The Future of States & Future States
Over the last 10 years of studying democracy, law and international relations, I have repeatedly confronted one of the greatest questions in modern international politics: who has the right to declare themselves a state. This debate has lurked in dark waters, seldom addressed and really never debated. It receives little attention.
First, most parties to the debate were African. Many African states occupy borders drawn by the rotund, “educated” European diplomats of the early 20th century. That’s why many of their borders are straight lines. The ruler-drawn lines bisect topographical regions, nations of people, religious groups and traditional tribal lands. This has and will serve to provide a precipice for wars for independence on that continent for the next 50 years.
A recent Western example of this question was Yugoslavia. Here…again…victorious powers represented by the educated decided to ensconce peoples of different ethnicities, religions and languages into a single state. Only Tito and a firm hand kept peace. Yet, this peace came at a price: democracy.
With his passing and the collapse of Soviet communism these nations sought to stake their claims, settle scores and preserve their futures. This led to over a decade of bloody wars, genocide, and ancient reprisals. Only now, is there some evidence of peace in the rubble, while the people who assembled the dream that was Yugoslavia seek to bring to justice those that opposed the ideas behind their creation. The same people that cobbled together the Yugoslav state and seek perpetrators of heinous crimes against humanity also have denied these new states membership to the EU.
The 21st century has proven to be no exception to the debate with examples of its own. There was Scotland, which seeks to leave the United Kingdom. The Kurds have long sought a homeland. The Catalans are sick of paying the tab of a federal government in Madrid. Yet, we are no closer to determining who has the authority (moral or otherwise) to deem a nation worthy of a state. There have been peaceful divorces: Slovakia and the Czech Republic, but these remain in the minority. The UK seems confident that they will retain Scotland with a second “remain” vote. In an ironic macrocosm, Brexit will prove to be painful for some involved. There is large difference between states that emerged in the 20th century and nations that seek statehood in the 21st. The sad fact is that much of the 21st century seems like centuries past when wars make states and states make wars.
There aren’t many states in the some 200 recognized today that originated peacefully. The future doesn’t portend much differently. The Spanish government (no matter what the branch) has already used heavy handed tactics and violence to suppress the independence movement in Catalonia. Some nations in Africa attempt to determine their own future and borders and, unfortunately, it results in wars. The Kurds are being subjected to isolation by the government in Baghdad, which is supported by a community of western democracies. However, there has been violence with Turkey, who confronts violent Kurdish opposition with violence.
It is easy to dismiss the entire topic and address each situation piecemeal. That lends credence to positions. In these replies, perspective is important. It validates the realist theories of Mearsheimer. States will seek their interests. This explains why large powers like the United States, Putinist Russia, China and the EU selectively choose to celebrate and support some independence movements and refer to others as revolutionaries and insurgents and some territories as “rogue provinces” It is an example of might makes right and the exact thing the UN and EU were supposed to end.