The rights of sucessionist movements

Secessionist movements have always been a major cause of world conflict. Right now there are a few different secessionist movements making waves. But I think most people’s opinions on how the world should react to secessionist movements is often not so much based on facts and justice, but on how “cuddly” the people who want to break away are.

I’m interested in seeing what people think should happen to secessionist movements. In which cases should there be international military involvement? What cases should involve international economic involvement? In what cases should these movements be left on their own? Is there some sort of hard and fast rules about when it is appropriate to intervene, or does it need to be left a little fuzzy?

Personally, I’m a little inclined to believe that the world benefits from stable borders and few people benefit from states that break off.

I’m inclined to believe that too but the end of western and Soviet imperialism around the globe left borders drawn that bore little relationship to reality. We can’t make borders stable by wishing them so.

IMHO the world would be a lot better place if a whole lot of borders were redrawn on a sensible basis regardless of whose nationalist oxen are gored.

Trouble spots just give ruthless empire builders like Putin the chance to expand and Georgia is looking like a strategic disaster for the West now. In practice, unless we are willing to start WW3, there is nothing we can do to stop Russia taking the whole damn lot, not just the rebel provinces and it’s looking like that is what they are going to do.

In general, there is no right to secede.

Unless you actually manage to do it.

Article One of the UN Convention on Civil and Political Rights

The question is:

Who defines ‘people’?

The Scottish people might want independence so does their will win over the rest of the UK?

The South Ossetians appear to vehemently want to unite with their ethnic kindred. On what basis can they be denied that right?

Let’s widen the scope here. I can think of several movements that are in the news right now that have varying popular support from foreigners. How do we create a consistent standard for what we support and what we don’t support?

I’m a little uncomfortable with the idea that any particular “peoples” have a right to a homeland. There is not enough space in the world and nearly every patch of ground is going to be contested. And there are whole worlds of “peoples” that could come out of the woodwork if they chose and try to claim land. If the Fula people decided they wanted a homeland, they’d take out most of West Africa! Trying to dig back to historical claims is ridiculous, since any given ground has had any number of rulers. Furthermore, the idea of distinct “peoples” is also a bit uncomfortable for me- don’t we all lived in pretty mixed societies with any number of influences? Is it really impossible for a minority to have a reasonable degree of self-determination without needing their own country?

Yeah, it sucks so many borders got drawn so poorly. But it’s what we got and we are never going to get it perfect, though we can kill a lot of people trying.

We can kill a whole lot of people not trying also but I take your point. I say you have to be pragmatic like we were with Israel and Kosovo.

If a ‘people’ want to form their own entity then there should be a democratic mechanism for allowing it. Czechoslovakia became 2 countries. A whole lot of Soviet satellites became states in their own right.

Ireland split in two.

I’m just not big with places like Georgia and Serbia claiming the right to hold on to places which patently don’t want to be part of them on some vague appeal of ‘blood’ and ancient history.

And if allowing small states quietens flashpoints and give less excuse for big powers to create mischief then let’s do so.

I don’t agree that there are such things as distinct peoples. There are hazy classes and groups of people that share an identity and/or culture, but that alone doesn’t give them the right to their own government. Therefore I don’t think that secession movements have any validity in and of themselves.

I do agree that individuals should have a right to ‘self-determination’ so long as the harm done to others is minimal. That’s why I support democracy, small government, and a good chunk of libertarianism. If a group is being oppressed, I support their right to change their government or break away from it. Otherwise, no dice.

You might not have noticed but there was a bit of disagreement over that one (still is, in fact).

Personally I don’t understand the anti-secessionist tendencies of a lot of government, especially not democratic ones. The secession question that really makes me scratch my head is the one being pursued by the Basque people of northern Spain. The Basque are ethnically very distinct to other Spaniards so really do constitute a different people (yes, I agree that on its own is a bit of a weak reason, but it’s enough for some people) but more significantly the area of Spain they’re claiming is really quite small. Given the ferocity of the terrorist campaign they’re waging to get independence I really don’t get why Spain hasn’t simply given in if only to see the back of them.

