Sovereignty wars

posted at 1:20 pm on August 13, 2008 by Ed Morrissey

The West has generally patted itself on the back for its breakup of Yugoslavia and sponsorship of ethnic nationalism in the Balkans, at least until last week.  Russia, using the same philosophy as a pretext, treated Georgia much the same way NATO treated Serbia over a 13-year period.  In the Los Angeles Times, Thomas Meaney and Harris Mylonas point out the parallels and warn that these actions will serve to destabilize even more countries unless we start respecting sovereignty:

In February, Bush and most European leaders backed the independence of Kosovo from Serbia, which Putin vociferously opposed. Don’t worry, assured U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, saying, “Kosovo cannot be seen as precedent for any other situation in the world today.” But precedent is exactly what it set. Just as the West wanted to shield Kosovo from Serbian domination, so Putin hopes to free South Ossetia and Abkhazia from Georgian interference and keep them in the Russian orbit of influence. Thus far, he has succeeded by rolling out tanks while the West has paid only lip service to the territorial integrity of Georgia.

If the United States wishes to avoid carnage like this in the future, we need to be more consistent about how we treat fledgling independence movements. Beyond Kosovo and South Ossetia, why do we encourage the independence of the southern Sudanese but condemn the uprisings of the Kurds in eastern Turkey? Why do we speak up for the Tibetans in China but tune out the Basques in Spain?

Like every great power, the U.S. favors self-determination movements that destabilize its competitors — Russia, China, Iran — and opposes (or ignores) ones that might upset our allies. That’s the code of realism in foreign policy. But it’s also a Pandora’s box. If America opts not to respect the principle of national sovereignty, it discourages other world powers from doing so and undermines state sovereignty the world over.

I warned in March about the folly of recognizing Kosovo, especially over the strenuous objections of Moscow and the Serbs.   In fact, I specifically noted that Georgia would be next, although I thought Russia would target Abkhazia first for its strategic Black Sea position.  Georgia made that same assumption in May.

It isn’t just a matter of precedent, either.  This is at least in part payback for the West thumbing its nose at Russia while it dismembered the Balkans over the last 13 years.  Russia and Serbia have traditionally been close allies, and the suppression of Serbian sovereignty produced a completely predictable result.  The Russians want to protect what’s left of their turf, and in this instance, supported attacks by separatists in order to provoke Georgia into attacking them.  Now Russia feels justified in doing to Georgia what NATO did to Yugoslavia, and later to Serbia itself.

This will echo in places other than the Balkans and the Caucasus, however.  The lesson separatists took from Kosovo is that any ethnic group has a right to secede from a sovereign nation simply by being different from their countrymen.  As Meany and Mylonas note, that could apply to almost every nation in the world, including the US, Canada, Great Britain, Spain, France, Germany, and so on.  That precedent undermines the concept of sovereignty as understood since at least the Peace of Westphalia, and leads the world into dangerous territory, especially in an age of terrorism.

Russia has no excuse for its brutality in Georgia, nor for its rather transparent provocations in an attempt to re-establish empire in the Caucasus.  However, we need to stop rewarding violent separatist movements with land and recognition whether they suit us or offend us, and place more emphasis on sovereignty.  Otherwise, we risk setting the world ablaze in scores of nationalist conflicts we have encouraged directly or indirectly for short-term score settling.

Update: People rightly point out that the Serbians were committing “ethnic cleansing” in the Balkans and needed to be stopped.  No question; that’s accurate and it needed to be stopped.  What didn’t need to happen was the forced dismemberment in favor of ethnic enclaves of Yugoslavia, and the same exact thing again with historically Serbian territory.  We should have gone after Milosevic, gotten rid of his regime, and then left to allow the Yugoslavians and later Serbians to address the issues of ethnicity on their own.

Instead, we encouraged the nationalism of the ethnic enclaves, putting them in position to demand independence, and for what?  What did the US or Europe gain in the dismemberment of Serbia that produced an independent Kosovo?  What great national interest did that serve?


