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					University of Oxford Centre for Mexican Studies Mexico’s Changing Place in the World: Features of Contemporary World Politics Affecting Mexico General Geopolitical Tendencies in the Post-Cold War International System: Issues and Actors S. Neil MacFarlane – CIS Oxford1 This paper focuses on the geopolitical background to the development of contemporary Mexican foreign policy. My lateness with the paper reflected the unsettled quality of the background itself. One key element of the geopolitical background today is a profound uncertainty concerning the basic outlines of international order. In the past couple months alone, we have witnessed an intense debate concerning the legitimate use of force in world politics. The United States appears to be in the final stages of preparation for a massive assault on Iraq, relying on a doctrine of self-defence that appears, at best, strained. Differences over both these issues have produced profound tensions in the transatlantic security relationship and, arguably, the most serious crisis in NATO since the Vietnam War. Conflict among the EU’s members and candidates for membership highlights severe differences among European states, not only over American leadership, but over what some see as Franco-German claims to primacy in Europe, and over the aspiration to a common European foreign and security policy. In this moment of flux, it is hard to say anything that might reliably last out the day.

More broadly, we have been inundated over the past decade with a deluge of alternative conceptions of world politics seeking to make sense of unfamiliar ground. These range from the clash of civilizations, the end of history, and the end of territoriality and the state, to the Third World War. Traditional theories – be they realist or liberal – appear to be lacking. The profession seems to be distinctly unsettled in its understanding of what kind of international system we are operating in.


The author is Professor of International Relations and former Director of the Centre for International Studies at the University of Oxford. He is also a faculty member of the Geneva Centre for Security Policy. He is grateful to Professor Guadalupe Gonzales for her extremely useful commentary on an earlier draft of this paper, and to Professor Robert Pastor for his comments during the session at which this paper was presented.


I am somewhat handicapped also by a degree of confusion over what geopolitics is. There does not appear to be a generally accepted definition of this term. There is wide disagreement regarding its utility as an organizing concept for analysis of international relations. However, most writers who use the term seem to believe that it has something to do with the spatial organization of world politics and/or the relationship between geography, power, and strategy. This is, in any event, how I take it in this brief paper.

For the moment, I should like to focus on five sets of issues related to these themes. The first is that set of transnational and trans-boundary flows and processes that one normally associates with globalization and its cousin, regionalization. This leads to a second theme: regionalism, the strengthening of regional multilateral structures of cooperation. The third is the phenomenon of hegemony. The fourth concerns terrorism as a challenge to these emergent processes. And the fifth concerns possible shifts in the international order resulting from the evolving question of Iraq. Globalization and Regionalization One recent trend in the international system that deserves mention in this context is globalization. Again we run into problems of definition. For the sake of efficiency, I shall simply suggest that, at its core, globalization refers in the first place to interactions through space that occur largely without reference to territoriality. One need not accept the theoretical baggage of the globalization literature in order to recognize that such flows have grown dramatically in the transfer of physical goods, but more significantly in financial and capital transactions, and in flows of information. This growth has been facilitated by rapid improvement in transportation technology, but more importantly in communications systems. These developments have generated a number of new structures, such as the Internet, which exist largely without reference to physical space. At least for those with access to processes of globalization, the friction of movement has declined and space and time have been compressed.

At the subjective level, some would argue that the acceleration of flows and the compression of space and time have fostered new understandings of identity and its relationship to space. Jan Aart Scholte, for example, has suggested that, essentially, 2

