The Origins of Self-Determination Conflicts in the Modern World

Benjamin Smith, University of Florida
Friday, March 30, 2018 - 12:00pm to 1:30pm
Olson Room (Gowen 1A)

This chapter introduces the theoretical framework and research strategy for my book, titled History and Rebellion. It aims to elucidate why some ethnic minorities are able to sustain broad challenges to their governments while other seemingly similar ones fail to. I argue that groups with historically established co-ethnic hierarchical social structures are much more likely to rebel effectively against nascent state building elites trying to penetrate their territory. These social structures produce first stage rebellions. Whether they are followed later in time by persistent mobilization is a function of minority region demography, namely the presence of major towns and cities. When ethnic minority regions have sizable urban centers, those cities become the locus of second-generation mobilizing efforts by providing both mobilizing resources and a pool of potential recruits. Without such urban centers, there is likely to be no second-generation separatist movement beyond a small elite-limited one.

Drawing first on the division of interwar Kurdistan into parts of Iran, Iraq, Syria and Turkey, I then employ the theoretical framework in analyzing two other such border creations in the Baloch region of Southwest Asia and the Tuareg region of North Africa. Third, I use these group-level insights to explore the often-puzzling absence of mobilization in some major world regions otherwise noteworthy for high frequency civil conflict. Where Ross (2015) has asked how we can explain “Latin America’s Missing Separatist Wars,” and Englebert and Hummel (2005) have attempted to explain “Africa’s Secessionist Deficit,” I demonstrate that the answers lie in the absence of co-ethnicity and near absence of feudalism, respectively.