Self-Determination

I can’t get any takers on this discussion over at OTB, presumably because there’s no partisan advantage to be gained from it, but why is Ukraine a country at all?

If your answer is “self-determination”, why should Ukraine be a country by virtue of self-determination but Crimea shouldn’t? How about Donetsk? How about the southwest corner of Valutina Avenue in Donetsk?

Once we’ve got that nailed down we might be prepared to tackle why we should support the present Ukraine.

35 comments… add one

  • ...

    I’m not going to type out a longer reply until I’m at an actual keyboard, but all I can tell you is that the US government has been anti-self-determination since 1861. Except, of course, when we’ve been pro-self-determination. It seems the difference is about whether the US or someone else gets weakened in the process. And occasionally about whether or not a President needs to bomb someone the improve his ratings or remind people that he does something other than create stains.

  • TastyBits

    A country is a country because it has borders and a government, and those borders and government are intact. This implies that they are being defended by themselves or another country.

    Historically, a country would be the territory that a government could control, but this meant that borders were fluid. A country could once have been a province of a larger entity, or it could have been created for some other purpose.

  • Is the United States a country?

  • TastyBits

    The US has a government, and it has borders. It can defend those borders.

    There may be definitions according to the UN, international law, or other conventions.

  • How do you determine whether a country can defend its borders?

  • CStanley

    I’m not sure what I think on the matter, but it seems like somewhere in the debate should be consideration of balance of regional powers. In other words, US interest might not lie in upholding self determination for the peoples of the region but it might lie in keeping Putin’s aspirations in check.

    There’s also the moral debate, where self determination holds more truck. In that discussion, I think one has to look at the support (or lack of) for minority rights.

    Side question: why aren’t these things the basis of debate for the UN, or barring that, the US State Dept policy?

  • Side question: why aren’t these things the basis of debate for the UN, or barring that, the US State Dept policy?

    What forum of the United Nations? The General Assembly is, in Jeanne Kirkpatrick’s memorable phrase, “a Third World debating society”. The veto-wielding members of the Security Council, which include the United States, Russia, and China, places the subject off-limits there.

  • CStanley

    Well, my point isn’t that our current system could handle this, but that if we are going to have a global political body at all, then this sort of thing should be the heart of it.

  • PD Shaw

    Self-determination, plus legal recognition from other countries — Russia under Lenin believed that Ukraine had the right to form its own state.

  • ...

    [The USA] can defend those borders.

    Yes, but it doesn’t.

  • ...

    Actually, I’m fairly happy with my shorter answer.

    The idea that borders are somehow fixed is just foolishness. I’ve got two globes that were put out between the years 1950 and 1968, the respective years of my brother’s and my own births. The borders aren’t the same on them. I do believe one of them matches the Atlas that I have from the 1950s. Neither would have matched the maps of my extreme youth (post-colonial divestment by the Europeans, plus some wars settling things during those times), by the time I was eight those maps would have been out of date, and they couldn’t publish maps fast enough to keep up with events from 1989 to 2000. Since 2000 I am aware of the creation of at least two new countries, and now we have another one getting carved up.

    And this is ignoring things like the fluid situation in what’s left of Sudan, places like Libya and Mali, and any other breakaway regions in the world (such as Detroit and LA, which seem largely lawless at this point).

    These border changes have all been do to shifting power bases and attention spans.

    If we want stable borders, we need to revive the old imperial system. But I don’t think anyone is really up for that, especially not the old imperial powers.

  • ...

    Actually, the more I think about it, the more amused I get with the idea that the US can (or does) defend its borders. Especially as a Floridian. I don’t remember the last time we defended the coast of Florida. I suppose we did during WWII, but that was more than two decades before I was born. The only reason EVERYONE in the Caribbean hasn’t moved to Florida is because the ocean is still on the scary side.

  • I don’t have a completely formed view on this but I think that there are some factors that need to be taken into account before self-determination can reasonably be appealed to as a justification for statehood. Some of the factors I’m thinking of include historical identity, historical independence, and viability (which covers a lot of factors including borders).

    The Irish have identity, a history of independence, and, apparently, viability. The Kurds have identity, no history of independence, and questionable viability.

    In the case of the Jews it depends. If you believe in the historicity of the Hebrew Bible, they have identity, a history of independence, and at least tenuous viability. If you don’t believe in the historicity of the Hebrew Bible, all they have may be identity. In some sense that’s what the 70 year dispute is about.

    I think the Ukrainians have identity, no meaningful history of independence, and almost no likelihood of viability as a state. If the Russians demand cash on the barrelhead for oil unless the Europeans are willing to carry the Ukrainians, they’re finished.

  • ...

    Some of the factors I’m thinking of include historical identity, historical independence, and viability (which covers a lot of factors including borders).

    By those standards, lots of current nation-states of long standing don’t deserve to exist. Haiti & Liberia to name two. I’m also not certain that the tiny states of Europe (Luxembourg, Andorra, Lichtenstein, San Marino, Monaco, etc.) would qualify. I’m certain that Kosovo does not, nor would South Sudan. (I’m guessing you will agree with me about Kosovo, and have no idea about your opinion on South Sudan.)

  • lots of current nation-states of long standing don’t deserve to exist. Haiti & Liberia to name two. I’m also not certain that the tiny states of Europe (Luxembourg, Andorra, Lichtenstein, San Marino, Monaco, etc.) would qualify. I’m certain that Kosovo does not, nor would South Sudan. (I’m guessing you will agree with me about Kosovo, and have no idea about your opinion on South Sudan.)

    You’ve read my code! Europe’s microstates are basically city states that for historic, political, or economic reasons were never assimilated into the other European states.

    Kosovo is obviously not a viable state. Without KFOR it would be back to the races. The identify of the Albanian Kosovars is as much Albanian as it is Kosovar. Ditto the Serbian Kosovars.

    Liberia is just a state (not a nation-state). It’s an historic anomaly. The viability of Haiti as a state is in serious doubt.

    Pakistan is really just a federation of cities that hold sovereignty over their immediate surroundings. The wisecrack description of it is “a government without a country”. It doesn’t have a defensible border and it doesn’t maintain sovereignty over about half of its nominal territory.

  • PD Shaw

    Elipses: I disagree about your nostalgia for Imperial borders. First of all, some of these Imperial borders, particularly the Ottoman, only remained in existence because of the concerted armed intervention of other countries invested in maintaining the international order and the Weak Man of Europe.

    The lack of viability of these Imperial borders was established by WWI. Of all the major powers in that conflict, it was the multi-national empires that collapsed (Russian, Austro-Hungarian and Ottoman), and those more closely associated with being a nation-state survived. This was in part because the multi-national empires lacked broad support of the various peoples, who would rebel or simply refuse to support the Empire in its life or death struggle. In many cases the Allies made promises to these people in order to help shorten the war.

    Three failed empires were destroyed by the war and we shouldn’t have done anything to put them back together again. Though the Russians were able to reform as an ideological Empire on their own.

  • PD Shaw

    Crimea is not exercising a right of self-determination. They are (at least in Russia’s view) asserting a right to be subjects to Russia instead of subjects to Ukraine.

    Self-determination deals with some of the issues Dave mentions about group identity sufficient for self-governance, but I don’t think economic independence is relevant, since no country is, nor do I think defensible borders are relevant, since few countries truly have them.

  • Crimea is not exercising a right of self-determination.

    Sure they are. Self-determination can just as reasonably decide to remain part of the Ukraine, become part of Russia, or become independent. It isn’t limited to whether they want to be independent or not.

    Under your rubric self-determination can only decide to be independent. A lack of alternatives isn’t self-determination.

  • PD Shaw

    Its distinct according to your rubric, since you find viability very important. Viability has no practical significance , if you are simply moving the borders between two countries a few kilos to the left or right. Historically, self-determination dealt with the issue of when, if either, a people were entitled to be a state. In some ways its a bigger issue, because its about state creation, but the never-ending dispute over all borders next to a belligerent power is probably more destabilizing.

    . . . and Alaska.

