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The State of Nation

An overview of the condition of nation states in today’s globalised and connected world from the perspective of armed conflict zones in a third-world nation  



Are you proud of your country?

This might be an obvious question to many people. If you are living in India, especially if you are the folks in mainland regions, this might even seem a futile provocation when you have so many factors to cherish for: the soldiers posted in border areas (read Kashmir), the cricket team, the kabaddi team, yoga, Mahatma Gandhi, August 15, ISRO, the Mughal legacy, the Aryabhata-Ramnujan & co, an ancient civilisation and what not. If that is self-explanatory, where do the people stand in the ranking of being patriotic? A Forbes news report (forbes.com/2008/07/02/world-national-pride-oped-cx_sp_0701patriot.html) mentions the three most patriotic countries are the US, Venezuela and Australia; and the least includes the erstwhile East Germany, Latvia and Sweden, with whatever indicators were used to rank these countries nearly a decade ago. In a 1990–92 review by the World Values Survey (worldvaluessurvey.org), India was just behind Ireland and the United States.

The relatively new concept of nation-state, which had its origin in the 17th-century Europe, has been redefined in the 21st-century. This is not a surprise considering the changes in the way how humans, over a thousand of years as political animals have been preparing for the theatre of the absurd, in the name of making decisions and leading multilayered social lives. 
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Again, for certain people, the mere question of belonging to a nation can be a matter of life and death. Briefly, one of the oldest armed movements has been going on unabatedly in the so-called Northeast India, which mainly comprises the fag end of the Himalayan region and its surroundings in the eastern part of the country. It started just after the Indian independence and going by the trend, it is not going to end soon—though a few groups of people in the power play are complacent this way, as it meets their political goals and personal interests.

By default, in actuality, we grow up asking the essence of a nation, if there is any at all. A few days ago, a news broke about the formation of the United National Liberation Front of West Southeast Asia, a sort of conglomeration of eight armed organisations that are active in three states of this volatile region. Note the term West Southeast Asia, it is one of its kind while the older popular prefix used to be national liberation front and movements. This kind of ceaseless development, mostly damaging, and the status quo of belonging to a nation legally is a deadly combination of manufacturing different mindsets, which are again mostly counterproductive and disillusion-friendly, among the natives.

As the saying goes, we are not an island unto ourselves. In this age of a global village we cannot afford to avoid the drifts in other parts of the world. Comparatively, many countries in South America have been going through similar phases, so are these armed-movement issues prevalent in North Africa and West Asia.

Corporations and nations

Amidst all these claims for new nationhood and protests for rights of nations to self-determination that was first glorified in 1789 in the Declaration of the Rights of Man of the French Revolution, the very concept of a nation is going through a transition. This is most apparent in the rise of multinational corporations, some of which are richer than many underdeveloped countries. For instance, the Bank of America’s revenue is $134.19 billion while the GDP of Vietnam is $103.57 billion. (Pegged at $1,995.80 billion in 2014, India is ranked among the ten of the highest GDP ranking countries.)

In her Times article, Are Companies More Powerful Than Countries? (http://business.time.com/2012/01/27/are-companies-more-powerful-than-countries/), Rana Foroohar wrote:

‘Politicians have few solutions to the huge problems of the day—labour bifurcation, debt, and inequality. Markets want answers, but leaders can’t give them—in part because for them, nearly any sort of action poses political risk.’

She added:

‘[T]he top companies seem to exist in a world apart: they are booming, and their executives are prospering ...the world’s largest companies are moving on and moving ahead of governments and countries that they perceive to be inept and anemic. They are flying above them, operating in a space that is increasingly disconnected from local concerns, and the problems of their home markets. And if the conversations here are any indication, they may soon take over much of what government itself does.’

It is no wonder then, in some corners, observers are pointing out a day may come when these corporations can buy a government, not in the traditional under-the-table approach but like a normal commodity by trading with their products, ideas and services. This is not an ingredient of conspiracy theory but has existed in real life as seen from a scenario in Indonesia, in which a private player known as the Soyuz-Mikoyan that once dominated in this fourth largest populated country.

Globalisation is all business, except in some sporadic areas of information technology which has connected the world like never before in history. For the pro-corporations the battle cry is efficiency and so if we go further, in the near future it is likely that the corporations would be handling the governments, managing them, utilizing them, like it does with their equally perfectionist clients.

