During the early conflicts of the post-Cold War years, from the Gulf to Bosnia, Somalia and Rwanda, the developing US-UN-Western conglomerate of state power has become the more or less legitimate arbiter - however confused, divided, inconsistent, reluctant or inefficient - of violent conflict worldwide. Attempts have been made to incorporate new nation-states peacefully, while rogue nation-states like Iraq and Serbia have been punished and restricted. International legal development has meant that the laws of war and genocide have been applied to those of the individual perpetrators of illegitimate violence who fall into the UN’s hands. Intervention in weak and failing nation-states, or those which contribute to problems of society elsewhere, has not always been of a military character: it has ranged from the UN’s setting up of an electoral process in Cambodia to US-UK incentives to the Taliban regime in Afghanistan to restrict the growing of poppies for heroin.

4 The global state is institutionally broad-based in regional as well as global forms

Global state development, from the 1940s to the 1990s, has involved the development of a widely range of institutions and regimes for the management of economic and social relations. Economic institutions, like the World Bank, IMF and World Trade Organisation have had explicitly worldwide remits although the influence of the core Western states has been paramount. In social and cultural institutions like the ILO and UNESCO, a broader membership of states has had more influence - so much so that in the latter case, the US and UK withdrew for a period. In the new environmental fora of the last decade, clear tussles both between non-Western and Western states, and within the latter grouping, have emerged. Other institutions, like the OECD, have grouped a broader Western group of states, including neutrals, while the G7 (G8) has grouped the core Western states (in the 1990s, increasingly with Russia). Global integration proceeds apace on many levels and in variable institutional forms - from policing and the management of drug related crime to telecommunications and air traffic control.

It does not make sense to separate ‘regional’ from these ‘global’ developments, let alone to oppose the two as alternative models of world institutional development. Regionalist interpretations often seem to rely implicitly on a kind of geographical essentialism which sees continents as natural bases for political-economic associations of states. There are several reasons for seeing regionalism, instead, as a flexibly constructed component of globalism. First, associations of states have been based, both during the Cold War and in the last decade, on non-regional as well as regional principles - the post-imperial Commonwealth and Francophonie and the Muslim-Arab Arab (not Middle-Eastern) League, for example, as well as the EEC/EC/EU and ASEAN. Second, broad regional associations have coexisted with narrow ones - the pan-Western G7 and OECD and Transatlantic NATO alongside continental institutions in Europe, Asia and North America. Thirdly, the scope and membership of existing institutions has been transformed in the post-Cold War years, while new ‘regional’ and ‘trans-regional’ groupings like like the Asia-Pacific Economic Forum and the Euro-Asian summits have mushroomed.

5 The new institutionalism is a phenomenon of global statehood, not international society

It is too limited to see these groupings of nation-states either as a set of discrete regimes or as loose expressions of global governance or global hegemony, any more as the products of antithetical global and regional spatial principles. Instead, we need to grasp the common structural principles involved in all these developments. First, these are not expressions of an ‘international society’ in which classic norms of sovereignty and non-intervention are maintained. Second, all these groupings respond to different aspects of the development of an explicitly global framework of economy, society and culture, and the wide range of possibilities of linkage which exist within this. Third, while the range of institutional forms is also very large - ranging from the systematic integration of the EU to the loosest association - there is a hard state core to global institutionalism. Each of these points will be discussed in turn.

It is important to understand the role of the old national-international structure in the emerging global context. Clearly national-internationality has not disappeared in a global world. Most social relations have some national and/or international aspects - these range from the constitutive to the residual. Global state forms have emerged from the nation-state and international relations, and both remain, in their transformed characters, important components of a global world (I discuss the roles of nation-states further below). However the structural principles of national-internationality are no longer dominant. Classic norms of sovereignty and non-intervention, while retaining some currency as I discuss below, are fundamentally breached by common policy-making and interventions by global and regional institutions. This is recognised in the idea of the ‘pooling’ of sovereignty and indicates that the inter-state system is no longer fundamentally anarchic, in the sense that international theorists have argued (and which could be sustained historically, with some qualifications, up to 1945 or even up to 1989).

In order to uphold this argument, we need to establish the unity of what I have called the global state conglomerate. Like any real nation-state, but much more so, it does not function as a simple international ‘actor’, but as a cumbersome mass of competing bureaucracies. Here I make a decisive break with realist conceptions of the state, and draw on three lessons from historical sociology. First, states, as Mann has emphasised, are better seen as institutional messes than as simple units. Second, as Hobson argued, states should be seen as embedded in wider social relations. Third, states are not constituted by sovereignty - rather ideas of sovereignty are part of the social relations of states.

Applying these arguments to the global state, we find an unprecedented development of the historical patterns of statehood. The project of state power on a global level is novel and unique. The emergent global state is not only larger and more complex than any previous form of state, but a bigger and more complex institutional mess. The global state is embedded in global society in all its complexity, and its varied and often competing institutions are each enmeshed in different global political environments which define their aims and accountability. To the extent that the global state comprises nation-states, it is enmeshed in national environments. Because of the complexity of its forms and its environment, the unity of the global state is often difficult to perceive, and its authority often appears uncertain.