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One final point. I suppose it was just happenstance that those that suceeded where all slave states? I mean Why didn’t PA succeed or Ohio? If as you say the civil war had nothing to do with slavery why did only slave states succeed? You would think that at least one or two non slave states would have been moved to the fight for states rights that the South claimed it was fighting for?

unseen on August 13, 2008 at 6:42 PM

I didn’t say that the Civil War had nothing to do with slavery.

I said that Lincoln, in prosecuting the war, was not motivated by any humanitarian desire to free the Negro. He wanted to preserve the Union. Plain and simple.

Furthermore, the Emancipation Proclamation freed slaves only in the states that were a part of the rebellion, and all through the war, slaves that escaped and were found in the North were returned as property. I dare any American History book to make a point of that, in the same paragraph that says “Lincoln freed the slaves”.

Any argument that claims the US Civil War was about slavery is just dead wrong. As Monster said, it was economics; the North had money and power, but no raw materials (in the time period, cotton and tobacco were king). All of the factories were in the north, the farms in the south. The north could trade in finished goods (with foreign buyers), while the south could sell raw materials (but at much lower price levels). Most Yankees couldn’t care less about the Union being maintained, but at the same time slavery was becoming an issue that the north kinda, sorta could unite under. Lincoln was savvy enough to recognize he needed a motivator to continue the war. The end of slavery (in the south) was the answer.

BobMbx on August 13, 2008 at 10:27 PM

Well said.

Hawkins1701 on August 14, 2008 at 12:37 AM

Why is it, when the Russians or any other competitor to America do something vaguely comparable to American actions or policy (e.g., using U.S. policy in Kosovo to justify what they are doing in Ossetia), it is fine, while for America to do the same (e.g., using waterboarding against things that saw people’s heads off), it’s not fine?

Why is it, when America takes out a competitor which has continually goaded and countered America and its interests (e.g., Iraq), it is considered “American aggression/imperialism”, while when Americans stand up to a competitor “get-in-their-face” style (e.g., posting troops at the Rio Grande in the leadup to the Mexican War), it is considered, “provoking”?

The solution to this issue is simple, but you all can’t handle it. So I’ll just leave it with this:

Our country: In her intercourse with foreign nations may she always be in the right, and always successful, right or wrong.

– Stephen Decatur, 1816 ( http://quotationsbook.com/quote/29530/ Read the whole article before questioning the accuracy of the quote)

Tommygun on August 14, 2008 at 2:57 AM

The Monster on August 13, 2008 at 8:23 PM

And yet only slave states joined the rebellion. I wonder why? the war like all wars was about power. The North was gaining more and the south was losing theirs in congress because of the WESTWARD expansion of the USA. Before the EXPANSION the North and South had about the same power in Congress with the expansion the free states where gaining the upper hand as those states choose not to have slaves because they where not needed on the plains. and in the Mountians. The wars in Kansas before the war were some of the bloddest of the period as those for and against slavery fought to see if Kanasas would become a slave or free state.

It was all about power. Once the South lost their balance of power they made up the theory that states had a veto over laws passed by the federal government. When the federal government said they were full of crap, the South succeeded. the federal government could not allow that and the civil war was born. All through the lead up was the topic of slavery. The entire economic foundation of the South was slavery based. The threat to slavery struck at the very heart of southern life. The economic disadvantge to the South has the slave states lost more and more power was too great.

The South instead of evolving and industrlizing themselves decided to fight to keep the status qou because their entire social status was based on the slavary concept.

thus the reason only slave states rebelled is because only those economies based on slavery where in danger of being changed.

unseen on August 14, 2008 at 3:20 AM

Hawkins1701 on August 14, 2008 at 12:37 AM

There was much movement in congress and in the army to free slaves before Lincoln signed his EO. In fact in june of 1862, six months before the EP, Congress passed a law outlawing slavery in US terrorties.

unseen on August 14, 2008 at 3:29 AM

No I believe that the only reason there is any freedom in the world today is because those that love and believe in freedom has the most guns.

