Breaking Up Countries Where Citizens Hate Each Other

The only thing more shocking than the airplane engine control falling apart that happened during the trip south was reading an editorial in the Washington Post by Ralph Peters entitled “Must Iraq Stay Whole”.  This is the first time that I’ve seen any sign in the mass media that anyone else has the same thoughts that occurred to me last year regarding Afghanistan (see the Boston-Alaska-Baja-Boston trip report) and this year regarding countries such as Nigeria and the Sudan (see the Israel essay).

In the old days a good argument for being large would have been that a country could thereby defend itself against aggression by other large countries.  In today’s world, however, where even the most armed-to-the-teeth Third World government can be unseated in a few weeks by the U.S. military, it doesn’t make sense for people who hate each other to live together in one country.

Peters makes the seemingly obvious points that (1) the Kurds hate their Arab conquerors, (2) the Kurds demonstrated during the 1990s that they can govern themselves quite nicely, (3) giving the Kurds their own country would really irritate the Turks, which is just what they deserve for not supporting the U.S. [Peters doesn’t say this but presumably it would be a powerful example to foreign governments if the Turks’ biggest nightmare came true as a consequence of their failure to obey U.S. instructions], and (4) the Sunnis and Shiites Muslims don’t seem to like each other.

Follow-Up (Responses to Comments)

To judge by the volume of comments that this posting elicited it is indeed an issue worthy of debate, which was my main point:  “Why doesn’t this question ever come up in the mass media when it seems so obviously debate-worthy?”

Most of the comments point out that the India -> India/Pakistan/Bangladesh split was a failure in their opinion.  From this we can conclude that splitting up a country into the smaller chunks advocated by anthropologists (the book A Pattern Language recommends that countries be no larger than 2 to 10 million inhabitants, and they are talking about developed countries with good road and communication networks) is not necessarily a complete solution to Islamic violence.  However, nobody mentions the successful splits throughout history:  Czech and Slovak from each other, the U.S. from Britain, the former Soviet republics and satellites from each other, Canada and Australia from Britain.  Nor does anyone mention that one can combine political independence with economic and monetary union, thus combining the efficiencies of a large market with the comfort of knowing that the supreme leader of your country is not supremely distant from your local concerns.  I’m not advocating splitting Afghanistan and Iraq before giving them independence, merely advocating a serious debate on the question.

Dimitri asks a good question: “if a country is punished for that (“a consequence of their failure to obey U.S. instructions”) what remains of the democratic ideals and liberty and rest of BS that U.S. tells us time and time again that it stands for?”  The answer to this would seem to be threefold:  (a) the U.S. must have some reason for maintaining the world’s largest military and the most obvious explanation is that we like to be able to push foreigners around whenever we feel like it, (b) the democratic ideals and liberty are for U.S. citizens only; if we cared about foreigners’ welfare we’d be feeding Africans, preventing malaria, getting medical care to the poor in India, removing generic dictators (e.g., nearly any head of government in Africa or the Arab Middle East) rather than only the ones who insist on thumbing their noses at the U.S. (e.g., Saddam), etc., and (c) our politicians like to lay on the syrup just as thick for foreign audiences as for domestic and the result is a perception of insincerity, i.e., the U.S. could have said “We’re removing Saddam because he doesn’t follow our instructions and because we can” but presumably W and Co. thought that it sounded better to paint Saddam as terrifyingly bad and heavily armed.

11 thoughts on “Breaking Up Countries Where Citizens Hate Each Other

  1. The problem then with all these independent states is that critical resources are confined neither by current borders nor these proposed, supposedly more peaceful borders.

    I’m talking primarily about water, which before long if not already is a much more flammable resource than oil in that region and around the world.

    Sending everyone back to their respective corners is not a solution. It may be a delay that can buy time to work toward a soluion. Doubtful. These factions, like the Protestants and Catholics in Ireland, like the Muslims in Pakistan, seem to exist not for their own heritage but for the sole purpose of hating the other faction.

  2. The whole region was screwed-up by the Brits, etc. after WW1 when they created the various countries in the Mid East.

    The area should have been broken up by tribes.
    A country called Kurdistan should have been created from the Kurdish parts of Turkey and what became the Kurdish part of Iraq.

    Same goes for Saudia Arabia and any other area made up of multiple tribes.

    The League of Nations should have set up the two countries of Isreal and Palistine after WW1.
    Then Zionists would not have taken over Palistine in 1948. Which caused, and still causes so much trouble in the region.

