How can we explain the trend towards independence, separatism and attempts at nation-building when states are generally underperforming under the tsunami of capital flows, migration, and rapidly moving content?

(Paco Rivière/Flickr/Creative Commons)

How can we understand – beyond the differences – the similarities of cases like Catalonia, Crimea, Chechnya, the Karen state in Myanmar, Kashmir, Kosovo, the Kurds, Scotland, South Sudan, Xinjiang and Tibet in China, and most recently Venetia?

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  1. Caroline King 4 years ago

    This is not necessarily a contradiction. Globalization gives regions a chance to re-assert themselves. The question is what they think they are fighting for and what they will end up getting. Economic and cultural autonomy are no longer dependent on the protection of the state – as long as a framework for peace and stability are ensured. We’ve seen this two-way drift within the EU now for years with foreign policy and security powers slowly shifting toward Brussels and cultural, social and economic powers devolving downward. But there are tricky questions that remain for these separatist movements: In Québec’s last referendum PQ ( Parti Québecois) leaders wanted to keep the Canadian dollar, work within the Canadian monetary system, not pay back their debt and enjoy the privileges of membership in NATO, WTO, NAFTA. Ottawa had no mandate to allow that – nor, actually, even to allow the referendum.

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  2. Alexei Voskressenski 4 years ago

    It is clear that if the interim period after the dissolution of the USSR is not going to end, then at least it is paving the way for further transformation of the international system and the system of international actors. There is nothing strange in this process especially due to new characteristics of this period including increasing flexibility of the world system. Catalonia, Crimea, Scotland, South Sudan, Chechnya, Veneice etc. are a few examples.

    That does not symbolize withering of the modern state as such (though the discussion of this possibility is going on starting from the early 20th century) or even of underperformance of the state but accentuates the transformation of the state as a social institute and also as a world actor. We are witnessing the emergence of regions (especially global regions) as new highly integrated actors in international politics. These new emerging actors can be within a modern state (Crimea, Chechnya, Sinkiang, Tibet etc.), they can try a secession or try to be a part of another state because of the lack of federalism or try to become independent. These new emerging regions can consist of several states within a large geographical region (EU, for example) or be a regional / trans-regional phenomenon (TPP, Transatlantic Community, BRICS, SOC etc.).

    The state as an institution and a state as a concrete actor (especially the great power) is heavily influencing this process: it can stiffen the region or strengthen and broaden it depending on regional, national, cultural specifics or even some security, financial etc. considerations. It is also clear that nation-states can foster or hinder this objective and thus inevitable process depending on their national / state (even bureaucratic) interests or at least try to control it. There are different mechanisms of control, all related to different theories of international interaction. In order to control it skilfully statesmen should master all modern IR theories and also theories of International Political Economy or at least to have educated advisors otherwise they risk political, financial etc. losses. A challenge for us, people living within this epoch, is our everyday adaptation to this process; for politicians: to ensure its peaceful character; for analysts: to present a timely, correct and sober analysis that can be used by politicians and that can help people.

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  3. Andrey Makarychev 4 years ago

    These cases are very different, but in most of them separatists do not necessarily aim at independence. Catalonia and Scotland, should they separate from Spain and the UK, would most likely find themselves embraced by the EU. Kosovo’s independence is conditioned by NATO and the EU. The Chechen radicals were eager to form a Muslim conglomerate to encompass neighboring territories of Northern Caucasus. In the former Soviet Union almost all break-away territories are de-facto Russian protectorates eager to more closely integrate with Moscow (Transnistria, South Ossetia and, most recently, Crimea). Nagorno-Karabakh maintains its status-quo only because of militarily support from Armenia who, in its turn, is Russia’s client state. Northern Cyprus can survive only due to massive Turkish economic and security assistance. For secessionist or irredentist territories independence is a heavy burden they simply can’t afford, especially in case of international isolation or sanctions.

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  4. Panayotis Tsakonas 4 years ago

    States are indeed underperforming in a globalized environment that brings a tsunami of – among others – capital flows, migration, and challenging identities. Moreover, the various forms of intensified globalization (economic, political, and social) over the past two decades led many to question the relevance and role of the state in the contemporary era.
    However, the nation-state seems to effectively adapt to most challenges that threaten to render it obsolete. For example, the nation-state appeared as the most feasible institution to deal with “inefficiencies” and distributional anomalies created by market forces over the recent financial crisis, especially as a result of economic globalization.
    Moreover, the most important reason that can account for the nation-state resilience relates to its ability to function, although with difficulties, as a key security-provider. Indeed, the nature of security threats may change, but it is very unlikely that the primacy of the state as the key security provider will decline in the foreseeable future. This is because no comparable institution has emerged and is likely to emerge that can command individual loyalty and allegiance as states do. States still remain the focal point of individuals when it comes to security (and welfare), especially during times of crisis.
    One should also remember that the nation-state is the only institution that maintains ultimate legitimate coercive power, even though this power is undergoing changes. In the security arena no such institutions exist that can effectively compensate for what the state can provide. Indeed, international institutions and the various regional organizations, e.g. the EU, ASEAN etc. cannot credibly compete with the nation-state as the key security-provider, as they have acquired limited security functions and seem to serve secondary roles after the key states have already made the significant decisions on security matters.

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