The speed and scale of Qatar’s state-led response to the blockade is a lesson in the national resilience and adaptation needed to change the devastating course of climate change around the world, said Dr. Anatol Lieven, author of a major new book on climate change that challenges contemporary wisdom on the issue. This observation of Qatar’s rapid economic shifts and infrastructure development, said Dr. Lieven, contributed to his thinking on climate change, which he lays out in his new book: “Climate Change and the Nation State: The Realist Case.”
In the book, the professor of government at Qatar Foundation partner university, Georgetown University in Qatar, draws on lessons from history to argue that only nation states have the power to enact the kind of dramatic change needed to prevent environmental disaster.
“Qatar’s experience made me think about how countries with a very strong state-led effort can respond to crises,” he said. The success of that effort and its contribution to a surge in national patriotism, he says, provides a study on how understanding climate change as a threat to the vital interests of nation states could generate the needed national responses.
In his book, Dr. Lieven draws on history to demonstrate how appealing to patriotism was a successful response not only to war but to challenges like the need for painful economic and social reforms. In particular, he explores the “New Deal”, the expansive relief and reform measures enacted by U.S. President Franklin Roosevelt during the Great Depression in the 1930s.
“Successful measures to change societies and economies have always been driven by national states, not international organisations,” he said, pointing to the example of national responses to the global pandemic – a crisis from which international bodies have been almost wholly absent. “When combating the pandemic, what really counts is the ability to close borders, forbid gatherings, close transportation routes. Only individual states can do this.” And for climate change, he says, while international agreements and grassroots efforts are needed, “all of these are ultimately directed towards pressuring state governments into taking action.”
Lieven calls for states to adopt different national versions of a “Green New Deal”, dedicated to building alternative energy, public transport networks, technological innovation, economic growth, new jobs and social solidarity. The huge amounts of money now being poured into economies to combat the economic effects of the pandemic should be targeted at these goals, not spent indiscriminately.
“Climate Change and the Nation State: The Realist Case” is published by Penguin in the UK and Oxford University Press in the USA. An updated paperback edition will be published in 2021. Professor Anatol Lieven was previously a correspondent in South Asia and the former USSR, and an expert at think tanks in Washington DC. He teaches on Nationalism, International Relations, US Foreign Policy and Comparative Political Systems at Georgetown University in Qatar. He is a member of the South Asia Advisory Board of the British Foreign and Commonwealth Office, and has taken part in numerous panels to discuss climate change and its impact on world politics. He has also published on the subject in journals and newspapers including The Observer (UK) and The National Interest (USA).