Can a nation-state still stay unattached?
When picking this topic for my essay, I did not know, how broad this topic actually was. However, after having done research, I decided to narrow down a little bit and focus on the role of the nation-state within the European Union and NATO.
Alliances in form of cooperation with other countries and diplomatic links with each other have been important ever since, however the Peace of Westphalia (1648) gave impetus for a new form of cooperation and state-system. Geographical boundaries were drawn, every state had the right to have his own form of government and to conduct relations with one and another on an legal basis which was the same for all. From that time on, states voluntarily made mutual agreements with each other that were based either on customs or on treaties. Falk, the author of “The Future of the international legal order”, explains the following: ‘The Westphalia conception includes the idea that national governments are the basic source of order in international society.’ (Falk 1969: 68) With this creation of a sovereign state, governments slowly started to create a network of international organizations throughout the nineteenth century. Nevertheless, this process had been given ‘additional speed’ by events like the American Revolution, which split up the American colonies from Britain to establish their own sovereign states, and the French revolution, which stressed the fact for one more time, that the state no longer has to be the property of one monarch. One has to keep in mind, that the nation-state like we know it nowadays, only came into existence after World War I, when a treaty was signed in Versailles, which gave Europe a new face. New nation-states came into being and old empires were broken apart.
Nation-states cooperated in different ways with each other, however, it was the League of Nations, which was established in 1920 to promote international cooperation and peace, which can be considered as one of the first significant alliances between nation-states. Due to too little power it broke apart after WW II and was replaced by the United Nations, which is the biggest international organization in the World. In 2004, the Union of International Organizations published its reports, stating that there were 58.859 international organizations worldwide (Union 2005) and one can clearly see that the number of alliances grew with new developments in technology, economy and society. Common trade and the drive for peace have been main factors for nation-states to form alliances with other nation-states. Sometimes they even give up certain powers to the alliance in order to eventually benefit from it.
The European Union is an example for an alliance whose members initially started to cooperate on trade and economy related fields and are more and more giving up competences to Brussels. The North Atlantic Treaty Organization on the other hand is a perfect example for an alliance, whose members initially seek support and help in case of any aggression of the Soviet Union during the Cold War. It then developed into closer political, social and economic cooperation between its members. Given these alliances, nation-states have to obey its rules if they want to remain a member of the club.
The question arising from this membership in clubs is the question to what extent its members – the nation-states – are free to implement their own ideas and act independently from the alliance. By answering that question, I will first focus on nation-states within Europe and their relation with the European Union and then on the role of nation-states within NATO, both being an alliance: The EU in the broad sense and NATO in the narrow sense.
To have a better understanding of the role of the nation-state, I would like to draw a bow to Goldman, who explains in one of his books that there are four separate dimensions of national independence: sovereignty, autarky, autonomy and self-determination (Goldmann 2001: 61-67). For my essay, I will only focus on sovereignty and autonomy. The problem with the term sovereignty is that its meaning had never been universally been agreed upon, however can be seen as a state's ability to reign within its borders. Goldmann points out that sovereignty refers to some sort of authority and not to actual control. Nevertheless, limitless sovereignty is an illusion: ‘Sovereignty in the sense of complete freedom to do whatever a state may wish to do has never existed (Hannum 1990: 19-23). Autonomy on the other hand – according to Goldmann - refers to the state’s actual control, its possibilities to take action and its performance effectiveness.
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- The Hague University – School for Higher European Studies