Self-Determination and the Struggle for Success: Generalizing the Findings

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Author: Will Todman is an associate fellow in the Middle East Program at the Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS) in Washington, D.C.

The cases in this volume, like most histories, often seemed to hinge on specific individuals and events. While we could draw some conclusions, we did not see a large number of clear and obvious patterns. Part of the challenge was the specificities of the cases themselves. Confoundingly, factors that loomed large over one case were either marginal or absent in others. For example, Kosovo would not likely have gained independence and achieved its current level of stability if not for the vast amount of international support it received, and yet, Eritreans managed to win independence and then function as a stable independent state (at least for a time) with remarkably little international involvement. In other instances, factors that had strongly positive effects in one circumstance sometimes seemed negative in another. Natural resource revenues were key to Timor-Leste’s post-independence success, for example, but in South Sudan profits from oil fueled the very corruption and violence that ripped the country apart.

Part of the challenge, as well, was sample size. The CSIS project design contained a limited number of case studies to allow their exploration in depth. But with fewer than ten countries under study, we could be confusing unusual outcomes for normal occurrences and have missed strong patterns that would have emerged had our project examined a much larger number of case studies. In order to explore whether a broader approach would tell us things that a case-study approach would miss, CSIS constructed a database of all the countries that gained independence since 1960 and then analyzed the database to measure statistical correlations between certain variables and new states’ relative levels of success.

This is a chapter in Independence Movements and Their Aftermath. Please click here for more.