International Systems of States and Global Security Models


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The fundamental aim of the text below is to deal with the concept and models of global security as one of the crucial topics of global political studies. We have to keep in mind that a term and notion of security usually imply a kind of sense of protection and safety from different possible harms coming from „outside“. Therefore, it can be generally acceptable and understandable that the states want to protect their own territories by expanding great resources in making their territorial safe. Security topics are of a very different kind, ranging from the causes of conflict between states to deterioration in the global climate or women’s rights in global politics. The question of Security Studies as an academic discipline within the scope of Global Politics has been the subject of much debate and one of the most prosperous ways to deal with global security is firstly to analyze different standpoints which are existing within the research discipline. The article, in one word, will try to provide the readers with a basic approach in the academic field of Security Studies with some necessary personal remarks by the author.

The Conception of a System

The conception of international systems of states is crucial as an explanatory mechanism of both global politics and global security models. However, in order to understand international systems of states firstly the very notion of a system itself has to be clarified and defined. In this context, it can be said that „a system is an assemblage of units, objects, or parts united by some form of regular interaction“.[1] Any system is necessarily constructed of different members on micro and macro levels which are interacting between themselves from horizontal and vertical perspectives. The member units of a system are of different sizes, capacities, potentials, wealth, might, and therefore of different positions regarding the decision making procedure and especially power.

For the reason that member units of a system are constantly interacting with each other either from horizontal or vertical perspectives, it is quite natural that in the case of a change in one unit the reactions to such change are expected by other units. The most expressed examples are arms race, seeking for the balance of power, making political-military blocs with other units, or even in the most drastic cases, committing aggression on the member unit. Any system with its member units has a tendency to regulate the relations between them and to try to respond by different means if those relations are changed at the expense of the hegemonic unit(s) of the system. It can exist at the same time two or more systems which are separated from each other by regulating boundaries, but different systems very often collaborate across the boundaries, for instance, in the areas of economy, knowledge, or technology exchange as was the case during the Cold War era (1949−1989). Finally, one system can break down for any reason what means that necessary changes within the system were not achieved in order to save it (for instance, the case of the Warsaw Pact in 1990−1991). Subsequently, instead of the old system, a new system can emerge or the member units of the old system can be simply absorbed by another one as it happened, for example, with the majority of the Central and South-East European states after the Cold War.

International Systems of States

It is very difficult to fix the exact date when the global system of international relations (IR) and therefore global security models started to work for the very reason that the process of globalization occurred over many centuries.[2] However, the modern European system of IR can be traced back up to the time after the 1648 Westphalian Peace Treaty, while the process of globalization of international systems of inter-state relations started to work from the first half of the 19th century.

International systems of inter-state relations and global security became after WWII investigated as academic subjects within the framework of World Systems Theory (WST) which recognizes that the states are historically playing the fundamental role in IR and they will do that in the future as well as but the systems of relations of (nation)-states have to be understood and put in the context of global unity rather than conflicts based on realizations of different national interests. What the theoreticians of WST suggest is that the most meaningful system of global security has to be based on the world system but not on the nation-states system. Therefore, they believe that international cooperation and order will replace international conflicts and anarchy. However, behind WST is basically hidden a system of Capitalist World-Economy (CWE) which is advocating ideology of globalization as a new form of Western global imperialism based on the international division of labor. Thus, according to CWE, the whole world is divided into three labor and economic zones: the core-states (the Western developed mature economies); the periphery-states (mainly ex-colonies from Africa with still underdeveloped economies); and the semiperiphery-states (mainly East-European ex-socialist states and Middle-East oil-riched states with rising economies and growing infrastructure). The essence of WST/CWE is that globalization has to function in full benefit of the core-states which are fully exploiting the periphery-states with semiperiphery states as a buffer between core and periphery segments of the world economy which are partially exploited by the core-states (by financial and economic means). In one word, WST/CWE is trying to legitimate the existence and functioning of global Western capitalism and its exploitation of the rest of the world by the promulgation of globalization ideology.[3] However, the liberal ideology of globalization is advocating, in reality, the global process of (pervasive) American Westernization from all points of view – from cultural, economic, or political to the issues of values, tradition, and customs.[4]

