Why is redrawing the artificial borders not a viable solution to conflicted states?



Multiple states in Middle East and Africa seem to be stuck in violent conflicts that seem to be reoccurring and nearly inevitable because of the unstable internal power balance of various ethnic or religious groups inside - they aren't functioning as a single nation because they aren't a single nation, their boundaries have been drawn at decolonization either based on where was a border between, say, England and France; or even at completely arbitrary lines on map.

This problem is quite clear - for illustrations see here or the diversity maps from Vox.

There are three ways how the borders can start to match the ethnic, tribal or religious identities of people -

  • Genocide or total cultural assimilation (we've seen attempts at that)

  • mass migration (Partition of India and Pakistan is an example) with rather horrible consequences

  • Renegotiating the borders

Oh, and the fourth 'effective' option of closing your eyes and hoping that the problem will solve itself, which we're doing now in all those regions.

Why is the third option refused?

It doesn't seem that it's even given a serious consideration - the global community is treating the territorial integrity of Iraq, Somalia or others as sacred even while being ready to depose local governments there. Why can't local self-determination movements be supported even if it would change a line that was drawn on map by some foreign bureaucrat?

It cost Western Europe centuries and a sea full of blood to come to borders that agree with the actual distribution of nations. Why should Middle East and Africa really be forced to pay the same cost?

It's not easy to do the transformation, but it does seem clear that the situation could be improved by allowing Sunni and Shia populations in Iraq and Syria to have self-determination and separate countries, instead of forcing the communities together where they'll be in internal conflict. A 1% scattered minority isn't a threat and can coexist; but if it's 33% vs 66%, then it's either rule or be ruled. Similarly for Afghanistan and the conflicts between Pushtun and other groups; similarly for situations such as Rwanda. A difficult one-time transition would be clearly better than a civil war every generation or so.


Posted 2014-09-10T19:11:13.093

Reputation: 4 733

2A lot of people would argue that the borders in Western Europe do not represent the distribution of nations. Some nations don’t really have anything particular to themselves that distinguish them from their neighbours, others simply don’t have a state for them. – Jan – 2019-05-25T12:39:32.140

1Are you asking whether it's a viable solution or why it isn't taken? – Publius – 2014-09-10T22:55:56.137

@Avi I'm asking why it's not taken, because to me it seems somewhat viable, and preferable to the status quo. If it's not taken deliberately because of some reason X it's actually not viable, then it would be a valid answer. – Peteris – 2014-09-10T22:59:44.240



Simple reason: precedent.

If USA supports such a border rewrite, what's left for it to do when Mexicans in South-West decide to secede (or, in a less likely scenario, The South Rises Again :)?

If Russia supports such a border rewrite, what's left for it to do when Chechnya, or Yakutia, or Tatarstan decide to secede?

If China supports such a border rewrite, what's left for it to do when Uighurs or any other non-Han areas decide to secede?

Which by the way is exactly why USA government was criticized for supporting Kosovo by many right-thinking people - it gave Russia reciprocity and cause in Abkhazia and Crimea.


Posted 2014-09-10T19:11:13.093

Reputation: 84 347

2So basically it boils down to watching repeated cycles of civil war and ethnic cleansing in other countries is preferable to supporting independence of oppressed peoples because it might keep your own subjects from getting ideas that they might be able to have independence too? – pluckedkiwi – 2018-02-06T18:51:27.553

2@pluckedkiwi - pretty much that, yes. Welcome to Homo Sapiens – user4012 – 2018-02-06T19:05:56.610

2All of this is a bit different situation than breakaway regions, because there is some entity that opposes it. However, if there is no functioning country (e.g. Somalia or Iraq after the invasion), then why not write 2-3 new constitutions instead of a single new constitution? And if a single country as a whole wishes to split - which might be the future outcome in Iraq - then again, it's not sepearatism and it such a future concept could be facilitated. – Peteris – 2014-09-10T20:26:56.460

7@Peteris - besides the point. The precedent would be for supporting a change in soveregnity without clear support from sovereign. Specifically, in Iraq, the government does NOT want to split. – user4012 – 2014-09-10T20:29:20.663

Okay, but then perhaps it might come round exactly this way - the Crimea situation, however that finalizes, may in future turn out to be a precedent that allows to settle ME/Africa problems in this manner. – Peteris – 2014-09-10T20:32:28.543

1@Peteris - no, because again neither Russia nor USSR nor China will want it to happen. – user4012 – 2014-09-10T20:33:21.843

1@DVK Do you have some evidence, even just statements by leaders or something along those lines, supporting this analysis? – Publius – 2014-09-10T22:54:44.873

1@Avi - No, an idiot who would admit to that hasn't been elected yet. – user4012 – 2014-09-11T00:27:24.177

1@DVK Then what evidence do you have to support this analysis? – Publius – 2014-09-11T07:37:47.310

1@Avi - the way international system works (e.g. precedent). – user4012 – 2014-09-11T10:57:43.543

I was going to add the words "territorial integrity" but ultimately, yes, it is just a special case of precedent. – Affable Geek – 2014-09-11T21:29:06.660

1So does this mean there is no way the rest of the world could get borders that more closely align with its cultural lines, and is forever locked in to these artificial ones drawn up by genociders and exploiters? – The_Sympathizer – 2015-02-04T09:33:47.453

@mike3 - sure there's a way. Just not likely/realistic ones. – user4012 – 2015-02-04T14:23:09.087

