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Does Nation State System Have the Answer to World’s Problems ?


Does nation state system have the answer to world’s problems ? Should the world move from nation state system to global governance ?

History of the Nation State System

The idea of nation states had its underpinnings and emerged from the renaissance and the reformation in the west as it moved from the dark ages to the enlightenment era. The concept of nation state entails “a state that governs a national (a cultural and ethnic entity), deriving its legitimacy from serving its citizens” (Anderson, 2006). As a phenomenon, it is relatively new to human history. Events like the throwing off of kings in the Netherlands and the United States gave impetus to the ideology. Moreover the rise of bureaucracies entailing equal treatment of people through efficient application of law proved an important factor in the success of the system. But the with time the conception of nation state proved more of an ideal than a reality as nation states were predominantly created through conquering lands and imposing will on the people. Even though nation states also got formed through its citizenry organizing a formal government but the former had been the case more frequently than the latter. Moreover, in the creation of unified states, the ruling elite recourse to genocides, civil wars, and religious persecutions. Cultural norms were imposed by the majority on the minority. People were forced to believe in obsolete dogmas. Cultural homogeneity was forced on people even though single national groups didn’t reside in those geographical territories. Official state religion wielded an enormous influence and also has led to history of repression. The dogmatic following of religion often led to inhumane acts such as burning heretics at stake and destroying entire towns because they followed a different religious ideology. This created an environment of suppression greatly thwarting scientific advancement and programs (Anderson, 2006).

Outdated concept of Nation State and Global Challenges

The Keynesian doctrines (post WW-II) called for increased government intervention in policy matters, but during the early 1980’s social and economic environment started changing leading to less friendliness towards government actions especially in the fiscal and monetary matters. Many intellectuals and practical developments challenged its basic premises and brought to light its various shortcomings due to which it lost its luster. Also, developments in Eastern Europe and the Soviet Union reduced the charm for central planning and eventually many countries started transitioning towards free market economies.

Moreover due to the developments in finance, trade and commerce, the gaps between the political arenas represented by the nation states and the economic areas of particular markets increased i.e. when the enterprises become multinational the national policies were getting less important. Even so, many markets are not anymore constrained by political borders and have developed arenas encompassing regions from different countries. Also, the concept of nation state gets outdated in the face of global challenges like global warming, cybercrime and terrorism (Meyer, 1997). The ideology of nation state is no longer equipped to solve contemporary problems like climate disruption, declining fisheries, increasing ocean acidification, emerging diseases, and increasing antibiotic resistance etc. All these are examples of serious, intertwined global-scale challenges hatched by increased human activity (walker et al. 2009).

Human Rights and the Nation state System

It’s a fact that essential rights are not derived from a person being a national of certain nationality but rather attributes of human personality, and these rights will be vulnerable if sovereign nation-state is their exclusive guardian. The discriminatory incidences and shootings involving the Black populations indicate the fragility of human rights even in strong democracies like the United States. Nations states are at times involved in violating the rights of its own citizenry and to preserve them from manipulation, human rights need international protection as well. Critics might regard these as attacks on sovereignty but such assistance or interventions bolsters rather than subvert democracy.

The Need of Global Governance System

Some portion of citizens of a particular state Identify with specific ethno-national groups rather than with nation states. Moreover in the current world setting, national liberation movements are gaining importance consequently reducing the relevance of nation states in world politics. Baloch liberation movement is a more relevant example whose supporters identify more with their Baloch identity than with Pakistan. In addition, as the world has shrunk, there is increased interdependence on each other. Its greater effects are evident especially in the Trade, commerce and cultural domains, proving as major drivers of global economic integration that are helping establish linkages among economies worldwide. It is claimed “it may seem evidence of the growing inability today of the sovereign state to control and regulate effectively economic activities within the private sector. If that is so, then one of the traditional rationales for modern sovereignty is undermined” (Dunn et al. 2013).

