Dr. Manoj Kumar Mishra 15 June 2019
The article strives to delineate the factors that underpin the spread of western norms of sovereignty, territoriality and nationalism across the globe including the small states of the South Asian region. Apparently, along with a process of decolonization and independence of Afro-Asian states from colonial yoke, another form of colonization began in the shape of alliances during the Cold War. In this lager context, small states were mostly looked upon as a group of states to be cultivated for maintaining military blocs and alliances by remaining within the sphere of influence of great powers. Ironically, some small states like Bhutan and Nepal of the South Asian region were relatively insulated from the Cold War power politics between the US and the Soviet Union which, by and large, helped them secure territorial and juridical statehood. The balance of power tactics adopted by the global powers ensured that these states did not fall under either camp and this was instrumental in securing their territorial integrity and independence.
Multi-polar World Order
Small states which can never match big powers in terms of conventional power projection have benefited from the nuclear multi-polarity. Bygone are the days when nuclear power was a possession of a few and acted as a major determinant of foreign policies of small states. On the other side, nuclear multi-polarity has enhanced evenness in distribution of power in the international arena. It is obvious that with the emergence of second-strike capacity and the ensuing stabilization of nuclear deterrence, the usefulness of nuclear weapons as a guarantor of security and therefore an instrument with the major powers to control the policies of small states has been undermined. Further, with the development of intercontinental ballistic missiles and the corresponding delivery systems, the importance of missile bases outside the territory of the major powers has diminished. For certain small states without nuclear weapons, taking nuclear powers of the region to their side has given them enormous strategic potential to pursue a strong foreign policy. If there are any territorial ambitions of any major power that the small states are suspicious of, they can switch over to another nuclear power available at the door step. Therefore, the major powers’ attempt at building empires by territorial aggrandizement has been replaced by bilateral bargaining. For example, Bhutan being suspicious of Chinese policy of territorial aggrandizement with China trying to annex Tibet developed special strategic relationship with India and the friendship treaty of 1949 was the result. Gradually, the position that India was enjoying in relation to Bhutan’s external relations according to the 1949 friendship treaty between India and Bhutan began to change (“India-Bhutan Friendship treaty”, http://www.satp.org/satporgtp/countries/india/document/papers/indiabhutan.htm).
Nuclear war is a total war which blurs the distinction between combatants and non-combatants. With the availability of nuclear power to many states, the possibility of conventional war has reduced as it is not hard to believe that the dangerousness of war would reduce the danger of war. This, as a result, has given rise to democratic ways of conducting foreign policy and lesser use of war as a method of conducting foreign policy. In the contemporary international milieu, powerful states can ill afford to disregard international norms and world public opinion because with the option of using force less available, they are forced to look for substitute means of safeguarding their interests and conducing policy. Relevance of democratic way of conducting foreign policy which is more than explicit in areas such as “parliamentary diplomacy” implying the debates and votes in the United Nations- the good will of the small states may turn out to be important (A. Shaheen, ‘Foreign Policy of Small States: A Comparative study of Bhutan and Maldives’, BIIS Journal, Vol. 18 No.2 (April 1987), p. 248). International norms and organizations provide small states the necessary space to challenge the interventionist policies of the major powers and carry their nation-building process with relative autonomy. It is noteworthy that most developing and underdeveloped countries collaborated and followed a course of non-alignment during the Cold War era with the hope that the success of the movement rather than any individual state may benefit one and all. This has strengthened small states’ ability to influence decision making in the UN and other allied organizations.
Flexibility of Sovereignty
Sovereignty has never been an organically related and inseparable set of rules. Different elements of sovereignty are not logically related nor do they empirically always occur together. According to Krasner there are four different meanings of sovereignty that can be distinguished namely: interdependence sovereignty, domestic sovereignty, Westphalian sovereignty and international legal sovereignty (S. Krasner, ‘Sovereignty: An institutional perspective’ Comparative Political Studies, Vol. 21, No. 1 (1988), pp. 66-94) . By compromising one type of sovereignty small states can strengthen another. For example, by accepting India as a check on its external or Westphalian sovereignty, Bhutan could get enormous financial assistance from the former and used it for economic development which, in turn, helped ensure all-round development of its citizens and increased internal legitimacy thereby strengthened its domestic sovereignty. Even domestic sovereignty can be redefined by shedding authority in some affairs to strengthen internal legitimacy. For example, by separating temporal affairs and religious affairs of the state and by minimizing the role of monks and monasteries in the governance structure, the Bhutanese government has earned a secular image and thereby has enabled itself to use the Buddhist identity with the claims that it is for the benefits of its people.
Small states can relatively insulate themselves from Globalization
The Bhutanese concept of Gross National Happiness (GNH) can be seen in opposition to anti-democratic and consumerist tendencies of globalization (Bhutan 2020: A vision for Peace, Prosperity and Happiness”, Planning Commission, Royal Government of Bhutan, Thimpu, 1998, p. 27). In modern times, nationalism and culture as its basis cannot be defended on primordial lines out of emotions. In order to gain support from people at the domestic level and earn legitimacy at the international level, it has to have rational foundations. In late 1999, third world representatives refused to accept provisions limiting their autonomy and resisted far-reaching power of WTO on rational grounds, when WTO directors and representatives met in Seattle to discuss various trade and investment matters. That led to eventual collapse of talks (R. Chakravarthi, “Seattle WTO Ministerial ends in failure”, http://www.twnside.org.sg/title/deb2-cn.htm). Nation-states seem to be the primary protectors of their citizens and substantial concept of democracy.
