The International Spectator
The Role of the Nation State in Providing Security in a Changed World
By Carlo Jean
The role of the nation state in security cannot be examined independently of the general role of the nation state today. Indeed, with the end of the Cold War and the return of history, security has once again become a global concept in which the specifically technical-military dimension is often totally marginalised. Looking back in history, for example, German military power at the end of the last century largely derived from the Bismarck-Lassalle accords which linked the German proletarian masses and farmers to the new state, allowing for enormous mobilisation and a strong patriotic spirit.
The Rediscovery of the Nation State and the Return of History
The nation state that emerged from the Congress of Westphalia and the American and French Revolutions is still the most important actor on both the domestic and the international political scenes. Its sovereignty, although formally complete in the past, has in reality always been limited and conditioned by external factors. That conditioning has now increased and the sovereignty of the state has been undermined to the point that some people have predicted the death of the nation state. 1 These people belong to the same school of thought as those who have heralded the end of history, 2 in the Hegelian sense, or the emergence of regional poles endowed with sovereignty as to represent real federal states large enough to be able to deal with the requirements of globalisation and world competition. Edward Luttwak predicted that politics would be substituted by geo-economics. 3 Others who advocate improvement of the competitiveness of country systems, reform of states in preparation for geo-economic competition and definition of long-term projects of national interest, still see the role of the state as central. 4 The latter affirm that international institutions are actually inter-national, that is, intergovernmental; that there is always the possibility of secession in even the most integrated states; that in spite of globalisation and regionalisation, the functions of the state are essential in the economic field and that, finally, politics cannot be reduced to mere bartering and must maintain its central importance. Indeed, the nation state is a defence against the deterritorialisation of politics, against the ideologisation and politicisation of communities, whether large or small, that is, against the new international disorder. 5
The constraints on the exercise of full sovereignty by the states may be objective or subjective. Subjective constraints include the trans-national links that have always existed, the local autonomies with which states have always had to deal and the influence of culture, religion and economic and financial links.
With regard to objective constraints, it must be recalled that the real autonomy and independence of a state depend on the its level of power with respect to other states with which it cooperates or competes, that is, on its relative geopolitical power and position. In other words, there has always been a formal and informal hierarchy of states, built upon their respective levels of power which determine their international weight and real level of independence and autonomy.
During the postwar period, the autonomy and, hence, sovereignty of the European powers that had dominated the international stage up to the First World War decreased for a number of reasons. These included the Cold War and the confrontation of the two blocs, the proliferation of international institutions tending to assume a supranational character, the development of technologies for both the production of wealth and military purposes, the rise of powerful multinational companies, the internationalisation of organised crime, and the dematerialisation and financialisation of global economic trade. The great European powers became medium powers; only by cooperating with one another in a more or less permanent fashion, that is, participating in the specialised international institutions in the various sectors, were they able to preserve a voice in world affairs and safeguard their interests. The small size of their territory and resources forced them to participate jointly in world globalisation and interdependence in order to ensure their prosperity and security.
Globalisation of economy, fragmentation of politics
Purely national responses are no longer feasible in the face of multinational phenomena and forces such as huge corporations, international financial markets, organised crime and the environment. Responses at the national level would be ineffective, to say the least, and too costly. In addition, borders have become pervious. They can no longer be closed, as they were during times of protectionism or mercantilism. 6 The geopolitics of space has been replaced by the geopolitics of flows, which erodes the principle of territoriality on which the modern state and the principle of citizenship are founded. Autarky is no longer possible; seeking isolation from the world condemns a state and its people to decline, as was so evident in the cases of Albania or the Soviet bloc, which closed themselves off behind the Iron Curtain. Borders can no longer be protected physically, also because the state no longer has total control over currency and taxes. 7 Companies are no longer taxed by the state, but choose the state in which they want to be taxed. After the divisions of the Cold War (and as a result of the demographic trend in Europe) the welfare state, which took the place of the state power, has entered into crisis. Keynesian policies can be pursued no longer, if not in the short term and with potentially more and more disastrous results. The weight of international constraints and their ability to penetrate the state are such as to condition strongly the decisionseven if not the formal autonomyof the latter.
