George Modelski
Department of Political Science, University of Washington
Seattle, WA 98195



Paper presented at the 37th annual convention of the International Studies Association in San Diego, April 16-20. 1996


To say that time is an essential ingredient of all study of International Relations is, of course, to utter an obvious and well-worn platitude. IR deals not with isolated snapshots of reality but with moving pictures, with a continuum of events and processes that (in addition to location) also have duration, hence a future and a past, and that undergo change over time. Time is basic to international relations, and "Thinking in Time" (Neustadt and May 1986) is a necessity both for students and for practitioners of that field.

If the need is so great, how do contemporary approaches handle time, and the short answer is, not really well. At bottom, the fault probably lies with the excessively short-term attention-span of practitioners, preoccupied as they are with current affairs and the policies that might respond to them. But the theoreticians do no better. The realists basically ignore time. Their mantra "states are the principal actors of world politics" obscures more than it clarifies, and makes it hard to tackle, and let alone to explain, institutional change. Rational choice theorists construct fine models to study decisions under narrowly-specified constraints but have little patience for long-term international processes.

Time, of course, has no substantive content but is a mental construct for organizing expectations about the future and memories of the past. It is a construct that does not arise spontaneously but must be deliberately assembled, learnt and cultivated, and the history of civilization begins with efforts to capture and measure it, and make possible long-term cooperation with the aid of such devices as calendars and clocks. A basic tool for handling reality, a calendar is a symbolic system by which divisions in time, and major events, are arranged in a definite order. (Whitrow 1988) Because it is a mental construct, those plying IR theory need to give particular attention to it.

Contemporary theorizing in IR, it is fair to say, has little time for time /1/. What, then, needs to be done to remedy this situation? And the question for us is not whether time is important, but how to bring the concept of time into the analysis of international relations. The answer, we submit, may be found by abandoning the frantic search for "theories of everything" (known also as "general theories of IR"), and formulating our questions carefully and narrowly, so as to make the subject more tractable.

Conventional theories are commonly required to convey a time-less "understanding" of international politics and do so i.a. by erecting Chinese walls between domestic and foreign affairs, and exalting the role of power. Much effort is expended to show that international problems are especially complex to grasp, or suffer from exposure to the inherently "anarchical" milieu characteristic of that field. The truth is that international must obviously be to some degree different from national politics, but that their similarities are also profound and that little explanatory gain is to be had from dwelling too much on the alleged peculiarities of the international field, and much economy is to gained by applying the same basic model to all levels of politics. The realist-liberal debate conveys precious little understanding of world politics, but does stand out for its ideological, even quasi-theological, flavor.

Even more important is a clear conception of the questions that students of IR might be expected to answer. The questions must of course be important, interesting, and tractable, but the sharper the question, the clearer the answers are likely to be. There is no need to suppose that there is only one view as to what such questions might be, and that is not the position taken here. But for purposes of the present discussion let us propose that a central problem for IR scholars is "explaining" and "predicting" institutional change in world politics. More specifically, explaining and predicting the rise and decline of world powers, and the formation of global political institutions. These are questions that are narrower in scope and more trac table to analysis as well as important and interesting, also questions in the answering of which time plays a crucial role.

The present paper is concerned not with explanation but with prediction /2/, not with explaining global institutional change in the 20th or earlier centuries but with an attempt to clarify the major landmarks of institutional change in global politics of the next century. In the remainder of this paper we shall first establish globalization as the object of our study, set out the evolutionary premises of our methodology, then proceed to examine globalization in its four dimensions including the political one, and conclude by proposing a calendar for global politics in the 21 century.


Globalization as an evolutionary process

Let us define the modern process of global institutional change as globalization. It is a process that has already been underway for a number of centuries, say the best part of the millennium now closing, and one likely to continue well into the future, beyond the 21st century. Most obviously, it is a long-term process that forms a pattern in time, and we believe it to an evolutionary process. What is the methodology governing the analysis of that process?

Our methodology relies, in the first place, on established canons of scientific inquiry, both in regard to explanation and to prediction /3/. The relevant text here is the classical statement of Carl Hempel (1994:45) that explanation consists in deriving a statement about a known (past) event from (1) statements describing certain known (past or present) initial or determining conditions (or causes) and (2) absent general laws, from suitable "universal empirical hypotheses" that assert cause-and- effect relationship. That is, an event is explained by its "causes" in the light of the relevant laws or hypotheses. Facts alone are not enough (this is not positivism); we need both facts (as initial conditions), and suitable theories.

The logical structure of prediction is the same as that of explanation. /4/ It consists in deriving a statement about a future event from (1) statements describing certain known past and present initial conditions (such as those describing the development of the global economy in the past century) and (2) suitable "universal empirical hypotheses" that assert relevant cause-and-effect relationships (for instance those between the course of economic development, and selection to global leadership). Thus in explanation we know the final event, e.g. we know that the United States' attained world power status by 1945, and seek to explain that event by establishing its causes (determining conditions), given our universal hypotheses; in prediction the initial conditions are given (that is, we presumably know the state of economic development to-day, etc) and the effect of these conditions - an event or sequence of events yet to occur - global political change in the 21st century - is to be determined, once again in the light of the relevant universal empirical hypotheses.

