A Gathering Global Storm


Richard Falk | Global Justice in the 21st Century – TRANSCEND Media Service

24 Oct 2020 – This is a longer than usual post. It is my chapter contribution to The Great Awakenkng: New Modes of Thinking Amid the Ruins of Capitalism (2020) edited by Anna Grear & Davd Bollier. My text is preoccupied with the decline of the state as an efficient problem-solving instrument in a period where global scale challenges are generating an ethical-ecological-bio crisis. The intensity of the crisis is magnified by the absence of globally oriented geopolitical leadership, which had previously been supplied by the United States. Restored liberal internationalism would likely give more time to devise more functional responses to the gathering storm, but would not address the underlying structural causes of the crisis: predatory capitalism, global military, apathetic empathy, materialism.


Twilight of the Nation-State (at a Time of Resurgent Nationalism)

The presence of systemic challenges in a world order reality that is sub-system dominant (that is, shaped by sovereign states, especially those that are dominant) has yet to be sufficiently appreciated. True, there is attention given to the advent of the Anthropocene, in recognition of the extent to which human activities are now principal drivers of important changes in the quality and even sustainability of the global habitat.[16]

Yet problem-solving is still caught up in the structures, practices, and procedures of the Holocene, which dealt with habitat and security challenges by way of sub-systemic responses and policies that assume that crises could be devastating, but not threatening to the system as a whole.[17] In different ways, climate change and nuclear weapons are illustrative of the global challenges facing humanity in the age of the Anthropocene, but there are others— the protection of biodiversity, eradication of poverty, the prevention of hunger and malnutrition, and the control of pandemic disease.

From a conceptual perspective, climate change is a clear instance of the limits of statist problem-solving in circumstances where the global scope of the problem is acknowledged. The unevenness of state responsibility for the buildup of greenhouse gases, which is aggravated by the difficulty of establishing causal connections between emissions and harm, creates controversy and tensions. With a strong consensus within the community of climate scientists and among civil society activists, the governments of the world came together to negotiate an historic agreement to control greenhouse gas emissions sufficiently to minimize increasing harm from global warming. The result was a notable achievement: 193 governments signed onto the Paris Climate Change Agreement in 2015, and there resulted a celebration among the participating diplomats.

Yet the success of the Paris Agreement, as measured by maximizing the cooperative potential of a statist problem-solving procedure, was, from another point of view, an ominous failure. The Agreement, although impressive as an exercise in inter-state lawmaking, was disappointing if the measure of success was prudently addressing the challenge. The Paris Agreement was neither responsive enough to the dangers nor sufficiently obligatory to provide a credible and responsible response to the dangers of global warming if measured against the limits on CO2 dissemination urged on governments by  the overwhelming majority of climate specialists.

Until ten years ago, the idea of a statist twilight was seen mainly as a recognition that the state, as it had evolved in Europe since the seventeenth century, was being displaced transnationally by economic globalization and was newly threatened by transnational mega-terrorism and cyber attacks.[26] At the same time there was an emerging awareness that the most manifest threat to human wellbeing was being posed by the effects of global warming brought about by the accumulation of greenhouse gas emissions. The recent confrontation between North Korea and the United States, which has featured apocalyptic threats from the leaders of both countries, has reawakened the world to the dangers of nuclear war and to the fragility of existing global security arrangements.

Overall, the increasingly global scope of policymaking and problem-solving was regarded as making it dysfunctional to rely on state-level governance and calculations of national interest. This is because the items on the political agenda most likely affect the totality of lives and the collective destiny of humanity—especially future generations—regardless of where one is situated on the planet.[27] Revealingly, these globalizing concerns have not led governments to create stronger structures of global governance.

The dangerous inability to protect at-risk global and human interests might have been expected to induce more responsible governments and their citizens to work feverishly to establish a more independent and adequately-resourced United Nations, but this failed to happen. Addressing global challenges successfully seems impossible without augmented instututional capabilities backed up by the level political will required to generate and implement appropriate legal norms. [LR1]

Whether and how these norms will be delimited is a major adaptive challenge to a fundamental realization that the Westphalian framework, even if responsibly reinforced by geopolitical leadership—which is presently at low ebb—cannot satisfy minimum requirements of world order. It is a disappointing part of these dire circumstances that there is such a weak popular mobilization around this twenty-first-century agenda of challenges. It is time to acknowledge that, despite the seriousness of global challenges, states separately and aggregately have shown little ability, and inadequate political will, to respond in a manner that is adaptive.[28] In effect, the non-decline of the state, or even its seeming resurgence as an exclusivist nation-state, is accentuating the weakness of global governance when it comes to global, systemic issues. In this respect, the state continues to bask in sunlight, as if awaiting twilight to subdue its anachronistic orientation and priorities.

