Professor, School of Continuing Studies, University of Birmingham (U.K.)

Globalisation and the Status of the Territorial State
Paper presented at the International Roundtable on the Challenges of Globalization (University of Munich, 18-19 March 1999)

A hundred years ago, at the beginning of the century which is now drawing to a close, the historian Lord Bryce wrote that "the exploration of this earth is now all but finished" and that "mankind knows his home in a sense in which he never knew it before" (Bryce, 1902,5). As a result the features of the home of mankind had "passed from the chaos of conjecture into the cosmos of science" . Bryce considered the completion of what he variously called this "World-process" and the "secular process" to be "an especially great and fateful event because it closes a page forever" (Bryce, Ibid, 8). He asserted that as a result of it "mankind is fast becoming one people" and this "opens a new stage in world history". A decade earlier Ernest Lavisse, another fin de siecle historian who meditated on what the new century might hold in store, had also emphasised the "closure" aspect of what was occurring when he wrote that "At present, it seems, the occupation of the world .... is being peacefully completed. .... They trace grand lines on the docile paper" (Lavisse, 1891).

What Bryce was talking about a century ago was a world which for the first time was becoming a single entity in the human as well as the physical sense, and to which the term cosmos could appropriately be applied. What he then termed the "World-process" bore marked resemblances to what is today known as globalisation. In fact since the 16th century the states of the European maritime periphery, which have been identified by Modelski and Thompson as being "world powers", had been engaged in a process analogous to globalisation with Europe as its centre (Modelski and Thompson, 1988). It was this Eurocentric form of globalisation which had reached its apogee at the time of Bryce and its most impressive manifestation was the British Empire

However, Bryce considered that by the beginning of the 20th century the process had entered a critical phase and as a result "clouds seem to hang heavy on the horizon of the future". This ominous situation he considered to be the result of "the present system of great states" and the rivalries which had grown up among what he termed these "huge political aggregates". What was becoming clear was a discordance between what Bryce saw as being the process of coming together of the diverse elements constituting the surface of the planet, with the consequent emergence of the planet as a single human space, and the specific conditions still pertaining on the geopolitical surface itself. Here Bryce could not detect much evidence of any such coming together. Rivalries and tensions persisted and that particular form of "globalisation" represented by the British Empire was opposed by other aspiring globalisations focused on the other world powers. It was these powers which traced those "grand lines on the docile paper", invariably in definance of the geographical realities of the places they were dividing among the imperial spheres. Consequently the geopolitical topology of late19th century imperialism took many different, and often bizarre forms. There were many centres and many peripheries and the political world took on distinctive and different forms when viewed from the competing perspectives of great capitals such as London, Paris, Berlin or St. Petersburg. This was what Charles Dilke, inventer of the idea of "Greater Britain", termed "omphalism" regarding all such world views as being highly subjective and therefore as representing dangerous - and even absurd - distortions of reality (Dilke, 1890 70-73).

Half a century later, the most catastrophic war in European history had very clearly demonstrated the truth of many of the fin de siecle forebodings a second war was about to confirm them. In the year of the outbreak of World War II the political geographer Derwent Whittlesey coined the term ecumene for the human world. In so doing he returned to the ancient Greek concept of the essential unity of the oecumene, asserting, despite so many appearances to the contrary, the unity of the far larger home of mankind in the middle of the 20th century. (Whittlesey, 1939). However, the "great states" were once more about to demonstrate the essential fragility of the unifying concepts of both Bryce and Whittlesey. The chaos to which Bryce had opposed cosmos proved to be disturbingly close, and the seemingly ordered geopolitical surface proved to be a very thin film covering the turbulence below.

The "new kind of unity" of which Bryce had written implies a holistic approach to the world's physical and human phenomena. Physical geographers have come to view this totality in a neo-medieval way as consisting of "spheres", such as the lithosphere, troposphere, atmosphere, biosphere etc. Human geographers have interposed a human "sphere" having its own particular dynamic which they have attempted to view holistically. The existence of such spheres, both in the medieval and the modern geophysical senses, implies order and movement and it is this which produces the processes which engender the unity of the phenomena. These processes are now viewed by physical geographers as being integrated "systems" engaged in changing and modifying the surface of the earth. The complexities within the overall human sphere make it difficult to envisage it as being contingent upon the operation of a single system.

