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Globalisation vs Internationalisation

How is globalisation distinct from internationalisation? Are such distinctions necessary?

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Globalisation vs Internationalisation

The first point to ascertain in this discussion is that globalisation and internationalism are conceptual tools of modern politics. That is to say that they have qualitative boundaries that defy a right or wrong analysis of their essence. What globalisation means to one person in the west would not necessarily be concurrent with another person’s perception in the east; likewise internationalism, and what Chomsky refers to as “the North‑South conflict”.[1] We must, in turn, attempt a definition of globalisation and internationalism before concluding whether such distinctions are necessary.

“Globalisation means the spread of free‑market capitalism to virtually every corner in the world.”[2] Despite its revolutionary intentions, the term globalisation is a rather hollow phrase at present. Neither an economic nor a cultural purge of national boundaries has taken place on anything like the scale frequently imagined and often demonised by the western press. Yet globalisation is an economic and political reality whose influence will only increase with the passage of the twenty‑first century.

With the ultimate defeat of communism there exists in the west one dominant socio‑political paradigm, namely that of the capitalist, progressive state, as characterised by the USA. The existence of a broadly free nation‑state and an alliance of democratic nations that exist within the same egalitarian set‑up should, according to traditional Marxist theory, act as a prerequisite to the emancipation of oppressed peoples of the planet. “All that is solid melts into air all that is holy is profaned, and man is at last compelled to face with sober senses his real conditions in life and his relations with his kind.”[3] Perversely, though, globalisation has only served to underscore traditional views of hierarchy and exacerbate existing international divides, that has seen the gulf between rich and poor soar in the past thirty years. The reason for this is the right of centre, conservative leanings of its political philosophy, a key feature that marks globalisation as distinct from internationalism.

Globalisation is a term coined to imply the economic liberalisation of previously command economies, which entails a broad re-structuring of world economic and political systems along western European and American lines. In this sense, globalisation is economic aid in exchange for the adoption of western political models and is thus a form of twenty‑first century cultural imperialism. Globalisation is the core tactic used in areas of the world, such as the Middle East, that have hitherto evaded the ubiquitous western cultural umbrella. “If the analogy to imperialism holds, it suggests that globalisation’s powerful forces will ultimately prove too much for at least some incumbent elites to contain and will bring to power new political actors representing different social forces.”[4]

It is this political and imperial philosophy that is at the epicentre of globalisation as an economic creed and this is the major dividing factor that separates it from internationalism, as we will shortly see.

We must first evaluate the nature and genesis of globalisation, which is inexorably tied to economic considerations. According to Steger there are five central claims discernible in the ideology of twenty‑first century globalisation. First and foremost, globalisation is about the liberalisation and integration of global financial markets. The second premise is that globalisation is both inevitable and irreversible. The third fact pertaining to globalisation is the absence of any coherent leadership. Globalisation can therefore be bracketed with a realist approach to international relations which emphasises the essentially anarchic state of internationalism. The fourth point, and its major selling point to the millions of doubters, is that globalisation benefits everyone, yet this theory is shrouded in negativity. Many Americans and British citizens feel that globalisation will only serve to reduce domestic wages and encourage the uprooting of jobs in the commercial sector to countries which are home to a cheaper labour market, such as India. There are also valid concerns that globalisation is merely serving to widen the gap between rich and poor on both an individual and cross‑national basis. The final argument used to characterise globalisation is to propose that it uniformly furthers the spread of democracy across the world, though empirical evidence actually suggests otherwise.[5]

We can therefore see that globalisation is intrinsically linked to the free market economy. National identity is increasingly connected to the economic performance of a nation; countries in heavy debt must rely on the World Bank and IMF which follow broadly American ideological principles. Whereas the British Empire was accumulated over time through colonialism and strategic acumen, it is through the economy that America has achieved its status as the world’s sole global power. Thus, much of what we term globalisation is in fact Americanisation and blatant cultural imperialism, although there is an inherently paradoxical paradigm at work in declaring the USA an imperial nation. “One of the more obvious objections to the idea of a specific American empire is that, unlike the ‘real’ empires in the past, the United States has not acquired, and does not seek to acquire, the territory of others.  Thus in turn has been allied to another obvious objection: that the United States has often championed the cause of political freedom in the world. How then can one talk of empire when one of the United States’ obvious impulses abroad has been to advance the cause of national democracy and self‑determination?”[6]

Globalisation is an economic phenomenon that has discernibly political and social connotations and is intrinsically bound to western cultural imperialism. The dominance of the United States within western civilisation is inherently problematic because of the issues outlined above; traditional European powers and the undeveloped world alike treat the United States with a deep sense of suspicion and this is a key point to remember when attempting to sift through the considerable rhetoric on globalisation.

