It’s official – Serbs are the agents of Western imperialism ! This, at least, is what the xenophobic Communist dinosaur Vladimir Voronin, President of Moldova, seems to believe; he has claimed that nine Serb nationals, working for the US, were responsible for organising protests in the Moldovan capital of Chisinau. Indeed, just as the Poles and other Central Europeans spearheaded the revolution against Communist tyranny that swept across the Eastern Europe and the Balkans in 1989 and the former Soviet Union in 1989-91, so it was the spectacular popular revolution against the Milosevic regime in 2000 that presaged the subsequent ‘colour revolutions’ in Georgia, Ukraine and Kyrgyzstan. As democratisation spreads eastwards, so nations that were yesterday in the firm grip of tyranny are today viewed as sources of the democratic contagion by the tyrants and xenophobes who remain.
Moldova is not a one-party dictatorship and Voronin’s regime may enjoy the support of a majority of Moldova’s citizens. Yet the regime’s reaction to the popular protests against the Communists’ disputed electoral victory earlier this month shows that Voronin and his clique are anything but democrats. While the activists of Moldova’s ‘Twitter Revolution’ carried US flags and demanded EU integration, Voronin resorted to the familiar demagogue’s tactic of blaming evil foreign influences for the resistance to his regime. In addition to Serbs, he has singled out ‘imperialist’ Romania as the instigator of the protests – the former land of Ceausescu is apparently now a dangerous source of democracy. The Romanian ambassador to Moldova has been ordered out of the country and the Moldovan envoy from Bucharest recalled, while a visa regime for Romanian visitors is being reintroduced.
Natalia Morar, the supposed architect of the Twitter Revolution, has been placed under house arrest and may be charged with ‘inciting mass disorder’. A UN investigation has found evidence of the beating in prison of detained Moldovan protesters. Three people in total may have been killed in custody; the corpse of one, twenty-three-year-old Valeriu Boboc, was returned to his parents covered in bruises. Indeed, the torture meted out to prisoners has echoes of Serb concentration camps in wartime Bosnia. According to one victim, Ion Butmalai, ‘We were made to stand with our hands up facing a wall… They beat us with truncheons, and with their fists, and kicked us. They also hit us with rifles, on different parts of our bodies, in the head, in the back, in the legs.’ After being made to spend three or four hours outside in the cold, Butmalai says they were taken inside and forced to strip naked, then beaten again: ‘We were beaten until some of us were covered in blood, falling over. After that we were taken to the cells, 15 or 16 people to a cell.’
Police brutality, persecution of dissidents, extra-judicial killings and raging xenophobia are precisely what one would expect in response to popular protests from the regime of a president who, after being elected in 2001, pledged at a rally celebrating Lenin’s birthday: ‘Moldova must hold out in Europe as Cuba is holding out on the American continent… We will hold out to the end as Cuba is holding out among imperialist predators.’ You can take the apparatchik out of the Communist dictatorship, but you can’t take the Communist dictatorship out of the apparatchik. Yet Voronin’s tyranny does not exist in a vacuum: he is simply one of the clients of the Russian despot Vladimir Putin’s neo-Soviet empire. For Moldova never fully achieved independence following the break-up of the Soviet Union, as Moscow responded to Moldovan independence by providing decisive military support to separatists in Moldova’s Transnistria region, ensuring that this considerable slice of Moldovan territory would remain a Russian imperial outpost. Voronin has pursued a pro-Russian and anti-NATO foreign policy and soft-pedalled Moldova’s pursuit of the reintegration of Transnistria in return for the Kremlin’s backing. Moscow has ‘rewarded’ its Moldovan client by not formally recognising the ‘independence’ of Igor Smirnov’s grotesque neo-Soviet puppet-regime in Tiraspol, as it has with Abkhazia and South Ossetia, which it similarly hacked out of Georgia.
Voronin may be aspiring to be a Moldovan Putin and retain power behind the scenes after he steps down to make way for his presidential successor, but he is far from the worst of the Kremlin’s clients. That honour probably goes to the Russian-installed tyrant of Chechnya, Ramzan Kadyrov. Although Moscow justified its murderous and destructive reoccupation of Chechnya with the claim that it was fighting Islamist terrorists, it is Moscow’s own protege, Kadyrov, who has introduced an exceptionally crude and brutal Islamic regime in the country. He was recently reported as justifying the murder of seven young Chechen women in honour killings on the grounds that they had ‘loose morals’ and deserved to die. In the words of the New York Times: ‘Kadyrov describes women as the property of their husbands and says their main role is to bear children. He encourages men to take more than one wife, even though polygamy is illegal in Russia. Women and girls are now required to wear head scarves in schools, universities and government offices.’ Meanwhile, Kadyrov has shown himself to be an adept instigator of international terrorism, systematically assassinating his exiled Chechen opponents from Vienna to Dubai. With Russia this month declaring its military operations in Chechnya over, the results of its Pyrrhic victory are all too clear: the creation of a Islamist, terrorist Frankenstein’s monster enjoying arguably as much real independence as the rebel Chechen regime of the 1990s ever did, but exercising it with a great deal more brutality.
The nature of the regime in Moscow is such that it works ceaselessly to prevent democratisation and stabilisation in the region. Following his energy dispute with Russia in 2007, Belarus’s Alyaksandr Lukashenka has moved closer to the EU and relaxed the reins of his dictatorship. Yet Russian pressure on him to recognise the breakaway Georgian regions of Abkhazia and South Ossetia may, in the entirely possible event that he succumbs to it, drive a new wedge between Belarus and the EU and derail the country’s reform.
In Georgia, meanwhile, pro-Western president Mikheil Saakashvili is far from being a model democrat. Yet as the Economist notes, he is showing a willingness to reform: following a heavy-handed crackdown against protesters in November 2007 and resulting international disapproval, Saakashvili has responded with restraint to recent demonstrations against his rule, in a manner that contrasts favourably with Voronin’s behaviour. Even Eric Fournier, the French ambassador in Tbilisi, recently praised the Georgian government’s reaction to the protests as proof that ‘Georgia is developing as a democratic country.’ Yet the democratisation of Georgia, too, is being sabotaged by Moscow. In a manner reminiscent of Slobodan Milosevic’s use of Kosovo Serb demonstrators to threatend and destabilise other Yugoslav republics, Moscow recently attempted to send a convoy of vehicles carrying activists of ‘Nashi’, the Kremlin’s youth movement, into Georgia. The aim was to join the anti-government protests in Tbilisi, or failing that, to stage an incident at the demarcation line between Russian-held South Ossetia and government-held Georgia.
