Sunday Conversation

Is The Nation State Still Relevant?
Gillian Tett of The Financial Times addresses the question of whether the idea of a nation state, which she says is “so well entrenched that it is rarely questioned,” remains relevant.

“[The nation state] looks odd in  much of Africa, where colonial rulers arbitrarily created some bizarre borders.  Even parts of western Europe chafe at the idea (just look at the Catalan region of Spain, or Scotland). And now, of course, that nation state ideal is creating angst in Ukraine, Russia and Crimea too. Is there any solution? The obvious answer is that we should simply back away from our obsession with nation states and recognise that political structures  can be multi-ethnic and that decision-making is often best exercised in a  federal manner. For many matters, local democracy is best, at levels well below the nation state – and in an age of globalised business and cyber commerce, many  issues today need international decisions, above that nation level,” she writes.

Nuclear Security Summit
Much as Syria has hijacked the agenda in previous global meetings, the ongoing crisis in Ukraine may steal the thunder at the upcoming Nuclear Security Summit some experts believe. Thomas Renard, a senior researcher at the Egmont Royal Institute for International Relations, tells

New Zealand television that “as soon as you have people like Obama and Putin sitting around the same table, there is a good probability that the meeting is hijacked by Ukraine, by Crimea.”

Russian Foreign Minister Sergie Lavrov will represent Russia, while President Barack Obama will attend as well. Since 2012, seven countries have removed all or most of these dangerous materials from their territories, bringing the number of countries now storing weapons-usable materials down to 25.

Joan Rohfling, president of the Nuclear Threat Initiative, proposes a new path forward in nuclear security, primarily to address the absence of universal standards and mutual accountability.

She suggests the leaders at the summit consider four basic principles:

  1. Require all weapons-useable materials, including nuclear materials used for military purposes, be covered;
  2. Employ international standards and best practices;
  3. All states should commit to measures that reassure other states that their  security practices are sound, while protecting sensitive information; and
  4. All states should commit to reducing – and, where possible, eliminating –  their nuclear weapons-usable materials to minimize the risks these stockpiles pose.

Overestimating Grassroots Revolutions
Anne Appleabum contends the power of grassroots revolutions are overestimated, as Ukraine demonstrates.

They will remember coming here for the rest of their lives, for this is how nations are built: on legends, on emotions, on stories of heroes. Tales of those who stood for months in the square will be told and retold. But that doesn’t mean that the protesters will necessarily have triumphed. On the contrary, Ukrainians are about to learn that the exhilaration of “people power”—mass marches, big demonstrations, songs, and banners—is always an illusion. And sooner or later, the illusion wears off.”

She notes that some nations have evolved into democracies as the result of the action of one individual or leader, such as in Chile where the dictator Augusto Pinochet “decided it would become one.”

“In early 1989, well before mass demonstrations in Prague or Berlin, the leaders of the Polish opposition sat down at a large round table with their former jailers and negotiated their way out of communism. There are no spectacular photographs of these transitions, and many people found them unsatisfying, even unjust. But Chile and Poland remain democracies today, not least because their new leaders came to power without any overt opposition from the old regime. It would be nice if these kinds of transitions were more common, but not every dictator is willing to smooth the path toward change. For that reason, the post-revolutionary moment is often more important than the revolution itself, for this is when the emotion of the mob has to be channeled rapidly—immediately—into legitimate institutions. Not everybody finds this easy,” Applebaum observess.

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