Scotland’s bid for independence and what it means for international relations

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The results have just been announced, that Scotland will not become an independent country and end a 300 plus year union. Even so, this vote will have profound effects for the UK and the international community.

Scotland’s bid for independence was fought hard on both sides. British politicians like Prime Minister David Cameron emphasized Scotland’s increased economic and political strength as a part of the UK. First Minister Alex Salmon highlighted the differences between Scotland and the rest of the union. In short Scots in favor of independence felt and still feel different, separate from the rest of the UK.

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 If Scotland seceded, the UK would’ve lost one-third of it’s land mass and 8% of it’s population. A Scotland-less UK would also be more likely to leave the European Union, which has always had an ambivalent relationship with the supranational organization.  The Conservatives have vowed to have a referendum on EU membership if they win next year’s general election.  As Scots are more left leaning, the UK would be more likely to leave without Scotland’s votes.

Also, the UK’s underwater nuclear weapons are in Scotland. Some have raised the issue if the UK lost possession of its nukes, would it continue to be a world power? Would it still be deserving of veto power on the United Nations Security Council? Nations such as India, Japan and Germany have openly declared they want “permanent member” status, making the argument that it no longer makes sense for the concentration of power in the international organization to be confined to five countries. A UK without Scotland would’ve further illustrate this argument.

However even though Scotland remains part of the UK, there will be consequences for Britain.  David Cameron has promised increased powers for Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland if Scotland voted “NO” on independence but it remains to be seen what he or any of the other party leaders can feasibly do.

The ethnic nationalism that pushed the UK to the brink of national divorce is not confined to the island nation. Separatist and regional movements in Spain, Germany, Italy and Belgium watched the results of this vote very carefully. Whether Scotland became independent or not, Europe is at a critical moment in its history.  Groups all over the continent are challenging the modern definition of the nation-state.  Beyond Europe, in China, Canada and the Middle East, Scotland’s bid for independence motivated other ethnic groups to examine what ties them to the nation-state.

Just like the Global Recession has forced nations to turn inward, as seen in the recent elections in the European Parliament, so now too are groups within nations.  In a post-modern international system, the concept of the nation-state is slowly eroding as individuals groups, ethnic, religious and linguistic groups challenge globalization and centralization in the nation-state.

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The United Nations is to blame for the international impasse on Syria

I’ve never been a huge fan of the United Nations.  I think it’s an ineffective organization and cannot fulfill its purpose. No question it needs to be restructured.  Some of its problems are inherent in an entity which is the closest thing to a world government in an anarchic international system when it in fact it is not, but others can be fixed with some restructuring.

It’s main weakness is how the Security Council is run, which happens to be the most powerful body of the UN.  It consists of permanent members and non-permanent members, which rotate.  Presently, the United States, the United Kingdom, France, China and Russia.  When World War II ended, these were the five most powerful countries.  These states, also known as the P5 have veto power, meaning they can destroy resolution put before the Council if they do not support it.  This proves critical in situations like the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.  The world largely does not approve of Israel’s illegal settlements and many of its actions toward the Palestinians.  However the US vetoes any resolution that has a hint of criticism at Israel no matter if it’s justified or not.  This undermines any influence the UN might have there.

In Syria, Russia supports Assad and China does not want to get involved.  As such, any resolution authorizing military action in Syria or even condemning Assad for massacring his own people will not pass.  This is unfortunate because a situation like Syria is the perfect opportunity for the world to come together to decide how to handle it.  In the case of Britain, it’s one of the reasons many MPs voted against military action.  Indeed violating a nation’s sovereignty would be easier to justify if the world was in agreement.  Even better if it accompanied diplomatic/political efforts.  If a resolution were passed condemning Assad’s actions, it might give him a reason to negotiate and stop the violence.  But as the world cannot agree, Assad is emboldened to continue killing innocent people because he knows there will be no retribution.  It makes diplomatic action seem a futile effort because it will turn into a never ending quarrel while innocent people are dying everyday by the thousands.

In recent years, with the rise of the BRICS (Brazil, Russia, India, China, South Africa) and other countries (Mexico) many have called for the Security Council to be restructured.  Either with more countries having veto power or it being eliminated entirely and resolutions put before it decided by a majority.

In 1945, power being in the P5’s hands made perfect sense.  Decolonization had not happened yet, Britain and France controlled much of the world and WWII had ironically awakened the American economy.  But is not 1945 anymore and the world order is not what it was then. If the UN is to fulfill it’s purpose–to maintain international peace and security and remain relevant in international politics, it has to reflect the dynamics of the present.

Assad cannot be allowed to continue to murder his own people–by chemical weapons or otherwise.  If there is a military intervention without UN approval, whether it’s a coalition or not spells disaster for Syria and the entire region.  It would be better for everyone if this conflict was resolved diplomatically and politically.  But the way the UN operates creates an impasse to such a resolution–one that innocent people are paying for with their lives.