The CSS Blog Network

When Downsizing is a Good Thing for a State

Courtesy Paul B/Flickr

This article was originally published by World Affairs on 13 June 2016.

The following is and interview with Ian Lustick, a Professor of Political Science at the University of Pennsylvania.

MOTYL: Professor Lustick, let’s begin the conversation with your provocative theory of “right-sizing” states. What’s the gist?

LUSTICK: The basic point is pretty obvious. If a person is too thin, gaining weight is a good thing, but not if the weight gain is all in the stomach. To take a more extreme example: If a person is overweight, losing pounds is a good thing, but not if it is achieved by decapitation or sawing off one’s right arm. “Right-sizing” a state is the idea that—although it is dangerous and usually wrong to change a country’s borders when those borders have been settled and have taken on a sense of stability and naturalness—there are circumstances when it can be entirely appropriate to alter the size and shape of a state for the state’s own good and for the welfare of the nation, people, or population that identifies with it.

MOTYL: If the theory makes so much sense—and I agree that it does—why isn’t it practiced more often? What are the main obstacles to right-sizing?

LUSTICK: States commonly seek to get bigger, but more often than not they “wrong-size” themselves by doing so. Except for perhaps a temporary boost to the popularity of the leadership that promises that expansion will yield a bigger pie to divide among their followers, the costs of maintaining rule over far-flung territories and exploited and unhappy indigenous peoples usually vastly outweighs the benefits that can be sustained over a long period of time. That means, however, that many states are bigger than they “should be,” raising the question you have asked: why don’t more states shrink strategically? The reason is that getting smaller is almost always perceived as shrinking the size of the available pie and diminishing the prestige of those who identify with the state. So it is always more difficult to contract rather than expand, even if, strategically, it is likely to be very advantageous to do so. As you can imagine, it is far easier to label a leader who favors withdrawing from a territory a coward or a traitor to the national (or imperial) cause, than it is to challenge the patriotism of a leader embarking on a “glorious” campaign of expansion—one that would typically be characterized as being demanded by the historical (or divine) rights of the nation or its security requirements.

» More

A Non-Violent Conflict: The Venezuela-Guyana Dispute

The Venezuela/Guyana border area. Image: Unukalhai/Wikimedia

This article was originally published by E-International Relations on 21 July, 2015.

An old territorial dispute between Venezuela and Guyana has flared up once again as the Guyanese government contracted ExxonMobil to look for offshore oil in an area that Caracas claims as its own. While it is unlikely that this particular instance will escalate into an armed conflict, these tensions highlight how non-violent incidents over coveted resources will continue to occur. Moreover, should clashes over this disputed territory continue, Venezuela will, in this author’s opinion, come out as the loser as it will be inexorably regarded as the aggressor against a militarily weaker neighbor.

Moreover, while this dispute has thankfully been non-violent, it could affect U.S.-Venezuela relations as the two governments have been at odds for over a decade and a half. Washington could capitalize on Venezuela’s aggressive stance in order to strengthen relations with Guyana to better monitor developments in Caracas. » More

The Invisible-Border War

Pangong Lake

“Pangong Lake” crosses the Actual Line of Control between China and India. Photo: Dayou_X/flickr.

NEW DELHI – A half-century after the Sino-Indian War of 1962, the border between China and India remains undefined and a constant source of friction between the world’s two most populous countries. Following three weeks of fighting in 1962, it was agreed to draw a Line of Actual Control (LAC). But, five decades later, the map has yet to be delineated. As a result, both sides routinely send patrols up to the point where they believe the LAC should be – the latest episode being a three-week incursion by Chinese troops into Indian-held territory that began in April.

Face-offs in the no-man’s land that lies between where China and India each envisage the LAC are so common that the militaries of the two countries have developed a modus vivendi, whereby one side tells the other to withdraw peacefully. Both sides have routinely abided by the informal protocol that has evolved over the years. » More

Under the Radar: The Territorial Dispute between Guatemala and Belize

Border crossing from Belize at Melchor de Mencos, Guatemala

Border crossing from Belize at Melchor de Mencos, Guatemala. Photo: Lisa B/flickr

The late twentieth century saw a wave of democratic transitions in Latin America and Eastern Europe. After the fall of the Soviet Union, the former Soviet republics became independent states in their own right, while countries in Latin America began to break away from their colonial pasts, as well as from the dictatorships and civil wars that followed independence in the 19th century. While Huntington’s famous ‘third wave’ of democracy saw the emergence of democratic structures in previously autocratic regimes, unresolved territorial claims, border disputes and questions surrounding the relationship between self-determination and sovereignty continue to affect regional security in Latin America today.

Guatemala and Belize are two countries that have been embroiled in a territorial dispute over land and maritime boundaries since the 19th century. Guatemala  once claimed all of modern-day Belize (which it borders to the Northeast) as its territory, but today restricts its claims to the southern half of the country and its islands. » More

Calming Colombia and Nicaragua’s Murky Waters

Disputed-maritime-border between Nicaragua and Colombia. Image by Tim Rogers/ Nicaragua Dispatch.

After being on the backburner for over three decades, The Hague is finally ruling on a spat between Colombia and Nicaragua over a set of islands that includes San Andrés, Providencia, and Santa Catalina in the Caribbean Sea. While Nicaragua will argue that the border between the states should be located between its coast and Colombia’s—and not be defined by the 82nd meridian—there is little chance that Nicaragua will succesfully claim sovereignty over the entire archipelago, and the International Court of Justice’s (ICJ) decision by the end of 2012 will set an important precedent for maritime disputes across Latin America.

Aside from deciding where the new border will be, the real focus of the dispute will center on the inhabitants of the islands, who have chosen for over a century to be part of Colombia. A clear ruling would not only settle the difference between these two countries, but also help encourage long-overdue development and security. This will hopefully allow the islands to enjoy the wealth of the region’s untapped natural resources. It should also act as an important model for other such border disputes when two countries can’t reach a mutual agreement, something ICJ encourages before filing claims at the higher court. » More