The Emergence of Nation State System | IR CSS Notes, Topic-2

The Emergence of Nation State System


The terms nation, state, country and nation-state are used to refer to political, economic, social and cultural actors in the international system. The modern nation-state refers to a single or multiple nationalities joined together in a formal political union. The nation-state determines an official language(s), a system of law, manages a currency system, uses a bureaucracy to order elements of society, and fosters loyalties to abstract entities like “Canada,” “the United States,” and so on.

What’s the difference between these concepts?

A nation-state differs from a “state” or a “nation” for a couple of important reasons:

A nation refers only to a socio-cultural entity, a union of people sharing who can identify culturally and linguistically. This concept does not necessarily consider formal political unions.

A state refers to a legal/political entity that is comprised of the following: a) a permanent population; b) a defined territory; c) a government ; and d) the capacity to enter into relations with other states.

This distinction is an important one because we, as political scientists, must be able to account for both political and socio-cultural factors in a political entity. Using the term nation-state, permits this investigation.


A nation state is a geographical area that can be identified as deriving its political legitimacy from serving as a sovereign nation. A state is a political and geopolitical entity, while a nation is a cultural and ethnic one. The term “nation state” implies that the two coincide, but “nation state” formation can take place at different times in different parts of the world, and has become the dominant form of world organization.

The Emergence of Nation State

The Westphalian system of sovereign states was established in 1648 as part of the Peace of Westphalia. There were three core points to the treaty:

o The principle of state sovereignty;

o The principle of (legal) equality of states;

o The principle of non-intervention of one state in the international affairs of another.


Over the years, the Westphalian model became universally accepted, and widely respected. But, with time, came changes to the society, and, with them, came critique of the system. Today, challenges to this model of international relations come from various fields, such as international security, humanitarian activity, and global economy. Still, the Westphalian state system plays a huge role in the modern society, although it needs adjustment to today‘s society‘s needs.

The idea of sovereignty is a widely supported one. The notion that every state has the right of self-governance over its people and territory builds the foundation for interstate peace, but, at the same time, experiences much critique.

Along with giving each state the privilege to make its own decisions, sovereignty gives benefits to individual nations, while providing multiple disadvantages. The plusses of the idea are obvious: each state can decide the best for its people, thus, hopefully, developing economically, socially, and politically. Other states, no matter how powerful, do not have the right to take upon the rule of a sovereign country. The principle of autonomy does not allow exploitation of the weaker on the scale of the relations between states. In ideal, sovereignty does not let the EDCs give into the temptation ofrestructuring the LDCs for their own needs. Many leaders, especially in the countries of Asia and the Middle East, support the notions of self-determination and non-intervention, both in terms of political and cultural influence. On the other side, individual countries, when isolating from the world, sacrifice the immense long-term benefits of international cooperation. In order to bring benefits to all countries, rules that are to be developed for the international community need to respect the various opinions on global issues, instead of focusing on the needs of the richest, most technologically developed nations. If the laws respect the needs of the community, the purpose of sovereignty is partially lost, which means that with globalization and development of international networks, sovereignty needs to be given up for the sake of international progress.

In the Fareed Zakaria‘s Culture is Destiny: Conversation with Lee Kuan Yew, the former Prime Minister of Singapore emphasizes the importance of cultural atmosphere in the development of a particular country. Therefore, if a country makes the decision to preserve its culture, the neighboring nations‘ attempts to change its cultural environment can be perceived as violations to the principles of sovereignty. Various foreign activities, such as bringing foreign businesses into the isolating country would disturb its barriers for outside intervention of any kind. At the same time, forbidding the introduction of international businesses in a country would be contradicting to the recently developed idea of liberalization of trade.

Second half of the twentieth century was identified with the spread of the ideas of liberalism around the world, and into many spheres of activity. The development of liberal international institutions in the past decades is a great example of that. These organizations, while serving a great range of purposes, often get in the way of ideals of the Westphalian system. Followers of liberalism often support spread of the Western model of societal interactions, which includes democratic form of government, open markets, and implementation of human rights in every part of the world. In many cases of non-Western, as well as Western, countries, the idea of spreading the ideas of liberalism is strongly opposed with the argument of national sovereignty. Nevertheless, the more powerful Western governments continue pressing on the opposition of their values by, sometimes, inhuman methods. The concepts of the Westphalian system protect the victims of forced spread of liberty.

