Archive for August, 2010

A report and commentary on debates at two conferences this summer, involving Omer Bartov, Dirk Moses and others, for openDemocracy.

English text of the interview with Damiano Palano (the published Italian version is in the PDF attached at the foot of this text):

1. When many spoke of ‘unipolar age’ or of ‘Empire’, you argued instead that the “West” was a “Global State”. But today the “Global State” is experiencing a deep political crisis. Is your prediction still valid?

I spoke in 2000 of the formation of a messy, uneven ‘Western-global conglomerate of state power’, consolidated as a result of the Second World War, the Cold War and the 1989-91 collapse of the Soviet bloc. I explained that both the tighter Western integration – North America, Europe and Japan – and the looser global integration had been conditioned especially by geopolitical and military crises. Thus I did not predict the simple continuation of this trend, but emphasised the contradictory nature of the process, contingent on further crises.

The two major crises of the early 21st century have indeed had huge effects on ‘global state’ formation (the term is shorthand for the fuller concept). First, as I explained in a new introduction for the Italian edition of my book, 9/11 initially enabled a regressive crystallisation of global power, as George W, Bush pulled not only the West but all major states into the Global War on Terror. However Bush overreached US leadership capacities with his invasion on Iraq, causing tensions not only between the USA and major non-Western powers (Russia, China, etc.), but also within the West (as the French and German governments, and public opinion in most of Europe, opposed the invasion), so that the overall effect was to threaten global and even Western integration.

Second, the global financial crisis since 2007 has greatly impacted on this process. On the one hand, by demonstrating the extent of global interdependence, the crisis has forced a deepening of globally integrated state power, manifested in the G20 and the coordinated interventions to manage the crisis. But on the other, the uneven impact of the crisis, which has exposed the flawed Western financial-economic model and weakened all the main areas of the West vis-a-vis China, India and other major emergent powers, threatens Western dominance and increases uncertainty about the long-term future of global power networks.

2. Today, are we already in a post-American Era? What are the consequences? Are we facing a decline of the West? Is it an irreversible decline?

Clearly both the USA and the larger West are in relative decline, compared to China, India, etc., and this is generally irreversible, given the greater potential for development in the much larger societies of the non-Western world. However the West still has enormous power resources and the USA remains the strongest national power centre with great global leverage. This situation suggests a gradual transformation and the possibility, at least, of consolidating a more genuinely balanced global order in which the non-Western world gradually increases its weight in global power networks.

3. Is Russia (still) an ‘enemy’ of the “Global State”? And China?

Major non-Western states – many of which are ‘quasi-imperial’ states (continuations of historic empires, with grossly unequal societies and still largely authoritarian power systems) – are potential rivals of the West, but not necessarily enemies. Russia has lost the capacity to be a serious rival, but China clearly could become one. It is theoretically possible that at some point it could become a strong military as well as economic rival. However it is at least as likely that global economic, social and cultural integration will lead the Chinese state – which in any case is likely to undergo serious political change at some point in the medium term – to seek to shape global power networks to its own interests rather than simply opposing the West. A great deal depends on the political orientations of both Chinese and Western leaderships. It would be foolish to be simply optimistic, as recent crises have shown much poverty of leadership on all sides, and we are subject to currently unforeseen crises.

4. What will be the role of the “global civil society” in the future?

Just as the revolutions of 1989 helped shape the post-Cold War phase of global integration, civil society actors will play essential roles in future developments, and alone are likely to ensure that a global social-democratic orientation could prevail over other, more reactionary versions of global state formation.


Text of the new Introduction to my Theory of the Global State, published in the Italian edition (2004), and referred to in the following interview with Avvenire, 21 August 2010.

Attached: Introduction to the Italian edition.doc