Warren Ellis flagged up a Guardian article about another of my perennial obsessions, the shaky future of nation-states. What happens to a nation-state when the territory it occupies disappears?
Francois Gemenne, of the Institute for Sustainable Development and International Relations in Paris, said the likely loss of small island states such as Tuvalu and the Maldives raised profound questions over nationality and territory.
“What would happen if a state was to physically disappear but people want to keep their nationalities? It could continue as a virtual state even though it is a rock under the ocean and its people no longer live on that piece of land.”
Gemenne said there was more at stake than cultural and sentimental attachments to swamped countries. Tuvalu makes millions of pounds each year from the sale of its assigned internet suffix .tv to television companies. As a nation state, the Polynesian island also has a vote on the international stage through the UN.
“As independent nations they receive certain rights and privileges that they will not want to lose. Instead they could become like ghost states,” he said. “This is a pressing issue for small island states, but in the case of physical disappearance there is a void in international law.”
I’d suggest it’s not just climate change that could cause ghost-states – surely the Tibetan government-in-exile is something of a ghost-state, also, and conflicts like the Russian invasion of Georgia could lead to glove-puppet states whose citizens are pretty much disenfranchised by political machinations beyond their control.
As the old saying goes, the map is not the territory – and this will become more true as time goes by. Will corporations offer a more attractive package of rights to ghost-state citizens than other nations? As climate change refugeeism increases (and on the assumption that the consequential increase in immigration and asylum-seeking will tend to make richer nations raise their borders rather than lower them, unless they see immigration as a solution to a greying population), I think it’s safe to assume that they might. [image by mrlins]
The proliferation of pirate micronations (like smaller versions of the Raft from Snow Crash, perhaps, bypassing the need for physical territory by way of mobility and/or the colonisation of interstitial territories, be they land- or ocean-based) seems inevitable.