Globalization: A Multidisciplinary Perspective
Paper presented at the International Roundtable on the Challenges of Globalization
(Munich, 18-19 March 1999

Dr Yussuf Naim Kly
Director, International Human Rights Association of American Minorities (IHRAAM), Regina, Canada

The problematic:

A casual examination of the popular concept of globalization suggests that this term may possess more fad or fashion than substance other than its utility as would be countenanced by the discipline of political science. Assuming it to be more than a policy gimmick, an examination of this popular concept from the perspective of other disciplines, such as history, sociology, social anthropology, economics, etc., poses the dilemma of first determining exactly what is to be analyzed. Are we to analyze the socio-economic consequences of increasing world population, decreasing non-renewable natural resources, rapid technological advances, etc.? Or the requirements for monetary and trade policies in relation to global development and the consequences and significance of the attempt at globalizing the western liberal market systems, socio-economic and cultural ideologies since the collapse of the Soviet Union?1

If the former is our objective then it is to a re-examination of the work done by the Club of Rome and similar groups that we must turn our attention. However, if the latter is the objective, then it appears that an updating of the research on imperialism, capitalism, neocolonialism, etc. prepared by such scholars as Samir Amin and Andre Gundar Frank, is required.3 However, if these studies already exist within their own valid context, then why is it necessary to re-examine or reconceptualize them within the context of the popular notion of globalization?

A third approach would be to view the "popular concept, globalization," as referring to a combination of both the former and the latter; but with an additional interpretive layer. In other words, globalization would entail not only the western liberal economic system’s concepts, ideologies, and present policies as a necessary factor in animating population increase, rapid technological advances, industrialization, etc, but also connote that the western liberal economic system and its ideological apparatus and policies were the sole and inevitable systems and ideologies for effective management of these inescapable global processes. Although, this seems to be a major assumption underlining the present popular use of the term globalization, it is difficult, if not impossible, to demonstrate how the research done by the Club of Rome or by such scholars as Samir Amin could be construed so as to justify this assumption. To the contrary, there exists significant analysis of global development suggesting that both past and present western ideology and policies function to mismanage global issues and processes due to the emphasis of western socio-economic and political ideology on profit, exploitation, cultural imperialism or racism, and unequal exchange. A striking instance of this is provided in the recent processes of trade liberalization promoted through both the Uruguay Round of GATT, and IMF structural adjustment policies . While developing countries have been under intensive pressure to open up their economies to trade and investment, and have largely complied, western countries have failed to follow suit, continuing to maintain tariff barriers which impede the entry to their markets of developing world products such as textiles, etc. A further instance: while western countries seek the unimpeded flow of capital throughout the world, they have in general opposed the free flow of technology or labor. The former maintains developing world technological dependency, while the latter prohibits third world populations from exercising their ostensible market rights to seek out the best prices for their labor.4

Thus, the popular notion of globalization (as used by the IMF, the World Bank, and the U.S. government) seems to be a form of post-modern jingoism serving the political purpose of encouraging one to associate or confuse the term, "globalization," with globalizing’s negative impact on human-centered development. In so doing, it hopes to suggest that the consequences of globalizing policies are inevitable, natural and politically neutral phenomena, such as the decrease in the earth’s non-renewable resources, population growth and technological advances. This in turn serves to deflect attention from the sources and intent of the socio-economic and political policies under which this development is being pursued.

The findings of the UN and international organization do not support the notion that the globalizing of the western liberal market ideologies are required for global human-centered development, and call attention to what are now the quantifiably-observed effects of the implementation of this popular concept of globalization on the pursuit of human-centered sustainable development. In an article titled "Globalization With a Human Face," a recent issue of the UNESCO publication, Sources, went so far as to raise the issue whether the popular concept of globalization represented a threat to human rights:

Globalization has changed the way societies work. Labour markets have been transformed, big firms now spread their operations around the world, and fragile, temperamental financial markets can bring countries and even regions to their knees... [G]lobalization also affects basic human rights, such as the right to work, the right to eat — and undermines the capacity of public authorities to do much about it. As such, said Jacques Santer, the president of the European Commission, globalization also affects basic human rights -- such as the right to work, the right to eat -- and undermines the capacity of public authorities to do much about it.

