I have been blogging a lot lately on political decentralization and secession as tool for furthering this process. I am one of those people who thinks that Karl Marx had a lot of stuff right, even though he got some other important stuff very, very wrong. His prediction of the withering away of the state is something that I think will eventually come true, and I hope it does, too.
Anyway, I don’t mean to suggest, when I advocate secession as a way to further political decentralization, that every time secession does happen that it will turn out great. Just look at the US Civil War. Or we can look at what is going on in parts of the world today. Here is an excerpt from an Economist report on the latest developments between Sudan and South Sudan (what an incredibly dull name for a new country, by the way…):
THE cold war between Africa’s newest neighbours is heating up. South Sudanese troops advanced deep into Sudan on April 10th, capturing its most valuable oilfield, Heglig, in the biggest clash since the south seceded from the north last July. Southern troops claimed to be responding to air and ground attacks from their former master, but the scale of the offensive is unprecedented. A fragile peace process that has survived several bumps in the past few months may now falter. Sudan has suspended its participation in the divorce negotiations in neighbouring Ethiopia. Parliaments in both countries are calling for military mobilisation. The drums of war beat ever louder.
This is not a good sign, and does lend credence to the views of those who believe that letting states fall apart is a bad thing. Yet it is important to remember that secession needs the full support of the international community, as I have emphasized many times before, if secession is going to succeed. The Chinese and the Russians are both on board, and both Sudans are working with the United Nations to negotiate a settlement, but no peace seems to be in sight. Why is this?
My answer is simply that the divorce between the two sides has not halted the flow of bad blood. There is also this complication:
Only a month ago a solution seemed at hand. Negotiators on both sides initialled a “Four Freedoms” agreement, allowing citizens to move, live, work and own property in either country. But Islamist hardliners in Sudan objected, accusing southerners of being fifth columnists.
Aside from the full support of the international community, which both Sudans have, the other key that I have emphasized for successful secession is free trade. In the rubric of free trade includes things like “allowing citizens to move, live, work, and own property in [each others’] countries.” Policymakers in the West would be wise to pressure both sides into pursuing this matter until it is agreed upon.
Another way for secession success depends on the political framework that both a state and a region with secessionist desires are operating under. Under a federal system, it should not be considered odd or threatening for southern California to secede from northern California. Or having Nevada split into two states. Being under federal jurisdiction ensures that both sides still operate under a common system and prevents them from bringing up frivolous claims against each other. For example, if South California claims an important waterway in North California’s boundaries, the claim would go to a federal court to be examined, rather than to a battlefield. This system is sorely lacking in Africa, though I hold out hope that something like it may one day be on the horizon. Things like international confederations or federations can take a long time to curate. Just ask the Europeans.
Speaking of Europe, there are plenty of secessionist movements underway in Europe precisely like the one I described between North and South California. That is to say, the European Union has diminished the power of the traditional nation-state, if ever so slightly, to the benefit of more regional autonomy (and perhaps independence). Case in point is Scotland. The Economist reports:
In two years’ time the people of Scotland will be asked whether they want to become an independent sovereign state. It is not often that a 300-year-old union is broken, so the vote will have ramifications far beyond a land of 5m people. Scottish independence could lead to a break-up of the United Kingdom. The Catalans, among other disaffected European groups, see Scottish independence as a harbinger of their own bid for nationhood. Other diverse nation-states watch, and worry.
The diverse nation-states the Economist refers to are many, and not limited to just Europe. The article takes a very neutral stance on the topic, and as a result it very clearly outlines the pros and cons of Scottish independence. Among the keys to enjoying, maintaining, and furthering peace and prosperity are international cooperation and free trade. The Scottish are voting on their independence, like the South Sudanese, so it largely a given that international cooperation is a given, but if Scotland votes for independence it will have to attempt to enter the EU (a free trade zone) as a new state, and this could prove to be more daunting than first glance permits.
While Scotland could probably get in to the EU, it would have to do so with a promise to someday drop the pound as its currency and adopt the euro, and this would go against everything that independence stands for.