How statehood recognition for nations is an important step towards post-nationalism.
Sep 5, 2010

How statehood recognition for nations is an important step towards post-nationalism.

It is very easy to find fault in nationalism and other forms of ethnic, religious, political, linguistic or social tribalism that have led to wars, sectarian violence and immeasurable suffering for people around the world and as such to denounce nationalist tendencies outright. A post-nationalist world where we all get along and don't divide ourselves into autonomous nations at never ending odds with each other is certainly a lovely idealized utopia. But how to achieve such a world when this tendency seems so innately part of our psyche?

The first step in this aim must be reducing the currently occurring violence, war and oppression between nations. This usually occurs in one of three main ways, either by two or more states (representing, imperfectly, there ensconced nations) acting as belligerents for cross boarder war, a civil war between nations ensconced in single state or geographic region, or thirdly by a state oppressing a distinct nation within the states own boarders. It is the last case I focus on although the civil war case is usually very similar in that it is multiple nations who do not each have their own state. The simple reality is there are many nations who do not have states and whose people suffer greatly at the indirect or direct actions from states they reside in or are surrounded by. Kurdistan, balochistan, Palestine, Chechyna and Tibet are all examples of this. In today's unipolar world, aggression is all too often of this later form. To be sure, we have seen many nations form states; the collapse of the soviet union saw many examples of this especially in central Asia but it had also occurred as a result of international intervention such as for Kosovo or through internal empowerment such as in Taiwan. My contention is that very often the first step in removing hostilities and oppression between peoples is to allow for concrete nations to form their own autonomous states.

Once this has happened, once nations are given states, them the movement towards post-nationalism may commence even if it had the appearance of going the other direction by establishing nations in the formal state way. Cross boarder exchanges of commodities, peoples, ideas, languages and culture should all be encouraged and through this animosities can be reduced now that the background of mutual acceptance and security in the form of states exists. Without this precondition of statehood for concrete nations the asymmetrical oppression remains and this is impossible.

It should be immediately qualified that simply granting statehood to nations is not going to solve all the problems. Statehood may be enormously difficult to obtain in terms of pragmatic considerations, in determining if a group even fits the definition "nation", or perhaps is not even desirable. Consider, say, the Hazara in Afghanistan - an oppressed minority among many other tribes - that is perhaps too small to be given a country state. Or consider religious groups such as pre-Israel Jews whose diaspora is so diverse there is no natural geographic boundary to encompass many of them which is a prerequisite of a state. Or consider places like Quebec where violence and oppression by the Canadian state is virtually nonexistent and so the goals of moving towards post-nationalism are not hampered by the oppression that can occur from lack of statehood. My point isn't to argue for or against statehood in any of the above cases, but instead is this more general point about the potential for nationalism and statehood to be a stepping stone on the way to postnationalism.

One question that immediately arrises if one accepts this general contention is how fragmented should we become? Our world has become increasingly fragmented for a long time. The British, Ottoman, German, Japanese and Soviet empires of the 20th century are all gone and have resulted in a vast array of independence and increase in the number of autonomous countries. There are few exceptions where countries have amalgamated (war being the typical vehicle) but for the overwhelming majority of cases the world has fragmented into more, smaller, states. Even today, nationalist and separatist movements in many countries exist and we can imagine our world getting more fragmented into states in the future. Where then should we stop? Is it a good thing if every group that has coalesced to the point of being possibly considered a nation obtain a state? This is likely not the case and the most important consideration for granting statehood is the legitimate existence of oppression of the nation via states it resides in. The reason for this is that states do also draw barriers between people, as they coalesce groups and limit free interaction between them. There is thus a limit to how small and fragmented one can become before there is no more reduction of oppression by giving mininations states only increased barriers between people. Furthermore, the creation of smaller, semiautonomous regions (provinces, prefectures, states etc) within a larger country satisfactorily solve the legitimate differences between mininations. This is, of course, a subjective balancing act between some group being big enough that we desire to give an oppressed nation a state and between being small enough where the benefits are negligible and a subcountry structure would be better. It is better to consider any individual case at length instead of making a sweeping generalization between these two sides. Where there is more clarity is when a state is violently oppressing a nation that resides within it, the need for a separate state for that nation is important.

