This essay will discuss Susan Strange’s article ‘The Westfailure System’ (1999) and what it tells the reader about state-centrism as a way of thinking about international relations. Susan Strange argues that the Westphalian system has failed the people, it has failed to regulate and discipline the financial system, it has failed to protect the environment and failed to maintain a socio-economic balance between the rich and the poor (Strange,1999). Through this essay I will explain each of the failures of the Westphalian system as outlined by Strange and consequently, I will examine the threat that globalisation poses to state-centrism and the changes it has already made.
Firstly, Strange suggests the Westphalian system is unable to oversee and discipline the institutions and markets that construct and trade the credit mechanisms necessary to the economy (Strange, 1999). This lack of control and discipline from international institutions on banks, hedge fund and pension managers, subsequently, steered the world toward an economic recession as the national systems of surveillance and restriction did not possess the power or haste to prevent or manage a situation of that nature (Strange, 1999).
The Global Financial Crisis posed the most immense threat to the entire world economy since the Great Depression of the 1930s and without internationally coordinated intervention by the governments of the world largest economies at G20 in 2009 the effects of the GFC could have been even more disastrous than the events of the 1930s (Baylis, Smith and Owens, 2017). This illustrates that the major economies of the world must work in tandem to ensure that there aren’t catastrophic global effects in the event of a currency collapsing or crash of the stock market. Interest rates in one country can have impacts on unemployment levels, tax policies and interest rates in another, as the world economy becomes more united major events in one country can have an instant impact in another (Holsti, 1995).
Through globalisation, world global commerce has grown, production and finance have connected the economic fortune of households, communities and nations across the world’s dominant trading regions and further (Baylis, Smith and Owens, 2017). If economic globalisation continues with increasing international trade and investment, expanding multinational business activity, continuous downsizing of government, multiplying privatisation and the world moves in the direction of one single marketplace will it cause the state system to be discarded? (Jackson and Sørenson, 2016). With the synthesis of the world economy one can understand Strange’s view that due to the nature of the system of Westphalia no national economy has the ability to isolate itself entirely from the contagious effects of trouble in the global market which is evident from the events of the Great Financial Crash of 2008 (Baylis, Smith and Owens, 2017).
Secondly, Strange explains how the Westphalian system is failing nature by its inability to manage and restrain the pollution from economic enterprises (Strange, 1999). The system has been instrumental in the irreversible damage of the environment, it also prevented corrective and protective action due to its territorial principle which affirms that the territorial state is responsible for its own land but not for anyone else’s (Strange, 1999). Due to the uneven distribution of world food supply, there is a considerable food surplus in developed countries and a seriously significant shortage in underdeveloped countries which causes the overexploitation of the land which can lead to desertification and deforestation (Jackson and Sørenson, 2016). Food production causes environmental issues due to the use of pesticides, the depletion of scarce water resources and the use of a high amount of energy needed in production (Jackson and Sørenson, 2016). Industrial mass production also causes threat to the environment because of the exhaustion in raw materials and energy involved in the process (Jackson and Sørenson, 2016).
Globalisation has caused many transnational issues to be recognised and has made countries listen to the governance and regulations from climate change conferences and annual G20 summits (Baylis, Smith and Owens, 2017). International regimes have been set up to address several environmental problems such as acid rain, ozone depletion, toxic waste trade, whaling, the loss in biodiversity and the Antarctic environment (Jackson and Sørenson, 2016). The Ozone regime is another area where international cooperation can be seen through an agreement to cut back on CFCs, however, there is a significant lack of commitment from the countries involved (Jackson and Sørenson, 2016). Many countries feel that engaging in these types of agreements and restraints relating to their input into the environment aren’t in their state’s interests as it would slow down their development an example of this is mentioned in Strange’s article when the US pressured Beijing to reduce their fossil fuels emissions they did not want to slow down their growth to keep the air pure and the water unpolluted (Strange, 1999)
Strange’s final point in her article is the socio-economic inequality that has emerged from the Westphalian system being unable to hold a sustainable balance between the Transnational Capitalist Class and the social underclasses (Strange, 1999). Developed countries dominate the system politically and economically and the underdeveloped countries have limited political and economic influence (Jackson and Sørenson, 2016). Populations of developed countries have a higher standard of living in many respects compared to those in underdeveloped countries, therefore if certain states cannot meet common standards or expectations as a result of their underdevelopment then it becomes not only a domestic problem but an international problem (Jackson and Sørenson, 2016).
