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Essays on English School of International Relations: Adam Watson (5 of 7)

In this essay I would like to discuss the idea of Adam Watson on the practice of hegemony[i], though this was not discussed in the class I think it is imperative that we should also consider the changing or development of the mind of the author. The discussion here will focus on Watson’s lecture notes given at the CSD Encounter with Adam Watson, University of Wistminster (5 June 2002). The lecture was entitled, “International Relations & the Practice of Hegemony.”[ii] In his lecture he presented two interpretations of the word hegemony, that are, in terms of distribution of power (military force, and technical and financial strengths) in a system, the other one is the dominance of a particular idea or set of assumptions such as (in his words) economic liberalism and globalization. But for him, hegemony is a “material condition that enables one great power or group of powers, or the great powers in a system acting collectively, to bring such great pressures and inducements to bear that most other states lose some of their freedom of action de facto, though not  de jure.”
     His definition is very timely if we will apply it with how collective efforts of states try to subvert, force or constrain a suspected state to behave in a certain way that is advantageous to them. Take for example the US and the coalition of the willings on the war on terror or the sanctions and embargo imposed by major powers, by the UN Security Council or by the US allies to Iran. But there is a loosely description in his conception of hegemony, this is how hegemon A able to persuade other hegemons B, C, and D (if we will talk about world in terms of its territorial influence, region or hemisphere) to behave in a way that their interests are the same with the interest of hegemon A? So the loss of some of the state’s freedom of action can also be both de facto (concerning by principle) and de jure (concerning by law) because a hegemon try to institutionalize the consent enterprise she got from other hegemons.
     My idea about hegemon is that a state will be considered hegemon if she has an immense wealth (material like technological and financial forces) and dominant ideological strength that affect and influence the foreign policies of other state in one region, not only external relations also domestic relations within a state. China is the hegemon in Asia (East, Central and Southeast), India is the hegemon in South Asia, Brazil is the hegemon in South America and South Africa is the hegemon in Africa. Contending issues arises on who are the hegemons in the Middle East (Southwest Asia) if it’s Iran, Israel or Turkey and also in Europe whether United Kingdom, France or Germany. United States was the hegemon after the disintegration of the USSR, but her hegemony in the world is being contested as well because of the global financial crises (2007 to present) and failed wars in Afghanistan (2001 to present) and in Iraq (2003 to present).
     For Watson, the idea of hegemony needs a thorough and rigorous and systematical study of the impact of non-governmental actors on the international system. By this he meant the arising power of non-state actors in the realm of international system. He argued that there is a pendulum of hegemonial spectrum; at the end of the pendulum ideas like sovereignty, anti-hegemonial coalitions, balance of power, juridical equality of states, non-intervention, splendid isolation and the Republican party’s aim of aloofness in the US today come from the multiple independences end of the spectrum while at the other end, ideas like management of the international system, privileges and responsibilities of great powers and rich nations, concert of Europe, intervention, standards of civilization, human rights and women’s rights, donor and recipient states, strings to aid, derogations of sovereignty, and limits to independence come from the hegemony-suzerainty area of the spectrum. These are the element of ideas that two area of spectrum are in contrast with: (1) multiple independences end of the spectrum and (2) hegemony-suzerainty area of the spectrum.
     In addition, there are three tendencies in the policies of great powers help shape the international system: (1) national interest or imperialism, (2) Prudence which he means minimizing risks to the state itself and also to the international society in which it operates, e.g., seeking agreements and acquiescence, and (3) moral responsibility. These three policy-tendencies do not only help shape the international system but it also maintains and preserves stability of the current status-quo.
     In Watson words, the non-governmental actors or what he calls transnational organizations can influence or try to influence the situation in countries they are attached with. He categorized transnational NGOs into three motives of images: (1) economic motives and interests because transnational business can bring pressures and inducements, (2) the moral causes: these are special interest groups range from religious and ideological bodies through all sorts of well-intentioned concerns, as he puts it. (3) He described this as the smallest group of all; this is the organized transnational NGOs with philanthropic enterprises which operate not on the basis of earning profits but for (believe it or not) ethical reasons. All of these groups have one aim and that is to change the internal affairs of weaker or less democratic states.
     Consequently, Watson idea on hegemony is a great attempt to re-interpret or redefine the word hegemony beyond the borders of its state-centric definition and connotation. Adding transnational non-governmental organizations (NGOs) as one of the forms of hegemony gives a deeper understanding on the roles they play in the contemporary world politics or of the international system. However, one thing should also be dealt with intensive research is the aftermath of clashes between state imposing its hegemony in the world affairs and transnational NGOs impact on its ‘try and error’ method on modifying internal politics or situations in the state. To what extent can the hegemonial status of transnational NGOs lasts in the state with a status also of being a hegemon? Conflict between state’s hegemonial operations to transnational NGO’s hegemonial operations is the recommended subject-area that other scholars might try to look into or by Watson himself (to advance his scholarship on understanding the phenomenon of hegemony in the international system).


[i] See Adam Watson, Hegemony and History, (New York: Routledge, 2006).
[ii] Accessed here, 22 November 2009.
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