James W. Scott: Interdependence – an Obsolete Concept?

As far as many of us can remember, internationalism and the emergence of a global consciousness have been self-evident realties. The Cold War, environmentalism, the “oil crisis” and, then, the dramatic collapse of East-West confrontation all made us aware of just how interconnected our national societies and communities are. To think globally, and holistically, was logical. It just made sense.

For those of us who study International Relations, borders, conflict resolution and matters related to security, there seems no way of escaping the reality of mutual reliance in an interdependent world. And yet, what we now see in the world, and read in social media, among other places, is an increasing denial of interdependence, as if we could just shut out the noise from the outside world and get on with our everyday lives. What many appear to desire, in other words, is independence, not interdependence.

Why is this? Why this dramatic shift in focus? And how could it affect us? The GLASE consortium, funded by the Academy of Finland’s Strategic Research Council, is addressing this and other questions regarding security in the contemporary world. As GLASE seeks to better understand the interrelated nature of local, national and global security, the move to a more insular view seems at first glance counter-intuitive. But we can find reasons for it in a  wider globalization backlash which involves fear of a loss of local control and domination by transnational economic interests. In addition, as Paul Arbair forcefully argues, we are facing a  crisis of complexity, in which a desire for clear and decisive action based on simple solutions has complicated political debate. This helps explain the “Brexit” referendum, Donald Trump’s surprising electoral victory as well as increasing populist sentiment within the EU.

Turning away from interdependence may have major consequences for security, both locally and more globally. For example, without global action, the repercussions of a deteriorating environmental situation many threaten the stability of many states: drought, flooding and rising sea levels could translate into more forced migration and regional conflict. While emerging countries are certainly more vulnerable, Europe and North America will not be shielded, even by higher walls or border fences. Furthermore, the industrialised countries are facing unprecedented economic challenges. Many of the promises of job creation, e.g. through protecting local markets, simply cannot be kept, and popular frustration over decreasing material security could play into the hands of authoritarian leaders. The consequences of weakened democracy could in fact be dire. In a rather alarming tone  George Monbiot of the Guardian writes: “Eventually the anger that cannot be assuaged through policy will be turned outwards, towards other nations (…) I now believe that we will see war between the major powers within my lifetime.”

Alternative scenarios to increasing conflict require an honest political debate about the global impacts of local action and the commitments and responsibilities that we share. Independence, if understood as greater citizen participation, democracy, inclusion and capacity-building could in fact be a vital resource. However, denial of mutual reliance and reluctance to engage in common action will have higher social, economic and environmental costs that we perhaps presently imagine.


The GLASE consortium new web page (www.glase.fi) will be launched in early December.

Viimeksi muokattu 1.12.2016
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