The bulk of this paper will be concerned with establishing the initial conditions that we believe predict the future of global political structures in the 21st century. But our predictive exercise also rests upon a set of "universal empirical hypotheses" governing these relationships. General laws are hard to come by in this field, and we have to make do with empirical hypotheses.

The chief characteristic of our hypotheses is that they are evolutionary. /5/ They assert that the structural features of global politics, and in particular the position of global leadership, as well as broad institutional structures, such as the state system, and global political culture, are subject to nested evolutionary processes. That is, they undergo change, and the process of change has the formal-logical properties of a learning process. Globalization in general, and political globalization in particular, are evolutionary processes. The processes of rise of decline of world powers and the emergence of global organization, that is the long cycle, are nested in a longer-term process of global institutional formation.

Thus our first hypothesis maintains that the global political system undergoes evolution, and does so moreover at a constant rate; it is punctuated at regular intervals by bursts of innovation (suggesting in effect a "social evolutionary clock"). That system is embedded in a nested set of social learning processes, each understood not only as one of expanding cognition (or knowing) but in the broader sense as creative problem-solving in which the relevant inputs, besides knowledge, include social organization, decision-making, and inheritance and amplification (via a reward system). Social learning is the experience by which complex systems adapt to their environment but also transform that environment via self-organization and management in the light of shared goals.

The second hypothesis concerns conditions favoring global evolutionary processes. Such processes do not occur simultaneously all over the globe but on the contrary they flourish only if and when conditions for social learning are most favorable, and in regions hospitable to globalization. Once set in motion they do however tend, over time, to propagate throughout the global system. Conditions favoring globalization include free markets, secure political conditions and surplus security (favoring island states), a cooperative democratic society, and a culture conducive to the free circulation of information. These are the conditions in which the evolutionary mechanisms of variation, selection, hereditability, and cooperation can flourish.

Our third hypothesis spells out mechanisms of global political evolution (political globalization), a process whose postulated phases (of a length of 500 years) each mark major shifts in institutional structure. In the past millennium we distinguish an evolutionary groundbreaking phase (of "preconditions"), followed by the formation of a global organizational nucleus (state-system in Western Europe) and, since 1850, by the phase of global political organization. At this time of writing, global political competition drives long-term change in the so-called Westphalian system (the prevailing norms, rules, and values of global politics ) and also activates shifts in the active zone of the world system (as away from Western Europe, toward the Pacific).

Driving global political evolution, (and nesting within it) has been the long cycle, that is the rise and decline of world powers, and their antecedants (with a period of some 120 years). The long cycle is a learning process consisting of four phases, each of which optimizes one of the four basic evolutionary mechanisms (Agenda-setting, for variation; Coalition-building, for cooperation; Macrodecision, for selection, and Execution, for amplification and hereditability). The long cycle is the key mechanism of social (not "natural") selection in global politics.

The fourth hypothesis is the coevolutionary one, and maintains that the global political process coevolves with three other global evolutionary processes. That is, political globalization interacts with economic, social, and cultural globalization, in a determinate fashion but also in such a way that each of these processes nests within (and drives) larger schemes of global institutional change (in that, just as the competition for world power drives global politics, the competition of leading industrial sectors - with a period of 50 to 60 years - drives change in the institutions of the global economy. In the sphere of civil society we observe protracted ideological rivalries between social movements and models of social organization that might extend over maybe two centuries. Such competition extends even to the most basic institutional level of cultural organization. Each of these four competitive experiences is a complex, four-phased learning process of determinate time structure.

Four dimensions of globalization

These are the hypotheses that in combination with an assessment of the "determining conditions" will help us chart, in broad outline, the course of global politics in the next century, in the context of globalization in general. They make it pla in that we do not regard the latter as a purely economic process, revolving around such problems as free trade, and the institution of free markets versus national protection, or the problem of "political economies of scale" whereby states adjust their functions to the expanding role of industrial and financial markets (Cerny 1995). To do justice to it and also to make such a large construct more tractable we propose to present globalization as multidimensional, as a spectrum of four processes, of (1) building the global economy; (2) formation of world opinion; (3) democratization, or the creation of a global community; and (4) constructing global political institutions.

Each of these is an evolutionary process of distinct shape and period that has increasingly gained an especial character all of its own, and all four can be seen as co-acting, and as marking the course of globalization. That course can be bumpy and rugged, with frequent ups-and-downs, but it is capable of being charted and better understood. We shall now discuss each one in turn, and in particular ask, how the first three processes are likely to interact with, and affect the fourth, that is of the greatest interest to us. That last is the course of global political evolution and more specifically, the outcome of global political competition over the next century.


Building the global economy

In contemporary understanding, the development of the world economy, as of national economies, is seen as the product of growth measured in terms of Gross Domestic Product (GDP). The bigger the world product, the more developed the world economy; the higher its growth rate, the more prosperous a country is deemed to be. That is also why, in recent years, international comparisons of economic power have revolved principally around statistics measuring respective GDPs. A national economy is thought to be globally significant if its GDP is large, and is believed to be wealthy if, relative to its competitors, its per capita GDP high.

