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2011 July 15 Friday
Ethnic Nationalism Going Strong

Political scientist Stephen Walt says nationalism is alive and very well around the globe.

It was nationalism that cemented most of the European powers in the modern era, turning them from dynastic states into nation-states, and it was the spread of nationalist ideology that helped destroy the British, French, Ottoman, Dutch, Portuguese, Austro-Hungarian, and Russian/Soviet empires. Nationalism is the main reason the United Nations had fifty-one members immediately after its founding in 1945 and has nearly 200 members today. It is why the Zionists wanted a state for the Jewish people and why Palestinians want a state of their own today. It is what enabled the Vietnamese to defeat both the French and the American armies during the Cold War. It is also why Kurds and Chechens still aspire to statehood; why Scots have pressed for greater autonomy within the United Kingdom, and it is why we now have a Republic of South Sudan.

The vast majority of nationalisms are organized around single ethnicities. So it is not surprising that Walt points to evidence for the renationalization of European foreign policy. This bodes poorly for the EU project and the common currency. The financial strains of deeply indebted mostly southern European nations are prompting nationalists in northern European countries to increasingly assert their own national interests over those of countries reeling from sovereign debt crises. If Greece and Portugal find it necessary to leave the Euro then they will claw back more sovereignty in other policy areas. Brussels will lose power to the national governments. When you see Italy's sovereign debt interest rates spike that's the markets accidentally fanning the flames of nationalism against multi-ethnic elite-driven mpires such as the EU.

I have long advocated for more partitioning of countries that hold mixes of untrusting and hostile ethnicities. Good fences make good neighbors. G. Pascal Zachary says more regions of existing African nations should secede and create new nations.

The birth of South Sudan is a momentous invitation not to despair over the travails that the people of this new landlocked and impoverished nation surely will experience, but to celebrate another step toward closing what Pierre Englebert, a professor of African politics at Claremont College, has called "Africa's secessionist deficit." And the deficit in question refers to living standards and development generally. Englebert found, in one of the most exciting recent academic projects in academic African studies, that the unwillingness to cut African nations down in size (in other words, to let new nations form) has "contributed to its underdevelopment."

I'm not optimistic that more nation formation will usher in some sort of golden age of African development. Africa's incredibly low living standards have several (rather untractable) causes. Medieval England had higher living standards than Africa today and the many nations of sub-Saharan Africa remain in a Mathusian Trap. Even worse, if Gregory Clark is right about the role of disease in boosting living standards (by putting limits on population density) then Bill Gates' pursuit of cures for African diseases will lower living standards there even further. But putting borders between warring groups such as Hutu and Tutsi seems like a good idea.

Back in January 2011 Parag Khanna wrote a piece in Foreign Policy Breaking Up Is Good to Do where he argued that the world could benefit from a surge to 300 for the number of nations. It is amazing to see these sorts of arguments in an era where many members of the elite enthusiastically argue for globalization and a borderless world. Also amazing: Denmark has reestablished border controls to keep out unwanted immigrants. The EU is not a done deal.

By Randall Parker    2011 July 15 06:53 PM Entry Permalink | Comments (7)
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