Nevertheless, the complexities the the human world can be disaggregated into specific groups of phenomena representing different aspects of human activity. In this way it is possible to isolate those geographical phenomena judged to be political and to view them cartographically as a specific geographical information system. The favoured term for the units which constitute this geopolitical surface is currently "nation-state" although in the past many other terms have also been used. It is a terminology which contains its own forms of justification. The "nation", from natio = birth, is thus to be considered as consisting of a specific population group possessing particular racial and cultural characteristics which distinguish it from other similar population groups. These characteristics are considered as being inherent and thus their aggregate is deemed implicitly to constitute a "natural" component of the political surface. Little real distinction appears to have been made on the colourful political atlases which began to appear in the later 19th century between the "grand lines" of the political boundaries and those other "grand lines" depicting rivers, coasts and mountains. On the contrary, the map provides an ideal holistic tool for equating all geographical phenomena, physical and human, and thus giving a quasi-natural quality to phenomena which might otherwise be considered to be the result of dynastic rivalries, greed, wars and political chicanery of various sorts. It follows from this that the geopolitical surface comes to be regarded as being a kind of jigsaw in which the component parts fit into one another in a "natural" way as jigsaws do. In this context a recent the cover of Newsweek (1. 2 . 1999) showed the political world after the "globoshock" of recession as being a kind of a jigsaw, the component parts of which - by implication consisting of nations - have been disturbed and now need to to be put back together in the correct manner.

An alternative view to that of the "natural" school of geopolitical thinkers was put forward by the French political geographers Y-M Goblet and Jacques Ancel. This is that the nation-state is not natural at all but an entirely artificial creation used in order to justify and legitimise the assumption of power. This view asserts that the geopolitical surface of nation-states is underlain by the desire for power and dominance. The nation, maintained Goblet, is a political creation. It is the result of the expression of the political will and it emerges as a political force. In other words, it is the state which creates the nation and not the other way around (Y.-M. Goblet, 1935). At the root of it all was what O'Sullivan called the animus dominandi, "the persistent desire of some people to lord it over others", which he identified as being the major driving force in international politics (O'Sullivan, 1985, 16). An examination of the political geography of nation-states certainly demonstrates that the phenomenon is neither as unitary nor as "natural" as its apologists would have us believe. The terminology in fact hides the immense diversity which exists within such "nation-states" In reality the terminology thus reflects some kind of grand aspiration rather than the existence of an objective reality. Because of the contradictions inherent in their formation from the outset the so-called "nation-states" have existed in a condition of mutual discord. Far from fitting together neatly like the pieces of the Newsweek jigsaw they can be likened to pieces of Lego, the same parts of which can be used to create many different forms. Given the finite nature of such features as territory and natural resources, incompatibilities are bound to arise in the chosen projects. Being therefore the products of aspiration rather than objective physical principles they harness the available resources to further their own particular projects. Thus, in the geopolitical sphere, humanity does not act in conformity with the "secular process" and it was the perception of this which was at the root of Bryce's foreboding about the dark clouds which "hung heavy on the horizon of the future".

This view of the geopolitical process as being essentially an artificial one leads to the conclusion that it is likely to be inheretly more destructive than constructive. Rather than being an assembling of the world out of easily fitting components, it can be seen as being a breaking of it apart into potentially incompatible and mutually hostile fragments. These fragments are justified and held together by national myths which, if successful, act as a kind of glue. Given the flawed structures of the fragments themselves, and the consequent implausibility of the justificatory myths based upon them, the geopolitical surface of which they are composed is in reality a weak one which has frequently shown itself liable to collapse with highly destructive consequences.

East and Prescott significantly called their review of political geography Our Fragmented World. They pictured a human world which was in reality made up of differentiated regions, each with its own particular character but which, despite their diversity, nevertheless constituted "part of a single whole" (East and Prescott, 1975: xiii). It was not these regions which the authors saw as being fragmented but the states which overlay them on the geopolitical surface. These made up the "fragmented world", the unity of which had been shattered like a piece of glass. The glass analogy suggests both the breaking apart of something which had been once whole and also a certain randomness in the destructive process. Robert Harvey also saw a "fragmented world" and the reason for its fragmentation was that its former harmony had been shattered. "It (the world) is fragmented because we have fragmented it", said Harvey, but inherently it is "all of one piece". "We and our world form part of an organic whole. We are sewn into the fabric" (Harvey, 1988: 2). "A besetting error in man's view of his place in nature" he concluded, "is to jettison involvement in favour of separation, to prefer division to unity, discord to harmony, the part to the whole"(Harvey, 1988: 6). This was idea which was summed up by Saul Cohen as "a world divided" but Cohen added the rider that it had been broken "more like a diamond than a piece of glass"(Cohen, 1964). This diamond analogy implies that the process of division itself was not random but had a certain pattern.