globalization refers to “processes whereby many social relations become relatively delinked from territorial geography, so that human lives are increasingly played out in the world as a single place. Social relations – that is, the countless ways in which people interact with and affect each other – are more and more being conducted and organized on the basis of a planetary unit.” This possibly implies a deterritorialization of world politics. As long as ten years ago, John Ruggie argued that these developments and their institutional consequences suggested that we were on the edge of a fundamental reorganization of world politics along non-territorial lines. Whatever it is, globalization appears to have had important implications for states, including Mexico. First, new actors emerge. Transnational non-state actors may be only loosely connected to territory and may or may not identify their interests with those of the territorial state. They may be highly mobile through physical or virtual space. Perhaps the key point in the interface between transnational “unrooted” actors and the state is the influence of the former on the vulnerability and autonomy of the latter. Three examples suffice. First, states’ capacity to manipulate economic policy levers in pursuit of national growth and employment strategies is constrained by global financial integration, in that the margin of market tolerance for disparities between national and prevailing global interest rates arguably narrows as efficiency of transfers increases. Departing from prevailing rates in major financial markets may produce capital flight and currency collapse. The answer is to ensure that the state’s monetary policy tracks closely with those prevalent in major financial markets. Taxation policy is subject to similar constraints. States must be wary that their tax strategies do not create substantial incentives for the transfer of assets and activity abroad. In both instances, the result is sacrifice of national flexibility and control in public finance and, consequently, in public policy.

Even in the absence of such policy changes, capital flight and economic collapse may occur anyway in the context of larger speculative pressures in the international economy, as occurred in Asia, the Commonwealth of Independent States and the Americas in1997-8. States may resist these effects by, for example, opting for controls on capital flows across their borders. Such controls, however, enhance risks and transactions costs for global investors and may make them reluctant to invest.


They may also generate the flight of domestic capital. Both potentially damage economic stability and growth.

Second, global integration and the increasing ease of communication and financial transfer across national boundaries exacerbate unconventional threats to state security. The case of narcotics markets and transnational crime is illustrative. The dispersed character of these networks and activities makes the problem very difficult for individual states to address. The same is true of international terrorist networks. A theme to which I shall return in a minute. For the moment one might merely observe that liberal suggestions that trade and integration enhance security are challenged by the emergence of new threats to security that emanate in part from the very process of globalisation.

Third, new channels of communication provide possibilities for intra-state actors to access global audiences. These audiences then attempt to influence the state’s policy from outside as well as to influence their own state’s policy on the issue in question. The use of the Internet by Sub-commandante Marcos is an eloquent case in point. The result again is constraint on the capacity of the state to autonomously exercise its discretion over matters in its domestic jurisdiction.

Discussions of globalization generally focus on measurable transactions. However, there is a significant ideological element as well. The end of the Cold War was also the end of a period of intense contestation between ideologies. The contest between socialism and capitalism and between socialist and liberal conceptions of democratic governance left considerable margin for choice to smaller states. Although the notion of the “end of history” overstates the significance of the collapse of the Marxist alternative, this event did narrow considerably the range of choice available to states in governing their affairs. The end of the Cold War liberated the United States from the need to court authoritarian and illiberal regimes that characterized American policy for much of the Cold War era. The US subsequently promoted a particular vision of liberal capitalism and of democratic governance. Its dominance of the economic structures of globalization facilitated a rapid expansion of this particular liberal agenda, focusing economically on structural adjustment, open markets, equal treatment for foreign and domestic investors, and the reduction of the role of the 4

public sector in economic life. The deliberate promotion of this vision of the economy accelerated economic globalization considerably. In parallel, there was, not least in the Americas, a rapid extension of democratic governance and the gradual disappearance of authoritarian alternatives. In short, globalization was a product not only of technological processes and spontaneous activity, but also of purposive action on the part of a hegemonic and deeply ideological state that exercised significant influence over multilateral institutions.

The emerging liberal ideological agenda in some respects challenges the very essence of sovereignty, if by that term we mean a monopoly of legitimate force within the borders of a territory and recognition of that control and of domestic jurisdiction by other states. The post-Cold War decade was striking for its questioning of sovereignty and the principle of non-intervention on humanitarian, human rights, and political grounds. This was evident in Boutros Boutros-Ghali’s early assertion that sovereignty was no longer absolute (if it ever was), in the burgeoning academic literature linking sovereignty to responsibility, and in the cascade of works focusing on intervention on human rights or humanitarian grounds. The questioning of the principle of nonintervention also re-emerged in a particularly troublesome way in the US doctrine of “regime change,” which appears to suggest that where a government is sufficiently out of step with the preferences of the most powerful, the latter claim a right to remove it.

