The Challenges to Sovereignty of Nation-State in the Globalizing World

The Challenges to Sovereignty of Nation-State in the Globalizing World

Economic, social, demographic, and technological forces are dramatically altering relationships among nations as well as the nature of politics, public policy, administration, institutional relations within the nation-states. The wave of globalization is certainly not resistible although often confronted with a lot of mixed reactions, which to some degree reflects a lot of frustration and dissatisfaction, especially from the GS (Global South). One of the hair-splitting arguments pertaining to globalization is that it is seen as an economic monster whose objectives include, among others, the wiping away of the nation-state’s sovereignty especially with regard to socio-economic and political autonomy.

As a matter of fact, the nation-state is seen as a toothless partner in the process and does not have the power or mandate to control or have a democratic voice pertaining to the principles and policies under which the globalization gospel is advanced. Contrarily, some schools of thought maintain that globalization has significantly progressed as an economic, social, technological, and politically integrative process, because of the sound involvement of the nation-state through the liberalization and rapid expansion of the markets as well as the harmonization of trade. 

However, at the turn of the millennium, realities proved that a lot of poor countries had and continued to have choking debts, despite being on board the globalization ship. So the debt forgiveness was the latest panacea for relieving the poverty of poor countries (Easterly, 2002, p. 124). It is, therefore, the crippling of the poor nation-states’ economies, among others, which triggers a lot of questions about the legitimacy of globalization as a socio-economic and political messiah to the global village.

The reality of the situation, however, was more different than these myths and fantasies propagated in glowing terms by the very forces that were responsible for global domination, exploitation, and mass enslavement through wage labor of the great majority of the world’s population (Berberoglu, 2005, p. 1). Berberoglu further charged that globalization’s focus was to liberalize markets so that they could be an easy accumulation of wealth by the world corporations at the expense of the rest of humanity which is sinking further into abject poverty and destitution. Now, the question is: What role do the nation-states play in this unbalanced globalization scale?

At the tip of the tongue though, one wonders if the nation-state has all it takes to put in place policies and modalities that would counter those that have been put in place by globalization for the sake of human development, as well as the betterment of the economies which are already flowing down the drain. Kamali (1998, p. 43) reflected that although the academy had been engaged in trying to understand and explain what globalization was and how everyone was adapting to it, the preponderance of the analysis was said to have missed focus on the effects that globalization may have on the well-being of the citizens in any given nation.

In view of this assertion, let it be noted, as per Kamali (1998, p. 43) that although discussions on globalization are often narrowed down to issues pertaining to the economy, globalization also embraces multifaceted factors, such as affective judgment, morally righteousness, values, and a host of other socially and politically relevant variables. As such, within the process of globalization, the nation-state has multiple tributaries to deal with, beyond the economic repercussions that may emerge as a result of the dynamics of the process itself. Burbules and Torres (2000, p. 14) asserted that globalization had some crucial characteristics which had a major impact on the nation-state. 

They categorized the factors in economic terms (where there is a rise in internationalized advertising and consumption patterns; a reduction in barriers to the free flow of goods, workers, and investments across national borders; and, correspondingly, new pressures on the roles of worker and consumer in society), political terms (whereby, there is a certain loss of nation-state sovereignty, or at least an erosion of national autonomy and correspondingly and weakening of the notion of the “citizen” as a unified and unifying concept, which can be characterized by the precise roles, rights, obligations, and status), and finally, cultural terms (where tension grows because of the manner in which globalization brings forth more standardization and cultural homogeneity, while also bringing more fragmentation through the rise of locally oriented movements).

Globalization of the nation-state challenges the traditional view of national boundaries and also challenges governments to develop global strategies to deal with a growing array of “intermission” political, economic, and cultural issues (Jun & Wright, 1996, p. 15). These socio-economic and political challenges of globalization ought to be addressed with a critical viewpoint if at all change for the better is to suffice. 

Globalization and the Nation-State: The Economic Perspective 

Economically, globalization has built a monopoly whereby the class capitalist society which is dominated by the transnational corporations in the GN (Global North) is taking precedence over everything, thus swaying in the GS into dire economic misery. The Seattle protests against the WTO (World Trade Organization) in 1999 are a clear indication of the animosity that the world has against the policies of globalization, which perpetuate poor conditions of the working class throughout the world. The working class does not own the means of production and as so their input on policy is very much limited. Berberoglu (2005) argued: The term global corporation may be less misleading but still makes one think of a corporation representing the interests of everyone on the globe, which is false. Some economists are now using the more precise term, transnational corporations.