For all of the 20th century, the national product of the United States has made it the single largest economy in the world and, until about a decade ago, its per head product was also the highest in the world. Many saw it as a major factor in the United States' rise to global leadership after 1945, and the factor is now playing a major role in what is referred to as the "relative decline" (Kennedy 1987, Ch.8) of the last two decades. It is also well-known that the product of the European Union recently almost attained that of the United States, and that of Japan, about one-half of that. It has also been widely noted, especially in East Asia, that (if we do not regard the European Union yet as a formal economic unit) China's great GDP surge made it recently the second biggest economy in the world. On its currently high growth rates the Chinese economy is authoritatively predicted to attain or exceed the American GDP level in absolute size in the second or third decades of the next century, though obviously it would still be lagging greatly in per capita income. What significance does this have for the competition for global leadership and global institutional change?

The answer: it is of some relative, but not absolute significance. The sheer weight of an economy does exert an influence on the exercise of a global role. But the experience of global economic development shows that the crucial nexus resides not in absolute economic power but rather in the links between a national economy, its leading sectors, and the impact of these leading sectors on the global economy as a whole. In the longer run, the evolution of the global economy of international and interregional trade is primarily a function not of actual or growing GNP, but of potential for structural change.

That is why a prominent role in the global economy process is played above all by the creativity and productivity of the leading sectors that are responsible for global structural change. In the 18th century, Britain's economy was smaller than that of France and yet it spawned the Industrial Revolution, with such early leading sectors as steam-engine driven textile industries, followed by steam railroads, and steam shipping. Of course, productive leading sectors also tend to boost the national economy at a fast rate, promptly adding its well-priced products to the size of its output, and to its world-wide standing as well.

For the past millennium, the story of the global economy has therefore been a regular succession of leading commercial and industrial sectors driving its evolution (Modelski and Thompson 1996), much in the way that we can conceptualize the competition for global leadership, and the rise of world powers, to be driving the evolution of global politics. This leads us to the further generalization that, over that same period, change in global politics has been closely coordinated (or has evolved in tandem with) the rise of successive leading sectors, in a two-fold pattern: the rise of a global sector built the base of world power, and served as a leading indicator of the rise of global leadership; the rise to world power in turn afforded favorable conditions for the post-(global war)-selection boom of yet another , usually related, set of leading sectors. In other words, the tie-in between economic leadership and world (political) power has run via innovation in lead industrial sectors.

From the mid-nineteenth century onward, the leading sectors that underwrote the United States' rise to world power were electric power, chemicals, and steel. The industries that took off after 1914 were in electronics (including telephones, radio, and then television), and autos, including oil and rubber (see Chronograph, after p.15, last column). This second wave crested in the mid-70s, and those formerly leading industries have since faced stiff international competition, especially in manufacturing, becoming a major factor in the perceived decline of the American economy.

But since the 1970s, leadership in the global economy has begun to shift to another set of industries, one that combines the computer, the television set, the (digital) telephone and other communication tools and media into what collectively can be called the information industries. Preeminent among these are the computer industry, now composed of several sub-sections including large hard- and software sectors; the revitalized telephone industry now transformed into telecommunications with such new sectors as cellular, wireless, and cable, and the multifaceted and ever changing media, complete with their content providers and distributors. In our Chronograph we can now see that the current progress of the information industries constitutes a cumulatively expansionary force described as K19: the nineteenth K-wave, and that is about to move from what has been since the mid-70s its take-off stage (the 'a' phase), into its high-growth, b-phase after the year 2000. That also means that the take- off phase that has been a troublesome transition period of general malaise and persistent unemployment might be, at the turn into the new millennium, making way for an increasingly more prosperous era of more vigorous growth. Taking the long view, one might say that current developments equal in significance the two earlier major cultural breakthroughs with enormous impact also upon the economy: the invention of writing at the onset of civilization, some five millennia ago, and the spread of printing, in the opening phases of the modern period. One might also say that since the mastering of electromagnetism, and the invention of the electric telegraph and the Morse code in the mid-19th century, the communication and information industries have remained at the forefront of economic development, so much so that the entire experience since that time might be described, with increasing aptness, as the age of the Information Economy (cf. chronograph).

At this time of writing we are probably at the high point of that age but we might surmise that the K19 wave we have just described will not reach its competitive plateau until the second or third decade of the next century (2020s), to be followed by a fourth burst of the information age, taking off in the 2020s - 2050s, and likely consolidating and globalizing the information age across planet earth and in near-space, by the 2060s. In other words, for the better part of the 21st century, the Information Economy will remain the most salient characteristic of the global economic system evolving into a world market. That process is likely to shape the world economy increasingly in the direction of greatly enlarging the information-handling and communication potential of all its participants, as it is activated in the various world markets, and through the activities of non-market forces, such as environmental or military.