In extremis, one could have been forgiven for wondering whether the state itself as a fundamental organizing unit was gradually being eclipsed, and with it traditional notions of geopolitics. It was losing a significant measure of autonomy as a result of processes of globalization. It was being forced to reorder its internal arrangements to conform to global norms. The meaning of the principle of sovereignty itself was in question. The state’s pre-eminence as an actor in international society was increasingly contested by the rise of multilateral institutions and the norms that they embodied.

Several qualifiers are significant here. Regarding international financial vulnerability, market tolerance of departures from the lowest common denominator remains significantly greater than this view of globalization might suggest. Substantial 5

differences in interest and taxation rates remain. It is not entirely clear just what effect they have on the general economic health of the countries at the higher end of the scale. One possible cause of this remaining diversity is that, because of their reputation for low risk, their national technological and skills base, the extent to which they are penetrated by international capital, and/or the effectiveness and transparency of their financial management, some countries are in a better position than others to resist the homogenizing effects of globalization. This is related to a second point. Some states possess market power and others do not. The United States and the members of the EMU are far less vulnerable to speculative pressures in international financial markets than smaller countries.

A third qualifier to the globalizing transformative logic briefly outlined a moment ago is that transboundary interactions are not uniformly distributed. Developing economic and informational linkages tend to be stronger in the North than between North and South or within the South. They also tend to be more substantial within regional clusters than across regional boundaries. In terms of the ratio of trade to GNP, Canada is arguably one of the globe’s most globalized countries. Yet 85% of its trade is with its neighbour. The same phenomenon is encountered when one examines the trade directions of the major European states. Their economies are increasingly internationalized, but much of that internationalization occurs within the boundaries of the EU. So the transformation we are seeing may be not so much related to globalization and deterritorialization, but to the redefinition of territoriality along regional as opposed to national lines.

Fourth, and turning to the normative dimensions discussed earlier, there remains significant variation in the extent to which major states have acquiesced to liberal economic prescriptions. China comes to mind here. And many European economies retain a much larger role for the state than does the United States. The same point holds for the liberal political agenda and acceptance of the attenuation of sovereignty that it may imply. Fifth, and regarding the eclipse of the state, the cruder forms of the “globalization equals the end of the state” logic underestimate the extent to which states cooperating among themselves can protect themselves against aspects of globalisation that they 6

dislike. It is unsurprising that the acceleration of transboundary transactions and the growing difficulty states face in controlling them have been accompanied by an explosion in the numbers of inter-state multilateral mechanisms one purpose of which is to control and regulate together that which cannot be controlled and regulated alone. This is not to say, however, that institutions are mere creatures of states. Although institutions are frequently instruments of the powerful, they can also operate to constrain the latter. States obey rules most of the time without recourse to coercive pressure because they perceive an interest in an ordered and predictable milieu. In this respect, rules embodied in multilateral institutions have gradually come to take on a legitimacy of their own, without reference to power. In an increasingly rule-governed context, the normative and institutional legitimation of policy has become an increasingly important factor in the policy calculations of states, including the powerful. The growing importance of international legitimacy and of institutions in that context is eloquently indicated by the fact that the current Bush Administration, like that of the President’s father, chose to go to the United Nations in the attempt to enhance the legitimacy of its planned action against Iraq. Regionalism One element of this development in multilateralism is regionalism. A good portion of the phenomenon of regionalization mentioned a moment ago is a product of deliberate efforts to construct institutions that foster regional exchange and regional identification, in the hope of being able to compete more effectively in a globalized economy and of shielding members from the excesses of global integration. It is clear in the case of Canada, for example, that the decision to opt for economic integration with the United States, and then with Mexico, stemmed in considerable measure from the perception that Canada could not compete effectively alone in the global economy and that the country’s longer term economic health depended on access to, and participation in, a larger trading area. Despite continual irritants, this strategic choice worked beyond the wildest dreams of those who made it, ushering in a long and impressive period of economic prosperity.