@DVK: So how could justice be made for this colonial injustice? – The_Sympathizer – 2015-02-06T04:04:34.957

1@mike3 - Same way justice can be made for Carthagen for destruction by Rome. Or any of the victims of the Horde. Or to Troy destroyed by Achaeans. – user4012 – 2015-02-06T16:12:54.583

1@DVK: That doesn't make any sense. Those peoples don't even exist anymore, so there is no way to create "justice". On the other hand, the African peoples do still exist. – The_Sympathizer – 2015-02-07T01:15:15.797

USA government was criticized for supporting Kosovo by many right-thinking people, who are you thinking of here? I'm mostly aware of far-left groups who criticised this, such as communist parties in western Europe. – gerrit – 2016-03-23T14:23:08.777

This answer fails to explain why South Sudan was allowed independence by powerful nations. Why South Sudan but not Somaliland? – gerrit – 2016-03-23T14:23:46.450

@gerrit - my best guess, genocide prevention pushed the scales in Sudan. As far as Kosovo, here's a random Google link as example.

– user4012 – 2016-03-23T14:26:08.057


@user4012 Genocide prevention has been named for both Kosovo and South Sudan, but whereas Kosovar independence is internationally controversial (in particular by Serbia), for South Sudan the first country to recognise independence was Sudan. I've asked a question on the case of South Sudan, comparing specifically with Somaliland.

– gerrit – 2016-03-23T14:36:37.980


Because trying to redraw the border would just start the next round of wars.

Most ethnic groups overlap their neighbors -- especially when countries have large capitals or ports that attract people from all over the country.

And even where ethnic groups have well-defined limits to the area they currently occupy, they often remember ancient times when they lived (or ruled) elsewhere. If an effort is made to redraw the boundaries, many ethnic groups will try to regain their ancient territories.

Furthermore, many potential boundaries are not sustainable in the long run. A landlocked country is at a major disadvantage. A country without a secure water supply, or food supply, or raw materials for its industries is vulnerable. A country with a religion that believes that it can only tax foreigners (or subjects who do not share the religion) that does not have an easily taxed export good will see its tax-base crumble as subjects convert to the dominant religion.


Posted 2014-09-10T19:11:13.093

Reputation: 6 354

This is probably the best answer, although only from the POV of great powers (or world peace at the expense of local unrest). That logic keeps some conflicts frozen/simmering, so it may be global optimum, but not a local one. E.g.: (next comment) – Fizz – 2018-07-19T22:22:51.323

https://www.economist.com/europe/2018/02/15/a-decade-since-independence-kosovo-is-still-violent "In fact, the prospects for an exchange of territory are slim. If Kosovo’s borders were redrawn along ethnic criteria, Bosnian Serbs and Macedonian Albanians would demand the same treatment. That would almost certainly mean war. A source close to Kosovo’s government says Aleksandar Vucic, Serbia’s president, “proposed it. Our side was interested. The Americans and Germans said ‘no way’ because of Bosnia and Macedonia. Case closed.”" – Fizz – 2018-07-19T22:23:01.427

@Fizz The truth is, there is no nationality. It's just yet another proxy concept developed just to create something that will allow the ruling class (whoever they are) to retain control over their subjects. A lot of the citizens of the USA think of themselves as "Americans", even though the differences between the states (and cities) is larger than between many countries on Earth. If you say it's okay for countries to break down into regions that cooperate voluntarily, people will ask "why is it a good thing for Afghanistan, but not for Spain?" Some people benefit from that state of things. – Luaan – 2019-10-14T08:40:41.670


All the talk about “arbitrary borders” obscures the real problem. It's the very notion of the nation-state and modern borders that are in a sense arbitrary and seldom map to the political and cultural realities of former colonies. And the nation state wasn't established painlessly in Europe either. At the end of the day, there isn't any “real” border that you would merely need to discover to solve all conflicts.


Posted 2014-09-10T19:11:13.093

Reputation: 24 058

So what is the real problem with regard to this question? I think this answer could be more specific. – Trilarion – 2018-02-06T08:25:47.140

3@Trilarion the question assumes there exists a "true border" that will end conflicts. This answer asserts that assumption is wrong. – Caleth – 2018-02-06T12:07:36.900

And it wasn't (and isn't being) established painlessly in Europe either. We aren't done with violence w.r.t. border disputes in Europe – Caleth – 2018-02-06T12:09:57.537

6And it wasn't established painlessly in Europe either. This is quite an euphemism... – Bregalad – 2017-08-16T14:45:24.290

@Bregalad Yes, quite! – Relaxed – 2017-08-16T15:57:26.550


Examples of peacetime and non-violent border redrawings are relatively few and far between. Assume that there is a general consensus within a majority of all population that would be affected by the redrawing where the border should be. You still have nation-level politics in the way. It becomes a game of power: do I have enough power to convince the other side to give me more? Am I giving them too much and therefore losing power? Does this stretch of land maybe serve some strategically important purpose (like ocean access)? Could there be exploitable natural resources? Is my power maybe based on the population there to a non-neglegible extent?

Taking all together, there are tremendous driving forces for sticking to the status quo borders unless wars move them. Consider how long it took India and Bangladesh to solve their exclaves and enclaves issues.


Posted 2014-09-10T19:11:13.093

Reputation: 8 390

India and Bangladesh still have lots of issues with exclaves in Cooch Behar. – Rosie F – 2019-10-14T11:56:19.880