Global Governance and Keystone States

| January 2016
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Thomas Weiss and Rorden Wilkinson ask in the current issue of EIA why, in the face of so many pressing transnational problems, effective mechanisms for coping with these issues have not risen to the challenge? It is a question I myself have also been attempting to answer. The critical challenges—environmental collapse, proliferation of weapons of mass destruction, terrorism and crime, state collapse, and so on—pose existential questions to the continued existence of nation-states and their ability to provide conditions of security and prosperity for their populations. In theory, as I have argued in previous posts, security considerations should help to push for the creation of more effective mechanisms than appeals to humanitarianism or cosmopolitanism, but the jury remains out on that subject.

Of greater interest in their piece, however, is their point that the discussion has tended “to focus on change and continuity as functions of the distribution of relative power capabilities among states.” This touches on a subject I am also beginning to look at, the question of whether there is a new driver in how international architecture is forming—what I have termed the emergence of “keystone states.” As the name implies:

a keystone state gives coherence to a regional order—or, if it is itself destabilized, contributes to the insecurity of its neighbors. Such countries are important because they are located at the seams of the global system and serve as critical mediators between different major powers, acting as gateways between different blocs of states, regional associations, and civilizational groupings. . . . The security and prosperity of almost all countries is now dependent on a series of transnational economic, security, and political networks, which transfer capital, information, goods, and services across borders.

Keystone states are not necessarily fitted into the category of great, medium or small powers; instead, their importance lies in how they facilitate connectivity as well as security (if they separate different, competing blocs). This is a subject I hope to continue to explore in subsequent postings, and in bringing this back to the larger discussion of global governance and the international community.

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