The Nashi foray was a continuation by other means of the Kremlin’s brutal assault on Georgia last year; an attempt to prevent the country’s transition into a functioning, economically successful Western-style democracy, and keep it within the Russian imperial sphere. Hardly surprising, then, that Saakashvili should be apprehensive about the possibility of a US detente with Russia in which Georgia would be sacrificed in return for Russian support for the US in other parts of the world: ‘I used to idealize America under Bush, when ideas were above pragmatic politics. Now it is a new time, when pragmatic politics are in charge of ideas. That might spoil the America I know.’
There are worrying signs that the Obama Administration may be seeking an entente with Russia at the expense of the US’s alliance with Central and East European states – Poland, the Czech Republic, Ukraine and Georgia – in the hope that Moscow will prove cooperative over Iran, Afghanistan and other areas. Such a policy would be disastrous. For quite apart from ethical objections to sacrificing relations with allies to appease an enemy, it simply will not work. The Russia of Putin and Dmitri Medvedev sees itself as a great power with the right to its own imperial sphere of influence in eastern and southeastern Europe, one that it sees as rightfully extending over countries that aspire to join NATO and the EU. Organised as it is along fundamentally authoritarian and populist-nationalist lines, the Putin regime is aware that maintenance or extension of this sphere is fundamentally irreconcilable with democratisation of the countries that lie within it, and with acceptance of the same set of international legal norms employed by the European democratic family. The present Russian regime is, in other words, structurally incapable of playing by the rules and of being a good neighbour.
To counter this Moscow-inspired corrosion of the eastern flank of democratic Europe, the Western alliance must insist loudly on respect for democracy, law and human rights. Flawed democratic allies such as Georgia must be firmly pressed to reform, but equally, we must take a very hard and vocal line against abuses of the democratic process in Moldova; against violations of international law by Belarus; and against acts of international terrorism and persecution of women by Chechnya. States whose police beat up and kill peaceful protesters or imprison pro-democracy activists, or that collude in the territorial dismemberment of other states, or that assassinate their dissidents abroad, must learn that they will pay a very heavy price in terms of their relations with NATO and the EU. In the case of Chechnya, which is not an independent state, Russia should be named and shamed for promoting an Islamist-terrorist regime within its own borders.
Romania has responded to the Moldovan regime’s behaviour by proposing that up to one million Moldovan citizens be granted Romanian citizenship. As Paul Bisca notes in the Washington Post, it is indicative of the EU’s pusillanimity in its reaction to the Moldovan events, that it has been more upset by the supposed danger to regional stability represented by the Romanian plan than by the behaviour of the Voronin regime in the first place. In fact, if the Romanian plan helps to destabilise the order represented by Putin, Medvedev, Lukashenka and Voronin, it should be welcomed, not feared. There can ultimately be no modus vivendi in Europe between democracy and neo-Soviet tyranny. The other side appreciates that; it is time we did as well.
This article was published today on the website of the Henry Jackson Society.
A no-brainer: NATO and the EU should not facilitate aggression and expansionism in South East Europe
One of the biggest arguments in favour of the European Union is that it has, along with its precursors, helped to keep the peace in Europe for nearly sixty years, turning previously hostile neighbours into partners in a common supranational, democratic European project. Meanwhile, NATO defended democratic Europe from Soviet expansionism. Today in the Balkans, however, both institutions are playing the opposite role: they are aiding and abetting regional predators in the pursuit of aggressive policies against neighbouring states. This is happening despite the fact that these aggressive policies are undermining both Western security and regional stability, and are contrary to the common interests of the EU and NATO member states. It is happening because existing members of both organisations enjoy the right to veto the accession of new members. Such a veto would be somewhat less problematic if all existing members were genuinely democratic states with no aggressive or expansionist ambitions. But unfortunately, this simply is not the case.
Last April, Greece vetoed Macedonia’s entry into NATO’s Membership Action Plan, because of the unresolved ‘name dispute’ between the two countries. Greece objects to Macedonia’s constitutional name, ‘The Republic of Macedonia’, and demands that Macedonia change it. The reason is that Greece does not recognise the existence of a Macedonian nation. In 1912-13, Greece conquered the portion of the Ottoman territory of Macedonia that today comprises Greek Macedonia. Since then it has pursued a policy of forced Hellenisation of the territory, involving varying policies of extermination, expulsion and forced assimilation of the non-Greek population. Thanks to these measures, a territory that was barely over two-fifths ethnic Greek in 1912 is today almost ethnically pure. This policy of enforced ethnic homogenisation has involved denying the existence of an ethnic Macedonian minority in Greece. When Yugoslavia broke up in the early 1990s, Greece expanded this policy to try to wipe the newly independent Macedonian nation-state, which had emerged from the former Yugoslavia, off the map, by forcing it to change its name, a policy whose pettiness was noted by David Cameron, currently leader of Britain’s Conservative Party, in a defence of Macedonia he wrote back in 2003. Consequently, Greece is blocking Macedonia’s entry into NATO.
Greece is a regional troublemaker of long standing that has repeatedly acted against Western interests in South East Europe. Its veto of Macedonia’s NATO bid was a violation of an international agreement, the Interim Accord of 1995, whereby Greece had undertaken not to block Macedonia’s entry into international organisations under the provisional name ‘Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia’. Macedonia has proven a better ally of the democratic world than Greece, contributing the same number of troops to the allied forces in Afghanistan as Greece, despite being a non-NATO country with a fifth of Greece’s population. The exclusion of Macedonia from Euro-Atlantic structures threatens to destabilise this fragile state, with potentially catastrophic consequences for Balkan regional stability. Yet by meekly acquiescing in Greece’s misuse of its veto, NATO effectively endorsed an act of petty Balkan nationalist aggression.
With Greece threatening to exclude Macedonia from the EU as well, the lesson had not been lost on other regional bullies. Slovenia is now threatening to keep Croatia out of the EU unless Zagreb cedes it territory on both land and sea. Because there is no actual legal validity to Slovenia’s territorial claims against Croatia, Slovenia is rejecting the idea that the case be resolved by the International Court of Justice, unless the latter’s decision is based on factors other than international law. As Xinhua News Agency diplomatically put it: ‘Slovenia has opposed taking the border issue to the ICJ unless the court uses the equity principle (ex equo et bono) in coming to a decision. This means the court can include any kind of circumstances, even if the valid international law does not [sic] (like historical facts), in order to reach a fairer verdict.’ Put simply, the Slovenes feel that because they don’t have much of a coastline, and Croatia has a long one, the Croats should give them some of theirs. Rather like demanding, on the principle of ‘fairness’, that someone who is richer than you are should hand over to you part of their savings. Since its territorial claim is political rather than legal, Ljubljana naturally prefers the idea of EU mediation to an ICJ legal ruling. Although not on an equivalent scale, this has disturbing echoes of the way in which Slobodan Milosevic successfully enlisted EU mediators such as David Owen and Carl Bildt to pressurise Bosnia’s leaders to accept an unprincipled settlement to the war of the 1990s. Great Serbia and Great Croatia have failed to come into being, but we may yet see the establishment of a Great Slovenia – thanks to the fact that Slovenia, unlike the expansionist Serbia and Croatia of the 1990s, is in the EU.
