In an interesting article, Naim Moises discusses how transnational organized crime has recently been defying traditional notions of sovereignty.
The emergence of a global marketplace tends to redefine the very notion of sovereignty, similar to the rise of the bourgeois marketplace, which connected different regions and cities and redefined the traditional feudal concept of allegiance to land and lord.
Feudalism was unable to compete with the powerful market forces that emerged once commerce started integrating whole regions in Europe and beyond. Once a chain of production, distribution, and supply had been established, connecting faraway distant regions, the feudal system became too small for the needs of the new economic system that was about to conquer the world: capitalism.
Karl Marx once famously remarked that, “men make their own future, but not as they please”. For Marx, economic structures shape the way society works. According to this view, the rise of the capitalist system represented a major blow to the old feudal political system. The main aspect of Marxist economic theory is that new systems of production tend to demand new forms of political organization, for they make old forms obsolete.
Something similar seems to be happening nowadays, in the age of globalization. The market place has successfully connected the entire globe and modern globalized production depends on this global supply chain to succeed. Without raw materials from Brazil, knowledge from the US, cheap labor from China, and the free movements of goods around the globe, for example, much of the products we take for granted would simply not be available. Globalization has created a powerful stimulus for transnational activities.
In this regard, Moises’s assumption that “governments need to recognize that restricting the scope of multilateral action for the sake of protecting their sovereignty is often a moot point” seems to be quite reasonable. In fact, illegal trade in drugs, weapons, intellectual property, people, and money poses a major challenge to traditional concepts of sovereignty, as much as the environment or non-proliferation issues do.
Furthermore, Moises asserts that, “the fundamental changes that have given the five wars new intensity over the last decade are likely to persist. Technology will continue to spread widely; criminal networks will be able to exploit these technologies more quickly than governments that must cope with tight budgets, bureaucracies, media scrutiny, and electorates.”
In order to overcome these shortcomings, Moises proposes developing more flexible notions of sovereignty and devising new mechanisms and institutions. He also asserts that governments should move from repression to regulation.
These strategies seem to offer a reasonable alternative to the problems posed by inefficient traditional notions of sovereignty.
As a new system of production evolves, new forms of political organization will be required.
A new age of global political integration is dawning. Capitalism made the old feudal system look awkwardly obsolete. Likewise, globalization will certainly eventually alter the way we understand sovereignty today. How we shape those outcomes ought to be the question, not its relevance or inevitability.
Naim, Moises, “The Five Wars of Globalization”, Foreign Policy, Jan/Feb2003, Issue 134.