    Unfortunatly this was not done and it’s too late to do it now.

  3. By the same token, should the United States have been broken up during the Civil War ? Or for that matter the “blue” and “red” states today that clearly do not see eye to eye ?

  4. I’ve been thinking the same thing. It would be great if the US could jettison some of the stupider states, like Texas, Mississippi, and Massachusetts. It would be great to have a president without a hillbilly accent for a change.

  5. There’s bad historical pecedent from the India / Pakistan split. A lot of people kill each other during the separation. There are more borders and therefore more border disputes. And as Patrick pointed out, there’s a problem of fair distribution of the country’s natural resources which is likely to exacerbate the hatred between the groups.

    Also, if you physically separate the factions into different nations, you probably *reduce* their opportunities to meet, socialize, and work together on collaborative projects. I suspect the long term success of reducing the rivalries and resentments is based on building larger, collaborative structures. Take the example of the European Union, which is likely to have eliminated the possibility of war between France, Germany, UK, Spain, Italy etc. for the conceivable future.

  6. Actually there’s another great historical example of this. British India was partitioned into (majority Hindu) India and (majority Muslim) Pakistan. Now that there are two separate countries, everyone gets along much better….

    Alas, not only is that not the case, but the Partition era itself was an extraordinarily damaging period of uprooting, mass migration, and sectarian violence.


  7. I cannot help but think Philip is trolling here. In his own words, he seems to establish quite the opposite argument:

    (From ‘Travels with Samantha’)

    I tried to defuse the argument by reminding folks that I hadn’t passed judgment on anyone but only said that I didn’t think German attitudes had changed much.

    “The main lesson I would expect Germans to draw from World War II is that attacking the U.S. and Russia simultaneously is a bad idea. Why would attitudes about racism have changed? Attitudes that are deep-seated in a culture aren’t going to change easily. One doesn’t learn about people by killing them; one learns by living with them. Americans who have day-to-day contact with different cultures tend to re-evaluate their stereotypes. Unfortunately, since there are essentially no Jews left in Germany, that option isn’t available to Germans.”

    Michael violently disagreed with this.

    “There aren’t any young people who are anti-Semitic in Germany anymore. Germany today is full of Jews. In my life, I’ve actually met five.”

  8. “However, nobody mentions the successful splits throughout history: Czech and Slovak from each other, the U.S. from Britain, the former Soviet republics and satellites from each other, Canada and Australia from Britain. ”

    Well, I’d say Britain and these former colonies aren’t very good comparisons as they were never single countries which needed to be split. And the resulting separands don’t share borders that get disputed.

    The Czech / Slovak split was succesful, and maybe some of the soviet republics also. However, in these cases, the split was voluntary and supported by both sides. (And where the split isn’t mutually supported, as in Yugoslavia and Chechnia, things are much uglier)

    But the india / pakistan analogy is most compelling because it’s an example of a country being split into it’s constituent factions “for it’s own good” by an external power. In fact it’s a plausible hypothesis that however much factions in countries or neighbours fight among themselves, in the long term they hate even more to have political solutions imposed from outside. Pretty much all the endemic trouble-spots and “failed states” in the world are places where colonial powers drew the map orthogonally to locally sorted out (in however bloody a manner) solutions.

  9. Will splitting up a country reduce the hate with in the groups? In the contrary I think it will increase the hate. So if US wants to apply the divide and rule policy that the english used in the 18th century in their colonies, the region will have lots of fights with each other. If US tries to mediate, it will give rise to terrorism in the US. So, I guess a unified country is good for everyone.

  10. I’m anglo-american, my wife is from the catalan minority in Spain. Either regional “commonwealths”, such as the European Union (or a world commonwealth) is needed so that the internal tensions created by imposed and/or otherwise artificial “nationalist” identities are reduced as much as possible. In the case of Spain, there is still a lot of hate/prejudice amongst groups, but it seems to be lessening as people develop a “european” cultural identity that transcends their ethnic and nationalist identities.

    historical background:

  11. Well speaking of carving places up, for a start the USA and its people should recognise Hawaii’s independence and hand it back to the Hawaiians (the rightful legal rulers and owners). The USA invaded Hawaii. USA govt. rule does not belong there. The Hawaiians have had to endure invasion, occupation, disease, exploitation and the loss of their traditional lands, culture and economy. There are now well over 3,000 of them forced to live on the beaches in tents. The occupation of Hawaii by outside invaders should be ended.

    Start with that before gossiping about how other countries should be run.

    Sione Vatu

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