Cutting out the Middle Man

Yesterday it was strength in numbers. Today it’s efficiency alone. It seems Montenegro may have been the straw that broke the camel’s back. Readers will surely have read by now that Catalonia has opted for yet more autonomy within Spain.

Catalans, Spaniards and Europeans all have reason to be proud of Sunday’s democratic decision to expand the powers of self-government available to the citizens of Catalonia. The Catalans wanted it. The Spanish parliament mandated it as constitutionally lawful. And the European Union provides a framework – part architecture, part shock-absorbers – that should make such exercises perfectly ordinary.

Indeed, as the Financial Times note, the key here is the European Union, a framework within which such moves aren’t as potentially violent as they otherwise would be. In most other regions, this would be one or two steps short of war. In the past, regions with (often) shared linguistic, cultural and historical ties banded together to become states, to better throw their weight around. Of course, others were unified by force like Germany but as politics and government evolved, the world moved towards central governments. Today, with the breakup of empires, decolonization, the spread of technology and globalization, centralization has peaked and we’re headed towards more devolution or a reconfiguring of states, as Daniel Nexon at the Duck puts it.

However, despite his reservations, this is indeed more than just a reconfiguration because it’s occuring for many of the same reasons as neo-medievalism and global guerillas. In the case of Catalonia, the supply side of government so to say, has changed. Today, smaller regions are increasingly able to provide all the necessary services and functions of a state. Does Atlanta need Washington or does Istanbul need Ankara? The answer today is more often than not, no, or not much longer. With an airport and a few roads and phone lines, regions are increasingly directly connected to the rest of the world. On top of that, within Europe, with a supranational economic and security structure and national governments which are continuing to cede sovereignty to the EU, national goverments are becoming unnecessary middle men. And middle men get cut:

In Europe’s case, pressure is being exerted on the central government from both above and below.
This can be seen as the beginning of a correction in the market of government services. The demand is simply following the supply elsewhere. As Lexinton Green of Chicago Boyz noted in my post on the coming micro-states:

I would think the EU government would like to see all the existing European states disintegrate into regional units, or smaller. Then there would be nothing left to challenge it. Less cynically, it makes sense to be a breakaway state in Europe, under EU supervision. No one is going to come in and massacre you, probably.

Call it what you will, but the trend is real. However, don’t take this to be all doom and gloom. In fact, this will indeed be positive as long as it happens within some overarching economic and security framework. In fact, even fellow empire enthusiast Niall Ferguson has changed his tune on union between Scotland and England.

“I now find myself feeling that independence would be preferable to this halfway house we have at the moment. Ireland and some of the east European countries like Estonia are showing that small countries which embrace economic liberalism can thrive.”Â?

John Robb chimes in as well:

A recurring theme of global guerrillas is that smaller organizations are often better suited for success (more agile, responsive, and cohesive) within the fluid/chaotic environment spawned by globalization’s new rule set — as with all ubiquitous platforms, this new global rule set is minimalist (that’s all we can agree on). The same is true for economic “white” competition at the nation-state level.

However, as this process plays out peacefully in the Core and most likely to the Core’s overall benefit, the same process is occuring in the Gap under the opposite conditions. Instead of moving towards smaller more efficient units under a larger economic and security umbrella, the trend is moving forward in regions which have just lost one. Russia’s near-abroad is the most obvious example. An Abkhazia or Nagorno-Karbagh in Spain wouldn’t make people think twice. But in the chaotic Gap, it’s a recipe for violence.

As for the rest of Europe, this tidbit from Italy piqued my interest:

Success in the Catalonian referendum for independence signals the direction for the whole of Europe, claimed the President of the Lombardy Region, Roberto Formigoni, commenting on the Catalans’ vote in support of the referendum, whilst at the Assolombarda meeting “Not everything in the referendum is good – Formigoni observed – matters have been put together that have nothing to do with independence, and if I’d had to vote I’d certainly have had problems. Even with a policy that I don’t agree with, it’s pretty clear that the direction of Europe has been flagged up, and it is that of recognising that the regions have more power to make decisions. It’s exactly the road that Italy has taken up and I hope that on Sunday this will be confirmed. Our referendum is better formulated that the one in Catalonia, because it talks about real devolution”.

Anyone know more?

