A confederation refers to a union of political organizations. Like any other type of government, there exist pros and cons of a confederate government too.
Conflicts over this separatist region between Russia and Georgia resulted in Georgia’s withdrawal from the Commonwealth of Independent States in 2009.
The polity of a country is reflected by its government. Each country adopts a different kind of government, or authoritative system, considering the needs of the nation. Governments around the world are mainly defined by the role and relations between the center and the states or political divisions. Countries of the unitary type have very powerful central governments. In a federation, power is shared between the center and the states. However, a confederation is one kind of government characterized by an inverse center-state relation, where the states are more powerful than the center.
Definition of a Confederate Government
A confederation is commonly known as a union of political organizations. A confederate government is one where individual nations or states have united to form a confederation.
It is also known as an alliance. Confederation implies cooperation among the member states over significant issues. This type of government symbolizes a centripetal action, where the individual units coalesce to form a league. The most important feature of a confederate government is that, the center derives its power from the states or provinces. Although there may be a common constitution or document specifying the soul of a nation, it does not stand as the source of power for the central government, which is true for the majority of constitutional governments. Rather, in a confederation, for the center to decide upon any important issues, it would require an agreement of all its confederates first.
Advantages of a Confederate Government
Confederacies are a unified body of individual states or provincial units. These peripheral units are stronger than the union. They coexist, but maintain their separate identities. Each region, canton, or province is considered equal, and has a say in shaping the nature of central authority.
Decentralization of Power: States being the decision makers, this governance is completely contrary to the unitary form of government. Thus, legislation and execution is divided among the provincial and local governments. Local governance minimizes the growth of the center, and reduces the risk of it turning into a dominant union or tyranny.
Democratic Republics, particularly, are known for the principle of sovereignty. In a confederation, the citizenry is focused more; their needs are better addressed. Thus, the concept of ‘citizens being the real sovereign of a nation’ is realized in this type of government.
Cooperation: Every state is an independent and sovereign unit of the federation. Agreement among these equals makes decisions over common issues easier. The flow of power is from the periphery to the center, which ultimately rests on the principle of cooperation among the confederates, at least over common concerns.
Disadvantages of a Confederate Government
If the central government derives its authority from the states, it is bound to become weak. The member states have majority of the legislative powers, thus, leaving the center with no right to make or enforce laws. Also, significant subjects of national interest, like international treaties, issue of currency, or maintenance of an army may not be handled by the center.
Financial Powers: A major drawback of the confederate government style is that, the center does not enjoy any power regarding taxation. Levying of or appropriation of taxes in order to regulate the national revenue model is not the function of the central government. Regulation of the monetary system, budgeting, and monitoring the growth of the nation does not follow a uniform policy.
Identities of states or provinces as separate units encourages a tussle for political power. Also, secessionist tendencies are built up easily, leading to an internal struggle between the confederates. The relations between the Union and the states, and among the states, are responsible for creating such fault lines in the confederation.
Sustenance: Confederacies are not observed as a popular form of government across the world. One reason being that, this type of government is not a long-lasting one. Though they are seen to be the most decentralized forms, there arises the question of their sustenance. Confederation is also referred to as a transformation period (as countries are seen transforming from a confederation to a federation).
Examples of Confederate Governments
The United States functioned as a confederacy between 1861 and 1865, under the Articles of Confederation. 11 southern states with a population of around 9 million wanted to secede from the Union. In 1860, beginning with South Carolina, Virginia, North Carolina, Georgia, Florida, Tennessee, Alabama, Mississippi, Louisiana, Arkansas, and Texas seceded from the Union. They formed a government under President Jefferson Davis, and also had a constitution.
The Constitution Act of 1867 had established the Dominion of Canada, including the four provinces of Ontario, Quebec, New Brunswick, and Nova Scotia. It is now a federation.
This is a confederation of the former Soviet Republics. It was established after the dissolution of the Soviet Union in 1991. It is a nine member confederacy, the Presidency being with the country of Belarus.
Known worldwide for its practices of direct democracy, Switzerland has a history as a confederate nation-state. It comprises 26 cantons today, and is primarily divided into four regions; the populace speaking four different languages: German, French, Italian, and Romansh.
The right to secede from the Union is at the heart of the concept of confederation. It can be termed as the culprit behind separatism, or a liberty favoring the units as well.