Posted by: Sam Carson | 25 February, 2007

Rear-View Mirror Ideas 3: The Obsolete Nation State

This is the third and last post in a series on old concepts and new realities. The first post used the music industry as an example of an outdated profit model losing a battle to the new world of digital music. The second post was oriented toward the old-guard attitudes of Bush administration foreign policy trying to fit cold war thinking on the globalized world. In this post, the nation state itself is in discussion, as I wonder if a seventeenth century political system is doing our twenty-first century globalized world any favours.

The nation state is a concept born of the seventeenth century which matured in the industrial revolution. It works in our day and age, but is kind of like carrying your knife collection in a plastic shopping bag. It can work, but isn’t ideal, and you have to be very gentle with it. It isn’t the best tool for the job.

The problem with the nation state/international system in the globalized world is that it has fundamental problems coping with:

1. Huge transnational migrations. The old concepts of immigration authorities keeping undesirable people “out” is definitely an old world concept. This will not last, though I have difficulty understanding what will follow.
2. Monitoring and controlling Transnational Corporations (TNCs). Sweatshops, human rights, pollution control, most of these things must be monitored on a global scale by toothless underfunded NGOs that rely on PR as a whip. Even taxation proves tricky as nation states are forced into compromising laws and taxation to keep TNC from taking their business elsewhere. On the other hand, markets can remain closed or be manipulated by national governments in a way that favours one TNC or inhibits another.
3. Ethnic diversity. The nation is loosely based on ethnic identity. It is the conflict between ethnic identity and the nation state that causes ethnic violence like that in Paris in November 2005, or perhaps the London bombings of July 7th, 2005. This is what Iraq, Darfur and Rwanda are products of, and there have been and will be more of them.
4. Global security. At this time, global security is still seen as an International concept: US vs. Iran, for example. This is a dated idea, as proved by the transnational New York and Madrid terrorist attacks (I think the London and Bali bombings were, for the most part, domestic incidents based on the global precident set by New York and Madrid, in that the perpetrators were from within the nation).

The new world that is evolving is “Transnational”, not “International”. The difference is important, International means between nation states, government to government. Transnational means through nation states, person to person, group to group. The nation state itself is slowly dissintegrating into a cachement area for taxes, law and security.

This requires a new style of thinking, but only to keep up with the other new concepts we live with. The twenty-four hour global real-time information connection, the global reach of aircraft, and the global corporation are a few of the concepts that cannot be dictated to by seventeenth century political divisions.

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