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University of Waterloo
International Studies
Brian Orend

INTST 101: Introduction to International Studies Brian Orend Unit 1: Core Concepts and Historical Context The main goal of this course is to provide you with a fundamental, comprehensive “literacy” regarding the main concepts and trends in international studies. What is “international studies”, for example. Well, we all know what studying is—but what are we studying? Important things and events which happen between nations (hence “inter-national”). But what’s a nation? What’s the international community? What exactly is the domain of discourse, so to speak? “International” means “between nations”, or maybe more precisely, “between countries.” A nation is a group which thinks of itself as a unique and separate people. Nation-hood is usually based on such shared attributes as ethnicity; language; culture; historical experience and memory; religion and culture (both high and low, which is to say, elite and popular); cuisine; fashion; habitat; sets of values and views about the world; and so on. Nationalism is a major force in world history, especially since the collapse of the Roman Empire and then the rise of religious pluralism in the Western world, following the Protestant Reformation and the end of the monopoly of the Roman Catholic Church. Different nations arose in Europe—groups with these common attributes—and they came to dominate political and social and economic life, and the trend spread out from there across the globe. More on that shortly. A major drive and focus of nationalism has been national groups each seeking their own state. What’s a state? Since I’ve been using the sociologist Max Weber’s definition of the nation, let’s get his say on the state. A state is simply the government which organizes the life of a people in a given territory. All together, a state and its nation and its territory form a country, like England, France, Australia, America, Japan, etc. You may have heard the term “nation-state.” This refers to a kind of country where the nation over which the state governs is quite homogenous and similar. It is a highly unified people. A classic example is Japan. Contrast this with countries like Canada or America, which have been populated with immigration from different peoples all over the world. In these kinds of countries, there are, so to speak, many nations governed by a single government. Some political scientists, as a result, call these 1 INTST 101: Introduction to International Studies Brian Orend countries “multi-national states.” For instance, in Canada, we have one federal government, but arguably many nations—the major ones being the different Aboriginal, English-speaking and French-speaking communities. More recently-arrived ones are also developed, or developing, for instance the Chinese-speaking communities in B.C. So, when we speak of “international”, we mean relations between countries. Relations of: trade and economics; war and peace; emigration and immigration; tourism and travel; diplomacy; culture and religion; educational exchanges; dealing with shared environmental problems; and so on. All these are subjects we shall focus on in this course. There has never been a better time to study “international studies”, as we are more and more aware, than ever before, of other countries and their societies. Moreover, we are more and more influenced, than ever before, by the international community. Economies are tied more closely together via free trade agreements. We all watch Hollywood movies. We all surf the “World Wide Web.” We all buy products made in China. We all go to the grocery store and buy produce and prepare meals that, even just 20 years ago, would have been thought incredibly exotic, exclusive and expensive. Now it’s part of the increasingly diverse and more flavourful fabric of our everyday lives. It’s a globalizing world, and because of its impact on our lives, we need to study it more intensively. Globalization refers to the growing integration between the world’s many peoples, countries and cultures through increased trade, social and political exchange, culture and media, communications technologies and international investment. Some Historical Background The world hasn’t always been this globalizing way. There tends to be periods of increased integration and globalization, followed by periods where integration shrinks and countries and nations turn more into themselves, and rivalries between groups become more common. There’s a cycle, so to speak, between co-operation and competition between groups and nations. Sometimes, there’s good reason for such trends, other times not so much. There are great benefits to be had from free trade, for example, 2 INTST 101: Introduction to International Studies Brian Orend but sometimes rivalries spill over into conflict for reasons which aren’t entirely rational. More on the causes of conflict later. For now, we note the historical cycle, and comment that there has not been one steadily rising trend towards more and more globalization. To take but one example, in the 1800s, there was a clear wave of globalization and free trade, especially as secured by the power and prosperity of Great Britain and its Royal Navy. But that era came to an end when the group rivalries in Europe burst forth into the First World War (1914-18). There is nothing natural or guaranteed about globalization and international co-operation and integration: it gets secured through the deliberate will, and set of institutions, constructed by like-minded and powerful countries. When those countries are in a good mood, so to speak, we see growth, co-operation, and free trade. When they aren’t, we see spirals downwards into distrust and eventually conflict. For instance, many experts have said that the recent wave of globalization has been brought about by the dominance of America, and its status as the global hegemon, which is to say the most powerful country in the world. Globalization is happening because America wants it to happen: it is an expression of American values, and America drives globalization because of the strength of its political and economic influence around the world. Some people have even argued that we may already be witnessing the beginning of the end of this wave of globalization, as stronger countries are now beginning to emerge (like China or India or Iran) which might effectively challenge America’s authority, and lead us into one of those periods of group rivalry, lack of economic co-operation, and perhaps even back down into widespread war. The American Empire When you consider the international world as a whole, we can see that the international world can either be described as ordered, or else disordered. When it is disordered, it is because of one of these eras of intense group rivalry and conflict. But when it is ordered, it is usually because one, or a very small number, of countries has the preponderance of power and can enforce its will upon the rest. (There is another way of trying to order international society, and that is through international law, but that is the subject 3 INTST 101: Introduction to International Studies Brian Orend of the next lecture.) When international order is brought about through the dominant power of one country, it is called the hegemon. America is today’s global hegemon. People also speak of regional hegemons, like for example Brazil within the context of South America. With the end of the Cold War between the USA and the USSR, which ended in 1990 with the collapse