Asymmetric Autonomy and the Settlement of Ethnic Conflicts

Asymmetric Autonomy and the Settlement of Ethnic Conflicts

Marc Weller
Katherine Nobbs
Copyright Date: 2010
Pages: 360
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    Asymmetric Autonomy and the Settlement of Ethnic Conflicts
    Book Description:

    Throughout the world many sovereign states grant one or more of their territories greater autonomy than other areas. This arrangement, known as asymmetric autonomy, has been adopted with greater regularity as a solution to ethnic strife and secessionist struggles in recent decades. As asymmetric autonomy becomes one of the most frequently used conflict resolution methods, examination of the positive and negative consequences of its implementation, as well as its efficacy, is vital.

    Asymmetric Autonomy and the Settlement of Ethnic Conflictsassesses the ability of such power distribution arrangements to resolve violent struggles between central governments and separatist groups. This collection of new case studies from around the world covers a host of important developments, from recentralization in Russia, to "one country, two systems" in China, to constitutional innovation in Iraq. As a whole, these essays examine how well asymmetric autonomy agreements can bring protracted and bloody conflicts to an end, satisfy the demands of both sides, guarantee the physical integrity of a state, and ensure peace and stability. Contributors to this book also analyze the many problems and dilemmas that can arise when autonomous regions are formed. For example, powers may be loosely defined or unrealistically assigned to the state within a state. Redrawn boundaries can create new minorities and make other groups vulnerable to human rights violations. Given the number of limited self-determination systems in place, the essays in this volume present varied evaluations of these political structures.

    Asymmetric state agreements have the potential to remedy some of humanity's most intractable disputes. InAsymmetric Autonomy and the Settlement of Ethnic Conflicts, leading political scientists and diplomatic experts shed new light on the practical consequences of these settlements and offer sophisticated frameworks for understanding this path toward lasting peace.

    eISBN: 978-0-8122-0575-6
    Subjects: Political Science

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-iv)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. v-vi)
  3. Preface
    (pp. vii-viii)
  4. Introduction
    (pp. 1-14)
    Marc Weller

    Over the past two decades, there has been a profusion of settlements of self-determination and ethnic conflicts. In the majority of these cases, asymmetric autonomy has been used as the principal tool of settlement. What follows is an investigation of this novel practice.

    The concept of autonomy conjures up a sense of separateness, of self-governance largely independent of a central state. Independence of governance from the center suggests a potential for separation by means of the centrifugal forces of disintegration. Nevertheless, autonomy solutions have been increasingly proposed as a remedy to separatist tendencies within states. In short, what appears at...

  5. Part I: Asymmetrical Approaches to State Design
    • Chapter 1 Cases of Asymmetrical Territorial Autonomy
      (pp. 17-47)
      Stefan Wolff

      Territorial autonomy is not an entirely new approach for resolving self-determination disputes, but its application has become far more widespread since the end of the Cold War. Prior to that, it was mostly cases in Europe (or overseas territories related to European states, such as the Netherlands Antilles) that benefited, with some success, from the application of territorial autonomy as a conflict resolution mechanism. This is not to say that there are no examples of territorial autonomy elsewhere in the world that predate the end of the Cold War, but few of them have proved viable conflict settlements. Eritrea was...

    • Chapter 2 The Russian Constitutional System: Complexity and Asymmetry
      (pp. 48-74)
      Bill Bowring

      The Russian Federation (RF) is the largest and most complex in the world. In 2000, it was composed of no fewer than 89 “subjects of the Federation.” As of 1 March 2008, it had 83. The reason for this surprising “shrinkage” are explored below. It is plain that since 2004 there has been a premeditated assault on the foundations of Russian federalism, with profound consequences for potential for ethnic conflict.

      In this chapter, I start with an analysis of the five types of subjects of the Russian Federation. Next, I point out some competing if not contradictory principles of the...

    • Chapter 3 Partial Asymmetry and Federal Construction: Accommodating Diversity in the Canadian Constitution
      (pp. 75-96)
      Raffaele Iacovino

      In a cursory overview of asymmetrical federations, the Canadian case stands out in several respects. First, although a strong secessionist movement exists in Quebec, there has been little recourse to violence that would necessitate international mediation. Second, a recent “pact” or settlement that addresses the secessionist movement has not been instituted—indeed, the most recent constitutional rounds ended in 1992 with the failure of the Charlottetown Accord, and the subsequent rejection of independence in the Quebec referendum closed the case. What remains is the persistent claim that the status quo contains within it the necessary institutional mechanisms to alleviate such...

    • Chapter 4 Elusive Autonomy in Sub-Saharan Africa
      (pp. 97-120)
      Coel Kirkby and Christina Murray

      Many conflicts in sub-Saharan Africa are framed as “ethnic” or “tribal.” In such situations, it is increasingly common to attempt to accommodate diversity through power-sharing arrangements and, particularly, autonomy (Ghai 2005; Haysom 2002). But few African rulers are prepared to contemplate regional or local autonomy in response to domestic conflicts. Colonial powers created highly centralized states and only in the run-up to independence did they consider federal solutions to hold together their fractious creations. Every federal and consociational experiment—Cameroon, Ethiopia (and Eritrea), Federation of Rhodesia and Nyasaland, the Mali Federation, Nigeria and others—either fell apart or was held...