The fundamental question which arises from this idea of division is whether the opposite, a world whole, has actually ever existed in anything but the human imagination? History can demonstrate the existence of "the besetting error" of preferring the part to the whole since the first states proceeded to build up their power and attack their neighbours. If this has been the usual rather than the unusual feature of the world's geopolitical surface, can it not, then, be said that the opposite of a "world divided" actually represents an ideal to be aspired to rather than a once and future reality to be recreated? If this is the case then it is a form of Idealpolitik, as opposed to Realpolitik, and as such it is not based upon the realities of power at all. However, Harvey asserts that once it was indeed one, a reality which was expressed in the ideas of the Renaissance, and that it was the Enlightenment which had produced the divisions. As a result of what then took place "unity and wholeness were out; division was in". It was this division which then led on to the creation of the nation-state and that "fragmented world" which is its contemporary political legacy was a product of the Enlightenment.

However, recourse to the world political map, viewed diachronically, demonstrates that fragmentation and division have underlain its various metamorphoses and one is hard put to to identify the existence of some kind of geopolitical "Golden Age" in which the forces of unity prevailed over those of division and in which the interests of the whole prevailed over those of the parts. Nevertheless, at times, and more at certain times than at others, there have been evidences of the existence and operation of a different set of principles from those of the animus dominandi. Indications of "another way" have appeared in the realities of the geopolitical world as opposed to the utopias of those who have sought to raise the aspirations of mankind to follow "a better way". Rather than the present reality being seen as being a shattered geopolitical surface which was, ipso facto, once whole, it is possible to conceive of another geopolitical surface which exists, and has always existed, in parallel with the "real" surface. In this other geopolitical surface different - and alternative - principles have applied. This other geopolitical surface has on occasions met and even mixed with the dominant one and there has even been a certain co-incidence between the two. There have at times been signs of a certain symbiotic relationship between the two and if this relationship has not normally been exactly harmonious there has at least existed a kind of limited modus vivendi . This second geopolitical surface is the one which is "all of one piece" and of which the parts are components of a whole which is fundamentally different from, and potentially in discord with, the dominant geopolitical surface.

This can all be conceived as being an alternative geopolitical surface, elements of which exist and have existed in parallel with the dominant surface but the evidence for which has been more convincing at certain historical periods than at others. Let us say that it is possible to perceive hints of it, like St Paul's world to come, "through a glass darkly". It resembles less the geopolitical world map on which Lavisse's "pale lines" have been drawn, responsive to the considerations of power rather than to the human realities beneath them, than those scientific maps in which the political tints give way to the actual features of a holistic geographical space. Those elements which do not fit easily into the strait jacket of the nation-state give us hints of the existence of the other, of the alternative, geopolitical dimension. They include the persistence in a world which in the 20th century became ever more nationalistic of transnational phenomena such as the great world religions; the transcontinental lines of communication; the universal - or at least trans-national - languages and the emergence of wider functional groupings of states and of global international organisations. Highly significant in terms of geopolitical realities are what Cohen termed "gateways" linking together states and regions. These may take a number of different forms, including small states and cities, but they have a more transnational than national or local existence (Cohen, 1991). Together such phenomena constitute the components of an alternative geopolitical reality to that of the fragmented geopolitical surface.

"Form and structure may quarter the world", said Harvey, ""but they also at the same time unite it"(Harvey, 1988:1). The common characteristics of the alternative geopolitical surface consist of forms and structures which are larger than the state both in the geographical and the conceptual sense. Unlike states, they do not have firm and fixed boundaries and are open to wider contacts. The main common characteristics of the actual geopolitical surface are the forms and structures of division and their existence makes division the norm. Historically the alternative surface has for most of the time been obscured by the dominant surface. The animus dominandi has prevailed over the animus co-operandi; the urge to "lord it" has prevailed over the will to work together. Yet regarded as a system, it is this shadowy world which can be seen as more in tune with wider human realities. It is the geopolitical map of the nation-states which represents the unreal state of affairs, superimposed as it is on the cosmos of the real world and discordant with it.

