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Old Tuesday, May 17, 2011
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Default Modern state system. . . .


The modern state system refers to the situation that developed in mid 17th century Europe that saw political units emerging with governments that began to claim sovereign powers over the territories they held sway. This is not to say that there were no states prior to this period. After all, we did have the city-states of ancient Greece, those of Northern Italy, the Germanic tribes that coalesced to form the Heanseatic League etc. We also had what Palmer and Perkins refer to as “sprawling dynastic empires” the Roman, Russian,German, Austrio-Hungarian, and those that developed in SubSaharan Africa-Ghana, Mali, Songhai, Bornu, Buganda, etc. These political entities engaged in and maintained relations with one another - entering into and delinking from alliances, drawing up treaties, pacts and other mechanisms of co-operation and or association. But until 1648, the world never came to know a system of national or independent states resting on … “the theory of sovereignty”.

By the peace of Westphalia, we mean the peace treaty concluded in the German city of Westphalia in 1648 that ended the thirty years war in Europe (1618 – 1648). The emergence of the modern state, system is traceable to this treaty. In the words of Nwokike and Okoro, “the treaty of Westphalia of 1648 … saw the emergence of modern nation-states with sovereign powers exercised by recognized overnments.” With this development, the two medieval institutions that rivaled and threatened the power of the nation-state-universal church or the papacy and dynastic empires began process of ecession from which they are yet to recover. They were thenceforth denied any interference in the ecclesiastical and temporal affairs of the developing nation states .

There are certain basic features of the state system. According to Palmer and Perkins, these are neither inseparable nor adjuncts to it. Rather, they are corollaries to the state system. They include the oncept of sovereignty, the doctrine of nationalism and the principle of national power Sovereignty can be understood to be “the legal theory that gives the state unique and virtually unlimited authority in all omestic matters and in its relations with other states”, while nationalism is taken to refer to that psychological or spiritual quality which, unites the people of a state and gives them the will to champion what they regard as their national interests. National power on the other hand is the might of a state, providing the capabilities for getting done what the state wants accomplished Space constraints may not allow us to go into the details of the above concepts as analytical tools in international relations analysis, as they constitute sub themes in the discipline. To however underscore their centrality in any understanding of the state-system, we may proceed to highlight their basic features.

Just like the doctrine of nationalism, the concept of sovereignty is indissolubly associated with the state system. In the words of Jean Bodin (1530-96), the father of the modern theory of sovereignty, it is “the supreme power over citizens and subjects, unstrained by law”. This conception of sovereignty tended to associate it with the absolute monarchy of Jean Bodin’s days. Writing some half` a century later, Hugo Grotius conceived of it as “that power whose acts … may not be made void by the acts of any other human will”. As is always the case with social science concepts, these, definitions are by means exhaustive. Three distinguished authorities –Oppenheim, Willoughby and Kelson have said largely the same thing but in different words. For oppenheim, “Sovereignty is supreme authority, an authority which is independent of any other earthly authority”. Willoughby sees sovereignty as the “supreme will of the state”, while for Kelsen, “in its original and only specific meaning, sovereignty means supreme authority”.

From the above, it is evident that sovereignty connotes the supreme authority or the ultimate coercive power which the state possesses, and which other institutions do not. It is thus this concept that confers on the state its legal recognition as a states. Hence without sovereignty, no political entity can be called a state. So irrespective of the size, location or power with which a political entity may be endowed, once the doctrine of sovereignty has been bestowed upon it, it is considered legally equal to every other state in the international system. This is what is referred to as the doctrine of “Sovereign equality” that obtains presently in the global arena.

As a corollary to the state system, nationalism can be understood only within the prism of the nation, nation-state, nationality, national self-determination, patriotism, and chauvinism. In the evolution and advancement of the state, the above concepts may need either to be suppressed or advanced depending on the role they seek to play in advancing state interests. As Hans Morgenthau suggests, the nation needs a state, since one nation, one state is the political postulates of nationalism, while the nation-state is its ideal.

Power is a major component of the state-system. States are always engaged in the pursuit of power either to argument the ones they already possess or to acquire requisite potential to persue set objectives within the international system. As indicated by some commentators, it is the best guarantor to the inviolability, sovereignty and territorial integrity of the nation-state In its relationship with the state-system, power has been defined in varying ways – “the power of man over the minds of other men”, “the capacity to impose ones will on others by reliance on effective sanctions in case of non compliance”, “the production of intended effects”.

From these conceptions, it is obvious that national or state power is inseparable, if not synonymous with state sovereignty.

The state system that emerged from Westphalia, as alluded to earlier began to increasing parade the basic features we have indicated in the proceeding analysis. Notable changes that came on the eve of Westphalia with regard to the state system manifested in the arrival of England, France and Spain as national states or nation-states, while others were on their way. The Roman church thus failed in its long effort to assert and maintain a universality in political and religious matters. The notion of an independent secular state(10) began to gain currency following its defense and justification by such theorists as Machiavelli, Bodin, Grotius etc.

The Treaty of Westphalia equally formalized the nation-state system by its recognition that empires no longer commanded the allegiance of their parts, and that the Pope could no longer maintain his authority every where, even in spiritual matters. Henceforth, German Princes were at liberty to rule as they saw fit, and in religions matters, they were free to choose Calvinism, Lutheranism or Catholicism. Holland and Switzerland were recognized as independent states. Prussia began an expansion that eventually resulted to the establishment of the German empire that survived unto the early 20th century. The state-system that developed in Europe following the Peace of Westphalia was initially concentrated in Europe for obvious reasons. But with the demise of colonialism and imperialism it has been extended to the erstwhile Afro-Asian colonial dependences. Since World War II the European state System has become a worldwide phenomenon. The state system got enlarged substantially in numbers following the emergence of new states in Africa and Asia. As a world wide phenomenon, the state system has tended to constitute itself into a global arrangement to form the international system.

