The idea of the state evolved from the concept of city states and single-race concepts like that of Florence and Athens. Eventually, it became larger until it became the nation state.
The idea of the state, when conceived, was not envisioned to be as large as continents or pre-nation state empires.
The role it needs to play to satisfy the needs of the people has now become complex. Every nation needs to satisfy the political and economic needs of its people within its own national boundaries.
Varying sizes of the nation state have varying degrees of need for resources. Thus, every nation, regardless of its size, needs to set its national interests based on the choices of the people.
The idea of a national interest is of significance and lies at the heart of every nation.
The term “national interest” looms extremely large, not bound by national boundaries, the physical feature that distinguishes one nation from the other.
Its attainment may demand any means necessary, even if it crosses the moral boundary.
The idea often becomes convoluted and leaves nations constantly struggling to secure it. The obsession with the idea misleads and causes unnecessary tension in matters of security. Rarely is a nation able to secure its national interests to the fullest; wars are usually waged with fallacious promises to its people.
During the Enlightenment, changes were brought about in the socio-economic-political landscape of states.
A new ideology was developed on how the world should work and what people should do, an ideology of secularism as a result of unmanageable conflict in religious ideology.
Political governance was limited to serve the interests of the masses. Politics has been subservient to the economy to allow more space for liberalisation.
The economy has overshadowed all other national lines of interest due to the insatiable appetite of the few.
The nation state is now in a fix to serve its people and secure their interests.
The question arises: What size, geographically, is manageable for securing national interests?
Should a state be happy securing the economic comfort of its people and stop aspiring for more?
What is more important for a state to serve its people: Politics or economy? Can social or ideological identity be subjugated to or overshadowed by economic comfort?
The term national interest has therefore turned into a cliché, demanding additional attention to it.
Nations are independent and have the right to formulate policy beyond the influence of other nations -- this is the truth. Likewise, the other truth is that it has to take into account the reality of geo-politics, geo-strategy, or geo-economics while securing its own interests.
People elect their governments to ensure their all-round security, and rarely consider the complete capacity of its government while making irrational demands.
The paradox in the government and the intense desire to return to power force them to conceal the global reality and constantly resort to deceitful promises of securing interests even when it is beyond their capacity.
As a result, national interests not only fail to be secured, but end up becoming further endangered, with the nation’s people constantly deceived.
However powerful or strong a nation may be, it compromises its national interests to others for either geo-politics or geo-economical compulsion.
But seldom does it inform its people of the same thing happening to them for fear of being unable to come to power at the end of their tenure.
Governance is built on a foundation of fallacy because of power.
The government, upon being elected, finds itself in a position from which it can subjugate its people rather than feeling pressured by people’s power to remove them.
Therefore, the relationship between the people and the government suffers.
There is a disconnect between the government and the people in the understanding of national interests and global realities.
Numerous stronger states like the UK find it difficult to secure national politico-cultural interests in a globalised economy. For instance, national interest was subdued by the interests of federal unions like the EU, resulting in Brexit
Globalisation brought forth trends such as the expansion of international financial systems, interconnectedness of national interests, the rise of the global media and communication technologies, and the mass migration of people.
All such trends are taking place within and across the boundaries of sovereign nation states.
Even the stronger states find it difficult to adjust to the global realities.
The market economy in the guise of globalisation is forcing some nations to become totally subservient to the global economy.
This has happened to such an extent that seldom are national economic interests preserved within national boundaries.
The global economic institutes have become too powerful.
It becomes necessary for weaker states to compromise their interests for global realities.
In the name of globalisation -- or shall we say neo-colonisation -- business tycoons prefer being global citizens rather than national citizens to secure their economic interests.
Numerous stronger states like the UK find it difficult to secure national politico-cultural interests in a globalised economy.
For instance, national interest was subdued by the interests of federal unions like the EU, resulting in Brexit.
A larger geographical unit to serve common interests appears fallacious against the perceived realities.
Paradoxically, a borderless economy both benefits and encumbers both the stronger and weaker states.
All states prefer to reap the benefits of the global economy, but are not ready to merge into a single race socially, culturally, or ideologically.
Hence, there are fissures creeping over socio-cultural and ideological lines, which endanger the identity of the individual nation.
It benefits the stronger states but endangers its social and cultural identity due to the influx of immigrants into their system. The identity of the nation state suffers despite the comfort given by an inter-connected economy.
The formation of a nation state arose from the need to preserve all national interests, not just along economic lines.
Economic interests can conceal the other fault-lines for the time being. But no sooner does the economy suffer a downturn do other fissures erupt like a volcano, putting the state on the brink of collapse.
The bigger the size of the state, the larger the need of its people. In this context, the idea of a nation state to some is sometimes too weak, while to some too strong.
The smaller the state, the easier it is to secure the interests that satisfy its people, and there is less room for power.
It is easier to maintain a social, cultural, and ideological identity. There is more space for peace and less for conflict.
Brigadier General AF Jaglul Ahmed is Commandant, East Bengal Regimental Centre.