Internationalism, by comparison, is an ideology that is similarly geared towards a decrease of international barriers but with the aim of the economic betterment of the planet in mind, not the perpetuation of power and privilege in the hands of the western dominated economies like we see at work with the forces responsible for globalisation. Long‑term international benefits are cited as more important than short‑term economic gains. Advocates of internationalism shun the idea of globalisation as a binding cultural and economic force and saw the disintegration of national economies and cultures as a dangerous international concept.

Internationalism is inherently a left of centre political ideology that implies a heavy emphasis on economic co‑operation. If we consider globalisation to be a necessarily right wing phenomenon, then we can state that, politically and ideologically, internationalism is the polar opposite of globalisation as a creed. Indeed, internationalism swings as far to the Left as to suggest (in some intellectual circles) the need for a possible World Government. The reasoning is that the disputes that occur with such regularity across borders, including human rights abuses, are too diverse in scope to be tackled by the UN and are certainly beyond the realm of influence of one state, such as America. In the 1990’s particularly strong voices of dissent have been discernible from the internationalist corner as the worst excesses of capitalisation and globalisation, especially from labour and environmental movements in the US. “According to this view workers had become pawns in trans‑national corporate agendas, the environment had been deregulated by the free market rules of the WTO, and financial markets had become so decontrolled that the joint efforts of a handful of individuals could destabilise entire nations (as in Indonesia in 1997).”[7]

Internationalism denounces the dominance of western ideology over non‑western societies, which, again, makes it the ideological anti‑thesis of globalisation. It is deeply opposed to war and wishes to see an end to the nuclear arms race. Globalisation contains no such humanitarian concerns; it is an economic creed dedicated towards modernisation and capitalism. Internationalism is a philosophical ideology that is not economic in genesis but political and social in intent. Therefore, internationalism is the inspiration behind the establishment of many political parties and organisations all over the world. The World Federalist Movement is one of the foremost partisan organisations of internationalism and they cite the following as being at the core of their beliefs and political strategy.

“We are dedicated especially to work for:

  • understanding and amity among the world’s cultures and political
  • an end to the arms race, and the elimination of all weapons of
    mass destruction;
  • an end to the use and threat of use of military force;
  • respect for universal human rights and freedoms, including the
    right of all to the requirements of a dignified life, and the freedom of all to
    responsibly express their beliefs;
  • equitable participation of all in the global economy and in
    global decisions which affect their
  • the protection of our common environment and the preservation of
    the ecosystem for succeeding generations; and
  • The emergence of a global ethos and a consciousness of humanity
    as one community and of every person as a citizen of one world.”[8]

Internationalism has been an influential political ethos since the discussions pertaining to the Treaty of Versailles (1919), which resulted in the formation of the League of Nations. Realism has since dominated western international relations policy but the horrors of the last century have ensured that internationalism has not died away as an alternative foreign policy paradigm. But its inherent weakness at its inception remains its Achilles heel today, namely the inescapable notion that internationalism is an attractive theory that simply cannot work in practice due, largely, to its humanitarian, responsible perception of statesmen that sits at odds with all examples of human history.

“There is peace and there are wars. This asymmetrical antithesis – a singular and a plural – is telling. Peace is a state of affairs. Wars are occurrences. Each war has its own circumstances and causes. There is therefore no formula for securing Universal or Perpetual Peace and the search for such a panacea is a misdirection of effort. It is utopian and Utopia is nowhere. But if wars cannot be abolished, wars may be prevented.”[9]

Prevention tactics are at present the only means vehicle through which internationalists can voice their distress at the inexorable expansion of globalisation and Americanisation. Much of the contemporary work of internationalists is channelled through pressure groups and non governmental organisations (NGC’s) because the governments in power in almost all major western nations are currently right of centre and ideologically disposed towards the economic and political goals of globalisation. And herein lays the single greatest distinction between the two: globalisation affects nations and national economies; internationalism’s reach extends to individual secular causes and its goals are achieved through extra‑parliamentary pressure.


