The current state of affairs: A new progressive state leadership is needed to solve global threats

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Since the end of the Cold War, the state actor has often been seen by International Relations and Politics scholars as an increasingly ineffective player on the international/global scene. Despite this perception, and in response to, the recent demonstrations of nationalism and populism in Europe and the United States, Professor Richard Beardsworth of the Department of International Politics, Aberystwyth University argues that ‘progressive state leadership’ presents the only way to deal with global threats such as nuclear weaponry, the climate crisis, health pandemics, financial and trade disorders and general migration.

Despite liberalism being accepted in the West and many parts of the world, most recently clear steps have been taken backwards away from a liberal worldview, to the extent that common talk is now of a crisis in the liberal international order. While the Brexit campaign inspired a resurgence of nationalism in the United Kingdom and sparked the rise of other right-wing factions in Europe, the election of President Trump in the United States has led to the American abdication from global leadership (President Trump’s withdrawal of the United States from the Paris climate accord for example). And, whilst modern technological processes have led to global threats to the human species (e.g., nuclear weaponry, climate change), increasingly fragmented political agendas – with a focus on personal and domestic issues – have led to a dearth of global solutions to these crises.

The election of President Trump in the United States has led to the American abdication from global leadership.

A reimagined political realism
Professor Richard Beardsworth, the E H Carr Chair and Head of the International Politics Department at Aberystwyth University, thinks we need a change of conversation. He believes that by applying a new critical concept of ‘state leadership’ to the study of international relations and politics, it might be possible to encourage a kind of pre-emptive politics to deal with these global threats. Beardsworth argues that the ‘state’ has a critical but difficult role with multiple responsibilities: to its citizens’ welfare and development (national responsibility); to world peace and security (international responsibility); to undue human suffering and development (humanitarian responsibility); and to the global commons (global and planetary responsibility). To combat the recent failures of liberalism and re-emergence of nationalism, Beardsworth argues that a new type of internationalism is necessary, one that builds on a ‘progressive state leadership’ that consistently works towards the alignment of national and global interests and responsibilities.

Global challenges need to be embedded into the national interest of a state and citizenship’s sense of security and identity.

Progressive state leadership
Beardsworth states that a progressive state leadership should both publicly rehearse the trade-offs between national, international and global responsibilities and take the risk of aligning national and global responsibilities where they are perceived as in tension. Only by looking at things through a new critical perspective can change be affected; politicians have too long focused on ‘moral responsibility’ (which there is no obligation to fulfil) rather than ‘political responsibility’ (which combines rule-bound action with discretionary choice). Global challenges need to be embedded into the national interest of a state and citizenship’s sense of security and identity so that these challenges are not considered alien to a nation’s interest, identity and set of values. Solutions to global threats can then be aligned with democratic prerogatives. In today’s world, without the global, there is no national, local or individual in the first place.

You have spoken about the cession of sovereignty in the name of national sovereignty; could you tell us more about this and why you see this as important in terms of dealing with global threats?

When a problem is trans-border, the state cannot maintain its traditional practice of sovereign power in order to govern it. For the problem to be governed, the state must share its sovereign powers with other states so that cooperative strategies of governance are made possible. Without this pooling or cession of sovereignty, states will not hold sovereign power over their ‘own’ borders. This paradox is outstanding if globalisation processes continue: to be sovereign within one’s borders requires sharing sovereignty beyond them.


  • Beardsworth, R. (2015). ‘From Moral to Political Responsibility in a Globalized Age.’ Ethics and International Affairs, 29(1), 71-92.
  • Beardsworth, R. (2017). ‘Towards a Critical Concept of the Statesperson’. Journal of International Political Theory, 13(1), 100-121.
  • Beardsworth, R. (2018). ‘The Political Moment: Political Responsibility and Leadership in a Globalized, Fragmented Age’, Journal of International Relations.
Research Objectives
Professor Richard Beardsworth and colleagues aim to apply the critical concept of ‘progressive state leadership’ to international relations and politics analysis. They consider it urgent that the state actor be reconsidered not as a barrier to global reform, but as a progressive agent of change for global reform.


  • Professor Ariel Colonomos, Senior Research Fellow, CERI, Sciences-Po, Paris. Co-researcher on the research project: ‘Forging anew cosmopolitan foreign policy’.
  • Professor Anthony Lang, Professor of Global Constitutionalism and Head of School, School of International Relations, St Andrews University; and Dr Ilan Baron, Associate Professor of International Political Theory, School of Government and International Affairs. Co-organisers of the multidisciplinary research project: ‘Theorizing Contemporary Political Responsibility’.
  • Dr Charalampos Efstathopoulos, Lecturer in International Political Economy, Department of International Politics, Aberystwyth University, co-organiser of the research project on ‘State Responsibility and Global challenges’.

Richard Beardsworth is the EH Carr Chair in International Politics and Head of the Department of International Politics at Aberystwyth University, UK. His interests lie in international politics, political ethics and statecraft. He has previously taught in France and the United States and is a research associate at Sciences-Po, Paris.

Prof Richard Beardsworth
E.H. Carr Chair in International Politics

Head of Department
Department of International Politics
Aberystwyth University
Aberystwyth, SY23 3FE, UK

T: +44 (0) 1970 628637

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