Monday, 16 April 2007


Through a series of links from Story-Games, I came across this article on redrawing the map of the Middle East to better reflect the ethno-religious realities of the region, which is largely stuck with borders drawn by European imperialists in the days when geography was about maps and biography was about chaps. It reminded me that I've been meaning to blog about an idea I had.

Disclaimer in advance: I know that this idea is very much not likely to be implemented, both because of human nature and also because I have no way of bringing it to the attention of anyone who could even start to get it discussed more widely. Also, the whole idea of nationalism is a bad one anyway. But even so, from an Innocent Man perspective:

One of the sentences in the article begins "Accepting that international statecraft has never developed effective tools — short of war — for readjusting faulty borders...". What if we didn't accept that and tried to think of some? Perhaps a UN convention which governments could sign up to, kind of a protocol that they promised to implement?

Something like this. If a certain percentage of the population of a defined region signs a petition, a binding referendum must be held on the issue of how that region is governed and from where. If, say, 50% of those qualified to vote do so, and 67% of those voting approve a change, that change will be implemented. The same protocol is binding on any new entities that result.

The options for a region would be:
  1. Territory (governed centrally as part of a larger country, with limited local autonomy and no legislative body of its own). Example: The Northern Territory in Australia, which has repeatedly rejected statehood (basically, from what I understand, because it doesn't want to pay for more politicians), or Puerto Rico, which has repeatedly rejected becoming a US state for, as far as I know, much the same reasons.
  2. State (part of a larger federal entity, with its own legislative body for internal affairs, but with foreign affairs, many laws, and some aspects of law enforcement residing with the federal body).
  3. Nation (an independent entity, wholly self-governing in all internal and external matters).
As well as how it was governed, if the region was not to be a nation it would be able to decide which nation it was a part of. This would be very important to a great many people in the world as it is today.

And in that world - this world - tens of thousands of people die as guerillas fight government forces for the right to be a nation (or, at a pinch, a state) rather than a territory. As an Innocent Man I can't figure out how this is worth the death of anyone, but then, I don't live in a country where I'm oppressed.

In the rare cases where such a territory does eventually become independent or self-governing, years of attempting to gain one's ends and decide by whom one is governed by means of shooting people who disagree are usually not shaken off overnight. Having won their independence, the inhabitants of the region generally begin fighting among themselves. In fact, the Palestinians have started doing it already, and they don't even have a state yet.

To adapt G.K. Chesterton's remark about Christianity, the problem with this approach is not that it's been tried and found wanting, but that it hasn't been tried. But the real problem with it is that national governments (for a reason I also don't understand) are extremely reluctant to lose territory. I mean, why do you want to govern people who hate you and kill your citizens and who are costing you more to fight than they will ever produce in tax revenues? It's a hell of a way to run a railroad.

OK, there's my ignorance of the real workings of global geopolitics out in the open. I'll shut up now.

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