Sunday, June 3, 2007

The Effects of Federalism

Nancy Bermeo
Politics Department, Princeton University
[excerpts from her paper "Position Paper for the Working Group on Federalism, Conflict Prevention and Settlement"]
The Effects of Federalism
The effects of federalism on conflict are hotly disputed. Scholars who study theformer Soviet Union and Eastern Europe are the most likely to argue that federalism and conflict are positively related. Studies of Russia and the former Yugoslavia conclude that federalism was at the root of the violence that accompanied the break-up of old states andthe emergence of new ones. (Roeder 1991; Snyder 1999) In the Caucasus, too scholars conclude that “the institution of territorial autonomy” probably fostered “armed conflict”(Cornell 2002:247) As Valerie Bunce put it, the communist federations “put into place virtually all of the building blocks that are necessary for the rise of nationalist movements and for the formation of states.” They recognized and therefore promoted a common language, created a sub-nationalist intelligentsia, trained and funded sub-national politicalelites, and provided resources which these elites could use for legitimation. (Bunce 1999:49)
Scholars who have studied a range of federalist cases (extending beyond the former communist regimes) have generally found federalism’s effects to be more positive. Studying case materials from five continents for the period from 1985 through 1998, Saideman found that federalism decreased the likelihood of rebellion andethnic violence significantly(2000:118,122). A study of 23 democracies between 1990and 2000 likewise “confirmed that political decentralization decreases ethnic conflict.”(Brancati 2004:5)
My own studies of federalism have drawn the same conclusion. Comparing TedRobert Gurr’s MAR data on 46 territorially concentrated minorities in federal states and66 territorially concentrated minorities in unitary states, I found that minorities in federalist states were significantly less likely to engage in violence. This makes logical sense. Federal systems provide more layers of government and thus more settings for peaceful bargaining. They also give at least some regional elites a greater stake in existing political institutions. With these incentives, we would expect fewer armed rebellions in federal states. In fact, the mean armed rebellion score for federal states is less than half that for unitary states. Minorities in India were engaged in sporadic armed struggle in the decade included in the data set, but outside of India, no minority in any other developing-world federal democracy was coded as having taken up arms. (Bermeo2004: 475). One has to be extremely cautious in making generalizations from the data available but the conclusion is consistent with other evidence from very different sorts of sources.
The relatively low incidence of inter-communal violence in federal states may account for the possibility that the federal regimes are more durable than unitary regimes. In the period covered by the Gurr data set, the average age of federal regimes exceeded the average age of unitary regimes by over 6 years. Whether this difference exists today is worth investigation. In any case, it is highly significant that “every single longstanding democracy in a territorially based, multi-lingual and multi-national polity is a federal state.” (Stepan 2004:441)
Federalism does not put an end to violent communal conflict. The experiences of India and Nigeria, for example, are far from peaceful. But a broad range of scholars analyzing a broad range of individual cases have concluded that federalism generally does ameliorate conflict in divided societies. In Canada, federalism is credited with keeping the Quebecois separatist movement entirely peaceful. (Simeon 2004) In Spain, a semi-federalist arrangement is credited with “nurturing dual, compatible identities” and with ensuring that the number of citizens with “exclusive identities” was never high enough to fuel “a credible push” toward either secession or mass supported violence.(Beramendi and Maiz 2004) In Russia, federalism is credited with containing separatist movements in Tartarstan and elsewhere, and with ensuring that the violent conflict in Chechnia “is not representative” of center-periphery relations in the rest of the Russian Federation. (Stoner-Weiss 2004) The Russian Federation embraces eighty-nine potentially problematic autonomous units and over one hundred different ethnic groups.Yet only a single republic half the size of Rhode Island has launched a secessionist struggle. Forty-six regions negotiated bilateral legal arrangements with the central government, instead, and eschewed violence. Federalism (albeit flawed and inchoate federalism) allowed them this option. (Bermeo 2004:469)
Even Nigeria and India may be better off with federalism than without it. As Rotimi Suberu concludes, despite the challenges of governing a huge territory with 250 minorities and three major ethnicities, federalism has helped to “contain divisiveness within relatively manageable limits and sustain a broad elite commitment to the preservation of Nigeria as a united” entity. (Suberu 2004) The conclusion of a leading authority on India is similar: federal power sharing within the relatively well established Indian state has helped keep “political conflict” “mostly peaceful.” “The more the formal federal system functioned in practice as a unitary system, the less was the system’s capacity to accommodate ethnic and territorial cleavages.” (Kohli 2004)
