The Importance of Being Balanced: Lessons from Negotiated Settlements to Self-determination Movements in Bosnia, Macedonia, and Kosovo
January 24, 2019
Self-determination movements are potent sources of political destabilization, leading in extreme cases to violent conflict when the majority and minority fail to find a compromise that each would prefer to taking up arms. The preferred solution of the United Nations and other peacemaking organizations is complex power-sharing agreements from which no party prefers to defect unilaterally. This means successful settlements must at a minimum achieve an acceptable division of political power between majority and minority groups in the state while laying the foundation for a functional state over the entire territory.
The international community favors negotiated solutions to such conflicts for a number of reasons. First, cooperative solutions avoid the moral hazard of rewarding secessionist organizations with statehood while forestalling further fragmentation. Second, inducing a compromise agreement is believed to be the best way of protecting vulnerable minorities against retaliation by a hostile government or ethnic majority. Third, negotiated solutions are consistent with the Westphalian norm of sovereignty, increasing the legitimacy of the solution in the eyes of the target state population. Finally, cooperative agreements represent a relatively cost-effective method of settling territorial wars at least risk and cost to the interveners. To be successful, such settlements should be based on minority autonomy, either through devolution or decentralization.
Critics warn, however, that immediate benefits of negotiated settlements can obscure long-term costs. Although satisfying minority demands for autonomy, the conferral of such institutions may inadvertently reinforce separatist impulses while giving secessionist organizations the material and symbolic resources needed to mobilize for independence down the road. Research indicates that minorities with a history of territorial autonomy are more likely to mobilize for independence than those without. A recent analysis suggests these effects are probably overstated, but also shows that territorial autonomy alone is unlikely to achieve success unless the minority also has a stake in the center. Achieving a balance between “power-dividing” elements (such as territorial self-government) and “power-sharing” elements (such as a grand coalition in the central government) lies at the heart of consociational models of conflict management.
We argue that while scholars have long recognized the importance of achieving a balance between competing interests at the domestic level, they often underestimate the impact that regional conflict dynamics can have on the fate of such settlements. Peacemakers must consider whether sufficient safeguards are built into institutions to protect against regional destabilization of fragile ethnic settlements, a problem compounded in chronically unstable neighborhoods.
This is a chapter in Independence Movements and Their Aftermath. Please click here for more.