Thus, by colluding in Greece’s blackmail of Macedonia, Western leaders have given a green light to Slovenia’s blackmail of Croatia. Indeed, the far-right Party of the Slovenian People’ has been campaigning for Slovenia to veto Croatia’s entry into NATO as well, though so far without success. The Slovenian leadership has retreated from its own threat to obstruct Croatia’s entry into NATO under pressure from the US, which has, on this occasion, stood up to the local troublemaker for the sake of the Western alliance. This shows that, where there is a will on the part of the major NATO and EU states, a rogue member of the alliance can be pressurised to desist from its bullying of an aspirant member.
The unwillingness of the NATO and EU states, therefore, to exert enough pressure on Athens and Ljubljana to end their obstruction of Macedonia’s and Croatia’s Euro-Atlantic integration stems from a lack of will. In the case of Greece, its determination to keep Macedonia out of NATO and the EU has been bolstered by the opportunistic support of French President Nicolas Sarkozy - presumably an expression of his Mediterranean ambitions and of a residual Gaullism that conflicts with Washington’s support for Macedonia. Yet there has been no contrary support for Macedonia from within EU ranks. A sign of the unprincipled, pessimistic times is that even the International Crisis Group, once a voice of principled moderation, has advocated a Macedonian surrender in the name dispute in return for a Greek recognition of the Macedonian national identity.
It is, of course, easier for Western leaders simply to go with the flow, and appease the unprincipled nationalist demands of rogue NATO and EU states. Yet the more such appeasement occurs, the more problems are generated for the Western alliance. Croatian Prime Minister Ivo Sanader has taken the principled position, that Croatia will not obstruct Serbia’s entry into the EU as Slovenia’s has obstructed Croatia’s: ‘Croatia will not be to Serbia what Slovenia is to us’. Yet if EU diplomacy does result in a Croatian cession of territory to Slovenia, there is nothing to prevent an embittered Croatia from reversing Sanader’s position, and imposing territorial or other unreasonable demands on Serbia, Montenegro or Bosnia – all of which possess territories that Croat nationalists have traditionally claimed. With Albania set to join NATO and significant ethnic-Albanian minorities present in Serbia, Montenegro and Macedonia, Tirana could, if it so wished, create a veritable nightmare for the Western alliance by making issues out of the latter. There are already enough obstacles in the way of the smooth Euro-Atlantic integration of the remaining Balkan states, without us encouraging those who might wish to create more of them. Then there are Cypriot objections to Turkey’s EU membership; potential Ukrainian and Moldovan differences over Transnistria; differences between Turkey and Armenia and between the Transcaucasian states. The national – or to be more accurate, nationalist – veto of new NATO and EU members by local rivals that are already members represents a very dangerous barrier to European unity and handicap for the Western alliance. If we ignore the problem, it will only get worse. NATO and the EU, which are supposed to act – and in the past have acted – as solvents of nationalist conflicts, will increasingly threaten the stability of the wider European world, by providing one side in a nationalist dispute - usually the side that’s in the wrong - with an unassailable advantage over its victim.
The Western democratic world faces serious opponents and enemies, from the regimes in Moscow, Tehran and Pyongyang to the Taliban and al-Qa’ida. We are faced with serious questions of how to organise our defence against these threats; how to reconcile the demands of security with the principle of civil liberties; how far to proceed with European integration; how to assimilate diverse religious and ethnic minorities to ensure the functioning of our multiethnic nation-states; how to protect the environment; and so forth. It beggars belief that our ability to respond to these challenges should be hampered by selfish members of our alliance that do not appear to understand the meaning of post-nationalist democracy upon which our Euro-Atlantic institutions rest.
Britain, the US and their friends should exert sufficient pressure – be it diplomatic, political or other – on Athens, Ljubljana or any other rogue member of our alliance, to desist from their unreasonable nationalist demands. We should furthermore be working, as the Henry Jackson Society has advocated, to abolish the right of individual NATO and EU states unilaterally to veto the membership of aspiring members. The dog should wag the tail, not vice versa.
This article was published today on the website of the Henry Jackson Society.
Update: The image below shows how Slovenia would like to redraw its maritime border with Croatia:
This autumn will mark the seventieth anniversary of the Munich Agreement, when the democratic powers of Western Europe, Britain and France, weakened as they were by the self-hating, ’anti-war’ defeatism of wide sections of the Western chattering classes - on the left as well as of the right – allowed a fascist, expansionist imperial power to carve up a much smaller and weaker multinational state, using the excuse that it wanted to protect the rights of its co-nationals. Of course, Hitler analogies are very tired, and ‘anti-war’ activists are fond of complaining that all our enemies are ‘Hitler’ – from Nasser through Galtieri to Saddam and Milosevic. But in the case of Vladimir Putin of Russia, their best legitimate counter-argument no longer applies: that however brutal these despots may have been, the states that they ruled were not nearly as powerful as Nazi Germany.
Now, for the first time since World War II, the democratic West is faced by a brutal, neo-fascist, expansionist regime in command of an imperial state whose military might is comparable to that of Hitler’s Third Reich. Putin is an aggressive despot who came to power determined to reverse the defeat and perceived humiliation of Russia in the Cold War, much as Hitler aimed to reverse Germany’s humiliation in World War I (Putin even employed a stunt to cement his power that was highly reminiscent of the 1933 Reichstag fire – the stage-managed ‘terrorist’ bombing of Russian cities by his security services, that could be conveniently blamed on the Chechens). He then used weapons of mass destruction against his own Chechen civilians, destroying the European city of Grozny. He has waged campaigns of persecution against Jewish magnates (‘oligarchs’) and Caucasian ethnic minorities. He has established a fascist-style youth movement (‘Nashi‘). He has suppressed the free Russian media, murdered independent journalists and effectively abolished Russian democracy. He has threatened and bullied his neighbours – even NATO-member Estonia. His state assassins are the likely culprits in the murder of his critic, the British citizen Alexander Litvinenko. And now he has invaded a sovereign state in an attempt both to overthrow its democratically elected government and to annex part of its territory. His own supporters view this act of military aggression as a strike against the US; The Independent‘s Matt Siegel quotes one Russian volunteer: ‘This war is absolutely a war between Russia and America. The biggest mistake was in underestimating us. Now you’ll see what happens.’
