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Sample 2

Globalization and Internal Conflict: a Critical Perspective


In the post - Cold War era, the international community faced different types of security challenges and the global political agenda had to be revised. With the end of the simple bipolarity of the Cold War, the world entered a new stage, where the growing importance of non-state actors and international organizations changed the face of international relations. The advance of globalization led to redistribution of power in the international system, and also to the reconsideration of the role of the state and its capability to provide security for its citizens (Keen, 2008; Macrae, 2001; Strange, 2002; Baylis & Smith, 2007). With globalization, the concept of war was tremendously transformed, and classic state-to-state conflicts became what Mary Kaldor (2004) famously labelled as “new wars”, often triggered by abstract and unquantifiable concepts such as ideology, religion and ethnicity. In this changing international environment, in the 1990s the world faced some of the most dreadful humanitarian emergencies in conflict – torn regions such as former Yugoslavia, Rwanda, Congo, Somalia and Sudan. The changing face of international relations determined the new role for humanitarian aid and humanitarian agencies, which evolved from assistance providers to keepers of security and peace. This essay will focus on the connection between globalization and internal conflicts in the post-Cold War era, in the wider context of development.


  1. Globalization and internal conflicts

The purpose of this essay is to critically examine the connection between globalization and internal conflicts in the post-Cold War era. It will attempt to show that a positive connection between the two exists, and that globalization to a large extent can be a trigger for conflicts in the modern world. There are several reasons for this, but because of the brevity of this paper the author will look at only two of them. The first one is related to the undermined capacity of the state to provide for its citizens and distribute aid and revenues, due to its diminished sovereignty in a global world. The second one is related to another facet of globalization - economic liberalization, which can exacerbate intra-state inequalities. Both of these statements will be critically examined in the following sections.


  1. Globalization, state sovereignty and development

The role of the state is one of the most popular debates in the globalization discourse. There is a widespread view, that in the post-Cold War era, and with the rise of non-state actors such as the International Non-Governmental Organisations (INGOs), the sovereignty of the state has been diminished (Keen, 2008; Strange, 2002; Macrae, 2001; Jackson, 1990; Clapham, 1996). The idea of the borderless world, or of what Robertson (1992:8) describes as “the compression of the world and intensification of consciousness of the world as a whole”, has led to a changing perception of national sovereignty, especially when it comes to developing countries. To describe the inability of developing states to adopt Western models of governance, and to provide protection for their citizens, Jackson coined the term “quasi-states” (1990). The existence of quasi-states has also, to a large extent, justified humanitarian intervention for what Clapham (1996) calls “just cause”.

The undermined capacity of the state has led to a transformation of the overall concept of war and conflict, which is no longer taking place on a state-to-state level, but between sub-state actors (Smith, 2006). They can be ethnic or terrorist groups and communities and can operate within and beyond the physical and political boundaries of the state. The early 1990s brought many examples of intra-state conflicts, which shocked the world and shattered countries such as Former Yugoslavia and Rwanda. In Yugoslavia, the sovereignty of the federal republic was shattered, and the historical tensions between Bosnian Serbs and Muslim resurfaced. In Rwanda, the ethnic tensions between Tutsi and Hutu and the social construction of ethnic supremacy led to a genocide and ongoing political crisis. In the context of a global world, the undermined capacity of developing states has posed many challenges for humanitarian intervention and policy aid (Duffield, 2001; Anderson, 2002). These problems are often related to the lack of stable government-recipients of aid, which makes the whole process of aid distribution cumbersome and can even lead to conflict (Anderson, 2000; Chua, 2002). Macrae (2001:8) mentions the growing recognition for the “crisis of statehood” in developing countries, characterized by “weak public institutions and the inability of national governments to raise and distribute revenues”.  Another problem which is related to this discussion is that before the advent of globalization, policy aid was based on the concept that recipient governments are benign. In the case of many developing countries, this statement is not true, so therefore humanitarian mechanisms are not sufficient to cope with politically instigated emergencies (Macrae, 2001). This poses challenges to the channelling of aid, often triggered by government corruption and excessive state bureaucracy in developing countries (Bennett, 2009; Macrae, 2001). In this sense, the aid system which functions in the so-called complex emergencies lacks “the legal, institutional and operational tools to engage effectively in quasi-states” (Macrae, 2001:5). Without the proper instruments to adopt and distribute aid, the latter can often fuel ethnic or communal conflict, like in the cases of Congo (Daley, 2006) and Rwanda (Anderson, 2000).

In the context of globalization, the allocation of aid within states which lack stable government institutions can trigger intra-state conflicts. In this sense, aid allocation is a very important element in the connection between globalization and internal conflict, especially in the study of development. This is largely due to the fact, that the way aid is distributed can be a measure of the level of state sovereignty and the functionality of public policy institutions.