Hence the states remain the essential place in which freedom and solidarity are reconciled and are still the most legitimated political actors on the international scene in that they are the only ones able to impose their interests and policies. But the very foundations of the concepts of citizenship and res publica and, therefore, democracy, are being eroded from all sides: 8 from above, by international institutions such as the UN and the WTO and regional institutions like the European Union; transversally by international finance, in which markets are more important than banks, by multinational corporations and by geopolitical actors such as religions and organised crime; from below by the explosion of ethno-nationalism, local interests, and the revolt of the rich, who can transfer their investments abroad even more easily than before, de-industrialising countries that have not made their territory competitive in the framework of the international economy (taxes, services, infrastructure, professional training and manpower, labour market flexibility, etc.).
It should be noted that regional organisations can be both a dynamic response to and a defence against globalisation. This is particularly true of the European Union, in which there is a stronger tendency towards integration or at least towards convergence of sovereignties. For example, the plan to introduce a single currency to complete the single market should rationalise the productive base without establishing national monopolies, while allowing European companies to increase their competitiveness and become a part of the global oligopolistic core, no longer made up of national champions but of sectoral champions. 9
When a system provides a dynamic response, as in the case of Europe, one should speak of regionalisation, of a system open to globalisation. Of course, systems can also be closed, as was the case with Fortress Europe, egotistically aimed at perpetuating their own privileges by safeguarding them from competition and from what E. Luttwak called turbocapitalism. 10 Even if strongly integrated, however, regional organisations are not real states able to act autonomously on the international scene or to enforce their policies and interests. For the moment they are intergovernmental agreements, even when they have directoires of the formal type, like the UN Security Council, or the informal type, like the ones that operate in NATO and the EU and formed the Contact Group for the former Yugoslavia.
Statesnot only the diplomatic, economic and military bureaucracies, but also the parliamentsare always hesitant to delegate their prerogatives and authority. Suffice it to think of the opposition by various parliaments to a Common Foreign and Security Policy, an integrated European defence or the establishment of a permanent force at the disposal of the UN Security Council.
But international institutions nevertheless have a strong, even if informal, power to condition the real behaviour of states, given the interest of the latter in participating actively in these institutions and using them as fora in which to safeguard their interests effectivelysomething which is impossible in a national framework. For example, Italys weight in the Mediterranean or in Eastern Europe depends to a large extent on the fact that Italy is one of the most important members of Western institutions. Given its level of power and its limited capacity for political initiative, decision making and management, one of Italys priority interests is maintaining and possibly increasing the solidity of the institutions in which it participates and which somehow attenuate the negative effects of its internal inefficiencies and weaknesses.
Active participation in international institutions, however, presupposes that Italy define its national interests, establish its priorities and, in relation to them, mobilise the resources needed to influence the direction of the various institutions in a way that is consistent with its interests, without being excluded from the decision making process. When directoires or a concert of powers are created, it is in Italys interests to participate in them or, lacking that, to oppose their establishment and try to maintain the most multilateral and equally-balanced arrangement possible. The advantage of multilateralism is that it makes the weaker nations more powerful and reduces the power of the stronger ones.
This is the more noble side of Italys policy of being present, of which Italian diplomacy has so often been accused. The less noble side is when it becomes an end in itself or when being present is no more than an instrument for enhancing the countrys image at home.
Participation in international, global and regional organisations is an indispensable instrument now that the European states are too small to be able to compete individually at the world level and protect their national interests. Yet the fact that they are pursued at the global and regional level does not make the definition of national interests any less important, on the contrary. 11 But international participation requires an adjustment of the country system to deal with world competition and turbulence which has accelerated considerably since the end of the Cold War.
It is no longer enough for a country merely to belong, it is the quality of its presence and participation that counts. The end of the elegant simplicity of the bipolar world and the differencesif not divergencesin the various national interests of the Western allies, call for a more active policy. A state can no longer be a mere consumer of the security produced and paid by others; it has to produce security itself, if not, it will inevitably be marginalised and isolated.