  • PD Shaw

    if either = if ever

  • PD Shaw

    OK, here’ the most definitive list of post WWII secessions I’ve found:

    As for state practice, my read is that looking at secessionist conflicts since the end of World War II, there around three or four examples of secessions contested by the pre-existing states that were both successful “on the ground” and were also accepted and recognized by a significant portion of the international community: Bangladesh, Eritrea, and now possibly Kosovo and South Sudan. I only list Kosovo as a “maybe” because fewer than half of UN member states recognize it, it is not a member of the UN, etc. (Although, in comparison to other examples, it is very successful, having secured recognition from most of he key states in its region, as well as the U.S. and others.) You could possibly add South Sudan as a “maybe,” although after the war, South Sudan’s separation was based on operation of the provisions of a peace agreement.

    (In other cases, such as Senegal, Singapore, and the Czech Republic and Slovakia, separation was pursuant to separation agreements or operation of their domestic constitutions. Moreover, the USSR capitulated on the secession of the Baltics and, as of September 6, 1991, no longer contested their departure, and the successor states of the USSR and those of Yugoslavia were formed due to dissolution of the pre-existing states, not secession.)

    By contrast, in that period there have been at least twenty (as yet) attempted secessions that have not been accepted by the international community: Nagorno-Karabakh (Azerbaijan); Republika Srpska (Bosnia Herzegovina); The Karen and Shan states (Burma); Tibet (China); Katanga (Congo); Turkish Federal Republic of Northern Cyprus (Cyprus); Abkhazia (Georgia); South Ossetia (Georgia); East Punjab (India); Kashmir (India); Kurdistan (Iraq/ Turkey); Anjouan (Islamic Republic of the Comoros); Gagauzia (Moldova); Transnistria (Moldova); Biafra (Nigeria); Bougainville (Papua New Guinea); Chechnya (Russian Federation); Somaliland (Somalia); Tamil Elam (Sri Lanka); and, Democratic Republic of Yemen (Yemen).

    (My lists are adapted from the lists in James Crawford, The Creation of States in International Law (2006), but with some updates and other changes based on my own take of the situations.)

  • ...

    You’ve read my code!

    There’s a code? I thought it was all fairly straightforward declarative sentences.

  • PD Shaw

    That was taken from a comment to a post by Chris Borgen, dealing with international treatment of claims of rights of seccession and determination.

  • ...

    [Pakistan] doesn’t have a defensible border and it doesn’t maintain sovereignty over about half of its nominal territory.

    Certainly not when Obama needs a thrill kill.

    I had heard (perhaps Andy has an opinion on this) that the Pakistani intelligence service (the ISI, I believe? It’s hard to keep all the acronyms straight) created the Taliban was because they ultimately envisioned being able to use Afghanistan for some defense-in-depth in a war against India. I don’t see how they could possibly have used Afghanistan in that fashion, but that’s what I read once.

  • ...

    Elipses: I disagree about your nostalgia for Imperial borders.

    Not nostalgia so much as looking at history. A lot of the more fractious parts of the world only seem to “enjoy” stability when some outside force imposes order.

    And I wasn’t only thinking of the empires of central and eastern Europe. Africa would have probably had a better run of it in recent decades if they had remained under the rule of some of the colonial powers. (Admittedly Congo would be a mess regardless, because the Belgians sucked at running an empire.) As it is, they have had an independence that looks more like a Hobbesian nightmare counter-example than it does the flourishing of a new civilization.

  • As a matter of practicality, if people in a more-or-less defined territory can set themselves up as a state and make that stick for a couple of generations, they’re a state. Ultimately, that’s why Israel is a state and the Palestinian territories aren’t.

    One of the implications of that is that there’s no way to tell if some territories are actually states. As long as NATO keeps a presence in Kosovo, how could one tell whether it’s actually a state or not? South Sudan has a similar issue.

  • ...

    This was in part because the multi-national empires lacked broad support of the various peoples, who would rebel or simply refuse to support the Empire in its life or death struggle.

