Small Wars Journal

The Most Dangerous Dumb Idea that Will Not Die

Sat, 10/22/2011 - 7:44am

In 1863, in Second Empire Paris, the French Empress Eugenie cornered the Austrian diplomat Richard von Metternich and outlined her proposal for reordering the nations of Europe in what she believed would be a more logical fashion. Under her scheme, the borders of nations and empires would be adjusted to more closely follow the major ethnic and linguistic divisions on the continent. Poland would be reconstituted from those areas of Prussia, Austria, and Russia where Poles were a majority. Prussia would absorb most of the German states; Russia most of the Slavic areas of the Ottoman Empire. Metternich, from an empire that was the antithesis of the ethnically based nation-state, was not inclined to report favorably on the Empress’s plan.[i] Most modern students of diplomacy see Metternich as the consummate statesman and the Empress Eugenie as something of an amateur meddler. Yet the Empress’s ideas for an idealized reordering of national boundaries retain great credence when modern soldiers, statesmen, academics, and interested laymen consider a host of world problems, especially in former colonial areas.

Speakers and writers, from the novice to the professional, when pontificating on the problems of politics and geography in South Asia, the Middle East, or Africa, usually blame the British. After all, the argument goes, the British divided and ruled vast areas of the world, and the post-colonial world has inherited the borders drawn by late nineteenth and early twentieth century British statesmen, and many current problems of Asia and Africa can be traced to these borders. Winston Churchill’s big lunch, in a common anecdote used to demonstrate the arbitrary and callous way borders were drawn, led him to burp that afternoon when drawing the border between what is now Iraq and Syria, causing a strange bump on an otherwise straight border. Critics with a slightly wider perspective blame nineteenth century statesmen in Paris, Brussels, or Vienna, who sat around vague maps while drawing lines that intentionally divided tribes to make them easier for Europeans to rule. The implication is that borders left over from the colonial era are artificial, whereas the borders around European nation-states are natural or logical. The relative prosperity and stability of the West and the comparative instability of many areas of the post colonial world stem from the artificial borders left over from colonial politics. Usually unspoken but implied is that the post colonial areas would be more stable and therefore more prosperous if the borders of those countries were “natural borders,” rather than artificial borders. Hypothetical states such as “Baluchistan” “Kurdistan,” “Moroland,” are spoken of as logical and even inevitable solutions to ethnic tensions in troubled areas of the world.

While European statesmen did divide colonial areas with little or no regard for the ethnicities of the people in those areas, and at times for the specific reason of dividing tribes, inherent in the modern argument is that the nation-state should be formed around an ethnic group, with national borders that encompass rather than divide ethnicities and tribes. The idea goes back to early to mid-nineteenth century European nationalism, specifically to the creation of Italy and Germany as nation-states. Contemporary Europeans saw France, England, Spain, as examples of natural nation-states--states formed around an overwhelmingly dominant ethnic group. To be English, or French, or Spanish, did not mean simply being a subject of the government; it implied cultural, linguistic, dietary, religious, and ancestral links with fellow citizens. The concept was a liberal idea, and directly challenged the basis of monarchies, because it implied that the nation belonged to the members of the ethnic group that resided there, not to the prince who ruled it. Monarchies such as the Austrian Empire were obsolete, because it was a mish-mash of Germans, Slavs, Magyars, and Romanians, not to mention Jews and Muslims, and no ethnic group approached a majority. The Slavs were themselves divided into Czechs, Croats, Slovenians, Slovakians, Serbs, and Bohemians. To make the matter worse, or at least more complex, many of the ethnicities in the Austrian Empire were more numerous outside the Empire, and even dominated other states. The Germans of Austria were a relatively small percentage of all Germans in Europe, while Russia was by far the dominant Slavic state. Thus the Austrian Empire was an anarchism in an age of nationalism, and a reordering of Europe along natural lines would ideally lead to the creation of a host of successor states, some of which would look like the modern states of Slovakia and Croatia, while the areas of the empire ethnically dominated by Germans would join some new state of all the Germans, looking somewhat like Germany did by 1938, after Adolph Hitler had absorbed the rump state of Austria and the Sudetenland.

 This idea of the ethnically-based nation-state has been a powerful and seductive idea. Otto von Bismarck initially feared it, because his loyalty was to the House of Hohenzollern--to the Prussian royal dynasty—and not to some abstract concept of a nation based on an ethnic group. The Prussian kingdom consisted of whatever lands the Hohenzollerns had acquired by conquest, treaty, or marriage. The ethnicity of the inhabitants mattered little. But Bismarck was perceptive enough to see the way history was moving, and rather than be swept aside by nationalism, he mastered it and ensured that the Germany thus created would be a Prussianized Germany, under the House of Hohenzollern.[ii] The idea that the ethnically based nation-state was natural and desirable got its next major boost from U.S. President Woodrow Wilson. Explicit in his Fourteen Points for ending World War I was the idea that Eastern Europe, especially the Balkans and areas then ruled by the Austrian and Ottoman Empires, should be a series of small nation-states based on a dominant ethnic group.[iii] That this concept of the nation was espoused by President Wilson, who represented the ideal of the artificial nation-state, where citizenship is based on birth and or acceptance of basic ideas rather than genetics, remains one of the great enigmas of Wilson’s tortured idealism.

