Is It Really Paranoia?

by Dave Schuler on March 21, 2014

You’ve got to hand it to the Irish. They are great ones for lost causes. Eamonn McCann at The Irish Times argues that we should be taking Russia’s side in the situation in Ukraine. I have yet to see a good, coherent argument for taking Ukraine’s side. The most prudent strategy would seem to me to be butting out but, of course, we can’t do that, can we?.

He does raise a good point, however. Is it really paranoia if everyone is, in fact, against you?

{ 16 comments… read them below or add one }

PD Shaw March 21, 2014 at 10:45 am

I think this is pretty much an awful argument:

“Vladimir Putin may run a vicious regime but the people of Crimea have a right to be accepted as Russian if that’s what they want, which evidently they do.”

A people don’t have any internationally recognized right to territorial determination; they do have internationally recognized rights not to be oppressed by a vicious regime; and referendum by gunpoint is no way to determine intent.

PD Shaw March 21, 2014 at 10:53 am

He also repeats the myth that Baker pledge not to further expand NATO “one inch” after Germany. At least, he doesn’t mention the story about the U.S. reneging on its commitment to return Alaska at the end of the lease. Its easy to be paranoid, when you simply make up stuff that feels like it should be truth. Truthy.

michael reynolds March 21, 2014 at 12:32 pm

I’m with PD.

Can we expect Mexico to call for a referendum in Texas or New Mexico to see whether folks there want to join Mexico? Would it be all right if Mexico sent forces in ahead of time, you know, just to make sure no one was picking on anyone?

Ukraine appears to want to join the West. So why is their desire illegitimate if the desire of Crimeans is legitimate?

... March 21, 2014 at 12:44 pm

Thanks for that link, PD. That clears up a lot.

... March 21, 2014 at 12:48 pm

Borders have been rearranged several times in the last century or so, and I mean _in_ Europe. Saying that the borders in place RIGHT NOW are inviolable when they’ve been changed as recently as 2008 with our insistence seems delusional. (I mean European borders. We’ve supported border changes since then.)

Dave Schuler March 21, 2014 at 12:52 pm

Ukraine appears to want to join the West. So why is their desire illegitimate if the desire of Crimeans is legitimate?

If Europe wants to have Ukraine, who am I to interfere with it? My question is not about what Europe wants or what Ukraine wants but what we want and should do. I think our best course is to maintain a low profile.

There are a lot of illiberal kleptocracies in the world. I think we should only associate ourselves with them if it produces some material or strategic advantage.

... March 21, 2014 at 1:24 pm

There are a lot of illiberal kleptocracies in the world.

Wait, is this another post about Illinois?

TastyBits March 21, 2014 at 1:27 pm

@Icepick

Borders have been rearranged several times in the last century …

The borders of Eastern Europe has been in flux for centuries. The borders were the territory that could be controlled. If an area could not be defended, it would be taken. It is similar to the Italian principalities, but they were killing each other.

... March 21, 2014 at 1:39 pm

TB, I know the borders there have been in regular flux. But I chose the last century as a time frame for a reason, namely that international law and transnational organizations purporting to support those laws (League of Nations, UN, amongst others) have been overseeing these changes. Support or objection to border changes has nothing to do with any law other than that the powerful are more likely to get what they want.

And on the issue of Ukraine the Russians have more power than they have had on these issues since the Iron Curtain got ripped aside.

PD Shaw March 21, 2014 at 1:40 pm

Ellipses, borders change because of agreement (Czech & Slovokia) or violence (Crimea), I am not saying they don’t change. I am saying that there is no stand-alone right of self-determination.

The author is using “rights” languages. He’s wrong. And he probably doesn’t really mean it, or he would have to go through a list of ethnic and religious minorities in Russia, starting with the Crimean Tatars’ “right of self-determination.”

TastyBits March 21, 2014 at 1:48 pm

Am I the only one that believes that International Law, the UN, etc. are all bullshit to cover what the powerful are going to do anyway.