Instead of a rational and convincing pattern of adaptation, this rendering of a radiant twilight has produced a series of institutional innovations that were supposed to serve as a vehicle for the pursuit of multilateral cooperative arrangements on world affairs. This gave rise to such diverse arenas as the G-7, G-8, G-20, annual gatherings of the IMF and World Bank, BRIC meetings, Shanghai Infrastructure Investment Bank, as well as to private sector initiatives such as the World Economic Forum, the Council on Foreign Relations, and the Trilateral Commission. Such constellations of institutional configurations contribute to the impression of organizational decline, as does the emergence of a variety of anti-capitalist initiatives associated with the World Social Forum, Non-Aligned Movement, including commoning in various forms.[29]

With the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991, the United States chose to constitute itself as the first “global state” in history, relying on a network of hundreds of foreign bases, navies in every ocean, and the militarization of space and even cyberspace, aiming to establish a global state that eclipsed the sovereignty of all other states, which are unwilling to dilute the traditional scope of their sovereign rights when it comes to national security (except to some extent China and Russia).[32] This American global state relies on the consent of many, and on coercion toward a few, in pursuit of its goals. This is most clearly evident in relation to the conduct of counterterrorist warfare and counter-proliferation diplomacy, using non-territorial innovations such as drones, cyber sabotage, special ops elite covert forces, as well as relying on traditional territorial instruments of hard power such as military intervention. Such a heavy investment in achieving globalized military control is also seen as supportive of neoliberal capitalism, it also tends to downgrade the relevance of the Westphalian state to either of its prime roles— in relation to development and to internal and external security.[33]

In addition to war, the dense causal complexity of global warming, in terms of the locus of greenhouse gas emissions being substantially disconnected from the locus of harm, offers another kind of deterritorializing in which ecological security depends on the behavior of the global whole as well as on that of certain national parts. Related issues of biodiversity pose analogous issues in relation to the global dependence on on diversity being out of sync with the territorial sovereignty relied upon to preserve the world’s most biologically diverse rainforests.


[1] Emblematic of this zeitgeist was the first World Forum organized by TRT World (a Turkish English-language radio and TV channel similar in format and intent to CNN or to Al Jazeera English) around the theme of “Inspiring Change in an Age of Uncertainty,” featuring several world leaders, prominent media personalities, government officials, and even a few academics, including myself. Hotel Conrad, Istanbul, October 18-19, 2017. No one took issue with this theme, which would never have been chosen in the last half of the twentieth century when the structure of international relations, at least, seemed stable, if not certain, and hardly worth problematizing.

[2] The linearity of the metaphor can also be questioned and subjected to doubt in this chapter. The degree of certainty that night will follow twilight does not pertain in the political domain where reversibility and stagnancy could persist, that is, the state could recover its salience or at least achieve a new stasis.

[3] This is the central argument of Richard Falk, Power Shift: On the New Global Order (London: Zed, 2016).

[4] On the U.S. providing a global leadership that achieves many of the positive goals associated with world government, see Michael Mandelbaum, The Case for Goliath: How America Acts as a World’s Government in the Twenty-First Century (New York: Public Affairs, 2005).

[5] For an understanding of the scale and scope of past catastrophic change see Jared Diamond, Collapse: How Societies Choose to Fail or Succeed (New York: Viking, 2005).

[6] Richard Falk, “Does the Human Species Wish to Survive?” in Falk, Power Shift, 253-262.

[7] We perceive the future “through a glass, darkly” if at all, which provides ample reason to rely on an epistemology of humility to sustain hope. That is, since we cannot know the future, we should strive for what is necessary and desirable. This view is elaborated upon by Falk, “Horizons of Global Governance,” 101-128.

[8] Among recent instances, Scotland, Iraqi Kurdistan, and Catalonia are of relevance. For an analysis of the international issues in the political and historical context of the 2017 encounter of Spain and Catalonia see John Dugard, Richard Falk, Ana Stanic, and Marc Weller, The Will of the People and Statehood (report at the request of Esquerra Republicana de Catalunya, 30 October 2017). For a focus on the conflictual aspects of internal struggles to reshape the dynamics of self-determination see Mary Kaldor, New and Old Wars (Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press, 3rd ed., 2012).