Witness the Asian financial crisis, said Jacques Diouf, the director-general of the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO). "Unemployment and poverty suddenly doubled in Indonesia, Korea and Malaysia," he said "wiping out decades of impressive growth."

So much power and responsibility has now been transferred from the cabinet to the boardroom, said Mary Robinson, the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, adding that "some 500 corporations currently control a third of global GNP and three quarters of world trade; a dozen corporations may soon dominate all aspects of the food industry." And new technologies, while improving access to information and participation in political processes, also allow for grand-scale manipulation by "powers that escape -- at least for the moment -- all democratic control," said Miguel Angel Martinez, president of the Council of the Interparliamentary Union.5

Furthermore, to write about the problem of global socio-economic development within the context of the popular notion of globalization obliges scholars to countenance the phenomena of international development (globalization) within the framework of globalization à la mode americain. This in itself tends to encourage limitations on present and future academic research in relation to development. It also encourages the delegitimization or devaluation of preceding research findings on the problematics of global economic development and corrals this problematic and its analysis within the context set by the policies of the IMF, the World Bank, U.S. government foreign policy, international corporations, etc. The "popular notion of globalization" conceptualization thereby serves as a conceptual bridge whereby the preceding efforts of anti-imperialist and anti- colonialist scholars, the UN, etc., can be bypassed.6

So viewed, the popular concept of globalization appears to result from a political fait accompli manifested in the assumptions expressed in books like The End of History by Frances Fukayama and propelled to dominance by the failure of the Soviet Union, etc, and the consequent unrestrained credibility and facility given to the output of the IMF, WTO, the World Bank, international corporations, U.S. international economic policies, etc. The assumption is: the western liberal capitalist concept as represented by the U.S. has won and proved itself to be right; it is now the inevitable and decisive direction of all future socio-economic development. It is in this sense that history is purported to have "ended", meaning that all theories that questioned the liberal western capitalist formula for global economic development have been proved — by history itself — to be wrong. Concomitantly, further consideration should only be given to those theories which animated and are espoused by liberal western-orientated organizations such as the IMF, international corporations, the U.S. government, etc. In short, it is a new beginning, a new world order in which natural globalization processes and products are to be orientated and employed toward the fulfillment of western globalizing policies.

The central reason for the double-talk and spin on the concept of globalization (shielding western globalization/globalizing policies under the umbrella of natural globalization), as already suggested, is to foster a situation wherein the negative, destructive, and unjust outcome of U.S. and western globalization policies will be popularly attributed to the inevitable and natural globalization outcomes, instead of to western and U.S. policies of neo-colonialism and imperialism. Simply put, it is hoped that the content of western imperialism and neo colonialism will henceforth also be viewed as the content of inevitable, natural processes (natural law) and thus the only viable model for global socio-economic and political development: globalization.

The fact that this almost purely political conceptualization of globalization could so quickly shift the study of development from the earlier focus provided by scholars writing within the framework of neo-colonialism and imperialism to the study areas deemed significant by the IMF, the WTO, international corporations, etc. —the attributes and liabilities of monetary, trade and other policies being implemented by themselves and western capitalist nations — as key determinants to be rationalized in order to grasp the reasons for, and solutions to global maldevelopment, suggests the existence of a significant weakness in the conceptual framework for the study and analysis of international relations (particularly as it relates to the study of globalization).

The question raised is: what is the nature of this weakness? Why is the theoretical framework for the study of international relations vulnerable to such political manipulation?

The present theories and approaches to the study of international relations do not provide for ample comprehensiveness to permit salient non-structural-formal or legal-formal actors and forces in the global system to be adequately discerned for the purpose of identification and socio-economic analysis. Thus, when international organizations, multinational corporations, and state governments speak of, or record their formal-legal policies as animated by, or to meet the needs of globalization, this output (data and assumptions) too often becomes the point of departure for the orientation of studies, analysis and indeed the very definition of international phenomena, such as globalization. However, the complexion of these outputs may be more conditioned by, and representative of, the political mandates of non-legal formal actors and forces at the sub-regional and sub-national levels than of the legal-formal mandates of the international organizations that produced and issued them.

