Sovereignty and territorial integrity are sacred concepts to every nation. Without them, the basis for international relations crumbles. That’s why it’s so troubling that the US is in effect stimulating a partition movement across the globe. Washington’s encouragement of Kosovo’s split from Serbia, its consideration of a possible Sunni-Shiite-Kurd spatial separation in Iraq, and its vigorous support for Taiwan demonstrate America’s penchant for promoting — or at least sanctioning — partition.

Such policies are a product of America’s “freedom agenda.” Promoting democracy worldwide often means supporting efforts for greater independence and self-determination. But taken too far, Washington ends up embracing partition — and opening a Pandora’s box. The good news is that the US has an opportunity to correct course in South America. Just this past Sunday, Bolivians in two states voted overwhelmingly for autonomy measures. The vote echoes the result from a similar referendum recently in the eastern state of Santa Cruz.

In Bolivia, the argument for autonomy — which is positive — is accompanied by an undercurrent of partition. Washington should not legitimate this undercurrent. Instead, it should work diligently in favour of eventual autonomy. Thus, close diplomacy with Bolivia’s neighbours, such as Argentina and Brazil, is crucial. In the past 50 years, the world has seen an avalanche of new nation-states. Not South America.

Nevertheless, there is growing concern in South America about the possibility of secession in the Andean Ridge (Venezuela, Colombia, Peru, Ecuador, and Bolivia) as well as in the Southern Cone (Argentina, Chile, Brazil, Paraguay, and Uruguay). An uneven globalisation process has weakened the state, broadened the economic gap between the haves and have-nots, aggravated social tensions, and eroded national identity.

What’s more, amid this the emergence of a vigorous ethnic agenda with the partial collapse and replacement of traditional elites is generating a new phenomenon in the region. It’s one that encourages geographic fracture, political division, and symbolic self-rule. The White House must search for key partners in South America to face the complex and conflicting social demands that are pushing several countries to state disintegration and geographical dislocation.

It is important for the US to indicate it understands that regional, cultural, and ethnic autonomy breeds prosperity, equality, and security. Secession, on the other hand, leads to the opposite. During the cold war, the partitioning of countries was ideologically: two Germanys, two Vietnams, two Koreas. Today, it has become both ethnically and geopolitically motivated. The US message in favour of secession may generate unpredictable consequences that could, in turn, affect its own security. To keep Pandora’s box closed, the US and the rest of the West need to practice pragmatism, not ideology; unity, not

partitioning. — The Christian Science Monitor