Global Policy Forum

General Analysis on Emerging States & Claims to Autonomy and Independence


GPF Perspectives

GPF Exclusive Video Interview: Carne Ross on the Politics of Exclusion at the UN Security Council (August 2010)

After serving in the British diplomatic corps for fifteen years, Carne Ross founded Independent Diplomat, a non-profit organization that aims to provide consultation and assistance to disadvantaged or marginalized governments and political groups, enabling them to increase their diplomatic capacity and efficacy. Carne discusses the need for greater access and transparency in international diplomacy. Drawing from diverse experiences in the UN Security Council chambers, he described the structure of the world organization as serving to disempower certain state and non-state actors, even when they represent those most affected by a dispute on its agenda.


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Inside Disputed Western Sahara (January 10, 2013)

Western Sahara does not often receive significant media attention, but it continues to struggle with challenges dating back to Spain’s abrupt decolonization in the region. Western Sahara, though officially considered a distinct “non-self governing territory”, is the site of a territorial dispute between Morocco and Mauritania. For decades Western Sahara has been dominated by Moroccan influence, with the North African country maintaining a significant military presence in the country. Life expectancy and other quality of life indicators in Western Sahara are much lower than in Morocco, and efforts to establish true independence have been resisted by Moroccan authorities. The case of Western Sahara illustrates the extent to which North Africa’s political dynamics continue to be influenced by its colonial history. (Al Jazeera)

Philippines Moves Close to Historic Peace Deal With Islamist Rebels (February 13, 2013)

The Philippines appears to be nearing the end of its conflict with the Moro Islamic Liberation Front, an insurgency that has fought against the government for 40 years. While peace has not been finalized, observers are optimistic that negotiation between the country’s reformist president and the insurgent group will be successful. The government plans to allow a new “state within a state” – Bangsamoro – to emerge. For its part, the Moro Islamic Liberation Front has reportedly severed its ties to the groups blamed for the infamous Bali bombings. While optimism pervades discussions of the Philippines at the moment, observers caution that the decommissioning of weapons could be a complex process and renewed disputes could precipitate a reemergence of violence. (Guardian)

Nationalists or Islamists? (January 15, 2013)

France has intervened in Mali with the stated intention of gaining control over the chaos currently afflicting the country. While the justifications for this intervention have focused on Islamist fighters, Wesleyan University Professor Peter Rutland argues that the Malian crisis primarily revolves around a nationalist rebellion of the Tuareg people that has not been adequately addressed. Rutland argues that by supporting the Malian government’s repression of ethnic minorities, western powers have exacerbated the causes of the crisis they are now scrambling to contain. Without adequate recognition of the true nature of this conflict, it seems likely that the French intervention will struggle to establish its stated goal of political stability in Mali. (New York Times)


Ghana: A Democratic Anomaly(August 2, 2012)

Ghana’s success as a democracy is a beacon of hope in sub-Saharan Africa.  The next Ghanaian presidential election, scheduled for December 7th, 2012, follow four successful elections since 1992. Ghana has integrated traditional institutions into its modern institutional infrastructure, resulting in a lasting balance of power. With a vibrant civil society that monitors corruption and safeguard the rights of its people, Ghana sustains a highly regulated political environment. Finally, the shift away from ‘neopatrimonialism’ towards greater transparency has allowed for greater stability within Ghana, as in sharp contrast to other oil-rich African states. (Al Jazeera)

The Failure of the Arab Spring: Soft Power and Soft States (April 23, 2012)

Citizens entrenched in a global celebrity culture often misunderstand complex situations by demonizing one single person. Take for example Saddam Hussein in Iraq, Khomeini in Iran, or Kony in Uganda. Overthrowing an “evil” leader may not necessarily amount to positive change, especially in nations that lack strong democratic institutions. Soft power through social media is a good first step, necessary to open communication and raise awareness. But it may take decades to produce deep and sustainable change. (Huffington Post)

Azawad: The Latest African Border Dilemma (April 18, 2012)

On April 6, Tuareg rebels declared independence from Mali, an act that was condemned by the international community. It is not surprising, however, to see continuing struggles aimed at redefining national boundaries in Africa. European colonial powers carved up African borders in the Berlin Conference of 1884-85, where no Africans were present. They split up tribes and lumped incompatible ethnic groups together. This al Jazeera article argues that the international community should not shun the Azawad state and MNLA without first approaching them diplomatically. (al Jazeera)


For Kurds in Turkey, a Country’s Conflict Rends Families (October 29, 2011)

