Thursday, January 7, 2010

Recognizing Reality?

FP article on proto/pseudo/quasi-states:
Abkhazia, along with a dozen or so other quasi-countries teetering on the brink of statehood, is in the international community's prenatal ward. If present and past suggest the future, most such embryonic countries will end stillborn, but not for lack of trying. The totems of statehood are everywhere in these wannabe states: offices filled with functionaries in neckties, miniature desk flags, stationery with national logos, and, of course, piles of real bureaucratic paperwork -- all designed to convince foreign visitors like me that international recognition is deserved and inevitable.
 These quasi-states -- which range from decades-old international flashpoints like Palestine, Northern Cyprus, and Taiwan to more obscure enclaves like Transnistria, Western Sahara, Puntland, Iraqi Kurdistan, and South Ossetia -- control their own territory and operate at least semifunctional governments, yet lack meaningful recognition. Call them Limbo World. They start by acting like real countries, and then hope to become them. 
So, as this list suggests, this is not a new challenge, and there is considerable variation in both state-ness (Taiwan vs South Ossetia) and legitimacy of their claims.
In years past, such breakaway quasi-states tended to achieve independence fast or be reassimilated within a few years
 Um, no, dude.  See the list--Palestine, Cyrpus, Taiwan are not new and are not close to being assimilated.

The first worry is that these quasi-states' continued existence, and occasional luck, emboldens other secessionists. Imagine a world where every independence movement with a crate of Kalashnikovs thinks it can become the new Kurdistan, if only it hires the right lobbyists in Washington and opens a realistic-looking Ministry of Foreign Affairs in its makeshift capital.
Nooooooooooooooooo!!!  Seems to me there has been stuff written debunking the whole precedent setting argument--by some guy named Saideman.  The essence is that people draw the lessons they want to learn, so Yugoslavia's demise will encourage those already interested/committed to separatism, while it will discourage those that are committed to multiculturalism/federalism/living together happily.   Is Kurdistan such a happy place to encourage others?  Is South Ossetia?  Only if you are an organized criminal, looking for a place with no rule of law.
The second concern is that these aspirant nations have none of the rights and obligations of full countries, just ambiguous status and guns without laws.
 I would worry a bit less about rights and obligations (plenty of states violate obligations) and worry more about state capacity--that quasi-states are really failed states that cannot and probably will not stop flows of bad stuff (drugs, terrorists, weapons, slaves, etc.)
Limbo, it turns out, is useful because it lets actual countries punish each other by proxy and allows them to exact loyalty and tribute from the quasi-countries dependent on their patronage.
Yes, it can be convenient. Russia uses these entities to bully its less sycophantic neighbors.
Abkhazia's foreign policy is based on courting anyone who might recognize its sovereignty. Daniel Ortega's government in Nicaragua obliged in 2008, likely influenced by old Soviet ties, and Venezuelan President Hugo Chávez formally acknowledged Abkhazia in 2009.
With friends like these .....   Reminds me of Macedonia recognizing Taiwan in hopes that Taiwan would recognize Macedonia with no altered name.  And then the People's Republic of China vetoed the UN's only successful conflict PREVENTION mission Macedonia out of spite.

Most interesting bit of news in this piece (news to me anyway): "Abkhaz, a linguistic freak show with 67 consonants and only one vowel."

The Somaliland discussion misses some key facts, like it was a colony of a different country from the rest of Somalia (UK vs Italy), so its joint existence for thirty years was not so normal and was somewhat contested in the 1960s.

Anyhow, an interesting travelogue and it addresses some of the key issues.  But again, precedent setting/avoiding only matters when other compelling interests either don't exist or point in the same direction.


kirev said...

Check your sources. Macedonian recognition of Taiwan has nothing to do with the name-issue.

Steve Saideman said...

Ok, so it may have been about money for Macedonia and its politicians ( But Taiwan was seeking recognition, right? And there is no question that China retaliated by vetoing the UN preventive mission.