Ph.D., London University, 1968





Challenges to traditional concepts of sovereignty



Indiana University, USA



There are many forces abroad in the world that challenge established models and practices of state sovereignty. These include globalization and internationalization, the emergence of new polities such as the European Union, the reconfiguration of world trade into gigantic trading blocs, the rise of the communications global village, destatism and privatization, regionalism, the merger mania among megacorporations, global environmental problems, and so forth. In addition, there are countries that exist but do not function, and those that function and, strictly speaking, do not exist. What context awaits future public servants as they prepare to make their greatest post-graduation impact around eight years from acquiring their degree? This paper examines trends and looks at the coming context of public service.


‘When the nation states were founded, the city-states and the feudalism that preceded them had become too small for the scale of operations required by the Industrial Revolution. The political institution therefore was adapted to the new industrial technology, to the roads, railways and canals. The nation state was then a progressive institution…. But now the nation state, with its insistence on full sovereignty, has become, at least in certain respects, an obstacle to further progress. It has landed us in several Prisoner’s Dilemma situations: each nation acts in its own perceived rational self-interest, and the result is that every country is worse off (Streeten, 1999).

The twentieth century has been notable in several ways with respect to the concept of sovereignty, and its offspring, the nation state—so beloved of Europe for the last two hundred and fifty years. We commonly accept sovereignty as a pre-condition for the instruments of government and the regulation of relations among comities of people scattered across the face of the globe. It is the wellspring for policy and law and the reference point for the judgment of social and individual behaviour and control—including the sanctioned use of violence. However, this century has seen the traditional concept of sovereignty tested and tried in many different directions. This paper reviews the trends that have emerged and are shaping events at the present time. Some of these are without precedent and challenge the value of historical model to the extreme. Other trends illustrate the questionable further utility of possibly outmoded aspects of sovereignty and the nation state: often now far from coincidental concepts, where outmoded constructs may pose more problems than they provide a context for solutions.

Of course such fundamental change in the framework of our everyday life is of interest to everyone, but this paper is written with an audience of public service employers and trainers in mind. In this context it is essential for those of us preparing tomorrow’s public servants to consider the context in which they will have to function. The conference, held at Oxford in April 1999, that gave rise to this paper celebrated fifty years of Public Administration and Development, a period that has seen the coming together of Europe, the end of the empires, the fall of Communism (in Europe anyway), and other paradigmatic changes. However, the American professional organization for Public Affairs, NASPAA, said some years ago that MPA graduates have their greatest impact approximately 8 to 10 years after graduating. It is salutary, if not rather alarming, to consider the scope and depth of change during the last ten years, and ask how well anyone might have anticipated, or strategically prepared for, that? From such an examination we may well then ask ourselves how well public service training institutions are preparing graduates for the next ten years. I think it fair to say that such speculative thinking features almost nowhere in most curricula. Indeed, it is seen as "non-rigorous" and "unacademic," and probably something better left to Nostradamus. It certainly does not feature anywhere in the requirements for an MPA degree. Neither, for that matter, does anything international.

It appears that the task of analyzing the future is daunting. Even the vast resources of the CIA did not (a) enable them to foresee the collapse of any of the Communist governments or, (b) have any worthwhile strategy in place to deal with such events when they happened. Perhaps bringing down the "Evil Empire" was an end, or perhaps an industry, in itself.

Regrettably, the established forces, both inside and outside the academy, ranged against "speculative" thinking are considerable. Imagine, for instance, someone in 1988 standing up and giving this paper and, in the fashion so beloved of economists, declaring some assumptions for 1998. Imagine also that this person was psychic. He would tell us of—

 The disappearance of the USSR

  President Mandela

 NATO bombing a sovereign European nation

 The end of the Warsaw Pact and the Cold War (with Warsaw joining NATO!)

The unification of Germany

The end of the Yugoslav Federation

25 or so new members of the United Nations

A common European currency

The World Wide Web, and so on…

Most people would have left the room before the end of this list shaking their heads and wondering what academia had come to.

In this paper I try to divine how the context within which public servants will operate may change over the next ten years. Without such an exercise, however reckless it may appear to some, we are creating the conditions for endless crisis management rather than strategic positioning. When Alvin Toffler wrote his book Future Shock back in the 1960s, he touched on the discomfiting influence of the quickening speed of change. That rate if anything has accelerated mightily since he wrote. But still we never seem prepared to accept the extraordinary pace with which change moves in the modern world, or the scale at which it eventually happens. The pace of change is as important as any individual category of the nature of change that I have tried to isolate in this paper. It is worthy of standing alone as a separate element.

Although there is overlap and redundancy, I have selected the following elements of change as being particularly critical for future public servants. Though I had public servants in the United States most particularly in mind, there is universality about most of the issues.

Critical Factors Affecting Sovereignty in the Next Decade

Globalization and the weakening of traditional sovereignty

New polities and ethnic and cultural resurgence

The issue of the viability of some states: residual post-colonial stress and the phenomenon of "failed" states and "rogue" states

The size and reach of multinational organizations

The information revolution

Trade and economic reconfiguration



Globalization and the "Withering" of the State

Globalization implies the worldwide, virtually instantaneous interdependence of a growing number of aspects of economic and cultural life. Streeten (1999) summarized the components of this fundamental change in our lives as follows:

‘In addition to economic interdependence (trade, finance, direct investment) there are educational, technological, ideological, cultural, as well as ecological, environmental, legal, military, strategic and political impulses that are rapidly propagated throughout the world. Money and goods, images and people, sports and religions, guns and drugs, diseases and pollution can now be moved quickly across international frontiers’.

