Tag Archives: Secessionism

Secession in Scotland and the US: Not Necessarily What It Seems

There has been a lot of buzz lately about secession, owing to the Scottish vote yesterday on the question of whether to leave the United Kingdom. As a scholar of secessionism, it’s thrilling to see this stuff back in the news, if for no other reason than somebody might think some of our work is relevant. It’s also just plain fun to watch.

Now that the results of Scotland’s vote are in, discussion will turn – if only briefly – to what this means for other parts of the world. My coauthor and partner in ethnic conflict scholarship Steve Saideman has already posted a piece re-arguing a point we have made elsewhere: that secessionism and its outcomes in any one place aren’t really contagious anywhere else. That’s what our research has shown, and it suggests that Scotland’s failure to secede likely won’t deter others from trying (just as success would not have instigated secessionism where it wouldn’t have happened anyway).

This is true because secessionist movements are really driven by underlying political dynamics that are unique to each place. Tip O’Neill was right – all politics really¬†is local. And with that in mind, I read this Reuters piece reporting on secessionist sentiment within the United States with some fascination. Maybe the Scots do have something to teach us – that we should be having much more significant conversations about deep political issues here at home.

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My Enemy, My Friend? Why the Islamic State May Be the Best Thing to Happen to Iraqi Kurdistan

Watching the sudden and (to Western eyes) unexpected unfolding of the Islamic State and its territorial gains in Iraq has been fascinating. The dynamics have been heretofore unpredictable – a few weeks ago a conflict scholar asked on a social media forum whether ISIS (as it was then known) would bother with the Kurds in Iraqi Kurdistan or concentrate on Baghdad. The consensus at the time was that the Kurdish¬†peshmerga, battle-hardened from years of war, were probably too much for this new upstart force and that the Islamists didn’t really want to rule the Kurds anyway.

Turns out we were wrong. While the Islamic state has been pushing south towards Baghdad, it is also pushing east towards Erbil and Kirkuk, the heart of Iraqi Kurdistan. And along the way it’s been doing pretty well, by press accounts, in battling what had been Iraq’s most organized and formidable military force. The popular explanation for this, which may be true, is the imbalance of heavy weaponry (tanks, armored vehicles, and artillery) between the Islamic State forces (which have taken significant quantities of these weapons from the dissolving Iraqi military) and the Kurds (which have few if any heavy weapons). This looks bad right now for the Kurds – but it this crisis may contain the seeds of their greatest victory.

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