The international legal and diplomatic importance placed on these outputs as representative of what is happening and what is important in international relations may serve to divert the attention of scholars away from focuses within conceptual contexts that would yield different reality-oriented results. The fact that Eurocentric forces and actors played the dominant role in establishing the structural and legal-formal nature of international institutions as well as the norms governing their use at a time when many were engaged in imperialistic and colonialist projects, must be given consideration in view of evaluating the importance and meanings of the output of international organizations. The point is not that international organizations are Eurocentric, but rather that in many ways, their informal mandates, unlike their formal mandates, may not be globally orientated.

Does a lack of an appropriate general theory encouraging the identification of salient non-legal/formal global actors and forces result from Eurocentric as opposed to global/universal objectives as well as Euro-cultural rather than multi-civilizational orientations introduced into the theoretical framework of the discipline of international relations at the time of its evolution and elaboration?

At this time, scholars were focused on the creation and building of the nation-state ideal as a legal formality and the idealized international system as a legal formality in which these states were to operate as the sole international personalities along with the international organizations that they animate. The outputs of the governments of these (legal-formal) states and that of international organization (particularly the United Nations, the IMF, WTO, etc. in the past half century) would be the actualities, substantialities of the framework by which global development and international relation were to be identified, analyzed and postulated.

However, the general theories of international relations emerging from the efforts of its earliest pioneers did not encourage focusing on subnational and regional actors and forces as orientating sources for understanding international relations. Instead, they encouraged focusing on the aforementioned actualities and substantialities of international organization and the foreign policy of states as the point of departure for the study of international relations. This emphasis helped to distinguish the discipline of international relations from political science and facilitated the capacity of political leaders to credibly describe their efforts in the international fora as serving the interests of peace and human justice — even as they animated policies on the regional, national or sub-national levels of war and genocide. Political science was favored for analysis on the national, sub-national and often the regional levels, while international relations theories were favored for analysis at the international levels. The role played by historical-cultural preferences or lack of multi-civilizational cultural involvement, as well as the rapidly developing norms and rules of international law and diplomacy, etc. in encouraging this separation between the sphere of political science and international relations has not received due attention. However, from a strictly logical (how do we know what we know) epistemological perspective, the theoretical basis for this separation begs re-evaluation.

The political capture of the output of international organization by regional or sub-national actors or forces (as represented by the rulers of a single state or group of states) likely distorts or revises the output of international organization and tends to reorientate the point-of-departure or focus of scholars so as to promote or secure the political goals of those actors and forces. The effect of the revision can be as subtle as changes in language usage and terminology or as blatant as the animation of servile theories incongruous with or inaccessible to historical analysis. The point is that the international framework of the present general theory of international relations facilitates a focus that seems to permit the seminal ideational influence of such actors, forces and their projects to go undetected. As suggested, this may be the case in relation to the scholars who are focused on the popular notion of globalization: the actors, forces and projects which seek to capture the process and products of global development and use them for the purpose of globalizing their economic system, culture, ideologies, etc. most often escapes attention — as politically self-interested sources of the content of international relations — by scholars who study the problematic of global development. The importance is not whether the outputs of international organization that result from non-formally recognized political actors and forces are better or worse, but rather, that by not being effectively detected and scrutinized, a significant weakness in our general theory of international relations is revealed. This weakness may affect our ability to appropriately orientate the focus of scholarly analysis so as to effectively cognitize the full implications of many salient international issues such as the popular notion of globalization.

The lack of an appropriate general theory blindsides scholars to the possible salient role played by non-formalized actors, forces, ideologies, etc., such as:

1) Neo colonialism (the end of politico-legal colonialism but not of economic and cultural colonialism).

2) The U.S. concept of "manifest destiny" raised to the global level, manifested through international organizations and its relationship to the problematics of globalization

3) The real objectives and outcomes of capital accumulation at the global level and its relationship to the north/south divide and the increasing gap between the rich and the poor, in the context of the effort to globalize under the cover of globalization.

