Sunday, 31 October 2010

Guardian: What is Globalisation?

Eight years ago today (2002!), The Guardian newspaper published a succinct article by Simon Jeffery explaining the origins and meaning of (what was by then) a ubiquitous term, viz. "globalisation":
It was the anti-globalisation movement that really put globalisation on the map. As a word it has existed since the 1960s, but the protests against this allegedly new process, which its opponents condemn as a way of ordering people's lives, brought globalisation out of the financial and academic worlds and into everyday current affairs jargon. But that scarcely brings us nearer to what globalisation means. The phenomenon could be a great deal of different things, or perhaps multiple manifestations of one prevailing trend. It has become a buzzword that some will use to describe everything that is happening in the world today.

The dictionary definition is a great deal drier. Globalisation (n) is the "process enabling financial and investment markets to operate internationally, largely as a result of deregulation and improved communications" (Collins) or - from the US - to "make worldwide in scope or application" (Webster). The financial markets, however, are where the story begins.

In the late 1980s and early 1990s, the business model termed the "globalised" financial market came to be seen as an entity that could have more than just an economic impact on the parts of the world it touched.

Globalisation came to be seen as more than simply a way of doing business, or running financial markets - it became a process. From then on the word took on a life of its own. Centuries earlier, in a similar manner, the techniques of industrial manufacturing led to the changes associated with the process of industrialisation, as former country dwellers migrated to the cramped but booming industrial cities to tend the new machines.

So how does the globalised market work? It is modern communications that make it possible; for the British service sector to deal with its customers through a call centre in India, or for a sportswear manufacturer to design its products in Europe, make them in south-east Asia and sell them in north America.

But this is where the anti-globalisation side gets stuck in. If these practices replace domestic economic life with an economy that is heavily influenced or controlled from overseas, then the creation of a globalised economic model and the process of globalisation can also be seen as a surrender of power to the corporations, or a means of keeping poorer nations in their place.

Low-paid sweatshop workers, GM seed pressed on developing world farmers, selling off state-owned industry to qualify for IMF and World Bank loans and the increasing dominance of US and European corporate culture across the globe have come to symbolise globalisation for some of its critics.

The anti-globalisation movement is famously broad, encompassing environmentalists, anarchists, unionists, the hard left, some of the soft left, those campaigning for fair development in poorer countries and others who want to tear the whole thing down, in the same way that the original Luddites attacked mechanised spinning machines.

Not everyone agrees that globalisation is necessarily evil, or that globalised corporations are running the lives of individuals or are more powerful than nations. Some say that the spread of globalisation, free markets and free trade into the developing world is the best way to beat poverty - the only problem is that free markets and free trade do not yet truly exist.

Globalisation can be seen as a positive, negative or even marginal process. And regardless of whether it works for good or ill, globalisation's exact meaning will continue to be the subject of debate among those who oppose, support or simply observe it.

A recent report in the Press Gazette, the trade magazine for journalists, dealt with attempts by a BBC focus group to throw some light on how far television audiences understand news reports.

In one clip, economics editor Evan Davies referred to "globalisation - whatever that means". A panellist replied: "Well if he doesn't what it means, how the hell are we supposed to?"

Yemen Package Bombs in Suspected Terrorist Attacks

The big international news story of the last 48 hours has been the discovery of package bombs apparently consigned to cargo planes from terrorist operatives in the Yemen.

Now that the media has gained some perspective on the story, we can spend some time examining this new threat:

The Guardian - Terror bombs were primed to down cargo planes in mid-air (30/10/2010) - Security officials say explosive packages found on US-bound aircraft in UK and Dubai were meant to bring them down

The Guardian - Cargo bombs from Yemen open new front in al-Quaida terror war (30/10/2010) - The discovery of explosive devices on board planes in the UK and Dubai appears to confirm Saudi warnings that terror groups based in the Arabian Peninsula are determine to mount a new wave of attacks on the west
The bomb was found inside a printer and its toner cartridge

Saturday, 30 October 2010

The Independent: Countries join forces to save life on Earth

The Independent today gives prominence to the last-minute deal that was hammered out at the UN Convention on Biodiversity in Nagoya, Japan:
A historic deal to halt the mass extinction of species was finally agreed last night in what conservationists see as the most important international treaty aimed at preventing the collapse of the world's wildlife.

Delegates from more than 190 countries meeting in Nagoya, Japan, agreed at the 11th hour on an ambitious conservation programme to protect global biodiversity and the natural habitats that support the most threatened animals and plants.

After 18 years of debate, two weeks of talks, and tense, last-minute bargaining, the meeting of the UN Convention on Biodiversity agreed on 20 key "strategic goals" to be implemented by 2020 that should help to end the current mass extinction of species.
Michael McCarthy in the same newspaper provides some perspective and adds a warning: "The Nagoya deal shows the world has at last woken up".