Contemporary liberal theories justify a thin version of nationalism and question globalization on a rational basis which has, in turn, rationalized the role of small states in maintenance of their statehood. Globalization implies expansion of market economy under the supervision of the global financial institutions such as IMF, World Bank and WTO and at the same time underlines the growth of political institutions beyond nation-states as manifested in the evolution of European Union and universalization of norms as witnessed in the process of universalization of human rights norms. However, neither the political institutions nor the human rights norms have transgressed the nation-state system in reality (M.K.Mishra, “Ubiquity of Identities in the Era of Globalization”, Eurasia Review, January 17, 2016).
Democracy, redistributive justice and welfare in their substantive meaning would depend on a shared conception of national identity as a community of people deliberates on real freedom and not about leaving everything to the market.
International norms defend statehood of small states
Evidently, the international system is characterized by a real political order, in which states endowed with very different economic, military, and political power generally define and pursue their respective interests independent of each other. However, this system also contains a normative order within which states recognize each other as equal and sovereign legal entities. The normative validity of international law is derived from treaties voluntarily concluded between states, from customary law emerging from general patterns of state practices in international relations, and from a consensus in juridical opinion. The normative international order has been largely shaped by liberal philosophy inspired by the enlightenment tradition justifies a pluralism of sovereign states allowing for peaceful competition and mutual learning between different constitutional traditions, political cultures, and path of development. It is further based on the notion that individual liberty can only defended through facilitating emigration and change of citizenship and preventing the accumulation of uncontrollable political power in global political institutions (Identities, Affiliations, and Allegiances, eds. Seyla Benhabib and etal, Cambrdge University Press, London, 2007, p 233).
World society contains many normative elements which authoritatively define the nation-state as the preferred form of sovereign and responsible actor. The external recognition and construction of sovereign statehood has been a crucial dimension of the western system for centuries, with new claimants especially depending on obtaining formal recognition from dominant powers. With the anti-colonial and self-determination movements of twentieth century, all sorts of collectivities have learned to organize their claims around a nation-state identity. They have not been able to find any alternative to the ‘state system’ pioneered by the West against whom they had waged the struggle for self-determination in the past. These states also function within the larger discourses of liberalism, multiculturalism and welfare state nationalism as developed in the West. The learning of the smaller states appears complete with the availability of a ready-made formula of state-building and nation-building process (J. Meyer, ‘World Society and the Nation-state’, American Journal of Sociology, Vol. 103, no. 1 (July 1997), pp. 144-181).
As almost all the states are multicultural and individuals have multiple identities, it is not surprising that nation-building process tries to promote common norms and values to provide legitimacy to states including the smaller ones. This fact has lessened interference of states in others’ nation-building process unless serious strategic considerations are involved in that misadventure. A state’s support for minorities in another state increases demands of its own minorities, which get their support from their ethnic brethren in other states. A state’s conspiracy against minorities of another state makes the former bear the wrath of its own minorities. Identity, so far, is considered a domestic affair. Interference in other states on identity issue invites sanctions and international condemnation. For example, Serbia in former Yugoslavia faced international sanctions and embargos when it interfered in Croatia and Bosnia’s internal affairs in a bid to unite Serbian minority in those states and establish a safe haven for all Serbians. Furthermore, using ethnicity as a component of a state’s foreign policy may have dangerous implications. It may legitimize the action of other states that have ethnic interests in the given state. There have been occasions when a state is forced to interfere in the affairs of another state primarily to assuage rising disaffections emanating from certain provinces of the state given the people of the provinces share the same ethnicity with those of the minorities of another state. But such interference depends on the homogeneity of the people of the state as people of other provinces may oppose such move. As most of the states are multicultural such policies are less liable to success. Again, such policies of a state may invite international sanctions or use of ethnicity as an instrument of foreign policy by some other states against it.
There are, of course, instances of intervention along with the use of military power by the United States in the Gulf, international forces policing the Balkans, going after Serbs in Kosovo and Serbia, and Australia doing its bit for international law and order in East Timor. But these interventions were the outcome of convergence of strategic interests of the major powers. Second, the UN, in most cases, has been used as the necessary platform by the major powers to elicit world public opinion in their favor and both NATO and the UN Security Council, most of the permanent members of which are also the members the former played an important role in Yugoslavia (F. Sperotto, 2008, The International Security Presence in Kosovo and the Protection of Human Rights, working paper no. 48, http://www.du.edu/gsis/hrhw/working/2008/48-sperotto-2008.pdf). However, such extraordinary circumstances when the strategic interests of the great powers converge have not come in case of many smaller states lacking geostrategic importance. National identity is still considered an internal issue although forging it often sacrifices human rights and minority rights in the process.