Global Crisis

Problems such as terrorist groups and drug trafficking are issues of grave nature traversing national borders and thus cannot be solved by nation states alone. Issues such as these calls for transnational cooperation to do away with it. Research shows portion of population which has been left out by the system are more likely to be involved in terrorist activities. Thus, terrorism will continue to be instrument of those who are weak. Surprisingly, some countries provide safe havens and serve as sanctuaries and training centers for these terrorist organizations. Such countries use them for furthering their short term means and as a result jeopardize regional peace and stability. Similarly drug traffickers operating from one country could cause many social and political problems across the regions.

Global Governance as a Savior of Humanity

Lapid suggests the gap between nation state idea and political reality is growing and that “recent technological, economic, and social developments have posed enormous challenges to the capacity of territorial states to fulfill their traditional functions of security, welfare, and identity” (Lapid, 1994: 23, 24). There seems to be broader consensus among academic and diplomatic circles that we all should move towards the global governance system because the issues we have become too complex for a single state to address alone. These problems were created by neo-liberal globalization and inevitably calls for global governance which will serve as a tool to solve these problems. In addition to that, humanitarian crises, military conflicts between and within states, climate change and economic volatility pose serious threats to human security in all societies. Therefore, a variety of actors and expertise is necessary to properly frame threats, devise pertinent policy, and implement effectively and evaluate results accurately to alleviate such threats (Annan, 2005).

The move to global governance is wise because it favors flexibility over rigidity, voluntary measures to binding rules, close partnerships over individual actions, and give rise to new initiatives and ideas. A commentary on the future of the global governance suggest that global governance is inevitable for the survival of human race, but the future of global governance rests with few factors namely individual empowerment, and increased awareness of human security etc. It suggests that increased human awareness of things around them has empowered individuals and has increased their political power. This trend will continue to strengthen, and the convergence between international and domestic will increase eventually constraining the state behavior (Jang, 2016). Secondary to the individual empowerment is the individual security. Experts assert that human security is not only concerned with war but also food, health, environmental, personal, community and political security (Rotberg, 2003) and that the nation state must be prepared to respond to these multidimensional and transnational threats which it could hardly manage alone. Experts have started recognizing droughts, earthquakes, diseases and pandemics the same as military fallouts which the nation states find it impossible to deal with on its own (King & Murray, 2001–2002). Most importantly, since the industrial revolution the humanity has been cascaded into environmental disaster and could only be saved when the international community rather than the nation states make the case for environmental action and help mitigate the effects of climate change (Meyer, 1997).

Failing of Nation State systems

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Thus nation states are failing as the majority of them are consumed by internal violence and are unable to deliver positively to their inhabitants. As aforementioned, some states prey on their own citizens which is often impelled by ethnic hostility and elite’s insecurities. Such instabilities lead to governments losing its credibility and the citizens itself start questioning its legitimacy. Consequently, global peace and stability becomes impossible to achieve when nation states oscillate between the weakness and failure. The nation state system is itself a problem, as Clapham says “In certain places, the existence of nation state is a pretense” and that Westphalian sovereignty should never have been accorded to fragile entities with no history of organizing a state”.


Thus in an increasingly globalizing world and in the face of problems that are not limited to borders, the concept of nation states get outdated. According to Kofi Annan “The threats we face are interconnected” and calls for increased cooperation internationally. However, the concept of nation state has been major hindrance to international cooperation. In order to solve global problems and save humanity from extinction, nation states must give up a part, if not all of the power for the greater good of humanity. Charlie Chaplin in his “The Great Dictator Speech” gave us the guidelines about how the world problems can be solved if we do away with national barriers and strive for the betterment of us all. He says in his speech “Let us fight to free the world, let us fight to do away with national barriers, to do away with greed, hate and intolerance. Let us fight a world of reason, where science and progress will lead to all men’s happiness”.


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© 2022 Hilal Muhammad

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