Read both articles: They provide good insights into a current example of collective efforts regarding the global environment (Unit 4) and are an instance of the United Nations working (slowly!) together to improve the world.

Economist Videographic: Global Fertility

A year ago, The Economist published a useful examination of the issues surrounding global fertility and its effect on current and future population growth. The verdict? That the spread of modernity is bringing fertility rates down to replacement level for most of the world. That is a good thing!

Friday, 29 October 2010

BBC BiteSize Revision (Video): Globalisation

The BBC's BiteSize Revision service has a convenient, nicely retro-looking video on the topic of globalisation, summarising the main points found in their online materials elsewhere (intended for GCSE Geography syllabi, but actually quite useful for our purposes in Global Politics!):

Wednesday, 27 October 2010

Anglo-French armed forces plan greater military co-operation

The Guardian (amongst others) brings news that the UK and France are currently destined for greatly enhanced military co-operation—the respective governments insist that sovereignty will be retained nonetheless...
Britain and France are putting the finishing touches to plans for unprecedented co-operation on defence across all three branches of the armed forces, ranging from military operations to simulated nuclear tests.

What is described as a "whole package" of measures, including a major army exercise in Flanders, will be unveiled at a summit meeting between David Cameron and France's president Nicolas Sarkozy in London on 2 November, top officials say.

The two countries account for what one senior diplomat called a "critical mass" of Europe's military capabilities, including 45% of all EU military spending, half the total number of armed forces, and 70% of military research and development in the EU.
The extraordinary tempo and detail of work carried out by senior British and French military staff has been triggered in part by similar financial pressures facing the two countries and the realisation that their forces will be much more effective acting together.

The two governments are acutely aware of the political sensitivity of military co-operation. They will insist that national sovereignty will be preserved and there will be no question of "sharing" weapons systems, including aircraft carriers.

Sunday, 24 October 2010

Globalisation: Small is Beautiful

Three years ago today, The Economist published an interesting infographic regarding an important recent trend in globalisation:
Small, rich and stable countries tend to be the most globalised, at least according to an index of 72 countries by A.T. Kearney, a consultancy, and Foreign Policy magazine. The index uses 12 measures which cover economic integration, personal contact, political engagement and technological connectivity. Singapore and Hong Kong make the top spots, boosted by the larger weighting given to the economic variables of trade and foreign-direct investment as a percentage of GDP. America, not entirely convincingly, scores poorly on the economic measures. Jordan comes in ninth, helped by its top ranking for political engagement as a result of its involvement in UN peacekeeping missions. The index may be most useful for starting debates.

Saturday, 23 October 2010

G20 summit agrees to reform IMF

BBC Online brings news of a slight re-balancing within world economic governance—towards emerging economies—at the G20 Summit currently being held in South Korea: [link]
Finance ministers from the G20 leading economies have agreed reforms of the International Monetary Fund, giving major developing nations more of a say.

At a meeting in South Korea, they agreed a shift of about 6% of the votes in the IMF towards some of the fast-growing developing countries.

Those nations will also have more seats on the IMF's Board, while Western Europe will lose two seats. But the US will retain the veto it has over key decisions.

Such decisions require an 85% vote - Washington holds 17% under the IMF's weighted voting system.
The Guardian has more [link]:
Fast-growing emerging economies will get more clout at the International Monetary Fund under a landmark agreement clinched on Saturday that reflects a shift in global power from industrial countries.
Under the deal, more than 6 percent of voting shares at the Fund will shift to dynamic developing countries such as China, which will become the third-biggest member of the 187-strong Washington-based lender. Europe will give up two of the eight or nine seats it controls at any given time on the IMF's Executive Board, which will continue to have 24 members, according to a statement issued after a meeting of finance ministers from the Group of 20 leading economies.
As part of a wide-ranging package, the G20 also agreed to double the IMF's quotas, which determine how much each country contributes to the IMF and how much it may borrow from it. The quotas currently total about $340 billion. The IMF staff had argued for a doubling, which it said would put the fund "in a strong position to forestall or cope with potential crises in the coming years".
The G20 said the reforms would make the Washington-based lender "more effective, credible and legitimate". The governance reforms amount to an overhaul of the global economic order established when the Fund was set up after World War Two, prompting IMF Managing Director Dominique Strauss-Kahn to describe the agreement as historic. "This makes for the biggest reform ever in the governance of the institution," he told reporters.
The reduction in Europe's representation is less than the United States was seeking. However, Washington, which has a 17.67 percent share of IMF quotas will retain its veto on the Fund's most important decisions. These will continue to require a super-majority vote of 85 percent, according to IMF officials.
Without doubt, today's news represents an important update on World Governance (Unit 3) - should a question on the International Monetary Fund come up in the exams, this development would form a valuable current example!

