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Transnational Relations and World Politics: An Introduction

  • Joseph S. Nye and Robert O. Keohane


Students and practitioners of international politics have traditionally concentrated their attention on relationships between states. The state, regarded as an actor with purposes and power, is the basic unit of action; its main agents are the diplomat and soldier. The interplay of govern-mental policies yields the pattern of behavior that students of international politics attempt to understand and that practitioners attempt to adjust to or control. Since force, violence, and threats thereof are at the core of this interplay, the struggle for power, whether as end or necessary means, is the distinguishing mark of politics among nations. Most political scientists and many diplomats seem to accept this view of reality, and a state-centric view of world affairs prevails.



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1 This is, of course, the orientation of Hans J. Morgenthau, but it also reflects the general point of view of eminent scholars like Raymond Aron and Kenneth N. Waltz. See Morgenthau, , Politics among Nations: The Struggle for Peace and Power (4th rev. ed.; New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 1967); Aron, , Peace and War: A Theory of International Relations, trans. Howard, Richard and Fox, Annette Baker (New York: Frederick A. Praeger, 1967); and Waltz, , Man, the State and War: A Theoretical Analysis (Topical Studies in International Relations No. 2) (New York: Columbia University Press, 1959).

2 International lawyers and economists seem less prone to accept the state-centric paradigm as much of the literature in international economics and international law indicates. See, particularly, the works of Richard Cooper, Raymond Vernon, and Philip Jessup.

3 Wolfers, Arnold, “The Actors in World Politics,” in Discord and Collaboration: Essays on International Politics, ed. Wolfers, Arnold (Baltimore, Md: Johns Hopkins Press, 1962), p. 23. This essay was first published in 1959 in Fox, William T. R., ed., Theoretical Aspects of International Relations (Notre Dame, Ind: University of Notre Dame Press, 1959). Other political scientists who have departed from the state-centric paradigm are Burton, John W., Systems, States, Diplomacy and Rules (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1968); Rosenau, James N., ed., Linkage Politics: Essays on the Convergence of National and International Systems (New York: Free Press, 1969); Kaiser, Karl, “Transnationale Politik: Zu einer Theorie der multinationalen Politik,” Politische Vierteljahresschrift, 1969 (Special Issue, No. 1), pp. 80109; and Menderhausen, Horst, “Transnational Society vs. State Sovereignty,” Kyklos, 1969 (Vol. 22, No. 2), pp. 251275.

4 The most striking examples of neglect of transnational relations and complete concentration on state policies appear in the literature on the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO). See, for example, Kissinger, Henry A., The Troubled Partnership: A Re-Appraisal of the Atlantic Alliance (New York: $$$$$McGraw Hill Book Co. [for the Council on Foreign Relations], 1965). On the more theoretical side the editors of a recent volume of essays on international relations note that, despite ardent disagreement over methods, “each author clearly conceives the subject to consist of the individuals and groups who initiate and sustain the actions and interactions of nation-states.” Knorr, Klaus and Rosenau, James N., eds., Contending Approaches to International Politics (Princeton, N.J: Princeton University Press, 1969), p. 4.

5 As our conclusion explains at greater length, “transnational interactions” constitute only one aspect of “transnational relations” by our definition. Yet, most of the essays that follow focus on transnational interactions and transnational organizations. Thus, in order to understand the essays, our definition of transnational interactions is crucial.

6 Singer, J. David, “The Global System and Its Subsystems: A Developmental View,” in Rosenau, , p. 24.

7 Keohane, Robert O., “The Big Influence of Small Allies,” Foreign Policy, Spring 1971 (Vol. 1, No. 2), pp. 161182.

8 Lindberg, Leon N. and Scheingold, Stuart A., Europe's Would-Be Polity: Patterns of Change in the European Community (Englcwood Cliffs, N.J: Prentice-Hall, 1970), p. 160. Their quotation is from How Not to Rule the Roost: More Trouble in the Poultry Market,” Common Market, 07 1963 (Vol. 3, No. 7), p. 131.

9 It would seem equally absurd, on the other hand, to consider a grant by the Ford Foundation to Newark, New Jersey, or the sale of computers by IBM in Des Moines, Iowa, to be transnational activities. Thus, we exclude from transnational relations the activities of transnational organizations within their home states if the organizations retain such national identification.

