The world in the 21st century is smaller than it was. We are more connected than ever before, in so many ways. Just in the course of this morning, I have engaged with a host of international networks. Breakfast involved global trade, particularly the coffee from Ethiopia. Here I am working on a laptop made in China, logged into an blogging platform based out of San Francisco. A band from South Africa is playing through a Swedish music service that I subscribe to. I’ve encountered human networks too, dropping my son off at school alongside parents from Pakistan, Romania, Poland, France, Nigeria, and many other countries. Whatever my passport says, my life is not neatly contained within the nation-state of Great Britain.
We are all global citizens in this way. Even the staunchest of patriots wants the benefits of global trade, international tourism, the internet, and the movement of goods and capital around the world.
Along with these global benefits, many of our problems are international too. We all share the sky, and nature doesn’t respect our political boundaries. Sometimes that’s very direct: last month DEFRA issued an air pollution warning as warm air from the south brought a wave of Saharan dust and European diesel fumes across from the continent. Most of the time it is less obvious than that, but all of us are indirectly affected by China’s coal power ambitions, US fuel efficiency legislation, or Brazil’s stewardship of its forests. Climate change, pollution, deforestation, biodiversity loss, ocean acidification and the decline of fish stocks – none of these are any respecter of the nation state and its borders.
Conflict and security looks very different too. We spent centuries squabbling with our immediate neighbours in France. Right through into the 20th century nations and empires went to war with other nations and empires, but that began to erode in the late 1900s. Wars spread internationally along ideological lines, and the biggest security risks we face today are even harder to point to on a map. The perpetrators of 9/11 were from Saudi Arabia, which remained an ally of the US. The Paris bombers came from Brussels. There are still rogue nationalist states such as Putin’s Russia, but they are held in check by international alliances, not by the individual might of single countries. Extremism and terrorism, conflict refugees, the legal and illegal arms trade, all of these things are outside the scope of countries on their own.
There’s more. The great scientific projects of our age are collaborative and jointly funded, whether that is space, energy, experimental physics or medical research. And as Ebola, the Zika virus, HIV or bird flu have shown, international research is entirely appropriate for global health problems. We source our energy from across the globe, our food, our investment finance, our cultural goods.
All of which suggests that the future belongs to the collaborators, to those willing to partner, to share power, to work together. Global issues are solved by global cooperation, and the independent, sovereign nation-state is an increasingly obsolete structure of power. No international institution is perfect. There is always room for improvement and greater efficiency. But fundamentally, the challenges of our global world require us to cooperate.
And that means that retreating from international cooperation is the last thing we should be doing. The idea that we should stand alone, a proud island nation, is a dream that is a century out of date. Pursuing it will make us less equipped for the reality of today’s world, and more vulnerable to the borderless problems we face. National interest is too narrow a lens in the 21st century. We need a wider view, a broader conversation, and a deeper understanding of the common good.
That is why I will be voting to remain in the EU on the 23rd of June.