Turkey has historically punished Kurds for expressing their cultural identity. Demanding rights and local autonomy, the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) guerilla movement declared war on the state in 1984. Thousands have been killed in militant attacks and government reprisals. Service in the Turkish army is mandatory, and the government is now deploying more Kurdish conscripts in their home region where they are more likely to be fighting their brothers and sisters in the PKK. In recent years, the government has made some concessions to the Kurds in an attempt to join the EU, but promised constitutional reforms have yet to be implemented. (New York Times)

The ‘New’ States from the USSR 20 Years On (August 17, 2011)

This piece from The Guardian looks at the fifteen states that emerged after the collapse of the USSR, analyzing the gains they have made in the last 20 years and the challenges they now face. It groups the young states into five separate categories, pointing out the persisting problems within each region. These problems relate to life expectancy, the attempts at maintaining democracy, the fledgling economies and even levels of happiness. What emerges is an interesting and informative overview of these new countries, providing insight into the common struggles facing new states. (Guardian)

North, South Sudan Agree Abyei Troop Withdrawal: UN (May 9, 2011)

The United Nations confirms that North and South Sudan have agreed to start withdrawing unauthorized troops from the flashpoint and oil-rich Abyei border region, a week after clashes there left 14 people dead.  Tensions between the semi-nomadic Arab Misseryia tribe (viewed as allies of the North) and the Dinka Ngok (seen as loyal to the largely Christian and indigenous South) have continued to escalate since January 2011 when the people of Abyei, under the terms of the Comprehensive Peace Agreement 2005, were due to vote in a referendum to decide whether or not to join South Sudan.  This referendum was postponed indefinitely and tensions have since increased. (AFP)

Preventing the Arab Spring from Reaching Western Sahara (April 20, 2011)

The United Nations and France have strongly supported the Arab Spring across the Middle East and North Africa, providing military assistance in order to encourage democratic change. However, Africa’s last colony of Western Sahara, has received no western backing in its calls for autonomy, with decision instead being left to the ruling powers of Morocco. This article investigates the role the UN is playing in Western Sahara’s bid for independence and assesses whether more should be done to support its self-determination. (Foreign Policy Magazine)

Upper Silesia Flags Up its Call For Autonomy (April 8, 2011)

The Polish region of Upper Silesia has its own unique identity and is itching for independence. The area, historically part of Germany, which is rich in coal and has a successful car manufacturing industry, is embittered that few resources are pumped back into the community despite Silesia providing 14% of the Polish GDP.  This article highlights how the Polish government feels threatened by plans underway to educate school children in the Silesian language amongst other demands for autonomy. (Guardian)

Morocco Must Leave Western Sahara (April 1, 2011)

The conflict between Moroccan forces and the Sahrawi people of Western Sahara is still ongoing after 36 years. Western Sahara, which provides Morocco with a wealth of natural resources such as oil, gas and uranium, remains as Africa’s last colony since Morocco invaded in 1975.  Although the United Nations and the European Union have made considerable efforts to promise a referendum of self-determination for the Sahrawi people, this chance for independence has yet to occur. (Guardian)

End of the Line for Christiania’s Flower Children (March 7, 2011)

The Danish commune of Christiania, famed for its hippy culture, squatting and legalization of soft drugs, has lost its free-town status. After twenty-two years of legally sanctioned independence, during which the community established its own currency, national anthem and distinct legal code, the Danish state will now assume responsibility for Christiania’s future. This article addresses how, despite the original ceding of territorial control to residents, Denmark has denied the continuation of independence for potentially profitable reasons. (PressEurop)

Will Sudan Vote Herald Balkanisation of Africa? (January 7, 2011)

The referendum in Sudan to divide between north and south could potentially inspire the separation of other African nations. This article argues that states no longer hold the borders drawn up by European superpowers over a century ago as unbreakable, and that the successful partition of Sudan could encourage the "Balkanization" of Africa. Nations which are already divided between Christians and Muslims, such as Nigeria, could soon see a challenge to the colonial legacy and demands for smaller, religiously based states. Likewise, breakaway regions such as Puntland could use Sudan's case to legitimize their claims to autonomy. (Guardian)

Rewards for Rebellion: Tiny Nation and Crown for Life (February 1, 2011)

"Micronations" are tiny breakaway areas that declare independence from sovereign states but have no official status.  They usually have no status at international law.  Nonetheless, micronations raise very interesting questions about "what is a nation?"  They expose tensions between state sovereignty and quirky neo-liberal forms of self-determination.  States in recent history have had an aura of permanency, yet these new "states" demonstrate that their larger cousins are relatively fluid and constantly in flux. (New York Times)


Kosovo Partition not in the Cards (August 9, 2010)