Historically, there were three fundamental types of international systems or relations between the states as the crucial actors in global politics even today: 1. Independent; 2. Hegemonic; and 3. Imperial.[5]

The Independent State System (ISS) is composed of the states as political actors and entities in which each of them claims to be independent that means both autonomous and sovereign. The fundamental feature of such a state, at least from the very theoretical point of view, is that it has the right and the possibility to make its own foreign and domestic policies out of any influence or dependence from the outside. The ISS presupposes that the state, territory, and its citizens are under full control and governance by the central state authority and that the state borders are inviolable from outside. In other words, any outside actor is not eligible to interfere in domestic affairs of the state which can be governed only by one „legitimate“ authority that is internationally recognized as such. An independent state has to be and autonomous that means (as it meant at the time of the ancient Greeks wherefrom the term comes) that the legitimate state authorities are adopting their own law and organizing the state activities, political and other types of life of the society according to it but not according to the imposed law, rules or values from the outside. States had to be equally treated and understood in regards to their claims to independence, autonomy, and sovereignty regardless of the very practical fact that not all of them are of the same power, capabilities, and might.[6]

The Hegemonic State System (HSS) is based on an idea of a hegemon and hegemony imposed by a hegemon in IR what means that one or more states (or other actors in politics) dominate the system of IR or/and regional or global politics. A hegemon is fixing the standards, values, and the „rules of the game“ and having a direct influence on the politics of the system’s members like, for instance, the US in NATO’s bloc.

There are three possible types of HSS in global politics:

  1. Unipolar (or Single) hegemony, when a single state is dominant as was the case with the US immediately after WWII.
  2. Bipolar (or Dual) hegemony, when two dominant states exist in global politics as was the case during the time of the Cold War (the USA and the USSR).
  3. Multipolar (or Collective) hegemony, when several or even many states dominate international relations like during the time after the Vienna Congress in 1815 (Russia, Austria, Great Britain, France, and Prussia).

In practice, in any of these three HSS, lesser powerful actors may interact their powers, but they have to get a permit by the hegemon for such action. In HSS, usually domestic affairs of the states are left untouched by the hegemon, while their foreign affairs are strictly under the hegemonic control.

The third type of IR, the Imperial State System (ImSS), existed from the ancient time (Assyria, Persia, Macedonia, Rome) and has been dominant in Europe, North Africa, and Asia in the Middle Ages (the Frankish, Holy Roman, Byzantine, Ottoman or Habsburg empires). The essence of empire as a system is that it is composed of separate societal, ethnic, national, linguistic, or/and confessional parts that are associated with regular interaction. However, within such multi structural imperial framework, it is a regular practice that one unit dominates over others by imposing over the rest its own political supremacy. The rest of the framework units have to accept such reality either by force or by interest while political supremacy by one (ruling) part can be accepted by the others either implicitly or explicitly.[7] However, the question arises what is the difference between the Hegemonic and the Imperial State System as these two systems seem to be very similar if not even the same? Nevertheless, the fundamental difference is that a dominant unit of an empire is much more able to manage other subjects of the state system in comparison to HSS and especially to force them to work for the central authority (tax collection, recruiting people for the imperial army, appointing local political client leaders, etc.). The empires are usually created and enlarged by military conquest, but also they can be militarily destroyed from the outside or disappear due to the inner revolutions followed by civil wars.

