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Temat: World Systems Theory- assessment and critique. To what...

In my paper I want to focus on the principles of the World Systems Theory and to what extent the theory explains the military conflicts. Speaking of the military conflicts, I bear in mind two Gulf wars in 1991 and 2003. The first part of my paper, as a matter of fact most of it, I decided to devote to some general characteristics of the theory, its main representatives and various criticisms concerning it. In the second part of my work, I will try to conclude how military conflicts are, or could be, explained by the theory. In order to complete my task successfully, I will use various sources ranging from books and articles on the theory itself to the Internet sources.
The major representative of the theory is Immanuel Wallerstein who in 1974 published The Rise and Future Demise of the World Capitalist System: Concepts for Comperative Analysis. Next in 1976 he published The Modern World System I: Capitalist Agriculture and the Origins of the European World-Economy in the Sixteenth Century. Wallerstein is considered to be the main figure in the research of world systems. He was the president of the International Sociological Association in the years 1994 and 1998. The other who primarily developed the theory are: Samir Amin, Andre Gunder Frank, and Giovanni Arrighi.
Carlos A. Martinez-Vela in his essey provides a definition of the World Systems Theory by saying that “...[it] is the macrosociological perspective that seeks to explain the ‘capitalist world economy’ as a ‘total social tool.’” He, as well, determines the position of the theory in the intellectual world being simultaneously placed in the fields of economic history and historical sociology. As pointed out by Martinez-Vela, Wallerstein distinguishes three blocks of the theory: the Annales school, Marx, and dependency theory. The historical approach in the theory comes from the Annales school, whose major representative was Fernand Braudel. The general methodological level in the world systems theory was enriched by the school. As far as Marx is concerned, from him Wallerstein wanted to revise Marxism itself as it was his ambition. Daniel Chirot and Thomas Hall state that the world system theory takes much from the dependency theory. Martinez-Vela explains: “Dependency theory focuses on understanding the ‘periphery’ by looking at core-periphery relations,...” In order to better understand the theory, Wallerstein provides a more detailed definition of a world

system. He explains:
A world system is a social system, one that has boundries, structures, member groups,
rules of legitimation, and coherence. Its life is made up of the conflicting forces which
hold it together by tension and tear it apart as each group seeks eternally to remold it to its
advantate. It has the characteristics of an organism, in that [it] has a lifespan over which its
characteristics change in some respects and remain stable in others... Life within it is
largely self-contained, and the dynamics of its development are largely internal.

Wallerstein terms the world system as the “world-economy.” Walter Goldfrank states that the system is integrated by the market not politics in a situation where states are interdependent on one another because of necessities like protection, fuel or food. In the field of politics, he says, the states compete for domination that is only temporary as a permanent one is not due to emerge ever. In 1974, Wallerstein gave his first definition of a world-system, which is a “multicultural teritorial division of labor in which the production and exchange of basic goods and raw materials is necessary for the everyday life of its inhabitants.” From this definition we can draw a conclusion that there is a certain kind of symbiosis needed to keep the two sides ‘alive.’ In other words, core could not do without the periphery, and the other way around, as if compensating for each other. Of course, there is no question about which kind of state has more potential and capacity, and it is the core. For more detailed characteristics and description of the core and the periphery I devoted some space below.
According to Goldfrank, the division of labor is referred to the relations and forces of production in the world economy leading to the creation of two interdependent regions- core and periphery. They are different in terms of geography and culture focusing on different types of production: periphery focuses on ‘labor-intensive’ and the core focuses on ‘capital-intensive.’ Wallerstein argued, however, that the world was more complicated to be ‘described’ by a bimodel system- with only cores and peripheries. Theda Skocpol distinguishes one more kind of state- semi-periphery, having a mixture of activities and institutions applied in both kinds of states, core or periphery, and acting as a ‘buffer zone’ between them. Wallerstein argued that semi-peripheral states were exploited by the core as well as they were exploiters themselves of the peripheral countries. Paul Viotti and Mark