The recent International Court of Justice ruling on the legality of Kosovo's 2008 declaration of independence has sparked renewed debate about the partition of Kosovo. Serbia has never officially advocated for Kosovo's partition because this would violate its constitution; however, Serbian President Boris Tadic continues to argue that the Serbs in Kosovo "do not wish to accept the sovereign roof of the so-called state of Kosovo." Nevertheless, partition may no longer be a realistic or desirable option. Belgrade does not want to agree to the secession of Kosovar Albanians, and after the ICJ ruling, Pristina no longer wishes to settle for anything less than complete independence. (Southeastern European Times)

In Sudan, War is Around the Corner (July 12, 2010)

The referendum for Southern Sudanese independence is only six months away.  Most suspect that the people of South Sudan will overwhelmingly support secession from the north and the formation of an independent state.  But the Khartoum-based government may undermine the voting process or refuse to accept the results.  If so, violence will most likely erupt once more, destroying the progress achieved when leaders from the north and south signed the 2005 Comprehensive Peace Agreement.  What can be done in advance to prevent further violence and human rights violations, and to prepare for a new, independent state? (New York Times)




Freelance Diplomats Lend a Hand to Would - Be -States (July 31, 2009)

Independent Diplomat, a non-profit group, provides guidance to emerging states on how to approach foreign governments and international organizations. The organization uses existing diplomatic channels to help its clients gain international recognition, as emerging states often lack experience of dealing with international bureaucracies. Assisting "nations - in - waiting" to gain international attention is crucial for us says Independent Diplomat member Soren Jessen-Petersen.(Associated Press)

Fondly, Greenland loses Danish rule (June 21, 2009)

Greenland has formed a government of its own and it now claims autonomy from Denmark. Both parties affirm that the relation between them is friendly. With climate change, the ice cap covering Greenland is melting and might reveal hidden natural resources benefiting this new state (New York Times).


Uighurs and China's Xinjiang Region (August 4, 2008)

The Uighurs are the largest community in the Xinjiang Uighur Autonomous Region (XUAR), and claim that China colonized the area in 1949. The Chinese government fears Uighur separatist activities, especially since the neighboring Central Asian countries share cultural ties with the Uighurs. As a result of increased economic development by the government, the Uighurs argue that this has led to increased inequality, decreased access to resources, and demographic change where the Han, China's main ethic group, now represents 40% of the population. (Council on Foreign Relations)

The Death of Belgium? (July 29, 2008)

This Los Angeles Times article argues that the formation of Belgium resembled that of Britain and Italy, where leaders had to create a common national interest to promote internal unity and identity. However, as the European Union (EU) increases its political and economic strength, Belgians no longer share a national interest but rather a common regional - Flemish or Walloonian - interest. As a result, the author argues that regional language and culture matter more than national identity, and Belgium is in danger of splitting apart.

Ghosts of 9/11: Muslim Nationality Movements or Pan-Islamic Jihad? (July 29, 2008)

The US, Russia, and Israel often seek to delegitimize Muslim nationalist movements by branding them as pan-Islamic jihad tied to al-Qaeda. But this article argues that most Muslim movements are nationalist - not pan-Islamic. In countries like Chechnya, leaders use Islamic symbols to mobilize people for an independent state. And Muslim Arab countries have generally prioritized their own national interest over the Muslim community in Palestine.

North Meets South: Vermont Secessionists Meet with Racist League of the South (June 2008)

Under the mantra of "Small is Beautiful," a secessionist movement in the northeastern US state of Vermont is lobbying for independence. The Second Vermont Republic (SVR) believes that Vermont should free itself from the US "empire" which President Abraham Lincoln extended during the Civil War. The group argues that independence would bring increased democracy, environmental sustainability, and personal liberty. The revelation of SVR's ties to Southern white supremacists shocked its followers, and many withdrew their support for the secessionist movement. (Southern Poverty Law Center)


Georgia, Abkhazia, Russia: The War Option (May 13, 2008)

Moscow is slowly undermining Georgia's sovereignty by strengthening its ties with the breakaway province of Abkhazia. Russia has lifted trade sanctions and has increased its troops in the breakaway province, under the pretext of protecting its citizens in the region. The author criticizes Europe for conceding to Prime Minister Vladimir Putin and not taking any action to show its support for Georgia. (openDemocracy)

Uighurs Struggle in a World Reshaped by Chinese Influx (April 28, 2008)

To prevent the Uighur people - a Muslim ethnic group - from claiming separation, the Chinese government has taken measures to increase the Han population in the Chinese province Xinjiang. In a few decades, the Han population in the province grew from 6 to 40 percent. Attempting to defend their culture, more and more Uighurs are turning to Islam to confirm their identity. The government is responding by subjecting the Muslim population to religious restrictions such as the prohibition of bringing the Koran to university. (Christian Science Monitor)


Tibet, China and the West: Empires of the Mind (April 1, 2008)

In this OpenDemocracy article, the author puts the China-Tibet issue in a historic perspective, considering their respective notions of sovereignty. During the first half of the 20th century, Tibet was de facto independent as China did not seek absolute control. But as China grew wary of Western Empires, the country's nationalistic ideas increased. To create one strong bloc against US, European and Japanese Empires, China fully integrated Tibet. This way, nationalism became a means of legitimizing full sovereignty over Tibet.