[9] See Richard Falk, “Ordering the World: Hedley Bull After 40 Years,” in The Anarchical Society at 40: Contemporary Challenges and Prospects , eds. Hidemi Suganami, Madeline Carr, and Adam Humphreys (Oxford, UK: Oxford Un iversity Press, 2017), 41-55, in geopolitical sequel to role of “Great Powers.” On role of Great Powers, see Hedley Bull, The Anarchical Society: A Study of Order in World Politics (New York: Columbia University, 1977).

[10] See Stephen Krasner, SovereigntyOrganized Hypocrisy: Change and Persistence in International Relations (Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 1999); see also Joseph A. Camilleri and Jim Falk, The End of Sovereignty: The Politics of a Shrinking and Fragmenting World (Hants, UK: Edward Elgar, 1992).

[11] Most extravagantly expressed by Francis Fukuyama, The End of History and the Last Man (New York: Free Press, 1992). Even Huntington’s far more accurate anticipation of renewed conflict was based on a new era of inter-civilizational rather than inter-state warfare, see: Samuel Huntington, Clash of Civilizations and the Making of World Order (New York: Simon and Schuster, 1997). Both of these influential formulations can be read as alternative expressions of the twilight hypothesis. For a negative assessment of economic globalization as shaped by neoliberal ideology see Richard Falk, Predatory Globalization: A Critique (Cambridge, UK: Polity, 2000).

[12] For discussion see unpublished paper, Richard Falk, “After 9/11: The Toxic Interplay of Counterterrorism, Geopolitics, and World Order,” presented at a workshop on “Is there an After After 9/11?” Orfalea Center on Global and International Studies, University of California Santa Barbara, January 20-21, 2018.

[13] There was some thinking along this line, most explicitly by Robert D. Kaplan, Coming Anarchy: Shattering the Dreams of the Post Cold War (New York: Random House, 2000); also, Huntington, Clash of Civilizations, but Fukuyama’s twilight is followed by the presumed forever sunshine of globalized liberalism.

[14] Perhaps the most graphic assertions along these lines were made by the American president, George W. Bush, shortly after the 9/11 attacks: “We have the best chance since the rise of the nation state in the seventeenth century to build a world where the great powers compete in peace instead of prepare for war.” Further, “[m]ore and more civilized nations find themselves on the same side, united by common dangers of terrorist violence and chaos:” Address to the Graduating Class, West Point, June 2002; also, in the cover letter to National Security Strategy of the United States, White House, Washington, D.C, September 2002.

[15] Most significantly argued by Daniel Deudney, Bounding Power: Republican Theory from the Polis to the Global Village (Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 2004).

[16] See Richard Falk’s chapter, “The World Ahead: Entering the Anthropocene?” in Exploring Emergent Thresholds: Toward 2030, eds. Richard Falk, Manoranjan Mohanty, and Victor Faessel (Delhi, India: Orient Black Swan, 2017), 19-47.

[17] These terms used to classify geological eras are here used metaphorically to identify the scope of problems and problem solving in the context of global governance.

[18] See the text of the Paris Agreement on Climate Change (2015) to discern its essentially voluntary compliance framework. “Paris Agreement,” New York: United Nations, 2015.

[19] Trump has not yet formally expressed objections to the Paris Agreement beyond suggesting, in vague generalities, that it is “a very bad deal for America” and hurts the competitiveness of American business by raising costs of production via constraints on carbon emissions.

[20] The climate change policies of California are a dramatic example, accentuated by the anti-environmental posture of the Trump presidency. Individuals and communities may voluntarily adopt climate-friendly behavioral patterns including vegan diets, electric cars, solar power.

[21] See “nuclear famine” studies. There are also other indications of toxicity and disruption of ecological and social structures on a more or less permanent basis. For human impacts via food see the briefing paper by Ira Helfand, “Nuclear Famine: Two Billion People at Risk: Global Impacts of Limited Nuclear War on Agriculture, Food Supplies, and Human Nutrition,” Physicians for Social Responsibility, 2013.

[22] For elaboration see Richard Falk and David Krieger, The Path to Nuclear Zero: Dialogues on Nuclear Danger (Boulder, CO: Paradigm, 2012).

[23] Even when a cautious call for steps toward a world without nuclear weaponry is set forth, as by Barack Obama in his Prague Speech of 2009, nothing happens as the roots of nuclearism are too deep to challenge effectively.

[24] See Richard J. Barnet, Who Wants Disarmament? (Boston: Beacon Press, 1960) for a strong early critique of disarmament diplomacy that publicly advocated disarmament while bureaucratically opposing it. Over the decades, nuclearism has become entrenched in the governmental structures of the main nuclear weapons states that have been identified as the “deep state” or “military-industrial-complex.”