Streeten argues elsewhere in his paper that in the early years of this century—during the epoch of the empires, the world was, in fact, more inter-related. However, at that time, the technology imposed serious constraints on how rapid or direct that interdependence could be. At that time, it really mattered to have viceroys and ambassadors. Today, they are rapidly pushed aside by global communications.

This is the overarching paradigm behind this paper, encapsulating many of the other variables and being composed of them simultaneously and interactively—AIDS, trade, terrorism, communications, environmental change etc. It represents a dimension of many changes rather than a process of change in itself, but it is the greatest single challenge to the "traditional" post-Westphalian model of the state. We have to consider incremental, but major, adjustments of the state to this dimension, as well as possible radical transformation of the whole context and meaning of the state as we have come to accept it over the last few hundred years. At one end of the scale we see the re-emergence of old regional (sub or transnational) identities within the colossus of the European Union; on the other the resurgence of local cultures in the poor world as a reaction to Western hegemony.

There is no absolute model of the state, though people in many places still seem prepared to die for the current prevailing option. In discussing the state and globalization we face the same dilemma as discussing the family in the West. The fact is that the traditional Western model of the family and marriage has undergone enormous stress and change, and maybe irreparable damage. We have no real understanding of what the future "family" will—or should—be, and so we try to retain the folklore of the "old" or "traditional values," without actually being sure what they are/were, or whether they really worked in today’s terms. States, similarly, are seeing considerable elements of the glue of "traditional" statehood being eaten away, and are left without any idea where all this is really going, and so their captains tend to cling on to the mythology of the past, while sailing on into uncharted waters. The European Union seems to be the best example of this schizophrenia.

‘The operation of states in an ever more complex international system both limits their autonomy…and impinges increasingly on their sovereignty. Sovereignty…[is] divided among a number of agencies—national, regional, and international—and limited by the very nature of this plurality’. (Held 1995).

The sum total of the various elements of globalization has left the individual sovereign state less and less a locus of policy and control as the WTO, the EU, NAFTA and other supranational organizations become more significant players. Indeed, it will be increasingly difficult for our future civil servant to draw meaningful distinctions between "national" and "international" dimensions of problems. It is interesting to look at, for instance, the economy of Indiana—a Midwest state far from the cosmopolitan corrupting influence of the coasts—and ask what is national, or even Hoosier about the state’s principal economic props:






Growth export-driven but has been battling the problem of subsidized exports, particularly from the EU. Now likely to change with the incorporation of agriculture and the termination of subsidies into the WTO agenda

Automobile Parts and Manufacturing

Pace and incentive to restructure domestic auto industry driven by (a) imports of Japanese vehicles, and, later, (b) the location of Japanese auto, and auto-part, manufacturing plants in the state and surrounding states


The enormous problem of piracy of "world-class" drugs such as Prozac (an Indiana contribution to society), thus undermining the ability to cover R&D through revenues


Complete transformation of traditional steel industry as a result of Soviet-bloc and other dumping results in death of old rust-belt steel giants (Gary etc), and emergence of new, small, homegrown steel manufacturing technology. Retooled steel industry now threatened by below-cost dumping from Japan and East Asia.


Dramatic shift in trading partners so that second partner is now Mexico, which barely featured ten years ago. NAFTA induced resurgence




It is rather easier to see globalization in terms of its component parts than as a broad sweep, but that is where we need to start, for it is in this huge, interdisciplinary context that the various elements of public-affairs training have to be set. The importance of this is that globalization will, otherwise, be perceived and handled sectorally and incrementally so that the overarching structure remains only the sum of its disparate, symptomatic, parts without any real institutional or regulatory cohesion, or even sense. It could be argued that the EU grew this way for the longest time on the pretence that it was some "economic" techno-union, but what economic union has a parliament? In sum, what is the collective "shared vision" for globalization? Globalization will lead to increasing diminution of the role of the "traditional" state by means of treaties, international organizations, free-trade agreements, etc. What is to take its place?

‘Actually the brightest and best have been predicting the nation state’s demise for 200 years, beginning with Immanuel Kant in his 1795 essay ‘Perpetual Peace’, through Karl Marx and the ‘Withering away of the state’, to Bertrand Russell’s speeches in the 1950s and 1960s…Nonetheless, there is a need for moral, legal, and economic rules that are accepted and enforced throughout the global economy. A central challenge, therefore, is the development of international law and supranational organizations that can make and enforce the rules for the global economy’. (Drucker 1997).


