Book Review: Future States: From International to Global Political Order

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Future States: From International to Global Political Order

By: Stephen Paul Haigh (Surrey: Ashgate, 2013), 272 pages 

Review by: W. Alejandro Sanchez

Stephen Haigh has written a comprehensive and provocative book on the future of the nation state and how the world order is likely to alter as governments and the global population become increasingly interconnected.  He argues that “the novel pressures applied to Westphalian geology by universal, globalizing forces have resulted in major upheaval: there is no going back, since what was thought to be bedrock is proving infirm.”[1]

The goal of this essay is to discuss Haigh’s thesis and major arguments from a Latin American perspective. Haigh explains that “globalization does not leave states untouched… the pressures it exerts are transforming states into political arenas that must accommodate universal and particular as true complements.”[2]  While one is not prepared to challenge that globalization is affecting the world order, some of his arguments are not fully applicable to Latin America.

Thesis and Sources

Haigh argues that the future of nation states will be the creation of a new global order, which he labels as neo-medievalism, where the Westphalian system will still exist, but will have adapted to a more interconnected world. He also acknowledges the benefits, and potential perils, of growing cosmopolitan societies, specifically the “thick” globalization and the role of transnational entities (be they corporations, ethnic movements or criminal entities).[3] It should be stressed that this debate is carried out largely from a theoretical point of view, despite his utilization of brief case studies, such as, the future of the European Union regarding integration among its plethora of members or U.S. foreign policy after 9/11.[4]

COHA appreciates that Haigh’s argument was not simply an imposition of its point of view on the reader. At different points, he explains similar theories by renowned IR scholars such as Hedley Bull, author of The Anarchical Society.[5] Namely, Haigh discusses Bull’s five issues regarding globalization, which Haigh challenges with his own view of neo medievalism.

As for sources, it is impossible to not praise Haigh enough for the amount of research he carried out for Future States. Each chapter has a plethora of footnotes and the Sources section constitutes 22 pages of work by renowned scholars (i.e. Friedrichs, Haas, Held and Fukuyama, among others).

Finally, it is understandable that it would have been too much to ask for this book (272 pages, including Sources and the Index) to discuss the future of states in Latin America and other regions. In order to fully incorporate each region into a discussion of globalization; Future States would have had to be at least five times longer.

A Euro-Centric Approach

Any serious Latin Americanist inquiry would have to highlight that Future States reads like an euro-centric book due to the analysis of the history of the state, the case studies that have been discussed, and Haigh’s overall predictions for the future of the international system.

For example, Chapter 2 is a summary of the history of the rise of the nation-state. He begins with the rise of the polis in ancient Greece, and then discusses the Roman Empire, the feudal system and the Westphalian system. Haigh explains how “medieval political regimes were not equipped to deal with salient elements of globalization because those did not exist.”[6] Moreover, he argues that “the promise of our moment is unique, for unlike both Westphalia and the medieval era that preceded it, we live in a world of particular states inflected with manifold and unrelenting universal pressures.”[7]

His comparison of the world order continuously jumps from medieval times to the Westphalian system, while also occasionally mentioning the Holy Roman Empire and the Church. For example, he explains that stability provided in the medieval era “by the dual universalism of the Holy Roman Empire and the Church” have been replaced nowadays by the competing universal claims of the nation-state system as well as the transnational market economy.[8]

Moreover, the present-day case studies focus on U.S. foreign policy, namely Washington’s attitude towards internationalism post-9/11.[9] Haigh also utilizes the European Union as a mini case study of regional integration. There are some mentions of non-Western states, such as a brief comparison between multi-ethnic societies in Canada and Rwanda and how an ethnic civil war started in the latter country but not in the former.[10] Nevertheless, these non-Western references are sprinkled throughout Future States, but are not analyzed in depth.

In addition, Haigh could have given a perfunctory nod to the fact that non-European societies have developed their own systems of government. In the case of pre-Columbian societies, there was a plethora of examples of cultures of today in Latin America, such as the Nazca, Paracas, and Chimu in South America, as well as the Mayas in Central America.[11] These cultures developed their own ways of extremely formal self-government. By the time the Spanish conquistadors arrived, there were two major empires in the region: the Incas and Aztecs, which had complex, and arguably effective, systems of government.[12]

Upon the victory of the conquistadors, the European empires created colonies in the region. After the wars of independence in the early 19th century, the new Latin American states organized themselves as republics, instead of reverting back to pre-Columbian types of government (i.e. no Inca was chosen again in Peru). Even if it was not a central issue of Future States, Haigh could have usefully summarized the voyage of non-European societies to the Westphalian system, instead of skipping it altogether. While there is a brief mention of the legacy of the European Imperum on the world, more analysis might have been supplied.
Future States:
From International to Global Political Order