The one viewpoint uniting all these corporations is the notion that the whole world is their oyster; that vast profits may be made by the control of markets in as many countries as possible. If then the transnational corporations which are solely based on the GN are the ones in charge of driving the engine and turning the wheels of globalization, does not it, therefore, hold water that the nation-state, especially in the GS, has a little saying more, so they do not have any bargaining power in as far as formulating the rules of the game. The playing field is rather rough and the nation-state to some degree is compelled to be a sweet angel and adopt and implement global policies as they are or face the music by being sidelined by the corporate world giants. The pro-globalists contend on the other hand that globalization has helped alleviate poverty and better the lives of people right around the globe. 

James (2001) as cited in Watson posed that economic and liberal globalization had raised living standards throughout the world, because there were a fewer starving people today than during the 1960s. From another rational line, Pettifer (2001) as cited in Watson (2002) argued that the “trickle-down” effect, which is the trickling down of wealth from the rich to the poor, is not working and has not produced any results to date. 

Further arguments sell the idea that even though economic globalization produces employment opportunities, the pays for the jobs are too low and the working conditions are purely hazardous to the lives of the workers. At the crux of the matter therefore is the argument that the nation-state is put in a position of hopelessness, since it has no breathing mandate or space to push for the betterment of the working conditions for its people. 

As so the nation-state is just a passive passenger in the global malaise. One awkward global economic scenario is that although globalization preaches the liberalization of the markets for the benefit of all players within the game, the sad reality is that free trade still comes with some protectionist tendencies. Burbach (1992) as cited in Watson (2002) contended that free trade agreements such as NAFTA: Will enable US corporate capital to take advantage of the cheap labor resources to the south and better compete for the markets on a global level. The drive to NAFTA and the enterprise for the Americas is also a response to basic changes occurring within the Western hemisphere itself. Across the Americas, the boundaries of the nation-state are being ruptured. (p. 19) NAFTA has been and continues to be at the center of the globalization controversy in that it is seen to be pushing for a borderless trade zone, whereas its policies are democratically deficient in that the GN’s capitalist production takes away the people’s control and their liberty to pave a path for their economic destinies.

Here lies a key paradox of neoliberal globalization, where an expansion of global capital accumulation and the interests of the globalization of capitalism, clash dialectically with the interests and the livelihoods of millions around the world, with many sparked into resistance because of the economic and social contradictions of capitalist accumulation (Beck, 1992, p. 22). A growing divide between the haves and have-nots has left increasing numbers in the Third World in dire poverty, living on less than a dollar a day. Despite repeated promises of poverty reduction made over the last decade of the twentieth century, the actual number of people living in poverty has actually increased by almost 100 million (Stiglitz, 2003, p. 5). So if globalization is a force that is supposed to be breeding so much good, why then is it that the criticism labeled against it is so much alarming? The nation-state, under the globalization breeze, is compelled to organize the domestic agendas to fit the economic, social, and political global scope. 

The issue here, therefore, is that local matters that could be given more attention to uplift the standards of living, within the nation-state get overtaken by the prioritization of globally oriented activities. As so, the welfare of those within the nation-state becomes a secondary matter. Global competitiveness compromises the provision of sound social services that under normal economic circumstances would be provided to civil society as a matter of priority. So what we see is a scenario, whereby the nation-states decide to dash to sweeping the streets whilst their living rooms need some serious cleaning. It is this failure by the nation-state to realize the importance of the immediate home environment within the global context that has led to further impoverishment in the GS. Lack of independent global consciousness is indeed a cancerous intellectual and administrative deformity, whose repercussions have proved to be socio-economic and politically deadly. Globalization suffocates the nation-state’s potential to formulate vibrant and viable domestic policies geared towards development.

The liberalization and homogenization of the free market economy have swiftly and gradually taken away the national government’s powers, thus reducing them to a platform, whereby the nation-state becomes more of a passive recipient of the already baked bread and are left with the only sole duty of consuming the bread, rather than contributing towards the mixing of the dough. Yes, the GS provides a good market for the computerization of goods from the GN. Global changes occurring today are creating new, complex, and decentralized systems of networks that are radically different from the old centralized systems of governance, which controlled the processes of international activities and decision-making. This form of free-market fundamentalism injures the nation-state’s style of governing, since in some instances, they have to opt for privatization so as to fit well in the global village at the expense of the masses.