of the USSR, America became the unrivalled global hegemon. Some people even dubbed the term “hyper-power”, to replace “super-power”, which up to that point had been applied both to America and Russia. No one denies that America is a global hegemon, or the hyper-power. But what does get debated, very hotly, is whether America is an empire, and whether the current world order is actually one of American empire. Let’s examine this debate from two angles: 1) whether the USA has an empire, or not; and then 2) whether, if it does have an empire, whether this is a good or bad thing. The View that America does NOT have an empire Many Americans, if you ask them, will deny quite strongly that they are an empire. They will say that, look, empire is a cynical, old world game played by other peoples, especially Europeans, and it is all about power and status. But America was formed on a non- cynical, indeed, optimistic moral vision about what a political community could be like. It could, and ought, to be about things more sublime than power, and who’s on top and who’s on bottom. Political society should be about securing individual rights to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. America, to that extent, was created to be a new kind of society, and thus to tar it with the same old brush of European imperialism and colonialism just isn’t right. In other words, the accusation that America has an empire goes against everything which Americans get taught about their country in school, and so it meets with very strong resistance. 4 INTST 101: Introduction to International Studies Brian Orend But the deniers do have a point. They say, look, empire is about a formal relationship of dependency and exploitation between the core (the mother country, the locus of empire) and the periphery (the colonies, the dependencies, the hinterland). Think, for instance, of the old Roman and Spanish and French and British empires. The peripheries were run by, and used for the benefit of, the cores. Resources were sucked from the colonies into the capitals. Peoples were sent out from the cores to claim the hinterland and colonize it on behalf of the mother country, replicating and reproducing its way of life elsewhere. And the peripheries were governed by state structures set up by the core, and run by officials who came from the core. But America, the deniers say, has no such formal relations with countries outside its own borders (with a few very small exceptions, like some islands in the Pacific taken over during the Pacific phase of the Second World War). America might be incredibly powerful, but technically it’s not at all an empire. People just use the word “empire” because it’s so negative, and they want to criticize America because they are jealous of its power and wealth. The View that America DOES Have an Empire This reply focuses on making a distinction between formal and informal empire. Formal empire, as defined above, is an old-style, European mode of empire. America may not exactly fit that mould. But there can be other modes of power and dependency that are just as relevant. In an informal empire, there are no formal, legally declared links between core and periphery, nor formal, publicly-declared links of dependency. But America is nevertheless able to set up the ground-rules of the world system in its favour. It chooses not to formally declare an empire, in other words, but that doesn’t mean that it is not there. These people say that America fulfils all the traditional criteria of being an imperial core: it has the biggest economy; the biggest military; it is politically the most influential; it has the biggest consumer base, and is a magnet for both foreign investment and immigration. Also, America does have some of the more formal aspects of empire. Did you know, for instance, that America currently operates 700 military bases outside its own borders? 5 INTST 101: Introduction to International Studies Brian Orend There are even so-called revisionist historians who dispute the happy tale about America’s founding values, suggesting that that vision is pure myth-making, telling people what they want to believe. They say we should re-vision history, and see America as an imperial project right from the start. From the very first moment of its founding in 1620, by the Pilgrims at Plymouth Rock, America has witnessed one steady outwards expansion as its core communities sought to get territory, subject peoples who stood in their way, and claim land and power, from East to West and down to Texas and Florida. If you look at a historical map of the growth of the United States, you just see this clear, relentless, westward and southward and northward expansion of territorial control, and then, even as the continent filled up, you saw the growth spreading over into Alaska and Hawaii and then, after the Second World War (1939-1945) into Germany and Japan. And now, today, into the Middle East (to secure the oil supply and Israel). America has imperialism running in its veins, the revisionists say—you better believe it’s an empire. The View that America does have an empire, and this is GOOD I leave it to you to decide whether America is an empire. Let’s move further into the debate: assuming America does have an empire, does that have to be a bad thing? Empire is a bad word, generally, because we associate with it the infliction of power and the absence of democracy. But, need it be? There is a group of people who actually say that, yes, America is an empire—but that this is a good thing for the world. What is their argument? The argument is that America is the only country on earth capable of bringing some order to the globe and capable of preventing it from sliding back down into anarchy—an un-governed, chaotic condition of complete fighting and conflict between the various groups. So, American empire is good because it is a source of stability which everyone benefits from. These thinkers, like Paul Wolfowitz, also argue that American empire has been great for people’s standards of living. If you look at world GDP (Gross Domestic Product, which measures economic activity) since America became the clearly dominant Western power (in 1945, after the end of WWII and 6 INTST 101: Introduction to International Studies Brian Orend the collapse of the British and French empires), and then clearly since America became the dominant world power (in 1990, following the collapse of the Soviet empire), you see very steady and remarkable increase. This is because of the values of capitalism and free trade which America stands for. America knows how to run profitable businesses and how to run a productive free market economy which increases everyone’s standard of living. So, American empire has generated more money, and a higher standard of living, for its subjects. Finally, the pro-American empire people say that the American empire stands for great values: human rights, individual freedom, free markets, democracy, free and fair elections, separation of church and state; and the growth of science and technology. To the extent that it spreads these values, it does the world a favour. American empire is nothing to apologize for, these supporters say: it has generated very good consequences and has made the world a better place. We should all be happy with the dominance of the United States in the world today. What’s that phrase again? Oh yeah: God Bless America! The View that America does have an empire, and this is BAD Noam Chomsky, among others, has been one of the fore
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