Two very interesting trends lately that have been running in parallel, but that together could spell large changes in what we perceive as countries and where the nexuses of power will be in the future.
On one hand, we have the idea of the nation state coming into question. The Economist proclaimed in the latest issue that Putin’s actions in Crimea are suggestive of a new world order where borders are not respected and where there is no certainty regarding international rule of law. This makes the nation state a more fragile, fungible concept. Gillian Tett questioned in the FT whether the idea of the nation state is starting to come to an end. It doesn’t have to be the necessary order of things, and in fact, it hasn’t been during most of history. She gives the example of Switzerland staying together since it’s practical. But in many, poorer, countries, where the borders were drawn by map-wielding colonialists and no nationalistic sentiment exists – if the national government can’t provide any services, what is its purpose?
From Catalunia to Scotland, we see how people’s sense of identity might not lie with the larger country, even in nations that have been established for centuries. Power is being decentralized and localized. This is going down even to the city level. I mentioned the metropolitan revolution earlier. Cities are strengthening their position vis-a-vis their nations. Many countries are too short of funds to tackle larger challenges, leaving it up to cities to act on their own. Michael Bloomberg has been leading the way, both by tackling challenges in New York that can’t be touched on a federal level, and through the C40 initiative, where mayors tackle climate change. This op-ed in FT described how US cities are gaining in power. In developing countries, this trend is even more pronounced, since the government might be completely unable to perform the basic functions. The number of mega cities is increasing, and the global urban population is rapidly increasing (to triple in the next 100 years)
We also have more and more countries entering, or wanting to enter, larger unions. Despite all the issues of the EU, the list of countries wanting to join is just growing longer. Putin wants to create his Eurasian Customs Union. African countries are looking at creating a currency union (although having a joint Eco currency seems like a terrible idea).
Perhaps therefore, the future does not belong to historically-derived nation states, but rather large, strong mega cities existing within a framework where they derive some services from their weak, parent nation states and others from larger federal unions.