The most fundamental difference between the actual and the alternative geopolitical surfaces arises from the very different underlying principles upon which the two are based. It is easily demonstrable that the actual surface has been created by force and then sustained by illusion. The glue of myth rapidly and easily hardens and the resulting surface comes to be widely accepted as being a kind of physical reality. It becomes virtually impossible to challenge successfully the existence of this surrogate reality by peaceful means. It requires a national disaster of major proportions, such as that which occurred to Germany and Japan in 1945, to shift it. The political map also helps to give it an aura of reality which virtually moves it into the category of natural phenomena. This confusion of illusion with reality is the most fundamental cause of interstate violence and war.

In contrast to the "set in stone" character which the dominant geopolitical surface rapidly attains, the alternative surface has been characterised by greater fluidity and capacity for change and evolution. It is inherently a mobile surface which responds readily to the changes which are taking place in other areas of the human sphere. The spatial arrangements of its components are different and their interactions thus take place in accordance with a different set of rules.

In Le Rhin: problèmes d'histoire et d'economie , Albert Demangeon and Lucien Febvre implicitly focused on the essential difference between these two surfaces. Writing in 1935 when the forces of aggressive nationalism in Europe were once more on the move, they contrasted the Rhine as a barrier to communication which it had then become with the Rhine as routeway and axis of communication as it once had been. A contrast was made between "la frontière sanglante et stérile" of the present day and "la route lumineuse et fécondante" of the past (Demangeon and Febvre, 1935). This was actually a once and future concept proposing an alternative geopolitical situation which was associated with abundance arising from unimpeded flows to the existing one in which such flows were restricted. What had been a great transnational region linking the various parts of Europe had been split into territorial segments at the behest of the riparian nation-states, in particular France and Germany, and its fragmented resources were re-directed to the fulfilment of specifically national agenda. In this context Ancel opposed the idea of la civilisation rhénane to that of Anschluss rhénan which through the use of force had introduced division into an area which was in physical and human terms one. While Ancel at the time singled out Germany for particular opprobrium, the fact was that all the great powers had been involved in the same process of territorial aggrandisement which entailed the splitting up of what was once whole.

While the alternative geopolitics co-exists alongside the actual (dominant) variety there has been, as has been observed, far more evidence of its existence at certain times than at others. Such times can be identified in geopolitical terms as being those when the great powers have been on the retreat and when major systemic change has been taking place. If the hardened geopolitical surface, its rigidity reinforced by the strength of powerful illusions, can be likened to an ice sheet in a glacial age, the times of greater change and fluidity can perhaps be likened to interglacial periods in which the political climate for a time becomes warmer and a more human and humanist geopolitical landscape can be detected.

That geopolitical interglacial which characterised the Renaissance took place just as the power structures of medieval Christendom were falling apart. It was a time of political experiment, of diversity and of new geopolitical forms associated with the dynamic rather than the static. It was the time when the cartographer Mercator produced the map which was to banish the Ptolomaic system once and for all and revolutionise our world view; the geographers Kekermann and Varenius proposed the essential unity of all terrestrial - including human - phenomena; and William Petty asserted that political entities were inextricably bound up with the nature of the territory which they occupied (Livingstone, 1992: 84 -91). This all took place during that interglacial period which preceded the coming of a new Ice Age in which the territorial states were to dominate the political map and to justify their existence by coining the term nation-state.

The end of the Cold War can very appropriately be viewed as being the beginning of a new interglacial period on the world scene. If the geopolitical cycles continue to operate as in the past, this also implies the eventual onset of another political glacial period dominated by a new set of "great states" taking new forms and employing new justificatory ideologies . However the human and humanist landscape of the interglacial reveal the elements of the alternative geopolitical surface and globalisation presents itself as part of the alternative geopolitical agenda. In the the nation-state dominated world of the 1930s Y.-M.Goblet called for an "experimental political geography"which would assess the various possibilities and consider the most satisfactory answers to the world's problems (Goblet, 1935) The proper assessment of the possibilities in a manner which Goblet termed "scientific" necessitates the re-evaluation of all the elements which make up the geopolitical surface and a re-consideration of their spatial relationships. Such a radical approach was certainly implicit in the solutions being proposed in the 1950s by Jean Monnet and Robert Schumann which led to the establishment of the European Communities. However, in their entirety, the Monnet - Schumann proposals proved to be too radical for anything but the exceptional conditions of the aftermath of a major war in which nation-states had been thoroughly discredited. Subsequently in all the new geopolitical structures which have followed the first European Community (ECSC) the nation-states have been considered less as impediments to real progress than as the essential building blocks of the future.