The WTO and the IMF are excellent examples of interference of international institutions and national sovereignty. In the case of Bretton Woods institutions, there is a clear confrontation of the struggle for global economic openness vs. sovereignty of individual players. In the WTO, the majority of independent countries are either members or perspective members. Its purpose is to open up the world market by removing trade barriers, by creation of a multilateral trading system. The WTO favors the laissez-faire approach to international business development, while fighting protectionist policies of any level, thus interfering with the right of self-determination of each participant. WTO officials argue that sacrificing the short-term goals of protectionist behavior brings benefits to the whole world, thus affecting all of its members. Sovereignty can help protect a state from short-term economic losses, such as unemployment in certain areas of professional work; but, it brings in the benefits of international cooperation, thus increasing the effectiveness of production of each individual member. Helen Milner, political scientist from Stanford University, mentions that international economic institutions, like the Bretton Woods institutions, ―constrain the behavior of the most powerful countries and provide information and monitoring capacities that enable states to cooperate,‖2 which further supports the work of international economic institutions. The Westphalian principles need to consider the point that, often times, giving up individual interests results in greater long-term outcome, both for the international community in overall, and for every player in particular.

In terms of security issues, there are several problems with the 1648 principles of Westphalia. One of them is caused by the change in the international nature of conflicts. Another security issue with the old standards of sovereignty is created by modern technology. Nowadays, conflicts mostly arise within countries, rarely affecting the surroundings of the conflicting nation. Although some supporters of absolute sovereignty may argue that individual states should not care about the ongoing events of their neighbors, it might very well be in the interests of each player of the international arena to participate in peacekeeping in the nations that experience. The extent to which these international peacekeeping operations should be taken is debated by many. Thinking about this subject, one might consider different causes of violence inside states. When the disorder in a country is part of a coup d‘état, outside intervention would probably be unnecessary, additionally interfering with the process of self-determination. A different case of an ongoing genocide in a country, especially if it seems to have the potential to cross the national borders, could be the time when an early intervention would tackle an immense threat to world peace. Moreover, even if the situation does not seem close to going outside a state‘s borders, it might be necessary to intervene in a state that has the potential to be wiped off the earth, or to commit massive violations of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. The problem with the notion of pacifying involvement is the fact that leaders of some particular states deem themselves to be the world judges, allowing themselves to get involved, guided often, by self-interest, in the conflicts that are far from threatening global peace. This setback should be mitigated by the enforcement of principles of international cooperation through international institutions which respect the opinions of a variety of state actors.

An incomparable illustration of a situation where international intervention was needed, but did not come in full force, is the 1994 genocide in Rwanda. Samantha Power, a journalist and a writer, studied the disastrous decisions by the United Nations, its bureaucracy, and the United States in particular. According to Power, these actors are to blame for the consequences of nonintervention in Rwanda3.

When a state‘s behavior is not regulated in any way, there is a possibility of development and proliferation of technologies, whose destructive power, when built, neither the 17th century‘s, nor the 21st century‘s laws have the capability to stop. The greatest examples of these technologies are nuclear, biological, and chemical weapons of mass destruction. In order to prevent the possible unwanted consequences of letting the nuclear buildup go uncontrolled, the Non-Proliferation Treaty was organized. The NPT establishes that in order to contribute to the battle against weapons of mass destruction, nuclear technology trade and nuclear technology development are forbidden. The participating nations have to give up some of their sovereignty for the sake of international security.

An outstanding example of the nuclear dilemma from the current international affairs is the Iran‘s nuclear program. The U.S., along with its allies, pressure Iran to close up the program. Iran, on the other hand, declares to be working on peaceful goals, therefore claiming its right of self-determination. The system of sovereignty, in this case, aids Iran‘s behavior which threatens international peace. James Phillips, a passionate critic of Iran‘s nuclear development, says in one of his statements that, ―as potentially costly and risky as a preventive was against Iran would be, allowing Iran to acquire nuclear weapons would result in far heavier potential costs and risks.‖4Phillips‘ statement supports the notion that once a state starts claiming its right to choose whether the development of weapons of massive destruction goes on inside the state, international security is placed in danger.

In addition to the questions of security and economics, many critics of the Westphalian system bring up the goals of humanitarian progress. The majority of values of humanitarianism were laid out in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. International Criminal Court was established on its premise. When members of the international community take actions that violate the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, the ICC has the privilege to prosecute the violators even in case if the violator is not a member in the ICC. This procedure majorly interferes with the ideals of Westphalian society. In his writing, Briony MacPhee makes a strong line of support for the ICC, by attacking the common critiques to theorganization. Briony MacPhee mentions, ―much of the humanitarian work sponsored by the U.S. abroad may no longer be necessary, allowing Americans to continue to advance their humanitarian ideals while avoiding the deaths of American soldiers and rerouting the millions spent on humanitarian aid,‖ as one of his strong messages to the U.S. The U.S. vastly supports human rights values, but refuses to join the ICC because of the ideals of sovereignty.