New Polities:

What exactly is the European Union? It certainly bears many of the trappings of sovereignty such as binding legislation, a parliament—albeit weak, a flag, ambassadors (called Delegates), Treaties (called conventions) with other states, and soon a common currency that will relieve many of the member states of their key economic policy instrument. Social and labor policies emerge from Brussels in the name of standardization, and diplomas achieve common recognition. And yet, this is not a state, but an assemblage of states "ruled" mainly by an unelected Commission of bureaucrats. It is true that the term "shared vision" was used widely when the body was established, largely at the inspiration of M. Monnet, but no one seems to be able to define, in terms of sovereignty, the endpoint of that vision. Perhaps, more strictly speaking, they will not come out and say it—thereby letting the cat out of the bag once and for all. Its political nature is defined more by the secondary implications and consequences of economic, technical, and social standard setting, and the necessities required to achieve the free "seamless" movement of goods, services, capital and labor (which also takes care of that other beloved pillar of sovereignty—immigration). The EU represents the most advanced—and maybe only—form of this nebulous suprapolity, but it must be remembered that it started as an Economic Community—or communities actually. It had to be renamed a Union after Maastricht in 1993 made it clear that it had long since passed that point. Does the same implication lurk with NAFTA, or its proposed successor AFTA? From tiny acorns…

But what sort of sovereignty is emerging from this process? Within the Union we still have the trappings of flags, anthems, monarchs and the like, and a strong and verbal resistance to the further sublimation of these ancient national rights and privileges. The fact is that they are diminishing every day, and it is hard for outsiders to see what, in substantial terms, will be left for, for instance, the government of the Netherlands to do in a few years if present trends continue. But is the EU the embryo of a new form of federalism? This issue confuses the United States mightily. It seems, to the outsider at least, that Europe is headed on the path of Federalism, or Confederalism anyway.

‘A European Defense Force would involve the loss of sovereignty over British armed forces since there would be multi-national units in common uniforms loyal to their multi-national commanders…Under a Single European Currency Parliament would lose sovereignty over currency reserves, the Central Bank interest rate, the amount of currency minted...Others claim that medium-sized nations like the UK no longer have any economic sovereignty anyway, having lost it to the forces of globalization, and international capital’(Lilico 1998).

For countries like the United States there will be an increasing problem of whether one is dealing with a semi-sovereign entity or—in diplomatic terms—just a grouping of sovereign states. This confusion has arisen repeatedly in trade matters, and the confusion is wryly described in Richard Benedick’s account of negotiating the Ozone Treaty. (Benedick 1991). Some writers are increasingly prepared to state the European situation "as it is," instead of maintaining the pretence of an "economic" union:

‘Following this process of ‘convergence’ [of the EU] it will be impossible to unpick—or even seriously identify—the features of the erstwhile national economies. Europe will have become a United States; and in the construction of this new nation the only question left to answer will be whether the new system should be federal or confederal in design…What Maastricht attempts to add to the Common Market Treaty and the Single European Act is a political dimension. It attempts to give supranational political expression to the new economic realities and the loss of sovereign economic power by the nations…The fact is that a democratic Europe can hardly emerge without a strong European Parliament, one that would automatically challenge the legitimacies of the national parliaments, reducing them to state legislatures’. (Hassler 1992).

So far, the discussion of new polities centers on the EU, not least because what is happening there is so enormous. This is, after all, the birthplace of the very nation state concept that is now being challenged—or threatened—depending on your point of view. On the other hand, the United States is bound by the NAFTA agreements, and is committed to go "hemispheric" (AFTA) by 2005. By aligning the various "economic" needs of that giant, who knows what "erosions and compromises" may emerge for the sovereign members of that entity? Of course, NAFTA has none of the dimensions of even the original Treaty of Rome with respect to the movement of labor. With the rise of APEC, the CIS and others, this question will be asked many times in many places: "where is this process taking us?" This is especially true for Africa that appears to be left out of this process. Currently it accounts for a mere 4 percent of world trade, and with the rise of the "rich men’s clubs" there is some doubt about even maintaining that.


The issues of the viability, post-colonial stress and the phenomenon of failed states and rogue states

This heading subsumes a diversity of circumstances bound together by the issue of the continuing viability of some of the sovereign territories into which the world has been divided. The conditions of their viability vary from internal anarchy, through scale and geographical isolation, to external environmental and financial menace.

An examination of the map of the world—this week’s anyway—reveals a host of what might be called "interesting conditions" challenging some of the long-held conventions of diplomacy, international relations, and the general management of interstate affairs. I have not gone so far as some writers in seeing the seeds of global destruction in some of these phenomena. Kaplan, for instance writing in the Atlantic Monthly provides this apocalyptic vision:

‘West Africa is becoming the symbol of worldwide demographic, environmental and societal stress, in which criminal anarchy emerges as the real "strategic" danger. Disease, overpopulation, unprovoked crime, scarcity of resources, refugee migrations, the increasing erosion of nation states and international borders, and the empowerment of private armies, security firms and international drug cartels are now most tellingly demonstrated through a West African prism. West Africa provides an appropriate introduction to the issues, often extremely unpleasant to discuss, that will soon confront our civilization…the withering away of central governments, the rise of tribal and regional domains, the unchecked spread of disease, and the growing pervasiveness of war’ (Kaplan 1994).


