The Dawn of a New Empire: Are Companies the New Countries?

By Devon Fitzgerald

Once upon a time, the sun never set on the British Empire. And when its time in the sun was over, its prodigal son – the United States – was more than happy to step into the spotlight.

One might argue, and many have, that the curtains are slowly closing on the era of U.S. hegemony. We had a good run, guys, but we seem to have jumped the shark (RE: Trump et. al.).

This begs the question: who is next?

While the United States’ time does in fact seem to be nearing its end, a clear heir has not emerged.

What’s a world to do?

While there is not a replacement in the traditional sense of sovereign nations, a rather untraditional alternative seems to be emerging: GAFA.

Haven’t heard of it? Can’t locate it on a map? You are probably not alone.

GAFA is an acronym coined by the French to represent international corporations Google, Apple, Facebook, and Amazon.

The world hegemon has traditionally been a state or an empire, but nothing dictates that it has to be. A “hegemon” is not even really a concrete concept; it just so happens that historically, countries have been the entities that fulfill the definition. But modern innovations in business and industry may be changing this.

The argument for GAFA as a state:

GAFA is not an internationally-recognized state, nor even one company. If it so desired to become a state, however, I would highly recommend the 1933 Montevideo Convention as some light bedtime reading.

Adopted by sixteen states (including the United States, which says a lot in international law), Article 1 of the Convention dictates: A State should possess the following qualifications:

  1. a permanent population;
  2. a defined territory;
  3. a government;
  4. the capacity to enter into relations with the other States.

If I am being frank, points a through c are not the strongest sources of support for a GAFA claim to statehood. Maybe if GAFA acquired a brilliant legal team (which I’m inclined to believe they easily could), they could argue that they have a population, territory, and government, but for now let us focus on point d: “capacity to enter into relations with the other States.”

I present the court two pieces of evidence that indicate GAFA’s capacity to enter into relations with other States:

  • They have proven to have the power to influence, and even overturn, major policy decisions. After Trump signed the executive order intended to limit immigration from seven Muslim-majority countries, the tech industry fought back by filing an amicus brief, calling the ban unlawful. The brief was created by a group of Silicon Valley-based rivals and submitted to the San Francisco-based Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals.
  • They receive ambassadors (or at least one), and therefore have the capacity to conduct diplomatic relations. Although not mentioned in the criteria above, international recognition is a major part of statehood. Denmark has appointed an ambassador to “Silicon Valley,” or rather major tech corporations in general. Danish Foreign Minister Anders Samuelsen said in an interview that these big companies “affect Denmark just as much as entire countries […] These companies have become a type of new nation and we need to confront that.” After all,This is not the first time diplomacy has reached Silicon Valley. Foreign Policy Magazine awarded Google’s Eric Schmidt its Diplomat of the Year award in 2016.

So what does this mean?

We are the generation that made google a verb, iPhones a necessity, Facebook a birthright, and Amazon Prime a way of life––we are the generation that argues Wi-Fi is a universal human right. If you don’t believe GAFA is eligible for hegemonic status, I would be hard-pressed to believe you have not historically done well with the stock market.

Maybe California should secede. GAFA would have a sufficient population and indisputable territory, and Silicon Valley can be the new capital. Bitcoin would be the currency (obviously) and iPhones will be the main export (shipped via Amazon Prime of course). Sovereign nations are so last year––companies are the new countries.

Devon Fitzgerald is a junior in the Elliott School, pursuing a B.A. in International Affairs and a minor in French, concentrating in International Politics.

The Globe Staff

Author: The Globe Staff