Another phenomenon which has emerged as a result of the end of the Cold War, of the deregulation of the international situation and of the technological progress being made in the fields of information, telecommunications and transportation is the acceleration of the time in which a situation evolves. As a consequence, the ability to predict, analyse and plan has become even more important than in the past. The horizon of politics has to open out to be able to foresee phenomena, prevent harmful events and take advantage of the opportunities that arise. If this is not the case, we will inevitably be overwhelmed by circumstances and forced to be simply reactive, which is both costly and ineffective. Hence the importance of defining what one wants in relation to the resources that one believes one can mobilise to achieve it: in other words, of defining ones national interests, a term which has, not without difficulty, finally overcome the ostracism which had long banned it from Italian politics and culture, probably because it was until recently considered politically incorrect.
Yet, while states are now too small in some respects, they are still too large and too rigid in others, above all when they encompass territorial, ethnic, linguistic, cultural and economic differences. Requests for participation and autonomy are increasing as technology offers autonomy to what Kenicki Ohmae calls the city states or the region states. 12 At the same time, territorial citizenship, which links the state to a rigid concept of territory, is being contested by other forms of common identity, both local (if not classic and tribal) and trans-national, which tend to impose a concept of space that is different from that of states. These different aggregations are able to establish new forms of belonging and identity, but not new forms of citizenship; the latter remains the prerogative of the state. In any case, the state must become more streamlined and less rigid than was the dominant trend at its inception, that is, at the time of the Peace of Westphalia (1648), when it was based on absorption of local communities, political fragmentation of the European space and secularisation of the political order based on state territories. If the nation states do not intervene, the natural trends of the economy, combined with the trends of regional and international institutions to contain the power and autonomy of the nation states will rapidly transform the world into an archipelago of islands of wealth in a sea of poverty. Without the regulating power of the state, national solidarity would not be possible, nor would any transfer of wealth from the richer to the poorer regions. Local egotistical interests, closed and aggressive, would dominate.
Regionalisation as a response to globalisation
The utopia of a federal Europe or a Europe of the regions would break up both the states and Europe. Everyoneeven the most utopian federalistshave now realised that they jeopardised the possibilities of Europes integration with their infantile behaviour and fundamentalism, perhaps causing more damage than the most extreme nationalists. In fact, no one proposes a Europe of the regions anymore, except for the regionalist secessionist movements that are apparently springing up everywhere. If Europe integrates, as seems both to be hoped for and necessary, it will be an Europe des Patries as de Gaulle proposed at the beginning of the sixties with his Fouchet plan and as was wisely envisaged by the Treaty of Maastricht, the only shortcoming of which was that it did not provide for a political authority to counterbalance the European Central Bank, resulting in the Europe of the bankers evident to all. 13 Preconceived opposition to that project set European integration back a couple of decades, as did the opposition of the democratic federalists to the European Defence Community in the fifties, who contributed substantially to the success of the anti-European nationalistic forces in France (and also in Italy!).
However, local movements lend voice to a concrete need for greater autonomy and thus authority, responsibility, identity and community feeling at a level below that of the state. The exaggerated resistance of the centralised bureaucracies risks making the situation explosive. An adjustment of structures seems logical and increasingly necessary. Basically, what is required is a new political and administrative structure, organised like a pyramid but with flexibility, from the local to the world level, with the mediation of the state and the macro-regions. These levels must not be closed off and in competition with one another, but must cooperate on the basis of a division of authority and responsibility that responds to the principle of subsidiarity, applied from the bottom up, not from the top down. The nation state, even though its sovereignty is less absolute now than it was at the beginning of the century, still has a central role to play in balancing fragmentation and integration. And if this is valid in the field of domestic politics and economics, it is even more so in the fields of foreign policy and security and defence.
The Role of the Nation State in Post-bipolar Security
With the end of bipolar confrontation, the objectives and the substance of security as well as the tasks of the military component have changed. 14 There is no longer a direct threat to vital interests, if not virtual and in any case, very long term. At the same time, the West, the winner of the Cold War, has a strong interest in maintaining the status quo, that is, stability and the current international order.