The unity of the global state and its relationship with other state forms depend, at their core, on the relationship of state and violence. The old anarchic inter-state system was defined by the possibility of states mobilising violence in their relations with other states. Global state development - all the manifold forms of global institutionalism - would not have been possible without the suppression of violence, first between the Western states, second between Western and many second-rank or minor non-Western states, and third (in the post-Cold War years) between the West and the major post-Soviet states. States which remained poised for war against each other could not have developed the density of thorough-going institutional linkages which exist. In this sense, the outcome of the world war and the onset of the Cold War were necessary, but contingent, reasons for the development of the unified Western state.

The global state is constituted by the positive claim of its insitutions to legitimate authority in controlling violence, whether it be of nation-states, would-be national authorities or other groups in society. Increasingly, the authority of global (UN-US-Western) state institutions is in direct or indirect competition with other centres of power which organise violence. The growth of the global state is conditioned by, and in turn conditions, the transition in the history of warfare from the dominance of inter-state total warfare between major nation-states, to the a new form of warfare developing in the interstices of local and regional state relations and trans-border national movements. The ‘new wars’ combine elements of old inter-state and guerilla war, terrorism and genocide, and are increasingly centred in civil society. The development of the global state is above all the emergence of a centre in world society, claiming legitimacy in the management of new forms of violence.

6 The nation-state and sovereignty are transformed by global state developments

The emergence of the global state does not abolish the nation-state, but transforms its role. We might indeed refer accurately to the contemporary form of the state as the global-cum-national state. The paradox of the contemporary world is that the form of the nation-state is becoming increasingly universal, at the same time as its traditional substance has been radically transformed.

There are of course major variations between these ‘nation-states’. Recent attempts at classifying types of state have suggested that there are three main categories. The first are the ‘postmodern’ states of the West. The second are the traditional nation-states of much of the non-Western world. The third are the ‘pre-modern’ states (or ‘quasi-states’) of the regions of weak state formation or state disintegration, especially in Africa. If we translate these categories into global terms, we have states which are throroughly integrated into global-Western state institutions, those which have substantial cohesion as nation-states but are relatively weakly integrated, and those which lack even cohesion at a national level. Clearly these categories, as their original authors acknowledge, are not watertight containers: individual states do not always fit easily into them.

From the point of view of global theory, the key question is that of integration, especially on the criterion of violence. How far are particular nation-states still effectively independent mobilisers of violence? How completely are their means of violence integrated into global and Western institutions? The question is not a simple one, since even within the core of the Western bloc, the major states retain some autonomy. It is only very recently that it has become possible to see even the US, UK and France as sufficiently embedded in Western and global institutions as to make the likelihood of major independent use of force increasingly remote. (Although ironically, in the case of second-tier states like Canada, the Netherlands or Norway this point was reached long ago.) Outside the West, moreover, although major states like Russia and Ukraine, India and Pakistan are unlikely to go to war with the West, they still retain a real capacity for war against each other and against lesser states. Smaller states, again, are often more thoroughly integrated into global state institutions, but some of them (notably in the Middle East) have a strong potential for independent violence. And then, of course, in zones of state disintegration, there are new forms of semi-state defined by their mobilisation of violence.

All of this indicates that we are a long way from a fully pacified world: and that we are still in between an anarchic world of nation-states and a global state. It is noteworthy, however, that even the ‘roguest’ smaller state, like Iraq, or semi-state, like the Serbian entity in Bosnia, in practice goes a considerable way in accepting the authority of the UN and of Western states acting through it (in whatever combination or institutional forms). Just as the major Western states have not abandoned sovereignty, so the minor centres of state power insist upon it; but in practice, all states accept in general the authority of global state institutions, however much they resist some of their particular decisions.

In conditions of globality, therefore, analysts are beginning to look at new roles for national state institutions. Within the pacified core of the global order, national state Úlites are competitors for influence. Within the global political economy and within global state institutions, states generally act to maximise the economic conditions of their electorates so as to enhance their chances of retaining power at the national level. Sovereignty has been reduced, increasingly, to a juridical form with which states negotiate with each other and with other institutions, such as corporations, in a global-cum-national order. The national state has been characterised, under these conditions, as a ‘competition state’, while many (not just smaller) states have converted sovereignty into a marketable quality in the ‘realm of offshore’.

7 The global state is increasingly a conscious project

In insisting that globality is a structural principle, I do not mean that it is outside human control. Rather the global is a meaning embedded in the actions of all those, in state institutions and in civil society, who think and act in terms of a single world social space. While the global state is not the result of a conscious decision to create such an institution, it is the largely unintended outcome of many conscious actions. The ramshackle raft of contemporary global institutions it is about as far away as can be imagined from some of the classic liberal dreams of world government - or nightmares of global totalitarianism. It forms, however, the true contemporary starting point for dreaming about possible futures - just as it has involved particular nightmares of selectivity, uncoordination and bureaucratic inefficiency in addressing the needs of the most vulnerable in the world.

