Letters & Opinion

The Wings of Independence

Clement Wulf-Soulage
By Clement Wulf-Soulage

TENUOUS wings will not keep an eagle flying for long no matter how free it may be. In a sky full of both dangers and opportunities, there is an eagle in us that wants to soar to greater heights, but we can’t do so with fractured wings or with the wings of an ostrich. And even with perfect wings, “no one is really free – even the birds are chained to the sky,” observes Bob Dylan.

When nations are granted independence and the accompanying imperative of sovereignty, the idea is for national leaders to help those nations grow wings to venture out into the political world in search of economic prosperity, democratic self-determination and political confidence to celebrate the values upon which the nation is founded. Oftentimes, the flight to true self-determination is a perpetual work-in-progress rather than a successful shock therapy administered by a former colonial ruler.

History is replete with instances where nations, endowed with natural and human resources, prospered after achieving independence, only to see their economic and political fortunes come falling down again. A mild clip on one wing of independence (manifested in the form of weak institutions, poor economic planning, excessive external interference and political corruption) can impair a nation’s flight greatly, as it renders its political, economic and social structures unbalanced in the sphere of development.

Yet, who ever said that independence was absolute and guaranteed a nation unfettered control of its resources, finances and institutions. Political philosopher Jacques Maritain contends that the concept of sovereignty is “intrinsically faulty, as it both separates the will of the nation from that of the body politic and creates insurmountable complications for international law.” Others like Stephen Krasner have characterized sovereignty as “organized hypocrisy,” criticizing it on the grounds that “it is universally recognized but, at the same time, widely violated.”

In an age of globalization, the role of the nation-state – as we know it – has been restricted to merely supporting the market and free enterprise in the global economy; and more or less used as pawns within the new cold war of capitalism. The rapid erosion of national power – expedited by capitalistic excesses – has engendered a perplexing circumstance whereby nations are nominally sovereign but no longer independent.

As the examples of Kosovo, Palestine and Catalonia demonstrate, a declaration of sovereignty does not necessarily mean that a nation will be fully recognized or that independence is going to follow suit. Even when the nails of sovereign independence is hammered in by the rifle butt of a military dictator, freedom of speech and assembly are forcefully restricted and often must be defended through violent uprisings. Since 2011, the Arabs have risen against their despotic regimes and leaders in search for liberty and freedom.

The great paradox is that although there are more nation states than ever before, they enjoy less sovereignty and their status have moved from independence to inter-dependence. Distinguished observers like Norman Angell (journalist and author) and Ramsey Muir (historian) wrote extensively on this subject and questioned the “adequacy of the nation state in meeting the economic and security challenges of the new century.” In a nutshell, Angell and Muir believed that “the close interdependence of the world’s economies did not only offer great benefits, but also entailed great risks for small states.”

Yet, crucial political events in 2016 have debunked the theory that only small nation-states are concerned about political independence and sovereignty. You can cite perhaps half-a-dozen explanations as to why the once-phlegmatic British voted against theirowneconomic interests, but the fact remains the political tensions over Britain’s putative role and independence in the E.U have been simmering for decades. The “Leave” camp is convinced that, with Britain outside the E.U, their country will be able to spread its wings more economically and rise to new heights politically.

In the wake of the Brexit vote, there are now official calls for Nigel Farage to be knighted for “fighting to free us (Britian) from the shackles of the EU and for returning independence and sovereignty to Britian.” As much as Britain’s departure from the EU represents a watershed moment for global integration, it also signals a desire to return to the past glory of the nation-state – albeit through an aggressive and sometimes unreasonable nationalism – free of supra-regional controls and regulations.

According to Foreign Affairs magazine, “national leaders across the continent are already turning inward, concluding that the best way to protect their countries is through more sovereignty, not less. Many voters seem to agree.”

Even in the United States, the election of President Donald Trump has raised serious questions about the circumstances and perception of sovereignty – and the need to guard the progress and resources of the United States through protectionism and nativism. In his inaugural address, President Trump declared: “From this day forward, a new vision will govern our land. From this day forward, it’s going to be only America first, America first… Protection will lead to greater prosperity and strength… We will seek friendship and goodwill with the nations of the world, but we do so with the understanding that it is the right of all nations to put their own interests first.”

As Saint Lucia celebrates its 38th anniversary of independence, we need to keep in mind that independence and sovereignty – in a world characterized by interdependence, self-interest and convergence – can only be guarded through and by deeper democratic participation, enlightened education and institutional structures that demand accountability, justice and transparency from national leaders. Let’s not forget that national sovereignty is not simply a ceremonial entitlement, but a political, social and cultural obligation. As a nation, we may be able to take off on the wings of independence, but it is only when we empower our people that we can soar to really greater heights.

For comments, write to [email protected] – Clement Wulf-Soulage is a Management Economist, Published Author and Former University Lecturer.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Send this to a friend