By Kung Chan
“Denationization” is a geopolitical concept constructed in the wake of the war in Ukraine. It refers to the use of geopolitical tools, that is, effective sanctions, to make a country losing its substantial status as a nation. In effect, “denationization” is a geopolitical weapon, and its very existence signifies that geopolitics is no longer an idle talk in the academia.
When it comes to effective sanctions, there are mainly five aspects, namely seats in international organizations which are related to international status and voice of a country; financial systems such as the SWIFT system that has to do with capital flow; trade sanctions that involve the flow of commodities; direct capital sanctions including seizures of funds and are related to wealth and asset control; and finally technological commodity sanctions which impede a country’s future development potential. Generally speaking, these sanctions aim to cause a country to virtually disappear from the world map. Though it may continue to exist, it will not be able to function like a normal country, making it unable to exert global influence as it is cut off from the rest of the world.
While such an approach could seemingly resemble the mutual blockade and containment policy of the Cold War era, particularly in its significance, there are some major differences. For one thing, the world today is vastly dissimilar from the past. The advent of the internet means that people are much connected with each other, from business to academic exchanges, from social life to culture and art. Our current world has just experienced an unprecedented wave of globalization where the exchanges between industrial departments and the cooperation of supply chains are unparallelly interconnected and interdependent. The entire world is, to a considerable extent, much more tightly integrated than in any other historical period, certainly much more than during the time of Cold War. Therefore, the blockade and containment in the past are far less lethal than today’s “denationization”, making the latter a soft weapon with dreadful effects.
“Denationization” is something that could not be easily achieved in the past. Because of the global integration in our time, people have become more reluctant to talk about today’s close-knit international relations. Unsurprisingly, concepts like “denationization” were not the issues of concern for a long time after the end of Cold War. Unfortunately, it was no accident that the war in Ukraine provided a rare geopolitical natural experiment that shows the world the full potential of such concepts, where geopolitical hard border has been established within a short period of time. With the support of popular public opinion, people from all over the world are willing to pay the price to actualize brand-new border order, one that Vladmir Putin’s Russia should be cut off from the rest of the world.
The various sanctions under discussion and the effects of their theoretical implementation have caused Russia to be barred from participating in international sport events by the Union of European Football Associations (UEFA) and the International Olympic Committee (IOC). In the past, these sport bureaucratic organizations were more or less indifferent to world politics. Even the loose UN has taken actions by disabling Russia’s ability to protest and created opportunities to condemn Russia. In the financial world, Russia has been expelled from the SWIFT system where all kinds of Russian funds are under investigation and being seized all over the world. Even the Central Bank of Russia cannot use its own gold reserves and foreign exchange bonds now. Restrictions have also been imposed on various trade exchanges and technological exports, and even the aircrafts of Russia’s national carrier Aeroflot are banned from flying in international skies.
Because of the war in Ukraine and the sanctions against Russia, we are seeing for the first time the appearance of “denationization”. Not only does it exist, it can actually generate enormous power. While it is not a completely new creation and invention, it has become a new geopolitical weapon that is second only to the efficiency of hot war.
Why can “denationization” create such devastating results?
This is because it demotes a normal country to become a non-normal one isolated from the world, a clear downgrade of its state status, causing it to be sidelined globally. The country in fact, has been relegated to a social organization attached to a certain person. While it still possesses appearance of a state, substantially it loses the status and dignity of a nation.
Furthermore, a country that has been isolated from the world must be an internalized space. It may continue to exist, or even remain intact, so much so that on the surface, it is still a certain country or faction, but not in normal sense. As its communication at all levels with the world is completely cut off, it can only undergo internalization.
More important changes will also occur within the countries that have been “denationized”. They will become accustomed to internalized shift, resulting in comprehensive structural social and economic changes. There will be self-competitive cannibalization, gradually leads to rapid shrinkage. This usually manifests as intense internal rivalry and self-depletion, in competitions for resources and power within limited space until the disintegration of these countries.
“Denationization” is a painful process, and this is true for both those who impose it, and those who are being imposed upon. Just like war, it requires intense conflicts to establish border order, which is built up by the support of public opinion, as well as by the determination and strength of the people. Therefore, in this world, it is the people of all countries, not the politicians, who the real force that drives “denationization”.