Tuesday, June 3, 2008

breaking up is hard to do

Juan Gabriel Tokatlian pulls out the Russian argument that America's support of Kosovar independence is encouraging independence bids everywhere. His example is in Bolivia, and his solution is that we should encourage autonomy there (no discussion, meanwhile, of whether this is a good idea or not: it's just accepted by fiat because Evo Morales is a bad man who wants to grow coca everywhere) but not outright secession, because secession undermines sovereignty and leads to global chaos.

Now, I'm a big sovereignty buff, as I've repeatedly demonstrated here. (See all my Myanmar posts.) But Bolivia is a pretty unique case, because if you look at the world's would be ethnic separatist bids, just how many have US backing? Sri Lanka's Tamils? No. The Basques? Certainly not. Even our ally Taiwan gets Uncle Sam's hand over its mouth when it shouts too loudly for independence. Partition of Iraq and independence for the Kurds has never seriously been considered by anyone in the United States besides Joe Biden. We support none of the Russian breakaway provinces either, not South Ossetia nor Trans-D'niestra nor Abkhazia nor Crimea. Chechnya and Tibet are non-starters in Washington. All of our Africa policy seems intent on keeping the borders fixed, no matter how stupid or arbitrary they may be. The fact is, while a lot of ethnic revolutionistas felt that Kosovo was precedent for their own bids, the US has consistently said it's "sui generis" and on virtually every front we've acted like it too.

The other issue with Tokatlian's piece is that many countries, including Iraq and probably most flagrantly Sudan, have never functioned as nation-states, have always had ethnogeographic fiefdoms that wanted nothing to do with each other, and up to now have been sustained as sovereign states only by brutally tyrannical regimes crushing all dissent. All things considered, why should these countries continue to try to function in arbitrarily created colonial borders less that are than a century old when it's clearly impossible for them to do so? Partition is messy, yes, but when one in five Iraqis is dead or has fled, we have to ask, messy as opposed to what?

In this sense, the real test of US policy will be in the coming years in South Sudan, which is perilously near another explosion. Is Tokatlian seriously suggesting we try to get the South Sudanese to not secede? All I can say is, good luck with that.

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