The role of superpowers

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The maintenance of power

Colonial rule usually had a number of distinct phases;

  • Exploration, resulting in the 'discovery' of new lands
  • Initial settlement, usually on coasts, in defended forts.
  • The beginnings of trade in raw materials.
  • Gradial extension of rule over larger territories by direct military action and conquest.
  • The development of political systems and institutions and transport and trade networks both to rule the colony and to exploit its resources.

In many colonies, the era of decolonialisation and independence brought conflict and division rather than the immediate freedom and prosperity people hoped for:

  • In many countries, colonial borders did not reflect religious and ethnic boundaries, which led to conflict over territory.
  • Although colonies had government institutions, indigenous people had been excluded from running them, so experience in governance was lacking.
  • As colonial powers packed up and left, insurgents took the opportunity to push them out, which resulted in violence.
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  • Refers to a form of indirect control over developing countries, most of them former colonies.
  • After decolonialisation and independence, some new national leaders argued that their countries were being subjected to a new form of colonialisation, waged by the former colonial powers and other developed nations.
  • Neo-colonialism is often linked to Africa and is used as an explanation for the lack of development in that continent. 
  • Proponents of neo-colonialism point to evidence such as the share of world trade that does to the least developed countries to argue that neo-colonialism has prevented any real development progress n the 40 years since colonies gained their independence. 

Possible mechanisms;

  • Strategic alliances.
  • Aid. Given with 'strings attached', forcing it to be spent the way the donor specifies.
  • TNCs. Big profits for TNCs but low wages and few skills for the developing world.
  • Terms of trade. In favour of the developed countries trading with the undeveloped ones.
  • Global finance and debt. Developing nations pay huge sums of interests on loans.
  • Structural adjustment policies. Have to apply Western economic polices.
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International decision making

Global economic and political power is at the hands of a small number of players in the form of inter-governmental organisations;

  • International monetary fund (IMF). To monitor the economic and financial development of countries and to lend money when countries are facing financial difficulties.
  • World Bank. To give advice, loans and grants for the reduction of poverty and the promotion of economic development.
  • United Nations (UN). To prevent war and to arbitrate on international disputes. It has since developed a wide range of specialist agencies dealing with matters such as health and refugees.
  • World Trade Organisation (WTO). Trade policy, agreements and settling disputes. It promotes global free trade. Formerly known as GATT (between 1947 and 1994).
  • North Atlantic Treaty Organisation (NATO). A military alliance between European countries and the USA. Recent new members include Poland.
  • Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD). Analysis of economic development. Forecasting and researching development issues. Most developed-world countries are members.
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The G8

  • Less formal, with a restricted membership.
  • A forum for the world's richest and most powerful nations.
  • Annual summits are held where they discuss the global policy direction the Western democracies should take.
  • The G8 members represent 65% of global GNP, but only 14% of the world's population.
  • The G8 members represent the holders of most of the world's nuclear weapons, with combined annual military spending of US$850 billion in 2007.
  • Russia was first invited to a G7 meeting in 1997, thus forming the G8. This inclusion was an acceptance of Russia's importance as a nuclear and energy resource power.
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Power in IGOs

  • There is a significant overlap in membership of IGOs which gives some powers, especially the EU and the USA, the ability to focus global policy and decision making in their own interests.
  • Most IGOs operate some form of veto policy, and powers such as the EU and the USA tend to vote with each other, This gives them the opportunity to block policy they do not like, and force through their own policies. 
  • China and India are less influential within IGOs at the moment, although this may change in the future.
  • Few countries are capable of taking large-scale unilateral actions today. The Iraq War saw the USA effectively 'go it alone', with some support from the UK and other countries.
  • More often, IGOs are used, for instance; the NATO-led peacekeeping in former Yugoslavia in 1995-96 and from 2001 in Afghanistan. The G8-led attempts to focus on the issue of debt and poverty reduction in Africa. EU attempts to force through deep carbon emmissions cuts targets at the Bali summit in 2007.
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Emerging powers

  • While the 'old' powers of the EU and the USA still have considerable clout, there are signs that emerging powers are gaining ground. 
  • In November 2008 the G20 Leaders' Summit on Financial Markets and the World Economy was held in Washington DC.
  • This summit discussed responses to the 2008 global financial crisis. The G20 includes Brazil, China, India, Russia and Saudi Arabia - perhaps reflecting an emerging new world economic order.
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Davos group

