- The Washington Times - Friday, July 8, 2011

ANALYSIS/OPINION:

The international community welcomed a new member on Saturday. The Republic of South Sudan was declared under the terms of the 2005 Sudanese Comprehensive Peace Agreement. The declaration followed a referendum held in January in which 98.8 percent of the people in southern Sudan opted for independence. It’s always a positive step when people are given the opportunity to assert their sovereign will and, in the words of Thomas Jefferson, “provide new Guards for their future security.”

Sudan was a product of European imperialism and, like many such post-colonial states, had no unifying rationale other than arbitrary lines on a map. The southerners are divided from the northerners by ethnicity, religion and language. Civil war raged in Sudan essentially since the country’s inception in the 1950s. The cultural divisions were exacerbated by the fact that most of the oil resources of the country are in the south but political power and control were with the north. It took more than 2 million deaths and the creation of millions more refugees before the warring parties agreed simply to split ways.

There are some outstanding issues in this divorce. The regions of South Kordofan and Abyei are still in dispute, with recent fighting prompting a U.S. call in the United Nations for a 4,200-strong Ethiopian peacekeeping force to deploy to the latter region until its final status can be determined. The humanitarian crisis in the western Darfur region also has yet to be resolved. The most important steps, however, already have been taken, and the advent of South Sudan gives some promise for future nonviolent solutions.

Secession is not a panacea. Sometimes internal issues can be resolved without taking such a drastic step, and in some rough neighborhoods, many such states wouldn’t make sense. Proposals in recent years to divide Iraq into three ethnically defined states would simply have replaced one problem with three new problems, given the potentially poor reception of those countries by surrounding states. The Iraqis disproved this option by showing that they could keep the fracture lines in their country from widening to the point where partition became necessary.

Secessionist sentiment is a bellwether of a political system facing critical strain. In the case of Sudan, the divisions were violent and obvious. In this country, the pressures are less evident; nevertheless, there have been recent suggestions for some form of political partition. In 2009, Texas Gov. Rick Perry made headlines when he alluded to his state going its own way “if Washington continues to thumb their nose at the American people.” In May 2011, liberal Democratic politicians in Arizona began a petition drive seeking a November 2012 ballot initiative to split off Pima County, which includes Tucson, to form the new southern state of Baja Arizona. This followed in the wake of controversy over the state’s new immigration law. In June, Riverside County, Calif., Supervisor Jeff Stone proposed that 13 southern counties secede and form the new state of South California. “Our taxes are too high,” he said, “our schools don’t educate our children well enough, unions and other special interests have more clout in the Legislature than the general public.”

Whether such devolution proposals would solve anything is an open question, but they are symptoms of the growing political divide in this country. Hopefully, the United States will never have to hold a referendum on its own partition plan.

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