He is basing his grim prognostications on what he saw in West Africa, and extrapolating those observations to the rise of the new post-Soviet "mafias" perhaps with nuclear capabilities, global electronic economic scams, a desperate struggle for the world’s diminishing resources, and governments and civic society yielding to "rogue" states. Indeed, the starting point of his article, Sierra Leone, is an example of a state that has, effectively speaking, failed completely. But that presents us with a problem—what to do with countries that have ceased to function? The problem is that this uncertainty and lack of context or precedent lead to the sort of debacle experienced in Somalia by the United States forces. Failed states create potentially serious problems for their neighbors, the power brokers, and the international organizations. We have, through the Montevideo Convention of 1933, a formula for deciding when a state deserves to gain recognition: (a) a permanent population, (b) a defined territory, (c) a government and (d) a capacity to enter into relations with other countries (Wallace-Bruce 1997). We do not, however, have any mechanism to cope with the total collapse of a state such as Somalia, Liberia, Sierra Leone and others. Helman and Rattner, to deal with this growing crisis, propose some interesting "interventionist" models (Helman and Rattner 1992).

Many of the states that have entered this non-functioning category are the by-products of the creation of spurious statehood as a result of the precipitate ending of the colonial era. Probably the first failed state was the Congo (a.k.a. Zaïre), and it maintains that condition to this day. The imperial epoch indulged in a reckless ordering of boundaries with cavalier disregard for ethnic or political realities on the ground. The end product of this "great game" is a whole slate of states that have no legitimacy among their own people, whose identity is, instead, to some older, ethnic or cultural tradition within the new state or—worse still—across its boundaries, and becomes, therefore, a challenge to the persistence of the empty shell of the "nation". The Kurds are a classic example of this, as is almost the entire map of Africa. In the case of the Kurds, or the Palestinians, the search for statehood threatens the integrity of existing "sovereign" units, and so is ruthlessly and cynically set aside or crushed—though why Iraq is more legitimate as a sovereign state than Kurdistan is very hard to explain. In Africa the old ethnic order challenges the very basis of post-colonial statehood everywhere. The breaking away of Eritrea broke to mold of the Organization of African Unity’s long-standing adherence to the preservation of the colonial legacy, and so, now, almost anything is possible.

This problem is particularly an African one because the colonial epoch left in that continent—traditionally the playground of the imperial powers—a fretwork of "countries" having no legitimacy in the context of "real" African history. Furthermore, a UN Decolonization Committee that had no thought for viability, and ruled out such considerations quite explicitly, hurled these countries recklessly into independence without the benefit of serious consideration of their meaning or viability. The traditional institutions were set aside in favor of the superior metropolitan administration, laws, religions, language and culture and frontiers. The historical and legitimate states are still there, of course, but they are tribal and are seen, irony of ironies, as a threat to the "integrity" of the new chimerical nations. These same new "nations" have been engaged in a spurious and largely empty process of "nation-building" where there is no nation to build. To the post-colonial fantasy of "nation-building", tribalism (resuscitating the true nations) is an anathema and so the history of Africa since the mid-1960s is the indigenous legitimization of neo-colonialism under a new flag and facing a prospect of ceaseless inter-ethnic rivalry. Nkrumah of Ghana and Nyerere of Tanganyika rightly foresaw this dilemma when they wanted to delay independence to give Africa time to reconfigure itself into something workable. But, imported Western sovereignty won the day, and the continental shambles that we see today is the legacy of that—compounded by the relentless horror of AIDS.

The end of the Cold War has deprived many weak and vulnerable countries of any strategic significance they may have had, and consequently aid and budgetary subventions have diminished, and soon diplomatic representation will start to thin out drastically also.

The map of the world is increasingly dotted with either non-functioning "states," or "states" that exist de facto but not de jure. These present a significant challenge to the order and interplay of the rules of diplomacy among traditionally defined nations—as well as threatening to create explosive tensions among interested parties. Some of these "non-places", like the Turkish Federated Republic of Northern Cyprus, have been around for a long time, are recognized by almost no-one, but continue to exist in this unacknowledged condition—the new global Bantustans. Many of these have arisen from the collapse of other "empires" such as that of the USSR and Tito’s Yugoslavia. Transcaucasia and the Balkans seem littered with these anomalous units, generally based on ethnic groupings. So, while the EU is emerging from a turbulent past of nation-state rivalries into peace and prosperity, parts of eastern Europe and the former USSR are moving swiftly back into a history fully intelligible to Mazzini, Hitler, et al.

Within the EU, curiously, the open borders and the considerable diminution of the "traditional" nation state are allowing for a resurgence of the "old regions" such as Catalonia, Wales, Scotland, the Basque country (Padania?) into functioning, cohesive units (The Europe of the Regions). This really does not threaten anyone any longer since the state function is so diminished anyway—hence a Scottish parliament and a Welsh assembly without the need to blow anything up or burn anything down. If only Africa or the Balkans could do this. These regions are themselves, forming unions:

‘The fruits of this [decentralization] process are very rich, especially but not only at the European "core". It has led to the direct collaboration between regional governments and the world of university research institutions, and other intellectual seedbeds of technology. The most famous example is the "Four Motors" project through which Baden-Wurttemburg, Catalonia, Rhone-Alpes, and Lombardy linked by fiber optics press ahead with their exchange of data, research results, training, investment and cultural exchange. The shots are called in Stuttgart, Barcelona Grenoble and Milan, not in Bonn, Madrid, Paris or Rome’ (Ascherson, 1997).


