If I Could Melt Your Heart: A Reflection On Frozen Conflicts

A little while ago I discussed the research of Zbigniew Dumienski concerning protected states (also known as microstates) [1] and some of the reasons why a nation would prefer to allow freedom to very small and mostly neighboring areas rather than attempt to rule over them themselves [2]. Today, I would like to return to that subject and examine the contemporary problem of frozen conflicts and how their existence has demonstrated the difficulty in solving these problems because of a fundamental asymmetry between the approach of different parties in a frozen conflict, and on the impossibility of compromise between the de facto and de jure status of those territories in dispute. These frozen conflicts are present in our world to a great degree, and can be found mostly as artifacts of a colonial history, often in cases of a strong ethno-religious divide, that have made peace impossible. The international community, for a variety of reasons, has largely sought to avoid granting legitimacy to these various states, and the response of individual nations appears to be highly dependent on contextual factors without there being any overarching moral or philosophical justification for statehood on a consistent basis. I had once thought to examine frozen conflicts as part of an overarching doctoral dissertation on diplomatic and military history and the often frustrating conflict between military matters and diplomacy when it comes to the search for international legitimacy, and this deep interest accounts for my dealing with it today, and from time to time, at least briefly.

In many cases, the proliferation of unrecognized states appears to be the result of successful campaigns of divide and conquer by imperial nations. At other times (most notably in Western Sahara and Somaliland, as well as Northern Cyprus) a division appears likely to be based in part on colonial history overlaid on existing tribal or ethnic differences combined with the result of tyrannical behavior on the part of the core part of a nation that alienates a substantial and concentrated minority that seeks freedom through secession. Examples of this sort of division, where regions have a differentiated history due to imperialism of some kind, where politics (often of an ethno-cultural nature, though not exclusively so, and often with religious overtones as well) lead to frozen conflicts and some kind of breakaway republic and where the resolution of that division is impossible because of the persistent divide between de jure and de facto arrangements that defy resolution. However these conflicts are caused, which is often the matter of a case by case determination through historical analysis, such matters are worthy of a lengthy examination, as it appears as if there has been little written at length about frozen conflicts in the broader sphere, while most of the existing literature is of a journalistic nature and has been published about specific cases [3]. In examining the subject, it would first be worthwhile to examine what makes a frozen conflict of the type that we want to examine—those that hinder the recognition of independent nations, so as to be able to determine the basis for their being frozen, and perhaps suggest some means for their unfreezing.

What makes a conflict frozen, by my definition, is the persistent inability to reconcile a status on the ground (de facto) with the legal and diplomatic position of the international community (de jure). Examples of these conflicts are legion and they are present in all parts of the world, and they may persist for decades [4]. Time does not heal these wounds, nor lead to any reconciliation between warring parties, aside from a change in the will on those parties to persist in their sullen hostility to do what is necessary for either reconciliation or amicable separation. Any situation where there is a gap between an actual “line of control” and a legal boundary as defined as a line on the map [5], there is a frozen conflict, whether it is recognized or not or whether it is dealt with in any fashion. It ought to be of little surprise that many of these conflicts exist in the post-Soviet sphere, whether we are looking at more active conflicts like the Crimea or Donetsk conflict between Ukraine and Russia, or the conflict between Transdnistria and Moldova, or that between Georgia and South Ossetia and Abkhazia, or that between Armenia and Azerbaijan over the Nagorno-Karabagh area, to give some of the most obvious examples that come to mind. In all of these cases, persistent ethno-cultural differences, sometimes with religious differences overlaid on top of them, are the result of the lines on maps not corresponding with identity, and with the behavior of successor states to more sharply defend their own legitimacy as independent states acting in ways that alienate minority peoples in their own states, who in turn wish to split off in turn. Rebellion is a contagious habit, and those who successfully split off from a larger entity often find to their sorrow that the bonds that unite them are not necessarily strong enough to keep them together once they have separated from others. Even more tragically, those nations that are the entities a new nation has split from are often allies of movements that wish to divide those successor states in turn, as it keeps those states weak and keeps alive the possibility of recovery of those territories at some future time, as it is easier to conquer a number of smaller and weaker states than to conquer fewer and larger ones. Additionally, a large nation with imperial ambitions, like contemporary Russia, may see in supporting the legitimacy of various successor states the possibility of these states achieving legitimacy in the international community, and thus providing friendly and supportive votes in international institutions that operate via the principle of one nation, one vote, similar to the way that protected states tend to be friendly votes for their benign neighbors.