Thursday, 21 October 2010

Economist - Bloggers in the Middle East: Don't be too cheeky

Governments in the Middle East are cracking down on bloggers

The Economist today has a short article revealing efforts now being made by some Middle Eastern regimes to discourage freedom of expression by the means of web logs ("blogs"):
Governments across the Middle East are increasingly twitchy about their citizens’ online activities. As internet use in the region has soared—up 19-fold since 2000, compared with a fivefold rise in the rest of the world, according to Internet World Stats, which monitors global internet usage—so the number jailed for what they do on the web has shot up too.

According to Reporters Without Borders, a Paris-based watchdog, at least 17 “netizens” are in jail across the Middle East: eight in Iran and the rest in Bahrain, Egypt, Morocco, Saudi Arabia, Syria and the United Arab Emirates. China may be the biggest online represser, but the Middle East is not far behind.
We might add that these repressive efforts are a clear attack on bloggers' human rights in these countries and directly contravene the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (to which these states have signed up!)

Article 19: Everyone has the right to freedom of opinion and expression; this right includes freedom to hold opinions without interference and to seek, receive and impart information and ideas through any media and regardless of frontiers.

Saturday, 16 October 2010

CFR - Crisis Guide: Climate Change

It's now two years exactly since the Council on Foreign Relations' publication of this particular interactive feature—it remains an essential introductory resource nonetheless...

This feature should prove very useful to those students wanting to bone up on what is one of the key controversies within the Environment as a Global Political Issue (Unit 4).

Thursday, 14 October 2010

Information is Beautiful: The True Size of Africa

From David McCandless' stunning publication and associated website, Information is Beautiful, comes this graphic revealing the true size of Africa in comparison with several parts of the world more prominently thought of...
This evocative image forms but the centerpiece of a larger statistical comparison (click to enAfricanate!):
Certainly puts things into some perspective!

Tuesday, 12 October 2010

Economist: Global Hunger Index - Feed the World

This from The Economist today in their Daily Chart series:
How hunger has changed across the developing world

TWENTY-NINE countries suffer from “alarming” levels of hunger, most of which are in sub-Saharan Africa, according to a report published on Monday October 11th. The “Global Hunger Index” (GHI) gives developing countries scores based on three indicators: the proportion of people who are undernourished, the proportion of children under five who are underweight, and the child mortality rate. The worst possible score is 100, but in practice, anything over 25 is considered “alarming”. Scores under five, meanwhile, are indicative of “low hunger”. Since 1990 the overall level of the index has fallen by almost a quarter (though the data do not cover the period of the global recession beginning in 2008). Two-thirds of the 99 countries counted in 1990 have reduced their populations' hunger levels. Kuwait, Malaysia, Turkey and Mexico have been the most successful, cutting their scores by over 60%. Those where hunger has increased include North Korea, Comoros and Congo. Congo's GHI score fell by over 60%, the worst of any country.

Sunday, 10 October 2010

Information is Beautiful: War Games

Six months ago today, the Guardian newspaper published a series of data visualisations exploring military expenditure around the world—with some surprising results...

An excerpt follows:
Check it out!

Friday, 8 October 2010

Joseph S. Nye: The Future of Power

Joseph S. Nye,former US Assistant Secretary of Defense, Harvard University professor and author of The Future of Power, provides an up-to-date perspective on the "future of power" in our increasingly multipolar world:
Global government is unlikely in the twenty-first century, but various degrees of global governance already exist. The world has hundreds of treaties, institutions, and regimes for governing interstate behavior involving telecommunications, civil aviation, ocean dumping, trade, and even the proliferation of nuclear weapons.

But such institutions are rarely self-sufficient. They still require the leadership of great powers. And it remains to be seen whether this century’s great powers will live up to this role.

As the power of China and India increases, how will their behavior change? Ironically, for those who foresee a tri-polar world of the US, China, and India at mid-century, all three of these states – the world’s most populous – are among the most protective of their sovereignty.

Some argue that our current global institutions are sufficiently open and adaptable for China to find it in its own interests to become what Robert Zoellick, president of the World Bank, once called a “responsible stakeholder.” Others believe that China will wish to impose its own mark and create its own international institutional system as its power increases.

The countries of the European Union have been more willing to experiment with limiting state sovereignty, and they may push for more institutional innovation. But it is unlikely that, barring a disaster like World War II, the world will witness “a constitutional moment” such as it experienced with the creation of the United Nations system of institutions after 1945.

Today, as a universal institution, the UN plays a crucial role in legitimization, crisis diplomacy, peacekeeping, and humanitarian missions, but its very size has proven to be a disadvantage for many other functions. As the 2009 UN climate-change summit in Copenhagen demonstrated, meetings of 192 states are often unwieldy and subject to bloc politics and tactical moves by largely extraneous players that otherwise lack the resources to solve functional problems. As US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton put it recently, “the UN remains the single most important global institution…but we are constantly reminded of its limitations….The UN was never intended to tackle every challenge; nor should it.”