4) The relationship to globalization or globalizing of the special relation between the United Kingdom and the United States of America, and its significance in relation to the definition of the so-called "white man and the white man’s burden" in relation to galvanizing the unity of the numerous European races or ethnies behind or into what is essentially an American identity and project for global development.

5) The significance of religious or peoples’ alliances as opposed to state alliances in relation to globalization and the functional organization of the international system.

6) The existence and significance of the Anglophobe, francophone, pan-Arab, Islamic, Slavic, pan-Chinese, pan-African etc alliances and their manifestation or lack of same through international organization in relation to globalization.

7) The role of military power in securing economic development and its effect on the definition and processes of globalization.

8) The tendency of nations and states to sometimes conduct themselves like gangs and often like families in confrontation with other nations and states, and the effect of such a grouping tendency on the problematic of globalization or the tendency toward globalizing. (Identifying one’s own system that should globalize.)

9) The tendency of state and nations to seek monopoly over the accessibility to non-renewable natural resources like oil, and the significance of this factor to globalization or globalizing tendencies.

10) Etc.

The excessive focus on the formal output of the states, international organizations and other legal-formal actors or forces, leads to a situation wherein today the formal and non-formal actors and forces (and particularly those that may remain non-cognitized) are in an irreconcilable disarray, thus lacking a general theory for their harmonization deprives international organizations such as the UN, its organs, and specialized agencies, of the analytical tools required to constitute or reconstitute themselves in order to possess a minimum capacity to fulfill the universalist objectives of their charters and conventions, etc.

Our focus on the actualities and substantialities produced by the legal-formal output of international organizations and states makes it difficult to see how the brightly glittering 106-storey world trade center— an icon of global technology located in the hub of New York City (a city animated by cheap immigrant labor) overlooking the Statue of Liberty (a gift signifying European recognition of and cooperation with the U.S. as within the European tradition) with its foundation wedged in the skulls of the African Burial Ground — could be the most impressive and accurate symbol of what has come to be popularly referred to as globalization.

As this symbol implies, the popular notion of globalization as it is actually coming into existence in the late twentieth century concerns more than simply the inevitable advance and growth of technology, education, trade, population and international institutions, [à la club de rome] as the formal policies and statements of some international organizations would have us believe. Both the term and the actuality are now burdened with a political freight of ominous portent. To the notion of globalization we now have now been asked to attach a raft of conceptualizations and realities concerning a growing role for transnational corporations, neoliberal economics, social disinvestment, unregulated speculative capital [globalizing through globalization à la IMF].

Globalizing under the cover of globalization accelerated throughout the 1980s as the Soviet Union weakened and disintegrated. To expand, globalizing used the influence of international agencies and institutions such as the IMF, World Bank and WTO, which themselves functioned due to the processes and products produced or necessitated by natural globalization. However, these international organizations were used to supervise and enforce an extensive process of financial liberalization and economic deregulation on those developing countries which had been forced to turn to them for aid.

The 1990s witnessed two significant milestones in a further extension of the globalizing process among large blocks of countries which, to that point, had proved to be functional or even successful without requiring such assistance—and indeed, without their people suffering the imposition of the kind of domestic social policy which attended assistance from the Bretton Woods institutions.

The collapse of the Soviet Union, and the Asian financial crisis project globalizing as an inevitable part of globalization. At this stage, it seemed to many that globalization would necessarily mean the implementation of the policies of globalizing which were already masquerading under the banner of globalization.

In 1991, U.S. President George Bush greeted the collapse of the Soviet Union with the announcement that this momentous event marked the advent of a new world order. Worldwide, advocates of peace, the right to development and human rights took heart, hoping against hope that an economic bonanza might be derived from the diversion of military to social and developmental spending. Less developed states sought to hitch their compliance with U.S. market-based ideology to a recognition of the right of all states to development, albeit within the context of the globalization / globalizing wave.

Such optimism was a brief candle, however, that was extinguished as the trajectory of U.S. policy clarified and its globalizing intentions became political clear. The Gulf War demonstrated U.S. willingness to use excessive force against a lesser developed country in furtherance of its own economic and political interests, even as that country’s forces were fleeing from battle. This was unthinkable in the heyday of the cold war when U.S. hegemonic power was effectively contested. However, this U.S. devastation of Iraq gave an indication of the military underpinnings of the U.S.-led new world order, which was not lost on the rest of the world.

