Events

Partitioning of Countries and Regions as a Peacebuilding Strategy

November 04, 2003 // 9:15am11:45am

Conference Sponsored by the National Academy of Public Administration and the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars

Ruth Wedgwood began the discussion by highlighting a range of legal issues related to state sovereignty, international and individual security that affect all peace-building activities including partition. There is a lack of precedence in international law over partitioning territory of a sovereign state. This makes it extremely challenging to implement partition as a remedy to intra-state conflict. The legal framework sketched by Wedgwood provided a useful backdrop to the debate on partition theory that followed between William Rose and Radha Kumar.

Rose stressed that partition involved separation of population and did not imply division of sovereignty – secession. The dynamics of intra-state ethnic conflict could be explained by the security dilemma facing belligerents: fight to gain as much territory as you can, or else you and your group perish. The theory of partition is that if each combating group is given control over a certain amount of territory of land, then the security dilemma is resolved, and the conflict ends. The success of partition, according to him, is to be judged on the basis of the number of human lives spared. As long as the level of violence is inversely proportional to separation, partition can be can be deemed a justifiable strategy for peace-building. He cited Cyprus as a successful case of partition.

Kumar critiqued partition theory by challenging the definition of partition laid out by Rose. She stated that partition must be conflated with secession because combating groups separated territorially inevitably demand separate statehood. She pointed out that partition theory fails to address the question of recurring conflict among combatants, even after population transfer has taken place and state boundaries have been redrawn. She cited the case of India and Pakistan to show that despite a planned partition, nearly one million people lost their lives and sixteen million people were displaced. More than fifty-five years later, hostility remains. She also asserted that states that come into being because of partition tend to be less democratic, though she conceded that more research was needed in this area.

The second panel discussed various case studies to assess the merits and shortcomings of the theories expounded by Rose and Kumar. Hugh Agnew presented the case of the Czech-Slovak separation as the dissolution of a federation, rather than partition in the traditional sense. Konrad Huber analyzed the recent case of East Timor, and said that the separation of East Timor from Indonesia was more a case of unsuccessful annexation than a strict partition. Nonetheless, both cases fit Rose's and Kumar's definitions of partition. Charles King presented the third case of Bosnia-Herzegovina and Kosovo, as well as the Caucasus to show how administrative borders within state jurisdictions were transformed into international borders after 1989. He pointed out that international recognition and international mandates played a key role in peace-building and partition. The fourth presenter, Marina Ottaway addressed the question of whether partition could be considered in the case of Rwanda. She vehemently opposed any proposition of the sort for Rwanda, as the Hutus and Tutsis territorially are intermixed to a degree where separation was unthinkable. However, she did point out that in the near future many states of Africa may be partitioned, simply because states cannot provide adequate resources to their citizens. She also cited Somaliland as an example of de facto partition. Lastly, Quansheng Zhao spoke on the partition of Taiwan from the People's Republic of China and the partition of the Korean peninsula to show the role of a third party in creating borders separating the same population, i.e. populations that are ethnically homogenous.

For additional information, visit NAPA's website.

Experts & Staff

Wilson Center Photo Gallery

Browse or share photos from the Wilson Center’s events.

To Attend an Event

Unless otherwise noted:

Meetings listed on this page are free and open to the public. Reservations are not required unless otherwise noted. All meetings take place at the Woodrow Wilson Center in Washington, DC. Please see map and directions. Allow time for routine security procedures. A photo ID is required for entry.

To confirm time and place, contact Maria-Stella Gatzoulis on the day of the event: tel. (202) 691-4188. Check this page for the latest updates and notices.