A World of Selfistans? (March 13, 2008)

Why has Kosovo been able to break away from Serbia, while separatists in Kashmir and Sri Lanka still struggle to gain independence? The case of Russia and Chechnya shows that politically stable and militarily strong countries seldom loose territory through secession of minority groups. The example of Turkey's policy towards its Kurdish separatists proves that having powerful allies - in this case the US - also helps nations to block a break-away. While the independence of Kosovo raised hope for several separatist regions, the nations to which they belong are even more determined to hold on to them. (Foreign Policy in Focus)

Minority and Indigenous Groups - Silent Victims of Climate Change Says New Global Report (March 11, 2008)

A study of seven environmental disasters shows that indigenous peoples are among the ones that suffer most from changing climate patterns. Policymakers fail to address the dangers indigenous communities face because of climate change. Many governments invest in biofuels under the pretext of solving climate change. But large-scale biofuel production has led to the eviction of minority or indigenous groups from their land, endangering their existence. (Minority Rights International Group)

Separatist Movements Seek Inspiration in Kosovo (February 22, 2008)

The independence of Kosovo has shown once more the lack of unanimity within the European Union. Six countries do not back the new European nation, fearing its self proclaimed autonomy will set a precedent for their own ethnic minorities. This article provides an overview of these countries and the struggle for autonomy of their respective minority groups. Spain was the first country to state it was not going to back Kosovo's independence, fearing the example it would set for the Basque region. (Der Spiegel)


Citizens of Nowhere (April 1, 2007)

This International Herald Tribune article highlights the plight of the world's stateless people - many of whom live in remote areas and are members of tribal or ethnic minorities. The author argues that without the rights which generally accompany citizenship these people are often subject to discrimination and other human rights abuses and are afforded few protections from the state.

Transnistria's "Government" Showcases Foreign, Minority Rule (February 2, 2007)

This Eurasia Daily Monitor article highlights the recent changes in government made by Transnistria Moldovan Republic "President" Igor Smirnov. The most controversial change is the complete exclusion of Moldovans from positions of authority as Transnistria - which declared independence from Moldova in 1990 - attempts to move away from being a Moldovan entity and closer to Russia, which it aspires to join.


The World's Lost People: Neither Refugees Nor Citizens (January 27, 2006)

Domestic civil strife in countries around the world has forced millions of civilians, known as internally displaced persons (IDPs), to flee their homes. As they often reside in weak or failed states, IDPs have no formal system of legal rights and receive little attention from their governments. In addition, because IDPs do not cross international borders, they are not automatically entitled to the rights and protections of refugees. (Christian Science Monitor)


Diplomatic Desert (September 27, 2004)

South Africa has formally recognized the Saharawi Arab Democratic Republic after its patience for a referendum on who should rule Western Sahara ran out earlier in September. Some 76 countries have recognized the Republic, but Morocco fears South Africa's weight will trigger more international pressure to grant the region independence. (Newsday)

Chechnya: Russia's Second Afghanistan (September 8, 2004)

"De jure or de facto separation of Chechnya from Russia would be a major setback to core Russian strategic aims," argues Power and Interest News Report. Russia wants to maintain control over oil-rich Chechnya to contain US influence in the Caucasus. Meanwhile, the US and the EU, aiming to develop economic cooperation in the area, are calling on Moscow to negotiate with the separatists.

Georgian Forces Battle Separatists in Ossetia (August 13, 2004)

Tensions have risen since nationalist Mikhail Saakashvili became Georgian president last fall. Saakashvili promises to "bring South Ossetia and a second breakaway province, Abkhazia, back under central government control." The provinces gained their independence from Georgia in the 1990's. (Globe and Mail)

Muslim Unrest Flares in Thailand (January 7, 2004)

Terrorist attacks in Thailand's southern region prompted the government to impose martial law and has renewed fears of Islamic separatism in the region. Thailand annexed the southern region in 1920 and since then separatist movements have often appeared. (Christian Science Monitor)


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