Thursday, September 4, 2008

The Myth of the Nation-State?

On the Carnegie Council's Policy Innovations forum, Devin Stewart has written a piece call The Myth of the Nation-State.

Specifically he argues that while the "state" is important and useful, the "nation-state" is a falsehood because today's problems transcend international boundaries.

Sovereignty buff red flags are going off all over the place here. While the argument itself sounds nice -- that we are global individual citizens, not members of an ethnic, tribal, or nationalist group -- it's wildly belied by experience. The author uses the multiple identities of Europeans (linguistic, cultural, regional, continental, national, etc.), but the EU merely reinforces both the sovereignty principle and how to get things done in a world of nation-states that aren't going away. Every identity group longs for self-rule and chafes under anything else. But the EU manages to give everyone home rule while involving them in an economic community and political bloc that gives them the leverage of a great power. The other option is ethnic groups lording over other ethnic groups by force, which is what has happened in much of Africa and the Middle East, among many other places.

If there is no true "nation-state" it becomes much easier to, say, justify humanitarian intervention or removal of a bad regime in a nation and then be surprised when the country falls apart into ethnonationalist sectarian chaos, which has happened, you know, once or twice in recent history. The international declaration of human rights is important, but if sovereign states aren't the ones to enforce it, it's worthless. Countries, even ones with good human rights records such as mine, are much more cavalier about slaughtering other peoples' citizens than their own. Notice how there's no official US government record of the Iraqi death toll.

If we want to solve the world's problems, it's essential that we make it in all countries' interest to solve them. On climate change, this is really the case. It IS in America's interest, and China's, and India's, and everyone's, to solve the climate change problem. Working with nations and their "parochial interests," we can craft a climate change regime that brings benefit to everyone with shared burdens and cooperation that's in everyone's interest. Attempting to bypass nationalist considerations, however, will go nowhere. There's a reason that the Kyodo Protocol was dead on arrival when it got to the United States. The case for why it would benefit America hadn't been made. Now it's being made. And now we have a chance for some action.


Devin Stewart said...
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Devin Stewart said...

Ambassador At Large, thanks for reading my piece and commenting on it. You bring up some good points, some of which were discussed in our round table here:

In particular that groups will continue to demand self governance. That is certainly true but it isn't an automatic good. Moreover, "the proliferation of nations and states could continue ad infinitum, down to the tribe or clan..."

Contrary to your blog post, I am not making the case against sovereignty, although that is in interesting point. How is sovereignty is justified? That is something I think we should examine.

But your basic point is something I totally agree with (and I was hoping it came through in the piece): It is in the enlightened self interest of countries to address global problems. I called this principle the "New MAD World:" If we don't cooperate, our destruction is mutually assured: