Jul 18, 2017

Nation-state teetering as West’s cultural pillars crumble

It is not difficult to recognise that the West is in flux. Eight months after the US presidential election, partisan rancour has reached a fever pitch and continues unabated. Europe seems trapped in a collective leadership paralysis in the face of the greatest mass mig­ration crisis since 1945. Public anger against elites keeps rising. The people seem less and less willing to listen to the explanations and admonishments of their leaders and the media, or to accept that their nations are merely a transitional phase before the emergence of a multicultural globalised world.
Beneath the popular resentment and frustration bubbles a longing for a vanishing sense of community, mixed with an often deeply felt democratic impulse to reclaim ownership of the state.
Signs of a popular rebellion across the West abound. The Brexit vote in Britain, the Trump movement in the US and the em­ergence of national and populist parties across Europe (though their support fluctuates) are symptoms of a deeper yet seldom articulated structural problem that has been straining democratic politics in the West: the progressive fragmentation of the nation-state.
There is an ever-expanding terminology generated to describe the vortex engulfing the West, be it “illiberal democracy”, “populism” or (from the extreme left) “neo-fascism”. But all the terms are attempting to grapple with the same truth: consensus that the nation-state should remain paramount in world politics has weakened. It is this that lies at the base of the deepening political crisis in Western democracies.
Since patriotic civic education all but disappeared from US public schools as well as Europe’s government school curriculums, two genera­tions of Western elites progressively have been unmoored from their cultural roots, often all but bereft of even a rudimentary sense of service to and responsibility for the nation as a whole.
As fractured group identities and narratives of grievance began to replace a sense of patriotism and national pride, university-edu­cated elites across the West became ever more self-referential in their pursuits, locked in an exercise of inward-looking collective expiation for the centuries of Western racism, discrimination and “privilege” — all allegedly the hallmarks of the culture they have inherited, which they must redefine or repudiate altogether.
This decomposition of elite national identities across the West already has had noticeable security consequences in the US. After decades of debate over identity politics, collective group rights and cross-national institutions, the erstwhile assumption that, when it comes to national security, state sovereignty trumps other considerations has become ever more tenuous. The immediate result has been the declining systemic cohesion of democratic states and the diminishment across the West of the principle that democratic rights carry with them the obligations of citizenship.
Historically, a nation-state stipulated the primacy of a nation brought together by a common culture, which in turn went on to generate an overarching national identity strong enough to attenuate regional, ethnic or religious differences. In their US and Euro­pean systemic varieties, demo­cratic institutions have preserved and protected the rights of the people, while the culturally grounded dominant national identity has given the nation-state its requisite resilience, while also imbuing it with the power to make demands of its citizens.
So long as this shared national identity remained strong — call it patriotism, love of country or belonging beyond one’s immediate family and local community — the nation-state retained its cohesion, resting on a sense of reciprocity between government and citizen.
Today, after decades of espousing multiculturalism and group rights buttressed by the politics of grievance, the foundations of a larger shared national identity have eroded such that governance — or, better yet, governability — has become an increasingly scarce commodity across the West. We are at an inflection point, where a growing systemic disorder is stoked not just by shifts in the global power distribution but by the progressive decline in governability. The dismantling of the core principle that the national homeland should be under the sovereign control of its people lies at the root of this problem.
The hypothesis that institutions ultimately trump culture has morphed in the past quarter century into an article of faith, alongside the fervently held belief that nationalism and democratic politics are at their core fundamentally incompatible. The decades-long assault on the idea of national identity steeped in a shared culture and defined by a commitment to the pre­servation of the nation has left Western leadership frequently unable to articulate the fundamentals that bind us and that we must be prepared to defend.
The deepening fight over the right of the central government to control the national border, which is at the core of the Western idea of the nation-state, is emblematic of this situation. The deconstruction of the nation-state across the West has had consequences beyond the national security of individual states. It has directly diminished the durability of the liberal world order, which not so long ago was heralded as the zenith of our ­globalised future.
Though its fundaments are still in place, the era of the post-Cold War triumph of liberal interna­tionalism is more than a decade behind us. The liberal international order cannot function without strong national communities acting as the baselines for democratic government. Regrettably, in the past half-century we have witnessed the gradual unravelling of the cultural foundations of this compact: the idea of the nation as an overarching identifier linking people across space and time.
Today, in addition to the shifting global power equation and surging transnational threats, a key factor in the deteriorating security of the collective West is our inability to appreciate the vital importance of the nation-state to the security of a self-governing people.
National identity, national culture and history, and the sense of belonging to a distinct community are not antithetical to the notion of an interdependent international system. On the contrary, when bereft of the core building blocks of consolidated nation-states, the system will grow less stable with each passing year.
Andrew A. Michta is the dean of the College of International and Security Studies at the George C. Marshall European Centre for Security Studies. This story first appeared in online journal The American Interest.

