States make war, but war will not make new states

Columns

American political scientist and sociologist Charles Tilly argued that “war made the state, and the state made war.” He was referring to Europe’s violent history and the impact of war on state-formation on the continent.
Tilly’s argument has started to garner renewed interest in recent years amid turbulence in the Middle East. Syria and Iraq have become failed states, bringing the issues of terrorism, refugees and foreign fighters to the fore. There are also attempts by some actors to create new states by taking advantage of regional chaos.
War has become the region’s defining feature, but Tilly’s work on the relationship between war and state-formation does not, and will not, work in the context of the Middle East. This is because the Western experience is different, and because wars are jeopardizing state-building in the Middle East. Moreover, the adverse effects of war on state-formation are far greater than its constructive effects, as recent developments in the region have shown.
This is the main reason why, today, both regional and international actors are against Kurdish independence from Iraq. Neighboring countries such as Turkey and Iran fear it could fan separatism among their own Kurdish populations. The Kurds’ independence referendum in September was received harshly by regional and international actors, and has further destabilized Iraq.

The issues of state-formation and borders in the Middle East have been debated for years, but a change in the borders of Syria and Iraq would open a Pandora’s box. This is a common fear of all actors that have a stake in the region, so they prefer the status quo.

Sinem Cengiz

Kurds have dreamed of independence for 100 years, and are now challenging borders that were drawn up by colonial powers after World War I and the collapse of the multi-ethnic Ottoman Empire.
The issues of state-formation and borders in the Middle East have been debated for years, but a change in the borders of Syria and Iraq would open a Pandora’s box. This is a common fear of all actors that have a stake in the region, so they prefer the status quo.
Today, global, regional and local actors have spheres of influence in Iraq and Syria. That is why US-Russian agreement is no longer sufficient to resolve regional crises. We are no longer in a bipolar world.
Today, regional states can limit the room for maneuver of global powers, which now cannot decide the Middle East’s fate without consulting Turkey, Saudi Arabia, Iran and others. It could be helpful to see the Kurdish referendum, as well as global and regional reactions to it, in this context.
Uprisings and conflicts have exerted pressure on the region’s state system. Some analysts even predict that borders will soon be redrawn given the situations in Iraq and Syria, where proto-states have already emerged. But new borders do not seem to restore stability. Rather, they will lead to the emergence of unprecedented threats, plunging the region into bloody wars with catastrophic results.

Sinem Cengiz is a political analyst who specializes mainly in issues regarding Turkey’s relations with the Middle East. Twitter: @SinemCngz

Categories: Arab World, Asia, Kurdistan, Kurds

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