Globalization as an economic model became popular following the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1990s. Capitalism’s onward march no longer faced a barrier. Factors that had contributed to globalisation were increasingly sophisticated information, communication and transportation technologies and services, mass migration of people, a level of economic activity that had outgrown national markets through industrial combinations and commercial groupings.
Globalisation has resulted in increasing economic integration and inter-dependence among countries leading to the emergence of a global marketplace. Multinational companies manufacture products across many countries and sell them all over the world. Money, technology and raw materials have broken international barriers. The developed economies have integrated with the less developed through foreign direct investment, reduction in trade barriers and economic reforms. According to the World Bank, globalisation is “the deepening of economic integration among countries of the world”.
However, globalisation has been complicated by widely differing expectations, standards of living, cultures and values, legal systems as well as unexpected global cause and effect linkages. The housing and banking crisis that originated in the United States in 2007-08 and then turned into a global economic crisis showed the more problematic side of globalisation. Globalisation is a negation of an egalitarian society. Social democracy has not yet lost its relevance. It is also considered that globalisation is an attempt to erode the Westphalia system that gave the state supreme and sovereign authority. Globalisation is a threat to national boundaries. If the collapse of the Soviet Union is taken as the cut-off date, globalisation has a history of only 30 years.
While the world has become more globalised and therefore, smaller, yet in some respects it has become more fragmented and larger. In 1945, the UN had 51 members, fewer than the number of countries in Africa today. As of now, there are more than 200 states of which 193 states are UN members. South Sudan is the newest member. The colonial empires were quickly dissolved after the Second World War. The colonies under Britain, France, the Netherlands, Belgium and Portugal attained independence with amazing speed.
In 1989, the Soviet empire in central and eastern Europe disappeared within a half year, from elections in Poland to fall in Romania. In 1990-91, even the Soviet Union itself was dissolved into its 15 constituent republics. The not-so large Yugoslavia broke into seven parts and Czechoslovakia into two. East Timor broke away from Indonesia; Bangladesh from Pakistan. Canada has the Quebec question; France has its Corsica. In Britain, Scotland’s independence is hotly discussed. Today, the US is virtually alone among the big powers to have unchallenged territorial unity. This is the picture of world fragmentation today. Nobody knows for certain how many nations are there in the world since it is up to the people to decide how they want to define their identity. It has been estimated that in only half of the world’s states is there a single ethnic group that comprises at least 70 per cent of the population. If, eventually, most nations are to have their own states, the number may go up to 1000. In the early nineteenth century, many thought Belgium and Greece too small to become independent. In the early twentieth century, many thought Iceland and Malta too small. Such is the extent of fragmentation that today there are about 80 countries with a population of under 5 million, 25 have fewer than one million.
Globalisation is overwhelmingly a technological and economic process while fragmentation is primarily political. Even though they take place in different spheres, it is often assumed that there is a relationship between the two. It was the Industrial Revolution that had opened up opportunities for creation of nation states from advancement of communications and technologies. Studies have shown that globalisation influences forces of opposition and sows seeds of conflict and tension.
Talking about the mid-twentieth century, Ian Clark wrote,” the century saw the creation of hitherto unattainable wealth but ever wider gaps in its distribution. Above all, the century was characterised by the greater interconnectedness of events on a global scale, while simultaneously being subject to political processes of rapture and disintegration. It has been an age of globalization and fragmentation”. Political fragmentation and disintegration have been seen to be the obverse of globalization.
The curious contradiction has been caused by the fact that with more than enough wealth at hand and with the tolls of new technology giving completely new means of interaction between minorities, the way has been paved for a resurgence of nationalist thinking so that all over the western world and slowly in rest of the world minority groups are creating states of their own.