This would still be true, in fact it would be more true, had the north truely loved freedom, and allowed the south to secede.

MarkTheGreat on August 14, 2008 at 7:30 AM

Subtlety is obviously wasted on you. Let me put this as bluntly as possible:

At 2:35 PM, you asked what part of the Constitution supported the claim that the Union was permanent.

I responded with a citation of the Articles of Confederation that said the Union was permanent, proving that the Constitution did not need to say so explicitly for it to be true.

Obviously, first grade logic was lost on you.

By having to state so explicitly, the Confederate Articles proved that it was necessary to say so directly.

MarkTheGreat on August 14, 2008 at 7:31 AM

So you are claiming that extension of slavery into the territories was not the primary reason for the friction between the Southern states and the Northern states?

Everyone who has studied the time, not just the watered down, grade school textbooks, comes to that conclusion.

MarkTheGreat on August 14, 2008 at 7:38 AM

Let’s see if I have this right.

The southerners felt it necessary to explicitly state that secession was not allowed.
And you feel that this proves conclusively that it wasn’t necessary to state that secession was not allowed.

I guess that makes sense to you.
But then again, your the self-declared expert in dis here lojiky type thingy.

MarkTheGreat on August 14, 2008 at 7:52 AM

Though the Serbians were guilty of displacing civilian populations, “ethnic cleansing,” looking at the populations of the major cities in the region today shows their enemies were better at it. Like the “genocide” in “Palestine” which has octupled the Arab population in a matter of a few decades. Israel needs work on genocide apparently.

Gallows humor, sorry.

Beagle on August 14, 2008 at 9:13 AM

Obviously, first grade logic was lost on you.

By having to state so explicitly, the Confederate Articles proved that it was necessary to say so directly.

MarkTheGreat on August 14, 2008 at 7:31 AM

During the long delay between my last post and this response, I concluded that you had realized that you were woefully ignorant of this and all other topics concerning American history and had bowed out of the argument so as not to continue to make an ass of yourself. It seems as though I overestimated you.

I will now, for the third time, repeat a thing that should not have needed to be stated at all: the Articles of Confederation (not the “Confederate Articles,” as you risibly call them) created the United States of America, not the Confederate States of America (the Confederate States Constitution served as the governing charter of the latter).

The Constitution did not need to explicitly recognize that the Union was to be permanent because the permanence of the Union was already established by the Articles of Confederation. The Constitution did not unite the States; it merely updated the rules governing their union.
I’m sure it would be lost on you, but an analogy could be made to a marriage vow-renewal ceremony. Just because the ceremony might not explicitly state that the couple is married ’til death do they part does not mean that the original marriage never happened.
And, since there still appears to be an overwhelming amount of confusion on your part as to the nature of the Articles of Confederation, let me provide a footnote. Here is the Introduction and first Article:

To all to whom these Presents shall come, we the undersigned Delegates of the States affixed to our Names send greeting.

Articles of Confederation and perpetual Union between the states of New Hampshire, Massachusetts-bay Rhode Island and Providence Plantations, Connecticut, New York, New Jersey, Pennsylvania, Delaware, Maryland, Virginia, North Carolina, South Carolina and Georgia.

I.
The Stile of this Confederacy shall be

“The United States of America”.

Your geographic knowledge is perhaps as limited as your historical knowledge, so I will state the following: New Hampshire, Massachusetts, Rhode Island, Connecticut, New York, New Jersey, Pennsylvania, Delaware, and Maryland are all northern states that remained in the Union.

hicsuget on August 14, 2008 at 10:30 AM

Still trying to play the martyr?

I know that you impress yourself, but nobody else is buying your speil.

MarkTheGreat on August 14, 2008 at 12:23 PM

I know that you impress yourself, but nobody else is buying your speil.

MarkTheGreat on August 14, 2008 at 12:23 PM

Everyone else’s willful ignorance is no fault of mine. I am reminded of an aphorism about leading a jackass to water.