This is a very different process from that which produced Chechnya, Nagorno-Karabakh and others—for these latter are seen very much as still threatening the integrity of "sovereign" nations such as the Russian Federation, or in Kosovo’s case, the rump of Federal Yugoslavia, and the response is ferocious and hateful. The problem with these "resurgent" nations is that their cause, especially in the largely unresolved political space in which they find themselves, has the potential to draw much wider forces into these conflicts, viz. Kosovo and the irony of Sarajevo’s return to the international political map.

The degree of confusion and fluidity on today’s political map has probably not been rivaled since the Middle Ages. We have seen in the past how small, unstable (Kuwait) units with big friends have a terrifyingly large capacity to create serious crises—so the potential for instability is great. The world to be managed in the next ten years is replete with these situations. Some of these I have summarized in the following table:


Anomalous Political Conditions


Territorial Name


Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus*

Recognized by Turkey alone, following invasion of the Republic of Cyprus by that country. Situation frozen and unresolved but relatively quiet. UN Peacekeeping presence for 25 years ( Turkish occupation: 20 July, 1974)

Republic of Serbia*

Republika Srpska

Not to be confused with Yugoslav Serbia, but is the Serbian part of Bosnia-Herzegovina. Supposed to have been resolved by Dayton Accord but still behaves like a state.


Federal state based on Sarajevo, but writ runs de facto only in the Moslem area. Part of a loose entity looked after by an EU administration pro tem.


The Croat state in Bosnia-Herzegovina based on West Mostar. Supposed to have been "tidied away" by Dayton Accord. Croatian currency and seamless border with Croatia


Functions autonomously since 1996, though supposedly still part of the Russian Federation. Possible prototype for Ingushtia, Buryatia, Ossetia and others.


Breakaway ethnic Russian-dominated part of the Republic of Georgia. Situation stabilized, but unresolved by Russian peacekeepers (since 1993).

Republic of Mountainous Karabakh*

Now "autonomous" republic taken from Azerbaijan in war in early 90’s. Uses Armenian currency recognized only by Armenia.


Autonomous part of Azerbaijan physically isolated from the rest of the state. Uses Azerbaijan currency

Transdniestrian Republic (PMR)*

The breakaway Russian ethnic eastern part of Moldova based on Tiraspol. Wants union with Russia though completely isolated from it by Ukraine. Has own currency, flag etc. (1990).

The Palestinian Authority

Governs geographically fragmented pieces of the West Bank and Gaza. Status unresolved after Oslo, Threatens to declare statehood. Observer status at UN.

Republic of Somaliland#

Erstwhile British Protectorate broke away from collapsed Somali Republic. Recognized by no-one but functions, which cannot be said for Somalia


Still, nominally, independent, but essentially dominated by Syria. Part occupied by Israel-friendly South Lebanese forces. Peace maintained by many zoned UN Forces.

Taiwan (ROC)*

Still maintains its standing as the "Republic of China" (Kuomintang). No longer member of the UN, no observer status either. Independence unlikely to be recognized by international community until PRC finds acceptable formula. Until then an international myth.

The Falkland Islands *


Still center of a dispute between the British crown and the Argentine Government over sovereignty for the 1,800 people who live there. Cause of disastrous war in 1982.

The Western Sahara

Former Spanish colony occupied by Morocco in the vacuum left by the abrupt departure of Spain. Awaiting (seemingly everlastingly) a UN referendum to determine its future status

East Timor

Seized by Indonesia after precipitate departure of Portuguese in mid-70s. Now seems that self-government or complete autonomy a possibility under new Indonesian government. Still considered a Portuguese Non-Self-Governing Territory by UN


Slowly crumbling shade of Marxism in the Caribbean. Deprives region of natural leader while causing great confusion within the Western alliance through Helms-Burton and excitable exiles.

North Korea*

The eternal enigma. Falling apart from the inside, blackmailing the outside with unspecified nuclear threat. Bargains from strength while starving to death


So far failed to make it successfully out of the USSR. Trimmings of statehood but long-standing civil war held at bay by Russian soldiers.


International pariah state with unshakable leader. Isolated by sanctions, periodically bombed and at odds with its own minority Sunni and Kurdish populations. Unlikely to go away or fall apart, but testing the New World Order to the limits.

Botswana* inter alia

Around one third or more of male population HIV positive—what future under such circumstances?


Proto Bosnia. Albanians formed nine-tenths of population and were considered a minority by Yugoslavia. Serbs drove Albanians out. Return of Albanians encouraged Serbs to leave. Nominally part of Yugoslavia, but administered by international military force. Interesting example of western military alliance, not individual countries, bombing European sovereign state without declaration of war.


Listed by the UN as an Occupied Territory whose final status is yet to be determined. Administered by India though Muslim, and occasionally site of hot war, as in 1999.

Republic of Nauru*

Former German, British, Japanese, Australian tiny trust territory set to mine itself out of existence. Wanted, at one point, to acquire new piece of real estate over which to declare sovereignty. No mechanism found for that.

Liberia, Somalia, Rwanda, Afghanistan, D R Congo, Sierra Leone, Lesotho? Guinea-Bissau? Angola? Haiti, Sudan, Cambodia**

Failed states without any serious or credible form of national government control. Leave to die? Ultimate challenge of sovereignty and diplomacy—what to do with a state that has "gone away".

