Although the nation-state has been the predominant unit of political organization for most of the last few centuries, its future is uncertain. Two trends point to the nation-state as receding in importance, but these trends sometimes contradict each other. Still, globalization and devolution continue to occur at a rapid rate throughout the twenty-first-century world, and both will affect the future of nation-states.
The first major trend is globalization. Over the last few decades, national boundaries have broken down in a variety of ways, including economically. In today’s truly global economy, money and goods travel across borders in huge quantities and at great speed. Many corporations build parts in a variety of countries, then assemble them in yet another country. Most goods are no longer “made in America,” for example, because much of the manufacturing often happens in other places, whereas final assembly occurs in the United States. The rapid growth of international investing has further globalized the economy. Globalization often leads to transnationalism, so should this globalizing trend continue, the nation-state might give way to the transnational government.
Transnationalism has also occurred at the political level. International organizations, such as the United Nations and the World Trade Organization, play an ever-increasing role on the political stage, and nations join them for such benefits as military protection and economic security. In the case of the European Union, national boundaries have very little meaning. All citizens can travel, live, and work freely throughout the European Union, and all internal tariffs and trade restrictions have been abolished. Some residents see themselves as citizens of a new European Union nation, not of their smaller countries. Transnational governments and groups literally transcend geographical and political boundaries.
Example: The World Trade Organization, the United Nations, and the World Bank are just a few examples of international organizations that sometimes act like governments or play a substantial role in international relations. Other examples include the Organization of American States, the North Atlantic Treaty Organization, the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development, and the Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries.