Monday, 23 September 2013

Guest Post: Peak oil and the Nation Sate

By my Twin, who also did a series on naval warfare.

Firstly some simple definitions of the key terms for this discussion;

Nation - A type of Society, made of three pieces; a common identity (often cultural or ethnic), self-awareness plus self-differentiation and a continuity of existence over time. Additionally it has to be larger than a tribe or a single community, I'm not aware of a minimum size so this is semi-arbitrary.

State - A self-governing polity that has recognized (by other sovereign states) and actual sovereignty, countries with only the former include Somalia and until recently Taiwan (at least in regards to mainland China) and only the latter includes countries such as South Ossetia and Somaliland. 

Sovereignty - For this discussion this is effectively the actual and recognized ability to control a geographical area and its inhabitants without external forces interfering. The modern form stems from the Peace of Westphalia following the conclusion of the 30 years war (1618-1648) and the Eighty years war (1568-1648), with the 30 years war providing the impetus for the creation of sovereignty to deal with religious conflicts.

Nation-State - A state that geographically and politically corresponds (mostly) with a single nation

Several notes

Firstly about the absolutist language used in these and other definitions, which is phrased in ways that make it sound that nationalism and sovereignty are only true if they are absolutely true, while they are instead concepts that are at best mostly true. There has never been a fully sovereign state or a state composed entirely out of people who all actively identify with their relevant nation.

Secondly, nations often get defined along the lines of having a shared language and religion, and while this is for understandable reasons it’s a false way to define nations. The shared language aspect comes about because nationalism is closely linked to industrialization and part of industrialization is the creating of a common shared language across the state in order to better integrate the economic and political landscape (though the process had already started before industrialization). However there are several nation-states that include several languages, the most notable are Switzerland and China. Switzerland has three official languages (German, Italian and French, with Romansh as a fourth national language) and with some use of English as a lingua franca. In China the situation is more complex as while there are officially two Chinese languages (Mandarin and Cantonese) in actual fact many of the 'dialects' of Mandarin are separate languages (defined as being mutually incomprehensible), though written Mandarin has no such variation (which is part of the reason the CCP gave up latinising Chinese) and the Chinese government is trying to spread Putonghua (common speech) as a single common language, it's currently more of a lingua franca than a shared common tongue. Religion is also grouped together as necessary due to the until recent violent conflicts caused by religious differences in Europe and because religion is seen as a great unifying force, however it is neither a sufficient  nor indispensable trait needed for a nation and the most powerful unifying force is the perception of a shared history. In fact modern Turkey was founded on the principals of secularism to avoid religious conflict; here not enforcing a shared religion has made the nation more unified (though Turkey still has problems with the Kurds who want to secede and create their own nation-state).
Generally nation states are preferable to non-nation states because they avoid many of the internal problems and conflicts brought about by having multiple nations inside one state. Recent and ongoing examples of such conflicts include the recently concluded Sri Lankan civil war between the imported Tamils and the local Sinhalese, The Kurdish question (Turkey) which involves the Kurds quest for a state which also crosses over into Iran, Iraq and Syria and the quest for Catalonian independence/ autonomy (internal to Spain and so far peaceful). Note that a state doesn't have to be composed entirely of a single nation to be considered a nation-state, just a large enough amount (around 80-90% is probably about right though there isn't a fixed amount and so it’s slightly subjective) and is further complicated by non-nationalistic nations (in short nations that do not want or seek autonomy, potential examples could be the Gypsies or Amish). It should also be noted that being a multicultural/immigrant state does not preclude one from being a nation state as both Australia and the US show (the US less so than Australia and it is a very debatable example of a nation state). The key question is whether or not the immigrants can/will be assimilated into the over culture of the state which depends on whether or not they are allowed and encouraged to do so (though it can work in reverse).

Now nation-states are often considered 'arbitrary' (this situation isn't helped by many non-nation states claiming to be otherwise and the terms state, nation-state and countries often used interchangeably), and are often disliked by Intellectuals who often predict their fall. To my knowledge the most prominent such intellectual (in the peak oil sphere) is Dimitry Orlov as outlined in the Five stages of collapse. To explain and critique his views briefly (All quotes are from Chapter 3.2 Political collapse: The nation-state fades out). He see’s nation-states as “a lingering by-product of the industrial age; the nineteenth century industrial nation-state”, nation states are a product of the combination of a 17th century idea/political reality that was partly a rejection of the temporal powers of religion and an 18th century ideal born out of the enlightenment that kind of predates industrialization by 20 years (neither have a clear beginning despite what history books say), they are not products of the industrial revolution.  He thinks they will “devolve into an artisanal, anarchic set of intensely local polities, along the lines of prosperous medieval city states” with nationalism to be replaced by “an advanced, refined sort of tribalism”. Never-mind that what he describes looks like a passive form of nationalism and that as shown in Jared Diamond’s The world until Yesterday, a book that was criticized as "a book of great promise [that] reads as a compendium of the obvious, ethnology by anecdote.", that tribalistic societies cannot be that large and are also far more violent than modern nation-states, a point that clashes with his assertion further into the chapter that warfare will disappear. Despite this only being a short critique that likely distorts his points due to brevity; I can confidently assert that Orlov’s long term political vision is tainted by his anarchist leanings while being excessively simplistic and utopian. 

To Quote Gary Brecher a.k.a the War Nerd for my view on this trend;

"None of the intellectuals really like countries, “nation-states” to use the fancy term, and for a hundred years everbody’s been predicting they’ll fall apart. The Marxists always hated them because to them a country is a delusion, a fake family that keeps the workers from seeing who their real friends are. The Islamic nuts hate them for the same reason. So did the Pan-Arabs in Nasser’s day. So does every racist ever born, because they keep whites/blacks/pinks/whatever from joining up with their blood kin. Libertarians hate them because they interfere with the market. Every freak out there has some little dream that countries get in the way of."

Additionally I would add that nation-states were forged during one of the most turbulent and Darwinian times in history for international politics (interestingly both Japanese and Chinese intellectuals during the imperialist age saw it in Darwinian terms) with near constant warfare and competition between the various states and these conditions stretch back before the Industrial Revolution. It seems folly to me to propose that a political system that ‘won’ that evolutionary struggle is something without endurance, resilience and the capability to adapt.

One set of criticisms leveled at nation-states seems to be based of their perceived ‘artificiality’ and sometimes ‘arbitrariness’ stemming from their borders either making political/historical sense but not economic sense, or from the way that post-colonial borders were drawn up under the principal of Utis Possidetus Juris. While the first criticism is completely true as artificial mean man-made, that criticism applies to every single other form of human polity; from anarchist communes to hunter gatherers tribes to feudal kingdoms and is therefore in the words of a North Vietnamese colonel “That may be so, but it is also irrelevant”. Their arbitrariness is however a better criticism (especially when aimed at those nation states formed out of decolonization) and here is when one of the great strengths of the nation-State is revealed, a nation can be forged whole cloth from several nation/ethnic groups under the right conditions to fit the state borders. An example is Eritrea which did this during the Ethiopian-Eritrean war, allowing it to actually stand up and fight Ethiopia (it still lost but it took a while) complete with such feats as building a railway by hand (For more on this here is the war nerd on that conflict). However the conditions are not always right and this can be seen across much of the Middle East which is a collection of various non-nation states, many of which produce a facade of being a nation-state, with the notable exceptions of Iran and Israel (at least the Jewish part) which are actual nation-states.