One problem with the idea of the ethnically-based nation-state is that it is a-historical—based on a false understanding of the creation and nature of the nation-states of Western Europe. France is usually held as a model of the natural nation. But France was hardly more natural than the Austro-Hungarian Empire. At the outbreak of the French Revolution in 1789, a minority of subjects of Louis XVI could be described as ethnically French—an ethnicity created over many centuries through a combination of various Germanic, Gallic, and Roman peoples—who were settled over a large oval in northern France centered on Paris. Most subjects of Louis were, and if they thought about it at all, considered themselves to be, Provencial, Breton, Norman, Alsace-Deutch, Flemish, Italian, or a host of smaller identities. The borders of France in 1789 were the result of a millennium of wars and marriages, wars fought and marriages arranged to expand territory, not out of any consideration for the language or culture of the people who lived in those territories. France became French in the century after the Revolution, when the secular public schools and the conscripted army forced, to borrow a phrase from the historian Eugene Weber, “peasants into Frenchmen.[iv]” Spain and England, the other two examples usually given as proto-typical nation-states, are even more artificial. Spain was created in 1469 by the marriage of the king of Aragon, Ferdinand II, and the queen of Castile, Isabella. Spain achieved religious unity by royal proclamation requiring all Jews to convert, leave, or be killed, in 1492, with a similar ban on Muslims added. Yet even after five centuries of political unity, significant sections of the population remain non-“Spanish,” as Catalonians and even more so Basques are quick to point out. That Portugal is a separate state while Catalonia is part of the Spanish state has no more basis in natural borders or ethnicity than any border in the Middle East or Africa. England, to ignore the other parts of the United Kingdom, is a stew of the descendants of various Germanic tribes (Anglos, Saxons, Jutes), Danes, (descended from Viking raiders and settlers) Normans (themselves descended from Viking setters mixed with Gallic people of northwestern France), on top of earlier inhabitants who were what today we call Celtic, plus a smattering of Romans.[v] None of these nation-states, France, Spain, or England was the result of ethnic or tribal borders.

The borders dividing the Western nation-states today are as misaligned with ethnic lines as any in Asia or Africa. Four contemporary sovereign states are demographically dominated by ethnic Germans (Germany, Austria, Switzerland, and Lichtenstein), while Germans form significant minorities in several surrounding nation-states, in some cases in adjacent regions (France, Belgium, Luxemburg), and in other cases in small pockets geographically separated from Germany (Hungary, Russia), not to mention the large populations of ethnic Germans in Canada, the United States, and Argentina. Australia and New Zealand, while ethnically, culturally, and historically, very similar, are separate nations, while half the length of the US-Canadian border is as arbitrary and artificial as any in Africa or the Middle East. The ethnically homogeneous nation-state has seldom been realized; perhaps the closest examples are Iceland and Japan. A side effect Japan’s ethnic unity is the conspicuous exclusion of those minorities that do exist in Japan from the national sense of self. Groups such as the Ainu, decedents of the people who lived in the islands before the Japanese arrived, or the Koreans, some of whom have been in Japan for several generations but are still seen as a foreign presence, and Okinawans, are the most obvious examples.

But even ignoring that few if any nation-states are based on an ethic group, the real danger with the idea that national/political borders should follow ethnic or tribal borders is that such a concept is the basis for ethnically discriminatory policies, ethnic cleansing, and genocide. When the nation is based on a tribe or ethic group, non-members of that dominant group are by definition not part of the nation. Jews prospered in the Austrian Empire, based on the territories ruled by the Habsburgs, while the fate of Jews in the hyper-ethnically based Nazi Germany is well known. The dissolution of Yugoslavia, and specifically the misery in Bosnia-Herzegovina in the 1990s, was at heart over the question of whether Bosnia was a Serb state. If Bosnians were Serbians, then the Croats, Slovenians, and Muslims who lived in Bosnia were not Bosnians. If Bosnians were simply the people who lived within the borders of Bosnia, then ethnicity would not have mattered. The ethnic cleansing of non-Serbs, with its attempted repeat in Kosovo, was the concept of the nation-state organized along ethnic lines taken to its logical and deadly absurdity. History is replete with examples of the horror visited on minorities—ethnic, linguistic, religious—during efforts to create nation-states based on homogeneity. The Khmer Rouge’s slaughter of Viets and mixed populations in eastern Cambodia in the late 1970s, the driving out and killing of Hindus from areas destined to become Pakistan in the late 1940s, to the Rwandan Genocide in 1994, all stemmed from the same insidious idea. Yet again and again, the division of ethnicities and tribes by national boundaries is listed as an underlying cause of unrest, from the tribal areas of Pakistan, to West Africa, where tribes such as the Hausa are split between Nigeria and Niger. But the real problem is the inability of central governments to project power over areas within their borders distant from their capitals—the persistence of ethnic and tribal identity that is stronger than national identity is a symptom, not a cause, of government weakness.[vi]

Despite it faulty assumptions and deadly affects, the idea will not die. In briefings, conference panels, informational lectures, and classrooms, it has become the default argument. The border between India and Pakistan was arbitrarily drawn by the British when they partitioned India; the Baluchs are divided by the border between Afghanistan and Pakistan; the Kurds are split between Iran, Iraq, Syria, and Turkey. Yes they are. And that is simply the way most nation-states are. For Americans to push for the ethnically based nation-state is truly bizarre, for in such a world, Boston’s North End would be part of Italy, and sections of Los Angeles would belong to Laos. National borders drawn for whatever reasons are national borders. The problems that plague so many nations in post-colonial areas stem from the inability of some governments to extend control over all areas nominally under their sovereignty, not from the thwarting of some idealized alignment of borders with ethnic divisions. Yet the non-alignment of national borders with tribal, ethic, or linguistic groups remains part of the introduction for a host of issues and problems. It sounds sophisticated but in practice its implantation has been destructive. It is an idea that needs to be added to the scrap heap of history.

[i] Wellesley, Sir Victor, and Sencourt, Robert, Conversations with Napoleon III (London: Benn, 1934).

[ii] Pflanze, Otto, Bismark and the Development of Germany: The Period of Unification, 1815-1871 (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1963).

[iii] Wilson, Wilson, Speech to Joint Session of Congress, 8 January 1918, “A Program for Peace,” points X, IX, X, XI, XII, XIII.

[iv] Weber, Eugen, Peasants into Frenchmen: The Modernization of Rural France, 1870-1914 (Stanford, CA: Stanford University, 1976).

[v] For a genetic study on the origins of the modern peoples of the British Isles, see Sykes, Bryan, Saxons, Vikings and Celts: The Genetic Roots of Great Britain and Ireland (New York: W.W. Norton and Co., 2006).

[vi] Herbst, Jeffrey, States and Power in Africa: Comparative Lessons in Authority and Control (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 2000).



Madhu (not verified)

Mon, 06/08/2015 - 12:08pm

From the Lexington Institute (titled: Defense Innovation Proponents Are Pitching to the Wrong Audience):

</blockquote>“Hybrid tactics are not a random sequence of improvisations but reflect an order behind the spectrum of tools used. That makes it incumbent upon political leaders and strategic thinkers (not always one and the same) to fit such activities squarely within the political objectives discussed by Carl von Clausewitz, who explained that war was an extension of politics by other means.</blockquote>

- See more at:…

Oh, I don't know. The Wall Street Journal, military blogs, favored journalists, various think tanks and the Army War College seem to be perfectly fine audiences to pitch an idea too, depending on the nature of that idea.

Are you sure you don't want to look more closely at the C-B-I theater, how pre-NATO Americans viewed the region and its complications, take a good hard American-centric look at how the regional "South Asian" conflicts were internationalized in terms of the various institutions set up by the West?

It's important to use the term West too, in a South-South, South-North, East-West world.

Madhu (not verified)

Thu, 06/04/2015 - 12:06pm

What's this?

<blockquote>It is therefore disappointing to see that developments since the parley have been uniformly negative. But a surprising source, the U.S. Army War College, sees a possibly promising outcome. It recently issued a report exploring different scenarios of how U.S.-Russian tensions may play out over Ukraine and suggesting that Washington and its NATO allies adopt a more conciliatory and accommodationist approach to Moscow. Let us hope it receives the attention it deserves.</blockquote>

Army War College recommends New Detente

US-Russian tensions over Ukraine can be resolved if the US softens its stance

by John Batchelor, Al Jazeera America (link won't work again).

So, I went of the deep end with the Atlantic Council/War College links I posted earlier?

But people were trying to shape the situation, weren't they? That's how the DC scrum always works, different factions with think tanks, funding, letterhead agencies, etc.

What happened?

Move Forward

Tue, 05/12/2015 - 6:40pm

Recent articles related to the topic that may support or refute my points <strong>further below</strong> in a separate post are as follows:

* Sudan has experienced in-fighting between groups loyal to the outgoing President and already departed Vice President in a province called the "Unity State" in the far north of South Sudan along the Sudan border. Not sure what this indicates frankly.

* Macedonia experienced attacks by accused Kosovars who may be identifying with the 1/4 of Muslim Albanians who live in Macedonia. This no doubt affects the desire of Macedonia to join the E.U. and NATO which will not happen due to the name Macedonia that the Greeks do not like. The dispute continues because many Greeks self-identify as Macedonians while the Republic of Macedonia consists primarily of Slavics. These conflicts again illustrate the effect of having multiple large percentages of different ethnicities in countries and how they can effect neighbors.

* Bangladesh extremists hacked a blogger to death who dared to question Islamic extremism since secularism is the proclaimed policy of the nation. This was the third blogger to be killed by extremists and both ISIL and Russia continue to dominate us in the blogosphere, which is another large change between colonial history and today's conditions.

* Several African nation militaries have not been working together as they said they would to check Boko Haram. Since the Islamic extremist group operates in multiple African nations conducting genocide regardless of borders, it refutes the idea that intact borders prevent genocide.

* Libya fired on a Turkish ship and refused to accept a U.N. proposal to go after Human traffickers operating out of Libya. The E.U. has reserved the right to take matters into their own hands.

* Four out of six Arab nation heads of state will not attend President Obama's summit presumably due to his failure to address ISIL adequately and his perceived support for better relations with Iran. As Jeb Bush pointed out last night in an interview with Megyn Kelly, the sole nations the U.S. now has clearly better relations with after nearly 7 years of President Obama's foreign policy are Cuba and Iran--of questionable benefit at best.

* Despite two SWJ blog articles proclaiming the relevancy of Naval forces to IW, the "war" against ISIL has been slow and ineffective relying on airpower from the sea. The Navy SEAL attack on Osama bin Laden never could have originated from the sea or from a light ground component Afghanistan footprint. Yemen likewise is too large a country in area and population and also has many areas too far from the sea as in the case of the Ukraine, Syria, Iraq, Libya and most of Africa, and Afghanistan. Its insurgency is too large for SEALs and naval airpower to be effective on their own and even U.S. citizens have been left behind in danger despite Naval ships off shore.

* The regular non SF/SOF Army and Marines that could be effective for IW are being mostly excluded as a solution by our President's continued refusal to use the ground component effectively. It alone could defeat ISIL rapidly and potentially stabilize by creating/enforcing new borders in Iraq and Syria and leaving troops behind in Kurdish territory closer to the ISIL threats.

If I erred here in some of my facts it is due to trying to recall reading multiple related articles in the last few days with no desire to revisit them.

Madhu (not verified)

Sat, 05/09/2015 - 4:38pm

In reply to by Madhu (not verified)

A big mistake to transfer all that manufacturing to China, and now Mexico. Driving through the MidWest recently, counted all the places that had packed up and left....

Nixon's opening to China. Need it have been so slavish? If there were natural troubles between the Soviet Uniona and China, anyway, and we simply hung out at home and said, "we are open to a relationship with you," what would have happened?

So much of that history is still opaque, and it is simply taken for granted that it happened the way in which it has been described by those with a stake in making it look good. This is where realism may "live" as an intellectual subject, if people make fun of International Relations as a dead subject. It will live by examining events much, much more carefully?

It feels a bit like I suppose German manufacturing makes the British feel today. We won but it doesn't feel like a win.

I really think I don't trust the narratives on the opening to China, entirely.

No, we should pursue good relations but that is not entirely the narrative. We still don't know, do we? Not from a thorough historical stand point.

Too narrow the world of defense and foreign policy. Much, much to narrow intellectually in DC although academia seems fine, in corners of it no one reads in DC.

That's what Bronin's book is about, Perle and Chalabi understood that you make it easy for busy policy and political types, you do the intellectual work and feed it to them.

So, non-interventionists, you must do the same, not be hysterical about this or that crisis.

The American business class always felt cheated that it didn't have the China market right after WWII. The business class stupidly thought it would be all one way, and then the dumb 90s business policy types convinced themselves it would be all right to just ignore the working and middle class and bleed jobs away.

Madhu (not verified)

Sat, 05/09/2015 - 4:03pm

One more. And please don't blow up the world. Missiles aren't magic, are they, Ashton Carter or Angelo Codevilla? Or, are they?

Conventional defense too boring? Or too risky in that European firms can supply Eastern European NATO countries? No room for expansion in conventional defense?

<blockquote>Carter's background includes serving as a professor at Harvard University and a Senior Partner of Global Technology Partners focused on advising investment firms in technology and defense, and an advisor to Goldman Sachs on global affairs. He's a native of Pennsylvania, earned his bachelor's degree from Yale University and was a Rhodes Scholar.

Why Carter would be good for Alabama

Carter is seen as an expert in weapons acquisition and technology development. He's also been a long-time proponent of missile programs, the cornerstone of Alabama's military infrastructure.

In 2013, Carter received the Ronald Reagan Missile Defense Award from the Missile Defense Agency. The agency has major operations at Redstone Arsenal.</blockquote>…

I wouldn't sweat it. No one is paying attention and those that do are blinded by their own particular passions, their own particular kink.

You're all good to go.

Madhu (not verified)

Sat, 05/09/2015 - 4:57pm

In reply to by Madhu (not verified)

Geez, if I were Iran or Russia I'd use Sunni fronts or something, then you'd be forgiven everything.