An interesting question now arises out of this brief portrayal of the "empirical hypotheses" and the "initial conditions" relevant to a prediction regarding the 21st century: if the information industries are the global leading sector of the next two- three decades and if, as we hypothesize, leadership in these sectors is an early indicator of future political leadership, where is that leadership and the cutting edge of those activities likely to reside in the first quarter of the 21st century, or even for the next, the K20 wave?

To answer that question need not be entirely arbitrary. After all, we can draw on the experience of the last generation, one that saw the launching of those industries from small and often modest beginnings. We also know that the importance of information industries to economic development is now widely acknowledged on a world-wide basis: all the relevant actors in all the major and even minor economies assign high priority to those sectors. Europe has large and experienced telecom companies now engaged in complex strategic alliances with their American and other counterparts, but has not been leading those trends. Powerful Japanese companies, as well as those in South Korea and Taiwan, now command high-quality manufacturing capacity in the electronics and semi-conductor fields that about equals that of the United States corporations in that same domain, a circumstance that has added increasing economic weight to the Asia-Pacific area. But on an overall basis, the probability is that firms in the United States now hold the lead in the information sector and will continue holding it for another two or three decades.

We might add two other points, both having a bearing on the evolution of global economic institutions. The rapid emergence, over the past two-three decades, of global financial markets, particularly striking in the foreign exchange field, and increasingly so in bonds, equities, and other forms of international investment, will tend to reduce the influence of even major governments on their economies, and the global economy, and might loosen some of the links between economic and political power now postulated. The other concerns the national coloration of the major information companies, be they ATT, Intel or Microsoft, Samsung, Siemens or Sony, that have become the other prominent agents of economic globalization. They all have strong national bases but they also prominently operate in all major markets in the way that, over the long run, tends to loosen their connections to that national base. In such conditions, can we still speak of distinct, "national" economic sectors, as it was possible in the earlier cases? It probably still does but even though there also is some debate on that issue, the situation has become less clear-cut than it used to be, and may become even more blurred by the mid-21st century.

The rise of world opinion

Let us postulate another global evolutionary process, that creative of conditions whereby the working of the world system and the actions of all of its participants might be oriented to a common set of problems emerging from world-wide interactions and responsive to common aspirations. We might conceptualize it as a process of "social construction" both of "reality" and of "values". World opinion aids in the construction of social reality in that it helps us to "make sense" of the world; it aids in the clarification of values by assigning priorities to social demand, and legitimizing some demands and rejecting others. The rise of world opinion is the process that defines the global problems around which major issues i.a. of global politics, revolve over the long term of a century or so.

The rise of world opinion is being powerfully aided by the maturing of the Information Economy, that would create the technical infrastructure of such a development, and they would be reinforced, as we shall see in the next section, by the proliferation of the Democratic Lineage, serving as the social base of that process. Regular polling of the world public could be expected to become a regular feature of world affairs , certainly before the middle of the next century.

What might be the drivers of such an evolution? That part of the world of science and learning, the arts, the media, and academia that helps to define, and to respond to, global problems, and in particular the ever-changing array of epistemic communities. One spectacular current instance of that process is the surge of the Internet, to become a world-wide communications network now linking maybe 30 million computer users, and still expanding at a rapid rate. Another is the success of CNN (Cable News Network) as a global information provider, installed in all the world's foreign ministries, and one that has already left its mark during international crises, creating pressures for intervention that analysts have begun to call "the CNN effect".

In long perspective we might discern the following major phases of the evolution of the global culture-forming process (that has helped to lay down the cultural foundations of globalization) so far. The onset of modernity was heralded by the period of Renaissance, that is of the revival of classical learning after a period of dark ages in which much of the earlier knowledge had been ignored or forgotten. The renaissance had a (lesser-known) Chinese phase that saw, under the Sung (10-12th cent.), the printing of the classics (Buddhist, Confucian, and others) i.a. as the intellectual foundation for elite and public service training in East Asia. The Italian Renaissance (13-16th centuries) revived classical Greek and Roman learning and literature that formed the backbone of the scholastic curriculum of early European universities. Discussions of global problems as occurred in scholarly contexts that we still document seem to have concerned the characteristics, functions, and prospects, of imperial orders, and of world empire, both in its Chinese, and European variants.

The Renaissance was followed, in Western Europe broadly by the period of Enlightenment (16th-18th cent.) that, building upon the achievements of the Renaissance, laid down the foundations of modern science and grew the communities of learning that also reached out to the Americas, and even, by the end of the 18th century, to East and South Asia. Conceptions of global problems were then beginning to emerge more clearly, focussing among others upon "discoveries", the nature of sovereignty and the balance of power, and the organization of trade. But what opinion as was brought to bear on such problems was mostly that of the public of the world powers of the time, and to a limited extent, of their challengers.

In mid-nineteenth century the British public was closest to being in a position to express world opinion, a classic being William Gladstone's Midlothian campaigns (1878-80) that helped to overthrow the Tory government accused of ignoring Turkish atrocities in Bulgaria, and of being indifferent to morality in foreign policy. We might safely assert that by the middle of the 20th century the informational base for the formation of world opinion had been laid, both technically and also institutionally, via international organizations and transnational linkages. The United Nations might be seen less as an operational or executive body than as an organ for clarifying global problems.