At this moment of danger, democratic Europe is paralysed by the same kind of political, intellectual and moral malaise that brought our continent to ruin in the 1930s. Today, fashionable left-liberal hatred of the liberal-democratic order expresses itself not merely in opposition to military intervention abroad and to our own governments, but frequently in a readiness to solidarise with anyone with whom our governments come into conflict - be they Iraqi and Afghan Islamist rebels, Sudanese genocidal murderers, Iranian and Venezuelan demagogues, Chinese Communist apparatchiks, Serb nationalists, Lebanese Shia fundamentalists, and so on. All this is filtered through a self-indulgent anti-Americanism of unparalelled virulence – naturally, the concerns about invading a sovereign state without UN Security Council authorisation that have so fired our left-liberal intelligentsia over Iraq are not being manifested quite so strongly over Russia and Georgia. Meanwhile, our armies are stretched in Iraq and Afghanistan and our publics are war-weary.
This already toxic brew contains another dangerous ingredient – the most likely candidate for a twenty-first century Neville Chamberlain in the form of France’s Nicolas Sarkozy. With France holding the EU presidency, Sarkozy travelled to Moscow to reassure the Russians: ‘It’s perfectly normal that Russia would want to defend the interests both of Russians in Russia and Russophones outside Russia.’ No doubt the French president would have been equally tactful if Putin had invaded France to protect ‘Russophones’ in Marseilles or Nice, but this kind of language highlights the EU’s unreadiness to oppose Russian aggression. This is particularly so given Sarkozy’s disgraceful record of pursuing narrow French national interests at South East Europe’s expense, which involved, among other things, denying Georgia a NATO Membership Action Plan in order to appease Moscow. Sarkozy has joined with Russian President Dmitry Medvedev to impose a six-point plan on Georgia, that requires Tbilisi to ‘agree to the start of international talks on the future status of South Ossetia and Abkhazia’, as the Moscow Times puts it, but which makes no reference to Georgian territorial integrity. With Medvedev openly advocating the dismemberment of Georgia, Sarkozy may be preparing the ground for a new Munich Agreement.
Some may ask whether we have any choice but to acquiesce in Russia’s geostrategic coup, given our existing military entanglements in Iraq and Afghanistan, and our concerns with Iran, North Korea, Zimbabwe, etc. Some may ask why we should care about distant Georgia and its territorial integrity. The best way to respond is to turn this question around, and ask whether we can afford not to care, and not to respond to Russian aggression. If we cannot afford to defend Georgia because of our existing military commitments, we presumably cannot afford to defend Ukraine, or NATO-member Estonia, should Putin decide to build upon his success by moving against one of these countries – something which, given his past record, is not unlikely. At what point do we decide that, however costly it may be, we cannot afford to stand idly by as Russia rampages across Eurasia ?
As was the case in the late 1930s, the longer democratic Europe waits before responding to the aggressor, the more difficult and costly the eventual confrontation will be. Putin has successfully crushed and humiliated a staunch Western ally that contributed two thousand troops to Iraq. We cannot legitimately expect our allies to stand by us in Iraq, or in Afghanistan, if we do not stand by them when they are under attack. The states of Eastern and South Eastern Europe – both those inside NATO, and those wanting to join it – are closely watching the Russian operation against Georgia. They may decide that a NATO unable or unwilling to protect a country whose desired future membership it has itself loudly declared is a NATO it cannot rely on, and which is not worth joining or upholding. The Balkans are finally drifting toward stability, as the dominant elements of the Serbian political classes appear finally to have turned away from destructive nationalism – a turn spectacularly demonstrated by the arrest of Radovan Karadzic. Some of them may now feel, as they witness the West’s weak response to the crushing of Georgia, that their turn has been premature, and that they can afford to be a bit more aggressive than they had thought until a week ago. In which case, we may be faced with another front opening up against us in the Balkans.
I write these words, not with any confidence that democratic Europe is likely to take an appropriately firm stance against Russian aggression in the immediate future, but with full confidence that the attack on Georgia is only the beginning, and that we will see further acts of Russian aggression in the months and years to come. Putin is an unreconstructed product of the Soviet intelligence services; a sworn enemy of the liberal-democratic order at home and abroad; an autocrat whose mission it is to reverse Moscow’s defeat in the Cold War.
Let there be no mistake: we are in for the long haul. It is time to prepare a long-term strategy of resistance to the new Russian imperialism so that, if we were caught unprepared this time, we will not be unable to respond next time. Britain must join with the US in sending troops to Georgia, even if these troops at the present time have a purely symbolic deterrent value. We must massively increase our financial and military assistance to our beleaguered ally, and reassure it that it is not being abandoned. Georgia’s accession to NATO and the EU must be accelerated – as, indeed, must the EU accession of Turkey, which will be a crucial ally in the coming confrontation; one that we cannot afford not to have on our side. We must insist that the precondition for any negotiations over the disputed territories of Abkhazia and South Ossetia is an acceptance by Moscow of Georgia’s territorial integrity. But this conflict is not just about Georgia, and it will not just be played out over Georgia.
Cold War II has begun. Western leaders must begin to prepare their publics for this reality, which means countering the defeatist and anti-Western currents of thought that are popular among wide sections of the chattering classes, and preparing the publics for the consequences of economic warfare with an enemy that supplies a large part of our energy. Full-scale sanctions against Russia may soon be necessary, and though this will hurt Moscow more than it will hurt us, it will hurt us too. Western leaders must state very loudly and clearly that any further military attack by Moscow against any other state in Eastern or South Eastern Europe will invite a military response from us.
There are several ways in which Moscow’s aggression can be immediately punished. We should expel Russia from the G8 group of industrialised nations, veto its accession to the World Trade Organisation and the Organisation of Economic Cooperation and Development, suspend the EU’s Partnership and Cooperation Agreement with Russia, abandon all negotiations for a new EU-Russia agreement, suspend the NATO-Russia Council and announce a boycott of the 2014 Winter Olympics at Sochi. Given Moscow’s shameless promotion of the secession of Abkhazia and South Ossetia from Georgia, it is time to raise openly the question of Chechnya which, in terms of size, national homogeneity and viability as an entity, has a much stronger case for independence than either of Georgia’s enclaves. Since Moscow is demanding ‘self-determination’ for South Ossetia, let us openly challenge it to recognise the same right for the much larger Ossetian population in North Ossetia. Finally, our strategy vis-a-vis Afghanistan, Iraq, Iran and other trouble-spots must be modified to take account of the new geopolitical front-line; this does not mean we should surrender the battle on any of these fronts, but we cannot continue to fight them as if the Russian threat did not exist.