Stability, which implies the extension to the rest of the world of Western values and principlesdemocracy, respect for human rights, a free market, etc.has become a kind of international public good. As such, it is indivisible and can also be enjoyed by those who do not pay to achieve it. Of course, if a state behaves in this way, its position, its priorities and its special interests will not be protected by the allied states which make an active effort to produce that good.
In addition, the crises that once had a unifying effect on the alliances during the Cold War now tend to be divisive. The lack of a lethal and direct threat has diminished the cohesion of the alliances. Coalitions of variable geometry dominate, as seen in the cases of Bosnia and Albania. In the long term, this could erode the unity of permanent alliances such as NATO, which if they did not adjust, would risk turning into simple reserve of forces and operational capabilities in the short term and could lose their legitimacy in the long term, becoming irrelevant for public opinion.
This is exactly why NATO has reacted and adjusted in a surprisingly effective wayeven if not without contrastsbehaving like a company which, faced with a drastic reduction in demand, has had to diversity its products and expand to new markets to avoid scaling down or closing down altogether. 15 Instead of providing only defence or dissuasion to the territory of its member states, NATO now also projects security and stability to external areas, enlarging to new members and new partners, with a view to becoming an instrument for world stability in the 20th Century (the alliance of the G-8). That process is now under way with a political leadership that is much more complex than it was in the past. In fact, it is no longer based only on the North Atlantic Council (NAC), but also on the new NATO-Russia Council (NRC)and the Euro-Atlantic Partnership Council (EAPC) composed of 43 states and destined to enlarge further in the future.
The other institutions, like the UN and the OSCE, have been marginalised while maintaining their authority to define mandates internationally legitimising NATOs actions. This development is entirely in Italys national interest because the strengthening of the American commitment will contribute to maintaining the European balance while preventing an otherwise inevitable search for a new balance of power in which Italy would be a loser. Furthermore, the presence of the US in NATO represents the most solid link between the security of the Mediterranean and that of Central Europe.
Of course, Italy would have preferred to see Slovenia and Romania enter NATO with the first group and would rather not have been left alone by NATO in Albania. But those are tactics, not strategy; they are contingent facts that do not change its generally positive opinion of the outcome of the Madrid Atlantic Summit. Italy would also have preferred a more unitary common foreign and security policy (CFSP) to be able to replace the principle of variable geometries with one of variable unity. 16 Furthermore, Frances return to NATOs integrated military structure would have allowed for greater European autonomy in the field of security and defence, which in the current state of affairs can be achieved only in the NATO ambit. But this may merely be a delay or a missed chance. It will no doubt happen inevitably, only the sooner, the better.
Of more concern are the divergent policies of the European Union and the United States on the Eastern Mediterranean and the Middle East and, from a technical-military point of view, the growing technological gap between American and European forces. This will make effective integration increasingly difficult 17 and could limit Europes autonomy in NATO, even only in the Atlantic framework, with a WEU that functions as the European pillar in NATO, rather than the armed branch of the European Union. The fact that the EU now has a composition that is quite different from that of the WEU (only 10 of the 15 EU states belong to the WEU) and from that of NATO (5 EU states do not belong to NATO and 6 NATO statesin 1999 it will be 9do not belong to the EU) is also an important factor.
In answer to the falling apart of the system of Western alliances after the end of the Cold War, with the greater unilateralism on the part of the Americans as well as the ineffectiveness of the anti-defection measures that had guaranteed the adhesion of the alliance during the Cold War, a kind of transatlantic pact could perhaps be envisaged, a global agreement between Europe and the United States, and with the enlargement of NATO, the formal establishment of a directoire of Western powers. 18
The deregulation of collective defence and security institutions and the international security system after 1989 has brought greater responsibility, centrality and autonomy to the nation state, which will have to rely increasingly upon itself. The international weight of each will depend much more on its real contributions to the functioning of collective institutions than on its mere membership in them.
