One of the fundamental rights of a state is equality with all other states. This right is inherent in the concept of a state as a subject of International Law and is given general recognition by long-standing state practice. Precise definition of the principle of equality of states is difficult. The Charter of the United Nations expressly recognizes the sovereign equality of states, and the General Assembly formally operates according to that principle, however, the five permanent members of the Security Council retain express Veto power over several important aspects of U.N. functions, such as use of enforcement measures, admission to membership, amendments to the Charter, and election of the Secretary-General. Quite patently, in effect, Nation States are NOT equal! Some have greater weight than others. The system as it stands disenfranchises most nations from key UN Security Council decisions. General Assembly resolutions are non-binding. Big nations dictate.
The key question to help clarify the issues is: how can anyone seriously say that Tuvalu, which is an independent, Polynesian, sovereign state with a population of 10,000 and GDP of $40 Million USD be an equal ‘state’ to China with a population of 1.4 Billion and GDP approaching $18 Trillion USD? The simple notion of equality is simply farcical on its face.
Also, farcical, is the concept that Tuvalu can afford to maintain a permanent mission to the U.N. (in New York); AND missions to many major countries around the world. Really? They are taking foreign aid from places like Australia, spending it on foreign missions, and then pretending to be equals with Australia at the UN!!
There is obviously a trade-off between the benefits of scale and the costs of heterogeneity. The gains from being big are considerable. Large countries can afford proportionately smaller government. Essential running costs can be spread over many taxpayers. Embassies, armies and road networks are all likely to cost less per head in populous countries. Defense is cheaper for giants. It is only safe to be small in a peaceful world.
Large countries are able not only to spend more efficiently; they can also raise taxes in more cost-effective ways. Income taxes are more efficient than customs duties, but require a bigger initial bureaucracy. Large countries have bigger internal markets, allowing more specialization and returns to scale. And they can redistribute resources geographically, providing insurance when one part of the country is hit by disaster or recession and shifting income from rich regions to poor ones.
On the other hand, small countries offer homogeneous populations. (Tuvalu has 96% Polynesians). Thus, large countries are also likely to have a diverse population whose varying preferences and demands a government may find hard to meet: America, Brazil and India are cases in point. A study of local government in the United States suggests that Americans are willing to put up with the higher running costs of small municipalities and school districts in exchange for living in communities with little variation in income, race or ethnicity. This implies that people also prefer to live in more homogeneous countries.
And here-in lies the conflict. The way the concept of sovereignty is being applied today, encourages the increased formation of smaller (homogenous) nations. Since the second world war, the number of countries (nations) has more than tripled. We have gone from 51 in 1945, to 193 in 2017.
It seems that anyone that wants to, can just persuade their buddies to hold a referendum and declare Independence! And the world says, okay – if that’s what you want?! leaders of these small nations, find it appealing to sit at the table with leaders of big countries. It makes these poor insecure idiots feel important. And, frankly, their populations are no better off! There was a referendum in Scotland, a referendum in Catalonia … and US/Israel/Saudi Arabia are egging on the Kurds to splinter from Iraq/Turkey/Iran/ Syria! Splintering is becoming common and a useful political ‘tool’! If you don’t like what is going on in a central government, you can just pick up your ball and walk away (and not play). Splintering is not designed to really add value to the people of these nations. Its not an ‘improvement’!
Meanwhile, with the internet and improved transportation technology, the world is becoming more interconnected. Destinies are intertwined. The concept of ‘separation’ is antithetical to reality. Isn’t the nation state out of date in a globally interconnected world, anyway?
Something is wrong. We must change the very ‘concept’ of Nation States. We need new definitions, a new approach. There, has by the way, been ‘changes in the concept of nation states’ over history. Italy, was once, a bunch of small city states. Remember, the Vatican (with a 2-mile border, smaller in size the New York’s Central Park), is a separate ‘sovereign state’ – even today. It’s weird.
