In 1991 the USSR, beset with problems of debt, glasnost/perestroika, failure of national leadership, democratization, and out-of-control military spending, broke apart into 16 separate countries—some autonomous, others partially so. Notably, for the most part, this process occurred peacefully, that is, without the central ruling elite unleashing the might of its army against those regions, and without the terror/suicide bombing of the institutions of the then Soviet Union that we see today as a pretextual political statement in other parts of the world.
It was a significant transition made even more so by the fact that the citizens of the 16 regions achieved separation of their geographic areas, then formed governments, when they had never before participated in a fully operational democratic process at the national level. In other words, the citizens avoided what could have been, in an earlier time in history, a casus belli, by participating in an unprecedented civic event.
It was also unusual that the central state did not resort to force of arms to compel the 16 regions to remain within the united government. Why it did not do so is, as they say, “complicated.” But the simple overarching reason is that the citizens of the USSR who also composed the entire geography of the country’s 16 regions spoke clearly that they did not want to live and work together as part of, and be governed by, the same political entity.
They, the citizens, desired to be part and parcel of an area where they exercised their right of governance as they defined it to control their own land mass according to their own geopolitical expectations, be those based on culture, religion, race, ethnicity, language, or a combination of any of these.1 In order to utilize “might” to maintain a functioning central authority, the USSR would have found it necessary to make war against a sizeable population living within the boundaries of the entire country.
When comparing the dissolution of the USSR with that of the United States one hundred and fifty-seven years ago, one must ask why the North and the South could not have split apart, gone their separate ways, and become two distinct governing regions of one contiguous geographic mass? It would have been mutually beneficial—the South providing cotton and tobacco to the North, and the North maintaining its manufacturing infrastructure to weave cloth from the South’s cotton and to sell farming implements and other goods to the South. Read more