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It is common knowledge that there will be wars and rumours of war. This can be a prediction of what will happen in the future. But it can also be regarded as a statement of fact. This assertion led many philosophers and political scientists to conclude that the reality of international politics is something that can only be understood by the use of force.
In the hopes to ensure security, to grab territories and resources, in order to perpetuate the rule of the status quo (Wendt, 1992). In order to understand international politics and the resolution of conflict at a much deeper level it is imperative to know the difference between power, authority and hegemony.
Before going any further it is important to know more about globalization. Globalization is not a mystery but it is like a diamond with multiple facets (Roy, 2001). Others see the interconnectedness of people with different cultural backgrounds and religious orientation and yet able to transcend these differences through the use of modern technology such as the Internet.
There are those who see globalization in the context of mobility, that a person can be a citizen of the UK, yet lives in New York and travels frequently to China. Globalization is also seen as the destruction of diversity and the emergence of one dominant culture which many agree is dictated by the United States or Europe. There are also others who argue that globalization is nothing more than a planet being partitioned into manageable pieces by multinational corporations that are now as powerful as nation states (Byers & Nolte, 2003).
The discussion of power, authority and hegemony in international politics can be achieved if there is a clear understanding of the interconnectedness of people. A better grasp of how globalization has impacted international politics is important because in the 21st century ad beyond it is an important factor that must be considered when it comes to the source and utilization of power, authority and hegemony.
Power and Authority
Power can be defined as the ability to perform a certain task. It can also be a force of coercion or a demonstration of superior strength and abilities. But a more enlightened view can be seen in the following statement: “Power is not simply the glue that holds the social together, or the coercive force which subordinates one set of people to another … it is also understood in terms of the processes that generate and enable any form of social action, relationship or order” (Baker, 2008, p.10).
Authority on the other hand is the justification for power (Neal, 2007). The best example is the United Nations. Prior to the establishment of the United Nations the whole world was a battleground for kings, emperors and tyrants. Rulers and leaders of different kingdoms and fiefdoms from Asia, Europe and the Middle-East went to war to either protect their domain or to expand the same.
History books are filled with the exploits of soldiers and warrior-kings in their quest for more land and more wealth. This is consistent with the Hobbesian tradition that says international relations can be described as “being in a constant state of war” (Bull, 1995, p. 24). Member nations had given the United Nations the authority and this is a perception that this organisation has the power to change the world.
Power is the ability to perform a task while authority is something that exist but it does not guarantee power. Although, it is also true that authority is the source of power and with authority comes the ability to accomplish something using only power alone. Hegemony on the other hand is also the capability of performing a task but instead of using its power, it uses other tools that enable the state to accomplish a given task (Haugaard, 2006).
The superpower status of the U.S. is evident from its military might (Bocock, 1986). This can be easily ascertained by how it has capitalised its victory in the Second World War. Another example is how the U.S. Military succeeded in removing Saddam Hussein from power and how they presently control key areas in the Middle East such as in Pakistan and Afghanistan. The U.S., has either forces on the ground or has a government sympathetic to their interests. The superpower status is also seen in its trade with other countries.
The evidence of America’s is also evident when it comes to the type of products that it manufactures and sells all over the globe. This country is also a financial centre. In Wall Street, stocks are traded daily amounting to hundreds of millions of dollars. The United States has a great influence over the whole world. The U.S. possess the power to shape the course of history through military and finance. There are those who argue that the United States has power and authority but it also uses the power of hegemony.
It can be argued that hegemony is based on the realist and the constructivist view of international politics. Realists believed that international politics is largely driven by a state of anarchy and that patterns of power are a product of this state of anarchy (Rivas, 2008).
On the other hand, the constructivist view, it is not anarchy that determines the state of conflict or peace in a particular area. Instead, they assert that these matters are determined by shared beliefs between various entities in the international arena (Luard, 1988). In this regard, states define their respective identities based on hints or suggestions that they receive from other international actors.
It should be noted that the state as it is a real actor within the International arena. It has the ability to socialize with other states and thus reflect what is a common truth among human beings – that they are influenced by the ideas put forward by others. Countries may be regarded as sovereign players that each have their own identities.
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One cannot claim that only single persons have the ability to determine an entire nation’s interests, but it can be asserted that it is the collection of these interests that brings out the differences in results. (Behnke, 2001). A hegemony like the United States identifies these problems, conflicts and needs and then enters a region armed with this knowledge and make everyone involved feel that only by their presence that stability and progress is possible.
The hegemony exerting its control over a region is aware that geopolitical nations have needs. These needs have to be met. These needs are related to autonomy, economic well being, collective self image and survival. With regards to security a hegemony will exploit the feeling of uncertainty felt by states. It has been said that many countries are driven to conflict because they are unsure about what their counterparts are thinking of. In certain scenarios, these uncertainties may be security related or not.
Regardless of that matter, one must put into account the fact that these differences could cause a state of conflict. For instance, whenever one state is dealing with uncertainties about what may happen in the future or what another country could be planning in the present, then there are chances that these unknown intentions could result to conflict.
A hegemony like the United States can exert influence on other states and convince them that it is better to be mindful of their needs and yet careful not to offend others based on agreed upon rules and the realization that they are dependent on international trade and the cooperation of others.
While liberals will assert that there is nothing that can be done to prevent war, since there can be no institution able to manage and regulate the behaviour of every actor in the global political stage, a hegemony believes the contrary. A hegemony can make these nations believe that if they put their trust in international regimes, then they can receive assistance and support that in turn will help them experience progress and stability.
A good example of hegemony is the action of the United States when it comes to dealing with the Middle East. The U.S. was able to convince the nations within this region and even the countries all over the world that it would be best for the world to allow America to exert power and influence over this area.
For many years the United States government was able to convince others that the stability and progress of the region is within their control. This is hegemony at work and as a result other nations had given the U.S. some form of a blanket authority to deal with the Middle East as they see fit. This explains why the United States interferes with the affairs of the countries within this region.
It can be said that power is the number one priority of a leader. Without power then nothing can be accomplished. However, it is easy to understand that power is limited. Power requires an explanation of the source. This is why certain international organizations are given the power to interfere and impose their will on others.
This is authority. Organizations such as the United Nations is authorized to perform actions that will ensure the safety and stability of the world. But aside from power and authority there is another tool that can be used to change the world and it is called hegemony. The best example is the United States and how it has shaped the course of history by convincing others that their presence and power is needed in a certain regions in the world.
Baker, C., 2008. Cultural Studies: Theory and Practice. London: Sage.
Behnke, A., 2001. Contemplations on Alexander Wendt- Grand theory in the age of impossibility. Cooperation and Conflict, 36(1), pp.33-40.
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Bull, H., 1995. The Anarchical Society: A Study of Order in World Politics Second Edition. New York, Columbia University.
Byers, M. and Nolte, G., 2003. United States Hegemony and the Foundation of International Law. UK: Cambridge University Press.
Haugaard, M., 2006. Hegemony and Power: Consensus and Coercion in Contemporary Politics. Oxford: Lexington Books.
Luard, E., 1988. Conflict and Peace in the Modern International System. New York: State University of New York Press.
Neal, L., 2007. The Economics of Europe and the European Union. New York: Cambridge University Press.
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Wendt, A., 1992. Anarchy is What States Make of It: The Social Construction of Power Politics. International Organization, 46(2) pp. 391-425.