The collapse of the so-called Asian tiger economies, swamped with capital from the global marketplace (essentially the U.S. and its western allies) resulted from their financial sectors’ openness and vulnerability to huge movements of speculative capital. The crash occurred in a domino-like process that began in Thailand. Countries such as South Korea, Taiwan, Indonesia and Singapore, which had initially achieved successful domestic development through careful state guidance, reeled in Thailand’s wake, and eventually were forced under the heel of the IMF agenda. IMF conditions were desperately resisted, then acceded to at last.

IMF-enforced policies of currency devaluation and abandonment of stricken domestic industries and banks resulted in a further increase in economic vulnerability to outside economic forces and an extensive sell-off of domestic industry to huge transnationals and other foreign concerns (essentially to U.S.-controlled capital and that of its western allies), at bargain basement prices.

While the recognition was widespread—and indeed inescapable—that IMF policies were further depressing the erstwhile healthy Asian economies, such policies were nonetheless regarded as an ultimately inevitable and inescapable response to the realities of globalization and there was no significant effort to reverse these policies. But, seen within the terms of this paper, the IMF was following a formalized agenda which it attributed to —or justified by — the fad notion of the unavoidable demands of globalization, an agenda which many concede reflects the policy of its dominant donor, the U.S.. Indeed, who is to say whether IMF policy, when discussed in the informal backrooms of power, was not viewed as having successfully accomplished exactly what had been intended: a setback to Asian competition, and the redirection of the South back toward the position it endured during the colonial period.

While the world economy is seemingly once again in gear, the effect is similar to that of the explosion of an economic neutron bomb. The Asian infrastructure remains in place, but the place of Asians at its helm—to the extent that this may have existed—has been shattered. Assuredly, the gains of the masses of Asian-tiger populations have been stripped away, as southern populations are turned once again toward the role of supplying cheap labor, skilled and unskilled, for a northern-dominated global economy. The notion of the right to development as a defining feature of globalization, promoted by the UN General Assembly and stonewalled by the United States, has slipped from the international agenda. For the moment, globalizing under the cover of globalization appears to hold the world in its iron grip.

The collapse of currencies in the Asian crisis, and the subsequent economic disaster that hit countries such as Indonesia, was followed by two further developments: the 17 august 1998 devaluation of the Russian rouble, and then, in January 1999, that of the Brazilian real. The politic of globalizing seems well on its way.

The European Union, in its cognition of the weaknesses of unbridled capitalism and neo-colonialism at the global level, initiated two projects that seem aimed at distancing itself from the U.S.-driven interpretation of globalization. First, it has launched a project to create an all-European military security force to end their dependency on the U.S. protection through NATO, and secondly, they initiated a major break in international financial orthodoxy. For the last four decades, it was the U.S. dollar that was the key currency in global trading, and it was the U.S. economy that enjoyed the disproportionate benefits from this unequal state of affairs. The emergence of the euro has meant that the U.S. dollar will now face a contender. It means that the U.S. market and U.S. treasury will no longer be allowed to be complacent about the performance of the U.S. economy and the value of the U.S. dollar on the global market.

This European effort to create competition for the U.S. dollar seems only a step ahead of other developed states. When Japan’s justice minister Shozaburo Nakamura recently voiced his frustration and anger about how U.S. economic dominance was based on miliary might and power, he was merely voicing the frustration and anger that is felt in many other parts of the world — frustration and anger based on the genuine fear that the growing military dominance of the U.S., coupled with its economic dominance in the world today, would one day lead to the creation of a unipolar world order without checks and balances, so biased and unfair that no semblance of international democracy can be maintained.

These initiatives indicate that Japan and the European Union are fully aware of the difference between globalism and globalization and the connection of the former with the U.S. search to ensure economic and political hegemony as an appropriate compliment to its military dominance, reflected in the politics of military power.

