The Age of Sovereignty Has Come to an End

By Howell, Llewellyn D. | USA TODAY, September 1998 | Go to article overview

The Age of Sovereignty Has Come to an End


Howell, Llewellyn D., USA TODAY


It's the end of the sovereignty century. The 19th century was strongly represented in its expression of imperialism and colonialism, repression of tribal affinities, and structuring according to the rules of state. Political rulers, as distinct from religious leaders, mobilized larger armies and navies. Economics rather than theology became the basis for societal organization, and civil politics became the source of organization to meet economic objectives.

The 20th century has seen the rise of the European state as the epitome of political organization. The contained nation-state with fixed borders replaced the systems of unbordered feudal dominance and vassalage that were common in most of the non-European world. The nation-state gave way to the multi-nation state as colonial powers imported labor to the entities they controlled or as they drew European lines around Asian and African territories under their power, often disregarding racial and cultural dispersions.

The result? Of the roughly 200 states that exist today, just a handful can be considered to be ethnically homogenous, and many, like the U.S., will sometime in the 21st century have only pluralities, not majorities, of racial, ethnic, or linguistic groups. Yet, powerful racial and religious bonds will continue to cross state borders.

What has been made clear in the Asian financial crisis is that the Chinese of east and southeast Asia form a union that is perhaps already more powerful than some of the region's political states. During this year's rioting in Indonesia, many of that country's Chinese citizens sought refuge and financial sanctuary in Chinese-run Singapore. Movement of capital through family structures, but across borders (often without government involvement) already strongly characterizes the underpinnings of many Asian economies. The sense of what is happening is captured in the theme of Joel Kotkin's 1992 book, Tribes: How Race, Religion and Identity Determine Success in the New Global Economy.

The 21st century will see the end of state sovereignty as we have known it. Sovereignty is an assumption of within-border integrity and independence from internal interference by other sovereign states. It is an assumption and an objective that is a de jure, rather than a de facto, characteristic of the way governments operate. And it is becoming more and more of a myth.

The Cold War was fought primarily in efforts of the U.S. and the Soviet Union to penetrate each other's systems and those of third parties. Monies channeled across borders to labor unions or political candidates already were common practices in undermining the sovereignty of opponents. While the Cold War is off, the "Hot Competition" is now on as populations continue to grow and resources and simple space continue to diminish.

The communications revolution has promoted the dissolution of the sovereign state. E-mail, the Internet, and satellite dishes, each with their cross-border networks, herald the end of cultural sanctity. Even when a sense of nation remains, the demonstration effect of socioeconomic success and evidence of simple freedom impels populations toward the locus of achievement--and across borders. …

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