  • The World Economic Forum (WEF or Davos Group) is a swiss-based non-profit-making foundation with the motto 'entrepeneurship in the global public interest'. 
  • As this might suggest, it focuses on business and profits. 
  • The WEF holds an annual invitation-only meeting in Davos, Switzerland. 
  • Those regularly attending the meetings at Davos include; business CEOs, academics, political leaders, IGO representatives, and the media.
  • The forum has come under fire from anti-globalisation campaigners and those who see capitalism as creating inequality. Rock singer Bono dubbed the annual meeting 'fat cats in the snow'. 
  • Some observers are suspicious of the Davos Group because it has no 'official' status yet is attended by presidents and prime ministers (as well as Hollywood A-listers).
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The nature and control of trade

Free trade has come to dominate trading relations. The WTO has led a series of trade agreements which have removed;

  • Taxes and tariffs on imports.
  • Quotas on imports.
  • Subsidies for domestic products.

The result has been huge growth in wealth and trade. Some parts of the world have benefited from trade growth (e.g. Asia, and in particular India and China) However, Africa's share of world trade has declined since 1970. These trends have several explanations;

  • International trade is very much in the hands of the TNCs. These have chosen to invest heavily in India and China but not in Africa.
  • In Asia, free trade zones have been used to attract investment by offering companies tax breaks, non-union areas and limited regulation.
  • Africa will remain unattracative to much investment until it has more developed infrastructure, higher skills levels and greater political stability.
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Free trade?

  • Trade has certainly become freer, but for some countries this is an illusion. Much trade takes place between countries which are members of trade blocs such as the EU, NAFTA and ASEAN.
  • Trade within a bloc tends to be tariff-free. Trade between blocs may also have low tariffs if agreements have been reached. For developing countries outside any trade bloc, there can still be considerable trade barriers which prevent access to markets.
  • Many African countries are still trapped in a colonial trade pattern of exporting raw materials such as coffee, copper and timber to a developed world. 
  • The prices of commodities are set on the global stock exchanges and are prone to extreme volatility, 
  • Commodity prices rose steadily between November 2007 and July 2008 - good news for African exporters - only to collapse by November 2008, leaving exporters 20% worse than they had been 12 months earlier.
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  • The superpower economies also control innovation and technology, New inventions such as drugs, microchips and engines are patented, and users must pay a royalty or licence fee to use the technology.
  • 75% of these fees go to just three powers, with the USA dominating. THis is another way in which the superpowers and developed economies control both trade and the availability of technology and innovation.
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Global culture

The dominance of the USA as an unrivalled superpower since 1990, plus the growing power of the EU, has led some people to identify a global culture. It is difficult to define exactly what this global culture is, but some characteristics are commonly linked to it;

  • A culture of consumerism.
  • A culture of capitalism and the importance of attaining wealth.
  • A white, Anglo-Saxon culture with English as the dominant language.
  • A culture that 'cherry-picks' and adapts selected parts of other world cultures and absorbs them.
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  • Global culture is most often exemplified by the ubiquity of consumer icons such as Coca-Cola and McDonald's. These symbols are global. 
  • In the case of McDonald's, 31,000 restaurants worldwide are serving about 50 million people every day.
  • The USA is seen as the most powerful force in cultural globalisation, and the process is often referred to as 'Americanisation'.
  • Cultural globalisation is not quite as straightforward as might first appear, however. In India McDonald's has had to adapt its meu to suit local tastes and the Hindu and Muslim religions. It does not sell beef or pork and has more vegetarian options than in the West.
  • Throughout the world this process of local adaptation or hybridisation occurs as global trends reach new areas.
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Cultural traffic

Working against the idea of a global culture is the fact that cultural traffic is not all one way, and neither are American or Western lifestyles adopted wholesale around the world;

  • In the UK the curry, not the American burger, is the most popular takeaway food. There are six times as many curry restaurants in thre UK as there are McDonald's.
  • Sushi, from Japan, has become an increasingly popular food in the West.
  • Some cornerstones of American culture, such as American culture, such as American football and baseball, have proved difficult to export to the rest of the world.

One area where Americanisation is strong in cinema, as Hollywood movies tend to dominate the market. Arguably, this is an effective way of exporting Western culture to the rest of the world.

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  • The cultural backlash against the world's major superpower is complex. 
  • Anti-Americanism rose in the aftermath of the invasion of Iraq and George W. Bush proved an unpopular president (both at home and abroad).
  • The anti-globalisation movement is often linked with anti-American sentiment because ,any global culture icons, such as Coca-Cola, originate in the USA. 
  • It is difficult to separate negative views of American culture from negative views of American politics and foreign policy.
  • Science and technology are generally seen as positive, but cultural exports such as ideas and the media are viewed more negatively.
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