6.6.4.2 The External Role of National Politicians

(This is a current page, from the Patterns of Power Edition 3 book contents.  An archived copy of this page is held at https://www.patternsofpower.org/edition03/6642.htm)

The power of national politicians in relation to the rest of the world has been changing.  They are increasingly affected by the forces of economic globalisation and international security threats which they cannot control; for these issues their job is to represent their countries in collective decision-making:

  • They participate in global macroeconomic management, in bodies such as the G20 (3.4.4).
  • They negotiate changes to the global regulation of trade (3.5.4.5) and finance (3.5.5).
  • They negotiate coordinated responses to global economic challenges (3.5.7), particularly on climate change, which are assuming increasing importance.
  • They negotiate national economic contributions to developing countries, unilaterally and via the UN (3.5.8).
  • They cooperate in responding to international terrorism and other forms of crime (5.3.4).
  • They may have a role in multinational bodies such as the EU (6.6.5).
  • They represent their countries at the UN (6.6.6.1) and other political groupings (6.6.6.3).

Despite the increasing importance of these external responsibilities, national politicians’ need for domestic political popularity sometimes conflicts with their duty to act in the best long-term interests of their countries and of the world as a whole:

  • Politicians who are elected for domestic political reasons have no electoral mandate for policies on multinational and global issues.
  • Elected politicians try to defend short-term national interests, which are likely to help them to be re-elected, rather than explaining why they sometimes have to make concessions to other countries.
  • Authoritarian governments need some support from their populations, so their motivation is similarly inward-focused.
  • The public might prefer its government to appear powerful and assert superiority over other countries, to increase national pride. This is aggressive nationalism, as described in the next sub-section (6.6.4.3).
  • Political leaders can indulge their personal fantasies, and delusions of grandeur, by leading their countries into war. Michael Mann argued that this was one of the causes of the First World War, for example, in an article entitled The role of nationalism in the two world wars.

To summarise: the desire to appeal to a domestic audience can inhibit national politicians from cooperating to reach agreements which would be of benefit to all countries – often including their own – in the long term.

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