Security Dilemma and Global Security Models

The security dilemma is based on the idea that security is a goal for which states struggle and compete between themselves. In principle, the states have to look for their own protection, especially in an „anarchical“ world system in which does not exist any supranational authority (like the UNO or OEBS, for instance)[8] to be capable to impose and/or to ensure regional or global order of IR. In practice, traditionally, the states in order to achieve their security goals were striving for more and more power for the reason to escape the impact of the power and foreign policy of other states especially of the neighbors as European history clearly shows. However, such practice, in turn, makes the other states or other actors in IR feel more insecure, and therefore it encourages them to be prepared for the worst scenario (conflict, aggression, war). As any state cannot ever feel entirely secure, the security competition among the states is an endless process that is resulting in constant power rising. In other words, the security dilemma provokes a policy to firm security of a (nation)state which has a direct effect of threatening other states or actors in IR and, thereby, provoking power (usually military) counter actions. This endless process is in fact decreasing security for all states especially if we know that in many cases offensive (imperialistic) foreign policy is justified by national arming by „defensive“ weapons (the case of the US, for instance).

Global security as a concept has to be essentially founded on the idea of human (individual and group) security. However, IR in practice is based on the right to self-preservation of the states (i.e., of their political regimes and social elites in power). This idea is born by Englishman Thomas Hobbes (1588−1679) who argued that the right to self-preservation is founded on natural law, requiring at the same time a social harmony between the citizens and state authority. Therefore, global security has to be founded primarily on the concept of (a nation)state security as the states are a natural form of political associations by the people and still are the fundamental actors in IR. The idea is that, presumably, both individual and civil rights of the citizen would be effectively secured only if the individual consented to the unchecked power of the state ruling elite. Therefore, it can be concluded that the modern philosophy of state totalitarian regimes is de facto born by Th. Hobbes.

Based on Th. Hobbes’ security philosophy, states will stress the necessity of social collectivization for the protection of their security interests – it is how the concept of Collective Security (CS) was institutionalized as a mechanism that is used by the states in one bloc not to attack or proclaim the war to other states within the same bloc of a coalition.[9] The member states of the same bloc accept the practice to use their collective armed forces and other necessary capabilities in order to help and defend a fellow member state in the case of aggression from outside. Such „defensive“ collective action has to continue until the time when „aggression“ is reversed. The essence of such a concept, therefore, is a claim that an „unprovoked“, aggressive attack against any member of an organization is going to be considered as an attack on all member states of that organization. In practice, any really provoked an attack of aggression can be easily claimed as „unprovoked“ as it happened, for instance, with the case of Pearl Harbour in 1941 as we know today that the US regime did everything to provoke „unprovoked“ Japanese action on December 7th. Nevertheless, while the concept of CS became the tool to count state aggression, it left a very open question of how best to promote individual or group (minority) security.[10]

It has to be clarified that the very idea of human security is not opposing concern of national (state) security’s requirement that state is in obligation to protect its own citizens from the aggression from the external world, i.e. by a foreign actor. The human security idea argues that the most important focus of security has to be put on the individual, not on the state, but the state has to protect all its citizens as the protection umbrella from the outside threat. This approach takes an individual-centered view of security that is a basis for national, regional, and finally global security. In essence, protection of human (individual and group) rights is giving the main framework for the realization of the concept of human security that advocates „protection against threats to the lives and wellbeing of individuals in areas of basic need including freedom from violence by terrorists, criminals, or police, availability of food and water, a clean environment, energy security, and freedom from poverty and economic exploitation“.[11]

The chief purpose of collective security organization is to provide and maintain peaceful relations within the bloc which is composed of sovereign states but dominated by a hegemon. The concept of CS has declared as the main task to maintain peace between the key actors in IR that practically means the states, but in practice, the real purpose of CS system is just to maintain peace and order among the members of the system, however not between the system and the rest of the world. The best example of the CS system today is the NATO (North Atlantic Treaty Organization) which is not of any kind of global security bloc but rather only a political-military alliance that is primarily serving the US national interests (global imperialism) across the globe. Nevertheless, the practical implementation of the concept is fluctuating between two models:

  1. Traditional and more realistic model of Balance of Power.
  2. A new post-Cold War and more utopian model of World