Statelessness and Modernity


Concerning the Kurds, Tibetans, Palestinians and various Native groups, we observe the issue of statelessness as a fairly recent phenomenon in a multi-polar world. Given the apparent strength of this durable political machine, the question that leaves many political scientists scrambling for answers to is: how did western-based developed nation-states view these events so tardily, and how can we ameliorate some of these situations that affect millions of people on a daily basis.  UNRWA (United Nations Relief and Works Agency) reports that 1.5 million registered Palestinian refugees live in 58 recognized camps in Jordan, Lebanon, Syria, Gaza, the West Bank and Jerusalem.1 UNHCR (United Nations Refugee Agency) reports that conflict in Syria has led to the disbursement of 3,988, 857 Syrian refugees to neighbouring Turkey (1,758, 092) and Lebanon (1,196,560) comprising the majority of those individuals displaced through conflict between various groups and the Assad regime. 2 The Tibetan diaspora is reported by the CTA (Central Tibetan Agency) to number 127,935 with 94,203 living in India or residing in Indian refugee camps. 3 A York University researcher, Caryl Patrick, reported that in urban areas in Canada …”more than 90% of those living on the street are aboriginal” where 10% exist in Halifax; the problem extends across to Yellowknife where 95% of the homeless are aboriginal. Patrick explained in her report that the Canadian Aboriginal population comprises 4% of the Canadian population, indicating, an epidemic is upon us in Canada regarding the number of Aboriginal homeless on the street. 4) A Brookings article indicates that Libya has 2 million people abroad, mostly in Tunisia with 400,000 IDP’s (internally displaced people.) 5 The political crisis since the departure of Muammar Gaddafi during the Arab Spring uprising (that began in late 2010 and concluded, more or less by the middle of 2012) has seen Libya’s political structure fragment and the country teetering on a “failed state” status. The aftermath for Libyans has resulted in a power vacuum between Islamists, and two governments. The conflict has led to an exodus of migrants to Sicily in haphazard vessels that has been perilous, and in one instance resulted in mass casualties. Recently, there exists a mass exodus of migrants from war-torn Syria and Libya, both of which are affected by the incursion of Islamic State militants that operate under an extreme form of Sharia Law. Iraq’s government with the support of American air power is reclaiming territory claimed by Daesh and the liberation of Fallujah is upon Iraqi’s. Continuation of repressing this terrorist group must expand into Mosul and into Raqqa, Syria in order to send assurance to those individuals risking their lives to migrate to Europe in order to escape the barbarism of Daesh. Only then can a multi-national effort embrace the notion of putting in place a strong central government in Libya to restore order and signal stability to those that remain, and ultimately, encourage those who have defected to return home.

The international community is a resilient amalgam of ideologies that operate in a vacuum, with self-serving interests. Modernity in our current state is, after all, mostly a capitalist one that we operate in, save for the unfortunate folks in North Korea. China has democratized somewhat, though the sanctity of the vote and personal freedoms remain squelched by the various state apparatus, including labour conditions, a muted press, and dubious human rights policies. Tibet remains under lock-down, while Hanoi features a burgeoning private sector. The situation remains murky as we travel east to Syria, Palestine and Israel. Just to blow the top off of the whole thing, it is apropos to include the Aboriginal groups in North America and abroad, as well, in any discussion of statelessness. If asked, many Canadian Aboriginals would scoff at the notion of life on a reserve as anything but democratic. Suffice it to say, we have a lot of work to do, but, can achievement be accomplished in a multi-polar world torn by economic interests. There is the problem of mounting deficits that curtails the effectiveness of most developed nation-states.

Matthew Happold sums up nicely the aftermath of the post-Soviet world that has put pressure on formal power relationships, such as Russia’s intervention in Georgia, and recently in Crimea (2014) and the Ukraine. In addition, Happold notes that the collapse of the DOHA trade talks in 2008 remain mired in red tape that could foster economic growth globally with huge spin-offs to developing nations. Current criticism of trade agreements has thrust America into the spotlight over job losses to countries such as Mexico that offer cheaper labour and other costs compared to the higher corporate taxes that imperil North America and shunt growth. The emergence of robotics and technology is impacting the employment picture for future generations that cannot access the necessary tools to operate in a work force that has fewer humans producing products.

Indeed, the emergence of China as an economic and military power, particularly in Asia, continues to strain formal political relationships due to the intransigent nature of Beijing’s hold on dubious human rights policies and political beliefs. Finally, regional trading blocs and economic zones such as BRICS, and the United States hegemonic nature of managing terrorist threats, continue to create cleavages in international relations. 6

If we consider the absence of a super-power or a role – reversal for America with China, for instance; can a fragmented international community function effectively with a pre-eminent power subscribing to dubious human rights violations and environmental degradation, through policies that nurture it’s own economic interests and political salvation. This remains to be seen and could throw a greater divide between those nation-states that support it for economic or military purposes and those nation- states that oppose those creeds. In the latter case, a return to an early 20th c League of Nations rendering of global balance of power and Realpolitik; in the former, a return to a pre Cold-War period where American sovereignty and NATO countered the Soviet doctrine of Stalinism and the Warsaw Pact.

Therefore, one can hope that the international community can reconcile the issues of statelessness of Syrians, Libyans, Palestinians and Tibetans in a well-orchestrated quid pro quo in a bi-polar, or multi-polar universe that is the current form of political power.