Now there has also been a lot of talk about the growing power of non-state actors in international and internal affairs, however this growth needs to be further analyzed, especially in regards to peak oil. Firstly it should be recognized that sovereignty has never been total, it is more of an idea/ideal that is mostly accepted/true and with enough strength to significantly shape the world around it (in fact the treaty of Westphalia itself 'challenges' sovereignty by mandating religious tolerance for Christians). As for the growing ability of non-state actors to challenge states, many of these actors were created to deal with of from the effects of globalization (something which will reverse with peak oil) whether it’s allowing the better handling of international trade and interconnected economies (IMF, WTO, EU), to help manage the increasingly complexity of international politics and to help ensure peace (UN, EU and the failed league of nations) or from the generation of large surpluses, massive inequality and cheap transport on a world stage (Charity and foreign aid NGO's, Transnational corporations).

Globalization required cheap mass transport capabilities which was given by fossil fuels and so globalization can be expected to reverse once peak oil begins to have major effects. This will discredit and destroy many of the more powerful non-state actors; the most immediately vulnerable for this would be economic management organizations such as the IMF, WTO and the various free trade zones/agreements. Likely many political management organizations will also crumble or be sharply reduced in influence but on a longer timescale, the UN is likely to become even weaker and more irrelevant and I suspect ASEAN will crumble under the increased antagonism between its members. Transnational corporations are unlikely to completely disappear however they will be both weakened and increasingly become mere extensions of states similar to the various Chinese, Russian and Saudi owned/operated TNC's as the transport infrastructure they rely on decays and their profits decrease, leading to a reduction of political clout. They may die out eventually or return on far smaller scales as genuine commercial enterprises but with a greater rarity and weakness.

Where this may not be true is in regards to Europe, specifically NATO and the EU. There is the possibility that these organizations will remain or even strengthen (this is much more likely in the near and mid future than in the long term) as a response to peak oil and its affects. This could take several different forms, such as NATO and the EU being used as a mechanism of imperial control by say Germany and France, to them shrinking in scope geographically and the EU transforming from an administrative body to a proper political body as a united European Federation with NATO being its combined military forces (this still leaves Europe’s nation-states intact however), though this change could also be set off as a way to avoid Europe returning to its tradition of near constant internal warfare.

Deliberately left out is the more complex realm of violent non-state actors, ranging from the ‘global-guerrillas’ of Al-Qaeda (which echoes the late 19th century anarchists), to more localized insurgents and terrorist organizations (Taliban, JI, Mexican Drug lords) to the currently rare but likely to get increasingly common quasi-states epitomized by Hezbollah. 

To understand where these actors stand in relation to nation-states and the system on nation-states their goals need to be understood. Firstly very few of these movements want to destroy the international system of sovereign states (one of the few exceptions was the late 19thC anarchist terrorists). Instead many target specific states with the aim of supplanting them either wholly or partially with their own state built around their principals (This is what Al-Qaeda and FARC want for example), often with a nationalistic feel (Often this is for Ethnic separatist movements such as the LTTE and the Free Aceh Movement (GAM)). For the GAM this is partly based on Indonesia’s policies on creating an Indonesian nation clashing with the different Acehnese culture (such as Aceh following a stricter form of Islam). While occasionally there are groups with aims not directed at the state, the best example would be Mexican drug cartels, this category mostly includes organized crime, some of it transnational. Many of these violent movements use nationalistic methods and motives to recruit people and strengthen their capabilities (this partly stems from the fact that nationalistic fighters are much better than non-nationalistic ones, especially when they're turned into soldiers), an example is the Taliban which while initially focused on Pashtun ethnicity (one form of nationalism) and anti-imperial/US sentiments (another form of Nationalism), they have apparently begun to widen their propaganda/ideals to  more inclusive version in order to appeal to other ethnic groups inside Afghanistan (it should be noted that this nationalism that they're expounding is a major reason that the Taliban are winning). As economic and political chaos spread many states will increasingly suffer internal turmoil and lose control over their peripheries making these violent movements more common and viable, additionally many of them will likely begin providing state services for their territories, moving them closer to the state-like organizations of the Taliban and Hezbollah, this will lead many to conduct guerrilla war based on Mao's teachings. Additionally their will likely be a spread of countries descending into civil war and so the kind of organizations that flourish in those circumstances will increase.