*Issues postage stamps that, de facto, carry mail internationally

#Postal service has some internal validity only

**List of failed states based on Helman and Ratner. Some of these cases, in the opinion of the author, are overstated.

Along with the trade, and perhaps political, reconfigurations of the next decade there is also much fluidity in the cultural map. At the highest level of resolution sits Huntington’s Clash of Cultures (Huntington 1993) in which the world is resolving itself into a series of massive cultural domains based on inter alia, resurgent Islam rejecting the dominance of "Western values," etc. Through this century he sees us moving from the nation state, through ideology to culture—all in the context of conflict. His broad sweep has, nevertheless, some very practical implications, for those who accept his hypothesis. For instance, it would argue against the inclusion of Russia, or other Orthodox states such as Bulgaria, into the European Union since, in his scheme, they are not truly "European," having missed most of the defining moments in the crucible of the West’s history. In addition, Militant Islam would tend to place a wall south of Europe across North Africa, multiplying the sort of conditions that typify Algeria today, heightening the animosity over immigration to Europe, and effectively blocking off Black Africa from its traditional point of trade with the developed world.

A second area of vulnerability concerns the really small states of the world. It is hard to define these precisely, but states below 1,000,000 people is a definition often used. There are some fifty or so states in this category right down to those South Pacific states such as Tuvalu and Nauru with fewer than 10,000 people. As the world moves more and more into regional reconfigurations such as the EU, NAFTA, APEC etc., there is a question about where these countries belong. The small nations of the Caribbean are not formally envisaged as being within NAFTA, and indeed the coming of NAFTA could easily undermine the slim advantages they have gained from previous bilateral or multilateral arrangements. Mexico, for instance, could easily eliminate the Caribbean Basin Initiative advantages of Jamaica’s textile industry. At the same time, maintaining the instruments of sovereignty is an extremely high cost for small states, since there is some sort of minimal critical mass of sovereignty if a state is to mean anything substantial at all. The means of paying these costs are now sometimes threatened by the ending of residual colonial preferences, such as those afforded to bananas from, for instance, tiny St. Lucia or Dominica, by the member states of the European Union. The new WTO, with its coverage of agriculture and its war on subsidies, virtually ensures that such props will disappear—hence the banana dispute being waged at the WTO by the United States. It is difficult to know how these tiny economies will survive the globalizing forces of the WTO and the reconfiguration of the world into regional blocs—will the South Pacific feature in APEC? Will the Caribbean enter NAFTA? Should they? Can they exist if they do not? Lurking in the background, if they should become marginalized or left out, is the danger of the exploitation of their, albeit miniscule, sovereignty by the forces of global crime. Criminals, these days, come better equipped than the governments combating them, and are able to take advantage of the global system. Whether it is the establishment of scam banks in Antigua, or the running of drugs through the maze of islands of the Bahamas, criminals may well be positioned to run rings around the governments of small, vulnerable states. Arms, drugs, toxic waste, offshore banking—the opportunities are vast and profitable offering a real alternative to slow impoverishment on the edge of the new world order. A strategy for these small states and their relationship with their richer and more powerful neighbors is essential in the next ten years.

‘…Microstates are becoming increasingly vulnerable to forces outside their control, resulting in their being manipulated by international big business; being open to transit crime such as flows of illegal flight capital and money laundering; and increasingly out-maneuvered by larger countries and institutions’ (Hampton, 1999)


A third consideration with respect to vulnerability arises from the grave, but indefinable, threat from environmental change. It is extremely difficult to prove—in any strictly scientific sense—that we are encountering or causing an epoch of accelerated atmospheric change. If, however, this turns out to be the case, then the consequences could be catastrophic. The nature of climatic change is that it normally manifests itself, not through slow incremental changes in averages, but through the massive resolution of energy anomalies by extreme events, such as droughts, floods, hurricanes etc. It seems that no matter which of these parameters one cares to choose, or where one chooses it, anomalies abound suggesting very strongly that systemic change is afoot.

For many parts of the world this is going to move countries onto a crisis—or even triage—basis. The atoll states such as the Maldives, Tuvalu etc., would simply disappear from the face of the earth (and we have no experience of dealing with that either). Bangladesh and other extremely low-lying monsoon countries and regions face double catastrophes from the failure of rains and the damage of storm surges. Rich countries can, to some extent, insulate themselves and their citizens from this, but a country like Bangladesh with tens of millions of people threatened with the total loss of their habitat, simply does not have the resources to deal with the threat. When confronted with the possibility of a link between CFCs and the depletion of the upper-level ozone, we did something remarkable, and that was to place risk ahead of the absence of proof in the Montreal Protocol. CFCs is one thing, carbon emissions—requiring radical life-style changes for the rich—is something else totally as the follow-up to the Kyoto meeting has shown.