Kauppi give a more detailed description of the three kinds of states. They point out:
The core areas historically have engaged in the most advanced economic activities:
banking, manufacturing, technologically advanced agriculture, and ship building. The
periphery has provided raw materials such as minerals and timber to fuel the core’s
economic expansion. Unskilled labor is repressed, and the peripheral countries are denied
advanced technology in those areas that might make them more competitive with core
states. The semi-periphery is involved in a mix of production activities, some associated
with core areas and others with peripheral areas. The semi-periphery also serves a number
of other functions such as being an outlet for investment when wages in core economies
become too high. Over time, particular regions of the world may gravitate between core,
peripheral, and semi-peripheral status.

Genarally speaking, we can say that core countries, like New Zealand, Switzerland or Germany are strong states with high wage workers and a diversified economy. What is more, they have democratic goverments. As far as semi-periphery states are concerned, like Greece, Panama, such countries are partly industrialized but having natural resources and engaged in international debt. I would place Poland in the semi-peripheral category of nations. Paul Halsall states that as far as Poland’s position is concerned, it should stand next to Latin American countries in the peripheral zone, or at least it should have in the past. He says: “In Poland, kings lost power to the nobility as the region became a prime exporter of wheat to the rest of Europe.” This kind of state ir majorly ruled by authoritarian governments. As for peripheral countries, these are, I suppose, majorly African and South American countries. These can be characterized by the state of total dependence on the core, having extractive economies, such states are unstable countries needing a ‘stabilizer’ in the form of a strong ‘ally,’ meaning a core country. We can also add that those nations are very poor and their production is mainly meant for export. One of characteristic features of this sort of state is a non-democratic government. According to Halsall, Wallerstein proposed also a fourth category of countries, which is: external areas. Halsall elaborates upon the characteristics of this category by saying that: “These areas maintained their own economic systems and, for the most part, managed to remain outside the modern world economy.” For him, Russia is a perfect example of this sort of country. According to Shelton Gunaratne, “the world system theory makes no distinction in the nature of products and services that leads to capital accumulation.”
According to the report by the World Bank, the peripheral countries are in the majority of nations all over the world. The generalized report is as follows:

Source: World Bank UNICEF

Judging by the graph, we can see that the number of core and semi-periphery nations is pretty much the same (23 and 26). As far as the peripheral states are concerned, the number is almost five times larger (112). What varies the countries the most is the income level which is respectively $14,000, $2,500-12,000, and $100-2,500. As for loife expectancy, there is not much difference between core and semi-periphery (78 and 71), there is, however, a striking difference between the core and periphery (78 and 60 respectively). The last factor determining the position of a state in the appropriate category is the mortality of children up to five years old. It is respectively 6%, 22% and 99%. Of course, this is probably a general outline of character of each of the three groups of countries and I think that we should not stick exactly to the description as these are just guidelines and general characteristics of factors that are to help us place a state in the correct category.
Martinez-Vela elaborates on the relationship between the core and periphery by saying that: “Among the most important stuctures of the current world-system is a power hierarchy between the core and periphery, in which powerful and wealthy ‘core’ societies dominate and exploit weak and poor peripheral societies.” He also adds that technology is the major factor determining the position of a state in core or periphery category. The more developed countries are the core, the less- the periphery. Viotti and Kauppi conclude that: “Third World underdevelopment and exploitation are central to maintaining the present structure of dominance in the world capitalist system.” It is the present world order and it is in the best interest of, at least, the countries in the north to keep the status quo the way it is now as they are the greatest beneficiaries in the situation. Chase-Dunn and Grimes state that countries in periphery are limited to the experience of that kind of development that causes their status to be subordinate. In other words, they are not allowed, by the core, to ‘go beyond’ that category. Skocpol explains that differential strength of the multiple countries in the system is essential in order to keep it as a whole as the stronger states strengthen and increase the flow of surplus, that is differential, to the core zone. Wallerstein called it ‘unequal exchange.’ Viotti and Kauppi elaborate that the weakness of the peripheral states is determined by the fact that they are not capable of controlling their own fate. It is, I suppose, in the best interest of the core countries not to allow it to happen in order to maintain their position and reduce the competitiveness of the peripheral countries. Viotti and Kauppi add that it is capitalism which determines the position of a country in the core periphery or semi-periphery category. It is important to note that Wallerstein, as a globalist, is often accused by his critics of having “reduced the derivation and operation of the state system to economics.” Kenneth Waltz notices, however, that what systems theories should seek is often misconstrued by its critics. Viotti and Kauppi also say that scientists should not generalize the theory too much. They state that: “It is not enough for international relations scholars to be preoccupied with only political and military factors, or economists to restrict their focus to economic factors. The entire structure of dominance has to be comprehended.” We can speak of real dominance if a country predominates another one in all above-mentioned fields as the question of one country ‘towering over’ some other nation is not just the matter of being stronger militarily.
Martinez-Vela directs our attention to the importance of looking at the World Systems Theory not only from economic but also from a political perspective. At this stage he defines two terms: imperialism and hegemony. He says that: “Imperialism refers to the domination of weak peripheral regions by strong core states. Hegemony refers to the existence of one core state temporarily outsrtipping the rest. Hegemonic powers maintain a stable balance of power and enforce free trade as long as it is to their advantage.” He also adds that hegemonic state of a country is only a temporary one because of “...class struggles and the diffusion of technical advantages.” Johan Galdung distinguishes four kinds of imperialism: economic, political, military, and communicative. He, to a certain extent, explains the behavior of peripheral states in a conflict by suggesting that peripheral states are obedient and tend to ‘copy’ the actions of the core state. This was probably the case in the two Gulf conflicts in 1991 and 2003 where the U.S.A. was not alone in the fights against Iraq as there were many allies in the international coalitions. For economic and political reasons those countries went to war following the U.S. Shackman points out that in the past there were different hegemons- in the 17th century it was the United Provinces, the United Kingdom was a hegemon in 19th century and the US becoming a hegemon in mid 20th century. He also adds that each in order to keep its hegemon status, the countries engaged themselves in “extended wars.” Shackman elaborates by stating: “Following the wars, the state then assumed its world responsibilities, of protecting and preserving the liberal order. The liberal trade arrangements, however, meant that spread of technology was easier, so that entrepreneurs from non-hegemon states could adopt the newest technology, and undermine the material base of productivity of the hegemon.” Martinez-Vela calls the World-System Theory “an approach widely used to talk about development dynamics and to understand the relationships between the first world and the third world.” At this point it is worthy of consideration that Wallerstein recognized the importance of anarchy. Viotti and Kauppi remind that: “[...] anarchy simply refers to the absence of a superordinate or central political authority.” They also direct our attention to the fact that very often richer industrialized countries from the north are blamed for “virtually every Third World political, economic, and social problem [...] Lack of economic growth, social unrest, and repressive governments are all laid at the doorstep of the richer capitalist countries.” We can say, although it is going to be very general, that the core countries are mainly located in the north whereas in the south there are majorly peripheral nations. As far as the semi-peripheral states are concerned, they are in the north as well. Apart from those accusations, we can also speak of the feeling of resentment on the part of the peripheral states that causes various tensions, which may result in more or less serious conflicts.
Professor Wallerstein makes a distinction between world-economy and world economy/international economy. He states that:
The latter concept [world economy] presumes there are a series of seperate ‘economies’
which are ‘national’ in scope, and that under certain circumstances these ‘national
economies’ trade with each other, the sum of these (limited) contacts being called the
international economy... By contrast, the concept ‘world-economy’ assumes there exists an
‘economy’ wherever (and if but only if) there is an ongoing extensive and relatively
complete social division of labor with an integrated set of production processes which
relate to each other through a ‘market’ which has been ‘instituted’ or ‘created’ in some
complex way.