Political Impact of Globalization on the Nation-States

Conditions are set in a straight-forward manner, in order for the nation-states to sit at the globalization table, firstly there is a need to liberalize democracy (in a sense they have to subscribe to the capitalist philosophy of governance), which, in turn, would ascertain that the liberalization of the markets becomes a smooth transitional process. Simply put, global changes dictate the terms under which the national government should function. As earlier hinted, the formulation of the local administrative policies should be so that they are in line with the prescriptions of globalization.

The nation-states have limited powers to challenge the hegemonic, unjust, and plethoric economic injustices pursued by institutions such as the IMF, WB (World Bank) as well as the WTO. Under globalization, the nation-states’ sovereignty remains in limbo as power steadily shifts to the most powerful financial and corporate institutions. Adams et al. (1999, p. 1) charged that globalization has subjected the national governments to an atmosphere where they have seen their sovereignty and control over domestic political and economic affairs rapidly diminish, whatever sovereignty governments in the developing world managed to obtain with decolonization are now rapidly eroding. 

Neoliberalism has smashed and snatched the nation-states’ models of development and replaced them with models, which embrace the needs and demands of the supranational organizations. Although on paper some of these development models and theories were supposed to reduce dependency, reality has it that those in the GS have no economic spine to stand on their own, lest they crumble to the ground like an atomic bomb. Adams et. al (1999) observed that the international environment was imposing some compelling pressure on the GS to carry out free-market reforms and these very reforms often produce social resistance and political turmoil within the nation-states’ boundaries.

Globalization and the Demise of Culture 

The dialectical relationships that exist between the globalization parameters do not only affect the global economies but also have an immense impact on the ethnic, national, and religious identities of the various diverse world cultures. To argue that globalization has not had profound impact on the nation-states’ cultures will definitely be grossly inaccurate, because the world is persistently witnessing the demise of the nation-states’ socio-economic and political fiber. Thus, it becomes absolutely rational to contend that in the era of globalization, we are witnessing a clash of cultures. Mazaar warned that looking at globalization in social and political terms; it is a time of the renewed search for identity in the ethnic, national, and cultural affinities that magnify the differences among people and groups rather than, as in the case of globalism, emphasizing their similarities. 

The proliferation of groups with which people identify has an effect on their social organization, education, technology, and religious beliefs. Although globalization is supposed to promote the emergence of pluralistic societies, the contrary is the reality on the ground where there is more of cultural assimilation than cultural pluralism. To some degree, one should not be taken aback by these phases of cultural development in that skewed as it is, and it is apparent that the most powerful societies and or cultures set a pace under which other cultures will have to operate.

The less powerful become absorbed by the most powerful, thus resulting in advanced cultural homogeneity based on power. The result is a dizzying array of “competing and dying” cultures, which breeds complex problems regarding whose culture should shape the global socialization map. Cultural fragmentation under the auspices of social transformation perpetuates the problem of lost identities and complex issues of eroding moral codes. The “paradox of globalization” is that rather than creating one big economy or one big polity, it also divides fragments and polarizes. Convergence and divergence are two sides of a coin (Mazaar, 1999, p. 187). Finding harmony within this clash of cultures is on its own a giant challenge that ultimately results in sparking explosive socio-economic and political adventures.

 Education and the Birth of a Global Citizen

Logic triggers the question, “How then can we end up with one global citizen so that we avoid this havoc which is cooked by the intermingling of cultures?”. Of course, this is a tough question with no easy answers, because we still experience xenophobic tendencies amongst various cultures despite the fact that globalization is supposed to quickly erase the national boundaries and also narrow down “time and space”, so that world societies can cohabitate and prosper by rubbing shoulders with one another as close and loving families. What a nightmare truly is this? How possible is it for us to produce a universal global citizen whereas some of the world citizens within their respective diverse cultures are by virtue of their geographical location and beliefs deemed terrorists? 

The Christians have their view of the world, the Muslims also do things in their way, the Buddhists also do it in their own style, and of course, the Atheists have their own dimension of looking at the world. Hence, the creation of the global citizen is easier said than done because of the complexity of existing and emerging cultures. Offiong (2001) subscribed to the literature on globalization and culture by indicating that as of now, information, goods, capital, people, knowledge, pollutants, drugs, fashions, entertainment and beliefs, among many others, all speedily moved across territorial boundaries. Offiong continued charging that in the era of globalization, we were probably witnessing more of “global pillage than a global village” because it appeared as though there was pillage of the planet and its people which produced winners and sad losers.

