Tuesday, 12 August 2008

Georgia on my mind

I don't often agree with a Tory (well...) but I read this post by The Right Student (right as in wing not correct - at least not all the time) and I had to admit, I'm pretty much in agreement with him. I just haven't yet had an opportunity to blog about it.

As Arnie quite rightly points out, there are glaring similarities in the cases of South Ossetia and Kosova which, when simplified, make uncomfortable reading for the collective West.

Lifted from "The Right Student"

"Kosovo -

  • In Serbia because of breakup of larger federation
  • Ethnically different from rest of Serbia
  • Largely self governing (until independence in Feb)
  • Attacked by Serbian armed forces
  • A democratically expressed desire to leave Serbia
  • Clearly defined borders
  • Calls for federation with larger neighbour (Albania)
Result? Independence. Supported by the West.

South Ossetia -
  • In Georgia because of breakup of larger federation
  • Ethnically different from rest of Georgia
  • Largely self governing, with foreign peacekeepers
  • Attacked by Georgian armed forces
  • A democratically expressed desire to leave Georgia
  • Clearly defined borders
  • Calls for federation with larger neighbour (Russia)
Result? No independence. Western refusal to consider independence, insistent on supporting Georgia's territorial integrity.

The only difference? Georgia is a friend of Europe and the USA. Serbia is not."

A lot of this is, of course, because other European states have "problems" with secessionist elements (Spain, the UK, Belgium etc...). As I have said before, I am in favour (broadly speaking) of secession in a variety of cases across the world - with the Basques being a case in which I have a particular interest. And I believe(d) that the US holds the same principle - at least when Woodrow Wilson (no, I'm not old enough to remember it) spoke of "self-determination" it is a policy which no American President has since disagreed with. Provided, of course, that it was in the American interest.

Which is where we come to the crux of the Georgian situation. A stable Europe is, in the main, in the American interest. And the EU gave its backing to independence in Kosovo hence support there. But the US fears Russian expansionist tendencies while it is tied up in wars in Iraq/ Afghanistan. More than that it fears Russian influence over states which are gravitating towards the EU. So while the fears of expansion are largely unfounded given the disparity in military (hard) and economic (soft) power between the US and Russia, there is the potential that the US now fears a second Cold War (or, due to global warming, maybe a "Lukewarm War") with Russia.

Could we be entering a new phase in US-EU-Russia relations? Certainly looks that way.


Anonymous,  16 August 2008 at 16:55  

Hi Malc.

I'm interested in your remark that you're "in favour (broadly speaking) of secession in a variety of cases across the world", as I would tend to the opposite view.

In western Europe, for example, all of the following have secessionist movements:

• Ă…land (Finland)
• Alsace (France)
• Andalusia (Spain)
• Basque Country (Spain)
• Bavaria (Germany)
• Catalonia (Spain)
• Corsica (France)
• Faroes (Denmark)
• Flanders (Belgium)
• Friesland (Netherlands)
• Galicia (Spain)
• Greenland (Denmark)
• Lapland (Finland)
• Navarre (Spain)
• Padania (Italy)
• Salzburg (Austria)
• Sardinia (Italy)
• Savoy (France)
• Saxony (Germany)
• Thuringia (Germany)
• Wallonia (Belgium).

Do you think they should all become independent? As well as Britain, which of the above-listed European nation states (France, Germany, Italy, Spain etc) do you think should cease to exist? Implications for a "stable Europe"?

Malc 16 August 2008 at 17:10  

Great question!

As I said, broadly speaking, I'm in favour of independence. However, let me qualify that. Obviously, if, as you suggest, each of the above noted cases (and you've done a pretty decent job of collating them there) were to become instantly independent, there would be implications for stability in Europe. Equally obviously, that instant independence is no more likely to occur here than it is in the rest of Europe.

So am I just avoiding a straight answer? In a way yes - and its not something I tend to do. But I do so for a good reason. Some of the seccesionist movements you mention do have historical claims to statehood (Basques, Catalans), others cover an island which has been claimed by another state (Sardinia, Corsica, Aland, Faroes...). In those cases I think the claims to independence are somewhat more advanced than those where economic arguments/ anti-immigration policies/ a recently-imagined community (ie - Padania).

In the long (long) term, I have no problem with each of these stateless nations becoming independent - though I imagine that the nation states within which they are currently constituent parts will inevitably throw up roadblocks. France, with its history as a unitary state and Spain with its constitution celebrating its "unified whole" to name but two.

Inevitably though, if there is the democratic will in those nations for an independent state to secede from their larger forebears, I believe that denying that democratic will would ultimately have more of an impact upon stability in Europe than the secession of smaller nations.

Naturally, you disagree?

Anonymous,  16 August 2008 at 22:00  

Naturally. Quite simply, I can see no advantages and many disadvantages in a fragmented, enfeebled Europe.

Democratic wills can conflict - that of a smaller nation within a larger one, for example. And as we both presumably know, "international law has not recognized a general right of peoples unilaterally to declare secession from a State". All too often, and disturbingly close to home, separatism has been the catalyst for tragedy.

Malc 16 August 2008 at 23:02  

The document you quoted from also includes the following:

"The right to self-determination of peoples is a fundamental principle of international law."

Which is, of course, a load of tosh.

The principle is an laudable one, but, much like the Olympic flag ban, is only policed when it suits.

If this sparks a debate about Team America: World Police...

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