Peace by design? Towards “complex power sharing”
Self-determination disputes are, rightly or wrongly, considered as among the most intractable, violent, and destructive forms of conﬂict that societies, states, and the international community have had, and continue, to face. This view is empirically correct if one looks at the apparently unending conﬂicts that have plagued places as diverse as Sri Lanka, north-east India, the Great Lakes region of Africa, Sudan, the Middle East, and the Caucasus, among others. The conﬂicts in these areas have cost millions of lives, displaced many more people, wrecked entire national economies for decades, and seem to be “solution proof.” Yet, a corrective view to this initially very bleak picture is necessary. Not
all self-determination conﬂicts are violent and destructive: Quebec and Belgium are two cases in point, but there was no serious violence in Crimea, Romania, Slovakia, and the Baltic states either, despite the highly charged atmosphere between these countries’ majority and minority populations. Nor do all self-determination conﬂicts evade solutions: Northern Ireland is a clear example for this, discussed at length in this volume, but there are others as well. The western Balkans, despite many other shortcomings, has not returned to the violence the region experienced throughout the 1990s and early twenty-ﬁrst century. Constitutional arrangements in Bougainville, Mindanao, and Gagauzia, for example, may not be perfect, but they have provided an institutional setting in which ethnic groups can pursue their self-determination claims by political, non-violent means. In this sense, the settlement for Northern Ireland is not unique, but rather
one example of a series of successful accommodations of competing selfdetermination claims. What all these cases have in common is the following. (1) They all acknowledge the signiﬁcance of groups’ self-determination claims and the need to give them an institutional expression. (2) They are all based on the recognition that it is possible, and beneﬁcial, to channel the conﬂicts that result from competing self-determination claims into institutions that enable all relevant parties to participate in, and inﬂuence, a political process that can deliver, by and large, satisfactory outcomes for them.
(3) The settlements upon which these institutions are built accept the complexity of the conﬂict situations they are meant to deal with – they are not one-dimensional arrangements oﬀering “just” autonomy or power sharing or minorityrights bills, or improved economic development, etc., but they combine a range of diﬀerent mechanisms to address the concerns of all relevant parties. A careful examination of the Northern Ireland settlement, therefore, can
oﬀer important insights into the workings of such complex power-sharing arrangements and oﬀer valuable lessons for both conﬂict-resolution theory and practice. Laying out this position in greater detail below, I proceed in three steps. First, I oﬀer a brief outline of the nature of the Northern Ireland Agreement. Second, I place this analysis in a broader comparative perspective. Third, I conclude by pointing out some lessons that the Northern Ireland experience has to oﬀer beyond its own territorial boundaries.