Nevertheless, the essentially post-state Monnet - Schumann approach remains a radical model for the reassessment of all the elements which together consititute the geopolitical surface and the reconsideration of their relationships to one another. These elements include territory, boundaries, culture, language, population, resources, manufacture, routeways and communications. The nation-state has distorted the distributions of most of these phenomena and forced them to operate within its particular territorial context to sustain its power. The coal and steel which Jean Monnet sought to internationalise had become part of the power structure of the states; what the state had sought to use for its own ends Monnet sought to take from it and to liberalise for the benefit of humanity. In this way Monnet can be seen as having been both a protagonist of the radical solution and of the alternative geopolitical surface.

In After the Nation-State Horsman and Marshall likewise envisage the break up of the nation-state but see the interplay of such contrasting entities as the region, the multinational corporation and "Europe: La Grande Republique" as its successors (Horsman and Marshall, 1994). These are indeed the conventional new "actors" which are generally considered not as successors to the nation-states but as additions to an already complex geopolitical surface. They are parts of a new dominant geopolitics in which a "global directorate" includes the EU as one of its members (Ibid, 135). This kind of vision is more appropriate to the idea of new forms of dominance rather than globalisation in the context of a post-dominant world.

The alternative geopolitical surface requires alternative structures of its own and a number of political geographers have focused their attention on the nature of such structures. It has been realised that it is not just more new states and combinations of states which are required but new concepts of organisation and the application of these to the geopolitical world. In doing this the French geographer Paul Claval addressed the importance of the great cities, the métropoles, as potential political as well as economic centres of power. Claval saw these as being possible new centres of activity which had an often difficult relationship with the states within which they were located but which had wider functions and aspirations than could be contained within the states (Claval and Sanguin, 1997). As a result of this the métropoles had wider possibilites in their relationships to the geopolitical world. They had always had this wider dimension in their existence, and this was the essence of the problems which they often faced within the context of the nation-state. Thus the foundations of the existence of Barcelona, Milan, Hamburg and Rotterdam were far larger than the nation-states in which they were located. In the 19th century Manchester became a kind of "alternative capital" firmly based on the new manufacturing which had made Britain the workshop of the world and becoming the home of ideas which often fitted ill with with those of the imperial capital. Radical Manchester "thought today" what London was fearful of thinking at any time. Like the other great métropoles, it was one of the nodes of an economic system which had the possibility of encompassing more than the divisive states and empires ever could.

The new trans-state and post-state thinking which is inherent in the concept of globalisation leads naturally to the development of structures which would be open rather than closed, fluid rather than rigid, consensual rather than dominating. In such structures the métropoles, rather than the states, could be regarded as being among the more appropriate building blocks. These are features of geographical space whose function has been that of facilitating contact and communication rather than erecting barriers. They have lived best off the wider possibilities and have flourished in larger groupings. The idea of the Hanseatic League as a possible model for the future association of the major centres of political and economic power follows from this and it can be seen in the context of the developments beyond and after the nation-state (Parker, 1997: 27-35).

In Globalisation Theory and Practice Simon Dalby, addressing the political geography of globalisation, pointed out that "states may no longer be the neat containers of political community that international relations and political geography have for so long assumed" and this therefore demanded "more nuanced political cartographies" in order to "map the new contours of world politics". "More specifically" he concludes, "the discursive difficulties of contemporary world politics suggest the need for multiple and overlapping maps .... which pay less attention to the boundaries of states and more to the flows and fractures that run across those boundaries" (Dalby, 1995: 39). The alternative geopolitical surface does indeed present such a "nuanced political cartography" in which the geopolitical actors are not just different in size but different in character and in their functional relationships to the whole. The diverse elements which make up the geopolitical surface do not have to be considered in the context of the nation-state. They may be disagregated and re-aggregated into combinations and territorial formations which are more appropriate to them. This is the essence of the geopolitics of post-dominance.

