I won't repeat my comments in that discussion here, but want to follow up with a couple of reflections (one or two of which will be set out here, others perhaps in a subsequent post).
In questioning the assertion that "national boundaries are becoming more stable over time," several CT commenters argued that not enough time has passed since the end of decolonization, or even since the end of WW2, to draw inferences about a trend.
For example, Peter T writes in a comment at the end of the thread:
John Quiggin would, I imagine, be fairly hard on those who repeat the “19 years of flat temperatures proves global warming is a myth” idiocy. But there’s a similar issue here. We should not expect national boundaries or state break-up/formation to proceed at a steady pace. They are affairs of decades at the least. Definite national boundaries, as opposed to zones of influence (sometimes broad, sometimes quite sharply defined), are a fairly recent thing over much of the earth anyway. The last wave – the decolonisation movement – only subsided around 40 years ago. There have been a number of minor shifts since then, plus the break-up of the Soviet Union and Yugoslavia. So it hasn’t really been all that stable, and it may be simply too early to go looking for explanations. If we get through another 30 or so years without major changes in state boundaries, then I’ll be impressed (if I live that long).There are several issues here. One is that a strong argument can be made that decolonization itself, as it played out, contributed to boundary stability rather than the reverse (I dealt with that at CT, so won't elaborate here). Another is that Peter T (like others who made a similar point) assumes that the statement "national boundaries are becoming more stable over time" contains an implicit prediction that stability noticed at time T will persist until some future time T + X, or will persist indefinitely. Although the context of JQ's post might have encouraged this interpretation, the statement that "national boundaries are becoming more stable over time" need not be read as anything other than a descriptive statement of what has been happening in recent years: the words "are becoming" do not necessarily mean "will continue to become" or "will continue to become, indefinitely." If someone looks in the mirror and says "my hair is becoming grayer," that does not necessarily mean "my hair will continue to become grayer." All it means is that the person has noticed that his or her hair is grayer now than it was two weeks ago, or two years ago. There is no guarantee that the process of graying will continue: the color of the hair could simply remain as it is, or it is even possible (if not perhaps likely) that the process of graying could reverse itself (without the application of hair dye or anything like that).
The point, and sorry for the repetition, is that "national boundaries are becoming more stable over time" does not necessarily have to mean "national boundaries will continue to become ever more stable" or that "stability will persist indefinitely." It can simply mean that in a given span of time -- the last half-century, say -- national boundaries have become more stable. The notion that this, even if empirically accurate, is a meaningless observation because it probably just represents another phase in an endless up-and-down cycle, and the related notion that 40 or 50 or 60 or 70 years is too short a time span from which to infer anything of consequence, both suffer from the same weakness.
The weakness is that these dismissals ignore the normative context of international politics, the normative environment in which, in this case, fluctuations in boundaries do or don't occur. Actors have ideas and these ideas influence how they behave, at least to some extent. One idea that the corporate actors known as states now firmly have in their heads is that national (i.e., state) boundaries should be messed with as little as possible and as seldom as possible. We know this because they say it in authoritative contexts. Of course actions do not always match words. The question is how often actions diverge from words. Krasner in his book on sovereignty argued that states' actions diverge from their words quite often; he called this, borrowing from other writers, 'organized hypocrisy,' i.e., a situation "in which institutional norms are enduring but frequently ignored." Is the current norm about boundaries -- i.e., 'don't mess with them' in my colloquial rendering -- "frequently ignored"? Are we dealing here with organized hypocrisy? It depends partly on what one means by "frequently," but my sense is -- and some research, to which I referred at CT, backs up this intuition -- that the boundary norm (or 'the territorial integrity norm' as it has been called) is observed much or most of the time. Not all the time, but enough of the time so that one can say that the match between words and deeds in this particular context is reasonably (not perfectly, but reasonably) good. The norm could change, and/or the degree of conformity to it could change, but to write comments on this subject as if the norm did not exist is peculiar, to say the least.
Commenters who made points like the one quoted above don't even ask the question about the match between words and deeds because they implicitly assume that words don't matter. It's as if the stability/instability of boundaries, for them, is a question in Newtonian physics, completely divorced from what humans in their collective capacity think or say. But that's not how politics, or almost any other aspect of human life for that matter, works.
Note (added 3/3): Peter T has replied in the comment thread attached to this post; those interested may read the ensuing conversation there.
ETA: Another example of the same sort of thing, this time from a CT commenter who annoys me a lot more than Peter T ever has, namely bob mcmanus. Here's mcmanus (from another CT thread):
Just finished Daniel Alpert’s Age of Oversupply. It’s a readable middle-brow summation ... with affinities to DeLong and Krugman, with the usual laundry list of Keynesian technocratic prescriptions that are politically implausible. I think the resource or supply constraints are still a long ways off. What we have is a typical glut, overcapacity, overproduction, oversupply crisis, a typical Marxist (too much capital) crisis of astronomical proportions. Combined with an equally terrifying failure of distribution and global and local imbalances of power and resources. Combined with perhaps social technological advances (US hegemon, nukes, smarter Central Banks, int’l technocrats) that prevent the old mechanisms of creative destruction and rebalancing, war/revolution and/or depression/capitals destruction => reterritorialization and reconstruction.I've added the italics, because that's the part I want to focus on. What is preventing a global war, which mcmanus seems to think might in some way be beneficial, at least to the powers that be? Why, it's "social technological" factors: "US hegemon, nukes, smarter Central Banks, int’l technocrats." God forbid it should ever enter his mind that what statespeople say and believe actually makes a difference in how they conduct themselves. Or that the experiences of their predecessors might influence them. No, that's all superstructural rubbish.