“Nations are distinguishable from each other by language, religion, ethnic or racial identity, and above all, by a shared cultural history. Together these distinguishing characteristics blend into a national culture. National culture influences family life, education, organisational culture, and economic and political structures. The sense of belonging to a nation is one of the most important focal points of cultural identity. In the course of time, myth mixes with historical events in the collective memory, and the associated symbols serve as powerful emotive links between present and past, and even future.”
The modern definition of state is based on the principles set forth in 1648 Treaty of Westphalia. The important characteristics of a state are:
That all states have a right to exist and that the authority of the government in that state is supreme and accepted as lawful.
That there exists no higher authority than the state; that no other state or international organisation can compel that state against its will to do something will to do something it does not want to do.
3. Formal Obligations:
That state must behave according to the rules agreed under international law, conduct its relations with other states according to rules of diplomacy; conduct war according to the international rules of war; implement treaties that it has signed; and treat diplomatic representatives of the other states, prisoners of wars and refugees according to generally accepted tenets of human rights.
Thus, the term ‘nation state’ is a convergence between state and nation – a state composed of psychologically identified people. Most often scholars view the term nation-state as a misleading one, for there is no exact correspondence between state and nation. There are states with more than one nation (Britain, USA, and India), nations with more than one state (ethnic Albanians, Hungarians, Serbs, etc.), states with no definite national identity (Chad) and nations with no definite state (the Palestinian Arabs).
The most important feature of the history of past millennium, compared with previous millennia, has been the rise of nation-state. Parts of the world, which formed nation-states at an early stage, flourished and dominated regions where the nation-state rose later.
Formation of nation-state facilitated easy flow of trade, travel, and investment without any barriers. Until the two centuries of state-making that preceded Westphalia, the world was not organised in one system. There were several empires, such as empire of Arab-Islam, of the Indians, of the Mongol-Tarters, and of the Chinese.
To qualify to be a Nation-State, Following are required:
i. Defined geographical territory
iii. Pursuing political objectives.
A nation-state must have territory with defined boundaries, rather than simply a people. Nation-state exercises control over that territory and it compasses people, territory and institutions. State is the legal gatekeeper, controlling what crosses its boundaries.
The second feature of statehood is sovereignty, which refers to the supreme legal authority of the state. National sovereignty is a sixteenth century idea whose invention is attributed to Jean Bodin. It was consolidated as a reality at the treaty of Westphalia of 1648 that tended the thirty years of war.
A state system was created at the expense of weakening the powers of Holy Roman Empire and the House of Habsburg. This marked the most decisive shift in the locus “of control over citizens from the domination by nation-states. Sovereignty empowers the state to enact law or right to command over the inhabitants of its particular territory. This power is absolute. To enforce the law state has the monopoly to use coercive power.
Sovereignty, as a principle, can be of three types – national sovereignty (freedom from colonial domination), parliamentary sovereignty (sovereignty of elected representatives), and sovereignty of ordinary citizens (organised power must be subservient to the power of individual citizens). There are paradoxes of sovereignty. When national sovereignty and the sovereignty of elected parliamentarians are eroded, the sovereignty of ordinary citizens is sometimes enhanced.
A nation-state, irrespective of following any political ideology, pursues four political objectives – political sovereignty, national prestige and prosperity, national security, and protection of cultural identity. Sovereignty, as already described, means supremacy to enact and enforce law.
But most nation-states have more than one nation-state inside their borders, with own laws or constitutions, like the US. In some states there is more than one nationality and such nationalities do not accept to belong to that state. Such perceived differences lead to terrorism (as in China, Spain, Turkey) or the outright warfare (Shia and Sunni in Iraq). Nationalistic feelings and their consequences have strong effects on international business. In Bosnia, many international business firms lost their capital, business partners, and many customers.
Every nation-state tries to enhance national prestige and prosperity which often results in protection and subsidizing of national interests. Even the US, the most dominating actor of globalisation is no exception. Developing countries do so by distorting competition in favor of local industry.
The developed ones raise the questions of child labor and minimum wages to protect themselves against highly competitive products and services. Europe and the US have been constantly protecting their agriculture through huge subsidies and high tariffs on imports.
Every nation-state does whatever possible and necessary for its national security. The political sensitivities of national defence prevent a country to have cross-border alliances, how-so-ever meaningful they may be.
The US does not purchase military items from foreign controlled companies or their subsidiaries. A Chinese company was not allowed to control a US port, and another company was not allowed to participate in India’s telecom field for security and safety concerns.
Nation-states, like national security, want to preserve cultural identity, an important element of nationhood. A total ‘Americanisation’ of life is disliked by most European governments with France leading the pack. The European Parliament advocates curbs on foreign TV to keep out US sitcoms and game-shows. France, Ireland, Portugal, and Belgium have fixed quotas on their airwaves.