10 Rolfe, Sidney, The International Corporation (Paris: International Chamber of Commerce, 1969), p. 76.

11 For these terms sec Perlmutter, Howard V., “The Tortuous Evolution of the Multinational Corporation,” Columbia Journal of World Business, 0102 1969 (Vol. 4, No. 1), pp. 918.

12 To encompass transnational organizations as well as interactions figure 2 would have to be three-dimensional. Transnational organizations would appear on the third dimension, linked to governments, national societies, and intergovernmental organizations by a variety of interactions. Since such a representation is beyond our artistic powers, the reader will have to be content with the reminder that trans-national relations under our definition include these organizational activities as well as the interactions that figure 2 depicts.

13 Cooper, Richard N., The Economics of Interdependence: Economic Policy in the Atlantic Community (Atlantic Policy Studies) (New York: McGraw-Hill Book Co. [for the Council on Foreign Relations], 1968), especially chapters 3, 4, and 6.

14 See Katzenstein, Peter J., “Hare and Tortoise: The Race toward Integration,” International Organization, Spring 1971 (Vol. 25, No. 2), pp. 290295.

15 See Scott, Andrew M., The Revolution in Statecraft: Informal Penetration (Random House Studies in Political Science, 551) (New York: Random House, 1965); and Cottam, Richard W., Competitive Interference and Twentieth Century Diplomacy (Pittsburgh, Pa: Pittsburgh University Press, 1967).

16 For a discussion of some of the controls used by the United States for these purposes see Behrman, Jack N., National Interests and the Multinational Enterprise: Tensions among the North Atlantic Countries (Englewood Cliffs, N.J: Prentice-Hall, 1970), chapter 7, pp. 101113.

17 Modelski, G., “The Corporation in World Society,” The Year Book of World Affairs, 1968 (London: Stevens & Sons [under the auspices of the London Institute of World Affairs], 1968), pp. 6479.

18 For a discussion of these cases see Tanzer, Michael, The Political Economy of International Oil and the Underdeveloped Countries (Boston: Beacon Press, 1969), chapter 24, pp. 319348.

19 Cooper, p. 151.

20 This is a close paraphrase of a remark made by Evans at the Center for International Affairs Conference on Transnational Relations, Harvard University, June 4–5, 1970.

21 For a discussion of this trend see Easton, David, “Political Science,” International Encyclopedia of the Social Sciences, ed. Sills, David L. (17 vols.; n.p: Macmillan Co. and Free Press, 1968), Vol. 12, pp. 282298.

22 These definitions borrow heavily and consciously, although with substantial modification, from an essay by Young, Oran R., “The Actors in World Politics,” in The Analysis of International Politics, ed. Rosenau, James N., Davis, B. Vincent and East, Maurice A. (Glencoe, III: Free Press, forthcoming).

23 For an analysis of the activities of these corporations see Tanzer.

24 For some recent works on the subject see Kindleberger, Charles P., American Business Abroad: Six Lectures on Direct Investment (New Haven, Conn: Yale University Press, 1969); Magdoff, Harry, The Age of Imperialism: The Economics of U.S. Foreign Policy (New York: Monthly Review Press, 1969); and Johnson, Harry, “The Efficiency and Welfare Implications of the International Corporation,” in The International Corporation: A Symposium, ed. Kindleberger, Charles P. (Cambridge, Mass: M.I.T. Press, 1970), pp. 3556.

25 Daalder, Hans, “Imperialism,” in the International Encyclopedia of the Social Sciences, Vol. 7, p. 108.

26 Hymer, Stephen and Rowthorn, Robert, “Multinational Corporations and International Oligopoly: The Non-American Challenge,” in Kindleberger, , The International Corporation, p. 81.

27 Hellmann, Rainer, The Challenge to US. Dominance of the International Corporation, trans. Ruof, Peter (Cambridge, Mass. Dundlen, University Press of Cambridge, Mass., 1970), p. 306. Hellmann estimates that 60 percent of worldwide direct investment originates in the United States while 30 percent originates in Europe (p. 305).

28 New York Times, February 10, 1971, p. 1.

29 Hellmann, p. 301. See also Servan-Schreiber, J.-J., The American Challenge, trans. Steel, Ronald (New York: Avon Books, 1969).

30 New York Times, February 12, 1971, p. 1.

A member of the Board of Editors of International Organization, is professor of political science in the Government Department of Harvard University and program director of the Center for International Affairs, Harvard University, Cambridge, Massachusetts. A member of the Board of Editors, is associate professor of political science at Swarthmore College, Swarthmore, Pennsylvania.


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