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World-System. Superpowers and Policy Problems on the Globe

According to Professor Guido Quazza, during the 1970s historical interpretations were mainly focused on the Great Powers, forgetting that there were other factors which were more surprising, that is, new strategies of popular mobilization.

In the second half of the 1970s, Professor Guido Quazza (1922-1996) lamented the fact that the contemporary issues in the Western historiographical debate were primarily focused on foreign policies dictated by Great Powers after World War II. Accordingly, researchers and studies were systematically interested in the implementation of this specific perspective, underestimating the meaning of “submerged forces” that were particularly important in Western and non-Western societies, reaching sometimes results of greatest importance, even if they were somehow cut-off and forgotten.

“ It is right to consider the history of the world as a struggle between States related to the atomic bomb problem,” said Professor Quazza. It has much less right, he continued, to underestimate what stands behind that struggle (multinationals, World Banks and violent and non-violent popular uprisings). They were political phenomena that took place inside and not outside of the States. Suffice it to say that it is deeply wrong to overlook that the delicate balance of forces between the Great Powers remains unstable today as it has been for centuries, and, above all, it allows political and social forces coming from the bottom to move across a number of different countries. The war in Vietnam teaches us that we must not allow ourselves to be dazzled by the countries called “Superpowers,” because the Vietnamese knew how to play the game against the most powerful army in the world in the context of the world balance of power. Indeed, they exploit the instability due to the contrasts between the “Superpowers,” and new forms of “popular mobilization.”

So A. F. Krepinevich, Jr. was asking himself: “How could the army of the most powerful nation on Earth […] fail to emerge victorious against a numerically inferior force of lightly armed irregulars?”. He answered that, “The link with the population becomes crucial at this stage of insurgency.”

Professor Quazza therefore concluded that the State’s policy process is no stranger to the presence of popular forces. Today, more than ever before, this fact weighs heavily on the global scale. If we think that each concept was expressed nearly 40 years ago, it must be recognized that Quazza’s vision of history was really enlightened.

I shall take the liberty of making a suggestion.

It would be a fatal mistake not to take into due consideration the best results of the historical studies. Most States do not have improved tools to make an assessment of the current political situation if the international policy agenda lives in an “eternal present.”

History becomes much more relevant today than it was in the past in order to predict foreign policy problems on the globe. History is a vital part of the machine, and its presence is indispensable, while all awareness of the past should not be dissipated.



G. Quazza’s speech on “La storia politica”, in L’Italia negli ultimi trent’anni. Rassegna critica degli studi. Bologna, Il Mulino, 1978, p. 47.

A. F. Krepinevich, Jr., “The Army and Vietnam,” Baltimore & London, John Hopkins University press, 1988, p. 4, 5 and pp. 7-8.



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