“Suspicion and Separatists”: Third World and the Separatist States
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Issue Net Edition | Date : 08 Dec , 2015


Today Separatist state movements (SSMs) poses one of the greater threats to the democratic governments in the world. Separatism is a process where a group of one nation try to separate to form a country of their own. This is done because of variety of reasons be it political, social, economic, ethnic, racial or discontent of one community towards another.

On most occasions government’s battle against separatism, as creation of a new land would mean division of land, taxes, resources, power, and security in a region. Separatism is usually met with a strong force by the standing government of through military. Long and bloody civil wars are common with strong separatist movements and such conflicts remains “frozen” for decades.

One reason why it is important for us to discuss the growing issue of Separatists movements especially involving the UN because on most of times diplomats, international relations scholars and foreign policy officials have misconceptions that internal, domestic conflicts are the only root cause for war in the future.

Many continue to believe that the days of military commanders meeting on the battlefield are gone. Besides, the most present day military commanders, political leaders, and civilians are more prone towards internal uprising and guerrilla warfare for the control over domestic power. There are various reasons for this “sudden” shift, however most of the international relations experts and foreign policymakers agree to the fact that a large scale war is far from happening; what threatens us today is the smaller military conflicts that are quick, relatively bloodless wars between two states, sometimes within a state. Thus, it is very important for us to study and establish broad policy to deal with the SSMs.


There is no specific place for the SSM’s, they can rise from anywhere, especially within a nation. Power nations such as the United States is a product of political SSM. SSMs can rise through independence movements, revolutions, self-determination, partition, or through de-colonization efforts. 

Today, the majority of the SSMs are found in the post-colonial nations. This is because colonial leaders wanted to group together different religious groups and ethnic communities forcefully under one flag. Although after the fall of colonialism, many nations (Rwanda, Iraq, India, Indonesia, Somalia, Sudan, etc.) were created by grouping similar ethnic groups. As these nations moved towards self-determination and democracy, many ethnic groups and religious minority communities desired a nation of their own. This desire for an ethnically defined state, followed by a hunger to run their own nation, has led to dramatic increase in the SSMs over the last 40 years. Today, almost every nation is suffering from SSM. 

Current Situation

There are many good examples of SSMs in the globe today. Some of the most important nations that can turn the tide of global economy are explained below; the list comprises nations colonial, democratic and ruled under dictatorship for long. Many countries have their own form of SSM, whether it is small or large group of academic personalities, religious minority, or a group of rebels fighting against the government for independence.


In Cyprus, the Turkish minority (in a land with Greek majority) have made numerous attempts to make their own Turkish conclavein the north-eastern part of the country. Also, Northern Cyprus is also one of the most important example of UN intervention in a SSM. Although peace negotiations have been going on, a complete positive outcome of the resolution remains to be out. The only nation to recognize the Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus is Turkey.


It is indeed one of the most famous example of SSM, the Palestinians have been engaged in a most constant struggle for the past sixty years to create a nation of their own separating from the Jewish state Israel. Legally, there are many doubts whether this movement accounts within the SSSMin accordance to the status of Palestinian land (The West Bank, Gaza and East Jerusalem) as occupied territories within a sovereign land. Nevertheless, this remains one of the most pressing issues in the world and one that people in many countries feel very strongly about. 


Iraq has three different ethnic communities – Sunni Muslims, Shiite Muslims, and Kurds. Before the American invasion, there was a rapid push among the two politically marginalized groups in Iraq (Shiites and Kurds) to create a nation of their own. The Kurds, the largest ethnic group in world, remains with a nation of their own, were quite successful in creating an autonomous establishment in the northern reaches of the nation. However, after the American invasion, each of the three groups supported this would be an apt opportunity for building a nation of their own. Although, many nations do not want Kurds to form a nation, especially Turkey, which has a very large Kurdish population. 

Distribution of Kurdish people (Map Source:


Similar to Iraq, Turkey faces a large ethnic population of Kurds. The Kurdish community have longed dreamed for a Kurdistan – a home stretching across the region of oil in the Middle East. The Turkish government have gone to greater extents in declining any possibility of future rebellions including banning the use of the Kurdish language, and using geopolitics and its strategic location to prevent the promotion of a Kurdish homeland.