About Chirol

Sir Ignatius Valentine Chirol (1852 - 1929) was a journalist, prolific author, world historian, and British diplomat. He began his career as a foreign correspondent and later became editor of the London Times. After two decades as a journalist he joined Her Majesty's Foreign Ministry as a diplomat and was subsequently knighted for his distinguished service as a foreign affairs advisor. Additionally, he wrote a dozen books on foreign affairs including The Far Eastern Question (1896), Serbia and the Serbs (1914), The End of the Ottoman Empire (1920) and The Egyptian Problem (1921). He is generally credited with popularizing "Middle East" in reference to the Arabian Peninsula with his book The Middle Eastern Question (1903). "Chirol" is a US citizen and graduate student studying Defense and Strategic Studies and government contractor. As with the historical Chirol, he has traveled to over two dozen countries and lived abroad for many years. Chirol speaks English and German fluently with basic knowledge of manyl of others.
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17 Responses to Cutting out the Middle Man

  1. Sometimes these these things snowball. 1848?

    Jim Bennett points out that the proper arrangement for Anglospheric countries need not be political union, but something in between total independence and political union. As he puts it, Burkean communities bound together by Lockean bargains. Scotland and England might both be better off within a looser union. Police and military functions should almost certainly continue to be unitary, though. The defense of a single island is best handled in a common way. The Anglosphere countries have shown a particular aptitude for this kind of reshuffling. Let’s see how well the smaller regions of Europe can do with it.

    People used to get themselves into larger units for security reasons — you had to be big enough, or have big allies, to put up a big army and all of its needed impedimenta. Or, they’d be annexed by large units. If the world really is secured from mid-level conventional war (tanks, bombers, etc.) due to nuclear weapons, and if the main threat in the future is gangs and terrorists and the various other 4GW nasties, maybe the smaller units will actually have an advantage in security over the larger units, as Mr. Robb suggests.

    Good grief. The Chinese are going to hate this.

  2. Chirol says:

    Indeed, it could have very dangerous effects on China. And by tightening control to prevent this, they may in fact provoke more violence.

  3. Jim Bennett says:

    One of the key points here is that Catalonia is richer than the areas from which it is separating, as Lombardy would be. This was also the case with Slovenia, the first of the Yugoslav republics to leave, and with the Baltics, who were the most vociferous separatists in the USSR’s endgame. Slovakia’s departure from the Czechoslovak state was the opposite, but that was really a case of the Slovaks continually threatening separation in order to get more revenue out of the Czechs, until one day they called their bluff. That scenario might happen with Scotland and/or Quebec as well.

    One of the things that’s happening here is the decline of willingness to cross-subsidize across regional, ethnic, or age-cohort boundaries (which was one of the big motivations for the anti-EU vote in France and the Netherlands last year.) As the poor, young, African Muslim vote in Europe gets larger as a percentage of ther electorate, this dynamic will increasingly impact the big intergenerational cross-subsidies the old rich white Europeans have written to themselves. Interesting times.

    I was in Andalucia two weeks ago; I noticed at least one bilingual Spanish-Arabic highway sign.

  4. dave says:

    “Today, with the breakup of empires, decolonization, the spread of technology and globalization…”

    You were kidding, right? The breakup of empires? I’m guessing you’re an American and that you just so happen to live in the world’s largest and most powerful empire the world has ever seen. We have military bases in over 130 nations around the world and nearly a hundred various “territories.” We just about spend more than the rest of the world combined on the military.

    You seem to live in a world shrouded in myth. The empires were not broken up, they were consolidated under the American flag. Colonization still exists. And what spread of technology? Are you kidding? After a decade plus of capitalist reforms, Russia is right back in the third world. The only countries that have made any progress are those who have avoided neo-liberal reforms and privitization as dictated by the U.S.


  5. Right now, this thend doesn’t seem to be taking place anywhere outside Europe, unless it’s in the former USSR, in which case it usually serves as a catalyst for violence. A lot of the world’s nation-states have more cohesive identities than in Europe. Remember, a lot of the European nations we take for granted haven’t existed that long (just over a century, in the case of Germany and Italy).

  6. I had this post linking here.

    Moorethanthis is right to point out that Europe is where this action is going on. The people there feel that they can do this safely. Other places, forget it.

    (Am I missing something, or is Dave’s Chomskyist screed, its accuracy or value put to one side, entirely off-point?)

  7. Dan Nexon says:

    The process you describe, at least in the core, is the opposite of that at work in the production of “medieval” political fragmentation: there it was the inability of large-scale organizations to provide security (in conjunction with a whole host of factors that I listed before Safari ate my comment and don’t have the energy to list again) that led to devolution. That’s one reason I argue that a “composite state” framework is more useful–another being that fragmentation in European polities is usually along the lines of the way they were agglomerated in the late medieval and early modern period.

    I also think we need to recognize that the capitalized-coercion state model, in conjunction with economies of scale, still enjoys a massive advantage over “global guerillas.” These guys aren’t the Saracens or the Norse, nor are they the Hsiung-Nu or the Mongols.