The growth of multinational institutions

As Ramonet observes, we live in a time of shrinking state responsibilities and the explosive expansion in the size and global reach of the private sector. Part of this is due to privatization and the shedding of state functions worldwide in service provision, distribution and production. On the other hand, this phenomenon also results from the dynamic of the private sector itself. In 1997 mergers and acquisitions were running at upwards of $1,600 billion, mostly in banking, pharmaceuticals, media, telecommunications, food and agro-industry. More recently the automobile industry, a bastion of state intervention, has fallen prey to global mergers: Volvo and Ford, Chrysler and Daimler… Ramonet observes that between 1990 and 1997 globally, governments have offloaded onto the private sector, state assets to the tune of $513 billion. In the ten years from 1985 to 1995 global trade has more than doubled rising from $3.4 trillion to $7.5 trillion. This is a dynamic of enormous proportions and represents a considerable reordering of the world in which we live, and the civic institutions by which we live. Indeed one writer, Morgan in the Financial Times, echoing Dean Swift’s solution to the Irish problem (no food, too many children—why therefore not eat the children?) suggested that failing or failed states should be turned into corporations, or at least run along commercial lines. He observes that Hong Kong got along famously with hardly any government, and Italy succeeds despite it.

We already have global organizations—the International Court of Justice for instance—and to what extent we are prepared to yield sovereignty to these institutions to handle essentially global issues (environment, trade, human rights etc.), is a delicate balance between the residual desire for old-fashioned sovereignty, and the pragmatic need to solve problems that are no respecters of that much vaunted sovereignty. We already see the United Nations engaging in incursions into sovereignty that would have been considered unthinkable some years back. However, the true role of these bodies is emerging slowly and painfully—how painfully is illustrated by the extraordinary phenomenon of NATO acting in the name of human rights by bombing a European sovereign state cutting the UN out of the picture effectively. There is a crucial question of to what extent one can, and should "operationalize" the concept of "Greater Right" over state sovereignty—something that is perilously dangerous in the wrong hands as Col. North demonstrated. We already accept that the "abuse" of sovereignty through war-crimes and flagrant violations of the Human Rights Charter can be grounds for collective action—hence the trials of Rwandans and Croats and Serbs demonstrate. The UN has shown a willingness to be involved in the domestic affairs of Nicaragua, Namibia, Mozambique, El Salvador, and in essentially rebuilding the state apparatus in Cambodia. On the other hand, Somalia, Bosnia Iraq and, Kosovo, show that there is some way to go yet.

The real challenge of globalization, whether it is the UN, the WTO, NAFTA, NATO (!) or privatization, is to what extent the sovereign state can define a new role for itself relative to international regulation, including real sanctions. The whole murky area of "international law" will need definition and acceptance on a much more serious basis than at present if real multilateral activity is envisaged. Streeten has rightly observed:

‘Globalization has proceeded at a rate faster than global government. The power of national governments and their ability to make national policies and pay for social services has been reduced without a corresponding increase in supra-national government or effective international cooperation…The result of this lag of political institutions behind globalizing technology and liberalization is a loss in the capacity to govern…While global forces reduce the power of people to influence policy democratically at the national level, at the global level, where the need is now greater, there are no democratic institutions, and in many areas no institutions at all, that would enable people to control or even influence their destiny….Corporate managers, not citizens are the new policy makers. But the spread of these companies and of international financial capital has led to the complaint that national economies are no longer governable, while the global economy is ungoverned’ (Streeten, 1999).



Towering over this multilateral question are the global nature of most issues, and the rapidly emerging global nature of the private sector. The astonishing extent of this process of the relative size of the state and the corporation is shown in the following table:


States and Transnational Companies Compared


Revenues $Bn


The United States



German Federal Republic






United Kingdom


















General Motors









Ford Motor



South Africa















The Netherlands



Royal Dutch Shell






Nissho Iwai












Sources: For Corporations: Fortune’s Global 500: The World’s Largest Corporations in Fortune, August 5, 1996

For State Revenues: The World Factbook. Central Intelligence Agency Website.

Currently about 75 per cent of the world’s trade is carried out by transnational corporations and their affiliates—and one-third of this trade is among these firms (UNRISD 1995). It is interesting to note that, for instance, Royal Dutch Shell, which we normally think of as a "Dutch" company ranks in earnings right up there with the Netherlands government itself! On both sides of the 49th Parallel there have been outbursts of concern and alarm at what the global economy and the multinational megacorporations are doing to the old polities. Pat Buchanan recently published a bestseller called The Great Betrayal: How American Sovereignty and Social Justice are Being Sacrificed to the Gods of the Global Economy, while in Canada, Alberta’s Western Report observed: "The pendulum has swung too far in the direction of so-called globalization, which in Canada’s case means ‘Americanization’ and gives huge, massive powers to foreign corporations that are accountable to no-one in this country" (Western Report 1998)

With the inclusion of agriculture, services and subsidies within the remit of the World Trade Organization we can only speculate where the pursuit of global concordance in these areas will take us. We have already mentioned the case of bananas, but the implications of, for instance, a serious determination to end agricultural subsidies would have dramatic effects on small-farm communities in many parts of Europe, and in the American farm states in general. In Europe, at least, many of these state-underwritten "marginal" farmers are often representative of older, isolated cultures like the Welsh hill farmers for instance. Their economic demise has not only regional, but cultural dimensions. Then again, there is the entire question of what constitutes a subsidy and "unfair intervention" in the area of liberalizing trade. The strict interpretation of the writ of the WTO has enormous implications for even more of those remaining, residual economic instruments of the old nation states. In terms of developing nations in particular—though not exclusively—the area of sovereign policy-making has long been compromised by "conditionality" imposed by lenders of last resort, most notably the IMF. Of course the IMF does not "impose" its policies on these countries, but if you are a lender of last resort you really do not have to—your status does that for you. So, many economic policies and the regulatory role of the state vis a vis the private sector are compromised, or at least constrained.

