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Today’s vote in Scotland, no matter the result, continues the trend of smaller and smaller nations. Scotland raises the question of how big a state should be. We are living through a period of the collapse of large nations into smaller, more homogenous, parts. There were 74 independent states at the end of World War II. There are about 195 today. Nation-states could be broken up into even smaller and smaller pieces, even into city-states like the ancient Greek world or Renaissance Italy.
Where does it end? Not now.
Who is to blame? Us (with all due respect to PM Cameron and the British government).
I wrote a scholarly piece about this, “Fixing Failed States.” There, I argued that there is no correct number of states (with apologies to Woodrow Wilson, who opened up a Pandora’s box called national self-determination at Versailles). The number of states depends on world conditions. When the world presents security threats, groups and regions will benefit from combining into larger nations for defense. When the world lacks open trade, smaller groups will benefit from joining larger nations that have free trade within their borders.
The current fragmentation of the nation-state is a result of the peace and prosperity of the post-WWII period. When international conditions generate relative peace and stability, smaller groups and regions don’t need protection from larger nations. When free trade prevails in the world, small nations can maintain economic viability without joining a larger nation’s customs union. We are living in global conditions that are ripe for the breakup of nations, not just in Yugoslavia or Czechoslovakia, but Italy, Spain, France, and the United Kingdom.
The interesting result of this analysis is that the main party responsible for the devolution of nations is the United States. It is the United States that has guaranteed peace in Europe and Asia. It is the United States that has thrown its defense umbrella around the United Kingdom and Western Europe. Scotland does not need Great Britain to protects its security if the United States will. It is the United States that has created the free trade regime throughout the world, and the European Union has created a free-trade area. Scotland doesn’t need Great Britain if it has access to the world’s markets.
This means that more independence movements in Europe will arise and succeed. Even if Scotland says no to formal independence, it already has a large measure of functional independence and is sure to gain even more. The Scottish vote is not the end of the movement toward decentralization, not even the beginning of the end, but actually the beginning — unless the United States begins to withdraw from its role as the guarantor of peace and prosperity in the West.Published in