    • Chapter 5 Asymmetry in the Face of Heavily Disproportionate Power Relations: Hong Kong
      (pp. 121-147)
      Johannes Chan

      On 1 July 1997, Hong Kong, the last major British Dependent Territory, became a Special Administrative Region (HKSAR) of the People’s Republic of China (PRC) under the principle of “One Country, Two Systems.” It is a most remarkable marriage, as the two systems are dramatically different. On one side of the border there is a small but sophisticated international financial center that adopts a market economy and that is governed by the rule of law with a high degree of freedom. On the other side there is a huge country that believes in central planning and socialist ideology, that emerged...

    • Chapter 6 Asymmetric Autonomy in the United Kingdom
      (pp. 148-180)
      John McGarry

      Asymmetric autonomy usually refers to an institutional arrangement in which different parts of a state enjoy different levels of autonomy. It arises in federations, when certain federal regions have more (or fewer) powers than others, or in unitary states, when some regions enjoy autonomy, including different levels of autonomy, while other regions are governed from the center. This is one of a number of kinds of asymmetry, as regions may also differ in their populations and resources, the representation that they have in the state’s central or federal institutions, and in the design of their own internal (regional) institutions.


  6. Part II: Conflict Settlements
    • Chapter 7 Thinking About Asymmetry and Symmetry in the Remaking of Iraq
      (pp. 183-210)
      Brendan O’Leary

      The English poet John Keats told us that

      Beauty is truth, truth beauty,—that is all

      Ye know on earth, and all ye need to know. (“Ode on a Grecian Urn”)

      Sadly, however, many psychologists tell us that we judge beauty by people’s symmetry, not their truthfulness (Swami and Furnham 2007). The concept of symmetry, and its antonym asymmetry, contains both aesthetic and geometric ammunition. Symmetry suggests balanced form or balanced measure; asymmetry suggests the unbalanced, or the ill proportioned. Symmetry is also linked to the idea of correspondence: entities on opposite sides of a center, axis, dividing line, or...

  7. Part III: Emerging Settlements
    • Chapter 8 The Case for Asymmetric Federalism in Georgia: A Missed Opportunity
      (pp. 213-230)
      Jonathan Wheatley

      Let us first consider what we mean by federalism. By federalism I refer to the constitutional arrangements in place in federal political systems (Elazar 1987, 1993, 1994; Watts 1998), which include not only strict federations but a wider array of decentralized political systems such as confederacies, associated states, federacies, and constitutionally decentralized unions (Elazar 1987).

      Federal political systems can express three main types of asymmetry, as described in the introduction of this book. First, states that are otherwise unitary can allow a special arrangement whereby one or more regions enjoy a special autonomous status. In this case, the autonomous unit...

    • Chapter 9 Gagauz Autonomy in Moldova: The Real and the Virtual in Post-Soviet State Design
      (pp. 231-251)
      Oleh Protsyk

      Various efforts to assess the effects of autonomy arrangements on the prospects of achieving stability and democracy in ethnically heterogeneous societies receive a lot of attention in the literature.¹ The Gagauzian autonomy illustrates some of the key challenges of elaborating and implementing autonomy provisions in the context of fledgling democratic institutions and the weak system of rule of law. Although the Gagauz autonomy is often considered a rare case of successful conflict transformation in post-Soviet space, the actual implementation of autonomy provisions has been a highly contested issue. The terms of the autonomy deal—the framework of rules and provisions...

    • Chapter 10 Asymmetric Autonomy and Power Sharing for Sri Lanka: A Political Solution to Ethnic Conflict?
      (pp. 252-277)
      Kristina Eichhorst

      Sri Lanka’s twenty-five-year-old civil war between the Sinhalese-dominated government of Sri Lanka (GOSL) and the Tamil guerrilla organization Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) is essentially secessionist. Since 1983, the LTTE has been fighting for its own Tamil homeland, the so-called “Tamil Eelam.” By the beginning of 2008, this war left 70,000 people dead. Although there have been numerous initiatives over the years to find a political solution to the conflict, none of these have been successful so far. A reminder of how difficult it is to end the violent hostilities has been the breakdown of a Norwegian-brokered ceasefire that...

    • Chapter 11 Puntland’s Declaration of Autonomy and Somaliland’s Secession: Two Quests for Self-Governance in a Failed State
      (pp. 278-297)
      Janina Dill

      During the 1990s the Democratic Republic of Somalia (Somalia) became notorious for what has become an increasingly common phenomenon of the post-Cold War international order: the prolonged and seemingly permanent absence of an effective government, or state failure. A UN peace-building mission and countless internationally sponsored peace conferences failed to pacify the country and to pave the way for the reconstruction of state structures. International diplomacy and a continuous inflow of foreign aid have produced, and so far sustained, a Transitional Federal Government (TFG), which presides over a perpetual civil war of ever proliferating factions, as well as continuing economic...

  8. Conclusion
    (pp. 298-306)
    Marc Weller

    Asymmetric autonomy remains the tool of choice in the settlement of ethno-political and self-determination conflicts. Given the diverse challenges posed by ethnic diversity to existing states, it is not surprising that the flexibility offered by asymmetrical designs makes this a tempting option. There are, however, a number of general points that can be observed on the basis of the case study review conducted by this project.

    First, it has been argued by Brendan O’Leary that all instances of autonomous governance, even in the framework of what appears to be an entirely symmetrical federal structure, are essentially asymmetrical. Size of territory,...

  9. List of Contributors
    (pp. 307-310)
  10. Index
    (pp. 311-320)