Add to this redundancy of geography in today’s world. On one hand, if the decree and proclamation of a king mark his boundary, then one of the chief markers of a nation state is its territory. The outlines of political maps, on the other, are getting faded gradually. Especially in urban areas of a nation, including those in a traditional society like India, it is an open secret how we prefer the services of private players, including those of foreign countries, to the state-owned companies. So to say, the government is lagging behind in most laps. Ironically, for their lacking in every corner, the government is trying to make up by going virtual. The present Indian prime minister, with twelve million followers, is among the most popular tweeple these days!

Imagination of new nations

During the advent of Westphalian order, mercantilism laid the foundation of a modern nation-state with the political–economical systems of regulating its economy at the expense of other equal powers or other such states. Nowadays, Internet and information economy has replaced it, though nationalists have different opinions, not about the ways of production, distribution and consumption but wholly on the reincarnation of their nations. For starters the concept had survived two world wars. The firm ideas of sovereignty, the dominance of national governments in global issues, their existence as a foundation of a global order in modern history, the prevailing international laws with far-reaching effects plus the power to grant and recognise legitimacy: all of these make a nation seemingly logical and formidable like it has been for the last four centuries.
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Yet these factors are two sided—visible in the way the concept of a nation is losing its ground—for example, the supposedly unbreakable approximation of sovereignty has fallen in and this is quite clear in how present-day nations are joining forces to form supranational groups and institutions. India, for example, is a member of the Group of 24 (G24), the South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation (SAARC), the Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa (BRICS) group and the Mekong-Ganga Cooperation (MGC), among others. In the west, the European Union has been called the new Holy Roman Emperor, and rightly so.

All’s not lost for the nation though. Its centralism and expertise of public administration are the forces that drive this entity in contemporary world. But there is only the factor of new alternatives brought about by global dynamics of life, society and business as a whole.

Sovereignty, the centrepiece of a nation-state and the Westphalian concept, has sometimes been rendered as the most absurd elements if we take into account the nation-building process of India. Its state, Manipur has its first democratic election in 1948—probably one of the first in Asia—but it was annexed to the union of post-independent India, hence the armed movements against the union. The tragedy of such high-handedness by an over-ambitious nation-sate continues till today and solutions are not in sight. Well, nothing is permanent in the universe.

Incidentally, for cases in Manipur, several interest groups have been approaching the arms of the United Nation with grievances vis-à-vis the bloody relationship with India, though the latter would always maintain that it is a mere domestic affair, just a breakdown of law and order situation, while gladly brushing off as a non-political issue like many apolitical natives in the province would be complacent about. This is considerable with reference to the problems of intervention and the effects on a Westphalian nation-state system. Point 7 of Article 2 of the UN Charter’s Chapter I, deals with non-interference in ‘matters which are essentially within the domestic jurisdiction of any state’.

Elsewhere the dominance of national governments in global issues and their existence as a foundation of a global order in modern history are a passé now. The whole order, for that matter, has undergone a tectonic shift. On the superficial level, the transformation is seen in the latest business activities of the MNCs. This was put succinctly by Tom Goodwin of Havas Media. He wrote: ‘Uber, the world’s largest taxi company, owns no vehicles. Facebook, the world’s most popular media owner, creates no content. Alibaba, the most valuable retailer, has no inventory. And Airbnb, the world’s largest accommodation provider, owns no real estate. Something interesting is happening.’ As mentioned, territory—the hallmark of a nation-state—has lost its ground. The rise of Al Qaeda and such organisations, with their bases in multiple countries, offers the antithesis to the new capitalists.

Proceeding agenda: nations and tribes

Multinational corporations are just one side of the coin with their sole motives for business and profits. But politics is a multidimensional process. It deals with the people at the most basic ground level, with even the dividing lines like the caste systems in mainland India acting as an essential element of governance and administration. 

