Evolution of World Politics


Before the nation-state

500 - 1648

Politics before the nation-state:
* Stateless societies (“tribes”) – bands, chiefdoms
* Kingdoms, Empires
* Power and influence was restricted to a small, privileged group, and legitimated by tradition and religion.

Relations with outsiders:
* War, pillage, feuds and alliances
* Exchange of gifts, tributary relations
* Trade existed, but was limited in scope.

European Empires of the Middle Ages:
* Were multi-ethnic, e.g. ‘Holy Roman Empire’ 962-1648 (encompassed modern Germany, Netherlands, Belgium, Switzerland, parts of France and Italy)
* Monarch’s right to rule considered to come from God, not from the people
* Monarch’s power (in theory) subordinate to power of the Pope
* Various Kings contested this e.g. Henry VIII of England.

The nation-state in international politics

1648 - 1918

Collapse of multi-ethnic European empires (1648-1918):

Swept away by rising tide of nationalism

Authority of Catholic Church challenged
* Renaissance (scientific inquiry)
* Rise of Protestantism (rejected hierarchy of Catholic Church and Vatican).

Treaty of Westphalia (1648): Recognition of principle of state sovereignty – Birth of the modern state system
* Right of each Prince to determine religion of own state
* Recognition of exclusive sovereignty over own lands and people.

Key features of the nation-state
* Sovereignty, acknowledges no higher authority
* Acts in the name of “the nation” (the people, etc)
* May demand that the people make sacrifices in the name of “their” state.

The expansion of the European system

1648 - 1815

The “Westphalian system” operated on balance of power:
* ‘Multipolar system’: Britain, France, Prussia/ Germany, Austria-Hungary, Russia

Rival coalitions of great powers deterred each other
* This prevented large-scale wars
* This only broke down twice, but with catastrophic consequences
French Revolution and Napoleonic Wars

World War I.

European Colonialism :
* Westphalian system did not deter wars of conquest of weak states “outside” the system - European states created great colonial empires - When non-Europeans revolted against colonialism, they appealed to the principle of “national self-determination” - Idea of “nation-state” spread to Americas, Asia and Africa.

Pax Britannica

1815 - 1914

Britain emerged as the dominant world power after the Napoleonic Wars:
* Period of relative peace within Europe following Congress of Vienna (1815)
* British Empire came to control most key naval trade routes and enjoyed unchallenged sea power
* Underpinned by industry, empire and naval supremacy.

The age of catastrophe

1914 - 1945

End of multipolar ‘balance of power’ system in Europe:
*Two great alliances of European powers clash: France/ Britain/ Russia/ Italy v Germany/ Austro-Hungary/ Ottoman empire.

World War I ends in social collapse, mutiny, revolution:
* The Russian Revolution and the rise of Communism
* Unstable economic recovery followed by the Great Depression (1929)

The rise of Fascism.
* Intensifying international rivalries:
* Imperial Protectionism, economic nationalism
* Ideological conflict – communism vs fascism vs liberal democracy

Rise of Non-European powers (US, Japan)

Failure of League of Nations, and ‘appeasement’ at Munich Conference (1938).

The Cold War

1945 - 1991

* US and USSR the dominant powers after World War II
* End of anti-Nazi “Grand Alliance”

Bipolar system emerges
* Failure of cooperation in UN
* Division of Europe into spheres of influence
* Tensions over nuclear weapons
* Collapse of colonial empires, independence of former colonies

The Cold War declared (1947):
* Truman’s policy of “containment”
* Global opposition to Soviet expansion and/or influence
* US sponsored regional alliances such as the North Atlantic Treaty Organisation (NATO, 1949) and ANZUS (1952)
* Zdhanov’s “two camps” speech

Post Cold War trends. American supremacy: a unipolar age?

1991 - 2008

US emerges from Cold War as ‘hegemonic power’
* Principally in military terms
* US economy stronger than Europe or Japan in 1990s.
* Constraints on U.S. Power:

Military power is better at deterring than compelling

Military power is best suited for dealing with other militaries

Not as well suited to dealing with non-state actors, insurgents

New economic competitors in 21st century

Economic crisis 2008 – present.

After the unipolar movement

2007 - 2012

Rise of China, India, decline in US economic power
* ‘Limited unipolarity’? – noting limits on US power

Reemergence of multipolar system?
* ‘Modified’ multipolar system (with EU, UN as key actors?).
- Impact of 9/11 and “Global War on Terror”:

New security threats (including terrorist acts against civilians)
* Traditional national security approaches less effective in ‘asymmetrical’ context.