In order to discuss the rise of transnationalism and globalization I will first define the two terms. According to the International Monetary Fund, globalization is “the increasingly close international integration of markets both for goods and services and for capital.” This definition covers the economic part of globalization but globalization is also a process of deepening the integration of social and/or political institutions worldwide (class notes, 11-28-06).
Transnationalism is based on the loosening of state boundaries and the closer interconnectivity of the world, or the creation of an international civil society. This world society is created through a combination of networks, organizations, and non-state actors such as international non-governmental organizations, epistemic communities, international social movements, and transnational corporations whose ideas are created and implemented worldwide through interaction.
Transnationalism and globalization are not new. The world has been gradually expanding and becoming more interconnected since the dawn of civilization. The rise of globalization and transnationalism at a heightened pace, however, began with the industrial revolution, which led to such world altering inceptions as electricity, the steam engine, and the telephone. The most dramatic change in communication, for example, was not the Internet, but the transatlantic cable, and the most important revolution in travel is not flight but the openings of the Suez and Panama Canals (class notes, 11-30-06). The difference, however, between then and now is the level of globalization today, and the pace at which it is expanding that makes this era so unique.
Globalization as we think of it today really began to pick up steam and consistency around the 1950s and 1960s and then again in the mid 80s and early 90s to today’s ever-increasing pace. For example, “in 1909 there were 37 IGOs and 176 NGOs. By 1960 there were 154 IGOs and 1,255 NGOs, and at the start of 2006 these numbers had risen to 245 and 29,807 respectively” (Kegley Jr., World Politics 2006).
This rise in transnationalism and globalization is attributed to a revolution in communication and transportation technologies. Although the Suez and Panama Canals, and the transatlantic cable may have been the most significant jumps forward, propelling us into the era of globalization, it is the rapid pace, versatility, and diffusion of technologies that has made the present world increasingly interdependent. If one wants to visit a friend in Africa one can now be there within a day’s time. And one needn’t even leave the office to do business halfway around the world. E-commerce allows for the transfer of capital across borders, cell phones allow for instant and unrestrained communication to anyone anywhere in the world, and electronic transfers allow for instantaneous movement of money, trading of stocks, investment abroad, and the sharing of data.
For all of the benefits, however, an interconnected world can also create problems, and buffers are needed to monitor world affairs and to help smooth the transition to an advanced global society. Intergovernmental (IGO) and non-governmental (NGO) organizations, as mention above, often fill this void. NGOs work in the political, social, economic, and service arenas of the world, providing services all over the world. They do this by gathering information, evaluating it, and then circulating it. Through this process they are able to raise consensus, monitor behavior, and mobilize populations to action. NGOs are highly recognized for their humanitarian and service oriented work, which focuses on such areas as disaster relief, technical assistance, literacy, refugee relocation, food dissemination, and disease eradication (Class notes, 11-09-06). Some examples of effective NGOs are the Red Cross, OXFAM, Greenpeace, and CARE international. IGOs differ from NGOs in that they create the rules and standards that NGOs often monitor. An IGO may undertake enforcement measures if and when it chooses, but often it prefers to solve a problem through working relationships with NGOs, because NGOs are better at working with populations, provide a multi-national approach, and are unfettered by the principal of sovereignty. Examples of IGOs are the U.N., World Bank, and the WTO.
These organizations are an essential part of globalization because they find ways to deal with the problems of the world and the externalities of globalization. They work because they specialize in certain fields and can cross borders to undertake tasks and missions, where states alone often lack the capability and capital to complete an undertaking. For example, on the environmental front globalization has created a “tragedy of the commons” scenario, because “neither an inexhaustible supply of natural resources nor ‘sinks’ for disposing the wastes from consuming those resources are available” (Kegley Jr., World politics 2006).
Technology now allows us to deplete the world’s resources at unprecedented and unsustainable speeds, as well as destroy the ozone layer and water supplies through the extensive release of CO2, chlorofluorocarbons (CFCs), and the disposal of harmful chemicals. Transnational organizations help here because environmental issues are not necessarily fixed just by adjusting national policies, but require collective management, or a multi-lateral approach. Because the issue of environment involves the use of “common pool resources” this makes it difficult for a state to manage the problem alone. NGOs like Greenpeace and IGOs like the U.N. work together to make us aware of the problem and are taking action to alleviate it. Through this multi-lateral effort great strides have been made. For example, in 1972 the World Conference on the Human Environment in Stockholm resulted in the establishment of the U.N. Environment Program, and in 1987 “the landmark Montreal Protocol on Substances that deplete the Ozone Layer treaty was signed by 146 countries, and has led to a 90% reduction in CFCs in the atmosphere” (Kegley Jr., World Politics 2006). This regime in large part came together through cooperation with and promotion of the treaty by NGOs.Transnational organizations have also made great strides on the humanitarian front. The U.N. took a giant step forward in 1948 when it defined human rights with the General Assembly’s proclamation of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, which has been codified and broadened in a series of treaties since. The U.N. Commission on Human Rights also has the authority to investigate complaints on human rights violations, and the U.N. Human Rights council supervises civil and political rights implementation. Many NGOs today are also making a case for, and pressuring states to, enact and enforce human rights laws, as well as pushing IGOs, such as the U.N., to intervene when human rights are violated. Such NGOs as Human Rights Watch monitor human rights abuses around the world and report on them. Other IGOs, like the WTO, encourage human rights by requiring its members to adhere to certain human rights criteria as part of their membership. These and many other transnational organizations are constantly working to improve human rights for millions of people around the world.