In a paper written by Anthony Coughlan, Secretary of The National Platform, Ireland, and a member of the European Alliance of EU-critical Movements Board, he mentions:

‘The number of European States has gone from 30 to 50 since 1989. This process is not ended even in Western Europe, where people have been at the business of Nation State formation for centuries. It is still ongoing in Eastern Europe. It has scarcely begun in Africa and Asia, where the bulk of mankind lives, where most people still identify significantly with clan-tribal society, and where State boundaries were drawn by the colonial powers after World War II, with little consideration for the wishes of indigenous peoples. There are some 6,000 distinct languages in the world. At their present rate of disappearance there should still be 600 or so left in a century’s time. These will survive because in each case they are spoken by several million people. There clearly are many embryonic nations. Many new nation states, probably a couple of hundred or more, are likely to come into being during the twenty-first century.’


Mr Coughlan also blames the European Union as a band of elites without popular legitimacy and authority. This is despite the fact that the EU has its own passport, anthem, flag and parliament. Then there are also voices from certain corners which held that nation-state was the foundation of modern civilisation and in the pre-nation days, people all over the world were merely tribes separated by blood and beliefs. And if there is any disintegration, people are resorting to ethno-nationalism. Nationalists and pro-nations have all the reasons to smile!

Image from Plan EU Office

Our aspirations, however, have gone beyond national boundaries. If there is any theory like history follows a cyclic pattern, then it is most likely that the exponential rise of technology plus the recognition of indigenous people and the claims for self-determination, for reference, are definitely going to redefine the meaning of nation-state in the approaching years and decades. For an illustration, India has the Kashmir problem in the north, the Maoist confrontation in the heart of the country and the complex armed movements in the Northeast.  

Separatist movements are not confined in particular corners. As some groups emphasise these are not a separatist movement but a struggle to get back the dignity and territory that rightfully belong to the protesters.

No wonder, as much as the people are separated by national boundaries, they are also divided on the significance of a nation state, whether it has exceeded its sell-by date and the opinions are as diverse as the number of proponents. History shows that once the divine power of the kings were absolute and it existed for quite a long time with no resistance, though ultimately like any organism it had its natural death. The case is no different for the nation-states. In a nation like India, which use state terrorism to subdue a section of people like in the Northeast, it makes complete sense why it would never produce a genius like Rabindranath Tagore again and would ever fail to work up every province as a part of its union.  

Footnote

Both the corporations and the nation-states are being accused of spreading neo-colonialism. Yet nobody can deny that state sovereignty is the foundation of default political systems of the various nation-states. The stipulated conditions of the Treaty of Westphalia remain unaltered with the states and their authority at the helm of both domestic and international affairs.

In the same breath these are the days of human rights protection and self-determination; never before have been the issues of indigenous people in the spotlight. Besides, critics allege that nation-states—with their ‘outdated territorial instincts’—are too weak to keep up with the ever-changing affairs of governance and administration brought about by massive globalisation. All of these are not an issue about being right or wrong, but rather we are admitting that the realities are becoming different. These have nothing to do with your blind love for a nation.  
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Further Reading
Rethinking the Nation-State: The Many Meanings of Sovereignty
by Josef Joffe, Foreign Affairs, https://www.foreignaffairs.com/reviews/review-essay/1999-11-01/rethinking-nation-state-many-meanings-sovereignty


Arendt’s Critique of the Nation-State in the Origins of Totalitarianism by  Dr M Çagri Nceoğ Lu, Journal of Yasar University, http://journal.yasar.edu.tr/wp-content/uploads/2012/05/no10_vol3_10_inceoglu.pdf

Beyond the European Nation-state: A Normative Critique by JW Sloan
www.jstor.org/stable/3234106

Nationalism, Statism and Cosmopolitanism in the Northwestern University School of Law, http://www.law.northwestern.edu/research-faculty/colloquium/international/documents/delahunty.pdf

What Is a Nation State for? by Yehudah Mirsky, The Marginalia Review of Books (Los Angeles Review of Books), http://marginalia.lareviewofbooks.org/nation-state-yehudah-mirsky/

After Westphalia, Whither the Nation-state, Its People and Its Governmental Institutions? by Dr Michael Vaughan, School of Political Science & International Studies, The University Of Queensland, http://espace.library.uq.edu.au/view/UQ:266787/AfterWestphalia.pdf

The Limits of the State: Beyond Statist Approaches and Their Critics by Timothy Mitchell, The American Political Science Review, http://www.eden.rutgers.edu/~spath/385/Readings/Tim%20Mitchell%20-%20The%20Limits%20of%20State%20-%20Beyond%20statist%20approaches%20and%20their%20critics.pdf



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