"We see through a glass, darkly" said St Paul and only "know in part". As the ice sheet of the Cold War recedes and the contours of the alternative geopolitical surface become clearer we may be able to know it more fully. If this is so then one may continue with the Pauline analogy and hope that when "that which is perfect is come then that which is in part shall be done away" (Corinthians 13. 10 -12) .

In conclusion, the alternative geopolitical surface can be identified as being made up of flows rather than of restrictions; of communication rather than boundaries; of networks rather than boundaries. In place of a world consisting of fragments, each of which creates its own particular geopolitical microcosm, it presents the possibility of a macrocosm of contact and communication in which nodes replace boundaries and in which movement replaces stasis. As has been observed, in the past the signs of the existence of the alternative surface have included routes, religions, languages and ideas. André Siegfried demonstrated the essential openness of the political geography of the Roman Empire at the time of St Paul which enabled the Apostle to move with ease through the network of cities and routeways which bound together the Empire. It was along these that not only new commodities but also new ideas moved (Siegfried, 1965: 95-98). Today evidence of the open surface 2000 years on may be seen in the multinational corporations, the global environmental movements, the international organisations, digital and satellite television and the Internet. At the end of the Second Millenium the principal nodes of this network , those which act as its spatial co-ordinates, remain, as they were 2000 years ago at the beginning of the First Millenium, the great cities. Milan, Barcelona and Munich may have replaced Antioch, Ephesus and Corinth but their basic functions as centres of trade and commerce and the spread of ideas are as important as ever. Their wider geopolitical potential at the present day is something which Claval and others have pointed out.

Interglacial ages come infrequently either in the physical or in the human world and it is our fortune and our burden to be in one at the end of this Millenium . With the great powers in retreat and the world in a more fluid state the implementation of the alternative geopolitical scenario becomes for a time a real possibility. Whether this will be followed by another glacial age of political division and strife or by a new age of openness and co-operation will depend on whether the alternative geopolitics can be moved definitively from the wings to the centre of the stage which it has occupied only on rare and relatively transient occasions in the past.


Bryce, Lord, 1902. Romanes Lecture, Oxford University Press

Claval, P. & Sanguin, A-L. 1997. Métropolisation et Politique Paris: L'Harmattan

Cohen, S.B. 1964 Geography and Politics in a Divided World. London: Methuen

Cohen, S.B. 1991 "Global Geopolitical Change in the Post - Cold War Era".

Annals of the Association of American Geographers, 81 (4)

Dalby, S. 1996 "Crossing Dsiciplinary Boundaries: Political Geography and International Relations after the Cold War" in Globalisation Theory and Practice.

Demangeon, A. and Febvre, J. 1935 Le Rhin problèmes d'histoire et d'economie Paris: Armand Colin

Dilke, C.W. 1890 Greater Britain London: Macmillan

East, W.G. & Prescott J.R.V. 1975 Our Fragmented World London:Macmillan

Goblet, Y-M. 1936 The Twilight of Treaties London: Bell

Goblet, Y-M. 1956 Political Geography and the World Map London:Philip

Harvey, R. 1988 Our Fragmented World Bideford:Green Books

Horsman, M. & Marshall A. 1994 After the Nation-State HarperCollins

Kliot, N. & Waterman, S. 1991 The Political Geography of Conflict and Peace Belhaven

Kofman, E. & Youngs, G. 1996 Globalisation Theory and Practice London: Pinter

Lavisse, E. 1891 General View of the Political History of Europe London: Longmans Green

Livingstone, D.N. 1992 The Geographical Tradition London:Blackwell

Modelski, G. and Thompson, W.R. 1988 Sea Power in Global Politics London: Macmillan

Parker, G. 1997 "Vers une nouvelle hanse" in Métropolisation et Politique

Paris: L'Harmattan

Parker, G. 1988 The Geopolitics of Domination London: Routledge

Parker, G. 1998 Geopolitics Past, Present and Future London: Pinter

Siegfried, A. 1965 Germs and Ideas London:Oliver and Boyd

Whittlesey, D. 1939 The Earth and the State . NewYork: Holt