What role has politics played in shaping the trajectory of globalisation?

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What Role has Politics Played in Shaping the Trajectory of Globalisation?


Literature is awash with examples of how globalisation has affected politics. However, it is also clear that politics has shaped the trajectory of globalisation. The term ‘trajectory of globalisation’ in this paper will be interpreted to suggest that globalisation did not just happen at once; rather, it is a phenomenon that developed from international economic integration processes. The foregoing interpretation is borrowed from Chase-Dunn and Jorgenson (2007, pp. 165-166), who argue that globalisation is the apex or high peak of long-term trends in international economic integration, which has been happening for centuries. This paper argues that politics played a major role in intensifying the interactions between economic (trade), cultural and political networks in the world, which have eventually led to globalisation as we know it today. The paper explains the different effects that politics has had on the trajectory of globalisation by exploring aspects such as trade openness, the creation of international organisations and the role of politics in integration among countries. In the conclusion, it is indicated that politics is an art that involves influencing others to accept a particular line of persuasion. It is also concluded that countries that had the conviction that the global market would benefit their local economies more have succeeded in helping the rest to embrace globalisation.

The role of politics in shaping globalisation’s trajectory

Trade openness as identified by Cameron and Kim (2006, p. 17) is a political factor that has for decades affected how countries related with each other. Political treaties made between countries opened up for social, cultural and to some extent, political integration, and hence commenced the path to globalisation. Glyn (2006, n.pag.) indicates that trade is at the centre of most international relations, but the economic relations are to a great degree affected by the political relations that exist between countries. For example, in the wake of World War II, many countries imposed bans on international trade, which included import quotas, tariffs, non-tariff barriers and export restraints. However, through political intervention and diplomacy, international organisations such as the International Monetary Fund (IMF), the World Bank and the General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade (GATT) were formed. According to Wallerstein (2000, p. 253), the IMF, the World Bank and the United Nations (UN) were a US creation meant to resolve the world order problem that was hindering its efforts to access economic advantages from the rest of the world. GATT was later replaced by World Trade Organisation, and together, these international organisations can be said to have contributed to globalisation as we know it today. The formation of GATT is described in detail by Ruggie (1982, p. 405), who documents the political haggling that went on before GATT was enacted. As a precursor to globalisation, GATT allowed countries to form free trade areas, customs unions and also enabled willing countries to enter into preferential trade arrangements. To cater for any disputes that occurred between countries, GATT provided dispute settlement procedures. It also enshrined the principle of reciprocity as a requirement between countries (Ruggie 1982, p. 405). A more interesting political angle was the arrangement between the US and USSR that divided the world into US and USSR zones. The US, as a productivity giant, would market its products to its designated zones. However, these markets closed their doors to the US when the target countries developed their own capacities in production.

In addition to the effect that politics had on trade, Rose (2012, para. 4) notes that the pre-modern era (globalisation ostensibly exists in the modern era) was marked by interlocked relationships in the social, political and economic spheres of life. According to Rose (2012, para. 5), market relationships among countries broke down hierarchies that existed then. Consequently, social and economic dynamism emerged and brought about the “first modern political ideology, classical liberalism”. Liberalism was later replaced by fascism, communism, and social democracy in that order. In the modern world, it would appear that politics has affected the diplomatic relations between countries, but always has to balance the economic, social and political benefits of the bi-lateral relations.

Some of the most cited political factors that have changed integration between countries include China’s economic reform, Soviet Union’s collapse, Berlin Wall’s fall and the European Marshall Plan (Word Trade Organisation 2008, p. 23). The formation of the European Union was also a political decision that has affected globalisation to a great extent,
because many decisions affecting the union’s member states were above the level of operation of such states (Martell 2001). China’s economic reform was a political decision partly driven by external political forces and the country’s own political reasons of wanting to join world trade (World Trade Organisation 2008, p. 22).

Politics has also played a role in shaping the trajectory of globalisation because, the US hegemony always had a much greater say in matters related to world trade compared to the country’s economic partners. Ruggie (1982, p. 406) for example notes that “the US insisted on terms of reference and a series of ‘interpretations’ of the articles” of IMF. Consequently, the 1950s monetary regime was affected by such insistence by the US and was different from what the Bretton Woods institutions had initially intended them to mean. In other words, the US hegemony had a greater political persuasion on some of the institutions that paved the way for globalisation.


Finally, the effect of politics on the trajectory of globalisation cannot be wished away. As is evident in this essay, politics has always had a role to play in the different economic and social decisions that individual countries take. The US hegemony has been portrayed as having had some political persuasions in the formation of such institutions as the IMF, the UN and the GATT. As discussed, such institutions were formed to resolve the problematic world order that prevented the US from accessing foreign markets. These same institutions have arguably made major contributions in relation to paving the way for the integration of different countries’ economies, hence globalisation. In conclusion therefore, although it is difficult to trace all the political events that shaped the trajectory of globalisation in this paper, it is worth mentioning that politics shaped every decision that individual or collective countries took towards integration. After all, politics is an art that involves influencing others to accept a particular line of persuasion. Countries that had the conviction that the global market would benefit their local economies more have therefore succeeded in helping the rest to embrace globalisation.


Cameron, D & Kim, S 2006, ‘Trade, political institutions and the size of government’, in D R Cameron, G Ranis & A Zinn (eds), Globalization and national self-determination: is the nation-state under siege?, London and New York, Routledge, pp. 15-50.

Chase-Dunn, C & Jorgenson, A 2007, ‘Trajectories of trade and investment globalisation’, In C Chase-Dunn & A Jorgenson (eds), Frontiers of globalisation research, Springer, New York, pp. 165-184.

Glyn, A 2006, Capitalism unleashed: finance, globalization, and welfare, Oxford, Oxford University Press.

Martell, L 2001, ‘Capitalism, globalisation and democracy: does social democracy have a role?’, viewed 20 August 2014, <http://www.sussex.ac.uk/Users/ssfa2/globalsocialdemocracy.htm>

Rose, G 2012, ‘Making modernity work: the reconciliation of capitalism and democracy’, Foreign Affairs, vol. 91, no.1.

Ruggie, J 1982, ‘International regimes, transactions, and change: embedded liberalism in the postwar economic order’, International Organization, vol. 36, no. 2, pp. 379-415.

Wallerstein, I 2000, ‘Globalisation or the age of transition? A long-term view of the trajectory of the world system’, International Sociology, vol. 15, no. 2, pp. 251-267.

World Trade Organisation 2008, World trade report – trade in a globalising world, viewed 20 August 2014, < http://www.wto.org/english/res_e/booksp_e/anrep_e/wtr08-2b_e.pdf>