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Interdependence is the doctrine of mutual dependence among all of the actors within a situation for the survival and success of that situation. It is most commonly used to mean that the people of the world and the institutions they have created both depend on and are depended upon by the earth’s environment. Consequently, it is necessary for any decision related to economics also to integrate the environmental impact into the decisionmaking process, while decisions relating to the environment cannot ignore the economic aspects. In practical terms, it is necessary to cultivate a holistic mindset that can integrate all aspects of society and all aspects of the surrounding environment in order to determine optimal forms of behavior.
This form of thinking can be applied to a wide range of disciplines, including international relations, poverty alleviation, globalization, and democratization. While empirical research can be difficult to manage according to this paradigm, some studies suggest that the intuitive concept of interdependence does have some valency in complex situations. Interdependence is abundantly relevant to natural environmental situations in which negative impacts on one species of flora or fauna can have significant and often unanticipated results for many other species occupying the same or related system.
Religious, philosophical, and social thinkers have talked about the importance of interdependence for centuries, but often from metaphysical perspectives that are not widely considered to be relevant to the modern world. At the same time, the importance of animals and the natural world was often downplayed or else assigned to the control of humanity as a chattel. James Lovelock’s concept of the earth as the Gaia system represented a breakthrough in popular thinking in terms of interdependence. The growth of lowcost international travel and the prevalence of the Internet have helped people to understand cultures and societies from around the world and begin to appreciate how actions in one place resonate in others.
Attempts to create international organizations, which could represent the viewpoints of the people of the different countries of the world, have proved to be of only limited success. The United Nations has helped to create agencies that have raised standards of living for many people around the world in different ways, as for example with the case of the International Labor Organization and the Food and Agriculture Organization. However, the World Trade Organization has been bedeviled with arguments and the unwillingness of some members to accede to multilaterally reached decisions. In the 21st century, the willingness of the executive of the United States to act unilaterally has significantly damaged the ability of international organizations to deal with interdependence in the world system, with often-disastrous results.
- Robert O. Keohane and Joseph S. Nye, Power and Interdependence, (Pearson Education, 2000);
- James E. Lovelock, Gaia: A New Look at Life on Earth (Oxford University Press, 1982);
- Jim MacNeill, Pieter Winsemius, and Taizo Yakushiji, Beyond Interdependence: The Meshing of the World’s Economy and the Earth’s Economy (Oxford University Press, 1991);
- John R. O’Neal and Bruce M. Russet, “The Classical Liberals Were Right: Democracy, Interdependence, and Conflict, 1950-85,” International Studies Quarterly, (v.41/2, 1997).