Regional experts explore this question in a new book, Independence Movements and Their Aftermath: Self-Determination and the Struggle for Success.



Jon B. Alterman

Senior Vice President, Zbigniew Brzezinski Chair in Global Security and Geostrategy, and Director, Middle East Program

Will Todman

Associate Fellow, Middle East Program

The success of an independence movement is never preordained. Not only is independence itself an improbable endeavor in most cases, but the quality of that independence—whether most people are better off or worse off—varies considerably. Elements outside the movement’s control, including historical context, Great Power actors, or unpredictable events, are often the most important factors in determining its success.
But what determines better outcomes and worse ones? Regional experts explore this question in a new book, Independence Movements and Their AftermathSelf-Determination and the Struggle for Success.
In this book, we propose a new method to evaluate independence movements and their likelihood of producing vibrant and stable societies after independence. It provides a framework for policymakers, civil society actors, and their publics to improve the chances of making better lives for millions of people.


A record of successful and unsuccessful efforts at political change has produced a trove of political science literature on civil war, ethnic conflict, and self-determination and secession movements. When states emerge from independence struggles, they are often fragile—although fragility may also arise from poverty, warfare, drought, or myriad other causes. A profusion of political science literature also exists in states and what factors contribute to their resilience or struggles.

Surprising, though, is the scarcity of writing on what might seem to be the most important question for those seeking independence, which links the two literatures above: what factors contribute to “successful” states—however one might define them—emerging from self-determination movements?

This study takes five self-determination movements that achieved independence and analyzes them in a standardized framework. We chose case studies that provided a range of initial conditions and a range of outcomes. As a consequence, some have natural resources while others do not, some enjoyed extensive international support while others did not, and some occurred rather quickly while others were slow. The analytical framework applied to these cases included an assessment of the underlying identities that gave rise to these movements, the existing political and economic contexts, the roles that violence and external actors played, and the extent to which a charismatic leader was central to the movement’s appeal. Our goal was to help shape and structure policy discussions rather than advance the political science literature, and we emphasized comprehensibility over comprehensiveness. While no case study was an unqualified success, we were able to identify factors that contributed to success after independence and factors that tended to undermine success.


  1. Introduction
  2. Bangladesh: Two Independence Movements
  3. Eritrea: The Independence Struggle and the Struggles of Independence
  4. Timor-Leste: A Nation of Resistance
  5. Kosovo: An Unlikely Success Still in the Making
  6. South Sudan: The Painful Rise and Rapid Descent of the World’s Newest Nation
  7. The Importance of Being Balanced: Lessons from Negotiated Settlements to Self-determination Movements in Bosnia, Macedonia, and Kosovo
  8. Self-Determination and the Struggle for Success: Generalizing the Findings
  9. Self-Determination and U.S. Choices
  10. Conclusion
  11. Acknowledgments and Authors


This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.