On June 6, 1944 the Allied forces launched an attack at Normandy, the success of which was the beginning of the end for the Nazi domination of Europe. In the present, people just accept the success of the Normandy landings as a given part of established history, but this forgets the danger and risk involved. Had the landings failed, the end of the war would have been delayed for a long period and it would have been likely that Europe, and not Japan, would have been the first target of the atomic bomb.
As we mark the hundred year anniversary of many of the major battles of World War One, we also remember the dates that were important in World War Two. These two wars mark the last two open, hegemonic wars in the international system. Since 1945, there have been no hegemonic wars in which major powers have slugged out a contest for global supremacy. The D-Day landings marked the beginning of the end of more than three decades of conflict followed by an extended period of Cold War. These hegemonic struggles determined the character of the international system and the result of these conflicts set the tone of international relations in the decades that followed.
In the world of today, hegemonic war seems a distant memory. The great powers spend relatively little on military forces compared to the past. Even the one remaining great power, the United States, argues about whether to spend money on modernizing its military or on prescription drugs for the elderly. The result is that even powerful states spend less on their militaries than they did before WWI. This seems to be a positive sign, indicating a reduced potential for military conflict.
On the other hand, the reduced military capacity also opens the door for conflict. Non-conventional conflicts are what makes the news on most days, but the truth is that lower military capacity is easier to match than higher military capacity. As the US draws down its forces, the overall size of the US military (corrected for the size of the population) is now down to what it was in the period of wars against Native Americans in the 1870’s and 1880’s. In a world of great power threats (North Korean and Iranian nuclear weapons, Russian annexation of former Soviet territory in Europe, Chines establishment of advanced military installations in the South China Sea) the US continues to reduce its military capability.
The world we live in today is one in which hegemonic wars seem to be archaic remnants of the past. At the same time, the deterrent power of the US and Soviet Union are only a memory. Power transition theory suggests that times in which the relative power of nation-states is in flux are the most dangerous times for the international system. We live in such a time. Just how this will play out remains to be seen, but it is possible that the present generation may be the first to re-learn the impact of hegemonic war if the post WWII international order continues to erode.
Sports can often be the venue for the absurd, but rarely does the world see something as strange as an international competition amongst states that no one recognizes as states. The ConIFA World Cup is just such a competition.
You have probably heard of FIFA, the governing body of world football. It is an organization made up of the national federations of nation-states around the world. It governs the Men’s and Women’s World Cups and it recognized as the international non-governmental body that governs world football. It earns billions of dollars each year in revenues and has a global reach unparalleled among most international organizations.
Despite this, there are many nations that are not recognized by the United Nations as independent, and these cannot join FIFA. For these outcasts of the international system there is ConIFA, the Confederation of Independent Football Associations. This is an organization for those nations that are not recognized by the international community. If you want to see the epic match between the hosts, Abkhasikstan, and the lesser known Padanian team (a group representing people from the Po valley who seek an independent state free from the domination of the Italians) you will have to look long and hard. There are not international television rights, nor any significant press coverage.
International recognition is a key part of what makes a state a member of the international community. Fielding a national football team is not high on the list if UN criterial for recognition.
But what makes a nation-state? The recognition of other states is important, but what draws a line between the Kurds, who have fought long and hard to gain independence from Turkey, Syria, Iraq, and Iran, and the South Sudanese, who fought a long war of independence against the Sudanese government? The answer is a thin line of international recognition. Recognition is both a formal process, blessed by the efforts of others, and an informal one in which recognized states line up behind you and proclaim that you are part of the “right” club.
While there is no clear sense of what makes a nation-state in the modern period, the distinction remains important. States seeking independence must struggle against entrenched interests. The hosting of an intendent world cup may not solve their problems, but it will at least be fun for all of the participants.