Mali is a landlocked state created by imperialist France in the late 19th century. Due to the Western intervention in Libya, in which NATO bombed the brutal dictator Moammar Ghaddafi out of power, a large wave of unrest has reached the Saharan states of Mali, Chad, and Niger.
Recently, a coup overthrew the democratically elected head of the Malian state, and an insurgency in the north just declared its independence from Bamako. This is a good thing, and I will get to why this event is a good thing, but first I want to lament the way in which the West is handling this secession. The West seems intent on keeping its creation alive and propped up, regardless of the incessant pulls away from these structures that post-colonial states often face. I have criticized this aspect of Western foreign policy before, in regards to Somalia, Nigeria, and Libya, but it appears that the West is much more open to the idea of its creations falling apart than it used to be. Indeed, the Daily Star, a Lebanese daily newspaper, reports:
“In Paris, Foreign Minister Alain Juppe said France is ready to help African forces on a logistical level. The chief of staff of the French army, Adm. Edouard Guillaud, traveled Thursday to Burkina Faso to discuss details with the president.
However, Juppe ruled out any military intervention. He said there could only be a resolution to the Tuareg-led rebellion via political dialogue and called for regional cooperation to fight Al-Qaeda’s expansion in the area.
‘There will not be a military solution with the Tuaregs. There must be a political solution,’ Juppe said, adding that countries in the region had to begin talks to accomplish this.”
This is a big step forward for the West, and I think that policymakers are finally beginning to shake off their Cold War-entrenched mindsets and starting to treat post-colonial states less like pawns on a chessboard and more like partners. Unfortunately, I don’t think the West is doing enough in cases of state failure. While the French are willing to let the regional states of western Africa try to ameliorate the situation in Mali, it appears that these states, led by a oft-fractured and secession-prone Ivory Coast, want to ensure that no breakup happens.
Nothing could be worse for peace and prosperity on the African continent.
The wars, the famines, and the bloodshed in Africa have all been caused in large part by secessionist movements throughout the region since independence from imperial Europe. During the Cold War, the US and USSR fought to preserve these states and funded a number of secessionist and nationalist movements throughout the decades following World War 2, due to the professed loyalties of secessionist or nationalist movements to communism or democracy (the West lost the war of ideas big time, and ended up supporting anti-capitalist, anti-democratic dictators anyway). Those days are long gone, however, and it’s time for more effort on the part of the West to bless the destruction of the state system they created during the imperial years of the mid-to-late 19th century.
If the West is serious about promoting peace and prosperity throughout the world, they would do well to seize on the fracture of the post-colonial states they created and formally recognize these states into the larger state system. If they continue to support, implicitly or explicitly, the structures of these post-colonial states, then there will continue to be much more strife and bloodshed throughout the post-colonial world. Recognizing the legitimacy of breakaway regions would ensure that these states have both carrots and sticks when it comes to domestic politics as well. For example, if a breakaway region wants to declare its statehood based upon a dominate nationality, then the West and others could use membership into the community of nations as a way to ensure that these states take the utmost care to avoid persecution minority nationalities living within the new states.
Bottom line, if the West is really open to more states in the post-colonial world, and we appear to be moving in this direction, then recognizing the legitimacy of breakaway regions is a great way to start. The big key to ensuring a peaceful process in this regard though, is consensus. This means that Russia and China will be needed to recognize this legitimacy, and one of the best way to get these secession-wary states on board is to stay away from their peripheries, fess up about our imperial past, and explain to them that more states (but one market) is much better for world stability. Just think, Europe from Portugal to the border of Russia is about a third the size of the African continent, yet both regions have roughly fifty states each. That’s a big problem.
A second big key to ensuring peace is implementing free trade throughout the regions that have just broken apart. It is imperative that these states stay connected to the world market, otherwise isolation will make it all the more tempting for demagogues and Generals to seize control and dictate for life.
Self-government is a key component of individual freedom, and I think that an active, but not coercive, role can be played on the part of the West in ensuring that individuals within its former empires are given more opportunity for self-government. Foreign policy is a key component of the minimal state, and as long as coercion or condescension plays no role in the efforts of policymakers abroad, I don’t see why the US and other Western states cannot be active in world affairs.