WESTFAILURE:

March 22, 2007

Europe’s approaching train wreck (Stanley Kober, March 22, 2007, International Herald Tribune)

The momentum toward independence for Kosovo seems irresistible because it is unlikely that the predominantly Albanian population there will accept anything less. […]

If 1244 is ignored, it is unreasonable to expect that our actions would not be treated as a precedent to ignore other UN resolutions in the future. Russian Defense Minister Sergei Ivanov and Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov have both made this point.

Russia, and many other nations, have been irritated by the tendency of NATO countries, and the United States in particular, to bypass the Security Council when they cannot obtain a resolution they want.

The dilemma confronting policymakers is acute. Kosovar aspirations cannot be denied much longer, but the effort to satisfy them absent an agreement with Serbia is bound to alienate the Serbs and, by extension, the Russians.

And if we craft solutions that bypass existing law, we should recognize that we are creating opportunities for mischief down the road.

Indeed, if we attempt to buy peace at the expense of law, we might find out we end up with neither.

With Ahtisaari’s declaration that further negotiation is pointless, Europe’s trains — Kosovo independence vs. Serbia’s territorial integrity, legitimacy vs. law — are hurtling toward each other.

If the Russians (and possibly the Chinese) oppose revision of Resolution 1244 to grant Kosovo effective independence, and if the United States and its allies ignore these concerns and endorse the Ahtisaari plan, the reverberations will be felt well beyond the Balkans.

It’s a quaint enough notion that regard for international law forbids the majority of a discrete territory from declaring themselves a state, but you have to ignore at least the 20th and 21st centuries to still believe it.

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THERE IS NO PHILIPPINES:

March 15, 2007

Autonomy hopes for southern Philippines (Noel Tarrazona, 3/16/07, Asia Times)

President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo recently extended an autonomy and self-determination offer in behind-the-scenes talks with the insurgent Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF), a fig-leaf gesture that some hope could bring an Aceh-like solution to a nearly three-decade-old conflict that has consumed as many as 140,000 lives.


IF YOU THINK OF YOURSELVES AS A NATION YOU ARE ONE:

March 12, 2007

EU set to enact supervised statehood for Kosovo (The Associated Press, March 12, 2007)

The European Union is set to enforce a UN plan that gives supervised statehood to Kosovo, even though Serbia has rejected giving so much autonomy to the breakaway province and its largely ethnic Albanian population.


THERE IS NO SPAIN:

March 1, 2007

The Spanish centrifuge: Madrid is losing its grip, even if Spain is not yet a federation (The Economist, 3/01/07)

NOT since the last Moorish ruler, Boabdil, quit Granada in 1492, after 781 years of Muslim rule in al-Andalus, has anything like an Andalusian nation existed. But a new charter of autonomy gives Andalusia a “nationality”, and even a “millennium-long” history. It has provoked surprisingly little passion in the home of flamenco, Don Juan and Carmen. Barely a third of Andalusians bothered to vote in the referendum that said yes to the charter. Both the ruling Socialists and the opposition People’s Party were in favour.

The new charter demonstrates the growing power of the 17 autonomous regions into which Spain divided itself after Franco. Although the country is not a federation, it increasingly looks like one. Spain is one of Europe’s most decentralised states—more than some overtly federal ones, says Francisco Balaguer, at Granada University. The regions control some 36% of public spending. Ministries in Madrid are seeing their budgets dwindle fast.

If it were Iraq they’d be calling it a failed state.


A PEOPE WHO THINK OF THEMSELVES AS A NATION IS ONE:

February 12, 2007

The Uncontainable Kurds (Christopher de Bellaigue, 3/01/07, NY Review of Books)

Since the Turkish Republic was set up in 1923, no Turkish statesman has shown the necessary combination of courage and imagination to resolve the question of how the country’s ethnic Kurds, who are now estimated to number fifteen million people, should be treated. Turkey’s leaders have tried variously to isolate the Kurds, integrate them, and repress them, hoping that they might agree to live unobtrusively in a state that was set up on the premise that all its inhabitants, except for a small number of non-Muslim minorities, are Turks.

