Artwork: Maria Madeira; Photo: David Palazón


Author: 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.

Several remarkably successful independence movements have inspired the world, and a few quite unsuccessful ones have distressed it. The success of any movement is never fore-ordained. Each movement is, in the memorable title about one book on the American independence movement, “A Leap in the Dark.”1

But two things seem clear. The first is that the single most important determinative factor in the success of any independence movement is often beyond the control of such a movement. It has to do with the historical context, with Great Power actors, or unpredictable events that emerged on the scene. Movements can capitalize on these moments, but they cannot manufacture them. The second is that a whole host of important factors are well within the control of such a movement, but movements do not always seek to act on many of them. Activists become so convinced in the justness of their cause that they do not do everything they might to increase its likelihood of success. 

This is the conclusion of Independence Movements and Their Aftermath. Please click here for more.

1 John Ferling, A Leap in the Dark: The Struggle to Create the American Republic (New York: Oxford University Press, 2003)