Crisis in Ukraine: a lesson for my third year students

Last week in my third year Governing Globalisation module, we looked at the ideas of Alexander Wendt about the Inevitability of a World State.  Its fair to say that they (or you, if you are reading!) found it a difficult read.

Wendt suggests that there are two structural dynamics which generate self-organising pressures toward an end point of a single World State.  There are lots of methodological nuances and qualifications to Wendt’s argument, but the basic gist is that at the macro-level the search for state security will lead to ever increasing pressures for states to cooperate internationally to resolve the security dilemma.  At the micro-level he argues that individuals and social groups desire for political recognition (in part driven by their own need for security) will drive them to pressure their own state to cooperate with others.  This is because without recognition from other states of the rights of the citizens’ of the first, their security will never be complete.  Without this, most states reserve the right to legitimately kill the citizens’ of other states.

In the continuing political turmoil in Ukraine it is possible to see this micro-process at work, and also potentially the macro-search for state security too.  Those protestors who favour joining the EU, look to the European integration process to secure their individual rights, democratic participation and a two-level sovereignty/identity process that would lock those rights in more successfully.  Those in the east of the country with deeply held cultural, social and linguistic preferences for Russian over Western identity fear that their specific demands for recognition will be constrained and over-ridden by a process of Westernisation that will break historical ties with Russia.  They in turn then desire the mutual recognition of their rights not just by the Ukrainian state but by Russia.

Demonstrating the macro-security pressures, Russia, fearful of Westward expansion is looking for ways to bolster its security on its Western borders and the United States makes ominous warnings of the ‘grave’ mistake that Russia would be making if it chose to intervene in a political process on the edge of European integration.

Whether ultimately, this crisis will strengthen or weaken the case for Wendt’s broader arguments is less clear.  I don’t personally by Wendt’s logic, preferring the counter-arguments put forward by others, such as Bob Jessop.  Indeed, with (Leeds Met Researcher of the year) Dr Jamie Morgan, I am in the process of drafting a related critique of the idea of a ‘Cosmopolitan World Society’ (stay tuned to this blog for an update in a month or so).  But regardless of all that – my 3rd year students would do well to reflect on their reading from last week and think about its relevance for understanding crises like that unfolding in Ukraine.

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