As a result of the continuous disputes on the principles of the Westphalian system of state sovereignty, there developed numerous alternatives to this model of international relations. Stephen D. Krasner, a professor at Stanford University, in his Sharing Sovereignty: New Institutions for Collapsed and Failing States6 article found that sovereignty does not accomplish its purpose in many parts of the world. Krasner‘s version of the new international system should include de facto trusteeships and shared sovereignty, where ―national rulers would use their international legal sovereignty to legitimate institutions within their states in which authority was shared between internal and external act. The Real New World Order brings up the idea of trans-governmental networks, which, in the near future are going to be smoothing out the frontiers, thus getting rid of the principles of sovereignty.

The most important aspect of keeping our world safe is considering all actors on the stage before making decisions about international politics. Whether the written laws say one thing or another, often times the world brings in new issues that, in order to be dealt with, need to either break the old rules, or to create new ones. The Westphalian system has some imperfections which stood out more as years passed, but that only proves the fact that it is the most excellent system of international relations that was created so far.

The nation-state developed fairly recently. Prior to the 1500s, in Europe, the nation-state as we know it did not exist. Back then, most people did not consider themselves part of a nation; they rarely left their village and knew little of the larger world. If anything, people were more likely to identify themselves with their region or local lord. At the same time, the rulers of states frequently had little control over their countries. Instead, local feudal lords had a great deal of power, and kings often had to depend on the goodwill of their subordinates to rule. Laws and practices varied a great deal from one part of the country to another. The timeline on page 65 explains some key events that led to the rise of the nation-state.

In the early modern era, a number of monarchs began to consolidate power by weakening the feudal nobles and allying themselves with the emerging commercial classes. This difficult process sometimes required violence. The consolidation of power also took a long time. Kings and queens worked to bring all the people of their territories under unified rule. Not surprisingly, then, the birth of the nation-state also saw the first rumblings of nationalism, as monarchs encouraged their subjects to feel loyalty toward the newly established nations. The modern, integrated nation-state became clearly established in most of Europe during the nineteenth century.

Example: Russia is a great example of consolidation of power by monarchs. Throughout most of the medieval era, what became Russia was a minor principality centered on the city of Moscow. Over the course of a few hundred years, the rulers of Moscow took over more land, eventually expanding to cover much of what is now Russia. This expansion came through a mix of diplomacy and war. When Ivan IV also known as Ivan the Terrible came of age and assumed the throne in 1547, he was crowned the first czar. He proceeded to devastate the nobility by means of a secret police and gained the loyalty of commercial classes by giving them positions in a new state bureaucracy. These actions led to the deaths of thousands. THE RISE OF THE EUROPEAN NATION-STATE
Time Frame Major Event
Pre-1500s Most people lived in small villages; they paid tithes to feudal landlords, didn‘t travel, and cared little for anything beyond the village.
1485 Henry VII wins the War of the Roses in England, begins the Tudor dynasty, and starts the development of the English nation-state.
1492 Spanish monarchs Ferdinand and Isabella finish taking back all of Spain from the Muslims; the era of Spain as a global power begins.
1547–1584 Ivan the Terrible rules Russia; he unifies the government and creates the first Russian nation-state.
1638–1715 Louis XIV of France creates an absolute monarchy; France emerges as the dominant power in Europe.
1648 Peace of Westphalia cements the legal status of the nation-state as sovereign.
1789 The French Revolution begins; it creates the modern French nation-state and sparks nationalism around Europe.
1871 Unification of Italy and Germany is complete.
1919 Treaty of Versailles ends World War I; it breaks up several multinational empires and creates many new nation-states.
1945 The United Nations forms.

Example: In the eighteenth century, nobles held most of the power in Poland. The monarch was very weak. As a result, Poland could not defeat its powerful neighbors Austria, Prussia, and Russia. These three centralized nation-states partitioned Poland on three different occasions 1772, 1793, and 1795 eventually eliminating Poland until 1918, when a new Republic of Poland formed.

The Importance of Napoleon

Napoleon Bonaparte was a key figure in the development of the nation-state. Amid the chaos of the French Revolution in the late eighteenth century, most remaining medieval and feudal laws were overturned and a truly national law code was established. Similarly, a national military was created. Although not the only reason,France‘s status as a nation-state was a key factor in its ability to dominate feudal neighbors in Italy and Germany. Napoleon‘s military victories also paved the way for the emergence of nation-states in the rest of Europe: In many places, the people rallied together as a nation in order to defeat Napoleon.

The Future of Nation-States


The first major trend is globalization. Over the last few decades, national boundaries have broken down in a variety of ways, including economically. In today‘s truly global economy, money and goods travel across borders in huge quantities and at great speed. Many corporations build parts in a variety of countries, then assemble them in yet another country. Most goods are no longer ―made in America,‖ for example, because much of the manufacturing often happens in other places, whereas final assembly occurs in the United States. The rapid growth of international investing has further globalized the economy. Globalization often leads to transnationalism, so should this globalizing trend continue, the nation-state might give way to the transnational government.