The theoretical underpinnings can be put to test in three case studies. The break-up of Yugoslavia occurred because of a series of political upheavals and conflicts during the early 1990s. After the Allied victory in World War II, Yugoslavia was formed as a socialist federal republic of six nations with borders drawn along ethnic and historical lines. It comprised an area of about 2,60, 000 sq km and a population of about 25 million. The Yugoslav model of state organization as well as a combination of planned and liberal economy had been a success and the country experienced a period of strong economic growth and relative political stability up to the 1980s under the rule of president-for-life Josip Broz Tito. After his death in 1980, the weakened system of federal government was left unable to cope with rising economic and political challenges of the constituent republics. Dissatisfied with the exercise of power by the majority Serbs, the Slovenes succeeded in establishing their independence in 1991 after a ten-year war. That was the beginning of the end. Even though Croatia declared its independence from Yugoslavia also in 1991 like Slovenia, it took four years of bitter fighting before occupying Serb armies were ejected from Croatian lands. The Yugoslav wars saw string of inter-ethnic incidents, first in Croatia and then most severely in multi-ethnic Bosnia and Herzegovina and finally the Kosovo war. The wars left longterm economic and political damage in the region, still felt decades later. The crisis occasioned by the disintegration of Yugoslavia has remained one of the worst humanitarian disasters the world over. The nations formed out of Yugoslavia are Bosnia and Herzegovina, Croatia, Macedonia, Montenegro, Serbia and Slovenia. In July 2010, the International Court of Justice had ruled that the declaration of independence by the individual members of the Kosovo assembly and not binding the assembly itself did not violate general principles of international law. 98 out of 193 UN member states have recognized Kosovo. Kosovo can be taken as the seventh country born out of disintegration.
Czechoslovakia was created with the dissolution of Austro- Hungarian empire at the end of the World War I. In 1918, the Czech and Slovak representatives signed the Pittsburgh Agreement which promised a common state of two equal nations, Slovaks and Czechs.
Some Slovaks were not in favour of this change and in 1939 with pressure from Nazi Germany, the first Slovak Republic was created as a satellite state of Germany with limited sovereignty. After World War II, a truncated Czechoslovakia fell within the Soviet sphere of influence. With the collapse of Soviet Union in 1989, Czechoslovakia regained its freedom through a peaceful “velvet revolution”. On 1 January 1993, the country went through a “velvet divorce” into its two national components, the Czech Republic and Slovakia.
Sudan had never known stability. South Sudan is tropical, under-developed and populated by hundreds of ethnic tribes of African descent. The north, by contrast, is drier but wealthier – a Saharan world with strong links to the Middle East. Civil war erupted between two parts even before the nation gained independence from Britain in 1956. Even though there was a fragile peace for 11 years between 1972 and 1983, the roots of violence had never changed. Undivided Sudan had long been ruled by a small circle of wealthy northerners, who because of their Arabic culture considered themselves Arabs instead of Africans. When oil was found in the south in the 1980s, the government planned to pipe it northwards for refining. Oil wealth went to Khartoum into the hands of a privileged few. This exploitation combined with a government plan to divert southern water to grow cash crops in the north ignited tensions that restarted the civil war.
A Comprehensive Peace Agreement was signed between the south and the north in 2005 as an outcome of international mediation. However, six years after signing the agreement, 99 per cent of South Sudanese voted in favour of independence and Sudan split into two. South Sudan became the world’s newest nation in July 2011. The civil war in Sudan, one of the longest in modern history, was estimated to have cost nearly two million lives. The calamity of Sudan had unfolded largely without witnesses ~ an apocalypse in a vacuum
The three case studies show that globalisation has not directly contributed to the withering away of states. States have disintegrated more due to internal contradictions, compulsions, ethnic nationalism, separatist movements, lack of governance, sovereignty disputes, economic and political mismanagement rather than external influence of globalization. Globalisation is about economic integration, inter-dependence, and openness. Fragmentation is about disintegration, heterogeneity and separation. The result of globalisation is one economic world. The end result of fragmentation is many political worlds. It is a question of one against many.
The breakdown of the USSR and the end of the Cold war has produced a world that is more globalised but more fragmented. It is a contradiction, yet true. Mikhail Gorbachev said in 1990, “A new world order is taking shape so fast that governments and private citizens find it difficult to absorb the gallop of events’’. It is not possible to predict where the world will be twenty years from now.
The writer is a former central civil service officer who retired from the Ministry of Defence