The role which the state continues to play also derives from the fact that military unity depends on the authority and symbolic values underlying the psychological cohesion of the troops, something which only the state can provide. This makes the exercise of integrated command and control at the multinational level much more complicated and calls for the existence, in practice, of two parallel chains of command and control: one under the command and the international institutions, the other national. 19 True, this goes against the principle of unity of command, replacing it with the less binding principle of unity of effort and purpose. But experience from multinational missions amply demonstrates that states cannot give up, or in any case do not give up responsibility for their respective military contingents. We may as well accept this fact and introduce the necessary buffers and measures for coordination into the parallel organisation of command to prevent the reoccurrence of situations like those that took place in Mogadishu in the summer of 1993, in Bosnia two years later and more recently in Bosnia again, with the British governments order to its forces to arrest Bosnian war criminals, ostensibly to safeguard their military honour, but more probably to provide the world, domestic public opinion and the IRA with an example of Thatcherian determination.
Another reason why the states are not willing to give up direct command and control of their contingents in multilateral coalitions is the impact of the media on public consensus for participating in external interventions. It is only natural that national governments do not want to give up either the international or the domestic dividends of such participation.
Moreover, the media which mainly address a national audience tend to underline the national rather than the collective aspects of such operations. The trend towards zero death operations, 20 and the particular sensitivity of public opinions to losses in their contingents only reinforce the need for states to maintain command over them. The idea of establishing a standing force at the behest of the UN Security Council and the UN Secretary General has turned out to be a utopia, as has the creation of a channel similar to CNN at the UN. Even if it were set up, it could not exclude the national media which would have more of an audience. No international organisation has its own efficient intelligence, and yet information is power. Yet states are not willing to cede or share theirs, except at times of mortal danger; practically all important information is filtered, manipulated and censored by the states according to their contingent interests.
The idea that there could actually be transfers of sovereignty to international institutions is obviously a utopia. The difference between an intergovernmental institution and a supranational one lies in its ability to decide on exceptional situations, to determine objectives and policies and to make member states have their armed forces participate in military operations. In intergovernmental institutions, and then only in the most strongly integrated ones like the European Union, the most that can be hoped for is constructive abstention: in operational terms, members can opt for infrastructural, logistic or financial support. Not even in the best of cases, however, can an international institution force one of its member states to involve its combat units in an action against its will.
This does not mean that there will necessarily be a drop in the level of multinational integration or in the current multilateralism. On the contrary, it seems plausible that multilateral actions will continue to prevail over unilateral ones, also because it will be very difficult for governments, even the US government, to obtain the indispensable consensus for unilateral intervention. But the decision-making mechanisms will always be based on the consensus or even the unanimity of the participating states. This confirms the central role that states will continue to play in the foreseeable future. On the other hand, as already mentioned, there are no longer any effective anti-defection measures that can induce states to participate in international actions if they feel that it is not in their interest to do so, regardless of the loss of clout, image and prestige that such a refusal could cause.
In spite of all the existing constraints and interdependence, globalisation must be evaluated in its real dimensions. They are much more limited than is generally stated. 21 The states will maintain a central role in foreign, security and defence policies while tending to define their interests in a way that is compatible or convergent with those of their allies. They will behave that way in order to be able to broaden the horizons of their interests beyond the limits offered by their meagre autonomous national capabilities, but they will also do so to share with the other states the costs and risks of intervention. And yet, the single state will be the one to decide on what to do and what not to do, evaluating its own interests before those of the international institutions of which it is a member.
Qualified membership in international institutions and, therefore, the ability to make them operate in keeping with ones own interests, depends on the consolidation of the institutional, decision-making, informational and operational capabilities of the nation state. Only in this way can it be an active subject rather than an object or at best a walk-on actor, incapable of having an effect on history and on its own destiny, and of asserting its interests and its own values and principles. Only the consolidation of the nation state can reconcile globalisation and fragmentation and keep a new world disorder from overwhelming us all.
Carlo Jean is Personal Representative of the OSCE Chairman in Office for Arms Control in Bosnia- Herzegovina.
