The Partition of India in 1947

The importance of international borders can not be overstated. Despite predictions that the combined forces of globalization would undermine the importance and political meaning of borders, the territorially-defined state remains the world’s predominant form of political organization. As multi-national empires/states collapse, much of the violence that ensues is the result of efforts to draw and redraw what had once been internal borders. Here is a fascinating documentary about the partition of the Indian sub-continent, into India and Pakistan. The narrator observes:

As a British barrister draws a line on a map, the once peaceful land implodes. People are forced out of the villages they have lived in for generations. Fifteen million scramble to be on the right side of the border. At least one million die in the process.



Kurdish Nationalism

What are the prospects for an independent Kurdish state to form out of the wreckage of Iraq? How likely is it that Kurds who live in 5 separate states will set aside their differences long enough to coalesce around the common goal of creating a state for the Kurdish people? As we now know, the Kurdish territory in northern Iraq has enjoyed a high degree of autonomy since the establishment by Great Britain, France, and the United States of the “no-fly zones” in the aftermath of the 1991 Gulf War. (Interestingly, the no-fly zones were established by these three states for putatively humanitarian purposes and had not received official sanction by the United Nations Security Council. For more, click here.)

Following the war-induced collapse of Saddam Hussein’s Ba’athist regime in 2003, the Kurds of Iraq have enjoyed de facto independence in northern Iraq, with a temporary “capital” at Irbil (though the Kurds wish to reclaim the city of Kirkuk, located in the middle of an oil-rich region, as the capital of any independent state in northern Iraq). In IS 309, we read Michael Ignatieff’s chapter on Kurdistan, from his 1993 book, Blood and Belonging, which provides a snap-shot of the situation of the Iraqi Kurds some two years following the establishment of the no-fly zones. Ignatieff addresses the potential for greater autonomy of the Iraqi Kurdish region from the Iraqi state/regime of Hussein and finds skepticism on the part of most Kurds. Fast-forward almost twenty years (has it been that long!!) and we find the situation on the ground has changed substantially. The difficulties, though, seem to remain and the prospects for Kurdish independence are no less clear today than they were some twenty years ago, particularly given the Turkish state’s response to Kurdish separatist sentiment on the territory of eastern Turkey. Here are a couple of interesting short documentaries on the current state of the Kurdish independence movement in Iraq and Turkey.

Here’s a video on the Kurdish situation in Turkey.

Independence Referendum in Southern Sudan

The most important international political event occurring this week is arguably the independence referendum in southern Sudan. Despite clashes a couple of days ago along the border separating the north and south, which left dozens dead, the New York Times reports that voting is peaceful. As The Globe and Mail’s Geoffrey York notes, while the referendum may ultimately lead to a new state being created in the south, the cost “has been horrific.”

Southern Sudan has been consumed by devastating wars for most of the past half-century. An estimated 2.5 million people have perished in those wars, with atrocities on all sides that were shocking in their cruelty.

After decades of indifference by most of the world, the irony is that Southern Sudan suddenly became a fashionable cause over the past decade. Its oil exports became lucrative, forcing the north and south to try to settle their conflict in order to protect their revenue flows. Simultaneously, there was a rapid escalation of U.S. diplomatic pressure on both sides, including the threat of sanctions – partly because evangelical Christian lobbyists had persuaded Congress that it needed to protect the south’s Christians from Muslim persecution.

Here’s a fascinating set of maps creating by the BBC to show that the north and south of Sudan differ in more than simply ethnicity and oil wealth.

Here’s a report from Al Jazeera about some of the important issues related to the referendum:

Does Africa Need a New Map?

In a recent article in Foreign Policy magazine, G. Pascal Zachary argues that it’s time to redraw Africa’s political borders, which are “unnatural” and a legacy of 19th and 20th-century colonialism. As is well-known the newly independent states that comprised the Organisation for African Unity met in 1964 and agreed that the extant international borders in Africa were sacrosanct, believing that this would best guarantee stability on the continent. It worked, to a degree. While there have certainly been very few international (i.e. inter-state) wars in Africa in the intervening 45 years, the continent has been ravaged by intra-state (i.e., internal, or “civil”) wars during the same period. What are the potential benefits of redrawing Africa’s borders to make them more coterminous with ethnic boundaries (as has been done recently in, amongst other places, the Balkans and the former Soviet Union)? Zachary’s claim:

Borders created through some combination of ignorance and malice are today one of the continent’s major barriers to building strong, competent states. No initiative would do more for happiness, stability, and economic growth in Africa today than an energetic and enlightened redrawing of these harmful lines.

How important is for for state strength and stability for ethnic and political border to be coterminous? The redrawing of borders–and it is obvious that the mechanism would be military force–would almost certainly lead to tremendous suffering and bloodshed, with competing campaigns of ethnic cleansing. But, as Zachary notes, since the start of the post-colonial era millions of Africans have died in internal conflicts, and:

Rethinking the borders could go far to quelling some of these conflicts. Countries could finally be framed around the de facto geography of ethnic groups. The new states could use their local languages rather than favoring another ethnicity’s or colonial power’s tongue. Rebel secessionist movements would all but disappear, and democracy could flourish more easily when based upon policies, rather than simple identity politics. On top of that, new states based on ethnic lines would by default be smaller, more compact, and more manageable for governments on a continent with a history of state weakness.

