Race & Ethnicity


F R O M "B A L A N C E O F P O W E R" TO


Rudolph C. Ryser, Acting Chairman
Congress of Nations and States
Preparatory Committee
August 24, 1992

Copyright 1992 Center For World Indigenous Studies

[Ed. Note: This article may be reproduced for electronic transfer and posting on computer bulletin boards in part or full, provided that no profit is made by such transfer and that full credit is given to the author, the Center For World Indigenous Studies, and The Fourth World Documentation Project.]

The international system of states was shaken in December 1991, when the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics collapsed into fifteen new states. Other states like Afghanistan, Lebanon, Burma, Ethiopia, Sudan, Cambodia, and Yugoslavia show similar signs of exhaustion. About 190 sovereign states (140 more than when the united Nations was formed) are now said to make up the state system. After twenty years of study, the United Nations says there are 3000 to 5000 nations inside states and divided by states. Many of these nations are unwillingly under the control of states and often do not share in political power within the state. The Russian Federation in cooperation with Germany, Japan and the United States of America has called on the world's nations and states to join in a Congress of Nations and States to discuss and act on new measures for stabilizing international relations. The Congress will formulate and present for ratification by the governments of nations and states four new international protocols. These protocols will prescribe rules of conduct between nations and between nations and states when two or more parties have political, economic, social or strategic disputes. Under new international law since the end of World War II, rules for settling disputes between states have been carefully drawn up under the United Nations Charter, the Geneva Conventions and subsequent protocols. No similar rules for settling modern disputes between nations and between nations and states have been formulated. Though many regional wars, political clashes and legal disputes between nations and between nations and states have persisted for as many as fifty years, no internationally agreed rules exist to aid in the resolution of such disputes.

Political, social, economic and strategic clashes between nations contribute to local and regional instability. Similar conflicts between nations and states directly affect local, regional and sometimes global stability. The call to convene a Congress of Nations and States directly addresses the need for the governments of both nations and states to meet, to deliberate and act on new international conventions concerning resolution of disputes involving nations and states.

The problem of dispute resolution between nations and between nations and states is not a new one. International efforts to establish a system of dispute resolution was forcefully expressed in the development of the League of Nations during the post World War I peace discussions in Paris in 1919. U.S. President Woodrow Wilson's famous Fourteen Points provided the broad outlines within which controversies involving nations and states might be considered and resolved. In particular, Wilson's point five contained a key idea for conflict resolution between nations and states. It said that parties must pay : "...STRICT OBSERVANCE OF THE PRINCIPLE THAT IN DETERMINING ALL SUCH QUESTIONS OF SOVEREIGNTY THE INTERESTS OF THE POPULATION CONCERNED MUST HAVE EQUAL WEIGHT WITH THE EQUITABLE CLAIMS OF THE GOVERNMENT..." Existing states and non-self- governing nations were obliged to meet on a basis of mutual equality. For the first time in modern history, negotiated political change instead of dictated or forced political change was being offered as a condition for the peaceful political development of peoples. Wilson's point five provided the framework within which nations could resolve disputes concerning their political development. Unfortunately, the thirty-two countries participating in the peace conference(1) ignored this important principle with most of Wilson's Fourteen Points. In the long established tradition of victors in war, the terms of peace and the terms for establishing a "general association of nations" (the League of Nations) was "dictated, not negotiated." The first opportunity to set a new international political order based in mutual respect and negotiated conflict resolution had been lost. As history now clearly reveals, this failure produced for President Wilson a hollow victory in the creation of the League of Nations. This failure also soon became the fuse for yet another global war and scores of protracted political conflicts and low intensity wars.

What Wilson's Fourteen points first suggested (that many nations exist unwillingly under the weight of state or imperial rule) raised fears in many states about the possibility of separatist movements - the potential dismemberment of existing states. Opportunities for mutual discussions and negotiations between representatives of nations inside a state and state representatives were regarded as difficult if not impossible. Suspicions among nations' representatives and states' representatives proved too difficult to overcome. Discussion of peaceful methods for resolving disputes between nations and between nations and states was abruptly taken from the table. Just as the great powers of the day dictated boundaries in the Balkans at the Berlin Congress in 1878,(2) they dictated Central Europe's boundaries in 1918. The opportunity for a negotiated resolution of conflict instead of a dictated solution was lost in what would become protracted political and civil conflicts. Prolonged "low intensity wars" in countries remote from Europe - in Melanesia, Africa and Asia also began to erupt.


The modern emergence of nations long under the control of states and empires began anew in 1918. The reemergence became a settled fact when the League of Nations took up the question of self-determination of nations within existing states. But, as noted before, the subject was dropped for fear that the mere discussion of the subject would insight nations to seek separation from the early 20th century states. In the forty years following the collapse of League of Nations talks, many nations began active resistance to state control. Civil disobedience, political reform, and low intensity wars of resistance, political tension and open conflict have characterized relations between many nations and states. Similarly, relations between neighboring nations inside state boundaries have challenged integrity of states and raised the need for international measures for negotiated conflict resolution. Conflicts in the Lebanon, Sudan, Peru, India, and Mozambique show the need for such international measures. Where arbitrary state boundaries divide nations, conflicts have often appeared to be "inter-state," but in reality these conflicts reflect "pre-state" geographic realities and unsettled conflicts. Many nation-and-state conflicts center on the availability of natural resources and territory. Many nation-and-nation conflicts are also a result of natural resource and territorial competition or questions of access.