In the context of the massive power asymmetry of the North American region, however, the choice carried significant costs. Canada surrendered considerable


economic autonomy and accepted a profound vulnerability not only to trends in the US economy but to American policy preferences, a subject to which I shall return. Opting for CUFTA and NAFTA also had implications for Canada’s capacity to project a political personality in world affairs distinct from that of the United States. I suspect that Mexico finds itself in a broadly similar position as a result of its regional choice.

The Absence of Geopolitics in the Post-Cold War Era Before moving on to my final issues, it is worth pausing for a moment to examine a couple characteristics of the security landscape of the post-Cold War era. Time is growing short, so I shall be brief. One important aspect was the permissive quality of the environment of threat. There were no overarching rivalries in the international system in the 1990s. The Western great powers faced no obvious and significant strategic threats. Russia was a pale geopolitical shadow of its predecessor. Much ink was spilt on the potential rise of China as a contender in geopolitical struggle, but that was considered to be a long time away. Geopolitics was apparently alive and well in certain regions of the world (e.g. the Commonwealth of Independent States and, arguably, East Asia), but there was little pattern in the international system as a whole. Threats to stability in the post-Cold War system tended to be unconventional (e.g. migration, transnational crime) and low-level. Much anguish was caused by the period’s apparently incessant civil and ethnic conflicts and the humanitarian consequences thereof, but they had little impact on stability within the system as a whole.

This benign geopolitical landscape was the result in part of the massive military superiority of the hegemonic actor in the system and by the relatively benign quality of its hegemony.2 The United States retained a level of military spending and capability far beyond those of any other individual state or group of possible balancers. In this situation, and in the absence of compelling security logics, the others let their capabilities atrophy, instead of balancing against power. By the time of the Kosovo intervention, it was clear that the process of erosion had proceeded to the


I recognize in this context that it is easier for Canadians to assert the benign quality of that hegemony than it might be for Mexicans and other Latin Americans.


point where most US allies were simply not in a position to participate effectively in military operations of the kind that the United States sought to pursue.

In the absence of compelling threats, the elections in 2000 produced an administration that appeared committed to focussing more narrowly on compelling interests, which included an ambitious regional agenda, and avoiding far-flung commitments that did not correspond to this narrower definition. With the power it possessed and in the absence of immediate compelling threats, the United States did not need to be everywhere and doing everything. Nor did it necessarily have to embed its policy preferences in constraining multilateral frameworks.

The Return of National Security? This bucolic interlude of a benign threat environment and an apparently benign hegemony appears to have ended with the 11 September attacks on the United States. In some respects the emergence of terrorism as a trans-national socio-political phenomenon is a typical manifestation, if not a product, of globalization. In important respects, al-Qaeda is de-territorialized. It has no stated territorial objectives. As a network, it operates across much of the globe. It takes advantage of the facilities and vulnerabilities associated with globalization. In these respects, it is a quintessential example of the dark underside of globalization.

It is also a rather troublesome adversary. It exists in the shadows. It is widely spread and highly decentralized. Its organizational structure makes it difficult to decapitate. It takes advantages of permissive legal regimes. It is seemingly unresponsive to traditional strategic logics, such as deterrence. Its objectives appear to be millenarian. There is little basis for negotiation of issues in dispute. It is very deadly, and its targets of choice are not primarily military and security forces, but people going about their daily business.

