Post by Frank Scrooby
The mistake in predicting the future of any present nation state is
to assume it will survive the current generation. Almost no one
remembers Burgandy, or that Normandy was once a (powerful and
independant) nation. Or the Holy Roman Empire (either one). Or the
Kingdom of Jerusalem, which last quite some time if you consider
the mess of complete idiots who tried to run the place. The only
people who remember the Transvaal Republic and Oranje Vrui Staat
are those who long for the re-establishment of those two states
(I've met a few, they are completely bonkers, like Hitler's SS
bonkers). I'm sure there are examples in Asia that I don't know
about. And all the kingdoms and Empires and city states of the
Americas that vanished into fable and poorly remembered oral
history as soon as European diseases hit the shores of the Americas.
China might be gone tomorrow, and so might the US.
There's a fair amount of turnover among states these days, sure.
Since my birth, South Vietnam, East Germany, one of the Yemens,
Yugoslavia and the Soviet Union have all gone away. As have a few
But that's a quite different matter from predicting the future of a
In pre-modern history, something reasonably understandable as China
has been united 221 BC to AD 220, AD 581 to 907, AD 1271 to 1912.
Note that the interregnum between Qing and PRC was just 37 years, one
*tenth* of those between Han and Sui, and between Tang and Yuan.
Chinese unity is not, then, a given, but is a pretty common pattern
in history to date. Granted, loosely controlled borderlands may
separate - at present, China is down Taiwan, Mongolia, and some of
the northeast from its maximum Qing extent - but it strikes me as a
bad bet that there'll be a disintegration of the Chinese heartland in
my lifetime, or my nieces' and nephew's.
Let's call Alaska and Hawaii loosely controlled US borderlands; then
the US has been basically the same land since around 1850, and united
for all but four years of that. This isn't a patch on the Chinese
record, but suggests that we've at least *recently* been stable.
In both areas we see a trend toward stability, too. I suspect modern
technology is more a help than a hindrance to border maintenance.
The countries that have died in my lifetime were mostly products of
Cold War rivalries splitting a nationality - East Germany, South
Vietnam, and pick a Yemen. Yugoslavia and the Russian Empire which
became the Soviet Union were older transnational states that died
under democratic episodes.
Post by Frank Scrooby
I'm sure there are examples in Asia that I don't know
Well, depends what you count as a nation-state. A notable omission
in Southeast Asia is Champa, split between Cambodia and Vietnam; I'm
not sure it was a nation-state, but it existed relatively recently.
But more of the recent history of Asia has been the splitting up of
unstable empires: the Mughal/British in South Asia, the Ottoman in
Southwest, the French in Southeast, the Russian in Central. The way
India keeps adding more and more states suggests that at some level,
it isn't *fully* a nation-state yet, that there remain massive ethnic
differences, of course Pakistan has split in my lifetime, and plenty
would like Burma to do so. But empires have a much worse record for
survival than do nation-states, and much of Asia is now nation-states.
Your discussion also seems to imply that states ending is no big deal.
But actually, ends as calm and organised as East Germany's are the
exception, not the rule. Yugoslavia and Yemen are cautionary tales,
and consider also Partition. The fall of the Japanese Empire
occasioned war in China and Korea, at least, and was the background
to war in Southeast Asia too. Palestinian refugees are heirs of the
end of a colonial state.
Do we in the US have such bleakness in our future? It's more
plausible than it would've been in, say, 1990, but still not all
*that* plausible. As for China, I wouldn't expect it until, at the
very least, everyone who remembers the last disunity is dead.
Joe Bernstein, writer <***@gmail.com>