Indeed, the main dilemma that the international community faces is how to include everyone and still be able to act. The answer is likely to lie in what Europeans have dubbed “variable geometry.” There will be many multilateralisms and “mini-lateralisms,” which will vary by issue with the distribution of power resources.

For example, on monetary affairs, the Bretton Woods conference created the International Monetary Fund in 1944, and it has since expanded to include 186 countries. But the dollar’s global pre-eminence was the crucial feature of monetary cooperation until the 1970’s. After the weakening of the dollar and President Richard M. Nixon’s decision to end its convertibility into gold, in 1975 France convened leaders of five countries in the library of the Chateau de Rambouillet to discuss monetary affairs. The group soon grew to seven, and later broadened in scope and membership – including Russia and a vast bureaucratic and press apparatus – to become the G-8.

Subsequently, the G-8 began the practice of inviting five guests from the emerging economies. In the financial crisis of 2008, this framework evolved into the G-20, which boasts a more inclusive membership.

At the same time, the G-7 continued to meet on a narrower monetary agenda; new institutions, such as the Financial Stability Board, were created, while bilateral discussions between the US and China played an increasingly important role. As one experienced diplomat put it, “if you’re trying to negotiate an exchange-rate deal with 20 countries or a bailout of Mexico, as in the early Clinton days, with 20 countries, that’s not easy. If you get above 10, it just makes it too darn hard to get things done.”

He’s right, of course. After all, with three countries, there are three bilateral relationships; with ten, there are 45; and with 100 players, there are nearly 5,000. That is why, on issues like climate change, the UN will continue to play a role, but more intensive negotiations are likely to occur in smaller groups such as the Major Economies Forum, where fewer than a dozen countries account for 80% of greenhouse gas emissions.

Much of the work of global governance will rely on formal and informal networks. Network organizations (such as the G-20) are used for setting agendas, building consensus, coordinating policy, exchanging knowledge, and establishing norms. As Anne-Marie Slaughter, Director of Policy Planning in the US State Department, argues, “the power that flows from this type of connectivity is not the power to impose outcomes. Networks are not directed and controlled as much as they are managed and orchestrated. Multiple players are integrated into a whole that is greater than the sum of its parts.”

In other words, the network provides power to achieve preferred outcomes with other players rather than over them.

To cope with the transnational challenges that characterize a global information age, the international community will have to continue to develop a series of complementary networks and institutions that supplement the global framework of the UN. But if major countries are divided, it is unlikely that even network organizations like the G-20 can set the agenda for the UN and the Bretton Woods financial institutions to act upon.

In the immediate aftermath of the 2008 financial crisis, the G-20 seemed to help governments to coordinate their actions and avoid rampant protectionism. The world waits anxiously to see how it will perform when it meets again in Seoul this November.

Kosovo: Declaration of Independence - Sovereignty

The Guardian has a very useful interactive published back in July, revisiting the history of Kosovo, and culminating with the recent news that the International Court of Justice has ruled that Kosovo's Unilateral Declaration of Independence (UDI) from Serbia in February 2008 did not violate international law:

By way of quick context, upon Kosovo's UDI in 2008, Serbia and Russia immediately declared the action illegal—meanwhile, the United States and much of Europe rushed to recognise the newly-declared state. Clearly, this Kosovan example represents a very useful recent example of recognition and incipient sovereignty in action.

Thursday, 7 October 2010

CFR - Crisis Guide: Pakistan

The Council on Foreign Relations, an independent, nonpartisan membership organization, think tank, and publisher, has published a useful interactive feature on the troubled South Asian state of Pakistan (click image to access):

Crisis Guide: Pakistan

Friday, 1 October 2010

LSE Video: New internationalism needed for new world order

18 months months ago today, a resource interesting for our current studies on Globalisation and World Governance surfaced on the London School of Economics website:
Global institutions such as the United Nations risk fragmenting unless they become more democratic and share greater power with developing nations, warns a LSE political scientist Professor David Held|.
Professor David Held points out that the world today is very different to the post-war era that gave birth to the United Nations in 1945. 'The world has changed dramatically. Power has diffused across the world' he says. "We have seen the rise of Asia and China and the rapidly developing BRIC countries (Brazil, Russia, India and China) and these are only partially, if at all, represented in many of our global institutions."

In this video, Professor Held claims that, given this transformed world, institutions such as the UN and bodies such as the IMF are flawed in two crucial ways: "Firstly, many have a system of representation that is anachronistic and too skewed to the old western powers that have had their own way for a long time. Their other flaw is that they depend for their finance on the good will of the powerful countries."