Wallerstein directs our attention to the fact that the World System Theory deals mainly with the economy not politics. In order to support his view, he concludes: “The capitalist world-economy has, and has had since its coming into existence, boundaries far larger than that of any political unit.” We can draw a conclusion here that countries are, or may be, interdependent on one another no matter their political preferences. The states may not even be allies or friends, they are, however, linked together economically. I think that only a state of war or any other severe conflict could cut those economic relations as both/all countries are to some extent beneficiaries in this relationship. According to Wallerstein, it is the economy that should determine “the particilar distribution of power and capabilities.”
As far as the economy is concerned, a few more things have to be noted. Shackman notices that:
Every entrepreneur within the system must continually expand his or her volume of output
in order to survive, so that the total system, by the actions of the individual actors, is
continually driven toward expansion. Economic growth of the system, that is, is explained
as the sum of actions by individuals within the system, who are forced into certain
behavior by the constraints of the system.

Wallerstein noticed that world system is unstable and undergoes certain cycles of over-production crises and recoveries. He explains:
As production is expanded in the individual search for accumulation, there regularly come
points where the amounts produced throughout the world-economy exceed the effective
demand resulting from the existing distribution of world income (as fixed by the
resolutions of prior acute sociopolitical conflicts). The consequent periods of stagnation
both reduce overall production and lead to class struggles which force a redistribution of
world income to lower strata within the world-economy.