<blockquote>"The Gray Zone: Russia and Iran's Hybrid Playbook"
Location - Bliss Hall Auditorium
USAWC Partner: Atlantic Council's Brent Scowcroft Center on International Security
Panelists: Robert Nurick, Senior Fellow, Brent Scowcroft Center for International Security; Dr. Maren Leed, Senior Adviser, CSIS; Dr. Michael Connell, Senior Research Scientist and Director, Iranian Studies Program, CNA; Dr. John R. Deni, Research Professor Joint, Interagency, Intergovernmental, and Multinational Studies, USAWC Strategic Studies Institute; Mr. Frank G. Hoffman, Senior Research Fellow, INSS</blockquote>

The Atlantic Council. Typical.

Madhu (not verified)

Sat, 05/09/2015 - 4:12pm

In reply to by Madhu (not verified)

See? Hybrid warfare the new COIN and COIN was all about something else, anyway. War and the Art of Governance from 2003:

What can piggy back onto all of that?

1. Defense contracts.
2. Increased needs for the Army and its suppliers/contractors.
3. A way to finesse the idea of democracy promotion and regime change into Army doctrine.
4. Keeping the focus on traditional enemies, all while covering for traditional allies?
5. Foreign influence agents, fair and foul.

And so on? It's not a conspiracy, it's the way policy is made, the way institutions in DC are held in place by those that permanently inhabit the policy making class, the intellectual deep state. Just like in Richard Bronin's book about Chalabi. Well, I'll be. Always do your own study, away from everyone else, away from the yelling bipartisan conversation of the day, away from everyone all "hides" in plain sight. And people believe what they believe, that's the thing of it. They really believe they are doing the right thing.

Such a small world, with no room for air or sunlight or any new thoughts. But if you believe in the free market, they why do you want to control defense policy this tightly, liberal internationalists and conservative hawks and neoconservatives? By your very principles, such a small class of people simply cannot have all the knowledge needed to make intelligent policy.

Madhu (not verified)

Sat, 05/09/2015 - 3:45pm

So, here it is:

<blockquote>April 8, 2015 -- Deputy Secretary of Defense Robert O. Work; Assistant Secretary of Defense Robert Scher; Under Secretary of Defense for Policy Christine Wormuth; National Intelligence Council Chairman Dr. Gregory Treverton; British Minister Steve McCarthy are among the experts to anchor discussions during the annual Strategy Conference at Carlisle.

Worldwide virtual participation is open to national security practitioners, academics, policy makers and opinion leaders -- to enhance the dialogue led by a roster of experts in defense strategy for the 2015 Army Strategy Conference, sponsored in its 26th year by the USAWC Strategic Studies Institute, April 7-9, at the U.S. Army War College, April 7-9. The conference will explore the fundamental question: In light of anticipated security conditions, and defense demands, what are the most relevant first principles for the next decade's defense stratetgy and planning?

<strong>This conference is co-sponsored by the Office of the Secretary of Defense, Policy. Policy-relevant voices will include those representing OSD, RAND, Council on Foreign Relations, Center for a New American Security, Center for Strategy and Budgetary Assessments, Washington Institute for Near East Policy, US Air Force Academy, New America Foundation, Smith Richardson Foundation, and the University of Pennsylvania.</strong></blockquote>

Emphasis mine. Can I get in trouble in any way for pointing any of this out? Why? No one is paying attention, look at the conversation present over the years here. In front of our very eyes.

Move Forward

Fri, 05/08/2015 - 12:12pm

Given my frequent rants about colonial borders, I’ve long disagreed with this article, but held off a critique at the time. Thanks to Madhu’s bump and with nothing new to discuss it’s time for a rebuttal. Just three and a half years after this article was posted, recent history now suggests his thesis was flawed. New and continuing ethnically- and religiously-driven problems in the screwed up borders of Syria, Iraq, AfPak, Libya, Mali, Ukraine, and now Yemen intimate that perhaps the idea of solving problems through new borders may not be so dangerous and dumb after all.
<blockquote>Speakers and writers, from the novice to the professional, when pontificating on the problems of politics and geography in South Asia, the Middle East, or Africa, usually blame the British. After all, the argument goes, the British divided and ruled vast areas of the world, and the post-colonial world has inherited the borders drawn by late nineteenth and early twentieth century British statesmen, and many current problems of Asia and Africa can be traced to these borders.</blockquote>

In my case as a pontificating novice, perhaps I could be enlightened on how British colonialism and its borders did not screw up the Middle East, Asia, and Africa? Anyone care to defend the Brits?

<blockquote>Critics with a slightly wider perspective blame nineteenth century statesmen in Paris, Brussels, or Vienna, who sat around vague maps while drawing lines that intentionally divided tribes to make them easier for Europeans to rule. The implication is that borders left over from the colonial era are artificial, whereas the borders around European nation-states are natural or logical. </blockquote>
So natural or logical borders are not preferable to artificial, arbitrary borders? The historian author later cites dates like 1789 and earlier for France, 1469 and 1492 for Spain, and implied ancient dates in England citing how kings, constant wars, and arranged marriages formed “successful” borders eventually. The first error lies in assuming European history has relevance to geopolitics in 2015 in other world theaters. But for the sake of an argument, he appears to be implying that Europeans of old learned to adapt over many centuries to ill-drawn borders, so why can’t everyone else? If centuries are all it takes to overcome bad borders, why then did Europe suffer through both WWI and WWII in the more recent 20th century?