Due to long-standing nation-and-state, nation-and-nation conflicts, a multi-national political movement began to unfold in the 1970s. Non- governmental organizations in conjunction with representatives from nations began conducting international conferences on the rights of "native peoples." It was in this decade that multi-national organizations like the International Indian Treaty Council, World Council of Indigenous peoples, Central American Regional Council, South American Regional Council, South Pacific Regional Council and the Inuit Circumpolar Conference were founded.(3) The United Nations reacted to the political movement among nations with the Commission on Human Rights designation of Mr. Jose R. Martinez Cobo as a Special Rapporteur to conduct the "Study of the Problem of Discrimination Against Indigenous Populations" in 1975.(4) As the "Cobo Study" was nearing completion, the UN Economic and Social Council authorized the establishment of the UN Working Group on Indigenous Populations.(5)

In the midst of the political unfolding of nations on the geo- political stage came the swift collapse of the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics. Heralding the collapse of the U.S.S.R. was the toppling in the 1980s of authoritarian rule in Poland, followed by the similar collapse in Hungary, Czechoslovakia, and Eastern Germany. The nations of Lithuania, Latvia and Estonia began the process of pulling away from the U.S.S.R. in 1990 and subsequently proclaimed their sovereignty as states. By December 1991, the super-state structure of the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics had fallen away, replaced tenuously by fifteen states - each proclaiming state sovereignty. One layer of the state system had been peeled away - revealing new members of the state system. These newly visible states are themselves claiming dominion over many nations. In the newly proclaimed Russian Federation, there are more than 65 nations. In newly independent Georgia, there are eight nations.

Before the end of 1991, the Yugoslavian federation began to crumble - revealing at least seven nations - the same nations denied an international identity at the Berlin Conference in 1878, the same nations denied political development in 1918. This time, Slovenia and Croatia quickly petitioned the international community for recognition as states. Recognition by the German government of these newly proclaimed states was soon followed by recognition from many states' governments, the European Community, and the United Nations. A furious and violent conflict over territory in Bosnia erupted months later involving the new state of Croatia and the Serbian dominated (and substantially reduced) Yugoslavia forcing massive population relocations of Serbian, Muslim and Croatian peoples.

In 1948, the people of Naga Land declared their sovereignty and independence from British India and the emerging state of India. Though Naga independence had been guaranteed by M. Gandhi, his death resulted in denial of independence to the Naga. Their war with the state of India began shortly after and continues to the present. In 1952, the people of South Mollucca declared their sovereignty and independence from the collapsing Dutch colonies and subsequently faced violent absorption by the Javanese proclaimed state of Indonesia. The Kanak of New Caledonia (Kanakia) proclaimed their right of self-determination and independence from the state of France under a United Nations mandate, but were shortly afterward removed from the U.N. Roster of peoples scheduled for a plebiscite to decide whether they would become a self-governing people. In 1969, the peoples of West Papua voted their independence and were immediately after that occupied by Javanese forces under the flag of Indonesia. They have been at war ever since.

In 1974, more than one hundred Indian nations in the United States of American issued their Declaration of Sovereignty. They proclaimed their inherent powers of self-government and fundamental right as peoples to self-determination. By 1990, ten of these nations began a devolution process toward the full exercise of self-government - negotiating Compacts of Self-Governance with the United States government.

By the end of 1990, the Miskito nation, Sumo nation and Rama nation ended a war with Nicaragua in a stalemate following nine years of violence. Devastated by war and recent hurricanes, the Miskito, Sumo and Rama began the process of rebuilding. Because of Nicaragua's post-war bankruptcy, these nations came out of the war as almost self-governing nations.

In November of 1991, the Chechen-Inguish Autonomous Republic proclaimed its sovereignty distinctive from the sovereignty of the Russian Federation. By March 1992, the Tatar Autonomous Republic voted to proclaim its sovereignty. Questions had been raised about the right of the Tatar (4 millions strong) to return to their homeland territory in the Crimea - now under the control of the Ukrainian government. In May 1992, the Yakut-Sakha Republic declared its sovereignty. In newly independent Georgia, South Ossetians expressing strong irredentist intentions declared their right to separate from the state and become a part of North Ossetia located in the Russian Federation. Shortly afterward, the Abhazians of western Georgia declared their independence and quickly entered into violent conflict with Georgian forces.

