Sunday 13 September 2015

States and State Systems

How did the state system emerge? 

The peace of Westphalia (1648) established that sovereignty was the distinguishing feature of the state system. It brought an end to the 30 years war (1618-48) and was based on two principles:
1. States enjoy sovereign jurisdiction (independent control over what happens in their own territory). 
2. The states are all legally equal and relations between them are structured by the acceptance of sovereign independence. 

   How can a state be identified?

A state, as defined by the Montevideo convention on the rights and duties of states in 1933, has 4 qualities:
1. A defined territory 
2. A permanent population
3.An effective government
4. The capacity to enter into relations with other states

The state is no longer the only significant actor on the world stage - TNC's, NGO's and other organisations such as terrorist groups and pressure groups are also able to shape global politics.

The Billiard Ball Model of world politics

In this model (adopted by realist theorists) the states are billiard balls that collide with one another. Sovereignty is the hard impenetrable outer shell of the ball which enables it to withstand the impact of the collision. Not all balls are the same size, which is why international politics gives attention to the interests and behaviour of 'great powers'. This model has come under pressure due to growing interdependence.

 The Cobweb Model of world politics

More recently states have been forced to work together in tackling tasks such as global warming, pandemic diseases, and the spread of weapons of mass destruction. Keohane and Nye state that such a web of relationships has created a condition of 'complex interdependence', in which state are forced to co-operate. However, the Middle East is an example of how the Billiard Ball model and the Cobweb model are not exact; interdependence varies across the world. 

 The State Centric view

This is an approach to global politics which takes the state to be the key actor in the domestic realm and on the world stage. 

Great Powers

A great power is a state seen to be amongst the most powerful in the hierarchal system - there are a number of criteria a state must meet before it is considered a great power: 

1. Should have the 1st rank of military prowess as well as the capacity to maintain their own security and the ability to influence others.
2. Must be economically powerful
3. Having global, not merely regional, spheres of influence
4. Adopt a forward foreign policy which has an impact on international affairs. 


  1. Good detail and well written, a good start Holly.

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  3. Thanks for such a crisp, simple and precise explanation!🙏