July 18, 2014


Why Is Statehood So Popular? (Tanisha M. Fazal and Ryan Griffiths, 7/18/14, ISN)

A changing international environment has made statehood more attractive for aspiring nations. Membership in the club of sovereign states has always brought privileges, but these perks are increasing in number and improving in quality-and secessionists know it. The rise of a norm against territorial conquest and multilateral organizations that support this norm have provided a safe haven of sorts for newly independent states. Newborn states today, like Montenegro, can gain membership to organizations such as the UN; this membership offers some protection against predatory neighbors, more so at least than was afforded to new states in the 19th or early 20th centuries. Secessionists are also helped by the international community's stated allegiance to the principle of self-determination, which lends legitimacy to their cause and also provides language in which to present it.

Today's new states also enjoy a host of economic benefits unavailable to their predecessors. Smaller states such as Singapore can plug into the global economy to attract international finance. Aspiring nations like Bougainville pin their post-independence economic policies to key extractive industries like copper mining. Moreover, international aid provides a financial safety net for newborn states that may be economically insecure. But, as the secessionist government in Somaliland knows, multilateral aid agencies such as the International Monetary Fund (IMF) cannot give loans to breakaway regions until they are recognized. Aid is one more perk of sovereign statehood, and young states like Eritrea, East Timor, Montenegro, and Kosovo were quick to apply to the IMF after gaining independence. [...]

This surge of secessionists presents a series of dilemmas for the international community. Most secessionists use non-violent means to advance their claims, but recent research suggests that while non-violence is generally more politically effective than violence, this is not the case for secessionism. A majority of civil wars today are already driven at least in part by claims of self-determination-the international community thus faces the challenge of persuading secessionists to remain nonviolent, even though it is the violent secessionists who tend to be let into the club of states. In deciding whether to recognize a particular secessionist movement, individual states and the international community more broadly must also determine how representative that movement is. If the group gains statehood, will the benefits of recognition reach average citizens, or will they line the pockets of the new state's political leadership? The increasing number of secessionist groups today often control large and important swathes of territory and people. In order to conduct the growing business of not-quite-international relations, new modes of diplomacy may be needed to redirect at least some of the benefits of statehood without redrawing large portions of the world map.

Posted by at July 18, 2014 7:41 PM

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