Dangerous ? The real danger will come from burying our heads in the sand and hoping Putin will go away and leave us alone. It is better to adopt a tough but non-violent stance against Moscow now, than to encourage further Russian expansionism that will compel us to adopt more drastic measures in the future, measures that we may not be able to limit to the non-violent. Toughness in 1938 might have stopped Hitler without war; appeasement in 1938 led to war in 1939.
This article was published today on the website of the Henry Jackson Society.
See also John McCain’s excellent article, We are all Georgians
Almost exactly thirteen years after Croatia, with its ‘Operation Storm’, successfully liberated itself from Serbian imperialist occupation, Georgia has attempted an ‘Operation Storm’ of its own. Yet while Croatia was fortunate enough to be faced by a relatively weak oppressor, little Georgia must face the might of the world’s territorially largest country, and one of the world’s most powerful military machines. Although I have recently written here that military means are not a feasible way of reversing the Russian Anschluss with Abkhazia and South Ossetia, and though I fear Tbilisi has been provoked into behaving rashly and entering a battle it cannot win, yet my solidarity is entirely with Georgia, her government and her people as they fight for their freedom.
When Georgia won its independence from the Soviet empire in the early 1990s, it paid the heavy price of territorial dismemberment, as Russia punished Georgia by assisting Abkhazian and South Ossetian separatists to break away from Tbilisi’s control. It is, of course, legitimate to ask what the noble principle of ‘national self-determination’ means for the compound land of Georgia, with its (now severed) autonomous entities of Abkhazia and South Ossetia, and what sort of national rights the latter should enjoy. But certain things should be spelled out. Firstly, until they were ethnically cleansed in the early 1990s, there were two and a half times as many ethnic Georgians as ethnic Abkhaz living in Abkhazia, and their right to self-determination is certainly not being respected. Secondly, there are approximately five times as many ethnic Ossetians living in North Ossetia in the Russian Federation as there are in Georgia’s South Ossetia, but North Ossetia’s independence is certainly not on offer from Moscow. Thirdly, freedom for the Caucasian nations requires the end of Russian colonial domination of the region, something that can only be set back by the Russian crushing of Georgia. And fourthly, if Russia is allowed to annex de facto what are effectively its irredentas – in Abkhazia and South Ossetia – it will be encouraged to annex other irredentas: in Moldova’s Transnistria; Ukraine’s Sevastopol; northern Kazakhstan; and so on.
South Ossetia is, unlike the former ‘Republic of Serb Krajina’ in Croatia, a legitimate entity representing a genuine national minority, with a right to enjoy very extensive autonomy – which Tbilisi has offered it. But with an ethnic Ossetian population at the start of the 1990s of only about 65,000 and a total population of about 100,000, South Ossetia is more on the scale of a town or enclave than of a nation: its resident population is approximately one thirtieth the size of Kosova’s; smaller than the Muslim Bosniak population of Serbia’s Sanjak region or the Albanian population of Macedonia (neither of whose right to secede, incidentally, I would recognise); smaller than any European nation other than the mini-states of Monaco, Andorra, Liechtenstein and San Marino. The ‘independence’ of this tiny region means, effectively, its annexation by Russia – which is, in effect, a process that is underway, and which the desperate Georgian offensive is attempting to halt. I have already explained at length why South Ossetia is in no way equivalent to Kosova, either in terms of its constitutional or legal status, or in terms of its actual credentials as a ‘nation’. ‘Self-determination’ does not mean the right of a former colonial power – in this case Russia – to annex enclaves in its former colonies.
This is not a case of Moscow supporting the right of national majorities to secede – the Abkhaz have no majority, not even a plurality, in Abkhazia. Nor is it a case of Moscow supporting the right of autonomous entities of the former Soviet Union to secede – Moscow has extended the same support to the separatists of Transnistria, which enjoyed no autonomous status in the USSR, while denying the right to secede of the Chechen Republic. This is simply a case of naked Russian imperialist expansionism. It is Georgia which is fighting to establish its independence, and Georgia which deserves our support. Georgia is a staunch ally of the West; the third largest contributor of troops to the allied coalition in Iraq. A Russian defeat of Georgia would be a tremendous setback for the West’s credibility and moral standing; it would increase Russian control of our energy supplies and encourage further Russian acts of aggression in the former Soviet Union.
We cannot afford to back down before this act of Russian imperialist aggression. We should defend Georgia with all the means at our disposal. We should send troops to bolster her. We should threaten Russia with sanctions. Heroic Georgia is fighting our fight; she is defending the freedom and security of democratic Europe.
Nobody should be surprised that Moscow’s mayor Yuri Luzhkov has called for Russia to annex the Ukrainian port of Sevastopol. Such a move would be the logical next step to the effective Anschluss with the secessionist Georgian territories of Abkhazia and South Ossetia that Russia has carried out since March. Russia has lifted sanctions against Abkhazia, established diplomatic relations with both Abkhazia and South Ossetia, unilaterally increased its military presence in Abkhazia - in violation of its 1994 peacekeeping treaty with Georgia - and shot down at least one Georgian spy plane over Abkhazia, according to the UN. Russia had already granted citizenship to most Abkhazians and South Ossetians, and the Russian rouble is the de facto currency of both break-away territories. This Anschluss punishes the Georgia of President Mikheil Saakashvili for its attempts to draw closer to the West. A Russian annexation of Sevastopol, as called for by Luzhkov, would similarly punish Ukraine. Through this form of territorial expansion and the dismemberment of neighbouring states, Russia seeks to exert control over its former empire in the ex-USSR. So long as it meets no effective resistance from the West, there is every reason to believe that this expansionist, imperialistic policy – reminiscent, in a somewhat more measured form, of that practised by the regime of Slobodan Milosevic in the former Yugoslavia during the 1990s – will only escalate in the years to come.