As the state shrinks, and its powers diminish, so grow the great corporations, and so grows the privatization of more and more of the state’s "traditional" functions—even prisons in some parts of the USA. But what are the implications of having the enormous economic power of the multinationals operating, essentially, "outside" the traditional world of sovereignty? "Where does a company ‘belong?’ The new order eschews loyalty to workers, products, corporate structure, businesses, factories, communities, yes, even the nation" (Morris 1998). Peter Drucker observed some years ago that "In a transnational company there is only one economic unit, the world. For this company, national boundaries have largely become irrelevant". What, for instance, makes the Ford Motor Company an American company? As countries race into new multi-national configurations like the EU and NAFTA, so the private sector is merging and scaling up. But, where is it all going? Are these steps to global free trade and government, or are they the formation of megablocs forming gigantic rivals like the divisions of the world in Orwell’s 1984?

The World of Information

It is almost impossible to believe that the last decade has seen the explosion of the Internet and the birth (1993) and rise of the WorldWide Web—it simply was not there. Already it has shaped the way we communicate, shop and file our taxes. And yet, unlike any of its predecessors, it is almost totally anarchic—or democratic if you prefer. There are no press barons to control it and railroad us into the Spanish-American War—there is the ultimate democracy of being able to put your point of view before the court of the world, instantly. Such anarchy makes it extremely difficult for states to deny knowledge, and the power of knowledge to its citizens as China discovered a decade ago when the fax machine undermined the social control mechanisms of the state during the Tienanmin crisis.

We have no idea where this information revolution is taking us. Who, for instance, would have seen that the combined energy revolutions of agriculture, industry and transport after 1760, would have put us all into towns, suburbs, malls, and cars—and now on the other end of a fiber-optic cable on a mountainside in Colorado? How will this change the nature of the relationship between the state and the citizen? The industrial revolution took the politics of the eighteenth century and made Marx possible. What next? Perhaps we have the makings of true Jacksonian democracy tucked away in the circuit boards of our computers, rather than following the line of the plow in the soil? British writer Stephen Mooney has mused on this subject as follows:

‘The information revolution is destroying the nation state and promoting regional confederations of city-states. Whereas the Industrial Revolution was a centralizing force, the Information Revolution is a decentralizing force’. (Mooney 1998)


Pierre Hassner, director of the CNRS in Paris saw the:

‘"liberating" power of the information revolution on society and the state as operating within an historical retrogression in the following terms: "The multiplication of different types of actors [the European Regions for instance], loyalties and conflicts is leading to a return, in some respects, to the sixteenth century, to the power of the merchant towns and religious wars. In other respects, it is a return to the Middle Ages"’. (Hassner 1993).


Again, Peter Drucker—the seer of so many things—wrote that "Knowledge has replaced the economist’s ‘land, labor and capital’ as the chief economic resource". "It is going to be very hard to maintain the old "cultural differences" that have essentially defined the old nation states for so long: "The communications revolution has promoted the dissolution of the sovereign state. E-mail, the Internet, the satellite dish…herald the end of our cultural sanctity"(Howell 1998).


The old map of states is being shaken by the roots—some states have fallen to pieces, some have formed massive trading alliances, most in the west seem to be yielding sovereignty to the world of globalization and market forces, and all are yielding large areas of social and economic responsibility to the private and not-for-profit sectors. Much, maybe most, of this change is incremental rather than in the pursuit of any new model of the state or society. Much of it is subsumed under the fiction that it is "economic," as in European Economic Communities. Boundaries are becoming porous in terms of information and money flows—and fund transfers, by 1999 have reached the astounding figure of one trillion US$ per day (Streeten, 1999). At the same time across recently-collapsed or vanished empires in Africa, the former USSR and Yugoslavia, we may observe the very worst aspects of nineteenth-century nationalistic chauvinism and intolerance, the resurgence of ethnic animosities among, for instance the Kurds, the non-Moslems of the southern Sudan or the Chinese in Tibet. The disappearance of the Cold War has left the non-viable shells of collapsing states such as Cuba, parts of Central America etc. New organizations, such as the WTO lurk in the wings with enormous capacity to pull the rug out from many small states in alliances with bigger neighbors, from poor regions within developed democracies, and from substantial areas of domestic economic and social policy that were never seen as having much to do with "trade".

In short, the world is changing so fast and so profoundly that I cannot decide whether a paper like this is an act of bravado or downright stupidity. How would one teach this? In short you cannot in any definitive way. But, we are duty bound to present the implications of the trends that we already see around us, to those who will reap the whirlwind, or possibly ride the storm to new worlds and new opportunity that the war-ridden, chauvinistic and really rather nasty world of the nation states prevented us from attaining.

…[U]topians should not be discouraged from formulating their proposals, and from thinking the unthinkable, unencumbered by the inhibitions and obstacles of political constraints, in the same detail that the defenders of the status quo devote to its elaboration and celebration’ (Streeten 1999).




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