Thursday, June 26, 2008

Nations, States and Countries: Part 1

    Have you ever wondered why people are slaughtering each other all over the world? What produces the death, the suffering, the artificial famine? What follows does not pretend to explain all of it, but it does explain a great deal of it. Surely there are other factors involved than those you are about to be exposed to. But there are none more important in explaining the woes of this world.

    There is one aspect of international relations of which the vast majority of people are almost totally ignorant. This is through no fault of their own. It just isn't taught. But it is absolutely critical for an understanding of violence in the world. It produces genocide, ethnic cleansing, insurrection and wars of every conceivable variety, including world wars. It is responsible for a great deal of the misery and death on this planet. And it does have a powerful bearing on the future of the United States, as you will see. It involves the distinction among three terms which are often used interchangeably, but which are most definitely not the same. They are country, state and nation.

    First some definitions: the terms country and state are synonymous. In international relations, a country or a state is what can best be described as a sovereign geopolitical entity. That is, a country or a state is a political unit that occupies territory and is capable, in the current world system, of making decisions for itself without fear of contradiction by some higher authority. The United States, France, Japan, etc., are all countries or states.

    A nation is something very different. A nation is a group of people who identify with each other in one or more ways. Those may be ethnic, linguistic, cultural, religious, historic, or by any other common denominator.

    There are four possible combinations of countries or states on the one hand, and nations on the other. The most stable and peaceful arrangement is for national and country or state boundaries to coincide. That is, for virtually every member of the same nation to live within the boundaries of one state or country. This is referred to as a nation-state. Japan is an excellent example. Virtually everyone in Japan is Japanese, ethnically, linguistically and culturally. There is very little political violence in Japan. There is political disagreement, to be sure, but violence is minimal. In fact, Japan guards its nationality very closely. An outsider can visit Japan, but cannot become truly Japanese.

    Once we depart from the nation-state, the problems begin. With the other three possible combinations, conflict is the order of the day, and violence is common. First, there is the possibility of one nation being divided into two or more states. Ireland and Northern Ireland come to mind. For decades, the counties of Northern Ireland were plagued by political violence. It must be understood that this violence had as its goal the unification of Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland. That is, it was an effort on the part of the Irish nationality of Northern Ireland to establish for itself a nation-state—a situation in which national and state boundaries coincided.

There seems to be a universal desire on the part of all people to live within their own nation-state. We see efforts to establish such political units taking place all over the world. Those efforts are usually accompanied by conflict. North and South Korea, one nation of people divided into two states, has been the scene of continuous violence, war and tension for almost sixty years. A formal state of war still exists there after all that time. To this day, the very real possibility exists that a catastrophic war could erupt there at any moment.

In the former North and South Vietnam the urge to unify the nation was so intense that it produced a decade-long war with the United States. Whatever one's thoughts concerning that war, the element of nationalism cannot be discarded.

Africa has been the scene of continuous violence since the end of the colonial era. On that unfortunate continent there are many nations that are divided into two or more states. There are over two thousand nations of people in Africa. When the European powers decided to establish colonies there, they simply whacked up the place to their own satisfaction with no consideration for nationality. Arbitrary colonial boundaries were drawn all over the continent. The result was an absolute nightmare of circumstances, among which are many nationalities divided into two or more states. The examples are far too numerous to mention.

The former East and West Germany were great examples of this problem. For more than four decades, until the collapse of central power in Moscow, the German nation was divided into two states. Tensions were high. Many predicted that World War Three would break out there. Fortunately, reunification was peaceful, if not exactly comfortable.

Less comfortable are relations between Taiwan and mainland China, Cubans in Cuba and Cubans patiently biding their time in south Florida, and Turks in Cyprus as well as in Turkey, and Greeks in Cyprus as well as in Greece. One may even rightfully include in this category Finns in Finland and members of the Finnish nation stranded in Russian Karelia. Many more examples exist.

The elephant in the room, of course, is the Islamic nation. Samuel P. Huntington of Harvard goes so far as to classify them as much more than a distinct nationality, but as a separate civilization, and the Federal Recluse would certainly agree with that assessment. Here we have well over a billion people united, at the very least, by religion, divided into numerous states stretching across a major region of the globe. The Islamic nation in southwest Asia and even north Africa is partially united not only by religion, but by culture, ethnicity, history, and, to some extent, language. Certainly this national unity is not complete. There are the Iranians to contend with from an ethnic and linguistic standpoint, as well as sectarian differences within Islam, such as between Shiite and Sunni in Iraq and elsewhere. But if one speaks in sufficiently broad terms, as did Huntington, an Islamic nation certainly exists. President Nasser of Egypt attempted a partial political unification decades ago, but was unsuccessful. The success of future attempts seems unlikely, but is not inconceivable. Culture, language and religion are powerful unifying forces. If this nation of people were ever to unify politically, given the hatred and resentment of Western Civilization throughout the region, the West would have a great deal more to worry about than terrorism.

To be continued…

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