During the past twenty years, several million Kurds have moved from their homes in southeastern Turkey to towns and cities further west, many to Istanbul–some to escape the state’s pitiless treatment of Kurds, others in the hope of becoming a bit less poor. Some of these Kurds have done what the state wanted them to. They have married Turks, or they have decided not to teach their children to speak Kurmanji, the Kurdish language that is most widespread in Turkey. They have taken their place in the mainstream Turkish economy and learned to enjoy Turkish food, pop music, and soap operas. In short, they have become the Turks that the state always insisted they were.

But there is another group, perhaps as large, who have remained in the southeast and in the Kurdish neighborhoods of cities in western Turkey. These people, recalling the humiliations to which they, as Kurds, have for years been subject, or because members of their families have fought against the Turkish state, retain a strong sense of Kurdish identity that has not been weakened by the military defeat that the Kurdish Workers Party (PKK) sustained in the late 1990s, when it was forced to scale down its long guerrilla war against the Turkish army; and that has survived the capture, in 1999, of the PKK leader, Abdullah Ocalan, who is serving a life sentence on a prison island near Istanbul.

The pride of such Kurds in their identity has been sharpened by two unexpected developments. First, since the American invasion of Iraq, the Kurds of northern Iraq have established a federal region that enjoys nearly complete autonomy. It runs its own armed forces, decides how to spend its revenues, and maintains independent (if unofficial) foreign relations. This nearly sovereign Kurdistan –inhabited by more than five million people–is a source of pride to Kurdish nationalists everywhere. Second, under pressure from the European Union, a club that the Turkish government has long wanted to join, Turkey passed a series of laws, mostly between 2002 and 2004, which have increased freedom of expression and relaxed slightly the monopoly held by the official Turkish culture. Under these laws, Kurds now have the right to broadcast in Kurdish and to set up private Kurdish-language schools. They are able to articulate their grievances more bluntly and they are physically safer. Following the passage of anti-torture legislation, reports of torture in police stations and jails have dropped markedly.

In August 2005, Recep Tayyip Erdogan, the prime minister, whose mildly Islamist Justice and Development Party has been in power since 2002, acknowledged during a visit to Diyarbakir, the main city of the largely Kurdish region in the southeast, that the state had made mistakes in its dealings with the Kurds, and that the answer to the problem was “more democracy.” […]

Turkey’s longstanding fear, that the Kurdish federal region in Iraq will declare independence, adding to nationalist passions among its own Kurds, is shared by Iran and Syria, the other countries that have divided up the ancient region of Kurdistan. […]

If you visit the Kurdish federal region in Iraq, with its own president, parliament, and flag, you may come away, as I did, with the impression that it is on the way to independence.

And it will be a Greater Kurdistan eventually.


WHY WOULD SERBIA GET THE MESSAGE WHEN SO FEW OTHERS DO?:

February 9, 2007

The End of Balkan History: Serbia should let go of Kosovo and move on (Fatos Tarifa and Peter Lucas, February/March 2007, Policy Review)

One would have thought that Serbia would have gotten the message by now — nobody wants to cohabit with Belgrade. One by one, all the former Yugoslav “sister” republics left Serbia to start a life on their own. The first to walk out on the Serbs were Slovenia and Croatia. They left as fast as they could from the clutches of the troubled Yugoslav federation on June 25, 1991. These two republics were quickly followed by Macedonia, which declared its independence and peeled away in September of the same year. It was followed by the secession of Bosnia-Herzegovina in March 1992. Next in line was Montenegro, the smallest republic of the Yugoslav federation — and now only Kosovo is left waiting in the wings, standing by to join the entire region to attain what Charles Kupchan calls a “degree of finality.” […]

The solid “yes” vote for independence has restored Montenegro’s statehood, which was abolished by Serbian annexation and the great powers at the end of World War i. Many governments, including the United States, the European Union, Russia, and China, immediately recognized Montenegro’s independence and warmly welcomed the newest Adriatic republic into the family of sovereign nations.

Although small in size and population — even though bigger than Malta and with a population similar to that of North Dakota, Vermont, or Wyoming in the United States — Montenegro has all it needs to become politically and economically viable and, very soon, a candidate for both nato and eu membership. There is hardly anybody today who questions that Montenegro’s independence and progress will further improve stability and good neighborly relations in the western Balkans. On the contrary, it is generally expected that the recent events and further progress in Montenegro will potentially have positive effects on Kosovo and Bosnia, the two regions that have suffered most from the bloody wars of the breakup of Yugoslavia.

