By Michael J. Strauss - Global Minds | October 17, 2012 - 15:00 GMT
When people in Scotland or Flanders or Catalonia talk of independence, they have an invisible but powerful ally: globalization.
Nations no longer need as much territory to be viable as they did in the period of the great colonial empires, or even 25 years ago. The dismantling of international trade and financial restrictions plus technological advances that facilitate cross-border business make it unnecessary for a country to sustain itself only, or even primarily, with the fruit of its own soil.
These days, whatever a country can’t do or make at home, it can get from abroad. If it’s a fragile state that doesn’t have the financial means, it can stay afloat through official and other aid structures that have become global institutions in their own right.
Naturally, a nation benefits by having assets like natural resources and plenty of land for agriculture on its own territory. But today there are numerous alternatives. A country with little farmland can import crops, or import the food it’s made into, or buy or lease the foreign land where the crops are grown. All of these practices are already
widespread, along with other more specialized ones — using commodity futures, for instance. The same holds true for oil, financial services and anything else a nation might use to sustain itself.
In exchange, a country that relies on the global market for its needs can offer various means to obtain them — money, skills, specialized knowledge, a beneficial geographical situation, rights to exploit local activities — practically anything that has value abroad. Recognizing and developing a country’s assets and using them for domestic gain is simply good governance.
Indeed, how a country is governed has arguably become more important for its long-term sustainability than having sovereignty over a large territory or even military strength beyond defensive needs. The Soviet Union more or less proved this by disappearing.
Diplomacy has been a catalyst for the diminishing importance of a state’s territorial size. The system that allows countries to be small yet viable is the product of the intertwined relations that exist through bilateral and multilateral agreements that cover everything from trade to defense.
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