[25] See Richard Falk. “Challenging Nuclearism: The Nuclear BAN Treaty,” Global Justice in the 21st Century, July 14, 2017; “Nobel Peace Prize 2017: International Campaign to Abolish Nuclear Weapons (ICAN)”, October 8, 2017, https://richardfalk.wordpress.com/2017/10/08/nobel-peace-prize-2017-international-campaign-to-abolish-nuclear-weapons-ican/

[26] For speculation along these lines see Richard Falk, The Great Terror War (Northampton, MA: Olive Branch Press, 2003).

[27] For stimulating conjecture along these lines, see Robert W. Cox with Timothy J. Sinclair, Approaches to World Order (Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press, 1996); Stephen Gill, ed., Global Crises and the Crisis of Global Leadership (Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press, 2012).

[28] See Falk, “Does the Human Species Wish to Survive?”—raising the biopolitical question as to whether there is a sufficient species will to survive as distinct from individual, communal, and national wills to survive that are robust, and actually, part of the distinctive problem of superseding and complementing responses at lower levels of social integration by reliance on species and global scale responses.

[29] See also the networked adaptation to the new era as depicted by Anne-Marie Slaughter, The New World Order (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 2004).

[30] The idea of nationality is purely juridical, given practical relevance by passport and international identity papers. In some countries, for example Israel, the state draws a distinction between citizenship and nationality, privileging the latter on the basis of Jewish ethnicity.

[31] The Trump presidency has illustrated the dynamic of the double coding of nationalism and love of country. For Trump’s white political base, the acclamation accorded to America is understood in a non-plural white-supremacist manner, which terrifies and angers those Americans who are non-white or socially vulnerable. It raises the critical question as to what is “America” as state and nation. Such interrogation should be directed at many states that are trying to build various forms of exclusionary governing structures. These issues are well explored in Mazen Masri, The Dynamics of Exclusionary Constitutionalism: Israel as a Jewish and Democratic State (Oxford, UK: Hart, 2017).

[32] This sense of establishing a global security system administered by Washington was most clearly put forward during the presidency of George W. Bush in the National Security Doctrine of the United States of America (2002): see advice to China to concentrate on trade, and not waste resources competing with the U.S. in the domain of security.

[33] The “Westphalian state” should be contrasted with the “global state” constructed by the United States, as well as with the concept of “empire.” See generally: Richard Falk, The Declining World Order: America’s Imperial Geopolitics (New York and London: Routledge, 2004), especially 3-65; also Falk, “Does the Human Species Wish to Survive?”.

[34] For instance, overseeing the negotiation of several multinational agreements, including the Law of the Seas Treaty in 1982, and generally seeking to combine its national interests with sensitivity to the interests of others, but still largely within a state-centric imaginary.

[35] See Gill, Global Crises and the Crisis of Global Leadership.

[36] See Mathew Horsman and Andrew Marshall, After the Nation State: Citizens, Tribalism, and the New World Disorder (London, UK: HarperCollins, 1994) somewhat prophetically arguing that the future will witness the decline of the state due to the rise of anti-internationalist values and political movements.

[37] Not explicitly formulated in Robert J. Lifton and Richard Falk, Indefensible Weapons: The Political and Psychological Case Against Nuclearism (New York: Basic Books, rev. 2nd ed., 1991).


I urge reading The Great Awakening and bringing the book to the attention of friends. It is an undertaking of love and commitment by the editors. Punctum Books is a progressive, independent publisher. To learn more about its vision and the book go to its website, and check out links below.

The official press release about The Great Awakening, published by Punctum Books:


Here is where you can download a (free) PDF of the book: https://library.oapen.org/handle/20.500.12657/42480]

Richard Falk is a member of the TRANSCEND Network, an international relations scholar, professor emeritus of international law at Princeton University, Distinguished Research Fellow, Orfalea Center of Global Studies, UCSB, author, co-author or editor of 60 books, and a speaker and activist on world affairs. In 2008, the United Nations Human Rights Council (UNHRC) appointed Falk to two three-year terms as a United Nations Special Rapporteur on “the situation of human rights in the Palestinian territories occupied since 1967.” Since 2002 he has lived in Santa Barbara, California, and associated with the local campus of the University of California, and for several years chaired the Board of the Nuclear Age Peace Foundation. His most recent book is On Nuclear Weapons, Denuclearization, Demilitarization, and Disarmament (2019).

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