Increasingly, over human history, no single country can exist without interacting with others. Even that seemingly most isolated of countries, North Korea, has to interact in some way or other with other countries in ways to benefit itself.
Every place has its own set of strengths. When different places with complementary strengths form a collaboration, the collective strength can be beneficial to both places, and perhaps even to other places. For example, if a place that produces an abundance of coal were to come to an agreement with a place that produces an abundance of iron ore, they could collaborate to produce steel. Not just individual places, whole countries can collaborate, too.
These collaborations are often based on a mix of many things – politics, economics, military, resources, etc. The collaborative structures are called supranational organizations.
Supranational organizations are formed by treaty among two or more countries for stated mutual benefits. Thus, the USA, Canada, and México formed the North American Free Trade Association (NAFTA) with the idea that trade among the member countries would be encouraged by reducing barriers – reducing taxes on goods from one member country being sold in another member country, for example. However, each country has and maintains its own currency – the US Dollar (USD), Canadian Dollar (CAD), and the Méxican Peso (MXN).
Some supranational organizations had security as the central focus. One of these was the Warsaw Pact formed to maintain the security of the (then) USSR (Union of Soviet Socialist Republics) and its allies in eastern Europe. Their adversaries were the western powers – western European countries plus USA and Canada. The western powers formed their own alliance called NATO (North Atlantic Treaty Organization). Until the collapse and disintegration of the USSR, these two supranational organizations were always opposed to each other.
These organizations also often work together to promote or oppose actions at the United Nations Organization (UNO, more commonly called UN). The UN itself is another supranational organization.
When such organizations are formed, the member countries give up some of their individual rights for the sake of having the strength of being in the organization. The European Union (EU) is an interesting example of this. As part of the membership, member countries gave up their own currencies in favour of a unified currency called the Euro (EUR; symbol: €). The countries that have adopted the EUR as their currency are also often called the Eurozone. If you have Euros, you can spend them in any member country at the same rate, as there is no exchange rate involved.
The individual EU member countries also relaxed some of their immigration rules allowing citizens of member countries to freely move from one member country to another without visa restrictions, allowing them access to employment in all member countries, and so on.
Geographers call these kinds of movements and connections spatial interaction.
In our own neighborhood also we have regional supranational organizations in which we, India, are also members.
As I write this, Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi is visiting Brazil to participate in a new supranational organization to start a whole new international bank with a USD 100 billion initial fund. The interesting thing about this grouping is that is not confined to South Asia or even just Asia. Also, none of the countries is classified as “developed” or “industrialized”. This association consists of Brazil (the recent hosts of FIFA-2014; they lost to Germany, which is not a member of this organization but is a member of others), Russia, India, China, and South Africa. The group is called BRICS. (South Africa is not represented with ‘SA’ because that would cause confusion with the additional ‘A’ at the end … would that ‘A’ be Argentina? Algeria? Albania? Etc. J ) BRICS is aimed at member countries cooperating and collaborating primarily on economic issues. Of course, all alliances are multi-disciplinary – not just one or other issue.
Basically, strength when we join hands; weakness when we don’t. That is the idea behind supranational organizations.
Things you can do (send me your answers by email to firstname.lastname@example.org):
- Find out which countries were members of the Warsaw Pact and which countries are members of NATO. Identify them on a map of the world using one colour for Warsaw Pact and one colour for NATO.
- On the map that you have just created, which countries are have a coastline and which ones are landlocked (i.e., they have no coasts)? Why is this difference significant? (Discuss with your friends, parents, teachers, or anyone who is willing to do the research with you.)
- On the same map that you have, mark all the members of the EU. How will you show them on the map that you have already used?
- Make a list of the members of the EU and name the currency they had before they adopted the EUR as their common currency. One country has retained its currency – which country and what is its currency called?
- Apply some set theory (from mathematics) here in geography. Are all members of NATO, also members of the EU? Are all members of the EU also members of NATO? Try showing this on the same map – a challenge to show so many different pieces of information on one map. (Hint: a combination of colours and hatch patterns may do the trick.) You could also use Venn diagrams (if you have studied them), to show the membership status.
- What one thing did EU member countries NOT give up as part of their membership?
- Which are the supranational organizations (other than the UN) in which India is a member? On a separate world map, mark the all the countries that are also members in each organization.
(A version of this article appeared in the Deccan Herald Student Edition on 17 July 2014)