Georgia and Ukraine are not alone in being threatened in this way. Through its support for the separatist territory of Transnistria, Russia exerts a degree of influence over Moldova. But the familiar cases of Georgia and Moldova could be only the start of a potentially limitless Russian policy of expansionism and trouble-making. There are about eight million ethnic Russians in the Ukraine; over four million in Kazakhstan; and smaller Russian populations in every former Soviet state – potential irredentas, should Moscow choose to activate them. Then there are existing or potential conflicts between different non-Russian nationalities. The Armenian-Azerbaijani conflict over Nagorno-Karabakh is the most actual, but Central Asia’s patchwork quilt of ethnic groups cutting across arbitrary borders provides the scope for plenty more such conflicts, should a Central Asian state be in danger of drifting too far out of Moscow’s orbit. Why should an increasingly powerful and aggressive Russia restrain itself in this regard if the method turns out to work well in Georgia ? A Western alliance that cannot muster itself to defend with any unity or resolution a NATO aspirant that borders on an existing NATO member, and on the Black Sea, is unlikely to act as a deterrent in more distant Central Asia.
The idea that Russia might limit its destructive policy to its own ‘backyard’ has been comprehensively discredited by the fact that Moscow has pursued exactly the same policy toward Serbia and Kosovo – which were not even in the Soviet sphere during the Cold War – as it has toward Georgia. In other words, Moscow has prevented a resolution to the Kosovo question, and dangerously heightened tension and instability in the Balkans, in order to hinder Serbia’s Euro-Atlantic integration, destabilise the newly independent pro-Western state of Kosovo and disrupt NATO and EU expansion more generally. This has been our payback for the Western support of Russia’s assault on Chehnya in 1999, which took place soon after NATO’s liberation of Kosovo. We should expect a similar payback for our weak response to the Caucasian Anschluss.
Georgia in the late 2000s is, therefore, equivalent to the Czechoslovakia of the late 1930s; at our peril, we treat it as a far-away country of which we know nothing. But just as there were very serious practical obstacles to defending post-Munich Czechoslovakia, so there are obstacles to defending rump Georgia. On the one hand, a NATO-backed Georgian military offensive to liberate Abkhazia – in the tradition of the US-backed Croatian offensive that successfully liberated Serbian-occupied central Croatia in 1995 – is not militarily feasible. Furthermore, like Czechoslovakia in the 1930s and Bosnia in the 1990s, Georgia is a country apparently deemed expendable by a large part of democratic Western Europe, as suggested by the successful German-led resistance to granting Georgia a Membership Action Plan at the NATO summit in Bucharest in April. The US, Georgia’s staunchest Western ally, faces a tough Russian opponent, and it has only feeble backup.
Yet for all the obstacles in the way of a successful defence of Georgia, the strongest cards are ultimately in our hands. For all that Georgia is partially occupied, it is also partially liberated. And it is partially liberated thanks to the Western victory over the Soviet Union in the Cold War, a victory that did not involve any direct fighting between Soviet troops and the troops of the Western alliance. We won the Cold War because ultimately our political and socio-economic system was more attractive to the peoples of Eastern Europe and the Soviet Union than was the Communist system, and because the Soviets’ greatly inferior economic power did not ultimately allow them to sustain their military confrontation with us. Essentially the same factors can enable us to defend Georgia and win back Abkhazia and South Ossetia.
The ‘us’, in this instance, means the US, the UK, and other democratic states willing to support us in defending Georgia. The NATO summit in Bucharest showed that our leading West European allies are less than committed to the cause of Ukrainian and Georgian membership of NATO. With German Chancellor Andrea Merkel’s Social Democratic coalition partners veering toward a policy of ‘equidistance’ between Washington and Moscow, Germany is unlikely to be a pillar of support for the defence of Georgia. France’s Nicolas Sarkozy supported the German position on Georgia and Ukraine at Bucharest and even supported Greece’s veto of Macedonia’s NATO membership, but still managed to come under fire from domestic opponents who accused him of ‘Atlanticism’. The UK’s own Gordon Brown failed to stand by the US, Ukraine and Georgia at Bucharest, a failure that can most charitably be attributed to his inexperience as a prime minister but, more worryingly, may be an expression of a Brownite departure from Blairism that would bode ill for the Atlantic alliance and British security. It is essetial that Brown not allow fashionable anti-Americanism or the narrow national agendas being pursued by some of our West European allies to damage relations with our most important ally. Georgia is an issue over which British interests are at stake and which is close to the heart of John McCain, the person most likely to be the next US president. It is an issue over which we can reaffirm the Atlantic alliance.
The US is already building closer bilateral relations with former Communist countries over and above those which they enjoy through NATO. Poland seeks a stronger bilateral military relationship with the US because it understandably feels that NATO and the EU alone are insufficent to meet its security needs. The US has signed a Declaration of Strategic Partnership and Cooperation with Macedonia as a response to NATO’s failure at Bucharest to invite Macedonia to join the alliance. The US’s military support for Georgia has long been very close. Britain should fully support all these relationships and participate in them as much as possible. Closer relations with East European states, both those that are in the EU and those that want to join, promoted in partnership with the US, is one way that the UK can match the plans of France’s Nicolas Sarkozy for a Mediterranean Union.
Increased US-UK support for Georgia, ideally involving Turkey and other NATO members, is one way that we can promote Georgian security. But actually to reunify Georgia involves taking this policy a step further. It means fighting the battle for Abkhazia and South Ossetia, not through force, but through persuasion, as we fought and won the battle for Eastern Europe during the Cold War. The US and UK should promote visa-free travel for Georgian citizens in the US and EU. We should provide scholarships for Georgian students to study at universities in the West and subsidised internships for young Georgian professionals to work in Western institutions and companies. We should extend these benefits to the people of Abkhazia and South Ossetia, with the promise that they will eventually enjoy all the benefits of EU membership. And we should establish information services in Abkhaz, Ossetian and other languages spoken in Georgia’s two break-away regions, to ensure that the Abkhazian and South Ossetian people are made aware of all the present and future benefits that will accrue to them if they choose the European path.
Meanwhile, Georgia’s membership of the EU should be brought about as quickly as possible. The Turkish Cypriots were once as implacably opposed to the reunification of Cyprus as the Abkhazians and South Ossetians are to the reunification of Georgia. That they endorsed overwhelmingly the 2004 Annan Plan for Cyprus’s reunification was above all due to the economic promise of EU membership and to the desire to share in the prosperity enjoyed by the internationally recognised Cypriot state. Georgia’s salvation lies ultimately in its ability to attract the Abkhazians and South Ossetians in this way, which is why its EU membership should not be held hostage to the progress of its reunification.
