The Definition of Statehood
Before diving into the question of this essay, one that looks simple on the surface but reveals itself to be as complicated as it is deep, I found myself asking how we define “statehood”. It’s all good and well to say that the state is a contested organisation, but when the idea of what exactly a state is comes into it, that statement becomes all the less clear. By definition a nation state is a state/country that possesses clear borders and land, and contains mostly the same type of people by either race or cultural background. ttp://www. britannica. com/EBchecked/topic/467746/political-system/36702/National-political-systems? anchor=ref416908 Yet some states have numerous ethnicities, Nigeria for example has been calculated to have over two hundred culturally distinct groups, even Gambia, whose population numbers about half a million people, has eight distinct ethnic groups (Hughes 1981: 122). Then again, these are both countries that are considered as “failed states”, something I will return to later on.
According to Philip Cerny, statehood is the capacity to guard the social, economic and political life of its people and also to protect them from external threats and predators. He then goes on to say that states regularly fail at one of these tasks, often not doing well at both at the same time. Statehood, according to Cerny, is the “problematique of the modern world system itself”. Why? Why are nation states so bad at doing what they say on the tin? Surely it can’t be that hard to defend one’s people and at the same time give them basic needs such as employment, welfare and education.
Of course, the world isn’t a perfect place, and we have yet to reach the utopia dreamt of by our grandparents, but really does everything have to be so terrible? To be fair Cerny does give a good argument against that, and provides much evidence to show that the state is indeed a contested organisation. He argues that “future structural organisational developments will depend on the kinds of political coalitions that can be built to confront and deal with those challenges”, especially those involving cross-border networks.
In that case the result is likely to be a more complex form of world politics that is not only multi-level but also multi-nodal. Cerny makes a clear statement that the ideal states are “organisationally distinct from families, churches, classes, races, economic institutions” and also non-state political organisations. He then simplifies that claim that the state is a contested organisation by breaking it down into 3 sections: economically, socially and politically. First we will look at each of these individually and examine that statement.
Of the three, the most interesting to me was his ascertain that the state is an economically contested organisation. Cerny says that states are organised through relationships of power, but they are also bound to the ideals of fairness and justice. Economic groups such as corporations and markets however, are not. They revolve around a principle of profit and aren’t shackled by the same need to be ‘nice’ that states are. One can go so far as to say that Cerny is nearly directly addressing the issue of globalisation without ever saying the word.
Take big companies such as Coca Cola or McDonalds, while they give a consumer-friendly image and do help communities with various projects, at the end of the day they are 100% profit driven and if circumstances dictated that they must drop half their workforce to save costs, you can be sure that they would. Globalisation has meant that corporations no longer operate within borders, and for the most part are free to trade as they please. That some of these firms make more money than the Irish state is a very scary thought indeed. It is an invasive and destabilizing phenomenon that states must contest with.
Not only does it signal heightened interconnectedness, but it encroaches into those formal-legal aspects of sovereignty that secure or tie down authority in the first instance, and benefit from it in the second. In other words, “the transnational connections inherent in globalisation are significant on a qualitative as well as a quantitative level. But what new patterns of authority are emerging here? ” (Williams 1996: 118) It is said of sovereignty that there is plenty of it around, but that as a result of globalisation “the sites for its concentration have changed. According to this argument states are being forced to concede certain of their sovereign powers to regional, transnational or world bodies on one hand, and to local and other sub-national institutions on the other. On a side note while on the point of globalisation, though Cerny doesn’t explore the idea it is also worth mentioning the globalisation of military power as it contests with every state organisation. Advanced nuclear weapons systems can now operate worldwide, for they can deliver their payloads to any place at all on the planet, and do so within a very short time.
They are thus capable of making the whole earth uninhabitable, and of threatening the very survival of the all states, whether they wish it or not (Poggi 1990: 177). You really can’t get much more global than that. The next area we will examine is Cerny’s claim that the state is a socially contested organisation. According to him states “are not natural, spontaneous emanations” from a “taken for granted, pre-existing society, people, or public”, they are made up from real people who base them on a range of often divided groups such as class, ethnicity, religion and ideology to name a few.
People who are born in to this nation state may not always agree with or like the way things are and can find themselves caught in conflicts of identity, and the state finds itself constantly at odds with those who feel socially indoctrinated with the rules, power structures and policies of that state. As Cerny says, “citizens are made, not born”. Another big social contender is the internet, any one person can simply log on to Facebook (or other social networking sites) and instantly connect with people all over the world, again ignoring state boundaries.
The final point that is discussed is that the state is a politically contested organisation. This can nearly go without saying, as there isn’t a state in the world that hasn’t been challenged politically at one stage or another. This happens on all ends of the scale, from as Cerny puts it: “absolutist monarchs and national revolutionaries to various bureaucrats, officials, patrons and clients”. He even goes on to mention religious movements and criminal gangs.
It is important to note that the organisational strengths that Cerny mentions, whether they be rooted in widely accepted social identities or bonds, or that they have power internationally, need not only apply to Westphalian states (and indeed many of those ‘official’ states are weak on those levels). Take certain groups such as Hezbollah or the IRA for example, upon looking past the fact that they are viewed by some as terrorist organisations (although most European countries have refused to classify Hezbollah as a terrorist organisation [http://www. digitalnpq. org/archive/2009_summer/03_qassem. tml]), these groups often take on the state roles for the people they claim to serve. Hezbollah is a major provider of social services, operating schools, hospitals, and agricultural services for thousands and playing a significant part in Lebanese politics. [http://www. cfr. org/publication/9155/hezbollah_aka_hizbollah_hizbullah. html? breadcrumb=/]. Likewise the IRA are renowned for looking after their own, be it ensuring the well being of prisoner families or upholding the law (or at least a version of it), in areas where traditional state politics have failed.
Going back now to the other two headings for the contested state, economically and politically, and applying them to the state “alternatives” I mentioned above, it is hard to understand why Cerny didn’t do the same. One can not simply draw a line in the sand and say that all the ones over here (those of the Westphalia type) are states, and those over there are not. There are many similarities to be found on both sides. These groups also find themselves to be contested organisations.
Yes it can be argued that economically, Hezbollah only functions because the nation states of Iran and Syria support them, but the same was also said of the peripheral state of Cuba when it was funded by the USSR (Giddens 1985: 269). In the north the IRA have succeeded in many social areas that the government have not, giving identity, protection and services to a select group of people who otherwise feel abandoned by a system that is supposed to do the same. The downfall of these groups is that their (occasional) focus on fighting and violence only serves to detract from the other areas.
Yet returning to Cerny, he raises the point that some find the cost of the US’s war in Iraq (estimated at 2-3 trillion dollars), has prevented it from addressing issues both domestically (health care and employment for example) and abroad (development aid, fighting disease ect). This shows that even the largest of official states can do itself damage by focusing too much on military operations. But what happens when a state can do no more for its people? When it becomes such a contested organisation that it loses physical control of its