In other words, as Shackman elaborates, “The redistribution expands the market, which leads to recovery from overproduction.” He also adds that: “the capitalist system expands, but at the expense of newly created periphery.” As far as almost the whole world is now included in the world system, the expansion of it soon will not be possible, according to Wallerstein this will occur “within the coming century.” While for Wallerstein technology is the most important factor for recovery occuring after an overproduction crisis, other scientists claim that apart from that also growth in knowledge is the source of general growth. Kuznets, for example, writes that a source of growth is “a high rate of accumulation of useful knowledge and of technological innovations derived from it.” Shackman gives an example writing that right after the WW II, the growth of Japan and Europe was fast in the 1950 which was due to the fact that there was a relative peace and stability following the war. It allowed the countries to “take advantage of newer technology, to rebuild, and so forth, in other words, to achieve high growth rates.” With time, however, he adds, their growth decreased as they caught up with their technological potential and not, as Wallerstein argued, because of problems in distributing the surplus. Chirot concludes that growth in the core states is determined more by internal structure than colonial possessions, to what he gives an example of Japan and Germany after WW II. There is some more criticism concerning the World System Theory and the way it is perceived by Wallerstein. For example, Arthur Stinchcombe accuses Wallerstein of presenting only those historical facts that seem to support his theory, neglecting the rest. He states that Wallerstein did not manage to show that the world in 17th and 18th century could by explained by his theory, as well as any other.
As we can see the theory tells us more how alliances and coalitions are built between states as the stronger the country the more it ‘dictates’ to its subordinates, who are determined to keep their ‘big’ neighbor ‘happy and flattered.’ This situation can be applied, for example, to the first and the second Gulf War in 1991 and 2003, where we could observe the emergence of huge coalitions supporting the greatest core and simultaneously hegemonic nation in the world- the U.S.A. As far as the coalition in the first Gulf conflict is concerned, some of the members of it were countries opposing each other for a very long period of time before, like Israel and Syria and Egypt, as a matter of fact severe enemies- this is truely an unprecedented event. The Soviet Union as the U.S. partner in the coalition for the first time since the end of the Cold War. How could it be? Apart from political factors, the economic ones are also of huge importance, and I suppose here they played a crucial role. In some respect they are even more important. The semi- and peripheral countries may be invited to certain activities that would help the economies of all. Through ‘certain activities’ I understand various contracts of rebuilding the country after the conflict has been ended, closer military cooperation and investment connected with it. Not to mention things put out to tender. The possibility of winning the tender is greater on the side of the semi- or peripheral country as the work force in such states is less expensive. This factor is a great incentive that encourages poorer states to participate in international military or peace operations. Legro and Moravcsik even ask the question whether: “How much of alliance behavior can be explained by capabilities, geography, and technology and how much by state ‘intentions?’” V. Lenin notices that all the coalitions and alliances between countries are just a truce in times between wars. He adds: “Peaceful alliances prepare grounds for wars, and in their turn grow out of wars; the one is the condition for the other, giving rise to alternating forms of peaceful and nonpeaceful struggle out of one and the same basis of imperialist connections and the relations between world economics and world politics.” In other words, we can see that wars are needed to build alliances, which is probably due to the feeling of safety that all countries need to have. Countries in alliances feel safe because there is then a feeling of collective protection and might be more willing to solve problems militarily.
Jacek Czaputowicz directs our attention to the fact that the U.S. intervention in Iraq in 2003 can be explained differently- depending on the theory we are using. As far as the Realist theory is concerned, the reason for the intervention was that the U.S. wanted to strengthen and keep its hegemonic position in the world as well as get access to various natural resources like oil and get access to information about terrorist groups. As for the Idealist theory, which applies the Theory of Democratic Freedom, the U.S. wanted to provide the Iraqi population with freedom and democratic government. Czaputowicz also makes a distinction between two kinds of politics that a country may choose to use in face of a conflict. The first is the politics of balancing of the potential rival. The second one is the politics of bandwagoning, where a weaker country joins the stronger one to get an advantage, for example in sharing loot or in all those contracts for rebuilding (this kind of behavior is treated as unethical and Czaputowicz compares it to the behavior of Poland in 1938 and the role it played in the partition of Czekoslovakia to get the land of Zaolzie. ) We can draw a conclusion here that all countries involved in such operations are directed by their national interest no matter the rethoric.
To summarize, in my paper I wanted to focus on the World System theory and how it could be used to explain the military conflicts. As far as the military conflicts are concerned, I decided to base the paper on two interventions in Iraq in 1991 and 2003 by the U.S. and the U.S.-led coalitions. In order to narrow the topic down just to write about the conflicts I felt it was necessary to provide the reader with general knowledge of the theory: principles, critique, and representatives. As we can see there is much controversy as far as the accuracy of the World System Theory is concerned. I showed various critique of the theory and accusations as for its ‘creator’ Immanuel Wallerstein. I think the World System Theory only to some extent explains how different military conflicts and tensions are caused. We can say that core countries, trying to keep the present status quo, are willing to defend their position in the world and that, under such circumstances, varioius conflicts may be ‘born.’ I think that this case can be applied to the two interventions in Iraq. This is as if the core countries did not like the idea of peripherial or semi-periopherial gaining in power and becoming the competition for the core. In such nations, people are yet very eager to acheive a certain status, to as if catch up, and due to the fact they cannot be ignored. That may be considered to be a good reason for at least the two conflicts. It is important to remember, though, that, as I pointed out before, the theory more explains us how coalitions and alliances are built than the causes of conflicts. In this case, poorer peripherial states are acutely determined to remain in good relations with the local core state, or, what is more, to enter or start good relations with a core (bandwagoning).
What is characteristic of the two conflicts in Iraq, is that the international coalitions in both wars contained many members (over thirty.) I am totally certain that some countries were directed by the each of the two reasons I gave. Realists accuse the U.S. of wanting to get control over natural resources in Iraq whereas Idealists say that the sole reason was to free the Iraqi people from the Hussein regime and give them freedom and democracy. On the other hand, though, some coalition members were determined to enter the coalition because each of the reasons. Poland and some other European countries wanted a closer cooperation with the States and all the profits connected with it. The greatest motivator for Israel, e.g., was national security as 1991 the country was afraid it would be the next target after Kuwait had been defeated by the regime. It is probable that also some other Middle East countries were motivated to enter the coalition by the same factor.I have heard an opinion that Syria’s involvement in the conflict in the first Gulf war was pretty symbolical. As we can see, there were different motivators for the engagement and I think that in that respect the World System Theory managed to explain the two conflicts in Iraq. In order, though, to be fully satisfied with the result of research, we need to have a look at more theories and approaches so as to get the whole picture.


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author: Bartosz M. Kraszewski

American Studies Center, University of Warsaw
2.05.2009, 02:01

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