What’s in a “country”?

As Monti and Papademos set to making their nations’ balance sheets, well, balance -its got me thinking, why do we still have countries?

In our current, globalised set-up, countries are hardly the geographic “containers” for one people, one culture, one religion. As reported by The Economist this week, there are more Chinese living outside of China than French in France; 22 million Indians scattered across every continent (much to my benefit…); and a 40% increase in first generation immigrants since 1990. We are a-MIXING! Much of this movement is an easy rather than difficult choice, arising from better education and jobs abroad, not atrocities at home. And the internet has eased the way, connecting loved ones daily through skype and social media, rendering the single Christmas phone call a 9 minute chat from the past. So geographic nations aren’t the boundaries for “peoples”.

MaccyOMoreover, we’re now much less likely to do the traditional warring and land grabs, for which “countries” were previously the foremost protagonists. Dragging myself through Machiavelli’s “The Prince”, although the principles of political manoeuvring still seem relevant today, the applications of power do not. Fortresses and sieges are very last season. Since the world wars, coalitions of super-powers mean that wars are rarely fought one-country-on-one. Nations have always looked to one another for partners in crime – but now so more than ever. And considering this, what is the point of our unitary division? Moreover, Greece, accordingl to Stefano Manos (an ex-finance Minister) has property worth £200 billion ready to dispose. This would account for more than 50% of its debt. Yet the notion of Greece selling this to Germany is laughable. Isn’t it?

Wular lake

Wular lake - over-exploited water resources in Asia

Perhaps more importantly than land and war – is trade and the environment. The interlinked nature of our world has been laid bare by our dependence on resources, both monetary and natural. We’ve all been waiting with baited breath over Italy as everyone knows that the repercussions could be worse than an end to parma ham and balsamic vinegar. Even through the trade links between Europe and the US aren’t that great (the US only sends 13% of its exports to the euro zone), America is still fearing a crisis that could top Lehman Brothers.  China, whom everyone considered immune, is suffering a lending shortage and the Euro zone has resorted to technocracies ruling with fear. One crisis affects us all – globally. Likewise – the environment. What can I say – we’re in for a tough time! Natural resources don’t respect boundaries. Rivalries over rivers in Asia, land grabs in Africa and energy in the West are daily reminders that we operate across borders.

Having said all this – it seems important that we act on a scale which returns both the benefits and problems of any action to the primary actor; only then does the real cost of any process become apparent and accountable. But this scale is not necessarily as large as a country – in fact, in today’s world – its not bound by geography, but by accountability. And that is the crux of the problem – country’s are no longer accountable.

(c) guardianMonti may be mopping up after Berlusconi, but Italy’s not going to be only ones who suffer. Likewise, the West has been belching carbon for decades, but its those living on Pacific Islands, suffering from African drought and dying in India’s intensifying heat waves who are going to pay the price.

Are countries accountable anymore – and is it worth having them?

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One response to “What’s in a “country”?

  1. You and John Lennon have quite the point.

    “Imagine there’s no countries, it isn’t hard to do, no need for greed or hunger, and no religion too. Imagine all the people…”
    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-b7qaSxuZUg

    I would definitely support a no-country world.

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