It seems that a multi-polar world coalescing with a goal of collective security through an organization such as an expanded United Nations, can help to improve the length and scope of some refugee crises within a single organ (Security Council) with broad reaching powers, while dismantling an organization such as NATO, that has fomented anger in Moscow, and, is an icon of western political excess may promise an improvement in stabilizing relations between western powers and Moscow.

Many problems arise with a global UN and expanded powers (within its proscribed Chapter VII range to maintain peace and security,) such as, funding by member states, military budgets within member states, selling it to various levels of government as a viable mandate, and public acceptance. The latter two will be most problematic with the US Congress and Senate feeling their authority threatened (as will other nation-states and organs such as the E.U.) and the prospects of warfare among various NGO’S and INGO’S for monetary support to keep their jobs. Perhaps we might call that “concentrated outsourcing.”

Consider the strength of American funding for 2015 of the entire UN budget with a contribution of 22% or $654, 738,938,000.7 George W Bush famously battled with the UN over Iraq’s alleged WMD that the US used to unilaterally enter into a war, (many would say unfinished business) with Saddam Hussein. The strength of withdrawing funding becomes a war of words that ultimately ends with victory for those member states that write the biggest cheques. Most of us aren’t going to argue with our bosses too vehemently towards the end of the pay cycle. Such is the case with another UN organ – the ICC (International Criminal Court) that prosecutes those leaders accused of war crimes at The Hague. There was a strong argument for George W Bush to be charged for war crimes during the second Iraq war, though, how can the UN function with a diminished contribution from America if it’s President is being embarrassed internationally and the entire nation, with it. So, the argument for UN expansion has it’s merits to spread out the responsibility for global peace and the cost to achieve it (over the outdated mode of the P5) that puts far too much pressure on the United States and not enough accountability to the other four members, notably Russia and China. Some may argue that that is well and good, a quid pro quo for American President Woodrow Wilson who was instrumental in founding the League of Nations in 1920, though, the United States never became an official member during Wilson’s mandate, or during the League’s tenure from 1920-1946.

The U.S. military budget for 2015 was tabled at 813.9 billion, so, comparatively, the UN budget is nearing US military expenditures. Is the premise of “collective security “creating good value for America, whereby UN operational costs run tantamount to this degree of spending compared to US Federal interest payments for the year approximated at 229.2 billion. In it’s present form the UN seems a poor investment for the cost, particularly, for the U.S. with an investment to operate NATO for 2015 at U.S. 585 billion. The question becomes one of statelessness and how the international community is responding to Jus Post Bellum i.e. the reparations, post war that enable people to return home. In one instance, we can say that the Palestinians have been forsaken by the international community, since the formation of Israel. In addition, Tibetans have been largely ignored since the Chinese occupation, and Aboriginals within their own nation-states i.e. Jus soli – right of the individual born in a territory to citizenship, have been displaced since colonization.

Despite China’s claims, Tibet is still saddled with the highest poverty rate in the PRC, according to China’s Xinhua news agency as stated in a Fall 2014 report. 8

Statelessness will continue to imperil our best attempts to aid those folks who desperately need and are seeking a better life. Perhaps the present defragmented  multi polar world has left us without the focus that we had in a bi – polar orbit, now affected by social media, outsourcing, and severe budget deficits. This begs the question: is the modern state and the spirit of democracy compatible in a world fraught with terrorism? It seems so, but the international community needs to constrict the number of organization’s impacting collective security, while strengthening the few to collaborate with the many.

Currently, the refugee crisis in Europe is an ominous sign that politics and human rights are at odds with sound judgment. Where does global responsibility lay within the scope of regime change? Hopefully, before photos of young children washed up on a beach emerge to our shock and horror.



1)United Nations Relief and Works Agency. “PALESTINE REFUGEES.” 10 May 2015. <>

2)Stories From Syrian Refugees. “Facts and Figures.” 13 May 2015. 15 May 2015. <>.

3)Wikipedia. “Tibetan diaspora (taken from “127935 Tibetans living outside Tibet: Tibetan survey”.”  12 April 2010. 08 May 2015.  Press Trust of India. 2010-04-12. Retrieved 2010-12-17.<>.

4)CBC News. “Aboriginal homelessness an ‘epidemic’, York researcher says.” 28 March 2014. 12 May 2015. <>

5)Karaspan, Omar. “The Impact of Libyan Middle-Class Refugees in Tunisia.” Brookings. 17 March 2015. 15 May 2015. <>

6) Happold, Matthew. International Law in a Multipolar World. Routledge:London and New York. 2012, 2.

7) United Nations Secretariat. Assessment of Member States’ contributions to the United Nations regular budget for the year 2015. 29 December 2014. 9 May 2015. <>.

8)”Poverty rate in ‘Tibet’ still highest in PRC.” Tibetan Review. <>

Recommended Reading for “Agency and Strategy in Non-Western Political Thought (2015-16)” and Fall 2017 term at University of St. Andrews, Scotland. Week Six.

About Kevin Kieswetter

Hello, I have continued studying part-time at the University of Waterloo, with an interest in the political situation in Tibet, and North America. Recently, I have published a companion or white paper to an earlier work. If you have an interest in the situation on the Ttibetan Plateau, please have a look.
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