The modern state, which was born from the Peace of Westphalia of 1648, gave unrestricted control of the state to its rulers. This was the beginning of the concept of state sovereignty which is still dominant today The most potent shaping forces in the contemporary world are the interactions of states when enforcing their interests, capabilities and goals. However, during the latter half of the twentieth century the supremacy of the state is under challenge. Global affairs are now dominated by intergovernmental organizations that transcend national boundaries (17). Global international organizations such as the United Nations and the European Union have become independent global actors which implement their own foreign policies. Also groups of people carrying on various enterprises, such as multinational corporations, are examples of nongovernmental organizations which also transcend national boundaries and exert their influence globally.
Post Cold War, the United States has dominated world politics with the political scientist Francis Fukuyama even suggesting that it signalled ‘the universalisation of Western liberal democracy as the final form of government’. However because of the ascendance of other great powers such as China, Japan, Russia and India others such as the journalist and foreign policy advisor Fareed Zakaria arguing that a ‘post-American’ world has arisen through which many other state and nonstate actors direct and define global society’s responses to global challenges. While the United States remains the greatest military power, other dimensions are emerging industrially, financially, educationally, socially and culturally that are moving the globe away from American dominance.
Although some suggest that competition between states could be renewed as they jostle for power in commercial relations, they also manage their security relations collaboratively which can be seen through their cooperation in fighting terrorism. The danger of the polarization of these states into two antagonistic camps could be managed through newly developed international rules and institutions that can manage these mixed-motive relationships. Rather than a quest for hegemony, these great and emerging powers are active trading partners and the question arises will these commercial relationships reduce the potential for future military competition?
Multilateralism could be the approach that these great powers take to cooperate to achieve global solutions to problems that affect all of their citizens. In an ever shrinking global environment in which all actors are increasingly reliant upon each other, a new global system of power and responsibility is more widely distributed. How these great powers will make their choices about war and peace will affect all people and determine the fate of the world.
A new concept of responsible sovereignty is emerging which requires states not to protect only their own people but also to cooperate across borders to protect global resources and address transnational threats. This entails intergovernmental organizations (IGOs) and non-government organizations (NGOs) providing a greater role which ‘differs from the traditional interpretation of sovereignty being non-interference in the internal affairs of state’. Global problems require global solutions and an increasingly greater number of non-state actors have arisen on the world stage to engineer adaptive global changes.
The United Nations is the most prominent IGO to have emerged in the last sixty years. Its Charter sets its agenda as the maintenance of peaceful and amicable relations between states based upon humanitarian values and the attainment of common ends through the harmonization of state actors. Although it is challenged by persistent financial troubles it is an adaptable and reforming institution that remains the forum of choice for negotiation and promotion of humanitarian concerns. Through its claim to represent ‘the collective will of humanity’ it is in the position to act on issues of global relevance such as shaming human rights violators, combating global pandemics, and promoting conflict-prevention measures.
Increasingly, NGOs are becoming more influential in global politics through their ability to lobby and influence international decision making. This activism is able to transcend the traditional distinctions between what is local and what is global. Five of the most visible types of NGOs are non-state entities that comprise of ethnic or indigenous peoples, transnational religious groups, transnational terrorist groups and multinational corporations. However, while these groups have a strong participation in world affairs some of their influence can often be minimised by differing groups pushing policies in opposing directions.
With the world being far more interdependent than ever before and transactions across state borders increasing through the movement of people, information and trade, non- state actors are becoming more important to the shared concepts of people across the globe. The centrality of the state as an insular actor is declining. Although our constructed images of global politics are resistant to change, change is possible through the reshaping of our insular perceptions. By ridding ourselves of false assumptions about other people we can reshape the future of world politics so that it does not rely on the insular attitudes of singular states but on the basis of a global people. As the philosopher Martin J. Siegel observes: “War for survival is the destiny of all species. In our case, we are courting suicide [by waging war against each other]”. It is the realisation of this by state leaders that will finally lead to the end of the concept of the sovereign state.