We might surmise that more recently the social bases of world opinion, that is the constitution of a world-wide public that has or expects to have opinions, might be achieved by a process of democratic "integration" through most of the 21st century. "Integration" conduces to the formation of civil society at the global level that in turn creates the preconditions, in the next phase, for the emergence of global political organization. But it is only well into this coming century that we might see world opinion more actively engaged in global organization.

All this is to show, not just that world opinion does exist, which is becoming increasingly self-evident, but also that in its major orientations it exhibits regular change, and by doing so frames, and orients, other global processes. Our chronograph attempts to capture these long swings in world opinion and sentiment in a systematic fashion. In other words, we postulate, as we have already said, that the formation of world opinion is an evolutionary learning process of distinct phases, and that these phases have set the tone, i.a. for each cycle of global politics (as defined by a leading power). Thus after mid-nineteenth century the priority (general) global problem could be defined as knowledge, information, and communication in the global system, opening up the world via exploration, science, education, and rejection of limits to freedom of information. More recently, since the 1970s, opinion has begun to shift priorities to problems of integration, that is to problems of strengthening networks of solidarity to form nuclei of global community, in contrast to those, of fundamentalists and others resisting the possibility of more inclusive forms of global relationships. It is only on the basis of such more integrated networks that problems of global organization will enter the agendas of world opinion later in the next century.

The rise of world opinion, of course, does not mean the waning of regional distinctions, national cultures, or local identities; rather it makes possible a dialogue between local, national, regional and global points of view, such that in the context of strong communities of several kinds a global community also becomes a factual possibility. The question then arises: where might the best conditions be found for a continuing debate, and for formulating plans and programs for dealing with global problems that reflect a world public interest? Broadly speaking, such an alert public is likely to be found in the emerging democratic community, and in the near future, probably focussed upon the United States.


The third dimension of globalization is democratization. In the broadest terms, we might see it, too, as a learning process, that of the human species learning to live with itself in conditions of 'equality under law', to use the earliest Greek definition of democracy. But in our narrower context of global processes, we might view it more precisely as the accumulation of conditions necessary for the possible emergence of a global community, a community of democracies, a global-level association of a democratic character. By global community we mean a civil society that makes possible long-term cooperation at the global level; not only inter-governmental but also inter-organizational, social, and transnational in the broadest sense. For such a community to endure, it would have to be democratic.

The underlying process is the spread of democracy over the globe, grounded in the superior advantages of its practices over all alternatives. /6/ As it is, that spread is well underway, and measurably so. We can discuss it in reasonably precise terms and not just in generalities, as the process by which social innovations embodied in democratic practices diffuse across the world population. We need to bear in mind, of course, that, historically speaking, democracy is a recent phenomenon. As a significant social fact it arose basically in the 19th century and is therefore not much older than some 150 years. About 1850, less than five per cent of the world's population lived in democratic countries; that percentage rose to 20 by 1920, and was under 40 in the late 1980s, just before the regime changes in Eastern Europe and elsewhere.

Importantly, however, if we agree that democracy is an innovation subject to the laws of diffusion, then its future spread can be estimated with the help of a logistic equation. On the basis of trends to-date (constituting the initial conditions of t his analysis) it can be shown that a level of 50 per cent is likely to be attained early in the next century, and one of 90 per cent of world coverage might be reached, depending on the assumptions made, sometime between the years 2075 and 2117 (Modelski and Perry 1991:30,34). A most important implication of such an analysis makes democracy not a "Western" but a universal phenomenon.

Viewed as an evolutionary and therefore also as a learning process, democratization is laying the groundwork for the future development of a democratic community, in full measure after about 2080. We observe that such a process would be significantly supported by the parallel maturing of the Information Age in the global economy. The rapidly falling costs, and the wide accessibility, of information make democracy possible world-wide; a global democratic community is the best infrastructure for free markets and what is more, for the information industries that , as argued, now constitute the leading sectors of the global economy. Societies that are non-democratic will have great difficulty in keeping pace with the information revolution, hence will be greatly disadvantaged in global political competition.

The rise of the democratic community, being an evolutionary process, is necessarily time-consuming, indeed requiring a great deal of time to achieve maturity. We might think of it as having been prepared by a series of experiments, classically in Greece, where it flourished in Athens in particular for about 150 years, and in the modern era restarting again with a series of trial-and-errors, including arguably Chinese reforms of the Sung age, the trials of the city states of Renaissance Italy, the experience of the Dutch Republic and its Calvinist networks, and not forgetting the achievements of the British parliamentary system, and the American and French Revolutions. It is the successes and the failures of the last three in particular that serve to this date as the soil from which sprang our more contemporary experience of democracy.