NBN costs put brake on internet speeds

Millions of Australians will see their internet speeds fall when they are moved on to the National Broadband Network, despite still being charged the same for access.
The cost structure of the superfast internet project — required in order to pay back the federal government $49 billion in construction costs — has meant ­telcos are being charged very high prices for downloads.
These high bandwidth charges — tiny under the nation’s existing Telstra and Optus broadband networks — has meant telcos are buying the minimum, resulting in NBN speeds plummeting during peak times, such as after 5pm on weekdays.
NBN Co has admitted its bandwidth pricing is a key factor ­behind speed issues, problems not seen in New Zealand where its broadband network does not levy such fees.
NBN Co has been forced to levy the high bandwidth or “CVC” charges in order to pay back ­the money it has borrowed from the federal government to build the massive project.
Under the NBN, every home will be connected to broadband internet, with many regional and rural users to get vastly improved internet services.
But the cost of providing those services to regional Australia is being borne by the millions of city residents on the existing Telstra and Optus networks who are being forced on to the NBN where peak time speeds can fall to as low as 1/40th of what they now get.
An NBN Co spokesman yesterday confirmed CVC pricing was a key factor behind the speed problems.
“Actual end-user speeds are impacted by a range of ... factors including how much capacity is being purchased by retailers for their end users on the NBN network,” the spokesman said.
Industry expert Ian Martin, a telecommunications analyst with New Street Research, said NBN Co was unable to remove the CVC charge as it represented one-third of the company’s revenue and funded half of its operating cash.
“You couldn’t remove that component without causing a major political issue around ‘is the NBN really worth it?’,” Mr Martin said.
“If the demand for that kind of broadband is really there to justify building the NBN then people would be prepared to pay more (for faster net packages), if not then the question is why was it built?”
Internet users have inundated the websites of NBN providers, ­including Optus and Telstra and industry sites such as Whirlpool, after finding their NBN connections are far slower than the speeds they achieved previously.
Paulo Felipe wrote on the Optus website that he was achieving speeds of just 1/100th of what he had paid for.
“As everyone else, I am getting 1 per cent (1 megabit per second or even less) of contracted speed (100Mbps) during peak times,” he said. “After searching around I could see this is really a common Optus problem all around the country.”
While telcos offer users packages spruiking download rates of up to 100Mbps, about 80 per cent of users are ­opting for the slower, and cheaper, speed package of 25Mbps.
To recoup the huge costs of building the network, NBN Co charges telcos between about $10 and $14 for each 1Mbps of bandwidth they buy, depending on the quantity they purchase. Because of this high cost, most telcos are buying just 1Mbps for each customer on a 25Mbps plan.
They are able to do this ­because not everyone uses the ­internet all the time — at very low usage times such as 4am a user can expect to achieve the 25Mbps rate. But at peak times speeds plummet to as low as 1Mbps.
There are about 1 million homes connected to the Optus and Telstra networks across the capital cities, except Darwin and Hobart.
Those networks did not suffer from high CVC charges or similar bandwidth issues because Telstra and Optus owned the networks which they completed in the mid-1990s and had paid off.
Those networks were also much cheaper than the NBN ­because they focused on only high-density capital cities.
NBN Co has previously ­reduced its CVC charges, which started out at $21 per 1Mbps.
Despite those cuts, the government business enterprise is forecasting it will become more dependent on CVC revenue, which it plans will represent ­between 35 per cent and 40 per cent of all future revenue, up from 33 per cent currently.
New Zealand’s national broadband network does not levy CVC charges and so super-fast 1gigabit per second packages — 10 times faster than the top speed package in Australia — sell for $NZ129.99 ($122) a month.
Nicholas Demos, managing director of MyRepublic Australia — which sells the 1Gbps packages in New Zealand — said the CVC charges meant the group would be forced to sell similar packages for between $300 and $400 a month in Australia.
Much of the public debate on NBN speeds has focused on the differences between costly faster fibre-to-the-premises (FTTP) connections and cheaper but slower fibre-to-the-node (FTTN) connections. But the CVC issue is a far bigger determinant on net speeds.
An NBN spokesman said consumers connected via FTTP, fibre-to-the-building or hybrid fibre coaxial users could achieve speeds of 100Mbps while users connected via FTTN could achieve speeds of 70Mbps.
Communications Minister Mitch Fifield yesterday said NBN Co had the “flexibility to change its pricing” and had done so in reducing CVC costs to $14 per 1Mbps.
Experts said NBN Co was in a difficult position because if it ­reduced CVC charges it would not be able to repay the government.
A TPG customer reported moving from the company’s 12Mbps package to its 25Mbps NBN package, but speeds became “slower and less reliable” with downloads from international sites taking six times longer.
One user wrote on the Optus website that the telcos’ failure to buy enough bandwidth was the key problem to slow speeds.
“Simply put, they don’t purchase enough bandwidth from the NBN,” he said. “They buy enough for 10 people but sell it to 100 people, so at peak times it’s useless.”