Perhaps we also should recall that Europeans in many countries must learn multiple languages to communicate. Despite this barrier and other cultural differences, they eventually formed NATO and the European Union to share a common defense, currency in the Eurozone, and economic trade. These unique characteristics of Europe make it a bad example for saying that since Europe figured it out, poor third world former European colonies with border problems eventually will get it right. Even in past Middle East colonies with ample oil money, multiple religions within ill-conceived borders have proved problematic. Europeans at least held common primary Judeo-Christian beliefs. When they didn’t, it too often led to problems when Islamic and Jewish citizens differed from Christians in power—even today.

It is equally silly to compare the U.S.-Canadian border to colonial variants yet the author did just that along with citing long-assimilated diasporas in the U.S. and neighborhoods in Boston and L.A. as having relevance to border problems abroad. One area of historical relevance concerning U.S. borders is our past willingness to buy and sell territories such as the Louisiana Purchase and that of Seward’s Alaska. Why is that practice no longer a potential solution in today’s world?

<blockquote>Usually unspoken but implied is that the post-colonial areas would be more stable and therefore more prosperous if the borders of those countries were “natural borders,” rather than artificial borders.</blockquote>
Why would they <strong>not</strong> be more stable? One could speculate that given the recent regime changes caused by our larger coalition forces, creation of “natural borders” <strong>could have been part of new treaties and constitutions</strong> as part of a larger strategy of promoting self-rule, stability, and separate ethnically-based security forces that inherently draw support from governed spaces with similar cultures.

Instead of arguing based on ancient history, look at today’s post-colonial borders of Israel frequently cited as an example of a nation-state that might be more stable with new separate Jewish and Palestinian states. Why would our State Department insist on that solution yet ignore its corresponding possibilities elsewhere? Beyond the Palestinians, the Sinai was returned to the Egyptians which has led to peace ever since despite two major wars as recent as 1967 and 1973.

Elsewhere, Northern Ireland and Ireland continue to exist separately to protect British-identifying citizens in the North. Scotland decided recently not to secede, but conceivably could have had they felt no affinity and saw no advantage to being governed by Great Britain. South Sudan split from the oppressive North. Bangladesh does not seem to be threatening India or vice versa. India appears to enjoy stability between its Muslim, Hindu, Buddhist, and Sikh populations except in the few provinces with the largest Muslim populations relative to other religions. As is typical of many historical arguments, we love to cite the ancient while seemingly ignoring current events and today’s realities.

<blockquote>But even ignoring that few if any nation-states are based on an ethnic group, the real danger with the idea that national/political borders should follow ethnic or tribal borders is that such a concept is the basis for ethnically discriminatory policies, ethnic cleansing, and genocide. </blockquote>

Few nations may be based on just a single ethnic group, culture, or language, but many have an overwhelming majority such as the Philippines the author was studying and many areas of South/Central America and Asia. We can’t expect every third world nation to immediately be the melting pot we evolved into. Sure the Balkans suffered genocide as mentioned later in the same paragraph of the above quote. Perhaps the author also should have mentioned that the genocide could have been far greater had original Yugoslav borders been retained and if NATO had not intervened and supported new nation-states like Kosovo.

Given the recent influx of ISIL recruits from Europe, could we possibly infer that even long-drawn European borders have not prevented at least a perception of discriminatory policies toward European Muslims? Given the genocide of ISIL members crossing the imaginary Syria-Iraq border and numerous African instances in recent decades, perhaps we should consider that borders have little to do with genocide. However, borders do appear to have a lot to do with governing and security force legitimacy and perceptions of self-rule provided they can be secured against <strong>external interests</strong>. Yet those adjacent external and internal interests often fight to alter poorly drawn borders while idealistic diplomats cling to Westphalian beliefs related to European stability. That idealism has little bearing on how the remainder of the world governs and gets along.

<blockquote>The problems that plague so many nations in post-colonial areas stem from the inability of some governments <strong>to extend control over all areas nominally under their sovereignty</strong>, not from the thwarting of some idealized alignment of borders with ethnic divisions. Yet the non-alignment of national borders with tribal, ethic, or linguistic groups remains part of the introduction for a host of issues and problems. It sounds sophisticated but in practice its implantation has been destructive. It is an idea that needs to be added to the scrap heap of history. </blockquote>
I added the bold highlight to the above quote. That highlighted section and the entire paragraph are indicative of where the author leaps beyond his area of historical expertise and ventures into speculation about geopolitical counterfactuals that no longer apply centuries later after Europeans finally got it right internally.

The author suggests that because the Europe of yesteryear had multiple ethnicities and some ancestral minorities continue to live in adjacent lands that it somehow negates that most Germans live in Germany, French live in France, Italians in Italy, and Spaniards in Spain. Why didn’t East Germany become a separate nation after departing the USSR if they did not see themselves as German? How would a new Basque state in any way threaten the rest of Spain? For that matter, why wouldn’t it make sense for the Ukraine to allow Russia to buy primarily Russian parts of Ukraine rather than continue to fight and potentially lose it all?

