Asymmetric Federalism may be a solution to regional conflict

Kane’s article about Iraq’s Federalism Quandary describes the struggle over power, territory, and resources within the state, leading to the question of what type of federal structure should exist. The 2005 Iraqui Constitution describes the country as a federal state but gives a large amount of autonomy to groups such as the Kurds. Other providences begin to desire a similar amount of autonomy which risks the state partitioning into several individual bodies. The authors suggest a system of asymmetric federalism to solve the political issues that revolve around both cultural differences as well as oil.1

Ethiopia has a system of ethnic federalism in place that came to be after a fifteen-year civil war. This system has caused several problems from its beginning. It has forced people to align themselves with only one ethnicity even if they are mixed heritage and the different territories don’t have equal populations to rule over causing disputes over borders. Experts believe that these partitions due to ethnic identities have caused more harm than good and that the state’s unity may be at risk.2

How can a system of asymmetric federalism be used to solve political disputes in a multi-national state?

Federalism, the division of power between central and local governments, creates a check on the central government as well as allowing people of different regions to be better represented. In a system of symmetric federalism, the level of autonomy for each regional government is the same. On the other hand, a system of asymmetric federalism grants different levels of autonomy to each regional governing body. An asymmetric system would allow larger ethnicities to have greater self-governing abilities which are important if aspects such as their religion cause them to have specific sets of values. Also smaller regions who don’t have the ability to afford things such as a military would be protected by the central government with lower autonomy.  However, with the varying levels of autonomy, groups with lower levels of autonomy may strive to earn more leading to a segregated state.


  1.  Sean Kane, Joost R. Hiltermann, and Raad Alkadiri, “Iraq’s Federalism Quandary,” The National Interest, (March/April 2012.)
  2. Ethiopia’s Ethnic Federalism is being Tested” Economist (October 7, 2017) https://www.economist.com/middle-east-and-africa/2017/10/07/ethiopias-ethnic-federalism-is-being-tested

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