  1. Globalization, inequalities and internal conflict

Another aspect, related to globalization is economic liberalization. It is often argued that it can exacerbate inequalities and foster economic dependence of the poor countries (Stiglitz, 2002; Sen, 1999; Rodrik, 1997; Easterly, 2002). Because of market liberalization – two of the basic tenets of globalization - many developing countries, which in reality lack the institutional framework-, participate in global trade. The Washington consensus, which was implemented as a set of policies, aiming to achieve sustainable economic development and growth in the former communist republics and parts of Latin America, is a good example of how rapid privatization, austerity measures and market liberalization without the necessary institutional reform, can make the countries-recipients economically vulnerable (Stiglitz, 2002). Despite the ambition of globalization optimists to achieve political stability through the economic integration of the poorest regions, the post-Cold War era has shown differently. The inability of developing countries to cope with the requirements of the global trade system can lead to intra-economic disparities, which, on their side, can lead to intra-state conflict and the struggle over economic resources. The ongoing civil war in the Democratic Republic of Congo is an example of such conflict, resulting from economic interdependence and internal struggle over economic resources – in the case of the Congo, the deposits of diamonds, coltan and other strategic minerals (Daley, 2006).

Despite the fact that there is no positive structural connection between growth and inequality, the level of economic integration of a certain country is not always measured through growth. Other measurements of economic integration can be capital mobility and price equalization (Rodrik, 1997). In this sense, intra-state inequality can exist even if the growth rate is progressive, because of the distribution of economic gains within the country, and because of the relative positioning of the country on the global market. It has been observed that in developing countries with high economic growth inequalities still may persist, because of the way resources are distributed, and because these resources often cannot reach the most marginalized groups in society. The economically marginalized groups are more likely to engage in warfare and illicit activities, such as smuggling and trafficking. In this sense, the advent of globalization can lead to the exacerbation of economic inequalities within developing states and this can trigger internal conflicts.




  1. Conclusion

This essay has attempted to show that a positive relation between globalization and internal conflicts exists in the post-Cold war era. On the one hand, the diminished sovereignty of states is detrimental for developing states, where the lack of legitimate government and public institutions can lead to the uneven distribution of aid. Therefore conflict between ethnic or religious factions might arise. Also, the inability of these states to provide security for its citizens is another outcome of the diminished political and legal sovereignty.

From an economic perspective, market liberalization might lead to growth, but the lack of stable economic institutions can make developing states vulnerable and exposed to external market forces. This, in its turn, can increase poverty levels within the state and exacerbate intra-state tensions.

It is clear that this short essay does not exhaust the topic of globalization and internal conflict in developing states. After all, it is often argued that the new types of wars have in their own way created a new global system of governance (Duffield, 2001). In this sense, one can assume that globalization is a product of internal conflict and not vice versa. Regardless of which way one chooses to look at globalization and conflict, their connection in the post-Cold war era remains one of the challenges for the aid community and for those involved in the implementation of development policy


Andersen, R. (2000) “How Multilateral Development Assistance Triggered the Conflict in Rwanda” Third World Quarterly


Baylis, J. & Smith, S. (2007) eds, The Globalization of World Politics. Oxford: Oxford University Press


           Bennett, N. (2009) “Assessing the Impact of Humanitarian Reform in the          DRC”, Forced Migration Review, Vol. 29, pp. 30-32

Available at:

Retrieved 02.03.2012



Chua, A. (2002) World on Fire. How Exporting Free Market Democracy Breeds Ethnic Hatred and Global Instability, Anchor Books


 Clapham, C. (1996) Africa and the International System Cambridge: Cambridge University Press



      Daley, P.(2006) “Challenges to Peace: conflict resolution in the Great Lakes   region of Africa”, Third World Quarterly, Vol. 27, No. 2, pp 303 – 319, 2006


Duffield, M. (2001) Global Governance and the New Wars: The Merging of Development and Security. London: Zed Books


Easterly, W. (2002) The Elusive Quest for Growth: Economists’ Adventures and Misadventures in the Tropics. Cambridge, Ma: MIT Press


Jakson, R. (1990) Quasi-states: Sovereignty, International Relations and the Third World, Cambridge: Cambridge University Press


Kaldor, M. (2004) New and Old Wars. Cambridge: Polity Press


Keen, D. (2008) Complex Emergencies. Cambridge: Polity Press



Macrae, J. (2001) Aiding Recovery? The Crisis of Aid in Chronic Political Emergencies. London: Zed Books



Robertson, R. (1992). Globalization: Social Theory and Global Culture. London: Sage


Rodrik, D. (1997) Has Globalization Gone Too Far, Peterson Institute



      Sen, A. (1999) Development as Freedom, Oxford: Oxford University Press





Shaw, M. (2005) The New Western Way of War: Risk Transfer war and its Crisis in Iraq Cambridge: Polity Press


Smith, R. (2006) The Utility of Force: The Art of War in the Modern World London: Penguin


  Stiglitz, J. (2002) Globalization and its Discontents. London: Penguin Bo.

Strange, S. (2002) The Declining Authority of States, in The Global Transformations Reader: an Introduction to the Globalization Debate, 2nd edition, Held and MacGrew (eds) Cambridge: Polity Press, pp.127-134

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