What we should add to the “scrap heap of history” is the arbitrary drawing and stubborn retention of outdated borders without considering the conflicts they create. In the internet age and with worldwide news networks informing most people instantly, no longer does it make sense for “some governments to extend control over all areas nominally under their sovereignty.” If the majority of people that predominate large areas do not believe they have much say in how they are ruled, perhaps new nation-states and boundaries make sense.

Unlike the author’s cited historical centuries that lacked air/train travel, automobiles, global interdependent commerce, modern communications, and pervasive media, modern conditions suggest new means of governing. The advent of armor capable of blitzkriegs, military aircraft, missiles, and ships/submarines that no longer take months to traverse oceans means “castles” no longer shield kings from their citizenry, militaries, and ideological opponents. The trappings of modern history no longer shelter despot leaders from their “subject’s” and interested neighbor awareness of how some are being mistreated.

Mistreatment can be contrived as seen in Russian propaganda, or very real leading to genocide within existing borders, and full scale war causing refugees and dead civilians. Other times the deprivation of economic and governmental self-rule may lead to insurgency or open revolution. Frozen borders that force internal competition between different cultures and beliefs do not appear to improve the peace process. Grudges are held due to conflicts past and present with current weaponry often decisive in changing who rules temporarily while not eliminating the conditions leading to future instability and regime change. Shouldn’t alternatives exist to changing borders and leaders by force?

I would ask the author to cite how Assad could conceivably continue to rule the Sunnis within existing Syrian borders even assuming he could “extend control.” While considering that, perhaps someone can explain how any future Sunni leader of the same current Syria could prevent genocide of the Alawites and other non-Sunnis. Has genocide via barrel bombings, chemical weapons, and ISIL beheading resulted despite retained borders? A similar notion that a homogeneous Iraq could continue to be ruled peacefully by the Shiites is equally ludicrous.

Some areas such as the Anbar province and Kurd areas are easily differentiated. Israel, Northern Ireland, Cold War Berlin, and Iraq illustrate that even in cities with mixed cultures, government philosophies, and religions, walls and fencing can be built to deter in-fighting. Negotiated walls and boundaries are less likely to be obliterated by militaries. Land swaps also are a possibility to preclude the nightmare of refugees. East Berlin and Korea illustrate that even common cultures can coexist peacefully if walls keep them apart philosophically.

That is not to suggest that either the USSR or North Korea were on the right track in how they “extended control” over East Europe and the DPRK after WWII. But negotiated and even newly imposed borders with walls to separate mixed cities and fences elsewhere appear to be a viable alternative to retaining old borders temporarily until the next round of in-fighting or external dissatisfaction over the status quo. Whether you put Sunnis in charge or Shiites in a mixed area with only a minor plurality, trouble will continue to exist.

History often reflects what generally occurred either unsuccessfully or successfully-the-hard-way in the past…not what makes sense for the future. Before historians characterize anything as a dangerous or dumb idea, perhaps they should examine more recent history and give it greater credence than events of centuries and even decades past. We note that at the time of publication the author was studying the history of OEF-Philippines. It is somewhat ironic that one solution to that contingency was greater autonomy for the Muslim minority in a small area of the larger Christian nation. That came about with the March 27, 2014 Comprehensive Agreement on the Bangsamoro and hopefully this month’s work by the Philippine Congress on the Bangsamoro Basic Law.

The alternative I guess is more instances like January’s Mamasapano clash that killed 43 Special Action Force police and 17 MILF fighters while attempting “to extend control over all areas nominally under their sovereignty.“ That sounds pretty dangerous and dumb to me.

Madhu (not verified)

Wed, 05/06/2015 - 12:19pm

In reply to by Madhu (not verified)

Well, Wolfowitz wrote his first paper about Iraq in 1977 , I think , and look at the twists and turns there....

Madhu (not verified)

Wed, 05/06/2015 - 12:18pm

Oh. I get it now. This paper was chosen because of the Army's desire to reinvigorate NATO, just like hybrid war is the new COIN. Under the guise of concern for Russian speaking populations in NATO and 'near' NATO states, a story will be created that allows you to parallel the nationalists in Russia and have your Cold War back, complete with missiles in Eastern Europe. The price of entry and expansion is the creation and sustaining of a narratve. Or are you being duped again? Or am I reading too much into this? So hard to know, so many hidden agendas....

Madhu (not verified)

Sun, 07/28/2013 - 12:39pm

In reply to by Madhu (not verified)

Let me clarify my argument a little: the point is not to blame the British or anyone else but to try and see if the narratives created can be looked at in a fresh way with newer research or new material?

I'm always interested in connections and the "either/or" nature of much commentary around military issues always fascinates me. It's either one thing or the other (I realize I am grossly simplifying) but what about the connections?

