The domino theory, used by the United States to justify military intervention in Vietnam, has always been fallible. In Southeast Asia, neighboring Cambodia is a constitutional monarchy. Thailand is a parliamentary (if unstable) democracy. The Indonesian archipelago is a republic. But this week’s vote in Scotland to determine whether the land of bagpipes, kilts, golf, whisky and North Sea oil should become a separate nation could trigger a global exercise of the domino theory – that could rip apart multi-ethnic, multi-religious nation states.
It’s hard to imagine a worse time for a vote like this to succeed. As laid out by analysts far more sophisticated than I, if Scotland can secede from the U.K., why should anyone respect national borders? Should the Basque separatists have their own nation? What about the Catalan in Spain? People in Barcelona refer to themselves as the capital of Catalonia and have agitated for years to have their own country. Why should Russia respect the borders of the Ukraine (it has already taken Crimea) or, for that matter, any part of any nation of the former Soviet Union in which substantial numbers of Russian speakers live? Vladimir Putin, who has called the breakup of the Soviet Union the greatest geopolitical tragedy of the 20th century, seems to be trying to recreate it.
The domino theory envisioned a one-country-at-a-time tipping over of the established order. What could follow here would have a more viral impact and be a recipe for global chaos. Middle East national boundaries are an artificial construct to begin with and didn’t start with the voluntary coming together that characterized Scotland and England 300 years ago. Borders in the Middle East were imposed by outsiders, and many of the tensions in that region are rooted in that artifice. If the Scots can break away by plebiscite, others will seek to do it the ISIS way, a recipe for disaster.
Where does it all end? The separation of South Sudan from Sudan doesn’t seem to have made things better. Would breaking up the French and Dutch-speaking parts of Belgium make life better in those regions? As political scientist George Friedman has noted in the Stratfor Intelligence Report, there are innumerable separatists in parts of Africa, India and Asia who could assert the right to divorce, many of them with greater grievances than the separatists of Scotland.
The outcome of this vote had long been assumed to be a slam dunk No vote. But other polls suggested a tiny plurality of Scots favor independence. With undecided holding the balance, the news this morning is that it’s “too close to call.”
There are many U.K.-centered questions raised by the specter of Scottish independence: the future nation’s currency (its own, the euro, the pound?), defense (they would oust the U.K.’s nuclear installation), membership in international alliances and many more. But the most profound question is what will be the impact around the world. I shudder to think of the worst-case scenarios that might unfold.
I welcome your comments in the section below.