Nuclear Security

Haigh stresses how the nuclear age has affected the global security system and how inter-state warfare due to the devastation that nuclear weapons could produce, which made its introduction and security system, an unthinkable option. He explains,

it is safe to say that the advent of nuclear weapons has diluted both the logic and political force of territorial demarcation, for nuclear arms ‘have dramatically extinguished the boundaries between destruction and destroyer,’ […] boundaries set us apart; nuclear weapons trump boundaries; collective security is entailed; the meaning of boundaries is thereby diminished. The bomb poses an institutional problem whose solution is corrosive of territorial demarcation.[13]

He also argues that “the threat of nuclear weapons has transformed the behaviour of states, forcing them to loosen their grip on the territories concept.”[14]

At this point it is worth noting that Latin America and the Caribbean have been a Nuclear Weapons Free Zone (NWFZ) since the 1967 Treaty of Tlatelolco.[15] In the 1970s, Brazil and Argentina, then under military regimes, had secret operations to develop nuclear weaponry.[16] However, both Brasilia and Buenos Aires ultimately scrapped these programs. No Latin American (or Caribbean) nation possesses nuclear weapons in 2014. Hence, how much has the Latin American security system really been affected by the nuclear age?

Let us look at this situation in another way: the fact that a handful of nations possess nuclear weapons (and other types of weapons of mass destruction) does not necessarily mean that Latin American states will not go to war amongst themselves. During and after the Cold War, while there was a real threat of nuclear war between the U.S. and the Soviet Union, there were also armed but non-nuclear conflicts between Latin American states. For example, Peru and Ecuador had non-declared wars in 1981 and 1995 over a border dispute.[17] In 1969, Honduras and El Salvador had a brief conflict called the Soccer War. Moreover, in 1982 Argentina went to war with the United Kingdom, a nuclear state, over the control of the Falkland Islands/Islas Malvinas.

Inter-state tensions are still ever-present in the region today. To name a few examples, Nicaragua and Costa Rica have an ongoing border dispute which was taken to the International Court of Justice.[18] Likewise, in January 2014 the ICJ also ruled on another territorial dispute between two Latin American states: Peru and Chile.[19] In recent years there have been tensions and disputes where the risk of inter-state war was real. For example, in 2011, former President Tabaré Vásquez of Uruguay revealed that while he was president (2005-2010), he consulted his military about the possibility of a conflict with Argentina due to a dispute over a pulp mill being built by Montevideo on a river that borders the two countries.[20] Also, in 2008 a war almost commenced between Colombia and Venezuela over a bizarre incident involving a base of FARC guerrillas on Ecuador’s territory.[21]

Certainly, Haigh is correct when he suggests that there are links between globalization and the decline of interstate war.[22] This COHA analyst has researched the lack of inter-state warfare in Latin America, and I similarly argue that growing commercial ties between governments and the migration of people serve as a confidence building mechanism.[23] Nevertheless, the nuclear age in Latin America has not drastically affected national interests and inter-state tensions as has been the case in other regions.

Multinational Integration

As for the discussion in Future States of the “unique” case of the level of integration achieved by the members of the European Union, it is certainly true that no Latin American bloc today comes close to the level of open borders, as well as the free movement of goods, people and services that the EU has achieved. Haigh explains how Bull, “while acknowledging that groups such as [ASEAN] or the Organization of American states had been ‘affected’ by the EU example. He also maintained that none of them have displayed even a modest degree of advancement then extant in Europe.”[24]

It would be wrong to assume, or even to suggest, that Latin Americans are not trying to reach this kind of integration. Solely mentioning the Organization of American States (OAS) and the Common Market of the South (MERCOSUR) as examples of Latin American integration initiatives is a minimalist approach in Future States.

There is a veritable alphabet soup of organizations in Latin America with overlapping memberships, some with political ideologies and others exclusively focused on trade, but all with the same goal of bringing their members together. A brief list of these entities include the aforementioned MERCOSUR, the Andean Community, the Central American Integration System, the Association of Caribbean States, the Bolivarian Alternative for the Americas (ALBA) and the Union of South American Nations (UNASUR). Even more, in 2011 the Community of Latin America and Caribbean States (CELAC) was created with the goal of hemispheric integration. The group has 33 Latin American and Caribbean member nations, without the U.S. and Canada as members.

Haigh also argues that “legally, institutionally, and in terms of commitment … the EU stands alone; and given the sui generis of the EU experience … it becomes difficult to imagine how ASEAN, Mercosur, or any other regional aspirants could, at least in the medium term, match either the achievements or the potential of the EU.”[25] Moreover, Haigh discusses the theories of Bull and other scholars regarding the EU’s consolidation of national defense capabilities, trade as a single entity, and also provides examples of other common policies, like visa and asylum rules.[26]

While Latin American blocs are not discussing common defense policies a la NATO, regional groups in the Western Hemisphere are carrying out interesting integration initiatives. For example, the Andean Community has “community passports” so that citizens of its member states (Colombia, Peru, Ecuador, Bolivia) will not require visas to travel to other Community states. Meanwhile, the members of the Pacific Alliance (Colombia, Peru, Chile, Mexico) are promoting economic integration by drafting free trade agreements between each other. There has even been talk of creating a community visa for the citizens of Alliance states. Meanwhile, ALBA has created the SUCRE, a virtual currency to promote commerce among its members.[27]