It's not to blame the British or Jinnah or Nehru in my example but to understand the connections to our era in a fresh way. So, no blame, only understanding. And as we watch a "system", seemingly separate and distant from it, we are a part of it too, meaning the US. There is a strange duality where we study other nations and yet divorce our own complicated history from this study or rely on a status quo narrative.

Madhu (not verified)

Sun, 07/28/2013 - 12:21pm

I mentioned the following paper in another thread and I wonder if the paper can be read in support of this SWJ article?:

<blockquote>In 1953, a book on Jammu and Kashmir titled The Grim Saga (Dasgupta & Co. Ltd.) came out in Calcutta, India. Its author, S. N. Shivpuri, lamented “the triple tragedy of Kashmir–local, subcontinental and international.” Almost five decades since then, a great deal has been written about the local and subcontinental tragedy(s) in Kashmir. This article instead turns its gaze towards the international aspects that accompanied the evolution of the first India-Pakistan conflict over Kashmir from 1947–49, which sowed the seeds of the enduring dispute between the two countries. Focusing on the British policy towards Kashmir during this period, it contends that the impact of three wider, over-lapping contexts of international geopolitics, namely, British fears about unrest in the north-west of Indian subcontinent along the border with Afghanistan, British involvement in the Middle East, and British plans against the former Soviet Union, affected the official interpretation of British interest in Kashmir. These contexts, in turn, were created by the two themes of decolonization in South Asia and the Cold War in that pivotal year of 1947.</blockquote>…

If you look past arguments about past colonization or those rooted in some kind of communalism or ethnicity, then you have varied national interests playing out and the "usual" messy business of state building or extending its writ. I really think the linked paper is supportive of this article if looked at a certain way.

How many of the trouble spots around the world are simply a projection of our own self, meaning the US and our allies and our fears and habits? Are these spots really any more trouble than others or are we simply making more of it than is warranted?

Vitesse et Puissance

Thu, 01/12/2012 - 1:52pm

The author makes some good points here, but permit me to get technical for just a moment: The notion that state borders and sovereign relationships should be aligned with ethnodemographic groups is an idea that belongs not merely to the "tortured idealism" (I do like that turn of phrase) of the Wilsonian world view, but also of paleocon neorealism and of structural functionalism (qua Emile Durkheim and Talcott Parsons) as pertains to the European Community - and potentially elsewhere. I initially wrote "neofunctionalism" rather than structural functionalism, but thought the better of it, since the EU-style integration of necessary and overlapping functions, while compromising traditional state boundaries, does not necessarily recognize ethnodemographic relationships. All one really needs is protocol - and agreed upon principle by which different ethnolinguistic groups may interact within the integration framework. At the same time, the "Europe of the Regions" tends to decompose that functionally integrated framework in a fashion that breaks down the power, legitimacy and authority of the nation state. In the UK, the process is known as devolution, even as Scotland and Wales stand, all in Europe, but partway in and partway out of Great Britain.

Why care about this ? Well, there are many, many situations where ethnodemographic boundaries do NOT coincide with political boundaries, and neofunctional integration offers a strategy, albeit a compromise strategy from the standpoint of the nation state, by which such situations may be resolved. I would further cite the example of Israel and Palestine, where the rubric of the two-state solution only offers the dilemma that Stentiford poses, since the presupposition is that functional integration is a secondary concern, and that a negotiated peace settlement that recognizes Palestinian sovereignty (and inevitably moves a substantial number of Israeli Jews west of the Green Line)must precede any integrative efforts. And yet, within the boundaries of the Israeli-imposed secured areas, that integration proceeds forthwith. And this is just a singular example.

I am always supportive of ideas that challenge facts that are presumed to be established. There is research, however, that lends credence to the idea that the presence of "natural" borders strongly correlates to stability and civil success. For example:

Peter J. Munson

Sat, 10/22/2011 - 9:06am

I agree with the author, but his vehemence likewise obscures some nuance. I think Graham Robb's "The Discovery of France" is a good book to read to see what the creation of national identity looked like in Europe. Charles Tilly, FC Lane, and Robert Carniero also provide great insight to the struggle of state creation and the idea of state creation as organized crime. When considering the arbitrarily drawn borders, we must understand the time and effort it took to make the nation-state, as well as understanding that it was no neat exercise that would have stood up to the liberal litmus tests we use today to hold others to our standards. Additionally, while the borders of European states may be somewhat arbitrary, they were not fixed by international norm and intervention. They moved back and forth until they found some permanence in defensibility, international agreements, and norms. Arbitrary borders are not the root cause of problems in the developing world, nor would ethnically aligned borders (there would be none that could be agreed on anyway) create some solution to these problems. Yet, arbitrarily drawn borders, fixed by external institutions, the lack of a narrative to drive real national cohesion, and the inability to control one's own territory are all contributors to problems. Tilly wrote something to the effect that as the security of borders went up in these states, the amount of internal insecurity went up as well. When there is no external protection racket to be run, the rackets are internal, I guess. In sum, borders are not THE cause of instability, but they are a contributor. Redrawing borders is not a solution; in that, I agree fully.