Things to ponder – nations

David Cameron and Alex Salmond

Downing Street has said that David Cameron, left, is to meet Alex Salmond to discuss plans for a referendum on Scottish independence. Photograph: Andrew Milligan/AFP/Getty Images, Guardian, 1-15-12

The foreign policy of every country is based on one fundamental belief – the existence of other nations and governments that represent the people of those nations.  The United States has diplomatic and other ties with nations – Spain, Germany, Italy, the United Kingdom and so forth continent by continent.  But most, if not all of those countries are recent creations and within their borders are other countries or tribes of people who are unwilling participants in nationhood.  The countries of the Middle East were created in the aftermath of World War I for the most part, in Africa the process is still playing out, but the groupings of peoples we think of as nations are the product of colonization by the European countries in 19th and early 20th century. Even the European countries are the product of development of the last hundred or two hundred years.  Most countries in the world have within their borders “other nations.”

There are some exceptions to my assumption of nations within nations – and those are the product of colonization also. The difference between the United States, Canada, Australia and New Zealand and Africa or the Middle East is basic; in Africa and the Middle East the indigenous population was left in place when the state was formed.  However, in those English speaking countries the indigenous population was nearly eliminated and the remaining tribes were put away from the path of the “settlers.”  Therefore those countries had a clean slate upon which to write their national narrative; the rest of the world does not have that luxury.  Not in Asia, not in the Middle East, not in Africa and not in Europe.  Europe? Yes, Europe – since the end of the Soviet state we have witness many examples of former nations breaking down into small states that represent the ethnic make up of the region.

The classic example may be England and Ireland – the Irish view and the English view of nation have not agreed for a long time.  Nor, it would seem has the Scottish and the English view been in agreement, not in the 300 years of being united and the formation of the United Kingdom.  Scotland is set to vote on its independent sovereignty sometime in the next two years; it is not certain that the people of Scotland will vote for total independence. But one thing is certain –  after 300 years of British rule, under the surface there is another country, another culture and yes another language demanding its own voice.

Salmond, who appeared to be trying to distance himself from the argument, reiterated the Scottish government’s stance that the referendum should be “organized in Scotland, built in Scotland for the Scottish people, discussed with civic Scotland, and brought to the people in 2014 for a historic decision on the future of this nation.” On Friday, he invited Mr. Cameron and his deputy  Nick Clegg to Edinburgh for “constructive dialogue” about the the issue. Cameron’s UK government prefers a vote “sooner rather than later,” possibly within the next 18 months, and disputes Edinburgh’s constitutional right to hold a legally-binding referendum without new powers being devolved by London. The British government’s perceived interference in what Scots consider a domestic issue is what touched off this week’s spat. Christian Science Monitor, 1-13-12

If that is true in the British Isles, just how long do think it will be before the leaders of Iraq, Tunisia or dozens and dozens of other countries will be able to create a “nation” that commands the loyalty and support of all of the people within its borders?  Should that not be part of our foreign policy thinking?


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January 2012
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