  8. Dan Nexon says:

    “(Am I missing something, or is Dave’s Chomskyist screed, its accuracy or value put to one side, entirely off-point?)”

    It is on-point. A Pax Americana would, in principe, produce many of the same conditions that Curzon chalks up to deeper structural shifts in the international system. I wrote about this some time ago.

    And to claim that the US is an empire isn’t particularly Chomsky-esque anymore. Compare Niall Ferguson’s work and that of many neo-conservatives.

  9. snow says:

    “The only countries that have made any progress are those who have avoided neo-liberal reforms and privitization as dictated by the U.S.”

    Where do you get this stuff? So in your estimation, Cuba, Venezuela, Bolivia have made great progress? Unlike Chile, South Korea, Poland, Japan, Canada, etc, etc, etc., which are still mired in US sponsored third world poverty and going downhill from there.

  10. NeonCat says:

    So, for the US, the question is, will the Pacific Northwest be the first to succeed, or will it be us who are “American by birth, Southern by the grace of God”?

  11. Elizabeth says:

    It may have become obvious by now but I’m not so sure about this Gap theory. And when you talk about Nagorno-Qarabagh in this context as well, I’m doubly suspicious. The whole problem with NK and Abkhazia is not that there is somehow no security umbrella or that nobody can control them, but rather, that both Russia and Georgia believe that they are theirs. If Russia would stop funding guerrillas, or Georgia would just give it up- that is to say, if they were TRULY independent of outside interference- things could go a lot better there.

    They don’t even necessarily need American support to do this, although they could use it. International investment, a couple loans from the WB and a few gifts from the UN, a commitment of the people there to stop trying to get Russia or whoever on “their” side, and a true commitment on the part of Russia and Georgia to just totally stay out of it surely could help these become independent states.

    (And yes, I realize it’s a gap of order, not a gap of control, but I still think that the name is misleading.)

  12. germanicus says:

    Elizabeth, my hat’s off to you for questioning the Gap theory that seems to have become an orthodoxy in most blogs. Good on ya!!

  13. I think that I half agree with Chirol’s original thesis – I agree that the EU framework makes regional breakups more peaceful, but I’m skeptical that it will bring more economic trade or growth. This is because I question the (widely accepted) premise that Europe is a genuine common market. States – esp. France and Italy – block large cross-border acquisitions at will, and having more states will increase the number of obstacles. Labor mobility is in practice quite limited compared to the U.S., in part because of language barriers (aside from English and French, no other language is widely known at the professional level). The economies themselves move completely indepdendently of one another, unlike the U.S. where Michigan is the only real laggard. Support for restrictions on trade is high in the EU.

    This is not to say necessarily that an independent Catalonia will be bad for trade, but I don’t see it doing any good. The EU machinery works well with regard to reconciliation and such but the economic vision has all but collapsed.

    Did I miss it or did you not mention the potential break-up of Belgium? I’m not at all sure that the Dutch/Flemish independence movement will succeed, but it much wealthier than the French-speaking southern part of the country and it fits your model.

    In re to Britain, it is notable that the English are actually disadvantaged vis-a-vis the others since they have a parliament and the English don’t. The Scots not only have their own parliament, but representation in the Commons, seats in the cabinet, and very likely the next prime minister (Gordon Brown is Scottish).

    I think the real challenge will be in the decades to come as – if trends continue – Islamist sub-state communities start to first implement Islamic law in their communities and then demand either independence or autonomy from France, the Netherlands and other countries. These calls are heard now and the facts are on the ground but they will be much stronger in 30 years if current trends continue.

  14. Yago says:

    The fact that the Catalonian referendum doesn’t trigger war is not thanks to the EU but the Spanish government which is sponsoring the whole thing for its own reasons. The referendum passed with 49% of voters participating. That’s less than a half. Just 35% of elegible voters supported greater autonomy. That’s not legitimate, but it’s not being contested by anyone, that’s why it passes. Something like that in the Caucasus would rightly cause a war.

  15. IJ says:

    The trend is indeed for nations to multiply. Bigger roles for alliances such as NATO and the EU?

    Anyway, the changed governance in Catelonia is unlikely to alter Spain’s standing in the international system – Catelonia will remain within the Spanish nation at present. But if the devolved parts of the UK broke away, and became independent nations as Ireland (Eire) did previously – the pressure on the rump UK to be a nuclear power would ease considerably. This alone would mean that the Trident nuclear missile system needn’t be replaced, saving taxpayers up to £25 billion.

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