The basic units of the international society remains the nation-states. Sovereign states in their interaction in the international environment thus tends to constitute themselves into a system. It is this state system when in dynamic interaction in the international environment that we refer to as the international system. While some commentators see it as the sum of interactions among the constituent units (states), others conceive of it as “the totality of all boundary – crossing interactions of whatever kind among whatever units”. William D. Coplin defines it more precisely as “a decentralized political system dominated by competing relatively autonomous, territorially based political organizations. ” What Coplin refers to as “political organizations” in this definition are of course the nation-states. And so it is the nation state that constitute the international system. The question then arises, whether indeed they constitute a system. If so, what is the nature of the system.

To answer the question, we need first of all to determine what is meant by a system. A system has been defined as “an autonomous unit capable of adaptive behaviour”. It has equally been defined as “a set of complexes standing in interaction”. This theorist goes on to state that each set of elements in the system is living and dynamic and has an environment. This dynamism is created by the interactions among the systems elements, and that between the system itself and its environment. It is further submitted that these interactions promote the system’s adaptive behaviour hence a system is given to be an organized whole in dynamic interaction.

It is in this light that the international system is conceived of an organized whole in dynamic interaction. To understand the international system as an organized whole, some theorists have likened it to the biological system of the human body and other organic matter. To this end, it is observed that just like the different organs of the human body function in an autonomous but interrelated and interconnected manner, to the end that any disruption or adverse impact on one immediately sets up a spiral on the rest of the system; so it is with the international system. It is further contended that as the biological system has sub-system such as the digestive sub-system, the respiratory sub-system, etc, so is the internatioanl system divided into sub-systems which is this case is referred to as regions. Thus we have Africa, Europe, the Middle East etc as subsystems of the international system.

Taking cognizance of these similarities, commentators are largely agreed that the international system may qualify as a system, though what they refer to as “important differences” still exist between it and “a natural or biological system”. These so-called important differences stem from the nature of the international system in operation rather than in its characteristics as a system. Thus, whereas the biological system is ‘natural’, the international system is artificial , being largely cultural and conceptual creation of international relations analysts. It is equally given that whereas the international system is voluntaristic, as its members (states) basically join of their own free will, the biological system accords no such luxury to its units or sub-systems. Again the biological is considered real since it can be felt physically, while there is international system is abstract. Added to this is the assertion that the sub-system of a biological system are more closely knit than their counterpart in the international system. In the words of one commentator, “biological and physical systems at least seem to the observer or analyst to have an objective coherence … while imperfect interdependence and relationship seem to be the most important features of the international system”. This is buttressed by the observation that sub-systems or units in the international system can decide to isolate themselves from the rest of the system without serious adverse consequences, whereas such is clearly not the case with regard to the biological system. For instance while the world had seen the adoption of various isolationist policies by some members, units of the international system – U.S.A from 1830’s to 1914; China for nearly four decades Japan until the era of MC Arthur etc. including isolations induced by sanctions regimes imposed on some countries by the rest of the international community – Iraq, Libya, Serbia Yugoslavia etc, these did not appear to have had any appreciable impact on the rest of the international system, as say a break down of the circulatory sub-system would have on a biological system.

From the foregoing, it is submitted that much as the international system has basic characteristics that establishes it as a system, it is certainly not the same as what obtains in a biological system in natural sciences.

The international system is said to be characterized by anarchy. This is with regard to the nature of the interaction between the basic units of the system: nation-states. As the interaction is of a political nature, it is always charcterised by power and the persuit of interests by the states and other non-state actors in the international environment. Since there is an absence of an executive authority in the international environment as in the domestic scene, states tend to determine and persue those interest most times at the expense of other states’ interests often relying on the doctrine of sovereign rights as discussed earlier. This appears to be harbinger of chaos and conflict within the international system.

Strictly speaking however, the absence of a central executive authority in the international system does not make it synonymous with anarchy or chaos. This would be particularly true of the international system of the period from the end of World War I. From this time onwards, some form of universal organizations – the League of Nations and the United Nations have evolve to try some form of regulatory activities in the conduct of nation states in their interaction with other nation-states in the system. These organizations have tried to ensure that accepted norms of behaviour prevalent in the international community is adhered to by all actors in the international environment, particularly, the nation-states. Various forms of sanctions regimes have been evolved to try to enforce compliance to these accepted norms. These, in addition to other forms of collective security arrangements as enunciated in chapter VII of the UN charter have tended to induce some order within the international system, even though they are still a poor alternative to a Central Executive Authority.

Experience sufficiently bears the above assertion out. Even before the evolution of the universal organizations made reference to earlier, some form of mechanism adopted for the regulation of state conduct, for instance the so-called Concert of Europe (1815) could not achieve much before it collapsed barely a decade after its evolution. In the contemporary international system, collective security measures evolved to discourage or redress aggressive predilections of states have tended to apply only against small and medium powers – N. Korea (1950), Iraq (1990) etc. Aggression by Great powers have tended to paralyze collective security measures – Soviet –Hungary (1956), U. S. Granada (1983), Libya (1987) Iraq (2003), Italian Abyssinia (1936) etc.

These instances tend to suggest that the absence of an effective and independent central executive authority (world government) tends to accentuate the anarchic nature of the international system. We do know that norms of behaviour and conduct exist within the international system, but these have never been given a free rein to operate. State interest persued in terms of power has continued to constitute a hindrance to this. Even in a globalized “New World Order” interest articulation and persuit by states have continued to be accorded more priority than collective security mechanisms in maintaining order in the international system.

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