Sovereignty Under Siege: Globalization and New Zealand a Review

Editors: Robert Patman and Chris Rudd. Published by: Critical Security Series, Ashgate Publishing Ltd, Aldershot. England. 258pp. $US99.95/£55.00.

NZIIA, May/June 2006, p.28.
Keywords: Globalisation & Trade;

Much of the public’s anxiety about globalisation is concerned with sovereignty. However its understanding of the previous sentence’s last two nouns is vague and imprecise, for each requires careful definition. Patman and Rudd’s introduction defines sovereignty by tracing back to the 1648 Treaty of Westphalia as ‘a sovereign state … exercises supreme legal unqualified and exclusive control over a designated territory and its population’, claiming that there are ‘close to 200 sovereign states’ (which almost resolves their question, since if they exist what is the problem?). They are less sure of giving a ‘precise meaning to the term globalisation’, broadly defining it as ‘the intensification of interconnections between societies, institutions, cultures and individuals on a worldwide basis’. Note the first definition involves a situation, the second a process, which complicates the coupling of the two.

That aside, the introduction is a useful beginning, although it is not clear that the eleven chapter writers saw it before they wrote their essays. As with many such books the quality of the contributions is uneven, and the argument not consistent. A serious weakness is their insularity, for there is little reference to issues except in a New Zealand context, despite the topic of globalisation crying out for comparative analysis. It is one thing to look at the New Zealand-United States relationship, but surely it needs to be put in the context of the US relationships with a host of other countries.

Part I, Political and Economic engagement, begins with Brian Roper asking whether there has been a decline of national and state autonomy. Roper has his own distinctive (Marxist) approach to New Zealand which begins by contradicting the editors by taking globalisation to be the latest stage of capitalism (as indeed does the London ‘Economist’). So did Lenin 90 years ago. History provides such challenges. Did New Zealand ever have much de facto sovereignty? Have we not always been a colony or neo-colony? Is the golden past when New Zealand was really ‘sovereign’ just a myth? Such questions undermine the pristine definition of ‘sovereignty’ of the introduction.

The remaining three chapters of this Part – Martin Richardson (the economy), Paul Roth (human rights) and Tony Wood (parliament) – provide solid backgrounds, rather than new insights and do not address the issues raised in the previous paragraph.

I skip past the middle Part of four chapters on national identity (by Paul Spoonley, Manuka Henare, Richard Bedford and Janine Hayward) which while academic contributions from a New Zealand perspective do not grapple sufficiently with the pressures globalisation places on culture.

Part III consists of three essays on Security and Foreign Policy Directions, by David McDonald (regionalism), Richard Jackson (multilateralism) and James McCormick (the US relationship). Each is a standard foreign policy essay with some remarks on globalisation added. The first two are upbeat: ‘globalisation has increased New Zealand’s ability to project its influence regionally and internationally’. All the contributors to this book are academics: I suspect those in the foreign service would add that the writers dont realise how bloody hard any projection is. The Doha Round negotiations (barely discussed in this book), for instance, are a test of just how much influence we do or dont have. My impression is ‘almost negligible’ were it not for the quality of our foreign service.

Patman and Rudd’s conclusion argues that the capacity of the New Zealand state to make decisions has not been substantially eroded by globalisation, although the contributors support the notion of that the role of sovereignty is ‘being redefined by the state actors themselves’. Themselves? Little attention is paid to the degree which that redefinition is a response to external pressures. For instance, did New Zealand abandon the Dairy Board because it wanted to, or because it reluctantly judged that in the totality of all the pressures on it, this state monopoly had to be given up?

In order to belong to a globalised world, one has to abandon the practice of much of the sovereignty implicit in the Treaty of Westphalia. That is why it is important to distinguish between de jure sovereignty and de facto sovereignty. A country may still appear to exercise supreme legal unqualified and exclusive control in principle . In practice that control is modified by the actions of other states (the smaller the state, the greater the modification). The reality of statesmanship is how to maximise such control that is left. Regrettably, the book does not really address this issue, central though it is to sovereignty under globalisation.

To finish more lightly. This is an English published book which uses American spelling. At one point the book reports New Zealand’s GDP in 2003 was $85.34 billion, sourced from the CIA World Factbook (which I also use when working on foreign countries). So the figure is not in New Zealand dollars (its about $NZ136 billion) but in foreign prices – the meaning of which I leave you to work out, since the CIA definition is slightly wrong. Such are the incipient impacts of globalis(z)ation on culture and intellect.

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