Like modern marriages, half of which end in divorce, there is a new and ominous global threat: the break-up of previously stable political entities through separatism.
Crimea wants to leave Ukraine. Scotland has scheduled an independence referendum from Britain in September 2014 and Britain is considering one to possibly leave Europe in 2015. Catalonia's referendum to secede from Spain is in November 2014, and Quebec may possibly organize its own in the next couple of years. Wallonie, Corsica, North Italy, Bretagne etc. may one day follow suit. There is even talk of splitting California in two!
Why are these centrifugal forces emerging now? There seems to be four leading reasons.
The first is a knee jerk reaction against excessive and unregulated globalization which leaves the ordinary citizen lost and with no identity. He therefore seeks a new sense of belongingness in a small, newly independent country, favoring localism over globalism.
The second is the fact that most so called 'nation' states are actually multinational and diverse. The ethnic minorities which feel oppressed in such states, are tempted to seek a divorce, set up their own nation, where they are will then be the majority -- and perhaps, in the process, exact revenge on their former tormentors, now in the minority.
The third is the worldwide failure of national governments, who seem to be chronically unable to deliver on their electoral promises. One response is to 'throw the rascals out', which explains why governments of the left, right and center are regularly kicked out of office at the next election. In the U.S., an irate electorate consistently punishes the governing parry at the mid-terms regardless of its ideology.
An alternative response to ineffective governance is to seek independence, whenever there is a geographical concentration of like minded opponents to a central regime. This was what the U.S. Civil War was all about and is what many contemporary ethnic struggles are leading towards.
Fourth and finally, there is simple self interest. Rich provinces, in a country, whose constitution obliges them to help poorer ones, (like Canada) may want to end these subsidies and keep all the money to themselves. Under this logic it should be Alberta rather than Quebec considering secession.
When all is said and done, is all this good or bad news ?
At first blush, by invoking the principle of self-determination, the virtues of decentralization and more responsible local government, we might be tempted to welcome these centrifugal forces.
But upon reflection and careful analysis we should instead fear them because they will exacerbate the present mismanagement of our planet.
The separatists often believe that they can repeal globalization by a simple declaration of sovereignty, the adoption of a new flag and national anthem and by being awarded a seat in the United Nations.
This, unfortunately is a delusion.
Globalization is fueled by international capital, labor and technology movements, the internet, global finance and powerful worldwide networks -- some visible, others covert. Multinational corporations are going to remain global, and so are mafias, narco-cartels, organized crime, jihadists etc.
If all the separatist movements in the world were to succeed, we could move from a present world of under 200 countries to one of over 1,000 -- all with an equal seat at the UN. Can you imagine how difficult it would be to decide on anything in a 1,000 strong UN general assembly? Think, also, of the balance of power: 1,000 fragmented small countries, plus their subnational governments, competing for the favors of a dozen huge unregulated global conglomerates. It would be an embarrassment of riches for the footloose conglomerates. It would also be Eldorado for organized crime, jihadists, tax evaders and assorted criminals vaulting from jurisdiction to jurisdiction.
The sociologist, Daniel Bell once remarked,in the 1970s, that the nation state had become too big for the small problems and too small for the big ones. His words were prophetic but they cut both ways. National governments can no longer cope with pandemics, global warming, international terrorism, unregulated global finance -- unless they act in unison in intergovernmental organizations. But, by the same token, Lilliputian micro states, emerging from the global separatist wave, would be even be less capable to deal with these problems. Global governance would then be completely controlled by the remaining, still international, private networks. A scary scenario to be sure.
Does that mean we must stay put and freeze present borders in perpetuity. No, obviously not. Re-arrangements and restructuring are necessary. But the more sustainable answer may be in new forms of federalism rather than in the pure multiplication of sovereignties.
In today's interdependent world, sovereignty is an illusion except if you are a superpower. The problems are too big while the means available to the new so-called 'sovereign' government are too small.
The 'balkanization' of Eastern and Southern Europe after the First World War, led to the Second World War.
The balkanization of the world through wide-spread separatism could increase the probability of a third one. Not an inspiring scenario.