I have already alluded to some of the problems. The victorious state leaders of 1939-45 created the United Nations system in the brief phase of East-West collaboration at the end of the war. Western state leaders created the framework of the Western state in a series of policies designed to strengthen the military and economic cohesion of the West, and its world influence, during the Cold War. Neither they, nor indeed the Soviet and Western leaders who began to dismantle the Cold War forty years later, nor even the peace and democracy protestors who pushed until the Berlin Wall fell, foresaw the significance which the combination of the UN system and the Western state would have in a new global world order. Indeed in 1989-91 people mainly talked about the ‘post-Cold War’ (or ‘post-international’) rather than ‘global’ order. And yet in all sorts of ways, global thinking had been developing, and came into its own in the 1990s.

Clearly Western state leaders during this transitional decade have been cautious in their conscious formulation of the principles of a global state. Globalist rhetoric and breaches of sovereignty have been carefully balanced with invocations of national self-interest and the principle of non-intervention. And yet in a piecemeal, often niggardly way it has been a period of very substantial growth of global state institutions, practice and authority. While the United Nations remains unreformed and the discrepancy between its Charter and the declaration on human rights largely unaddressed, the legitimacy of global institutions has nevertheless been advanced.

In this context, practice and thinking in civil society have often been crucial. Non-governmental organisations, social movements and media in the Western centre of the global state, together with movements, media and governments of the oppressed in many regions, have often placed issues on the agenda or pushed state action forward. Although the idea of ‘global civil society’ has sometimes been advanced as an end in its own right, much of the momentum towards this kind of development has come from the possibility of influencing global state institutions. The idea of ‘international community’ has become widely used, primarily to mean the ‘community’ of Western states, but increasingly to indicate the relationships between state institutions and society. Given that the emergent ‘global state’ often appears fractured, inefficient and unstable, civil society has an important role in attempting to promote more cohesive and responsive state institutions.

Towards a new synthesis of International Relations

Understanding these transformations of state is neither easy nor simple but it is a central task of International Relations today. It calls for us to move beyond many of the terms of recent debate. We cannot simply reconstruct Realism, expanding the issue-agenda round a historically underdeveloped and anachronistic concept of nation-state. But nor, I argue, can we simply transform International Relations into a broad global social science concerned with the economic, social and cultural relations of a developing global society.

A globalised social science is indeed called for, and I have argued in a recent paper that there are good reasons why International Relations is a central forum for this sort of development. I have no wish to undermine the momentum towards global political economy, global environmental politics global civil society studies, etc., which has taken hold in the discipline. But this is not enough. This chapter suggests that the tendency to transform International Relations into a broad social science has involved a peculiar misunderstanding of the problem of ‘state-centrism’. This is often considered to lie in an excessive concern with the state in general and military power in particular. The solution is seen as lying in bypassing the state as a central focus of International Relations, and developing analyses of economy, society and culture. The real problem of ‘state-centrism’ is however the flawed understanding of states in Realist approaches. State is considered as nation-state and state-system, as a self-generating reality largely insulated from social forces.

It is not the case that state power is marginal (non-central) to global power relations. State power has not been undermined by globalisation; it remains central to global power relations in general. But the state with which we should be concerned with is not the unified nation-state of Realist myth: contemporary nation-states are typically neither unified, nor national, nor the unique forms in which state power is centred. State understood in this critical sense will therefore be a central reality for International Relations in the twenty-first century. State cannot be explained simply in terms of state, as Realism has implied. Forms and institutions of state power, both local-national and regional-global, are complex, often poorly articulated with each other (even within the same ‘state’), and they are of course embedded in the global totality of social relations in manifold ways. States must be grasped in both their internal complexity - as the ‘institutional messes’ which they often comprise - and in their diverse linkages with non-state social relations. Even state military power is manifestly enmeshed in complex social, economic, cultural and political relationships. In these senses, state and military power can only be understood in a historical-sociological approach.

The state of post-millenium International Relations will be very different therefore from the state of the discipline in the mid-to-late twentieth century. In practice, of course, the field will continue to exhibit competition (one hopes friendly) between Realists, global social scientists and new, critical state theorists. The tension between the two strands of ‘new’ International Relations could be, hopefully, creative. So long as the main social science fields (sociology, political science, etc.) remain overwhelmingly ‘domesticated’, it will be important to develop International Relations as a forum for the widest possible global social science. Nevertheless, there is also a particular role for critical, globalist state theory, and for hard sociology as opposed to the soft sociology which has hitherto made most headway. Global state theory can offer what the new International Relations has so far failed to achieve, not simply to criticise Realism but to challenge it on its own ground. Here is a theoretical agenda, as well as as a new context in which to link theory to political practice, for Millennium’s second quarter-century.