Now while these groups are likely to become more prevalent and more effective at undermining states, at least in peripheral territories, they are not a threat to the system of states and nation-states. This is because while they may destroy some states (insurgents and guerrillas always start of fighting superior forces and so have a low success rate) often they will simply replace it with their own state. However with overshoot their is always the chance that some states will collapse entirely due to marauding hordes and complete political collapse leaving only feuding warlords unable to maintain the state system, however this is unlikely to happen across the world or even outside of certain already collapsing areas (such as most of Africa). Even when it does it will just mean a delay of several decades before successor states appear, though these states may not follow the modern state system. unless the collapse is incredibly quick, destructive and world reaching, when the collapse will most likely be slow, halting and fragmented across the world.

So now that it’s established that the system of nation-states are not under serious threat from non-states actors on the downslope of overshoot, in fact the systems current enemies/competitors of the non-state actors will all be severely hampered if it not destroyed by the process. What remains is the discussion of the internal dimensions of nation-states in the future and where that will lead them and the system overall. It should probably be stated here that the results will not be uniform across the world due to various different histories and cultures that exist across the world, the most drastically different places are likely to be Western Europe and Africa. Because of this for this discussion is will first talk about the general trends that will affect most/all of the world and then give generalized predictions for some of the world’s vaster regions (an exhaustive one covering the entire world and many of the smaller regions/sub-regions would be far too large and is far outside the scope of my knowledge).

The reduction in industrialism, and its attendant mass transport and communication, will be the largest factor in the development of the nation-state and of nationalism. Firstly my main assumption is that for most of the world (Especially for Europe, East Asia and the America's) industrialism (here meaning the large scale use of machines for production, transport etc) won't end but will only be greatly diminished leading most societies to be industrial-agricultural hybrids (note, this is perfectly compatible with John Micheal Greer's eco-technic and succession models of the future) along decentralized lines. With the reduction in mass transit and communication along with a more localized economic structure the central state will have lessened capabilities and incentives to enforce/create nationalism. However those incentives and capabilities will still remain, as their will still be forms of mass transport (maritime travel, zeppelins, trains etc) and mass communication (Radios assure us of this), along with the ever-present desires to avoid internal conflict, to raise high quality troops, to impose emergency measures in war time (along with others) and to integrate the economy of the state in order to increase production and revenue generation. What this means is that states will still try to create/maintain national cultures but they will be weaker and less pervasive than modern ones. This means that we will likely see far more regional and local cultural variations than we currently do, and possibly the spread of federations rather than monolithic states.

This increased regional variation along with the general weakening of the state opens the way for more conflicts to take place within a state (note here I'm also referring to peaceful conflicts that are fought by trade, politics etc). This arises as the extent of variations will likely include having what are best described as sub-nations, groups that consider themselves part of the nation but have their own distinct culture, ideals and goals causing their chances to clash with neighboring groups of their nation to increase (clashes may still occur with the various groups that are of the same nation). Likely this will also lead to an increase in separatist causes as sub-nations develop into their own nations. where this will be particularly interesting will be along the borders of nation-states. one of the results of states weakening will be their diminished control over their borders (which even today is not total), which with the various movements of people and economic interactions that will take place across the border will mean that the cultures on both sides will seep across and mix (Though this process is unlikely to be an even one) creating border cultures and conflicts. Opportunities for conflict will increase as parts of the border switch their allegiance to a different nation (for demographic or cultural reasons) the different cultures come into conflict or are brought into conflict for political reasons and so on.