The serious start of democracy in mid-19th century also set off a process of community-building with international ramifications. A variety of social movements took form in the years before 1914, and the ideological programs of the prominently socialist, Marxist, social-democratic, and nationalist movements took shape then. Over the next half-century, the democratic camp came increasingly to define itself by contrast with its totalitarian alternatives. The new order of Europe of the national socialist alternative collapsed at the end of World War II in 1945, but the Moscow-led camp of socialism had a stronger, and a longer lease on life and for a while offered stiff competition as an apparently viable alternative principle of organization. In the third, selection, phase of competition, setting in after 1973, the Soviet bloc, as well as the Soviet Union, having defaulted on its promises and defrauded its adherents, collapsed in economic and social bankruptcy by 1991. It appeared as though the democratic "camp" was being selected out in a world-wide ideological contest as the fitter form of social organization, though the contest was hardly over, not even in Russia, and as long as China retains its (increasingly tenuous) commitment to Communism. We might expect the consolidation of the democratic nucleus to continue for the best part of the 21st century, until such time as a global democratic community might begin to be seriously constructed on the basis of that nucleus. But that third (selection) phase of decisive ideological competition is far from over, and might be expected to last another two-three decades, to be followed, after 2026, by a phase of democratic consolidation.

As in the case of the spread of democracy in general, the emergence of a democratic community at the global level is an evolutionary process and as such is driven by a set of characteristic actors, the succession of social movements, and of societies that serve as models in what we might label the Democratic Lineage. These are societies that, in the past, exhibited democratic potential and, more recently, demonstrated the best current forms of democratic organization, and jointly, form a line of descent within which the rules, practices, and experience were transmitted in a process of social learning and cultural inheritance. They also afford safe havens for emerging democratic movements. Examples include the Netherlands as an successful models of republican and federalist organization, also a safe harbor for English and Scottish refugees in the 16-17th centuries; the British Parliament as the "mother of Parliaments" and London as a center for exiles, and the British-American "special relationship" as the anchor of 20th century world politics. Most recently the driving force was that of the American society, and that condition is likely to continue well into the 21st century. But the democratic lineage has also been gaining in breadth, and the preeminence of any single society within it is likely to diminish gradually, anticipating the emergence of a more richly textured global democratic community.


Global leadership and world organization

The three processes we have just reviewed, the formation of the global economy, and of world opinion, and democratization, each worthy of study at length and on their own merit, also lead up to one important conjecture. All three suggest that in respect of the question that is at the heart of political globalization, where might global leadership reside in the approaching century, the United States looks well positioned and well qualified. The US is gaining in the leading sectors of the global economy in general, and in the information industries in particular; its responsiveness to global problems as might be articulated by world opinion is likely to remain superior, and its democratic credentials remain strong and are likely to be central to the evolution of the democratic lineage. If we add to this what we know about its current and prospective capacity for politico-military global reach - including air and space power, naval strength, nuclear and rapid deployment forces - we are likely to conclude that those conditions favor the United States, and more so than the potential competitors - be it China, European Union, India, Japan or Russia - to name the most obvious.

In turn, the conjecture just presented in respect of the probable course of the major aspects of globalization also makes it possible to argue that a significant national coalition in the United States will continue to support global action, including political and security initiatives, thus dampening any tendencies toward isolationism, even if the overall level of American involvement in global affairs is likely to continue varying over time and might level off or even decline in the next two-three decades, picking up once again as the world system moves into the middle of the 21st century.

A calendar for 21st century global politics

There remains the question of the timing of the political process. In the light of our discussion, where does the world system stand in the competition that has taken the form of long cycles, and how might we map such a conception on a "calendar" for global politics in the 21st century? /7/



CHRONOGRAPH, a Calendar of global politics, 1848-2100

Our chronograph (an instrument for measuring and recording time, including successive phases of social processes) presents a synopsis of our entire discussion so far and shows, too, the recent (post-1848) and the "projected" course of global political evolution. In its third column it shows that process to be in the era of global political organization, and propelled since the second half of the 19th century, by the rise of the United States, even while Britain was serving out its second term of global leadership. By 1918 the emerging leadership of the US had become apparent, and in 1941-45 it was consummated. Judging from the British precedent we might expect it to continue for two or three more decades. But in the meantime, forces are stirring that are preparing another test of Macrodecision, that of selecting global leadership for the latter part of the 21st century.

Roughly within the last quarter of this century (1973-2000) we shall have experienced the first phase of that new long cycle that will select a renewed leadership structure. That was the phase we call "agenda-setting" because it entailed the loss of legitimacy (delegitimation) for the post-1945 order, and for the agendas of that time, a condition most clearly seen in Eastern Europe. Despite some up-and-downs and the insistent proclamations of "end of hegemony", American global leadership has continued, but a new leadership cycle has got underway, one whose first phase is characterized not only by the fading of old agendas but also by a turmoil of ideas, frantic search for new visions, and the exploration of newly urgent global problems, of which the nuclear and the environmental have become prominent examples.

If our model is correct then the next phase in the political learning cycle, coalitioning (2000-2026), might be expected to involve the formation of new formal and informal alliances around the new agendas, and of preparing the ground for the leadership selection to follow (in the Macrodecision phase, (2026-2050). We submit that this coming phase of coalition-building will likely be centered on the solidarity of the democratic lineage. Will the democracies continue to cohere beyond the collapse of the Soviet threat of the cold war era, or might this potential family of democracies simply fracture under the uncertainties of the post-cold war world? In more practical terms, will NATO survive, and will the G7 and the OECD continue to evolve?