Spain is home to one of the most active SSMs in the Western Europe. Many different languages are spoken in Spain and it is a host of many ethnic groups in the nation. Two language groups, the Catalonian and Galician separatists, are particularly peaceful. On the contrary, the Basques of North-eastern Spain, on numerous occasions have led violent campaigns in an effort to create a new homeland. In the modern day US led War on Terror, Spain has tried to link the ETA, the militant wing of the Basques, with Al Qaeda and other anti-western groups, although they have been far from successful.

Map Source:

South Sudan

After long years of civil war among different ethnic groups and regions of Sudan, South Sudan finally achieved independence in July 2011. In the January elections of 2011 over 98% of the population voted for independence. Although, South Sudan is now an independent nation and a member of the UN, the conflict between the two North and South has not ceased. There are at least seven armed groups fighting to control the government and it does not seem likely that peace is near. 


Kosovo gained its independence from Serbia in 2008, following a violent conflict between the former state. Even though Serbia heavily protested against the independence, the International Court of Justice ruled that the declaration was legal and did not break any international laws. This issue of independence of Kosovo still remains one of the unique cases of SSM in the world, as it is still challenged by Serbia in the ICJ, although one more issue at hand is Russia’s strong dominance in the UN and the veto power, where the former can be blocked from obtaining a membership in the UN. Some countries fear recognizing Kosovo will encourage other SSMs to make similar official declarations of independence.

International Actions

It will not be wrong to say that UN has been very inactive on the issue of SSMs in the past. There is no actual definition of the SSMs, and the issue today is looked over as a case by case. Additionally, the UN only intervenes a civil war during humanitarian losses and boundary crisis. As the situation accelerates, the UN has to learn to determine which group is fighting for a legitimate cause along with the ratification and communities involves in the conflict. This way of dealing with the crisis has resulted increasing number of SSMs in the past – which is contrary to the UN goals of promoting peace and preventing conflict in the region, UN always wait for a situation to become bloody and then it intervenes. 

Although, UN has not dealt with SSMs on a larger scale previously, it has dealt with SSM on a case by case basis. The most important examples here that of Taiwan and Palestine. In both the cases, UN has neither ratified the governments, nor they have confirmed any legal attention to it, and so they have no voting rights. The UN has categorized governments of Taiwan and Palestine as SSMs – they have not heard the legitimate voice of the people and thus on the basis of their current stands in the world, they are provided not voting rights. However, UN has granted observer status to both of them, perhaps opening the doors for a legal argument for observer status for SSMseverywhere.

An interesting case arises when comparing Taiwan and Palestine. Though both certainly have differing histories (Palestine never achieved statehood status, while Taiwan lost its permanent seat on the Security Council to the People’s Republic of China), they represent what are probably the most well-known and organized SSMs. (Of course, neither would claim SSM status, instead stating that they are the true legitimate government of their territory). Many answers, and even more questions, arise when comparing these two cases. Another interesting set of cases are those of Kosovo and Southern Sudan. Both were set against the backdrop of genocide, however while South Sudan was immediately recognized by the UN for membership following independence, Kosovo has been independent for almost 4 years and still has yet to gain full UN support.

Peace-making and Peacebuilding

It will not be wrong to say that the UN is vested in both interests –trying to promote global peace and keeping the peace where it finds is more profitable. This is where the UN peacekeepers find themselves trapped. They are primarily responsible for making peace in the region; which they at times do not make. It is up to individual nation to maintain peace in the region, right before the peacekeepers arrive. This discussion is much valid in the case of SSMs as any case involves the deployment of peacekeeping forces comes with certain limitations. One more interesting fact here is the confusion in making peace within the areas of conflict (especially in SSMs): the guidelines for making peace in the region has different guidelines for making peace with SSMs and the ruling government.

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The views expressed are of the author and do not necessarily represent the opinions or policies of the Indian Defence Review.

About the Author

Anant Mishra

is a security analyst with expertise in counter-insurgency and counter-terror operations. His policy analysis has featured in national and international journals and conferences on security affairs.

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