Is there any example where the US or any other country did not do something because of one of these institutions?

PD Shaw March 21, 2014 at 2:32 pm

@Tastybits, there are at least two aspects of International Law. The first is international law as an external restraint on state action. It is a weak restraint, particularly as against the big powers. The second is as a description of state action.

I am primarily using it in the second context. States don’t acknowledge a right of a people to separate; it would usually be hostile to their own self-interest. States have been willing to recognize the need for separation when a colony or region is being oppressed and being treated as “the other.” So, the U.S. demanded and received recognition as a colony, which was denied the rights of Englishmen. The Irish demanded and received recognition of a people, kept separate and oppressed by the British. The author of the linked piece is Irish I believe, and should know that the center of its just claim was in its oppression, not in the right of the Scotts, the Welsh, and the Manx to have a separate state, simply because they so choose.

Dave Schuler March 21, 2014 at 2:54 pm

And now we return to the question that has been asked since the issue of self-determination was first raised a century ago: what is the unit of measure of self-determination?

The particular case of Ukraine is peculiar or “anomalous” as one writer I quoted earlier this week characterized it. Since the Russians have a long-term lease on its base in Sevastopol, its sovereignty has an implicit asterisk.

TastyBits March 21, 2014 at 3:42 pm

@PD Shaw

My comment should have been on the “Sophistry” post. It was more general.

In order for any of this to be anything more than a meaningless exercise, there would need to be a fair, just, and impartial body to judge these matters.

What I see is a group of the most powerful countries forming a body to judge these matters. Furthermore, these matters always seem to be decided in favor of the powerful countries who formed the body to judge these matters. In addition, matters of the less powerful countries never seem to come before these bodies to be judged unless there is something of value to the powerful countries who formed the bodies to judge these matters, and then, the matter is decided in favor of the powerful.

One of my rules is to never fall for the bullshit your feeding others.

PD Shaw March 21, 2014 at 4:19 pm

@Dave, does Cuban sovereignty have an asterisk, as well?

I believe the self-determination value arose from the imperial context, and needs to be understood as a value against outside rule. The best description of international law and norms on “self-determination” is the Canadian Supreme Court’s decision re Secession of Quebec. Quebec wanted an enforceable referendum on secession, and the Court said that the Canadian Constitution did not permit it. An alternative argument based upon international law was also rejected:

“Although much of the Quebec population certainly shares many of the characteristics of a people, it is not necessary to decide the “people” issue because, whatever may be the correct determination of this issue in the context of Quebec, a right to secession only arises under the principle of self-determination of peoples at international law where “a people” is governed as part of a colonial empire; where “a people” is subject to alien subjugation, domination or exploitation; and possibly where “a people” is denied any meaningful exercise of its right to self-determination within the state of which it forms a part. In other circumstances, peoples are expected to achieve self-determination within the framework of their existing state. A state whose government represents the whole of the people or peoples resident within its territory, on a basis of equality and without discrimination, and respects the principles of self-determination in its internal arrangements, is entitled to maintain its territorial integrity under international law and to have that territorial integrity recognized by other states. Quebec does not meet the threshold of a colonial people or an oppressed people, nor can it be suggested that Quebecers have been denied meaningful access to government to pursue their political, economic, cultural and social development. In the circumstances, the National Assembly, the legislature or the government of Quebec do not enjoy a right at international law to effect the secession of Quebec from Canada unilaterally.”

Andy March 21, 2014 at 4:42 pm

Self-determination is tricky. There is obviously a tension between existing borders or “sovereigns” (a legacy, in many places of meddling by European powers), and a more “natural” division along historic or ethnic lines or even by the “will of the people.” Problem is that these situations usually aren’t cut and dry.

The Kurds obviously want their own country and so do many other peoples including, even, douchebags in (for example) NE Colorado. Drawing the line on who has a right to self-determination and who doesn’t is tricky. What I do think is that such matters are not for the US to decide except in very limited contexts (ie. the redrawing of borders and forced population movements in Europe after WWII).

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