Separatism as a cause of current wars and conflicts
Since 2003 there are some 34 wars and conflicts taking place on the planet*. They vary in impact from Iraq, where up to a million have died, to the conflict in the Cote d’Ivoire where 10 have died.
Every war is different from every other war, each being due to complex historical circumstances that are unique to that war, just as every human being is unique. On the other hand, it is at the same time possible to make simple judgments about individuals, so that we can say, “These here are tall people, and those are short people”, and in the same way, it is possible to take the leading characteristic of wars, and find out what patterns appear.
In the years since 2003, the wars and conflicts in the world can be classified along these lines (see the list below):
War on Terror 5
“Separatist” wars and conflicts mean that at least some of the people believe that they should be either independent, or should be transferred to another state. The “War on Terror” needs no introduction, although its status has been downgraded, at least in the UK. “Ideology” indicates that the rebels have a different belief system from those they are fighting. It usually means left-wing, often Maoist, fighters, but I have included religious conflicts here. The “War on Terror” could be classified as an ideological conflict, which would bring ideological causes up to 9, over a quarter of present wars. “Dictator/political” indicates a power struggle, either against a dictator, of subsequent to the abolition of a dictator, or between two groups who are vying for power. Corporations are centrally involved in two conflicts, one in Nigeria, and one involving the Tuareg.
Drugs figure in Colombia, where Uribe’s government is fighting a proxy war on behalf of the USA, and one in Mexico, which is more a conflict between drug gangs. Drugs also play a part in Afghanistan, and here there is a strong case for the international community to buy the crop and put it to good use in pain relief in Africa, where every year 6 million people die of cancer without analgesic relief.
Ethnic and tribal occur between peoples of different extraction who share the same territory. Warlords are responsible for the conflict in Somalia and partly in Afghanistan.
Approximately one third of current wars are due to the desire of a group of people to be independent of, or to have autonomy within, the state that they are currently ruled by. These account for more than one in three of current conflicts and wars.
Since separatism provides the pretext of such a significant causes of conflict, it deserves detailed historical and political study. What is the outcome of these movements? Are they on the increase? Wikipedia lists no less than 113 separatist movements worldwide. Are they all destined to turn into armed struggles?
Clausewitz famous aphorism was that “War is the continuation of politics by other means”. It should be updated to “War is the continuation of politics by irrational and inhumane means”, but whatever form of words is used, it is clear that politicians have a duty to agree some rules and protocols on separatism. Democracy should have a bearing on the matter. If it is truly the will of the people of a region that they should not be governed by their present rulers, then politicians should give attention to their desires. Each case will have its unique features, but these also are capable of being classified. Several questions need to be asked.
Does the majority of the people truly seek independence or autonomy, or is it simply the desire of an unrepresentative political group? This question can be answered by referendum.
Is the separate state economically capable of looking after itself? This can be a matter for study, but in principle any people that afford to go to war can surely afford to look after themselves in peacetime, given that war is such a ruinously expensive business. It is sometimes the case that the secessionist state is sitting on some natural resources that the main state wishes to enjoy. For instance, Scotland was only granted its own assembly when its oil fields had been substantially exploited.
Can the state defend itself? This question again contains its own answer in the case of secessionist conflicts. Guarantees can be given by neighbouring states, as in the case of Andorra, although this is an ambivalent state of affairs, since the guaranteeing state is likely to be the state from which independence is sought.
Can the new state rule itself? There are many options that lie between full integration with a larger state and full independence. Regional assemblies, cultural autonomy, and cantonisation are some of the options available.
These are all matters for study, discussion and negotiation. The negotiations may well be protracted, but talk is always better and in the end, cheaper, than violent conflict. In the end, it is in the interests of the main state to agree a degree of autonomy than to wage a war that results in the end with alienation of territory and people.
There is clearly a case for the United Nations to set up a framework for discussion and resolution of separatist aspiration, and also to provide diplomatic and logistical help both for areas where separatist conflict is ongoing, and where there is a clear separatist sentiment that has not yet turned to violence.
*Current wars and conflicts
The numbers refer to the number of dead
- Sri Lanka
68,000 people have died in the war since 1983
“War on Terror”, separatist from Pakistan.
Independence from Ethiopia, transfer to Somalia
~1500; long lasting, low intensity
Ethnic/cultural cleansing, autonomy for Karen people
Ill-drawn border; transfer wanted
9. South Thailand
Drought, desertification driving Bhaggara Arab nomads (Janjaweed) further south.
Ideology, War on Drugs, response to assassination of Gaitan in 1948
Ideology. Cultural/ethnic cleansing, oppression. Response to holocaust.
Ethnic. Ideological: Hmong acted for USA in Vietnam war
“War on Terror”. Warlordism
Lord’s Resistance army; Religious, seeks to restore Acholi domination
Post dictator. “War on Terror”.
Insurgency against Algerian govt/ West; “War on Terror”
25. Saudi Arabia
Insurgency against Saudi; ideological / religious
26. India Nagaland
Insurgency against dictator
Between drug gangs
Seek share of uranium wealth
32. Central African Republic
Insurgency , political
34. Lebanon 2006
Ethnic cleansing, political, “War on Terror”