Folks have been picking on the last Game of Thrones episode for a variety of unrealistic or unearned developments. Here’s my take on the secessionist element. Folks have been picking on the last Game of Thrones episode for a variety of unrealistic or unearned developments. Here’s my take on the secessionist element.
As I was chatting with my dissertation adviser yesterday while in DC (yes, my dissertation was completed in 1993 but the relationship goes on), I had an epiphany that had been on the edges of my thinking but finally popped: the Brexit folks are secessionists.
Now that Canada has decided to continue to train and support the Kurds in Iraq along with the Iraqi government, the question of the future of the Kurds is being questioned. Indeed, yesterday, I received a phone call from a magazine in Kurdistan asking me about referendums and why some secessionist movements get to become states and others do not. My short answer: “fair ain’t got nothing to do with it” which could probably use a bit of nuance. This is not just a Canadian issue but one for all of the countries intervening (or not intervening) in Iraq and Syria.
The one thing I do know and am very confident about is this: vulnerability to secession does not deter other countries from recognizing an independent Kurdish state. Sorry, I know this is the conventional wisdom (as presented in this piece), but the conventional wisdom has always been wrong and always will be wrong. How do I know that? Well, see my first book, see this article, and this one, too. Perhaps notice which countries recognized Kosovo (hint: Canada). Oh, and check out Russia’s foreign policy, given that it is vulnerable to secession yet have been sponsoring separatists frequently and enthusiastically. And yes, countries can be irredentist even as they face separatist movements at home.
Lots of words have been spilled on this Crimea thing, and so it is reasonable to ask whether our opposition to Crimean self-determination might be more about our feelings about Russia than about secession/irredentism.
Keith Darden points out that if Crimea secedes from Ukraine, electoral outcomes in Ukraine would shift with fewer pro-Russia voters in the political system, and that would be bad for Russia. This is not unique to this case.
My colleague, Charles King, has a great piece (gated) in Foreign Affairs on what the success of the Scottish National Party says about secesssionist movements everywhere.
Opinion polls suggest that the Scots are unlikely to approve independence outright. Instead, they will probably settle for some form of “enhanced devolution,” an increase in the considerable policymaking power granted to Scotland over the last decade and a half. But the rise of Salmond’s SNP has sent an unexpected shudder through British political life. The outcome of Scotland’s vote will also reverberate throughout Europe, setting a precedent for dealing with fundamental questions of governance and sovereignty. What kinds of units deserve self-determination, especially when they base their claim not on minority rights but on the simple desire to do things their own way? What options are open to democratic polities that seek to counter secession when military force is unimaginable? The question of Scotland’s future is not just about the durability of the United Kingdom. It is also about the uses of quiet maximalism — the way in which astute regional parties, aided by creaky central institutions and unimpassioned opponents, can unbuild a workable country while no one seems to be looking.
I’ll note that a good deal of the Scottish-based SF I’ve read recently presumes an independent Scotland, which is interesting in of itself. Also seems relevant to Quebec, where a more social-democratic leaning enclave exists within a polity that is less so.
The questions of democratic self-determination here really are thorny; I wonders if and how the discussion would be different if Scotland (for example) weren’t a pre-existing administrative unit.