We cannot compromise on the principle of Georgian territorial integrity. But that does not mean that we cannot play the role of honest broker, and offer the Abkhazians and South Ossetians very real guarantees in exchange for their readiness to embrace the process of European integration within the Georgian framework. With the ultimate aim being a form of ‘broad internal sovereignty’ for Abkhazia and South Ossetia within a united Georgia, in line with existing Georgian government proposals, we can initiate the dual processes of reconciliation without preconditions between Georgia and its break-away regions, and of integration of Abkhazia and South Ossetia into the Euro-Atlantic framework. The launching of the processes of reconciliation and Euro-Atlantic integration will realistically have to come before any Abkhazian or South Ossetian acceptance of inclusion within Georgia, as the leaderships and populations of both break-away regions will not accept any such inclusion at this stage. But the ultimate goal would be, that as they begin to accrue the benefits of association with the EU and US, and as they gain confidence in the readiness of the Western alliance to guarantee their security, they would ultimately accept inclusion within Georgia. Of course, we would simultaneously need to reassure Tbilisi that the process of Abkhazian and South Ossetian Euro-Atlantic integration is the path to Georgia’s reunification, not to the formalisation of its partition. Our readiness to work with Abkhazian and South Ossetian separatists need not imply any recognition of the legitimacy of their separatist goals, any more than the British government’s readiness to work with Sinn Fein implies support for the Irish Republican goal of a united Ireland.
A peaceful, bloodless policy of this kind cannot legitimately be accused by anyone of being ‘aggressive’ toward Russia. Yet by extending the benefits offered by the Euro-Atlantic community to territories considered by Moscow to lie within its sphere, we would be forcing it to compete with us in a civilised manner, in the realm of economic incentives and civic progress. This might serve to deter future Russian adventures of the kind in which it has engaged in the South Caucasus. It might even provide a little catalyst to the process of democratic change within Russia itself.
This article was published today on the website of the Henry Jackson Society.
We were warned that recognising Kosova’s independence would open a Pandora’s box, triggering global chaos by encouraging innumerable other secessionist territories across the world to declare their own independence in the hope of recognition. The threatened consequence was always something of a non-sequitur, since the secessionist territories most frequently cited – Northern Cyprus, South Ossetia, Abkhazia and Transnistria – had all already seceded from the countries to which they formally belong. How could recognition of Kosova’s independence spark the secession of the Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus (TRNC), when the TRNC had already declared independence from Cyprus back in 1983, twenty-five years before Kosova was recognised ? It’s a riddle to which President Vladimir Putin of Eurasia no doubt has the answer, one that he may reveal to us in the course of his current propaganda war against Oceania. Putin is himself fond of the supposed Kosova – TRNC parallel. It is therefore particularly poignant that the recognition of Kosova’s independence appears to be having the exact opposite result to the one that he and other prophets of doom predicted. Namely, on Friday, the Turkish Cypriot leader Mehmet Ali Talat and Cyprus’s newly elected president Dimitris Christofias met and agreed to restart negotiations on reunifying the country.
There is reason to believe that this positive development is not unrelated to the independence of Kosova, as Professor Mehmet Ozcan of the International Strategic Research Organisation has persuasively suggested. Under Christofias’s hardline nationalist predecessor Tassos Papadopoulos, it was the Greek Cypriots, not the Turkish Cypriots, who were most to blame for obstructing Cypriot unity. In a referendum in 2004, the UN’s Annan Plan for Cyprus’s reunification was overwhelmingly approved by the Turkish Cypriot electorate but, on Papadopoulos’s urging, overwhelmingly rejected by the Greek Cypriot electorate. Papadopoulos believed that, with Cyprus entering the EU and able to veto Turkey’s entry, he would eventually be able to extract more favourable terms from the Turks than those represented by the Annan Plan. It is also entirely possible that he actually preferred a permanently divided Cyprus to one reunited on the basis of an Annan-style compromise; at the very least, he was prepared to postpone reunification for the forseeable future. From the perspective of most Greek Cypriots who would like in principle to see their country reunited, this strategy only made sense if it was indeed going to lead to unity on favourable terms in the long run. But the upcoming recognition of Kosova’s independence showed them that the international community could not be relied upon to uphold the principle of the inviolability of state borders indefinitely, particularly when it was a question of a country, such as Serbia or Cyprus, whose leaders were behaving consistently unreasonably. Hence the surprise electoral victory of the moderate Christofias last month. Symbolically, the first round of Cyprus’s presidential election, in which Papadopoulos came third and was therefore knocked out, took place on 17 February – Kosova’s independence day.
As leader of the Communist AKEL party, Christofias represented the non-nationalist option. AKEL has long upheld a cross-national ideology of brotherhood and unity between Greek and Turkish Cypriots and has a history of persecution at the hands of both Greek and Turkish extremists. When, prior to his meeting with Talat, Christofias was asked by a reporter whether they would be drinking Greek or Turkish coffee (they are the same drink), Christofias replied ‘Cypriot coffee, we will both be having Cypriot coffee’. Christofias and AKEL should not be viewed through rose-tinted spectacles; they opportunistically collaborated with Papadopoulos, helping to bring him to power and defeat the Annan Plan. Christofias continues to follow the Greek-nationalist line of insisting that Macedonia change its name. Nevertheless, under his leadership, Cyprus’s prospects for reunification seem incomparably better than they did barely more than a month ago.
The other element of the equation is that Talat did not respond to Kosova’s recognition by launching a new separatist drive, as the anti-Kosovar prophets of doom had predicted. Indeed, he explicitly rejected a parallel between Kosova and the TRNC: ‘We do not see a direct link between the situation in Kosovo and the Cyprus Problem. These problems have come up through different conditions.’ And he is right. Although it was the Greek side that was primarily responsible for provoking the crisis that culminated in the Turkish invasion of Cyprus in 1974, and although Turkey arguably had a legal basis for its invasion, nevertheless the form that this invasion took, involving as it did the dismemberment of the country and the ethnic-cleansing of the Greek population of the north, constituted an act of aggression and conquest. The Turkish Cypriot entity that became the TRNC in 1983 was therefore an artificial product of foreign invasion and ethnic cleansing – in contrast to Kosova, which was established as an autonomous region under the legitimate Yugoslav authorities, and whose Albanian demographic majority predated its conquest by Serbia in 1912.
Talat may or may not recognise this distinction between Kosova and the TRNC. But he is undoubtedly aware of something of which the prophets of doom are not, but which is blindingly obvious: the fact that Kosova is being recognised internationally does not mean that other secessionist territories will be recognised internationally. The ’Pandora’s box’ model would only hold true if a secessionist territory, encouraged by Kosova’s recognition, could translate this sense of encouragement into international recognition. As there is no way for a secessionist territory to do this, the model does not hold. The prospects of South Ossetia, Abkhazia and Transnistria for recognition by Russia may have improved, but this would be because of a conscious policy decision on Moscow’s part, not because the territories in question felt ‘inspired’ by Kosova’s recognition. Talat is no knee-jerk separatist but a rational, moderate politician who supported the Annan Plan; he has no reason to jeopardise the Turkish Cypriot community’s chance to enter the EU because of Kosova.
