Module 2 Essay: Nation-States

Bethany Herold

Political Science 105

Professor Chad Smith

A sense of belonging, combined with a more than adequate government, is crucial to the development and success of a country, which is best seen in the formation of a nation-state. A nation-state is a marriage of two fundamental terms: nation and state. A nation, in essence, is a group of people who share distinguishing ethnic characteristics and history. A state, on the other hand, is a territory defined by political boundaries with its own set of laws. People often call states countries, although some, such as the United States of America, have states within a state. As defined by Townson University, “The modern nation-state refers to a single or multiple nationalities joined together in a formal political union” (What is a Nation-State?).

The origins of a nation-state, as it is known today, date all the way back to the Treaty of Westphalia in 1648. This treaty ended the Thirty Years’ War, which terminated the rule of the Holy Roman Empire and ushered in the era of the European state system (The Treaty of Westphalia). This created the blueprints for the modern international system of independent states that is used today. The treaty brought four principles to the table. First, it determined the sovereignty of nation-states and the fundamental right of political self-determination. Second, it implemented legal equality between nation-states. Third, it made all treaties internationally binding between states. Finally, it outlawed international intervention from one nation-state to another without approval. Ultimately, this treaty paved the way for growth of the nation-state, and gave many countries a chance at freedom from monarchical rule as well as a sense of national identity.

Evolution of the nation-state has been continuously increasing since the 1600s. The development and impact of two international economic organizations, the International Monetary Fund (IMF) and International Bank for Reconstruction and Development (IBRD) or World Bank, as well as the General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade (GATT), greatly intensified the desire for nation-states on a global scale. Conformity to the structure of the nation-state has enveloped much of the world, and “more than 130 new nation-state entities have formed since 1945” (Meyer et al., 1997, pg. 158). The United Nations was also formulated around this time as a way to create a sense of community among nation-states. The acquisition of a nation-state operation typically happens in one of two ways: “The first—and more peaceful way—is for responsible people living in a territory to organize a common government for the nation-state they will create. The second, and more violent and oppressive method—is for a ruler or army to conquer a territory and impose its will on the people it rules.” (Nation-State, 2013). The latter is frequently the most common.

Nation-states today are alive and flourishing. While each one is unique, they have several themes in common that define their essence. One is a common sense of nationality, because people desire to feel apart of the nation-state, not just enclosed within its boundaries. Another is that the nation-state commands sovereignty of its people. Finally, a lawful nation-state has recognition in regards to both the community of nations and international law. Even though the concept of a nation-state is more of an idea as opposed to an actual physical boundary, it is treated with no less legitimacy, authority, or sovereignty. Although nation-states have proven to be very successful, it is debated whether or not they will survive the years to come. Speculations included the idea that nations will reach a maximization of globalization where the nation-state will be replaced by a world government. Only time will tell, and for now nation-states will continue to reign. As expressed in Western Balkans Security Observer, “Although the state is losing much of its authority in the process of globalization, its political function and psychological significance in the provision of ontological security still does not disappear.” (Lakić, 2011, pgs. 15-16).


Lakić, N. (2011). Is globalization a challenge or a threat to nation-states as a dominant form of polity? BAMERC – Balkan and Middle East Regional Cooperation. 6-17.

Meyer, O., Boli, J., Thomas, G., & Ramirez, F. (1997). World Society And The Nation‐State. American Journal of Sociology,103(1), 144-181.

Nation-state. (2013, September 13). Retrieved February 27, 2015, from

The Treaty of Westphalia. (n.d.). Retrieved February 25, 2015, from

What is a Nation-State? (n.d.). Retrieved February 24, 2015, from


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