What may be most enlightening for scholars who seek to re-examine the general the theory of international relations in order to better understand its weakness in relation to the analysis of such issues as globalization, would be a critical analysis of the steps which the European states felt were necessary to avoid being victimized by U.S. globalizing under the cover of globalization and the non-formal and hidden factors, actors and forces which they cognitized in order to take the steps which they have taken.

Is there a need for similar steps or alliance to be taken by the Third World states? Is there need for a new UN or international organization? Will the reaction of the world to globalizing animate new processes, forces, international organization?

The U.S.-led new world order, by placing raw brute force and domination rather than international cooperation and consensus at the heart of the management of the world system, has inevitable consequences: the nuclear explosions occurring in India and Pakistan, the bombing of Iraq and Yugoslavia, as well as the emergence of serious questioning of the deleterious affects of globalism which by now had been successfully identified and confused with globalization. Ironically, it was not just against the economic policies enforced by the U.S. and its western alliance that such questioning has been directed, but also against international organization in general, and in particular, the UN, which while promoting globalization in terms of the sustainable human-centred development and the emergence of the global village, had consistently objected to the pernicious effects of the economic policies advocated by the IMF and other Bretton Woods international institutions. In short, the U.S., with the assistance of its western allies, was able to benefit from the enforcement of neo-colonialist policies towards the world, including both western and eastern Europe, and have the blame for the ill effects of these policies placed to a significant degree on the UN (the most effective arena for opposition to U.S. world hegemony) and international organization in general.

As Dr. Farish A. Noor writes, "the challenge is not merely to oppose this American hegemonic dominance with the politics [or scholarship] of antagonism and opposition, but to open up new democratic and pluralized space [which should include new international and regional institutions], for competition and contestation." Thus an important task of thinkers and scholars such as those gathered at this conference on globalization is not only to analyze the content, meaning and import of the concept that is popularly referred to as globalization, but also to begin a reconceptualization and reconstruction of international relations theory itself to provide for the animation of a new more up-to-date general theory that is universally applicable and will produce a theoretical framework capable of animating the conceptualization necessary for the rebirth of international organizations able of achieve global equal status and human-centered sustainable development wherein human rights and democracy are upheld.


 1 For the purpose of clarity, from this point forward, we shall postulate that the popular concept of globalization can be divided into two parts, and refer to the first part as globalization [natural consequences of global development] and the second as globalism [the attempt to globalize an ideological and socio-economic system, etc. by attaching them to, or associating them with the natural demands and consequences of natural globalization].

2 See Anthony J. Dolman, Rio, Reshaping the International Order, a Report to the Club de Rome, 1977. Donella H. Meadows, The Limits to Growth: A Report for the Club of Rome’s Project on the Predicament of Mankind, 1977.

3 Samir Amin, Maldevelopment: Anatomy of a Global Failure, Zed Books, London, 1990, Andre Gundar Frank, The Third World in Crisis, Holmes & Meier Publishing, Inc., 1981, Immanuel Wallerstein, The Politics of the World Economy, the States, the Movements and the Civilization, Cambridge University Press, 1984.

4 See Michel Chossudovsky, The Globalisation of Poverty: Impacts of IMF and World Bank Reforms, Third World Network, Malaysia, 1997. The contemporary concern with population control further illustrates the extent to which western emphasis on profit and excessive exploitation has even thwarted the achievement of one of its own cherished goals: population control -- particularly in developing world countries. The effort to control population growth (through the western-initiated techniques of birth control) is engaged in a hopeless race to stem the countervailing effects unleashed by western-initiated policies of restructuring and social disinvestment, which roll back developing countries’ domestic social programs which might otherwise have provided some semblance of a social security net to third world populations. This in turn forces these domestic populations to maintain their traditional reliance on producing many children in an effort to provide security for their old age.

5 Cited in "Globalization with a Human Face...", UNESCO, Sources, No. 108, January 1999.

6 Ignacio Ramonet, "Tomorrow, the crash," Le Monde Diplomatique, March 1999.

7 Dr Farish A Noor is secretary-general of the International Movement for a Just World and a Lecturer at the Center for Civilisational Dialogue, University of Malaysia.