Note 4: P. Savona and C. Jean (eds.) GeoeconomiaLotta per il dominio dello spazio economico (Milan: Franco Angeli, 1996); C. Jean, Geopolitica (Bari: Laterza, 1995); C. M. Santoro et al., Il sistema italia (Milan: Franco Angeli, CeMISS, 1997); C. Jean (ed .) Morte e riscoperta dello stato-nazione (Milan: Franco Angeli, 1991); M. Porter, The Relative Advantages of Nations (London: MacMillan, 1990); D. Drache (ed.) States Against Markets: The Limits of Globalization (London: Routledge, 1996); E. Luttwak, C. Pelanda and G. Tremonti, Il fantasma della povertà (Milan: Mondadori, 1995). Back.
Note 6: E. M. Earle, Adam Smith, Alexander Hamilton and Friedrich List: The Economic Foundations of Military Power in P. Paret (ed.) Makers of Modern Strategy (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1986) pp. 217-61. Back.
Note 7: P. Bianchi, La riscoperta dello Stato fra mercato globale e sistemi produttivi locali, in Jean , Morte e riscoperta dello stato nazione, pp. 157-68: and Fondazione Agnelli, La nuova geoeconomia mondiale. Alla ricerca di una risposta italiana (Turin: Fondazione Agnelli, 1995); G. Tremonti, La guerra civile, il Mulino, Sept.-Oct. 1996, pp. 842-56 and A. Quadrio Curzio, Perché rifare la Costituzione economica italiana, il Mulino, July-August 1996, pp. 690-705 and Geoeconomia e interessi economici italiani, Il Sistema Italia, pp. 163-7, which gives an interesting geographic and sectoral matrix for the analysis and ranking of national interests. Back.
Note 8: S. Cassese, Morte e trasfigurazione dello Stato in Jean, Morte e riscoperta dello stato-nazione; and in the same volume, F. Bertinotti, Lo Stato e la dimensione del sociale, pp. 49-55. Back.
Note 14: C. Jean, Luso della forza—Se vuoi la pace, comprendi la guerra (Bari: Laterza, 1996); Guerra, strategia e sicurezza (Bari: Laterza, 1997); Gli interessi italiani di sicurezza, paper presented at the CASD- LimesLa Stampa conference, Il Sistema Italia, held in Turin on 23-24 May 1997 (in press). Back.
Note 15: J. Joffe, Collective Security and the Future of EuropeFailed Dreams and Dead Ends, Survival, spring 1992, pp. 36-50 and Is there life after victory? What NATO can and cannot do?, The National Interest, Fall 1996, pp. 16-25. Back.
Note 16: C. Jean, ESDI and NATO, paper presented at the conference CJTF and ESDI, held in Paris, 21-22 April 1997, and organised by the WEU Institute for Security Studies and the Royal Institute for International Affairs. Back.
Note 17: C. Jean Il quinto fronte: gli strumenti militari dellegemonia globale, Limes, no. 4, 1996, pp. 137-42; C. Pelanda, Levoluzione della guerra (Milan: Franco Angeli-CeMISS, 1996); F. Pierantoni, La guerra delle informazioni, Notizie Arel, no. 2, 1995, pp. 16-25. Back.
Note 18: C. A. Kupehan, Concerts, Collective Security and the Future of Europe, International Security, Summer 1991, pp. 114-61; J. J. Mearsheimer, Back to the future: instability in Europe after the Cold War, International Security, Fall 1990, p. 5-56 and in the same journal, The false promise of international institutions, Winter 1994-95, pp. 5-49; M. C. Williams, Neorealism and the future of strategy, Review of International Studies, no. 19, 1993, pp. 103-21. Back.
Note 19: C. Jean, Il controllo degli Stati sulla partecipazione delle loro Forze Armate alle operazioni di pace, in N. Ronzitti (ed.) Il problema del comando e controllo delle forze di pace e nelle coalizioni militari (contribution to the reform of the UN Charter, in press). Back.
Note 21: Mondialisation, au-delàs des mythes, Les Dossiers de lEtat du Monde (Paris: La Découverte, 1997) and O. Dollfus, La mondialisation (Paris: Presses de la Fondation Nationale des Sciences, 1997). Back.