The Liberty to Leave

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As the Scots debate independence, the British government has responded with every argument imaginable—except the threat to invade. Prime Minister David Cameron is no Abraham Lincoln.

So also it appears with Catalonia’s push for a referendum to secede from Spain, though the latter responded far less gently to Basque separatism in past years. No one threatened military action during Quebec’s lengthy flirtation with independence from Canada. The Czechoslovakian government peacefully, even cheerfully, bade farewell to Slovakia two decades ago.

Still, not everyone is willing to accept smaller territories going their own way. Yugoslavia broke up with an orgy of violence. Oddly, the United States supported every resulting independence bid, except those mounted by Serbs. The latter were expected to live under Muslim-Bosnian, Croatian, and Kosovar-Albanian majorities, irrespective of the rulers’ brutality. Washington even mounted a military campaign to break Kosovo off of Serbia, while reacting hysterically to similar Russian behavior toward Abkhazia and South Ossetia, which seceded from the country of Georgia. Washington responded equally badly to Crimea’s departure from Ukraine, though no one really knows the wishes of that majority-Russian land, since the official referendum was anything but fair.

In international politics the only rule regarding secession is that you get to do it if you can either convince or force the other party to agree. And there is no consistency even within a country. Today it is hard to imagine Washington launching drone strikes or sending in the 82nd Airborne if Texas voters approved an ordinance of secession.

Yet the U.S. government waged war on its own people during the American Civil War. In fact, it really wasn’t a “civil war,” which typically involves two or more parties seeking to control the territorial whole. In this case, it was a conflict over coerced union. Should states be prevented from severing a political connection they no longer support?

By DOUG BANDOW – The Freeman –