In a recent essay that is noteworthy for its willingness to take the long view, Immanuel Wallerstein (1994:334-7) implies the possibility of such a fracture. His vision is of another "bipolar world" in which the United States, whose economy is coming out "a poor third to Japan and Europe", joins with Japan in a "condominium". In such a world, a "Japan-US condominium", possibly including China, will compete, both in the world economy and in political matters, against a greater Europe, with which Russia is likely to align itself. The "sea-air power, Japan" would transform the previous "hegemonic" power, the United States, into its junior partner, and begin to compete with the land-based power, the EC", though other processes might also intervene. The term "bipolar" implies the possibility of armed confrontation between blocs but Wallerstein does not discuss that possibility and leaves open the question how the period of what he calls "chaos" (2025-2050) will resolve that competition. But he also puts on record the view that "after say 2050 or 2075" "we shall no longer be living in a capitalist world-economy" (ib.:349).

There are a number of points on which we disagree with this analysis. But, in particular, we need to contrast Wallerstein's conjecture of a fracture in the democratic world, an association tested in the heat of two world wars, and the ideological competition of the cold war, with the hypothesis of global politics evolution in the 21st century. Our own scenario rests upon two premises: that the critical region (the active zone) of the world system is shifting from the Atlantic to the Pacific, and that the relationships of major tension in world politics in the next Macrodecision phase are likely to be generated out of conflicts animating that region.

From the Atlantic to the Pacific?

Since about the year 1500, and on all major dimensions that matter, the active zone of the world system has been Atlantic Europe. That was the locus of major innovations and the scene of grand confrontations. But this situation has been changing, gradually, since the mid-19th century. The active zone has been moving via the Eastern seaboard of North America, in the direction of the Pacific, a region on whose shores we now find not only the world's major population centers but also increasingly the centers of productive power, especially in the currently leading sectors. That is now the zone on which directly impinge most of the likely contenders for future leadership including of course the United States.

In their recent work, Karen Rasler and William Thompson (1994) have documented the fact that in the past five global wars of our modern era the central contention has been that between a globally-oriented sea power, and a contender for supremacy disposing of a strong army and threatening the central region of the world system. During that same period, the central region was Western Europe, but if the focus of world activity were indeed moving toward the Pacific then the relationships in that region will likely hold the key to world peace in the 21st century. Who might be the likely global challengers and are they likely to assume a role comparable to that played in earlier cycles successively, by Spain, France, and Germany?

Our scenario proposes, for the phase of Coalitioning (2000-2026) that we are about to enter, a reconfiguration of the democratic nucleus with all its essential members intact. Within that nucleus we would expect to prevail a condition of "democratic peace", that is absence of armed conflict, along with a capacity to settle differences by negotiations founded upon a fundamental consensus on basic values. /8/ This democratic coalition is likely to be relatively strong and potentially capable of organizing the major part of the world system, hence also capable of deterring a general war.

Also emerging in the imminent phase of coalitioning, and set to confront the democratic coalition in the following phase (2026-2050) of Macrodecision (on past record a global war) will be elements of the non-democratic world. Where might the principal challenge come from? On our earlier analysis, a challenger could arise from the newly forming active zone in the Pacific region. One obvious possibility is China, a populous country, increasingly prosperous, with a great history, but with an unsettled social and political system. Observers have noted that China is apparently convinced that the United States is a superpower in decline and determined to contain China, a superpower on the rise. A number of issues might serve to unsettle the relations between China, its neighbors, and the world, including the independence of Taiwan, democracy in Hong Kong, the status of Tibet, the future disposition of North Korea and of the islands in the South China Sea, not to mention human rights, and other, more bread-and-butter issues that are bound to arise on a routine basis. That does not mean that China is already being cast in a role that would need to be contained. It does mean though that the situation that created serious confrontations in five earlier cycles could repeat itself in a new setting, and with equally costly consequences for all sides. All that can be said is that theory forewarns us and that it may not be too much to expect that social learning of the dangers should now be in place, ready to be deployed.

A challenger would serve as a focus for those forces that express dissatisfaction with the status quo in the Pacific area, and with all that is wrong with the world system at large. These forces might rally those buffeted by economic dislocation resulting from globalization, others experiencing national or local turmoil in non-democratic conditions, and those culturally adrift or inclining toward fundamentalism. A confrontation between such forces involving East Asia, Southeast Asia, South or West Asia could involve major conflicts but not necessarily large-scale warfare or recourse to nuclear weapons, even though such hope is "less than a sure bet" (Rasler and Thompson 1994:191).

Adding to such specific occasions for confrontation in the Macrodecision phase will also be a general background of social tension that might be expected to arise from large-scale urbanization (to a degree never so far experienced), the doubling of world population in the next three-four decades, and a leveling off of world population growth (with low birth and death rates, and a life expectancy of 75, as United Nations forecasters now tell us) by about 2045. The completion of this "demographic transition" at the end of that phase will constitute the stuff of global politics in the next cycle, paving the way for qualitative changes in global organization. At least twice before in the experience of the world system have millennial periods of rapid population growth been followed by periods of slow growth and general social consolidation and leveling.