Sovereignty: Today and Mañana

Haigh’s Future States can also be regarded as a discussion on the future of national sovereignty vis-à-vis a changing global order with the rise of both transnationalism and supranationalism. Haigh argues that the nation state will not lose its influence anytime soon. He theorizes that in spite of how globalization may impose itself on the state, the latter will not lose its central position in political life since sovereign states have proven capable of adapting to the pressure that would cast a rigid, Westphalian-style apparatus into deep crisis.[28]

He also adds,

Thus, although globalization has meant that states are now compelled to loosen their authority and to some extent dissolve the hard shell of territoriality, they have through that process ably demonstrated that recalibrated sovereignty is still sovereignty: the state is still very much the central agent in political life.[29]

Indeed, governments remain zealous guards of national sovereignty, which explains why a global government (i.e. via the United Nations) will not occur anytime soon. In Latin America, one reason why the OAS has not managed to increase its influence over its members is precisely because member states, do not want to give up their power to a supranational body. In the case of Latin America and the Caribbean, they are even more reluctant to defer to a body that has the U.S. as a member. Whether we may see smaller Latin American blocs such as UNASUR or ALBA gain some kind of “power” over their member states also remains highly unlikely.


Haigh’s overall thesis is that the world is entering a new type of global order where states remain a major player but “manifold and unrelenting universal pressures” have put governments in a unique situation. [30] He refers to this emerging system as neo-medieval.

While Haigh’s analysis is mostly theoretical, he often uses empirical examples to illustrate his point. However, a discussion of how Latin America has adapted, if at all, to this neo-medieval international system is lacking. Certainly, Latin American governments are seeking greater integration amongst themselves, but free trade agreements, new regional blocs or grandiose declarations at presidential summits do not hide the fact that national sovereignty is very much alive.


[1]Stephen Paul Haigh, Future States: From International to Global Order (Surrey: Ashgate, 2013), 137.

[2] Haigh, Future States, 163.

[3]Haigh, Future States, 156-157.

[4] Haigh, Future States, 216.

[5] Haigh, Future States, 140. Also see: Hedley Bull, The Anarchical Society (New York: Columbia University Press, 2002).

[6] Haigh, Future States, 136.

[7] Haigh, Future States, 137.

[8] Haigh, Future States, 138.

[9] Haigh, Future States, 216.

[10] Haigh, Future States, 184.

[11] Berthold de Riese, Los Mayas (Madrid: Acento Ediciones, 2002).

[12] Catherine Julien, Reading Inca History (Iowa: University of Iowa Press, 2000), Also see: Raul Perez Lopez-Portillo, Aztecas-Mexicas: El Imperio de Mesoamerica (Madrid: Silex Ediciones, 2012).

[13] Haigh, Future States, 72-73.

[14] Haigh, Future States, 119.

[15] W. Alejandro Sanchez, “The Dirty Little Secret: Nuclear Security Issues in Latin America and the Caribbean,” Council on Hemispheric Affairs, January 6, 2010. Accessed February 10, 2014, .

[16] For a good discussing of Brazil’s nuclear program, see: Kassenova, Togzhan. “Brazil’s Nuclear Kaleidoscope: An Evolving Identity.” Report. Carnegie Endowment for International Peace. 2014.

[17] Ernesto Yepes, Peru Ecuador 1941-1942: Tres dias de guerra, ciento de ochenta de negociaciones (Lima: Universidad Nacional Agraria La Molina, 1998).

[18] Daniela Cerdas & Alexandra Araya, “Corte de La Haya ordena a Nicaragua detener dragado en la zona de conflicto con Costa Rica,” La Nacion, Nacional, November 22, 2013. Accessed February 12, 2014,

[19] W. Alejandro Sanchez, “January 27, 2014: A Date with Destiny for Peru and Chile,” Research, Council on Hemispheric Affairs, January 24, 2014. Accessed February 13, 2014,

[20] “Consideran ‘increible” que Tabare Vazquez haya pensado en una guerra por Botnia,” La Voz, Politica, October 12, 2011. Accessed February 11, 2014,

[21] Gabriel Marcella, “War Without Borders: The Colombia-Ecuador Crisis of 2008,” Strategic Studies Institute, December 2008. Accessed February 12, 2014,

[22] Haigh, Future States, 122.

[23] W. Alejandro Sanchez, “Whatever happened to South America’s Splendid Little Wars?” Small Wars & Insurgencies, Vol. 22, Issue 2 (2011): 322-351.

[24] Haigh, Future States, 142.

[25] Haigh, Future States, 149.

[26] Haigh, Future States, 143.

[27] Tim Rogers, “Nicaragua trades beans for SUCRE,” Nicaragua Dispatch, February 28, 2013. Accessed February 13, 2014, . Also see: Olivia Kroth, “ALBA: Stepping stone for Latin American independence and unity,”, February 9, 2012. Accessed February 13, 2014, .

[28] Haigh, Future States, 81.

[29] Haigh, Future States, 125.

[30] Haigh, Future States, 137.

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