Interestingly this reduced control and the increased variations inside nations could lead to an end of the modern form that nation-states have taken and to some of its central tenets. one way that this could happen is that the formation of significant sub-nations, which seek greater and greater autonomy, leads to the spread of loose federations. These federations would be bound together by their shared nationalism but would be made up of mostly independent nation-states that give up some of most of their sovereignty to the federation. it should be noted that there is a lot of potential variation that this could include, such as that each of the states could have their own militaries and even limited foreign policies to the states only having control over limited social/economic issues. What this system brings over from the modern system of nation-states is the idea that nations divide the world and are the source of political power and that nations should be able to choose their own political destinies, it continues the ideas of sovereignty, though it fractures the areas of control between the federation and its components states meaning that its a form of split sovereignty. What it does not carry on is the monolithic spread of a single national culture and the reduction of a nation to a single entity, instead requiring for different cultures (and this could quite likely include having different languages) and the fracturing of a nation into several separate but cooperating entities and a this also takes place for the state, becoming several cooperating entities rather than a single entity, though both have a central entity.

What this means is that for the majority of the world the system of having nation-states will survive, though many current nation-states will not (at least in their current form) and their will be areas of the earth where they are temporarily or permanently absent. Importantly however they will change and adapt to the circumstances and predicaments of overshoot, becoming weaker and less monolithic. This change will also likely result in a great deal of conflict, both as more Nations that lack their own states attempt to create them and from the increase in conflict that will be generated by the weakening of states and national cultures.

Now to look more closely at what the future looks like for some regions of the world.      

Europe, western more so the eastern, will likely have some of most united nations in the world, this stems from the fact that Nationalism was born in Europe and so it is deepest there and the cultural/historical factors that lead to its creation are still relevant. This however does not mean that Europe’s political map will look anything like today's, there are numerous groups pushing for autonomy or separation and the downslope of overshoot will likely cause further fragmentation all by itself. However what will still remain is nation-states, likely more than their are today, likely many of them will be engaged in irredentism and squabbling over borders but that’s part and parcel of many nation-states.

Africa, Here there will be significant variation, with North Africa likely to at least keep states and maybe a couple of Nations (Algeria and Egypt) partly due to western influence but also due to very old cultures and histories that include states and empires. For the rest of Africa nation-states are likely to disappear, especially as Africa (for reasons of history, culture and population growth but not betterment) is likely to be one of the places worst hit by peak oil and because it had a particularly traumatic time during the days of colonialism compared to the rest of the world. Here many nations are likely to fragment back into the various tribes and ethnic groups that they’re composed of lacking any large unifying forces and the various states will likely fall due to the twin problems of increasing violence against the state and their military impotence. After that period states may reform and possibly even some of the smaller nations will gain nation-states but the prospect is grim for Africa’s nation-states in the center and south. 

As an additional note we can already see the coming future for Central and South Africa from collapsing states. And despite what Anarchists believe actually what happens is that armed bands, with the single goal of looting and raping, emerge as people with access to weapons realize that violence is a rational and easy way to gain wealth, status and the good life under those conditions. At this point the only real way to deal with them is by killing the bands/leaders and creating systems able to do so and deter more such bands appearing, this is one of the key attractions of feudalism. Luckily for Australia this is unlikely to happen or to become as severe as in Africa, as our military tradition means that if any such war-bands appear our military will be willing to fight them and likely win. This doesn't mean that their won't be bandits and such on the outer edges of Australia but they will be limited in geography and affect, being limited to something similar to the bush rangers

Australia, will most likely remain a single nation-state (possible split into several distinct sub nations), for various reasons such as inheriting Western European culture and ideologies and being the odd one out in terms of ethnicity in the Asia Pacific (meaning that we can self-differentiate to a greater degree). Though it is possible for Australia to split into several different states each of those will likely be their own nation-states.

The America's, Most likely nation-states will remain, especially as war is likely to return to both Southern and Northern America and judging form their histories they could be very brutal and bloody wars. While the south American nation-states are likely (to my knowledge at least) retain something resembling their current borders, though possibly changed by a events such as a second War of the Pacific. In North America one possibility is that the USA will split into its constituent pieces and reorder along the various lines of its current and future nations.

No comments:

Post a Comment