From the Library of Congress website:

Primary Documents in American History
The Articles of Confederation

The Continental Congress adopted the Articles of Confederation, the first constitution of the United States, on November 15, 1777. However, ratification of the Articles of Confederation by all thirteen states did not occur until March 1, 1781. The Articles created a loose confederation of sovereign states and a weak central government, leaving most of the power with the state governments. The need for a stronger Federal government soon became apparent and eventually led to the Constitutional Convention in 1787. The present United States Constitution replaced the Articles of Confederation on March 4, 1789.

Since you are so utterly incapable of reading between the lines or doing any amount of research on your own, here, for your edification, is a timeline:
1776: Declaration of Independence drafted
1777: Articles of Confederation drafted, thereby creating the United States of America
1781: Articles of Confederation ratified by all 13 original colonies
1787: U.S. Constitution ratified
1860: South Carolina seceeds
1861: Confederate States of America established, Constitution of the Confederate States of America adopted

As you could see if you so chose, and as you should have known from elementary school, the Articles of Confederation had absolutely nothing to do with the Confederacy and absolutely everything to do with the founding of the United States of America.

hicsuget on August 14, 2008 at 1:05 PM

The fact that they felt the need to include a clause in one document is evidence that when they exclude the clause in the next, they also excluded the concept.

Basic logic, basic english.

You have failed utterly in your attempt to prove anything other than your contempt for those who actually do bother to think.

MarkTheGreat on August 14, 2008 at 1:28 PM

This would still be true, in fact it would be more true, had the north truely loved freedom, and allowed the south to secede.

MarkTheGreat on August 14, 2008 at 7:30 AM

Again what part of slavery don’t you understand?

unseen on August 14, 2008 at 2:03 PM

unseen

I understand that slavery was on the way out, and would have been gone in a decade or two anyway.

DO you really think that asking the same stupid question 20 times will change the answer?

MarkTheGreat on August 14, 2008 at 2:20 PM

unseen,

It has also been shown to you, using the words of the people involved, that those who started the war, did not do so in order to free the slaves.

However, you will no doubt continue on in your fantasies.

MarkTheGreat on August 14, 2008 at 2:21 PM

The fact that the founders felt that it was necessary to include a permanence clause in the Articles proves that they felt it need to be spelled out.

The fact that they then decide to leave it out of the later constitution proves that they did not intend to make membership in this new organization permanent and binding.

That is basic logic. Maybe if you asked your first grade teacher nicely, she’ll go over it again for you.

MarkTheGreat on August 14, 2008 at 2:23 PM

I might add that the founders saw fit to include in the constitution, an ammendment that states quite clearly, that anything that any powers not listed in the constitution, don’t exist.

If you can’t find a permanency clause in the constitution, then there isn’t one.

MarkTheGreat on August 14, 2008 at 2:38 PM

Something to get this back on the original topic:

From http://www.newkosovareport.com/200808141129/Views-and-Analysis/Comparing-South-Ossetia-to-Kosovo.html

Comparing South Ossetia to Kosovo
By Ruben Avxhiu
Thursday, 14 August 2008

NATO and Western leaders pleaded with the Serbs to stop their irresponsible behavior in Kosovo promising them that their sovereignty over the province was uncontested and the violence would only radicalize the behavior and the political demands of the Kosovars.

What a difference from the Russian behavior during the recent days. Why wait a year, when they could enter within hours using heavy forces against a country many times smaller than theirs. Of course, no proposals for the Georgians, no warnings, no chance for the diplomacy to solve the situation. To compare this intervention with what NATO did, one has to be either an ignorant of the facts or a sadly biased political analyst. Unfortunately, this is what has taken place in countless of media outlets during this weekend. Few were decent enough to point that such an immediate response from the Russians shows that this had been planned long time before. An analyst even suggested that the Georgians were suckered in.

Of course, the intervention of NATO in 1999 was not approved by a vote in the Security Council, but this important organ of the UN was given several times the chance to be more assertive and efficient on Kosovo, but miserably failed to do so. Russia did no such a thing before aggressively moving inside Georgia ‘s sovereign territory.