Assuming that the political will to achieve this goal were to evolve, what would be the best mechanism? What would Herbst’s argument be? Is this even feasible? Where would one draw the new boundaries? How would one define an ethnic group? Refer to these two maps to get a sense of the near impossibility of the task at hand. While there are about 50-odd states in Africa, there are literally hundreds of geographically-concentrated ethnic groups. In addition, there is a tremendous amount of inter-mingling of ethnic groups as well.

Michael Ignatieff and Humanitarian Intervention

Current leader of the Canadian Federal Liberal Party, Michael Ignatieff has long been involved in the issue of human rights–as a historian, journalist, public intellectual, and as the former Carr Professor and Director of the Carr Center for Human Rights Policy at the Kennedy School of Government.

In the aftermath of the contentious NATO military intervention in Kosovo (1999), Ignatieff sat down with WBUR’s Chris Lydon to assess what had gone right (and wrong) during the intervention. A self-identified member of the “something must be done [to stop alleged Serbian war crimes against the Kosovar Albanians]”, Ignatieff stands by his support for the intervention, claiming that, on the whole, the benefits outweighed the costs.

U.N. Security Council Silent on Tibet Protests

How do changing ideas about sovereignty–from sovereignty viewed as a “right” to sovereignty viewed as a “responsibilty”–affect the nature of how states act and the functioning of organizations such as the United Nations?  Just before spring break we viewed the documentary The Peacekeepers, where you were able to witness the deliberations that take place behind the scenes at the United Nations and the Security Council specifically. For Wednesday, we’ll read Erik Voeten’s article on “The Political Origins of the UN Security Council’s Ability to Legitimize the Use of Force”, the main point of which is obvious given the title. Today, the Guardian reports that the Security Council remains silent on the current situation in Tibet.

UNITED NATIONS, March 17 (Reuters) – The U.N. Security Council will likely keep silent about China’s crackdown on demonstrations in Tibet, mostly due to belief that provoking Beijing would accomplish nothing, diplomats said on Monday.
China, which has sent in troops to enforce control in the regional capital Lhasa, said earlier that the violent protests by Tibetans were organized by followers of the Dalai Lama seeking to derail the Beijing Olympics in August. Tibet’s exiled spiritual leader has denied this charge.
“The issue did not come up in the council,” China’s Deputy permanent U.N. representative Liu Zhenmin told Reuters after a meeting of the council on unrelated issues. “This has nothing to do with peace and security,” he said. “It is local violence, … a domestic issue.”
China, like the United States, Britain, France and Russia, is a permanent veto-wielding member of the council and would be able to block any attempts by the council to act on Tibet.
Russia’s U.N. Ambassador Vitaly Churkin, currently president of the council, told reporters without elaborating that he did not expect the 15-nation Security Council to discuss Tibet. Several other ambassadors confirmed this view.

Patriotism–What is it? How can we Measure it?

As budding “social scientists” (the scare quotes are legitimate), it is good form to not only define concepts that are malleable but also to provide qualitative and/or quantitative evidence regarding their existence. A recent brouhaha in American politics centers around the political concept patriotism. What is it? How do we know it exists? Can it be measured? These are all important questions, so important, in fact, that they could determine the outcome of the next US presidential election.

In intro to comparative, we’ve been analyzing social identities, ethnic, national, etc. As we know from reading O’Neil, patriotism is based on the idea of citizenship–an individual’s relationship to the state in which s/he lives. O’Neil defines patriotism as “pride in one’s state.”

As near as I can tell, some opponents of Barack Obama’s candidacy have based some of their resistance on what they view as his lack of patriotism. If I’m reading this correctly, the base their argument on the fact that Obama does not (in fact, may even refuse to) wear a lapel pin in the shape of an American flag. This is interesting since it also touches upon issues of national identity; remember that we tried to determine just what is meant to be American. Does one have to wear an American flag lapel pin to be considered patriotic? If any of you think that this is an issue of negligible import, I refer you to this screen shot of the CNN website:


Given that I’m not a citizen of the United States, I’ll leave that for others to answer. I am, however, a citizen of the Republic of Croatia and this episode does remind me of an incident from the mid 1990s, which I, then working for the Helsinki Committee for Human Rights, witnessed. Join me after the jump.

hrvatska-zastava.jpgThe Croatian flag is a tri-color, with horizontal fields of red, white, and blue (from top to bottom), which contains the coat of arms–the “Šahovnica“–in the middle field. The šahovnica has been used in various guises throughout Croatian history as a symbol of Croatian nationhood. While Croats have lived under many different types of regime–Communist Yugoslavia, the Fascist Ustasa regime during WWII, the unitarist, Serb-dominated inter-war regime, the Austro-Hungarian monarchy (you get the point!)–the šahovnica has remained a constant expression and symbol of the Croatian people.

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