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Challenges to Nation State System

Struggle for Power between Radicals and Status quo Forces

Nation State Challenges

It is evident from the history of the modern world, and of modern nation state system, that dissatisfaction among masses poses a substantial challenge to the existing systems and their beneficiaries. In its response, the status quo forces unite and form a front to neutralize any such threat to their established positions. This can be observed from the long saga of struggle for power, starting from the Napoleonic Wars to the Bolshevik Revolution, from the Nazi Germany to the Fascist Italy, from Revolutionary Iran to Afghanistan of Taliban, and most recently in the formation of Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS). All these forces disdained the prevailing international order and worked aggressively to impose their own ideology on the people.

In post-Westphalia Peace scenario, international relations underwent several transformations including acceptance for state sovereignty, abolishment of empire-building and colonialism, democracy as principal political system, and formation of international financial as well as political institutions.  Nation state remained the last option to opt for, and no room has been given to retreat in the form of either empire-building or the so-called revival of an Islamic Caliphate on the pattern of the former Ottoman Empire. Long struggle to settle the eastern question within the perspective of balance of power and the eruption of two great wars have lasting impacts on the modern history of state system.

Nation State Challenges 1With its fundamentals of “Liberty, Equality and Fraternity, the French Revolution posed a daunting challenge to European monarchies, so it was vociferously opposed, restrained and contained by system of alliances of established powers of the continent. Axis powers were routed by the Allied forces in both Great Wars, leaving behind the capitalism and nation state system; protected and continued. The communist ideology strongly censured state system and blamed it to be a tool in the hands of the capitalists. It also advocated a world government of the Proletariat. However, with modifications from Communist in Socialist ideology, this system was implemented in the Soviet Union and it posed a real threat to the Capitalist world. Ironically, with the disintegration of the Soviet Union and end of the Cold War, capitalism remained as the only ideology as well as system. Iranian Revolution of 1979 was restricted mainly within the national boundaries of Iran and its echoes could not be heard in the rest of the region. Taliban regime in Afghanistan was forcefully toppled because it rejected all the existing political systems and caused a huge threat to the nation state system by provoking Pan-Islamism. In the contemporary times, the ISIS has also rejected all such systems and has shown its muscles in various activities in the Middle East.

Ideas of French Revolution became an integral part of the new system, and with the demise of the Soviet Union, Communism underwent decline. Islamic ideology can be seen in Pan Arab movement and many other evidences of struggle by extremists such as Islamic Salvation Front (Algeria), Ikhwan-ul-Muslimeen (Egypt) and most modern of them Al-Qaeda, who use Islam for their political gains. All these outfits reject popular concept of state and nation and champion the concept of Ummah. In the post-Cold War world, such organizations provided a space for the status quo forces to satisfy their need for enemy and secure their legitimacy by defeating such forces. Eventually in the Islamic world, all states recognized modern state system and hence no place was left for such non-state actors to propagate their ideology with state machinery and pose any serious challenge to the prevalent international system.

Although Iran claimed to be an Islamic state, it had two fundamental flaws:

First, it represented a minority sect of Muslims;

Second, it was contained form the very beginning e.g. with almost a decade-long Iran-Iraq war.

Finally, Iran accepted international agreements and liabilities as incumbent upon her. In post-Soviet Afghanistan, an orthodox mindset of extremism got the hold of power and it managed to maintain its sway over the state machinery, negating international system and calling for establishment of the Caliphate in the entire Islamic world. These crimes were strong enough, to call these people “rogue elements”. And, in post 9/11 days, these extremist forces provided enough space to status quo powers to counter and, ultimately, change the regime.

This regime change strategy gave strength to status quo forces in two ways:

First, it enlarged the sphere of military industrial complex, as it fulfilled their need of an enemy to legitimate their presence and accumulation of weaponry.

Second, it diminished the challenges posed to state system of Westphalia. Learning from this legitimized use of force and zero tolerance to such radical revolutionary elements, newly-emerged regimes in the Arab world stuck with the legacy of state system and pledged to follow international agreements signed and ratified by the past governments. Therefore, whether it is Mali of West Africa or ISIS of the Middle East, rebelling against the established norms, values, practices and patterns of the system, has caused severe implications for them.

Recurrence of this old story time and again gives an insightful understanding of the fact that change is possible with the muscles to protect it and capacities to spread it. Moreover, any such change must be acceptable, universally applicable and moderate enough to be embraced by the polity of the nations.

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