Through the recognition of global interconnectedness and global problems, an evolving understanding has become apparent of the many ways in which the prosperity and communities in different parts of the world are connected (Baylis, Smith and Owens, 2017). The sources of local developments from ethnic conflict to unemployment can be traced to distant decisions and conditions, in this way globalisation takes a form of deterritorialization as political, social and economic activities are spread across the world, they aren’t entirely organised congruent to a strictly territorial logic (Baylis, Smith and Owens, 2017). With the globalisation resulting in many major economies and states working together facilitated by the UN to prevent conflict, maintain peace, promote human rights amongst other objectives in underdeveloped countries such as Ethiopia, Haiti and Uganda it is hoped there will be positive outcomes for underdeveloped countries.
Strange concludes that there is a failure in finding an alternative to the Westphalian system, she proposes religion as an alternative (Strange, 1999). Mendelsohn discusses religion as an organising principle for state-based logic and world politics in his article ‘God vs Westphalia’ (Mendelsohn, 2012). Previously religion played a fundamental role in carving the political landscape, but religion moved to a secondary position but remained an alternative way of organising world politics (Mendelsohn, 2012). He concludes in this article that although religion may not be the best way of organising world politics due to the many conflicting views in the area, we should embrace the diverse agents and various ways that may be involved in the course of change (Mendelsohn, 2012).
Strange presents the failures of the Westphalian system in her article and it has allowed the reader to think of the contribution of state-centrism to these failures. States do not have the ability to control banks or lenders internationally or have an input on how business is run in other states where banks are run, and money is invested in a state-centric manner without thought to consequences in the global market. Two thousand and eight saw these consequences in the form of a Global Financial Crisis. Each state contributes to the pollution of the environment some contribute more significantly than others as they think of their state’s interests of growth and development without consideration given to the other states it is affecting with acid rain, climate change or rising sea levels. There is a major divide between the developed and underdeveloped countries of the world, if states view this divide in a state-centric way then there could be detrimental effects for the deprived populations of these underdeveloped countries.
There is a reciprocal relationship between states, domestic politics and international politics are related now more than ever. Globalisation has aided in the attempts at mending the failures of the Westphalian system through its interconnectedness at international conferences like the G20 Summit, UN Climate along with founding and maintaining of the non-governmental organisations such as the United Nations, the International Monetary fund and the World Trade Organisation. Globalisation calls state-centrism into question as contemporary globalisation poses a crucial challenge to the Westphalian ideal of sovereign statehood and consequently is changing the world (Baylis, Smith and Owens, 2017). State autonomy is also being confronted as it has become further ingrained in frameworks of regional and global governance (Baylis, Smith and Owens, 2017). Many cross-border activities are in the realm of private organisations like international firms or transpire on terrains where it is infamously difficult for states to act adequately such as international capital markets (Brown and Ainley, 2009). Hyperglobalists have argued that globalisation will eventually lead to the demise of the sovereign nation-state as global forces debilitate the capabilities of governments to manage or even ensure the security of their own economies and citizens (Ohmae, 1995; Scholte, 2000 as cited in Baylis, Smith and Owens, 2017). State-centrism is one way of looking at international relations, however, there are many connections between states which I have outlined in this essay along with the difficulty of isolating a state from the rest of the states in the system, as they are now heavily intertwined due to globalisation.