One of the fears and uncertainties related to the outcome of Montenegro’s referendum was the precedent its independence would establish for other secession-minded territories in Europe. How would states seeking to hold together fragile multiethnic societies react to such a precedent? Many assumed that if Montenegro voted for secession from Serbia and won international recognition as an independent state, such an outcome would reverberate not only in the Balkans but across Europe and in other parts of the world. There were those who believed that Montenegro’s choice and the willingness of the European Union and the United Nations to respect the verdict of the Montenegrins would stir up separatist groups in the Basque and Catalan regions of Spain, among the German-speaking separatists in the Tyrol region of Northern Italy (who seek separation from Italy and annexation by Austria), and even the Turkish Cypriots, who have been separated from the southern part of the island for decades.

In point of fact, Montenegro’s choice was immediately applauded by all these groups as a validation of their own aspirations and campaigns for self-determination. Meanwhile, Armenian leaders, who have for over a decade been caught up in conflict with Azerbaijan over the Nagorno-Karabakh region, as well as the breakaway republics of Transnistria in Moldova and Abkhazia in Georgia, warmly welcomed the outcome of Montenegro’s referendum as a confirmation of the precedence that should be given to the principle of self-determination over that of the territorial integrity of nations. […]

Kosovo’s political future will be resolved through a different rationale and in a different institutional context than Montenegro’s. However, we do not subscribe to the idea that Kosovo is “a much bigger problem than Montenegro.” In all respects, Kosovo has the same legitimate right to independent political life as Montenegro and all the other constitutive parts of the former Yugoslav federation. The independence of Kosovo, with its ethnic make-up, population size (almost four times larger than Montenegro’s) and past and recent histories of bloody confrontations with Serbia, is more critical to the stability of the Balkans than the independence of Montenegro. As a matter of fact, moving Kosovo toward democratic self-rule and the resolution of its final status is long overdue. The truth is as simple as this: Given the unspeakable atrocities they have suffered in the past and the virtual political, economic, and territorial separation from Serbia they have been enjoying for the past seven years, Kosovo and its people cannot be forced to live under Serbian rule once again. Hence, any attempt to impose even the mildest form of Serbian sovereignty over Kosovo would be highly provocative and futile.

By now, it is in Serbia’s best interest to let Kosovo go, especially as Kosovo has de facto already left Serbia’s orbit.

Nearly every trouble spot on the globe features a de facto nation that folks refuse to accept.


THERE IS NO BRITAIN:

January 29, 2007

Just like Scotland, I’m in the middle of an identity crisis (Niall Ferguson, 28/01/2007, Sunday Telegraph)

Having once been the best educated and most entrepreneurial part of the United Kingdom, Scotland has become a byword for big government, high unemployment and low achievement. Southern Ireland — once regarded by Scots like me as a benighted outpost of Popery and poverty — has eclipsed Scotland at everything from foreign direct investment to football.

The answer, argue the Scot Nats, is independence. And the “Celtic Tiger” is not their only role model. The SNP website also lauds the achievements of Australia, Estonia, Finland, Iceland, Montenegro, New Zealand and Norway, all places where “independence has worked”.

It is, of course, a little premature to conclude that independence has worked in Montenegro, which has enjoyed self-government for less than eight months. Still, the point is superficially a reasonable one. There are indeed plenty of countries smaller than Scotland (population 5.1 million) that have prospered under their own flag. And it is not wholly implausible to imagine an independent Scotland as Finland West or New Zealand North.

On the other hand, there are plenty of countries with populations of around five million that have made rather less of a success of independence. Sierra Leone springs to mind. As does Eritrea. As does Turkmenistan. Small isn’t always beautiful. The question therefore arises: Just when does it make sense for a people to go it alone?

The past century has seen a remarkable global experiment in what used to be called “self-determination”, so we have plenty of evidence to go on. Back in 1913, around 82 per cent of the world’s population lived in some 14 empires. Nation states were the exception, not the rule. But two world wars, a depression and a spate of revolutions shattered the old imperial order, ushering in an era of almost incessant political fragmentation. In 1946, there were 74 sovereign states in the world. By 1995 there were 192.

It’s hardly a purely economic question, but from an economic perspective there is no question that an island people who were colonized by the Brits will succeed on their own and smallness is a huge boon.