Monday, June 30, 2014

The Changing World Map

I was talking to someone the other day who made a passing remark which struck me as interesting. ‘America [meaning the USA] is obviously past its peak,’ he said. This was not in the context of an argument or debate. As I recall, we were discussing ‘the state of the world’. I remember having made a remark about the trend in the world today for countries to fragment. I was thinking of China, and the assumption we usually make that it will continue to strengthen its position in the world. Perhaps it will. But it, like so many countries, has its ethnic minorities, seeking to become independent. There are separatist movements everywhere. Larger countries are fragmenting. Russia, India, Indonesia, African nations, even the UK... all have their separatist movements. Rarely, if ever, do we see small countries coming together to form larger units, as happened, for example, with the USA and the USSR. The European Union may appear to be an exception to this trend, but how stable is that union? There are more and more anti-union representatives being elected to the European Parliament. So, the overwhelming trend is towards smaller, self-governing units. Whether these units can be economically self-sustaining remains to be seen. Perhaps we are witnessing the emergence of a clear distinction between political and economic entities.

So what about the USA? My friend made his remark casually, in passing, as though it were a self-evident truth. Has the USA passed its peak with respect to its economic and political power? Has its influence on the world stage maxed out? It’s not a ridiculous idea, although I’m sure it would be vigorously contested by the citizens of that nation. However, I don’t think the citizens of the USA are in the best position to judge this. They will, understandably, struggle to be objective. There are many in (Great) Britain who have yet to come to terms with (or even acknowledge) the fact that the British Empire is no more. Self-perceptions are slow to change, entangled as they so often are with jingoistic clichés.

Is the USA itself immune to the forces (whatever they are) which are leading to the fragmentation of nations? It’s perhaps not difficult to imagine meaningful secessionist movements growing in the US, if, for example, there were any attempt to introduce strong gun control laws across the nation, or if a federal government pursued unpopular environmental measures. There are already secessionist movements in Texas and no doubt other states. At the moment, I doubt that these are taken very seriously, but this could change with the right triggers.

Is Australia immune to this trend? Perhaps, largely, it is, since there was never really a coming together of very different political entities in the first place. Having said that, states are always asserting their rights, and the shape of our federalism is about to come under review. There have been (half-joking) suggestions that Queensland could secede—a move that the rest of the nation might (half-jokingly) applaud.

My main point is that I would not be brave enough to predict the economic, political and social shape of the world in 100 or 200 years time. Someone from even as short a time ago as 1990 could not have predicted the changes we have seen on the world map during the past twenty-four years. Those changes have far from run their course. 

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