In the words of Frank Zappa, “You can’t be a real country unless you have a beer and an airline. It helps if you have some kind of a football team, or some nuclear weapons, but at the very least you need a beer.”
While Frank Zappa is not a warrior, strategist, diplomat, theorist, or practitioner of public policy, he can define what a country or state means to him. A state, sometimes called a nation-state, is the main actor in international relations and must possess the following qualifications: a permanent population, a defined territory, and a government capable of maintaining effective control over its territory and of conducting international relations with other states. In recent years the idea of states has been collapsing under the combined onslaught of non-state actors and globalization. Those who are predicting the end of the state have misread the importance of sovereignty and governance. The relevancy of the state has never been more critical.
The origins of the state are disputed some seeing them as a 19th-century European invention, the product of nationalist movements, facilitated by developments such as mass literacy and early mass media. But it was the Peace of Westphalia signed October 24, 1648, that ended the Thirty Years’ War, a religious battle between Catholicism and Protestantism and became the historical foundation for the modern state system. Westphalia marked the end of the Holy Roman Empire as an effective institution; represented an entirely new kind of diplomatic agreement and assisted in making possible peaceful relations on a regional scale. From the Peace of Westphalia the concept of sovereign states with equal rights based on an inter-governmental order constituted of treaties and international law started to emerge.
Westphalia became the model for emerging global organizations. Three times since Westphalia states have sat down to reorder the world – at the Congress of Vienna in 1815 after the Napoleonic Wars, in Paris in 1919 after World War I, and in San Francisco in 1945 after World War II. The last one, the San Francisco Conference, led to the founding of the United Nations (U.N.).
The U.N. was really an American idea, with the founders establishing the organization to promote American values and principles on a global scale. All 51 of the original members in 1945 shared one characteristic in that they had declared war on at least one of the Axis powers and adhered to the “Declaration of United Nations” announced in 1942. The U.N. Charter, signed on June 26, 1945, addresses sovereignty in two paragraphs of Article 2. According to Paragraph 4, “Members shall refrain in their international relations from the threat or use of force against the territorial integrity … of any state, or in any other manner inconsistent with the Purposes of the United Nations.”
Paragraph 7 reads, “Nothing contained in the present Charter shall authorize the United Nations to intervene in matters which are essentially within the domestic jurisdiction of any state or … prejudice the application of enforcement measures under Chapter VII.”
By addressing territorial integrity, political independence, and domestic jurisdiction in its Charter, the U.N. enshrined the traditional ideas of sovereignty of states.
Since Westphalia and reinforced by the U.N. Charter, states are the dominant political entity and possess certain rights and duties. States are legitimate, representative, accountable under international law, and accepted by the international community. Only a state has the capability to provide sovereignty and governance, as well as address the on-going impact of non-state actors and globalization. Sovereignty provides a state autonomy in foreign policy and exclusive competence in internal affairs.
Through governance a state can interact with formal institutions and those of civil society. Provide an honest and efficient government that educates its people, provides real services, and is transparent in handling public funds and awarding contracts. Change is initiated, not simply through pressure from outside actors, but because citizens recognize change is required, and they themselves pressure the government to change.
The growing trends of globalization, non-state actors, and supranational organizations on a regional basis have not degraded the state. Far from making them irrelevant, they have made new and difficult demands on states. Globalization and accompanying increases in trade are having profound effect. Because of globalization, states now almost have to have a democratic system of government because if they don’t, trade and investment will quickly dry up and economic sanctions will probably be imposed, with disastrous consequences that no country can afford. Effective sovereignty and governance will prevent the erosion of the state on all fronts, maintaining its relevance.
“A thoughtful mind, when it sees a Nation’s flag,” according to U.S. abolitionist and clergyman Henry Ward Beecher “sees not the flag only, but the Nation itself; and whatever may be its symbols, its insignia, he reads chiefly in the flag the Government, the principles, the truths, the history which belongs to the Nation that sets it forth.”
In the final analysis the continued relevance of the state is testified by the fact it remains the main actor in international relations.