Kathryn Rodrigues / Flickr Map of Iraq.

State of Imbalance

Why Countries Break Up

There seems to be little connecting recent violence in the former Soviet space to ongoing bloodshed in the Middle East. In one place, a neo-imperialist power is attempting to reassert itself in a region that it ruled not so long ago. In the other, sect-based militant groups are grabbing up territory by the mile.

Even so, both conflicts spring from a common source, as do a host of other major conflicts around the world. In each, there is a mismatch between state boundaries and national identities -- a state-to-nation imbalance. The state is a set of institutions that administer a certain territory; the nation is made up of people who, in their view, share common traits (language, history, culture, religion) that entitle them to self-rule. In some parts of the world, there is a good fit between states and nations. In others, there is not. In those areas, at least some of the citizens believe that their national aspirations to be free from foreign rule will be best fulfilled by creating a separate state or by joining a neighboring state whose population is a closer match.

Although numerous Ukrainian citizens prefer independence from “foreign” Russian rule, for example, others -- notably in Crimea, but also in eastern Ukraine -- want to be free from “foreign” Ukrainian rule. In turn, they believe that they must join Russia or create a separate Russia-allied state. In a weak country, such a state-to-nation imbalance can lead to civil unrest, as it did in the

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