In all of these cases, we see consistent patterns. There is often either the threat of or the actual history of abusive behavior within a given state between one group of people who controls the government and some particularly organized minority group that has a well-defined territory and a strong regional identity. There is also the fact that these differentiated and often hostile groups have been thrown together through malicious or incompetent lines being drawn on maps in ignorance or disinterest about the identities that exist on the ground and their boundaries and limits. When nearby nations have a strong reason of their own to support a breakaway republic once a conflict exists, whether one is looking at the United States’ decisive support for Panamanian independence from Colombia (thanks to the lure of the Panama Canal), or Russia’s similarly opportunistic support for breakaway states that weaken those whose separation weakened it. Nations can behave surprisingly like people, and bitterness can lead peoples who deeply hated others separating from them to actively support those who leave the ones who left them. Let us never forget that vengeance and pettiness are not only the province of emotionally immature people, but of the institutions and nations ruled over by those emotionally immature people as well. It is this same emotional immaturity, on a large scale, that accounts for the fact that decades can go by without any resolution of these conflicts.

This is especially troubling because the resolution to these problems in general appears remarkably easy to conceive of, and this solution has been tried over and over again, with a great deal of success, in situations as diverse as the separation between the United States and Great Britain to Belgium and the Netherlands to Singapore and Malaysia. It is a multi-step approach with long-term harmony in mind. First, if one has an intransigent region that simply refuses to be governed by us, does not trust us, does not respect us, and does not like us at all, the best thing to do is to let them depart, to not insist on ruling over them, but only demanding a cessation of hostility and the provision of an open door and open communication as neighbors. In the context of a cessation of hostilities and a recognition of mutual freedom from the burdens of conflict, and in the context of rebuilding friendly relations through communication and trade to overcome the previous history of conflict, then cooperation on areas of mutual interest can occur. It is only by changing the situation, though, that one can resolve the conflict, and that situation can only be changed by coming to terms, and agreeing on the reality that exists. Whether this occurs through a peace treaty (like the Treaty of Paris between the United States and the United Kingdom) or whether it occurs through a recognized and internationally monitored plebiscite (like the votes that led to the independence of South Sudan and Montenegro, for example) is immaterial. What is important is that at some point there needs to be a recognition of an unpleasant reality and a coming to terms with it, in the hopes that the changing a frozen conflict to open separation can allow for the potential for greater future unity once trust and goodwill have been built up. The only way that trust and goodwill are going to be built up, though, is for the state of frozen conflict to cease, and for it to be replaced by a spirit of warm neighborliness. Why this is so hard for people to understand and apply is a far more complicated matter.

[Note: I would like to take the opportunity to wish a happy birthday to Transdnistria, which unilaterally declared itself a Soviet Republic on September 2, 1990, to an unequal mixture of ignorance and disdain.]

[1] http://ams.hi.is/wp-content/uploads/2014/04/Microstates_OccasionalPaper.pdf

[2] https://edgeinducedcohesion.wordpress.com/2015/03/03/i-get-by-with-a-little-help-from-my-friends-on-the-legitimacy-and-viability-of-mini-states/

[3] See, for example:







[4] https://edgeinducedcohesion.wordpress.com/2011/09/04/new-country-watch-list/

[5] https://edgeinducedcohesion.wordpress.com/2011/02/09/when-maps-lie/

About nathanalbright

I'm a person with diverse interests who loves to read. If you want to know something about me, just ask.
This entry was posted in Church of God, History, International Relations, Military History, Musings and tagged , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

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