Cody Boutilier: The death of the nation-state?

This month has seen the virtual collapse of two major international borders. With the encouragement of the Mexican and Central American governments and the acquiescence of Washington, thousands of unaccompanied children have been trafficked north of the Rio Grande. The security and humanitarian implications are staggering.

The al-Qaeda offshoot ISIS controls wide swaths of Iraq and Syria, where it seeks to reestablish the Sunni caliphate that last existed in 1924. With possession of Iraq’s northern oil fields and Mosul’s $400 million worth of cash reserves, ISIS has become the most powerful terrorist group in the world. Both developments portend poorly for the future of the nation-state.

The American governing and monied classes are hostile to the very notion of a meaningful, enforced border, without which democracy and national sovereignty are amorphous and unintelligible. This is not a North American obsession – the European Union and its antecedents have been committed to abolishing the nation-state in Europe for six decades. The populist upsurge in European politics is hopeful, but the entrenched bureaucratic leviathan in Brussels will desperately cling to power for as long as it can.

The concept of the nation-state has always been alien to the Islamic world. The continued existence of Israel is a standing, shameful monument to the abject failure of secular Arab nationalism. The supranational Islamism of ISIS and other Islamist groups increasingly seems a feasible organizing principle of statecraft in the Middle East.

In Turkey, Prime Minister Erdogan and Foreign Minister Davutoglu are committed to a neo-Ottoman foreign policy. Much of the focus in the Syrian civil war is on Iran’s support of Assad, but Turkish support of the Sunni rebels is no less imperialist in intent.

A century ago, the Great War eliminated the Austrian-Hungarian and Ottoman Empires and transformed the German and Russian empires, leaving a trail of unprecedented nation-states in Central Europe and the Middle East. This was the first wave of de-colonization that ended with the fragmentation of the Soviet Union. 

As Putin seeks to revive Russian hegemony in the form of his Eurasian Customs Union, the criminals of Brussels continue to flout the will of the majority of Europeans, Iran and Turkey exploit the Sunni-Shia rift in the Middle East for their respective imperial projects, and the governments of Mexico and the United States conspire to remove their common border, the future of the nation-state, which World War One was fought to guarantee, seems perilous as never before.

The Hustings