Friday, August 30, 2013

Separatism is behind nearly half of current wars. The UN can prevent this.

Following from Parliament's welcome decision not to participate in the rubblisation of Syria, I have been looking at ongoing wars that are taking place on our fine planet.

Back in 2008 I did a post entitled 1 in 3 current wars are about separatism, separatism being the desire of a minority to withdraw from the state they are presently a part of.

It looks as if the present situation is that nearly 1 in 2 current wars are about separatism.

Go here for the data. There are 10 wars with more than 1000 deaths per year, (11 if Egypt is counted as a war) and 30 running at less than 1000 deaths per year.

Separatism is a factor in 17 of the 40, nearly half of the more minor wars. Other factors are :
Religion, chiefly Islam   13
The US                         7
Ethnicity                       6
Dictatorships                 4
Oil                                2
War on Drugs                2
and in                           2 cases, the militias just cannot break the habit of fighting.

Obviously each war is a result of many factors, and the subject can bear much more detailed analysis, but it remains the case that separatism is the major cause of current wars, and the UN can do something about it.

Instead of responding to wars in an ad hoc way with the usual round of diplomatic and political activity, the international community should lay down a framework of rules to enable reason and negotiation to take place of emotionalism and gunfire.
Prevention is better than cure. Clausewitz’ famous aphorism “War is the continuation of politics by other means” should be updated to “War is the continuation of politics by irrational and inhumane means”. Whatever form of words is used, it is clear that politicians have a duty to agree some rules and protocols on separatism, in order to extend the reach of politics to cover this common political situation.

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 wishes.

Does the majority of the people truly seek independence or autonomy, or is it simply the desire of an unrepresentative political group? This is a question that can be answered by referendum. Since it is unlikely that the state will be happy to offer a referendum, the process will have to be initiated by a people’s petition, which in some cases will have to be organised in secrecy.

The UN will have to form an agency specifically responsible for separatist issues.

Once this agency has received a peoples' petition, they can research and evaluate the situation. If they decide that there is a case, negotiations leading up to a referendum can start. If the result of the referendum shows that a two thirds majority (say) is in favor of autonomy, negotiations can start, under the guidance of the UN or regional authorities.

Negotiations will be complex. No state wishes to lose bits of itself, just as no patient likes to go under the surgeon’s knife. However, people do agree to surgery if they are convinced that it is ultimately going to be good for their health. By allowing secession, the state is avoiding a war, with all its financial and human costs. Politically, it is gaining a cooperative neighbour, instead of a hostile entity on its doorstep. By agreeing to negotiate, they may end up with an autonomous region rather than a total loss of territory.

The arguments for secession are simple: the people do not feel themselves to be citizens of the present state. They feel ethnically or linguistically different. They may feel like second class citizens, or may even point to evidence of repression and human rights abuses. The people will need a good team of lawyers to put this case, because the arguments against secession will be complex and legalistic.

The government may claim that loss of the region would make it difficult to defend the rest of the country. It may express anxieties about the safety of its ethnic minorities left behind, and guarantees for their property. They may argue that secession will have unwanted effects on the secessionists themselves. The precedent argument will be rolled out: Who will be next to secede? There will be legitimate arguments about who owns and pays for state’s previous investment in infrastructure. Any natural resources in the breakaway region will be a matter of legal argument.

These are all matters susceptible to study, discussion, debate and negotiation. The negotiations may well be difficult and protracted, but discussion and agreement 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.

Therefore 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. There should be a UN agency that will monitor separatist aspirations, and offer its services at an appropriate moment in the unfolding of separatist aspiration,

In the end, as Churchill said, jaw-jaw is better than war-war.

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