Remember the old hit song from the early days of rock ‘n’ roll, Breaking Up Is Hard to Do? Neil Sedaka sang it in 1962. It was, of course, all about the break-up of a boy and a girl, but the message, it turns out 55 years later, is equally applicable to intra- and inter-national relations.
2017 has been a real year of political “break ups” and boy, are they proving hard to accomplish.
The biggest, most multi-national breakup has been tagged BREXIT, for Great Britain’s exit from the European Union, and it is so complicated, and could have so many still undefined consequences, it’s no wonder negotiations have been going very slowly.
So far, at least, the BREXIT talks have brought rare unity to the frequently fractious European Union, where there is broad agreement that Great Britain’s exit pill should be made so bitter that no other nation is likely to ask for the same prescription. On the other hand, rarely in the past few centuries have the components of the United Kingdom been so disunited.
The BREXIT referendum was soundly rejected by voters in both Scotland and Northern Ireland and, indications are, the idea has only grown less popular in both places since. In England and Wales, where BREXIT won enough votes to carry the measure nationwide, there are now sharp disagreements among those who want a “hard” BREXIT, a clean and complete break from Europe, a “soft” BREXIT, continuing as many economic connections as possible, and no BREXIT at all.
If Prime Minister Teresa May, who was against BREXIT before she went all for it, has a plan to unify her country, it is no more apparent than her plan on how to win an acceptable exit deal from the EU.
As for sub-national aspirations for break-ups, as in some Catalonians’ wish to secede from Spain or some Kurds’ desire to leave Iraq and create an independent state, all requests for negotiations have been turned down flat, as have separatist movements in Belgium’s Flanders and the French island of Corsica. In Italy, where 2 rich Northern states want some independence from Rome, autonomy negotiations are possible.
In Spain, the central government in Madrid is using political means to disempower the secessionist Catalonian government, while in Iraq, the government has used force to take back control of the city of Kirkuk and the oil rich areas around it, and served notice it might use more force if the Kurds don’t cool their jets on escalating their present state of autonomy.
Why can’t they get along? And are these disagreements over divorce a series of discreet disputes or part of a global trend towards devolution and, some say, chaos?
Ambassador Charles Ries is Vice President, International at the RAND Corporation, where he oversees RAND’s international offices and relationships, as well as a senior fellow whose research has focused on the economics of development. While on a leave of absence from RAND in 2010, Ries was executive vice president of the Clinton Bush Haiti Fund. At RAND, Ries has led projects on Iraq, the costs of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and national security decision-making.
Ries’ three decades in the U.S. diplomatic service included an assignment as Coordinator for Economic Transition in Iraq at the U.S. Embassy in Baghdad (2007–2008), where he was responsible for oversight of assistance and economic policy initiatives. He served as U.S. Ambassador to Greece (2004-2007), and Principal Deputy Assistant Secretary of State for European Affairs (2000–2004). Ries oversaw economic sections at U.S. Embassy London and the U.S. Mission to the European Union. He served as Deputy Assistant U.S. Trade Representative for North American Affairs and was a member of the NAFTA negotiating team.
Ries is the recipient of the State Department’s Cordell Hull Award for Senior Economic Officers, the Distinguished Honor Award, Presidential Meritorious Service Award, the Rockwell Schnabel Award for U.S.-EU Relations, and several Superior Honor Awards. For his service in Iraq, he received the Department of the Army’s Outstanding Civilian Service Award. He is a member of the Academy of American Diplomacy. He has MA and BA degrees in international studies from Johns Hopkins University.