The following truth is self-evident: “... when a long train of abuses and usurpations (...) evinces a design to reduce them (= the people) under absolute Despotism, it is their right, it is their duty, to throw off such Government, and to provide new Guards for their future security (...)”. Sounds familiar? This is part of the US Declaration of Independence. Less than 250 years later Kosovo declares its independence. If the US, why not Kosovo?
The US was quick to support the move. Germany, the UK, Italy and France followed suit. But, as always, there are two sides to one coin. Serbia was outraged! It feels that part of its territory and sacred patrimony has been stolen. China, Russia and Spain expressed grave concern. Why? Simple: If Kosovo, why not Tibet? If Kosovo, why not Chechnya? And why not Basque country?
Serbia and Russia claim that UN Resolution 1244 has been breached. And they’re right. This 1999 resolution guaranteed the integrity of Serbia (including Kosovo) and determined that ‘self-determination’ for Kosovo was to lead to substantial autonomy, not full independent statehood. In other words, Kosovo was not to secede. But it has now in fact done so anyway, receiving immediate support from major Western powers.
If Kosovo, why not Palestine?
Some Palestinians immediately raised this question. And why not indeed? Generally, most states (once their independence has been established; notably not before!) abhor the idea of self-determination, fearing a ‘Frankenstein of unrestrained proliferation and fragmentation’ (Elmer Plischke). Thus in general the ‘principle of non-disruption’ is invoked, meaning that established states are under no obligation to honor any calls for secession or separate statehood of any parts of their territories. States even feel authorized to use force to prevent such ‘disruption’.
However, international law does not officially ban secessionism. The legal right of self-determination even seems to support it. In practice it has come to be regarded as a fact of life. Eritrea seceded from Ethiopia and was recognized as an independent state. So were East-Timor, Croatia and Bangladesh. After the break-up of the USSR, many territories (such as Georgia, Ukraine, Moldavia, Lithuania and more) seceded or regained their independence, many of these now being quick to censure Kosovo!
Is Kosovo a special case?
According to the UK Guardian it is: “The unique European context does make this story different from that of most would-be breakaway territories elsewhere in the world. In effect, the EU. is moving seamlessly from empire mode to enlargement mode. Here is the 21st-century European style of decolonization: from protectorate to EU member state, without ever achieving full, sovereign independence in between. And, at least on paper, the Kosovar Albanians have accepted the price. In case they are tempted to renege, there will be thousands of European officials present - and, as a back-up, NATO troops - to steer them back to the path of virtue”.
A beautiful piece of writing except that it does not make sense. Kosovo is not a special case. There is no basic difference between Kosovo and Croatia. Nor between Kosovo and Palestine or Tamil-land. Or Spanish Basque country, Corsica, Sumatra or the Moluccans. If Kosovo, why not any of these? The question therefore is not whether Kosovo is a special case trying to prevent proliferation by means of fine legal reasoning. The question is whether we should be worried at all, if a multitude of microstates were to emerge?
Diffusion of power
Against mainstream thinking we suggest that a proliferation of separate states might lead to more stability and peace than the continuance of internal turmoil in convulsed states. If any ethnic group feels threatened, discriminated against or feels for any other legitimate reason that separate statehood is justified, why not settle such questions peacefully by referendum? This was done in Czech-o-Slovakia, splitting the country into the Czech Republic and Slovakia. A war was avoided and the two countries live happily ever after, maintaining close ties.
Why not split up Iraq into three smaller sovereign states for Kurds, Sunni’s and Shiites? How many lives have not been lost in trying to keep these groups together in one single state? Why not end the bloodshed and allow them each to form their own state? Would it not save lives, money and effort? And would it not diffuse power? Three smaller Iraqi states are less likely to cause trouble in the future than one greater Iraqi nation. On a world scale, there might be less chance of another world war with 1,000 small states than with the present 200.
The US not immune
Don’t think that the US and China would be immune to the Frankenstein of secession, if it were allowed on the basis of a simple ‘self-determination referendum’. The US would probably split up into various smaller nations. So would Mexico and Canada. The African continent alone would probably produce more than 250 new small states, whereas Russia would fall apart completely. Even China would give birth to a number of smaller states, Tibet being the first.
This may look like a strategy for ‘divide and conquer’, a recipe for world domination by one super-power. If that were the result, it would be counter to what we are trying to convey. We believe, on the contrary, that it is likely that a 1,000 micro-states would sooner unite and find peace under a common international political umbrella (a reformed UN), than a world ruled by two or three super-powers as it is today. Or even worse, a world ruled by one sole Super-power.
So, why not allow the Tamils to form their own state? Is the price both groups on Sri Lanka are paying now worth holding on to the concept of one single state? The recognition of Tamil-land would most likely end the fighting. Why not recognize a Palestinian state? Let Tibet form its own separate state. Let Indonesia split up into 10 to 15 island-nations. It’s better than preventing it by force. After independence the new states are bound to find new ways of co-operating anyhow. But then it would be co-operation based on free will, precisely the way the EU came together.
More states, more peace; and in the end, more unity
What moves people or ethnic/religious groups to seek secession? Will they really be happier after the separation and, if so, in what way? Very often newly-independent nations do not become more prosperous. After a divorce both parties are worse off usually. Many ex-colonies or break-away states ended up in dire poverty, not to mention new civil wars to stop internal groups from gaining their independence. Take Congo, for instance, or Cambodia. Or Haiti. Was independence worth it for these nations? We must ask these questions and answer them sincerely. Africans often consider the very question a form of racial discrimination, but that is not what we are driving at. The question is whether separate statehood does really make a population or ethnic group happier? And, if so, why is this so? Is discrimination (racial, religious or ethnic hatred) perhaps the real motivator? Is this whole ‘independence-thing’ nothing but one great illusion?
Although we are convinced that the real motivator often is plain old discrimination, we fail to see why the break-up of states should be prevented if (parts of) any population really want it. Our own country is a case in point. The Netherlands Antilles, a six-island entity, is in the process of splitting up into three separate one-island entities, whereas the other 3 will integrate into Holland. All this is done peacefully based on referenda. This might serve as a model to the world.
Our basic thesis is that the pulverization of nation-states will result in pulverized power. Pulverized power might sooner accept the authority of a common international governing body (a kind of reformed UN) than concentrated power. Therefore, the break-up of larger states into a great number of micro-states should be encouraged rather than prevented, provided that a credible international peace-keeping authority is constructed at the same time. If this is done, the world might become a much more peaceful place than under the present structure, which has in any case proven not to be a guarantee for peace.