As I have mentioned, it is the dividing not the amalgamating of countries that dominates our worlds changing landscape. That said, there is a considerable amalgamation process occurring but it is at the superstate level. It is occurring through both large regional bodies such as the European union, African union, ASEAN, arab league etc as well as the global bodies such as the UN or IMF. Globalization can have many negative consequences such as how neoliberalization and international corporatism can lead to significant environmental, social, political and economic problems for various people. But while it has negative consequences, it also has positive consequences. Ideas, people, resources, culture, religions and values can cross and intermingle over increasingly porous boarders. With the protection of states to prevent direct oppression, these ties can act to bring peoples together and bind us in ways beyond that of nations and provide much hope for the future.

Much of the globalization that occurs requires the existence of a state which artificially raises the importance of a nation having a state. Participation in the UN for instance is, with a few exceptions for quasi-states, is limited to countries. Even war accords like the Geneva Conventions largely apply to state vs state conflicts and apply very little to civil wars, oppression of nationalists within a state boundaries or even of a foreign state invaded other nations that don't qualify as states. Groups like the Taliban or Hezbollah don't count as state armies and so the conditions of the Geneva conventions don't apply to their foreign aggressors which has led to many horrific eventualities. As another example consider the failure for ratification among much of the developed world of the UN convention on migrant workers which protects the diaspora of nations. Part of the reason our international agreements are so dependent on the existence of states is simply because they were written by states and for the benefit of states; in particular, written by and for the benefit of the most powerful states in the world. One only needs to look at the veto powers within the UN to see this. The result is that nations play second fiddle to states in the larger power structures of our globalized world which only increases the need of nations to be represented by states in order for fair and equitable, violence and oppression free existence to occur.

While I have championed the formation of states for oppressed nations, it should be made clear that states themselves of course cause conflict, wars and erect barriers between people that are very difficult to lower. The largest wars of the last century where not within states (through civil war or oppression of some subsect or nation within a state) but between states such as the world wars or the proxy wars of the cold war. The first big superstate structures of globalization were designed to prevent state vs state wars such as the failed league of nations or the modern UN or NATO. To some extent this aim has been successful as a large state vs state conflict between modern powers seems unlikely in the post soviet world. The state vs state wars that remain are usually very much asymmetric ones were one of the states is a dominant military power and the other so weak it may not even qualify as a state. The American/UN invasion of Afghanistan or Iraq, the Israeli invasion of gaza or southern Lebanon and the Russian invasion of south osetta come to mind. As such, we see that while the existence of a state to protect a nation is important, so to are the superstructures to prevent interstate conflict.

One component of states is the existence of a state army. It is through a national army that a state is capable of providing both defense against and as a deterrent for both foreign and domestic aggression. It seems counterintuitive because aggression is so often carried out through a state army, but the often implicit but sometimes explicit protection they provide a nation allows for the secure backdrop that ensures peace. I am certainly a proponent in mutual demilitarization between states but am forced to acknowledge that armies are indeed an integral part of a state. This consideration is very apt in the so called "two state" potential agreement between Israel and Palestine because it is very asymmetric when it comes to what kind of army gets included in the two states. On the part of the Israelis we have one of the most powerful military forces on the planet with a history of recent aggression (note I am not commenting on whether this is justified) and on the part of Palestine such an agreement if it forms would be for a completely demilitarized state possibly even surrounded by Israeli military on the Jordanian border and around gaza. There is a serious question of whether the later can really be called a true state at all since it lacks an autonomous ability to defend itself.

Perhaps the trickiest, and hence last, thing to consider is the question of when a state led war is justified because of another state oppressing a nation within it. The question is certainly relevant since most wars on behalf of the US of UN in the last 20 years have had at least some justification on the humanitarian front arguing in behalf of an oppressed nation (or nations) at the hands of a state. Saddam Hussein and Milosovec oppressed the Kurdistan and Kosovo nations respectively. The Taliban were brutal to non Pashtun ethnicities in Afghanistan. It will always be a tough question for when the horrors of a state led war become justified because they prevent the horrors of oppression on some internal nation. I don't try to answer this here, but I would emphasize that this question is among the most important to ask when considering a war. Too often the public justifications for war - and indeed the legal conditions where war is acceptable under international law - focus on things outside of this consideration. I have spoken at some length about this lack of focus on this consideration with respect to the war in Afghanistan where we consider such things as western security from terrorism far more than we consider the reduction of human suffering in Afghanistan.

The result of this discussion is the conclusion that for an oppressed nation, the granting of statehood is an important step along the path to a post-nationalism world where barriers and violence between people are alleviated as much as possible.

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