For all of these reasons, it raises significant questions about how sustainable the postCold War system the major characteristics of which I attempted to describe earlier is. A noted scholar at LSE announced in the days after the attacks on New York that


“globalization was dead”. Retrospectively, this seems a bit of an exaggeration. Most relevant indicators (trade, investment, etc.) have recovered after a dip.

That said, we appear to be seeing substantial changes in world politics and the world political economy since that date. One potential casualty is the agenda of political liberalism discussed earlier. To judge from the evolution of relations with remaining authoritarian or weakly democratic regimes that are deemed useful in the war on terror, there is a retreat from the promotion of liberal democratic values in relations with them. The focus appears instead to be on the maintenance of short term stability and cooperation in the struggle with al-Qaeda. Likewise, examination of post-11 September adjustments to laws and practice regarding detention, judicial review, migration, and asylum, suggests a subordination of values deemed liberal to narrower considerations of national security. The same, arguably, is evident in changing laws and practices regarding the privacy of personal data.

A second point to bear in mind in the post-post Cold War background to foreign policy is that the margin of choice for states other than the hegemon has again narrowed significantly, but on the basis of a statist security logic rather more than as a result of processes of globalization. In the post-11 September framework, if states wish to reap the benefits of globalization and regionalization, they may have to abide by security-based rules defined largely by a hegemon concerned to protect itself against the negative externalities of these processes. Indeed, in North America, while regionalism has traditionally been driven by economic logics, it may be that for the foreseeable future the major driving force or regional cooperation will be the perceived security needs of a threatened (and sometimes threatening) United States.

This is perhaps clearest in the regional context in the changing Mexican-American and Canadian-American border regimes. It is crucial for both states that they maintain an efficient flow of goods across their borders. This has involved – in the Canadian case at least – significant surrender of sovereign control over the border, with regard to the movement of both goods and people, as well as the integration of enforcement mechanisms. It may also involve substantially greater pressure regarding resources needed by the United States (e.g. Mexico’s petroleum reserves, and, as some would have it, Canada’s gas and water), as resource access becomes securitised. And there is 10

a reasonably clear expectation of compliance with American diplomatic initiatives. In this context, I am glad that Canada is not on the Security Council. Mexico may find it more difficult to keep its head down.

But the effect is not limited to the North American region. The activities of the Financial Action Task Force, for example, suggest a much greater effort to secure transparency regarding cross-border financial flows and bank deposits in third countries, while the United States is placing strong pressure on European states to permit the deployment of American customs agents extraterritorially.

The concern over protection of the state has also occasioned substantial change in the military behaviour of the United States. The post-Cold War era (or at least that after October 1993) was characterized by a substantial American reluctance to deploy force in combat in pursuit of national objectives. This appears largely to have evaporated. We have returned to hegemonic military activism. This activism is directed not only at its transnational opponent, but at states that it associates with the direct threat. Its inclination to selectivity of engagement appears to have disappeared.

In short, although one might question the extent to which American hegemony in the 1990s was benign, if not benevolent, we have entered a period of far more activist hegemony. If the relatively unobjectionable (from the perspective of the less powerful) quality of US behaviour in the 1990s was the reason for a lack of balancing behaviour, then we may see a return to the latter in the post-post Cold War era. Given the difficulty of traditional balancing policies, we may encounter an increase in new forms of balancing by the weak, of which one is terrorism.

And indeed, the shift to security activism on the part of the hegemonic power has produced the first signs of a return to traditional realist behaviour on the part of other major states in the system. The incipient alignment between China, Russia, and continental Europe much wished for by more conservative Russian analysts and policy-makers over the past decade may finally be emerging in the Security Council debates over Iraq.


The background prognosis, therefore, is not particularly reassuring. It is one of return to systemic threats, increasing hegemonic insistence on compliance with its policy preferences, and, possibly, incipient balancing behaviour and realignment. It is, in other words, a return to geopolitics. This is not a pleasant picture, and it is probably particularly unpleasant for those living next to the hegemon.