The Edmond Sun

January 28, 2013

Secessionist talk travels the world

William F. O'Brien
Against the Grain

OKLAHOMA CITY — The late George Kennan was an American diplomat who served the U.S. in a variety of diplomatic posts in Eastern Europe in the latter part of the 20th Century. He is perhaps most remembered today for a long dispatch he sent to the U.S. State Department from the American Embassy in Moscow on Feb. 22, 1946, that become known as the “long telegram” and was subsequently published in the journal Foreign Affairs.  

In that document the diplomat warned that the Soviet Union was intent on expanding its influence throughout the world, and attributed its aggressive and brutal policies to the communist ideology of the Soviet government as well as the historical insecurity of the Russian state that had been subject to invasions for centuries. Kennan argued that if Soviet threats toward its neighboring states were met with the threat of force from the U.S., the leaders in the Kremlin would back down, and advocated a policy of containment toward the Soviet Union that would include providing military assistance to states such as Iran and Turkey that had to confront Soviet expansionism.

The diplomat also wrote that if the governing Communist Party ever lost control of the Soviet Union it would break apart into independent states. Kennan’s observation proved to be prophetic and in 1990 the nations that had comprised the Soviet Union declared their independence. Most Western observers welcomed the collapse of the Soviet Union and the resulting independence of what had been its member states. But in recent years independence movements have come into being in places that were not formerly subject to communist dictatorships. Late last year an agreement was  reached in the United Kingdom that authorizes voters in Scotland to vote sometime next year for independence for their state that has been part of the United Kingdom since 1707. In 1999 the British Parliament had authorized the creation of a legislative body for Scotland and it was thought that that measure would satisfy Scottish yearnings for autonomy. But Scottish nationalist leaders have demanded independence, and British Prime Minister David Cameron reluctantly agreed to a referendum to allow the Scots to vote for independence.

In Spain, the province of Catalonia recently voted in a government that pledged to seek Catalonia’s independence from Spain, despite the fact that the Spanish government in Madrid had said it would not allow the province to become independent.

Last year the Parti Quebecois, which is committed to having the province of Quebec secede from Canada, was returned to power. That Party was first elected to govern Quebec in the late 1970s, and in 1980 and again in 1995 it sponsored referendums for independence that were rejected by a majority of the voters of that Canadian province. Many commentators thought that the 1995 vote marked the end of the Quebec independence movement, but the party’s current leader, Premier Pauline Marois, has indicated that she intends to schedule another vote for Quebec’s independence. If the Scottish and Catalonian separatist leaders are not initially successful in their independence efforts, and polls indicate that a majority of Scottish voters are now opposed to independence from the United Kingdom, they may display a similar tenacity in pursuit of their objectives in the years to come.

There also has been talk of secession in the U.S. in recent months, and citizens from Louisiana, Texas, Oklahoma, Colorado and several other states have submitted to the White House website petitions that demand that their states be allowed to secede from the Union. The petition from Oklahoma had more than a thousand signatories.

While most leaders in those states have been dismissive of secession, former Texas Congressman and candidate for the Republican presidential nomination in 2012 Ron Paul said in November of last year that “secession is a deeply American principle.” Paul forgot to mention that the secession principle was responsible for the Civil War in which 630,00 soldiers died or were wounded.

WILLIAM F. O’BRIEN is an Oklahoma City attorney.