No more states?

That’s what a new book from Harvard says

The overview of a new book edited by Richard Rosecrance and Arthur Stein is interesting enough to be quoted almost in extenso:

The twentieth century witnessed an explosion of new nations carved out of existing ramshackle empires and multiethnic states. Many observers contend that the creation of new states will continue indefinitely, with the two hundred of today becoming the four hundred of tomorrow as more groups seek independence. This provocative and compelling book explores the impact of globalization and terrorism on this trend, arguing convincingly that the era of national self-determination has finally come to an end.

Examining the forces that determine the emergence of new nation-states, the distinguished contributors consider a rich array of specific cases from the Middle East, Asia, North America, Europe, and Russia where new states could be created.

They contend that globalization, rather than expanding such opportunities, is not as friendly to new weak states with limited resources as it is to established rich nations. Given the vast sums circulating in the world market, few fledgling nations can be financially independent. They find it more prudent to shelter within the protective embrace of existing federations. Equally, governments of federal states can induce restive petitioners—such as Quebec, Scotland, and the Basques—to remain inside the metropolitan boundary through a system of tangible restraints and rewards. Those who reject the benefits, such as rebels in Chechnya and Aceh, will fail in their bids for independence. Taiwan—poised on a knife-edge between integration with China and independence—faces a series of costs and diminished returns if it seeks full statehood. Finally, terrorism has lost its legitimacy as a technique for gaining independence in the eyes of the international community.

On balance, the book concludes, discontented national movements will have to find ways to exist within current geopolitical boundaries. [Belfer/KSG/Harvard]

Indeed, national self-determination has been given an indiscriminate halo over the last century, allowing anything ranging from religious partisanship to undisguised xenophobia to pass off under that exalted label. What is more important in the contemporary age is improving institutions to make them democratic, tolerant and protective of individual, economic, social and political freedoms. In the 21st century morality is more correctly invested in countries that uphold these values.

5 thoughts on “No more states?”

  1. I’ll parse the title as “[No more] states”, instead of the “No [more states]” that seems to capture the thesis of Rosecrans and Stein. The breaking down of the barriers to the flow of capital, labor, and most importantly, information, is certainly strengthening the forces of integration while weakening those of disintegration. The same goes for the forces of antiquity, intolerance, and ignorance — you get the drift of what I mean. Does this imply the end of the movement toward self-determination, though? Quite the contrary, I think. For example, just as the Soviet Empire collapsed towards the end of the previous century, I think an episodic event of this century will be the collapse of Chinese Empire. In general, we’ll witness the emergence of virtual economic and political communities, and national boundaries will loose their significance. To paraphrase Dr. Emmett Brown from Back to the Future, “Geopolitical boundaries? Where we’re going, we don’t need geopolitical boundaries!”

  2. RF,

    I would contend that the collapse of the Soviet empire and any potential collapse of the Chinese one will not be so much because of globalisation, but rather, for their inability to be tolerant, democratic and free societies.

  3. Navin,
    Every self-respecting political scientist has his/her own theory of the collapse of the Soviet Empire. I am neither, so I don’t have one, but I sure am glad that it has collapsed. If you pressed me for one, I’d say it’s a failed economic model that caused the collapse, more than a political one. After spending a couple of months now in India, I notice disturbing signs of the UPA government sliding back into the socialist abyss, too, following that failed economic model. That may have nothing to do with your post, but I coulnd’t resist it 😉

  4. RF,

    That too. That too. And yes, your observations about the UPA government’s economic policies resonate here.

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