Federalism’s effects on peaceful political participation may be positive but the subject requires much more research and careful distinctions between the forms participation might take. Saideman found a positive correlation between federalism and peaceful protest and that the relationship was particularly strong in autocracies.(Saideman 2002:122) Whether there is a positive correlation between federalism and electoral participation is questionable. Stepan and Linz compared electoral turnout in all the elections of the lower and upper chamber of all OECD countries between 1945 and1995 and found that turnout in federal states was actually lower than turnout in unitary states by a full 9 percentage points (70.4% vs. 79.4%). The two OECD countries with the lowest turnout in the fifty-year period were both federal states: the US (with 48%) and Switzerland (with 49%). (Linz and Stepan 2000 :7) The association between federalism and collective action in general is still not clear. Federalism, by definition, allows regions to share power and resources with the central state. This gives it an advantage(over unitarism) in affording “local elites and groups the political resources they need to undertake mass mobilization” (Lustick 2004:210). Whether these resources are differentially used or not seems hard to predict. The finding that probably best captures the sense of the current debate is that “decentralization may provide cultural minorities with greater resources to engage in collective action.” (Hechter 2000, Hechter and Okamoto 2001) but whether they use these resources is contingent on so many factors that generalizations are unwise.
Does federalism put an end to secessionist movements or does it stir them up? The evidence on this question is mixed and hard to read. But the current balance probably favors the conclusion that federalism hampers secessionism. This is the answer drawn from studies of large quantitative data sets (Sambanis 2000); from recent studies based on intensive case work by country specialists (Danspeckgruber 1997); from classic studies based on older cases (Lijphart 1977) and even from simulations of a “virtual” multi-ethnic state. (Lustick et. al. 2004) A very broad spectrum of specialists have concluded, along with Michael Hechter (2000:142-143) and Ian Lustick, that out right repression may control secessionist movements in the short run, but that federalist formulas for “power-sharing can be more effective” in reducing the threat of secession over time. (Lustick 2004:209)
Henry Hale’s very careful study of 28 ethno-federal states concluded that ethno federalism was associated with secessionism and violence only if the federal arrangement involved a “core region.,” that is, a region with an outright majority of the population or a population that exceeds the size of the second largest region by 20% or more.(Hale2004:169) . Ethno-federal states lacking a core ethnic region proved very resistant to secessionism and collapse. In the period between WWII and 1999, not a single one of the13 cases that fit this description collapsed. Conversely, ethno-federal systems which included core regions were just as likely to collapse as to endure. A full 7 of the 14 ethno-federal states with core regions collapsed. Three of these cases collapsed through large-scale civil war.(Hale 2004:181) Most impressively, every federal state which did collapse, was also a state with a core-region. These cases were; Czechoslovakia 1990-92,the Mali Federation 1960, the USSR 1990-1, the borderline federation of Senegambia 1982-1989, the Nigerian 1st Republic 1960-66, Pakistan 1970-1 and Yugoslavia 1990-1.
Does federalism enhance equality and non-discrimination? The answer to this question may be “no”, though a firm conclusion requires more research. Alfred Stepanand Juan Linz have recently shown that federalist states tend to have dramatically lower levels of equality than unitary states. Using the OECD Luxembourg Income Study for their data, they focused on children in solo mother households and found that the child poverty rate after government transfers was 17.6% in unitary states and 38.5% in federalstates. (Linz and Stepan 2002:10) The association between federalism and poverty is found for the old as well as the young. Atkinson, Rainwater and Smeeding found that the percentage of the over-sixty population living in poverty in unitary countries was 9.3% while the comparable percentage in federal democracies was nearly 15%. (Linz and Stepan 200:10) The most common measure of inequality for societies as a whole –the Gini index- reinforces the idea that federalism cannot be seen as a remedy of inequality. The Gini score for the federalist states in the OECD data set is worse by nearly 25 units..291 vs. .314 (Linz and Stepan 2000:9-10) The reasons behind these observed associations are multiple and many of them may have nothing to do with federalism perse. Stepan and Linz suggest that the inequality observed derives from asymmetrical federalism and is driven in large part by the US. The connection clearly deserves more attention.
I hesitate to even speculate on whether federalism effects levels of discrimination: I can report that the Minorities at Risk Data suggest that levels of economic discrimination and levels of economic grievances are significantly lower in federal democracies than in unitary ones. (1.61 vs. 2.24 and 2.72 vs. 3.28, with lower numbers being better) (Bermeo 2002 :99) But the evidence is just suggestive.
Does federalism enhance the rule of law? Federalism certainly increases the number of institutions charged with making and enforcing laws. But whether federalism,in itself, enhances the rule of law is questionable. One could easily argue that it has the opposite effect. If laws made by regional governments violate those made by the central government, (especially those enshrined in a country’s constitution) stand-offs occur.One set of laws oppose another, enabling people on both sides of an issue to rationalize obstructionist and even violent actions in the language of a higher, legal authority. The struggle over Sharia law in northern Nigeria is a case in point, (Suberu ), but the problem is not confined to states in a particular region or phase of development. The struggle to desegregate the southern U.S. was delayed by southerners who used the “states rights” arguments intrinsic to federalism to defend the “rule” of racist regional law. The unquestioned legitimacy of the US Supreme Court, coupled with the unchallenged authority of the US National Guard eventually righted a profoundly inequitable situation but not all federations have either a truly supreme judicial body or a monopoly ofcoercive force to ensure that laws are enforced.