I do find it a bit counter-intuitive though that as time goes on and we’re supposed to be moving into a future where (in the dreams of sci-fi writers, anyway) we eventually end up with a unified world government, and in fact the urge to split off into smaller and smaller countries seems to be stronger.

South Ossetia is an example of the inherant problems with most of these successionist movements. A third of the population is Georgian and wants to remain part of Georgia, a third is Russian and wants to join Russia, and a third is Ossetian and wants to join North Ossetia (and which will probably then develop a Free United Ossetia successionist movement and be a thorn in Russia’s side). Which ethnic group gets to decide what happens to the whole region? Or does the region get split up into a patchwork of ethnic enclaves (and we know how well that worked for Palestine in 1947)?

From my very limited understanding of the issue :

-Basques aren’t an ethnic minority, but a cultural one

-There actually isn’t a majority supporting independence.

-They claim a territory more extended than what is actually populated mostly by Basques

-They’re clearly opposed to a democratic process. They don’t allow anyone not an independentist running in a local election. If, very accidentally, someone dares to run for, say, mayor and is actually elected, he needs bodyguards. It also seems to me that they are opposed to the principle of a referendum (because they suspect they would lose).
I’m not stating that Spain would agree to grant independence to Basque country if none of this was true, but my overall opinion is that the Basques don’t have a leg to stand on. Not even taking into account the fact that they’re using terror both within and outside the Basque country to achieve their goals. Generally, I would happily support most secessionist movements (probably including Ossetia, though I don’t know enough about it to know for sure) but definitely not this one.
Generally speaking, I’m in favour of self-determination in almost all cases, with a couple caveats (a population of a decent size and actually ethnically and/or culturally and/or geographically distinct).

How do you feel about the secessionist movements in Hawaii? How would you feel if that began to turn violent?

America is a fairly unique country in that we don’t have many “peoples” living on their homelands. But let’s look at, say, India. India has secessionist movements in nearly every state. If they begin willy nilly to grant their several hundred ethnic groups independence, you would no longer have the worlds’ largest democracy. You would have a mass of tiny ethnic states, most likely led by big-personality types determined to advance their own “peoples”, as opposed to more reasoned a wide-looking politicians you would find in a larger democracy.

And with ethnic states comes ethnic conflict. They all begin bickering over tiny pieces of land and fuzzy borders. People caught on the wrong side get in trouble. And then a place that was once a relatively stable and democratic society now looks like Israel vs. Palenstine.

So I can fully understand why states- especially large ethnically diverse states- keep a lid on sucessionist movements.

Your arguments are sound, but I’m absolutely not convinced they’re the actual reasons why states are opposed to secession. I’m pretty sure that misguided nationalism (we’re not going to let go our god-given right to rule this piece of land) is the main motive.

I guess this depends how you define “ethnic” vs. “cultural”. A certain percentage ( now a minority ) are certainly linguistically distinct. As a group they also have a pecularially large incidence of Rh- and a pecularially small incidence of B/AB blood types. Whether that all adds up to ethnicity, I’ll leave to someone else :).

But I will add - Brittany for the Bretons!!! :stuck_out_tongue:

I hate to say “slippery slope”, but the Basques are only the most militant and violent of a number of groups that may then be motivated towards independence. Spain may not lose much if it gives up the Basque lands, but what about Catalonia?

Now that Kosovo has established a precident, I think we’ll see more of this thing. If the UN let’s Kosovo in then it’s pretty much a fact that as long as the minority group has some kind of “autonomous” status then if they vote to break away it’s OK.

One of the reasons saner European statesmen block Georgian and Ukrainian NATO membership is that they still have massive unresolved ethnic conflicts. NATO isn’t there to allow one ethnic group to settle scores with its enemies without interference.

Ukraine in particular is split between western leaning and ethnic russians vehemently opposed to NATO membership. No way we should admit them until that issue is resolved.

Ditto with Georgia although hopefully once they are shorn of the provinces who don’t want to be part of Georgia they can be admitted.