The Perils of Globalization

Since the mid-1990s, people from around the world have attacked globalization. Environmentalists see globalization as a disaster for the environment, labor unions fear for their members‘ jobs in a global marketplace, and others see globalization itself as a cause of poverty in developing countries. Most governments continue to favor globalization, but anti-globalization protesters have made their mark by demonstrating against meetings of the World Bank, the International Monetary Fund, and other international economic institutions. During the so-called Battle of Seattle in 1999, thousands of protesters swarmed the hotel and convention centers at which meetings of the World Trade Organization were being held.


Transnationalism has also occurred at the political level. International organizations, such as the United Nations and the World Trade Organization, play an ever-increasing role on the political stage, and nations join them for such benefits as military protection and economic security. In the case of the European Union, national boundaries have very little meaning. All citizens can travel, live, and work freely throughout the European Union, and all internal tariffs and trade restrictions have been abolished. Some residents see themselves as citizens of a new European Union nation, not of their smaller countries. Transnational governments and groups literally transcend geographical and political boundaries.

Example: The World Trade Organization, the United Nations, and the World Bank are just a few examples of international organizations that sometimes act like governments or play a substantial role in international relations. Other examples include the Organization of American States, the North Atlantic Treaty Organization, the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development, and the Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries.

The fact that increasing numbers of people around the world speak the same language demonstrates the transnational trend. English has become something of an international language,


but other languages (such as French, Chinese, and Russian) are also spoken by many around the world. Overall, the total number of languages spoken is decreasing, while the total number of speakers of certain dominant languages is increasing.


The second trend that marks the recession of nation-states concerns the increase in political power being given to local governments, sometimes to the point of autonomy. This trend is sometimes called devolution because states are said to devolve power back to local governments. In the United Kingdom, for example, Scotland has been granted a great deal of autonomy, as has Catalonia in Spain. Should this trend continue, local governments would replace national or central governments. Although the nation-state has been the predominant unit of political organization for most of the last few centuries, its future is uncertain. Two trends point to the nation-state as receding in importance, but these trends sometimes contradict each other. Still, globalization and devolution continue to occur at a rapid rate throughout the twenty-first-century world, and both will affect the future of nation-states.

New Federalism

Since the 1970s, a number of American presidents have pursued a policy sometimes called new federalism. Supporters feel that the federal government has gotten too powerful and that more power should be given to state and local governments. Although the federal government remains strong, more power has been given back to state and local governments. In the 1990s, for example, Congress created block grants that gave money to states with few strings attached. States were also given more freedom to experiment with policies, such as Wisconsin‘s experiment with welfare reform under Governor Tommy Thompson in 1996.

The table below summarizes the trends of globalization and devolution. GLOBALIZATION AND DEVOLUTION TRENDS
Globalization Devolution
Power flows Outward, away from the state Inward, down from the central government
Power belongs to International organizations and transnational governments Regional and local governments
Power is lost by The state The central government
Sometimes known as Transnationalism Subnationalism
Examples The European Union, the United Nations, the World Trade Organization New Federalism in the United States, increased Scottish autonomy in the United Kingdom, in-creased study of local and regional languages (such as Breton in France.

Huntington began his thinking by surveying the diverse theories about the nature of global politics in the post–Cold War period. Some theorists and writers argued that human rights, liberal democracy and capitalist free market economics had become the only remaining ideological alternative for nations in the post–Cold War world. Specifically, Francis Fukuyama, in The End of History and the Last Man, argued that the world had reached a Hegelian “end of history”.

Huntington believed that while the age of ideology had ended, the world had reverted only to a normal state of affairs characterized by cultural conflict. In his thesis, he argued that the primary axis of conflict in the future will be along cultural and religious lines.

As an extension, he posits that the concept of different civilizations, as the highest rank of cultural identity, will become increasingly useful in analyzing the potential for conflict.

In the 1993 Foreign Affairs article, Huntington writes:

It is my hypothesis that the fundamental source of conflict in this new world will not be primarily ideological or primarily economic. The great divisions among humankind and the dominating source of conflict will be cultural. Nation states will remain the most powerful actors in world affairs, but the principal conflicts of global politics will occur between nations and groups of different civilizations. The clash of civilizations will dominate global politics. The fault lines between civilizations will be the battle lines of the future.

Sandra Joireman suggests that Huntington may be characterised as a neo-primordialist, as, while he sees people as having strong ties to their ethnicity, he does not believe that these ties havealways existed.

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