Monday, August 11, 2008

Separatism in Georgia and the rest of the the world

The conflict in Georgia conflict has at least two causes: Russia's desire to control the oil pipeline that passes through Georgia, and the desire of some Georgians to become independent of Georgia - and presumably to transfer to Russia;

Wikipedia: "two regions of Georgia, Abkhazia and South Ossetia, quickly became embroiled in disputes with local separatists that led to widespread inter-ethnic violence and wars. Supported by Russia, Abkhazia and South Ossetia achieved de facto independence from Georgia. More than 250,000 Georgians were ethnically cleansed from Abkhazia by Abkhaz separatists and North Caucasians volunteers (including Chechens) in 1992-1993. More than 25,000 Georgians were expelled from Tskhinvali as well, and many Ossetian families were forced to abandon their homes in the Borjomi region and move to Russia."

I have been having a look at separatism. It seems that separatismis the motivation for one third of the 37 or so wars (of widely varying magnitude) that are currently in operation. Since this is so signifcant as a motive for wars, it would be sensible for the UN to create a framework for separatism to be subject of negotiations in a framework of international rules, in order to prevent armed conflict.

Separatism as Cause of Current Wars and Conflicts

Since 2003 there are some 36 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. Every human being is similarly unique, but on the other hand, it is possible to make simple judgments about individuals, so that we can say, “These here are tall people, and those are short people”. 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):

Separatist 14

Ideology 7

Dictator/political 9

War on Terror 5

Corporations 2

Drugs 2

Warlordism 2

Ethnic/tribal 2

“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.

“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. If “War on Terror” were to be classified as an ideological conflict, this 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 President 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.

The causes given above add up to more than 35 because some conflicts have more than one cause.

Preventing war

Prevention is better than cure. At least two of the classes of conflicts - separatism and dictators- given above are susceptible to UN action.

The development of dictators can be inhibited and remedied by means of the Index of Human Rights in the UN, whereby countries that are sliding towards dictatorship can be identified, exposed, and subjected to a set protocol of statutory measures.

Approximately one third of current wars are “separatist”, arising from 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”. This should be now 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 susceptible to study, discussion and negotiation. The negotiations may well be difficult and protracted, but talk is always preferable in human and financial terms than violent conflict. In the end, it is in the interests of the main state to agree a degree of autonomy rather 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

  1. Sri Lanka
    68,000 people have died in the war since 1983

  2. Basque

number unknown

  1. Wazaristan

“War on Terror”, separatist from Pakistan.


  1. Ogaden

Independence from Ethiopia, transfer to Somalia

~1500; long lasting, low intensity

5. Burma

Ethnic/cultural cleansing, autonomy for Karen people


6. Papua


number unknown

7. Senegal

Casamance separatist

number unknown

8. Chechen



9. Balochistan

Ill-drawn border; transfer wanted

Number unknown

10. South Thailand



11. Comoros


number unknown

12. Turkey/PKK

Cultural/political autonomy

number unknown

13. Philippines

Ethnic/religious, homeland


14. Kashmir



15. Darfur

Drought, desertification driving Bhaggara Arab nomads (Janjaweed) further south.

Despotic Govt.


16. Iraq

Dictator, oil,


17. Colombia

Ideology, War on Drugs, response to assassination of Gaitan in 1948

number unknown

18. Israel-Palestine

Ideology. Cultural/ethnic cleansing, oppression. Response to holocaust.

19. Laos

Ethnic. Ideological: Hmong acted for USA in Vietnam war


20. Afghanistan

“War on Terror”. Warlordism

number unknown

21. Peru



22. Uganda

Lord’s Resistance army; Religious, seeks to restore Acholi domination


23. Somalia

Post dictator. “War on Terror”.


24. Nigeria

Corporate exploitation

25. Maghreb

Insurgency against Algerian govt/ West; “War on Terror”

Number unknown

26. Saudi Arabia

Insurgency against Saudi; ideological / religious


27. India Nagaland


28. Naxalite

Ideological (Maoist)

29. Chad

Insurgency against dictator


30. Mexico

Between drug gangs


31. Fatah-Hamas



32. Tuareg

Seek share of uranium wealth


33. Central African Republic


34. Congo

Insurgency , political

35. Lebanon 2006

Ethnic cleansing, political, “War on Terror”

35 Kenya


36 Georgia



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