Eritrean military forces, long engaged in a war with the Ethiopian state government overwhelmed Ethiopian forces and won a decisive conclusion in 1991 favoring Eritrean independence. The states of Mozambique, Burma, India, Sri Lanka, Monaco, Angola, Peru, Colombia, Nicaragua, Bangladesh, Guatemala, Canada, Philippines, Indonesia, Peoples Republic of China, South Africa and many others, found themselves faced with circumstances not substantially different from the conditions of the U.S.S.R. Fearing state-dismemberment, each of these states has politically or violently engaged nations inside their borders to prevent their separation from the state. While sometimes the state's fears are justified, in many other circumstances such fears are not justified. Many nations simply seek to become partners within the state to share in political power. Other nations want negotiations with the state to ensure their greater control over resources - to share in the value of those resources, and greater control over their political life.


The century of growing nation-and-nation conflicts contribute to a growing recognition of the need for nations to understand one another more, and for a new international framework for binding conflict resolution. Similarly, it is clear that states and nations must come to understand each other with greater precision, and establish a new international framework for resolving nation and state conflicts. The stable and prosperous development of states and between states is increasingly dependent on cooperative relations between nations and between nations and states. Nations need the same opportunity for stable and prosperous development. The dearth of economic, social, political and strategic information about the thousands of nations in the world contributes to the tendency for conflict. New approaches to international conflict resolution must be found. Such new approaches are clearly possible from discussions between nations and nations and states in a new international forum that includes all the key players.

Recognizing that so-called "tribal and semi-tribal societies" required special international protection against mistreatment the International Labour Organization drew up without the participation of "tribal and semi-tribal societies" International Labour Organization Convention 107.(6) This convention stands as the only generalized international legislation specifically aimed at protecting the rights of nations.

Despite the shortage of clear information, since 1973, the United Nations, multi-lateral indigenous nation organizations like the World Council of Indigenous Peoples and the Inuit Circumpolar Conference have continued to develop an international climate conducive to nation/state discussions and negotiations. East/West political pressures caused the negotiation of the Helsinki Final Act concluded in 1975.(7) This new instrument may have profound significance for evolving international relations between nations and states. The development of a Universal Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples by the United Nations is symbolic of further potential openings for negotiations between nations and states.(8)

The Congress of Nations and States must now solidly build on the positive, though tentative, international initiatives that open the way to direct nation and state discussions. The International Labour Organization's Conventions, the Helsinki Final Act, the UN Universal Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples and new agreements between nations through multi-national organizations now form the basis for sound new international law concerned with conflict resolution. The development and enforcement of new international protocols for resolving disputes between nations and between nations and states is the next logical step toward a more stable and peaceful world. The Congress of Nations and States can contribute to not only wider understanding, but it can contribute to the process of forming a new international fabric of cooperation between nations and between nations and states.


(1) United States, Great Britain, France, Italy, Japan, Belgium, Brazil, Serbia, Australia, Canada, China, Czechoslovakia, Greece, Hejaz, India, New Zealand, Poland, Portugal, Rumania, Siam, South Africa, Bolivia, Cuba, Ecuador, Guatemala, Haiti, Honduras, Liberia, Nicaragua, Panama, Peru and Uruguay

(2) Bismark called the Berlin congress to determine the fate of the Balkans following the Russo-Turkish War of 1877. Britain, France, Austria, Russia, Italy, Turkey and Germany were the represented states.

(3) The Unrecognized Nations and Peoples Organization was founded in February 11, 1991 at The Hague - adding to the growing number of multi- lateral nation organizations.

(4) "Study of the Problem of Discrimination Against Indigenous Populations," Report by Special Rapporteur, Mr. Jose R. Martinez Cobo. United Nations Economic and Social Council. Commission on Human Rights E/CN.4/Sub.2/L. (12 Volumes) 1983.

(5) The United Nations Working Group on Indigenous Populations was authorized by the UN Economic and Social Council under the responsibility of the Commission on Human Rights and the Subcommission on the Prevention of Discrimination and Protection of Minorities in 1982. Its responsibility was originally two-fold: Review evolving standards of the rights of indigenous peoples, and, review developments concerning indigenous peoples. By the middle 1980s the Working Group was mandated by the UN Economic and Social Council to draft a Universal Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples for consideration by the Commission on Human Rights and the General Assembly.

(6) ILO Convention 107: Convention on the Protection of Indigenous and other Tribal and Semi-Tribal Populations in Independent Countries (1957) revised in 1989. Some "indigenous experts" were invited to participate in the revisions.

(7) The Helsinki Agreement established a framework for the 35 original member states to deal with the problems of security, economic relations, contacts among peoples, basic human rights, and standards of international conduct. Though not a treaty, nor a legally binding agreement, the Helsinki Final Act does, however, carry considerable moral weight because it was signed at the highest levels of each government. The Final Act contains four parts divided into three sections (Baskets). Basket I addresses security in two parts: 1. The first part includes a declaration of 10 principles to guide states in their relations with one another. The second part deals with security issues and commits participating states to implement confidence-building measures. Basket II addresses cooperation in fields of economics, science and technology, and the environment. Basket III deals with cooperation in humanitarian and other fields.

(8) Originating with the United Nations Working Group on Indigenous Populations, the Declaration was nearing completion by the end of 1992.

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