Again, how can Tuvalu be ‘equal’ to China? We must change the rules!
There are in fact competing ideas and types of sovereignty. The concept adopted by the UN is only ‘one’ of them. And this precisely where there is tension, conflict and a need for improvement. The fundamental problem is that the U.N. has defined popular sovereignty as the basis for the creation of a nation state.
The fundamental concept of popular sovereignty, is predicated on the claim that all people are equal and entitled to fundamental freedoms, and that governments control them only with their consent. While popular sovereignty can be traced back to 17th and 18th century thinkers like John Locke (1632-1704) and Thomas Paine (1737-1809), it has been popularized and promoted by the U.N., the EU, and other multilateral organizations.
Following World War I, Harold Laski (a British politician) claimed that sovereignty belonged to the people. In recent times, former U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan told the General Assembly in September 1999 that, by popular sovereignty, he meant “the fundamental freedom of everyone, enshrined in the Charter of the U.N. and subsequent international treaties.”
But despite this definition, in 1971, the U.S. and the Soviet Union decided that, for the sake of international security, the Security Council would expel Taiwan from the U.N. and not recognize its sovereignty. And, the U.N. then admitted the People’s Republic of China into its ranks. The expulsion of Taiwan from the U.N. is a clear example of how states are not equal, and larger, more powerful states can simply dictate to multilateral organizations to pursue their agenda, including the reinterpretation of sovereignty – against the concept of ‘popular sovereignty’.
And while, the very concept of sovereignty means that there is no interference in the affairs of other states and that borders must be respected by all U.N. members, in 2003 this very concept was nullified by the U.S. You see, in the 2003 invasion of Iraq by the U.S., supported by the U.K. and Australia, went against the U.N. Charter. The international debate that preceded this invasion, once again, highlighted the tension between war, sovereignty and the U.N. The invading countries claimed that the U.N. would lose its relevance and legitimacy if it failed to authorize war. Opponents of the invasion argued, to the contrary, that if the U.N. authorized war against Iraq at that time, it would have lost its legitimacy. The result was a stalemate in the U.N. Security Council, and the invasion took place without U.N. authorization. Iraq’s sovereignty was violated, and conveniently ignored by another signatory member state. Clearly, not all nation states are equal.
My simple point is to make the UN and all multinational organizations function more effectively, we need functional equality. This can only be achieved by the creation of equal ‘entities’. This therefore means, that the people sitting around the table need to be respected and therefore broadly equal.
Equality means the people around the table need to be about the same size in terms of wealth, geography and/or demographics. The world, it seems, needs to be cut up into groupings of states (Unions) that can sit equally with larger (unified) states like China, India, Russia and the U.S.
To accomplish this, there must be global ‘regionalism’. Nation states must be admitted or recognized on a regional level. “Regional Unions” must be the entities that stand within global institutions, and represent other ‘smaller’ states. Nation States, like Tuvalu, must associate with other states to create Unions that can be ‘broadly’ equal in many respects with China, the U.S., Russia, India, etc. It is only through regionalism that we can attain global fairness, equality and order. No nation, no institution, no entity can or should have the right to dictate to another.
I have proposed a set of 12 regions, that in my opinion are broadly equal – and that make up the framework of a new U.N. security council and functioning boards for its sub-agencies and multi-lateral organizations. Within the framework of these regions, sub-entities such as new member states, can be formed or rejected i.e. managed. Tuvalu can sit at the table with its neighbors and manage its affairs. Its presence at the UN does not really add value. Its issues are best managed on a regional level.
The concept of nation states and sovereignty then becomes relegated to definitions within regional unions not an international issue. Indeed, some Unions may have different criteria to others. But, rightly, with this change, Regional Unions can be treated equally with larger (more powerful) states. It’s possible to set up a system where ordinary people (and nations) can take advantages of being part of something both large and small at the same time. Overall, the system would be cleaner, and fairer. It’s time for change. We are entering a new era where regional economic and political groupings, not nations, will shape the future.