Ironically enough, Russia justified its opposition to the secession of Kosovo from Serbia with the danger that this act could become a precedent for similar situations around the globe. The concern was not without merit and the West appropriately declared that it considered Kosovo a unique case and that efforts to copy the solution elsewhere would be discouraged. Within six months, Russia became the first country to try to use Kosovo as a precedent by openly supporting South Ossetia secession from Georgia. Suddenly, the sovereignty of a nation was not so sacred for Russia.

One would expect that in the light of this military intervention, Russia would change at least its position on Kosovo, by admitting that the international community was right to impose a solution in 1999.

However, this is not going to happen, emphasizing the hypocrisy of this giant Petrolstate who, less than two decades after the collapse of the Soviet Empire has reverted to aggression and intimidation of its neighbors.

In this situation, the mere fact of comparing South Ossetia to Kosovo strongly plays in Russian propaganda hands. It has brought misconceptions that should be clarified or it will confuse even more the public opinion that is still divided on a situation, which should have had no moral ambiguities.

Ruben Avxhiu is an editor of the weekly newspaper Illyria.

I ask my question again:

Why is it, when the Russians or any other competitor to America do something vaguely comparable to American actions or policy (e.g., using U.S. policy in Kosovo to justify what they are doing in Ossetia), it is fine, while for America to do the same (e.g., using waterboarding against things that saw people’s heads off), it’s not fine?

Why is it, when America takes out a competitor which has continually goaded and countered America and its interests (e.g., Iraq), it is considered “American aggression/imperialism”, while when Americans stand up to a competitor “get-in-their-face” style (e.g., posting troops at the Rio Grande in the leadup to the Mexican War), it is considered, “provoking”?

Somehow, the double-standard always works against America. American action provokes or justifies others, but the provocations or comparable actions of others do not justify American actions.

Our country: In her intercourse with foreign nations may she always be in the right, and always successful, right or wrong.

– Stephen Decatur, 1816 ( http://quotationsbook.com/quote/29530/ Read the whole article before questioning the accuracy of the quote)

Tommygun on August 15, 2008 at 4:31 AM

Tommygun,

Your question reveals either your incredible ignorance or your willingness to distract with lies.

There is no comparing the situation in either Iraq or Serbia, and Georgia.

In Iraq, we had murderous dictator who was killing his own people, violating the territorial integrity of his neighbors, harboring and supporting terrorists, and pursuing weapons of mass destruction.

In Serbia, we had ethnic cleansing going on, murder on a massive scale.

In Georgia, it was the seperatists who provoked the fight by firing into Georgia. The situation had been stable for years, until, under Russian proding, the seperatists started a new fight.

MarkTheGreat on August 15, 2008 at 6:48 AM

I think you are misreading my post, MarkTheGreat, even as you didn’t seem to understand about the “Confederate Articles.”

You are in essence saying America was on the morally-correct side in all three conflicts–we opposed Serbia (ethnic cleansing) and Iraq (brutal dictator), and supported Georgia (against “separatists” under Russian prodding).

If you mean my questions, they were merely to illustrate the double-standard we labor under, even among our own people. I noted how people felt our Kosovo policy practically excuses Russian action (“Let’s not be too critical here. It’s our fault”), whereas Russian (or other enemy) action does not give us the same cover (“Just because they do it doesn’t mean we can, or that they can’t object”).

If you mean my comment about “right or wrong,” it is simply to emphasize the need for loyalty. If we are “right,” all the better!

I mean this seriously, and I’m sorry if I’m insulting, but I must offer this suggestion: Read the entire passage, not just titles or headlines. If you don’t know what something is (like the Articles of Confederation), look it up. I’ve known people to hear or read a few words of something, get the topic, and then totally invert and twist, quite innocently, what is being said.

Of course, if you’re just trying to obstruct the comments here, please stop. We have enough of that already.

Tommygun on August 16, 2008 at 4:29 PM

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