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And today East Timor is independent. This will not go away. An expensive UN mission was set up and remains to administer that referendum. Seventh, in all recent cases of contested self-determination, the United States is crucial. Kosovo and South Sudan became independent because the US decided it so, and brought the rest of the international community with them. In this realm, the multi-polar world has yet to manifest itself — at least not yet. As a sort of counter to Kosovo, whose independence Moscow formally opposed but in fact privately acquiesced in , Russia encouraged the independence of Abkhazia and South Ossetia.

Those would-be statelets have been recognised by a grand total of five other countries, including Russian satraps Venezuela and Syria. But whether the determinative importance of the US will endure its current decline of influence is another question. Somaliland is a democracy and a beacon of stability in the wartorn Horn of Africa. It has a strong legal case for statehood as it pre-existed the creation of Somalia.

Its population has voted overwhelmingly for independence. In all that time, it has refused to return to a liberation struggle by military force, despite many provocations including the purported annexation of the territory by Morocco. They have shown depthless patience and commitment to a peaceful resolution. The result? No referendum and little prospect of one. The Frente Polisario was not invited to speak but waited with them outside the private chamber. The SPLM leader stopped by and I made introductions: two liberation leaders meeting, both former guerilla fighters, both demanding independence.

Some lesson, but the very same I had learned in Kosovo. There was a lot of talk but no movement to resolve the question of the independence sought by the majority Kosovo-Albanian population. In , there were deadly riots in Kosovo that were caused, in part, by the intense frustration over that lack of progress. Fourteen people were killed. The province seethed with violence. Various senior officials from the US and EU visited with grave faces. I was there at the time I had been seconded to the UN by the British government and told them: make this place independent or you will get more of this, and worse.

Others said the same. The lesson could hardly be clearer, but perhaps needs spelling out.

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There needs to be some kind of international consensus and forum to address the many, and potentially violent, demands for self-determination across the world. The arbitrary drawing of borders by feckless and inept colonial officials in the Middle East, Africa and Asia has left behind an awful lot of unresolved self-determination crises. Kashmir, a source of conflict between two nuclear-armed countries, is not merely of local interest.

We need some accepted criteria to assess the legitimacy of such demands, including for instance the protection of minorities, non-interference by outside powers and democratic endorsement a requirement for non-violence might also help , and we need a place to talk about them sensibly. Not a court, as these disputes do not lend themselves to legal arbitration.

They are political matters to be resolved by political means: negotiation, negotiation and more negotiation. So this was the advice I gave the independence leader. He took it well, but gravely, for not all these observations were welcome. Although embroiled in war, he is a man of peace and reason. You can find our Community Guidelines in full here.


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Lessons from Europe's History before the Sovereign State

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