From our friends at ACUNS.

Jonathan Paquin, A Stability-Seeking Power: U.S. Foreign Policy and Secessionist Conflicts (Montreal and Kingston: McGill-Queen’s University Press, 2010). 230 Pages.

Reviewed by Matthew Benger (University of Manitoba)

Jonathan Paquin seeks to explain the United States’ policy towards the recognition of secessionist states in his book A Stability-Seeking Power: U.S. Foreign Policy and Secessionist Conflicts. The intrastate conflict present in the post-Cold War era has created new challenges for the United States in recognizing secessionist states. At the heart of Paquin’s argument is the idea that the United States is a stability-seeking power and therefore will recognize secessionist states as long as recognition promotes regional stability. Paquin takes an in-depth look at the secessionist movements in both the Former Republic of Yugoslavia, as well as the Horn of Africa. These cases provide a contrast to United States’ policy as some states are recognized and some are not. The collapse of Yugoslavia prompted different responses from the United States than was the case with secessionist movements in the Horn of Africa. Croatia, Slovenia and Eritrea were quickly recognized as independent states, whereas Macedonia, Kosovo, and Somaliland are not recognized or their recognition was delayed. The United States has not recognized a secessionist movement if the central state is able to maintain both external and internal stability. As soon as regional stability is threatened, the United States seeks to mitigate the problem by recognizing the secessionist state.

The first section of A Stability-Seeking Power provides an in-depth discussion on the methodology applied to this work. Paquin explains everything in depth for the reader. He clearly states why the stability-seeking argument is important to examine; namely that it provides insight to international stability and a framework for United States’ foreign policy. In the second half of the book, Paquin provides a detailed discussion on the secessionist movements in the Former Republic of Yugoslavia and the Horn of Africa.

Slobodan Milosevic stood in the way of internal stability in Kosovo.

Slobodan Milosevic stood in the way of internal stability in Kosovo.

The discussion on the secessionist movements in Yugoslavia is very clear and succinct. Paquin provides a brief historical analysis of the collapse of Yugoslavia and of the movements in the respective emerging states. He begins with the discussion on how Croatia and Slovenia successfully negotiated succession and recognition from the United States. Serbian forces fighting in Croatia meant that there were a large number of Croatian refugees and the fighting eventually spilled over into Bosnia. Paquin suggests this expansion of conflict threatened the stability of Yugoslavia and subsequently the entire region. In contrast to the recognition of succession in Croatia and Slovenia, Macedonia was not recognized immediately by the United States. As Serbia was engaged in a conflict with Croatia, Macedonia managed to peacefully and quietly succeed from Yugoslavia. Paquin argues that Macedonia had internal stability, as it had democratically chosen to succeed, and external stability through recognized territory. The instability grew due to conflict with Greece over the name Macedonia as the Northern Province in Greece is also called Macedonia.  The recognition of Macedonia as a state by the United States would create tension between the United States and the European Union, especially with Greece. Therefore, recognition was delayed. Paquin suggests that Kosovo is also not recognized as a sovereign state because it lacks the internal stability, the features of a state, and it could not guarantee external stability.

The next section of the book turns to the Horn of Africa and the secession of Eritrea and Somaliland. Eritrea was acknowledged, by the United States, as the conflict between Ethiopia and Eritrea created many refugees that fled the region. The conflict also threatened to spill over into neighbouring countries of Sudan, Kenya, and Djibouti. Paquin argues that to maintain both internal and external stability in the region the United States had to recognize Eritrea’s secession. The United States did not, however, recognize the secession of Somaliland. As the government in Somalia weakened, Somaliland sought independence. Paquin suggests that the United States was worried that recognition of Somaliland would lead to another failed state in Africa. Somaliland, however, managed to create a stable and democratic state, with its own constitution, government institutions, and judicial system. There was no need for the United States to recognize Somaliland in order to create stability; both internal and external stability was already present.

Part of the destruction from the Somali civil war with Somaliland.

Part of the destruction from the Somali civil war with Somaliland.

Paquin concludes that the stability-seeking argument provides the best understanding in the United States’ recognition of secessionist states. He also proposes that this stability-seeking theory outweighs the domestic factors that could potentially support the secession of a state. Paquin gives credit to the domestic factors that could have influenced the decisions to recognize states but he has a tendency to downplay the importance of domestic influences, such as ethnic lobbies and business interests. Paquin’s argues that the secessionist and nationalist sides are cancelled out by ethnic influences. Paquin states that domestic pressures do not influence the recognition, but he does not provide an adequate discussion regarding the other outside influences. He briefly mentions the pressure the European Union exerted on the United States as it was considering recognition of Macedonia. In the final section he mentions that these regional powers had some influence but ultimately did not change the United States’ goal of seeking stability. This section of the discussion would have benefited from further detail and attention.

Paquin concludes the book with a discussion on the implications for other secessionist movements in Canada, Georgia, Spain, India, and the Philippines. This book shows why the United States recognizes some secessionist movements and not others.

A Stability-Seeking Power provides a comprehensive discussion on the recognition of secessionist states. The stability-seeking theory allows for a better understanding of the motivations behind the recognition of secessionist states. It pulls back the curtain on the seemingly contradictory foreign policy of recognition in the United States. This book also illustrates the motivation behind foreign involvement in ethnic conflicts.  Paquin not only illustrates the motivation behind the United States’ actions but also clearly discusses the motivation behind the secession. Both the United States’ and the secessionist states’ stances are examined and discussed in detail. Overall, A Stability-Seeking Power is an enlightened and accessible book for anyone interested in United States foreign policy and international relations. The book is clear and very easy to follow. Paquin takes the reader step-by-step through the methodology, the selection of the cases, alternative arguments, and the implications of his study.