22 February, 2008

Self-determination and Kosovo

Once upon a time, the principle of maintaining state borders unless, and until, all the people on each side of a border agreed to redraw it, was a guiding principle of international law. Not just customary international law, but agreements like the Helsinki Accords.

Israel's occupied territories remain "occupied" because they were won in a preemptive war, and nobody would accept that the first to use force could incorporate the territory it won.

During the Nigerian Civil War, almost everyone was willing to watch Biafra fail rather than open the door to a precedent of redrawing borders by force.

The coalition for the first Gulf War was united by a principle that Iraq could not incorporate Kuwait by force.

In Yugoslavia, the consensus began to break. By engaging in "humanitarian intervention" against Serbia and for Kosovo, the US and NATO involved itself in what was essentially a civil war. As a Serbian friend of mine put it at the time, it was a violation of CIL. He was right. What he failed to see (or accept) was that the law was changing.

Now Kosovo declares its independence, and several major powers (including the US) recognize it. As a practical matter, this is less than it appears: KFOR stays in place, the provisional government (set up with the help of the UN) keeps on provisionally governing. As a symbolic matter, it is enormous. Who else is free to declare their independence in response to perceived mistreatment?

Transdenistra is calling for international recognition, claiming Kosovo as a precedent.

Chechnya would of course want a state of its own.

Palestine--a no-brainer. But a two-state solution, or three?

Why shouldn't Muslim territories leave China? And how about independence for Taiwan?

Are there any African states with borders that are even close to the borders of their nations?

How about the Amerindian nations?

Follow this to its logical conclusion, and the world will have thousands of states. And, maybe, that's not such a bad idea. If you like small government (as I do), the best way to keep them small is to keep them divided. But a "velvet divorce" is rare among states. Governments tend to have a fetish about maintaining territorial integrity. Majority nations like to remain in charge of minorities. As the norm for unalterable borders loses legitimacy, we either need a new mechanism to manage the transitions--deciding which are legitimate and which are not--or we'll see even more "interesting times."

16 February, 2008

The Colonial Office in Iraq

Fabius Maximus has a sparked an interesting discussion of the intentions of various segments of the American establishment, as well as the general problem of try to use the Army and the Foreign Service to administer a de-facto colonial relationship in Iraq.

Too damn close

The Russian bomber who recently buzzed the USS Nimitz is common knowledge. Word is that the F-18s checked to determine if the bombers were armed, and then escorted them out of the area without firing a shot. This, if true, is exactly what the people who staged the provocation were counting on. This policy meant that a potential enemy was able to test American defenses and response times without consequence. This also meant that the policy was not to assume the worst, but to trust the survival of one of America's most valuable naval vessels to the eyes of a few (one?) persons who determined whether or not the bomber was a threat. This response is wrong on so many levels that I don't know where to begin.
It's bad enough that the carriers are vulnerable. This is unconscionable.

02 February, 2008

The web of globalization

Thomas Barnett does another fine job of pulling it all together, this time in regard to US-Iranian relations. For example:

The last phase of the Bush years does seem like we're suing for peace with everyone we can find. It's undignified but inevitable, as it seems like everyone is containing us nowadays, including our own bureaucracy (e.g., the successful revolt of the intelligence community over Iran).

What I find fascinating in this relatively rapid balancing is that no military power is being employed to achieve the effect. None is required, really. We're so integrated with the global economy on so many levels that we can be made to feel the world's displeasure relatively quickly.

As usual, he somewhat downplays local culture while emphasizing the power of globalization to undermine old power structures in Iran, but even if it's a little more difficult than he seems to imply I suspect the main point is valid.

...we draw them into globalization and totally screw their mullocracy in the process, just like Nixon and Kissinger did with the Sovs.

Remember, Reagan got no progress with saying no. Things changed only when he convinced Gorby that he could be trusted.

And boy, did they change fast once the Sovs' fears were assuaged.

The soft kill is staring us in the face.

Check it out.