Globalisation will force nation-states to change

In an essay entitled The Shape of the World, The Economist (Dec 23, 1995-Jan 6, 1996) had stated: “The idea that nation-states, wishing to belong to something bigger, will gather together into big, new entities, each speaking for the culture or civilisations of its component parts, is a long way off from being realised”. Only in Western Europe is there any seriously conceived plan to dissolve existing nation-states into something bigger and, “Even this European experiment may now be running into the sands”. 
   Analysts continue to question the concept of nation-states. The late J N Dixit wrote that nation-states are becoming irrelevant and that a new imperial age is in the making where power and influence will accrue to entities and communities with advanced technologies and information capabilities, transcending existing geopolitical boundaries. Regardless of their size and strength, existing nation-states will have to cope with this transition. 
   Starting with Margaret Thatcher’s free market policies and Reagan’s supply side economics in the West to Deng Xiaoping’s “socialist market economy” in the East, deregulation has transformed the world’s economy and, consequently, its geopolitics. There is an increasing trend towards forming regional economic and trade groupings, based on preferential trade agreements and mutually agreed tariffs, leading to an unprecedented increase in regional trade. These regional groupings are already having a profound impact on the future of the nation-state. 
   Some thinkers are of the view that the future belongs to “region-states” based on economic rather than political borders. Kenichi Ohmae, a Japanese scholar and management consultant, wrote in his book The End of the Nation State: The Rise of Regional Economics: “Traditional nation-states have become unnatural, even impossible, business units in a global economy...” Region states’ are more relevant...What defines them is not the location of their political borders but the fact that they are the right size and scale to be true, natural business units in today’s global economy...Theirs are the borders — and connections — that matter in a borderless world”. 
   Ohmae contends that four great forces — capital, corporations, consumers and communication — have combined to usurp the economic power once held by the nation-state “as these can all freely criss-cross national borders”. However, the real weakness in Ohmae’s argument about the reality of a borderless global economy is that he assumes an identity of interests between what he terms are the four ‘Is’ — investment, industry, information technology 
and the individual consumer. Such an identity of interests is increasingly under pressure from protectionist trade policies on the one hand and strident calls for fair trade on the other. The Cold War had somehow succeeded in suppressing ethnicity. Events in the last decade of the 20th century starkly highlighted the dangers of the re-emergence of ethnic nationalism, another major factor in the decline of the nation-state. 
   An even bigger blow to the concept of the nation-state is likely to come from the ‘megamedia’ revolution, spawned by the advances in digital communications and fanned by the unbridled power of the Internet. The Internet has created international cyber-citizens — net surfers who coexist in a borderless cyber-state. The proliferation of satellite TV has also dealt a devastating blow to the concept of the nation state, creating a revolution of rising expectations. 
   The world’s rapid transition to globalisation, spurred by the international integration of the production of goods and services, free flow of people, information and capital, giant leaps in communications and the diffusion of power to non-state actors, is bound to have an impact on the future of nation-states. However, the impact need not be entirely negative. 
   Writing in Foreign Affairs (Jan-Feb 2001), Martin Wolf expressed the view that “Globalisation will not spell the end of the modern nation-state...International economic integration magnifies the difference between good and bad states...failed states, disorderly states, weak states and corrupt states are shunned as the black holes of the global economic system...As the source of order and basis of governance, the state will remain in the future as effective, and will be as essential, as it has ever been”. 
   Another factor for nation-states to contend with is the emergence of powerful multinational corporations (MNCs) and non-governmental organisations (NGOs). The mass demonstrations witnessed at WTO meetings symbolise the power of NGOs to mobilise disparate groups and harness their energies for a backlash against globalisation. It would not be far-fetched to predict that MNCs may eventually raise their own armed militias to protect their commercial interests, particularly in war-ravaged regions in the Third World. 
   The nation-state is bound to take another form in the new millennium. However, change in the basic building blocks of governance and international relations will be evolutionary rather than revolutionary. While the emerging challenges to the survival of the nation-state are quite powerful, the nation-state is likely to be more durable than is imagined at present. The conventional idea of sovereign inviolability, that goes back to the Peace of Augsburg in 1555 and to the Treaty of Westphalia in 1648, is unlikely to be jettisoned in a hurry. 

The writer is with Centre for Air Power Studies.