Burbules and Torres (2000) observed that global changes in a culture deeply affected educational policies within the nation-states, especially with reference to mattes pertaining to multicultural education under the guise of liberal pluralism, whereby supposedly people were to live within a compact of mutual tolerance and respect. Unfortunately, within the cultural context, it appears as though there are some cultures that are more important than others—therefore, they tend to enjoy more respect than others, especially those deemed barbaric. Those same superior cultures are the ones that dominate the world's education systems. 

In a sense, the nation-state is significantly compelled to alter the educational policies to accommodate the inter-social relationships prescribed by the global diversity and interconnectedness, thus fuelling, the loss of nation-states’ autonomy on relevant citizenship education. In more precise terms, the sovereignty and power of the nation-state are sadly undermined by globalization to the degree that the products of the national education system tend to be more of puppets of the dictates of liberal capitalist education than being critical decision-makers whose social orientation is concerned about the needs and the welfare of the state. The poor in the GS get subjected to a devastating state of powerlessness which evidently ends up stimulating radical revolutionary actions, such as violence against those in positions of power so that they can provide for their sinking impoverished families. This, however, creates opportunities for democratic engagement, as the civil society strives to open a platform for a dialogue between the civil society and the nation-states, which might bring solutions to social injustice issues. 

The results of this engagement may lead to the metamorphosis of globalization with more of a human face than the current monstrous figure of a brutal economic scavenger, which does not take into account the welfare of the hopeless starving people of the world. In the midst of all these discontents, it could be argued that the ugly face of globalization could be remodeled through the production of global citizenship whereby the individual, as well as the collective effort of society, will look beyond the horizon and address the socio-economic and political challenges from an angle of humanity where peace, justice, and economic prosperity can be for all. Brecher, Childs and Cutler (1993) reflected that now the focus should be on “global citizenship” which was going to address the dynamics of economic, cultural, and ecological integration that would carry the human experience beyond its modernist phase of state/social relations.

They further admitted that the reality of global citizenship was unavoidable, but its form remained contested. It is not clear whether it is largely a globalized identity of the elite, arising from the integration of capital, or whether it represents a growth of human solidarity arising from an extension of democratic principles, as a result of the exertions of peoples and their voluntary associations. In this regard, the global citizen is elevated to a level where he/she is seen as a global reformer of the global injustices and can propose some innovative measures that could better the economic, social/cultural, and political climates of both the GN and the GS, whose disparities have caused more mourning and hatred than jubilance. 

The nation-state's education system is therefore facing another dilemma given the hodgepodge of ideas, as to whose educational philosophy is to be implemented in pursuit of the production of global graduates who can address the transnational socio-economic and political conditions of the world. Globalization is enormously challenging and remodeling the scope of traditional citizenship given the cultural and political emancipations at hand, which are fuelled by transnational conditions. The identity of the global citizen is therefore chameleon-like and uneven in that it has to evolve in order to address and catch up with the global dynamics. The present trends of globalization called for a recovery of a dynamic and positive sense of citizenship, responsive to the varieties of human situations and diversity of cultural values and the political culture of the nation-states (Brecher et al., 1993).


In a nutshell, education is at the center of the existing globalization dialectics, which have a significant impact on the nation-state’s educational policies geared towards global citizenship. The new hybrid of culture is a complex contested terrain, which needs vibrant and extensive educational ventures and could radically address the vivid inequalities in the world. The world economies should be aligned with the educational systems of the nation-states, in order to help close the class and competitive discrepancies between the GN and the GS, which are manufactured by the neoliberal ideology. 

If educational systems are not reconfigured for the amelioration of the chronic and deadly injustices that exist between the GN and GS under the globalization umbrella, then the elites and the economically marooned will continue to dominate the staggering and unfortunate poor. In view of the above, what is at issue is, in this irresistible era of globalization, how can we tailor education so that it becomes globally humanistic and produce global citizens who will take into cognizance the diversity of various world cultures. Obviously, humanity has to coexist, but it remains controversial as to how the GS and GN can forge forward under a more rational, equitable, and just socio-economic and political global platform. 

The changing political climate of the globalized world calls for the reform of socio-economic policies; if at all the creation of one global village is to become a reality. Education has a fundamental role to play in the reform process and at the center of the reform, policies should be the welfare of all people under the planet earth. Globalization as an idea is not bad, what makes it face so much criticism is the skewed way of implementation of its socio-economic and political policies which appear to be benefitting the GN than the GS.

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