Turning The Box Inside Out

There are some parts of the world that appear to continually be problems for nations seeking to expand their control into peripheral regions. For example, the Scottish lowlands and Ulster have long been difficult regions to pacify and control in the British Isles. Around the world areas like Kuridistan and the Sahara prove to be continual problems for the control of areas with difficult terrain and inhabitants that do not always appreciate the misrule that is going on in nations that view them as the source of potential resources and territory but are not inclined to give them a large degree of freedom. Indeed, the presence of such peripheries tends to make the achievement of genuine democracy impossible, whether we are looking at Libya’s Fezzan or the Northwest Provinces of Pakistan. To the extent that a nation desires to control peripheral areas for its own profit and thwart the just demands of those people for some degree of responsible self-government, that state cannot be anything other than tyrannical and abusive to its people and the result can only be harm to the well-being of the state engaged in such behaviors.

All too often, though, such problems are viewed from the point of view of the tyrannical and abusive state. Even those who might be inclined to have favor of the cause of oppressed minority peoples and regions tends to be influenced by the perspective of contemporary International Relations to view those problems with the abusive state at the core and the restive population or region as a periphery. That this is so ought not to surprise us. After all, it is those abusive nations who send representatives to sit in international institutions like the UN or African Union or WTO or as ambassadors to other nations. It is those abusive nations which appear on our maps with nice borders drawn around them that fail to indicate the lack of extent of the rule of central authorities, or the legitimacy that government has in the area where it claims control. It is those abusive nations that have national soccer teams, participate in the Olympics, have flags and national anthems that are well-known by others, and so it is no surprise at all that we tend to see them as being the core, and their problem areas as being the periphery.

But what about if we reverse the situation, and put the periphery at the core? How do things change when we do that? Let us look briefly at a couple of examples so that it may be understood what this means. How does our understanding of North Africa change when instead of looking at the nations that show up on the map we put the Sahara at the center, along with the Berber people who live there, and put the nations around them on the periphery and show how the weakness and instability of many of those states like Libya [1] and Mali [2] result from peripheral states trying to fragment a Saharan core that instead of being a core area of concern in its own right is instead made a periphery of a variety of states who rule the area largely in bad faith. In the same light we can see that Morocco’s problems with Western Sahara are of the same piece as its attempts to dominate its own peripheral regions like the Rif and the Atlas Mountains. Likewise, we can see that the core region of the Himalayas and neighboring mountain chains has served as a problem for a variety of states, including China, Burma/Myanmar, India, Pakistan, and Afghanistan. Similarly, we can see that the problem of Kurdistan is that a core area of Kurds that might could be able to work out their own institutions to build up legitimacy in their own state has instead been carved out between Turkey, Iran, Iraq, and Syria, all of whom are left with a Kurdish problem as a result, rather than the existence of a Kurdistan that has to sort out its own internal divisions through the development of institutions to build trust among its own people.

And that is the core problem. All institutions require a certain degree of legitimacy for their rule, by which people in authority are treated more or less with respect and perhaps grudgingly obeyed. Where this legitimacy is lacking, people behave in predictable ways, such as flight, fight, or freeze. Many institutions would not in the least mind passivity on a part of a great many people who were under its authority, though they would perhaps prefer a large group of people to actively serve the institution and its interests. But where people feel alienated, mere passivity is perhaps the best case scenario. Worse is the sense of alienation that leads people to no longer trust institutions or view them with respect, or to believe that they have any authority. And simply appealing to a divine right view or brandishing one’s power is not sufficient to deal with the underlying lack of trust that people have in institutions to serve their own best interests. And it is that problem which is at the core of so much of the difficulty in our world. It is hard to prove that one is trustworthy to those who are disinclined to trust because they have been taken advantage of before, and the world is full of such problems with little awareness that the problem exists at all, much less how to resolve it.

[1] https://edgeinducedcohesion.blog/2011/10/22/between-a-rock-and-a-hard-place-the-fate-of-ousted-dictators-and-divided-nations/

[2] https://edgeinducedcohesion.blog/2012/02/03/malis-free-radical-problem/

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 International Relations, Middle East, Musings and tagged , . Bookmark the permalink.

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