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25th Anniversary series: One Planet Or A Thousand Countries?

September 23, 2015

In 1995, John Naisbitt in “Global paradox” predicted that in 2045 there would be 1,000 countries in the world.

He argued that in the 1992 Olympics in Barcelona, 172 countries competed. More than 200 teams took part in 2012. As the world becomes more universal, it also becomes more tribal. As people yield economic sovereignty and become economically interdependent, holding on to what distinguishes you from others becomes very important.

Does this matter? What is a country for? What would be the basis of this?

1000 countries correspond to about 5 – 10 million people per average country.

Where might these 1000 countries come from?

The break-up of the Soviet Union, followed by Yugoslavia has increased the number of countries in Europe. What would happen if Greek Macedonians decided to merge with the Macedonian Republic and walk away from Greek debt? Or, what would be the consequences if the Basques washed their hands of Spanish debt?

The Basques number about 3 million, the Scots about 4.5 million, both groups are seeking independence.

South Sudan is the latest new country to be founded, replacing Montenegro as the newest sibling in the UN family. Are we to assume that the break-up of countries, like fiscal crises and sovereign defaults are the exclusive preserve of the developing world? There are strong regional groups in Scotland, Spain, the Northern League in Italy and so on. There are regional tensions in India and China.  In Thailand the city government of Bangkok and national government of Thailand are at loggerheads.

Naisbitt thought that maybe 40 or 50 countries could eventually split out of Russia.

The colonial “lines on the map” in Africa are likely to cease to define countries, and as African populations grow there will be pressure to corral resources for different groups, creating new countries.

Is there an argument that people can have multiple allegiances: to a tribal identity, an allegiance to an economic identity, an allegiance to a political boundary identity? These may be overlapping or contradictory. As the world opens up, you can be all kinds of things. You can be a Houstonian and a Texan and an American and an accountant and Chinese, all at the same time.

Robert Cooper[1], a former diplomat and Adviser to Europe, has argued that “In 1989 the political systems of three centuries came to an end in Europe: the balance-of-power and the imperial urge. That year marked not just the end of the Cold War, but also, and more significantly, the end of a state system in Europe which dated from the Thirty Years War. September 11 showed us one of the implications of the change”

He suggests that the growing irrelevance of borders has come about both through the changing role of the state, but also through missiles, motor cars and satellites.

He distinguishes first, states – often former colonies – where in some sense the state has almost ceased to exist, a ‘premodern’ zone where the state has failed and a Hobbesian war of all against all is underway (countries such as Somalia and, until recently, Afghanistan). Second, there are the post imperial, postmodern states who no longer think of security primarily in terms of conquest. These include the countries of Europe. And thirdly, of course there remain the traditional “modern” states who behave as states always have, following Machiavellian principles and raison d’état (one thinks of countries such as India, Pakistan and China).

Is there an argument that people can have multiple allegiances: to a tribal identity, an allegiance to an economic identity, an allegiance to a political boundary identity? These may be overlapping or contradictory. As the world opens up, you can be all kinds of things. You can be a Houstonian and a Texan and an American and an accountant and Chinese, all at the same time.

Within this mosaic, what is called “the country” can be many things. Many global scenarios of 50-100 years hence have one option which is a return to the City state of the Renaissance and a diminution of the nation state. Evidence for this can be seen by the importance of economic clustering, be it Hollywood, Bollywood, Silicon Valley, or the City of London[2].

So 1000 countries? By 2045? Maybe not – but certainly more than today, enough to give existing governance structures many headaches.

Written by Gill Ringland, SAMI Fellow and CEO.

The views expressed are those of the author and not necessarily of SAMI Consulting.

[1] http://fpc.org.uk/articles/169

[2] See for instance “In Safe Hands? the future of financial services”, www.longfinance.net

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