In the modern international landscape, who or what is able to obtain and exert power? Globalization has completely transformed the fundamental nature of how individuals and countries relate to each other. Thomas L. Friedman’s “Globalization: The Super Story” published in 2002 as part of a larger text entitled Longitudes and Latitudes: Exploring the World After September 11, asserts that three types of power exist within the systematic structures of globalization. Those three forms of power include that between conventional nation-states, global markets and nation-states, and individuals and nation-states (Friedman 392-393). Friedman also asserts that the systematic structures inherent in globalization have caused a shift from division between nation-states to one of integration between nation-states, global markets, and individuals (392).
Globalization has created an international landscape where a single nation-state, global market, and/or individual are not in charge (Friedman 392). Rather, there is an interdependent state of affairs where each of the three forms of power must form alliances in order to survive and where each of the three forms of power can become sources of conflict. Friedman is mostly correct in his analysis of globalization, except for his assertion that the United States maintains dominance over all other nations. Although the power of the United States remains strong, globalization has begun to erode its conventional sources of power, wealth, and ability to provide adequate living standards for its citizens based on its system of market capitalism. Globalization may in fact become responsible for radical change in the systems and principles the country was founded on.
Friedman begins his article with his definition of globalization. For the author, globalization entails an “integration of markets, transportation systems, and communication” (Friedman 392). The transportation, market, and communication infrastructures are not necessarily centralized, but are utilized by multiple nation-states and various individuals that reside in different nation-states. A prime example of an integrated communication structure is the World Wide Web. The World Wide Web facilitates connections between individuals, nation-states and markets in ways that would have been more difficult and expensive prior to the web’s invention (Friedman 392). In fact, one of the hallmarks of globalization is the facilitation of less expensive, more efficient, and more extensive connections across businesses, individuals and nation-states (Friedman 392).
Prior to the emergence of globalization, divisions between nation-states characterized the international landscape. In addition, the United States and the Soviet Union reigned as the two major superpowers under the “cold war system” (Friedman 392). Opportunities and conflicts arose depending on which side of the division a nation-state existed. With the emergence of globalization, power has become less segregated and less delineated. Now there is an intersection between the power of nation-states, markets and individuals. The United States is more or less at the helm of the power balance between these three sources. Globalization does not necessarily benefit all of its participants (Friedman 392).
The power relationship between global markets and nation-states has had an impact on the leadership of sovereign nations. Investors’ ability to either contribute or withdraw funds from a nation’s economy has changed the way in which traditional notions of war can be waged (Friedman 393). Technology has made it possible for markets to exist in cyberspace and given investors the ability to instantaneously exchange money and ownership of bonds, stocks and other market securities. Since investors in the global markets have the power to influence world affairs using financial advantages, the United States as a nation does not retail the exclusive control of what occurs in the international landscape (Friedman 393).
What the author refers to as “super-empowered” individuals also have a great impact on what occurs. Osama Bin Laden is an example of such an individual. Bin Laden had the influence and power to wage acts of terrorism against the United States, despite the fact that the United States concentrated a high degree of military retaliatory acts against Bin Laden prior to September 11, 2001 (Friedman 393). Super-empowered individuals can also use their platforms for the advancement of beneficial activities, such as advocating for international action against harmful occurrences. It is the complexity of the interactions between nation-states, global markets and super-empowered individuals that bring one to an understanding of how globalization works (Friedman 394).
Friedman’s notion that globalization is characterized by systematic integration, an unclear delineation of power, and the emergence of power relationships between nation-states, global markets and super-empowered individuals is correct. The economies of various nation-states have become increasingly specialized and one could argue increasingly based on capitalist ideals. In this sense, the United States has been effective in continuing to be a dominant source of power. The ideals of capitalism and democratic forms of government are propagated throughout the globe, especially when the United States has active economic/political interests in a particular nation-state. Iraq and Afghanistan are prime examples of how the United States sought to introduce democratic regimes and free market enterprise systems during and after its occupation of those nations.
Ironically, it is the very type of activity that has contributed to the erosion of the United States’ global power. As the economies of other nation-states become efficient participants in the global markets, U.S.-based corporations and industries have increasingly moved overseas as foreign economies are increasingly more cost efficient at producing the same goods and services. In addition, the United States economy and government system have been unable to sustain or enhance an equitable standard of living for its citizens. The United States has become increasingly vulnerable to the influence of global markets, nation-states that have implemented alternative systems to free market capitalism and achieved superior welfare for its citizens (e.g. Norway and Denmark), and aversive super-empowered individuals/nation-states (e.g. ISIS). Furthermore, the country has become susceptible to increasing political polarization within its own borders. This political polarization has resulted in further government ineffectiveness, division, and the rise of internal super-empowered individuals actively working against the interests of the nation-state. All of these factors have created an environment where the United States is becoming subordinate to the system of globalization. Even though it appears that the United States is the remaining superpower, its ability to exert control is waning. The country is becoming increasingly depending on outside nations for its income, financial backing, and political support. The traditional notion of a superpower is fading and the United States’ relationships with outside globalized influences have become increasingly interwoven.
Thomas L. Friedman’s “Globalization: The Super Story” details what globalization entails, how it influences relationships between various power sources, and why globalization emerged in the first place. The power relationships between traditional nation-states, global markets, and super-empowered individuals are blurred at best. Friedman is under the impression that the United States remains the sole dominant source of power in the new system of globalization, based upon the fact that the nation is able to use its power to subordinate all other nation-states. The author makes compelling, accurate arguments as to the emergence and inner workings of globalization, but falls short of realizing that the United States cannot remain as the sole dominant powerful nation-state. Since globalization entails decentralized, delineated power sources, the United States has cemented its own subordination in its quest to remain in charge.
Friedman, Thomas L. “Globalization: The Super-Story.” Longitudes and Attitudes: Exploring the
World After September 11, 2002. Web. 31 Jan. 2016. <http://www.thomaslfriedman.com/bookshelf/longitudes-and-attitudes/prologue>