Nation, State, and Nation-States

The following are definitions of key political terms. These are meant for very basic understanding.


State, Sovereignty, Country, Nation, National Identity, Nation-State

A State is a political unit that has sovereignty over an area of territory and the people within it.

Sovereignty is the legitimate and ultimate authority over a polity (i.e., a political unit). For example, India has 29 states and is sovereign over all these 29 states. There is no other higher political authority over the geographic region that is controlled by India. The 29 Indian states are political subdivisions. These 29 states do not have independent sovereignty like the Indian State. It is convention to capitalise the term ‘State’ when referring to State in terms of a sovereign political unit, and not to capitalise the term ‘state’ when referring to a political subdivision of a State, such as ‘the state of Manipur’ versus ‘the State of France.’

We often hear the term country as well. A country is simply another word for State. India can be referred to as either a ‘country’ or a ‘State.’ People use the terms interchangeably. However, in Political Science, and especially in the area of international relations, the term ‘State’ is used as it is more precise and less ambiguous, as ‘country’ can refer to other things, such as a rural environment.

Another important term in political science is ‘nation.’ A nation is a large group of people with strong bonds of identity – an “imagined community,” a tribe on a grand scale. The nation may have a claim to statehood or self-rule, but it does not necessarily enjoy a State of its own. In other words, not all nations have States.

National identity is typically based on shared culture, religion, history, language or ethnicity, though disputes arise as to who is truly a member of the national community or even whether the “nation” exists at all (do you have to speak French to be Québécois? are Wales and Tibet nations?).

[Nations seem so compelling, so “real,” and so much a part of the political and cultural landscape, that people think they have lasted forever. In reality, they come into being and dissolve with changing historical circumstances – sometimes over a relatively short period of time, like Czechoslovakia and Yugoslavia. Why, then, does national identity give rise to such extremely strong feelings? And why would so many be ready to “die for the nation” in time of war? Because of migration, most modern states include within their borders diverse communities that challenge the idea of national homogeneity and give rise to the community of citizenship, rather than membership in the nation. In the age of global transportation and communication, new identities arise to challenge the “nation,” but the pull of nationalism remains a powerful force to be reckoned with – and a glue that binds states together and helps many people (for better and for worse) make sense out of a confusing reality.]

Modern States tend to try to develop a sense of nation within their territorial boundaries. It is believed that a state consisting of a nation of people is more cohesive and easier to govern as there is a common set of beliefs, values, culture, and history. In fact, States that are able to successfully create a nation out of its population are called Nation-States.




Network State

Network state is a state characterised by the sharing of authority along a network.

A network has nodes, not a centre. Nodes may be of different sizes, and may be linked by asymmetrical relationship in the network, so that the network states does not preclude the existence of political inequalities among its members.

The European Union is a fine example of a network state.


Challenges of Globalisation

Network state is the response of political systems to the challenges of globalisation. Some of the major challenges are the globalisation of

  • core economic activities;
  • media and electronic communication;
  • crime;
  • social protest;
  • trans-border terrorism.

Globalisation has brought the interdependence of financial markets and currency markets, then exchange rates, then monetary policies, then prime interest rates, then budgetary policies.

Economic policies thus are increasingly shaped by international pressure and there is obviously limited budgetary autonomy.

The globalisation/localisation of media and electronic communication is tantamount to the de-nationalisation and de-statisation of information, the two trends being inseparable.

The control over information which is essential for state-power is lost. We must see not only the surveillance by the state but also the use of information by citizens to expose the government.

There is a continuing global struggle between the structures of global crime and the structures of the nation-states as well.

In this entangled whirlwind of crime, capital and power, there is no safe place, nor safe national institution.

International relations are depending upon handling or mishandling of cooperation in the fight against criminal economy.

Globalisation has caused the disappearance of the monopoly of violence, and decentralisation of power. The states are facing a legitimation crisis.

There is the case of increasing privatisation of global humanitarianism too. We see many global civil societies such as Amnesty International, Greenpeace, Oxfam etc. working on various humanitarian causes.

However, we again see the United States of America after 9/11 as an example of the return of the state. In fact, the US poses a fundamental contradiction to the structure of network state.

Besides, we witness the return of the state under new organisational forms, new procedures of power-making and new principles of legitimacy.

There is now way to predict what will happen to the network state. Information process is evolving, so as the response of political systems will.

It is not to say that there are no problems of the network state.

One big issue in the network state is the bias in defining common good.

Another issue is the loss of sovereignty assumed.