The United States, the dominant ideological power of the west, is unlikely to back down from its cultural and media assault on the globe. As Chomsky explains, “the goal of the imperial grand strategy is to prevent any challenge to the power, position and prestige of the United States.”[10] And as long as the US maintains it’s economic, political and (by default) cultural course globalisation will continue to affect the way in which the planet organise their economies and modes of life. Moreover, as long as the US‑led western civilisations can continue to keep a lid on geographical and religious tensions throughout the world, then the call for a return to the utopian ideals of internationalism will not be heard.

There exist intractable differences between globalisation and internationalism. To define their relationship is to invoke the chasms that exist between right and left, capitalism and socialism, expansionist policy making and responsible government. Yet the worth of internationalism is at the heart of the essence of democracy itself. It gives the free enfranchised people of the world an opportunity to choose a different path of international relations formed on more liberal lines. And for this reason, ideological and philosophical distinctions such as that offered by internationalism are not only necessary, they are imperative to ensure that the gulf between rich and poor does not continue to grow.

Read More Free International Relations Essays?


J. Baylis & S. Smith, The Globalisation of World Politics: an Introduction to International Relations: Second Edition (Oxford University Press; Oxford, 2001)

P. Calvocoressi, A Time for Peace: Pacifism, Internationalism and Protest Forces in the Reduction of War (Hutchinson; London, 1987)

M. Castells, The Rise of the Network Society (Blackwell; Oxford, 1996)

N. Chomsky, Hegemony or Survival? : America’s Quest for Global Dominance (Hamish Hamilton; London, 2003)

N. Chomsky, Towards a New Cold War: Essays on the Current Crisis and How We Go There (Pantheon; New York, 1982)

A.E. Eckes Jr. & T.W. Zeiler, Globalisation and the American Century (Cambridge University Press; Cambridge, 2003)

M. Friedman, The Lexus and the Olive Tree (Farrar, Straus & Giroux; New York, 1999)

C.M. Henry & R. Springborg, Globalisation and the Politics of Development in the Middle East (Cambridge University Press; Cambridge, 2001)

K. Marx, Selected Works (Lawrence & Wishart; London, 1968)

M.B. Steger, Globalism: the New Market Ideology (Bowman & Littlefield; Boston, 2002)

Selected Articles

M. Cox, Empire by Denial: the Strange Case of the United States, in, International Affairs Journal; Volume 81; Number 1 (Blackwell; London, January 2005)


International Affairs Journal; Volume 81; Number 1 (Blackwell; London, January 2005)


World Federalist Movement; Statement of Purpose, quoted in, http://www.wfm.org/VISION


[1] N. Chomsky, Towards a New Cold War: Essays on the Current Crisis and How We Go There (Pantheon; New York, 1982), p.84

[2] M. Friedman, The Lexus and the Olive Tree ( Farrar, Straus & Giroux; New York, 1999), p.9

[3] K. Marx, Selected Works (Lawrence & Wishart; London, 1968) p.38

[4] C.M. Henry & R. Springborg, Globalisation and the Politics of Development in the Middle East (Cambridge University Press; Cambridge, 2001), p.223

[5] M.B. Steger, Globalism: the New Market Ideology (Bowman & Littlefield; Boston, 2002), pp.43‑81

[6] M. Cox, Empire by Denial: the Strange Case of the United States, in, International Affairs Journal; Volume 81; Number 1 (Blackwell; London, January 2005), p.21

[7] A.E. Eckes Jr. & T.W. Zeiler, Globalisation and the American Century (Cambridge University Press; Cambridge, 2003), p.254

[8] World Federalist Movement; Statement of Purpose, quoted in, http://www.wfm.org/VISION

[9] P. Calvocoressi, A Time for Peace: Pacifism, Internationalism and Protest Forces in the Reduction of War (Hutchinson; London, 1987), p.176

[10] N. Chomsky, Hegemony or Survival? : America’s Quest for Global Dominance (Hamish Hamilton; London, 2003), p.13

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