Jon B. Alterman is senior vice president, Brzezinski Chair in Global Security and Geostrategy, and director of the Middle East Program at the Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS) in Washington, D.C.

A record of successful and unsuccessful efforts at political change has produced a trove of political science literature on civil war, ethnic conflict, and self-determination and secession movements. When states emerge from independence struggles, they are often fragile—although fragility may also arise from poverty, warfare, drought, or myriad other causes. A profusion of political science literature also exists on states and what factors contribute to their resilience or struggles. 

Surprising, though, is the scarcity of writing on what might seem to be the most important question for those seeking independence, which links the two literatures above: what factors contribute to “successful” states—however one might define them—emerging from self-determination movements?

This study takes five self-determination movements that achieved independence and analyzes them in a standardized framework. We chose case studies that provided a range of initial conditions and a range of outcomes. As a consequence, some have natural resources while others do not, some enjoyed extensive international support while others did not, and some occurred rather quickly while others were slow. The analytical framework applied to these cases included an assessment of the underlying identities that gave rise to these movements, the existing political and economic contexts, the roles that violence and external actors played, and the extent to which a charismatic leader was central to the movement’s appeal. Our goal was help shape and structure policy discussions rather than advance the political science literature, and we emphasized comprehendibility over comprehensiveness. While no case study was an unqualified success, we were able to identify factors that contributed to success after independence, and factors that tended to undermine success.

This is the introduction to Independence Movements and Their Aftermath. Please click here for more.