Federalism may complicate the rule of law in policy areas that do not concern identities and have little direct connection with the ethnic or regional differences thatrationalize the devolution of authority. If the devolution of power to regional governments has the de facto effect of legitimating the rule of local “bosses” the rule of law is not served. Researchers in Argentina, Brazil, Mexico, Russia, Nigeria and otherstates have documented the problem in depressing detail. Without a strong central legalauthority and the legitimate means to coerce the lawless, the seemingly noble institutionsof local autonomy may simply provide protection for the corrupt.
The effects of federalism are, thus far, decidedly mixed but this fact does notimply that desirable effects cannot be promoted in the future. Can federalism promoteall these values simultaneously or are there trade-offs? Few states will have the capacity to promote peace, participation, equality and the rule of law simultaneously and federations emerging from a post-conflict situation will be faced with the greatest challenges of all. The promotion of peace may require highly problematic restrictions on the political rights of previously violent groups. The inequalities that triggered the open conflict in the first place may be defended by privileged groups through democratic participation in majoritarian federalist structures. The “rule of law” enforced by regional governments may hamper or even prevent the political participation of women and local minorities. Since peace and security are required for meaningful participation, for the long-term amelioration of inequalities, and for the rule of law in countries as a whole, federalist structures should prioritize peace-making.


archana said...

Vahsek लाइ कताको भोट हाल्नु
निरबिरोध जिताए कसो होला ?

LOLNepal said...

don't see any reason why you need to quit. Usually, Travelers quit blogging after they have finished their journey. But their blogs still remains a valuable to the readers.

It is upto him to stay alive or gone. Asking others whether you should blog or not is kind of silly? don't you think so...

Nepali Akash said...


I wish it could be "nirbirodh" but I couldn't see it happening. There were people who "thunk" differently. Thanks for ur support sista !!!

the question here is far beyond "on being remembered after the journey". The question was about quitting the journey itself.
And I think there are people who care about whether he quits or continue blogging so I don't see the problem in asking for suggestions afterall he will be the god to decide for himself.

Anyway lolnepal, thanks for the time.