That is the form which major conflicts could assume, and the context within which they might arise, in the world system toward the middle of the next century, and these might be seen both as a product of globalization but also of the lack so far of institutions that would domesticate conflicts, and function as a substitute for global war, in recent experience a selection mechanism for global leadership. We might surmise, though, that either from within the democratic coalition, or simply as the solution to a period of major conflicts, new leadership and related, and increasingly institutionalized, arrangements would emerge by say 2050, and be consolidated in 2050-2080.

Rather than expecting an "end to capitalism", we anticipate a strengthening of tendencies toward the consolidation of the world market, even though it is also obvious that both the world economy, and society, will be much changed by that time. Neither do we foresee the "withering away of the state", even though the state could "lose its structural primacy" (Cerny 1995:625). But we do expect, in the next cycle of global politics, toward the end of the coming century, the take-off in learning processes that will lend greater stability to global organization. Such would obviously have a democratic basis, founded upon by-then close to complete spread of democratic practices, a full flowering of the information age, and much strengthened organs of world opinion. Such global political organization might be in good shape to meet the problems of the 22nd century. Long-range a positive outlook for the future, even if more short-term quite a few problems lie ahead.

Where to next in International Studies?

The short answer is: spare some more time for time by taking up global chronopolitics (defined as the study of the phasing of global political change, and of policies appropriate to such phases). Such an activity yields, in favorable conditions, both better explanation, and better prediction. The systematic study of the timing of major turning points on the calendar of global politics is particularly important for international studies because crucial international processes such as war and peace, global leadership, alliances, institutional transformation and globalization, are long-term in nature and cannot be dealt with except through careful specification of their location in time and space.

This essay in global chronopolitics has been an exercise in systematic prediction. Prediction is an attempt to think in future time; if well done, it has practical value because it might avoid some unnecessary surprises, and will tend to reduce uncertainty about the future (always a source of instability). Such prediction yields theory payoffs because it is also ultimately verifiable (in the future), because its accuracy, and that of its components, the initial conditions, and the hypotheses, can in the end be checked out.

Explanation is the other way in which time matters, and in this case, mostly time past. That means that explanations must generally be tested by evidence from past experience. In international studies that means historical data. The plea here is not for more history because that is the province of historians, but for better concepts and sharper generalizations that give us the tools to discover and monitor large-scale trends.

The broadest lesson I should like to argue is the importance of an evolutionary approach to international studies. If world political structures are subject to an evolutionary process - as argued here - then we need to pay much more attention than we have so far, to evolutionary theory, and to the need to be able to assemble data that serve to verify evolutionary hypotheses. IR needs an important evolutionary component because in its ultimate concerns it asks questions ranging from the destiny of nations to the survival of the entire human species.



An earlier version of this paper was presented at the conference on "Global Change and Korean Agenda", Seoul, Korea, August 1995.


1. Our subject in this paper is not Time, but time. All that is not to say that IR lacks examples of well-rounded treatments of time. Quincy Wright's classic A STUDY OF WAR (1942), written more than half a century ago, makes no apologies for sweeping over the entire range of the human experience to answer his questions about war.


2. For earlier essays in prediction, of shorter range and using earlier versions of this methodology, see Modelski 1987, 1988.


3. This expresses the belief that properly framed questions about global institutional change are capable of being answered in such a manner that the answers can be evaluated and verified in accordance with common and objective standards of truth. The sharper the question, the less likely are the answers to be subject to political, or broadly ideological bias. By scientific inquiry I mean scholarship that is guided by good questions, checks hypotheses against the relevant evidence, and is replicable.


4. Both explanation, and prediction are, of course, subject to objective tests that include, also according to Hempel, (1) an empirical test of the statement of determining conditions (that act as causes); (2) an empirical test of the universal hypotheses employed in explanation and prediction, and (3) an investigation whether an explanation (or prediction) is logically conclusive. General laws are those that are commonly accepted as such and need no retesting.


5. On global politics in an evolutionary perspective see Modelski 1995 and l996b; for an early employment of the concept of globalization see Modelski 1968.


6. Put most simply, and as Rudolph Rummel has amply documented, democracies are much safer to live in.


7. Calendars are, next to clocks, basic tools for organizing time. Chronobiology is the study of biological clocks, and chronotherapeutics, a branch of medicine concerned with applying treatment in relation to a patient's biological clock. We might envisage "chronopolitics" as concerned with the employment of policies appropriate to the phasing of calendar of global politics.


8. Absence of armed conflict does not mean absence of political conflict, and there might therefore arise, within the democratic nucleus, a stabilized conflict system, possibly a two- or multi-"party" system, based on different approaches to international issues, at first largely inter-governmental but gradually developing a more complex character.





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Hempel, Carl G. (1942,1994) "The Function of General Laws in History" at pp.43-53 of Michael Martin and Lee C. McIntyre eds. READINGS IN THE PHILOSOPHY OF SOCIAL SCIENCE, Cambridge: MIT Press.


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