    The problem, then, is for the empires to not fight with each other in life-or-death struggles. Sometimes it takes some bad examples to figure that out. The French Revolution and the Napoleonic Wars seems to be bad enough for the British and French to put their conflicts to rest. Unfortunately, the family squabble that was WWI ended with almost everyone dead*. (And I disagree that the German nation-state survived that war. Look at the borders in 1914, 1920, 1945, 1950, and 1990. That was a helluva lot of flux, with all kinds of bad stuff happening. It’s remarkable that a new German nation has come to dominate Europe, but they bear little resemblance to the Germany of the Hohenzollerns.) Hard to learn lessons when you’re dead.

    If the empires had kept to minding their own business the world would have been a better place.

    * Fuck Dallas and GoT. Someone should do a series about the family squabbles of the House of Hanover. You thought YOUR holiday dinners with the family were tense? Theirs ended with tens of millions dead! Plus all sorts of neat supporting cast members, from von Bismark to Rasputin. Best of all, no one owns the copyrights!

  • ...

    Viability has no practical significance , if you are simply moving the borders between two countries a few kilos to the left or right.

    I disagree. Crimea may feel that Russia is a much more reliable state to be a part of than Ukraine. Ukraine has had two revolutions in just the last ten or twelve years, with no signs of that ending. Russia certainly looks more stable and can ultimately provide more support for Crimea than can the Ukraine. (Especially if the Russians seize the areas directly north of Crimea.) As it is, the Russians look likely to present the Ukrainians with a bill they can only pay if Europe (that is, Germany) and the US (that is, the FED) decide to pay it for them. That isn’t very viable.

    (This could make for interesting analogies and comparisons with domestic policies.)

  • ...

    Now I just want to cast the House of Hanover project. I’m thinking Vincent D’Onofrio for Rasputin. He’s got the size and the crazy to play the part. He’s even about the right age! Someone needs to make this happen.

  • ...

    Under occupation for Rasputin on Wikipedia:

    Occupation peasant, wanderer, healer, advisor

    Makes me think John Milius should just do a script for a Rasputin movie.

  • TastyBits

    @Dave Schuler

    How do you determine whether a country can defend its borders?

    The ultimate test is through force.

    US allies gain the US’s power through treaty obligations, but friends, trading partners, and client states do not have any claims on that power.

  • On a side note the 1932 picture Rasputin and the Empress was the only picture in which the Barrymore siblings, John, Ethel, and Lionel, appeared together. I wonder if MGM still holds the rights to the novel.

  • PD Shaw

    Elipses, what I’m getting at with Germany is that during the inter-war period after its borders had been reduced by the victors, it was a German nation-state, even though it didn’t contain all of what might be a German nation. Its more recognizable as a German nation-state in my view because the state is smaller than the nation and it had few non-Germans; it was only as it expanded to more encompass places where more Germans lived, that the state started to pick up French, Danes, and Slavs. By the time Germany had expanded from Atlantic to the caucuses, I don’t think it was a nation-state anymore, but an empire (unless one wants to argue that the time frame was too short).

    To put it another way, I don’t think the United States is any less a nation state because it doesn’t include Canada.

  • ...

    My point, poorly expressed, was that the German polity was so damaged after WWI that it could no longer be considered a true state under this definition. They could not control their own borders, or their own currency, and the government couldn’t really keep itself together until Hitler came to power. And Hitler’s totalitarianism is something rather different than the rule of the Kaisers & Junkers, much less all the lesser states that preceded the Prussian consolidation.

    As for the Germans being a nation … How long did it take for Deutscheland Uber Alles to take precedence over people’s hearts, as opposed to thinking of themselves as Prussian, or Bavarian, or Saxon, or whathaveyou? Is the idea of Germans thinking of themselves primarily as Germans a more recent phenomenon?

  • How long did it take for Deutscheland Uber Alles to take precedence over people’s hearts, as opposed to thinking of themselves as Prussian, or Bavarian, or Saxon, or whathaveyou?

    That’s a tough question to answer, especially since Bavarians still think of themselves as Bavarians first, Germans second. Additionally, Bavarians thinks of themselves as living in a “Free State” (as do Saxons and Thuringians). It also has some idiosyncratic laws.

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