The Nation-State

Publié le par JSS

In 1989, the global system pivoted when the Soviet Union retreated from Eastern Europe and began the process of disintegration that culminated in its collapse. In 2001, the system pivoted again when al Qaeda attacked targets in the United States on Sept. 11, triggering a conflict that defined the international system until the summer of 2008. The pivot of 2008 turned on two dates, Aug. 7 and Oct. 11.

On Aug. 7, Georgian troops attacked the country’s breakaway region of South Ossetia. On Aug. 8, Russian troops responded by invading Georgia. The Western response was primarily rhetorical. On the weekend of Oct. 11, the G-7 met in Washington to plan a joint response to the global financial crisis. Rather than defining a joint plan, the decision — by default — was that each nation would act to save its own financial system with a series of broadly agreed upon guidelines.

The Aug. 7 and Oct. 11 events are connected only in their consequences. Each showed the weakness of international institutions and confirmed the primacy of the nation-state, or more precisely, the nation and the state. (A nation is a collection of people who share an ethnicity. A state is the entity that rules a piece of land. A nation-state — the foundation of the modern international order — is what is formed when the nation and state overlap.) Together, the two events posed challenges that overwhelmed the global significance of the Iraqi and Afghan wars.

In and of itself, Russia's attack on Georgia was not globally significant. Georgia is a small country in the Caucasus, and its fate ultimately does not affect the world. But Georgia was aligned with the United States and with Europe, and it had been seen by some as a candidate for membership in NATO. Thus, what was important about the Russian attack was that it occurred at all, and that the West did not respond to it beyond rhetoric.

The tension was not only between the United States and Europe, but also among the European countries. This was particularly pronounced in the different view of the situation Germany took compared to that of the United States and many other countries. Very soon after the Russo-Georgian war had ended, the Germans made clear that they opposed the expansion of NATO to Georgia and Ukraine. A major reason for this is Germany’s heavy dependence on Russian natural gas, which means Berlin cannot afford to alienate Moscow. But there was a deeper reason: Germany had been in the front line of the first Cold War and had no desire to participate in a second.

The range of European responses to Russia was fascinating. The British were livid. The French were livid but wanted to mediate. The Germans were cautious, and Merkek traveled to St Petersburg to hold a joint press conference with Russian President Dmitri Medvedev, aligning Germany with Russia on the Georgian and Ukrainian issues.

The Russo-Georgian war raised questions about the future of the multinational military alliance. Each member consulted its own national interest and conducted its own foreign policy. At this point, if it was no longer possible to say that NATO functioned, it was also unclear after Aug. 8 in what sense the Europeans existed, except as individual nation-states.

What was demonstrated in politico-military terms in Georgia was then demonstrated in economic terms in the financial crisis. All of the multinational systems created after World War II failed during the crisis — or more precisely, the crisis went well beyond their briefs and resources. On Oct. 11, it became clear that the G-7 could cooperate, but not through unified action. On Oct. 12, when the Europeans held their eurozone summit, it became clear that they would only act as individual nations.

In the end, power did not reside with Europe, but rather with its individual countries. It wasn’t Brussels that was implementing decisions made in Strasbourg; the centers of power were in Paris, London, Rome, Berlin and the other capitals of Europe and the world. Power devolved back to the states that governed nations. Or, to be more precise, the twin crises revealed that power had never left there.

Between the events in Georgia and the financial crisis, what we saw was the breakdown of multinational entities. This was particularly marked in Europe, in large part because the Europeans were the most invested in multilateralism and because they were in the crosshairs of both crises. The Russian resurgence affected them the most, and the fallout of the U.S. financial crisis hit them the hardest. They had to improvise the most, being multilateral but imperfectly developed, to say the least. In a sense, the Europeans were the laboratory of multilateralism and its intersection with crisis.

The summer of 2008 demonstrated that while terrorism by subnational groups is not insignificant by any means, the dynamics of nation-states have hardly become archaic.

But what is most important is to see the manner in which state power surged in the summer and fall of 2008. The balance of power between business and the state, always dynamic, underwent a profound change, with the power of the state surging and the power of business contracting. Power was not in the hands of Lehman Brothers or Barclays. It was in the hands of Washington and London. At the same time, the power of the nation surged as the importance of multilateral organizations and subnational groups declined. The nation-state roared back to life after it had seemed to be drifting into irrelevance.

 - Tkx to G. Friedmann Stafor. -
Pics : Merkel/Medvedev ---- European Parlement in Strasbourg -France-

Publié dans In English

Commenter cet article

Aurélien Royer 30/10/2008 11:18

Cela faisait au moins cinq ans, depuis le Bac en fait, que je n'avais pas lu ou entendu autant d'anglais en même temps. Et, moi qui n'ai jamais été très bon en langue vivante, je vais poster ce commentaire en... français ! Tu m'en excuseras !

De ton article, je retiens deux choses:
- en matière diplomatique, alors que l'UE n'a pas encore réussi à bâtir son unité dans ce domaine, il est clair que les Etats jouent un rôle prépondérant... et ce, d'autant plus qu'ils ont des intérêts divergents, comme tu le soulignes avec le cas allemand. Dès lors, on peut dire que dans des dossiers complexes, comme celui de notre relation avec la Russie poutinienne, il sera difficile de parvenir à des consensus entre 27 (et peut-être 30) membres de l'UE... c'est un défi difficile mais passionnant;

- depuis le XIXème siècle, et en particulier en Europe, ce sont les Etats-nations qui ont contribué à l'émergence d'identités nationales. Dès lors qu'une identité européenne n'existe pas encore totalement dans l'esprit des élites et des habitants du Vieux Continent (une identité qui est pourtant en construction depuis 1919 comme le suggère le programme de l'agrégation d'histoire !), le passage d'un Etat-nation à une UE ne sera pas entièrement satisfaisant. Nous vivons en fait une période cruciale au cours de laquelle des identités régionales (au sens continentales) se construisent, comme des remparts plus efficaces face à la mondialisation. C'est le cas en Europe mais aussi en Amérique latine... mais nous n'en sommes qu'au début !

Bref, ta démonstration est pertinente et intéressante... mais, je crois que cette transition que nous vivons aujourd'hui va bientôt te donner tort ! Même si, en effet, le rapprochement entre les deux évènements que tu cites est évident.