There is a final lesson to be learned from this. Although Cyprus has much more justice on its side vis-a-vis the TRNC than Serbia has vis-a-vis Kosova, yet it is Christofias who speaks the language of reconciliation and ‘Cypriot coffee’. Serbia’s leaders have never been able to speak in this way to the Kosova Albanians; they did not speak of Kosova and Serbia as lands that belonged alike to Serbs and Albanians, or speak of the fraternity of the two peoples. Christofias may understand something that Serbia’s Prime Minister Vojislav Kostunica and President Boris Tadic clearly do not: that if you want to keep your country united and prevent one of its peoples from seceding, you need to treat the latter as your fellow countrymen and women, not as the enemy.
This is a lesson that should be learned by all regimes around the world whose oppression drives subject peoples to secede: if you want to avoid losing part of your territory, it pays to be reasonable. Meanwhile, the leaders of the Western alliance may congratulate themselves on having, with their decision to recognise Kosova, helped to promote stability and reconciliation in South East Europe and the resolution of an old conflict in their ranks.
This article was published today on the website of the Henry Jackson Society.
I am half-Croatian, and I shall confess to having a specifically Croatian agenda for opposing the right of Bosnia’s Serb Republic (Republika Srpska) to secede from Bosnia, and for rejecting the idea that such an act of secession would be in any way equivalent to Kosova’s entirely legitimate secession from Serbia.
Namely, if one were to support the right of Republika Srpska to secede from Bosnia, one would have to support a similar right for the Croat-controlled part of the Bosnian Federation. This would lead, effectively, to the emergence of a Great Croatia. As an opponent of Great Croatian nationalism, this is not something I could accept. Every true Croatian democrat and anti-fascist is the sworn opponent of Great Croatian nationalism, consequently of the partition of Bosnia. Not only would this be an enormous injustice to the people of Bosnia, but it would reward the worst elements in Croatian politics – Ustashas, Tudjmanites and other chauvinists. It would be a betrayal of all those true Bosnian Croat patriots – Stjepan Kljuic, Ivo Komsic, Ivan Lovrenovic and others – who valiantly defended their Bosnian homeland against the Great Croats during the 1990s and thereafter.
Support for the right of national self-determination is about supporting democracy, but it is also about opposing oppression and injustice; about standing up for the rights of smaller, oppressed nations against colonial masters or predatory neighbours. It is therefore wholly at odds with the idea that such predatory states should be allowed to manipulate the right of national self-determination to expand their borders at the expense of those smaller and weaker than themselves. This is what Serbia attempted to do vis-a-vis Croatia in the 1990s. It is what both Croatia and Serbia, at the same time, attempted to do vis-a-vis Bosnia. It is what Russia is attempting to do vis-a-vis Georgia. And it is what occurred in the most notorious instance of the abuse of the right to self-determination: the 1938 Munich Agreement.
It could be argued, however, that no matter how one tries to justify it, this remains hypocritical. Let us take up the challenge and say:
1) We should recognise the right of Republika Srpska to secede from Bosnia – provided Republika Srpska recognises the right of its former Muslim- or Croat-majority areas to secede from it (with all those expelled and non-resident allowed to participate in the vote), and provided Serbia recognises the same right to Muslim-majority areas in the Sanjak and Hungarian-majority areas in Vojvodina;
2) We should recognise the right of the Bosnian-Croat-held areas to secede from Bosnia – provided Croatia recognises the right of its former Serb-majority areas to secede (again, with all those expelled and non-resident allowed to participate in the vote);
3) We should recognise the right of South Ossetia to secede from Georgia – provided Moscow recognises the right of North Ossetia to secede from Russia;
4) We should recognise the right of Abkhazia to secede from Georgia – provided Moscow recognises the right of all its autonomous republics in the Russian North Caucasus to secede.
I strongly suspect that once you insist that the strong be subjected to the same principles that they would like to impose upon the weak, then their own enthusiasm for these principles would vanish.
The right of nations to self-determination is an undeniably thorny issue, above all because there are so many areas where the rights of two or more nations overlap, and where it is difficult or impossible to grant the right to one nation without denying it to another nation – or even destroying the second nation altogether. This is why, when considering how to apply the right, so many factors must be taken into account – rather as in the case of a judge or jury weighing up numerous factors in a court case. I would, however, suggest two general rules of thumb:
1) The right of self-determination, since it is a democratic right, cannot belong to nations that have achieved an artificial majority through ethnic cleansing, since the right belongs to the whole population of the territory in question – including those expelled;
2) The right of self-determination should not be used by larger, stronger nations that already enjoy independent statehood, to expand their borders at the expense of smaller, weaker ones whose state would be consequently destroyed. Thus, although I sympathise with the Albanian minority in Macedonia, given its history of oppression and discrimination, I would not support its right to secede and join Albania or Kosova – simply because there are already two Albanian states in existence, because the Macedonians are a much smaller people than the Albanians, and because Macedonia would be unlikely to survive such an act of secession.
If anyone responds by saying that I have imposed too many qualifications, I would reply that democratic rights are never perfect or absolute. I support freedom of speech and expression – but not to inciters of racial violence or distributors of child pornography. I support freedom of assembly – but not for uniformed, private armies. I support freedom of the press – but not the freedom of newspapers to practice libel.
National self-determination, furthermore, is inherently imperfect – however one draws the borders, there are always likely to be some members of a particular nationality who are stuck on the wrong side. The very concept of majority-rule implies that someone has to be in the minority. The problem with national self-determination is in fact a problem with democracy itself.
Most of the objections to the idea of a right of nations to self-determination are made by people positing hypothetical, extreme cases – such as the supposed danger of a Muslim-majority part of London seceding, or the possibility of a ‘Kosovo in the Galilee’. One could oppose just about any democratic principle by citing hypothetical, worst-case scenarios.
The secession of a Muslim-majority part of London ? That’s a risk I’m prepared to live with. ☺
Rejecting false parallels: Why Kosovo is not South Ossetia (or Abkhazia or Transnistria or northern Cyprus…)
We are all familiar with a certain dishonest rhetorical tactic: the use of an argument that is objectively ridiculous and that the person making it knows is ridiculous, but that nevertheless can sound impressive to the ears of someone who does not pause to think twice about it. A good example is the claim that we should not recognise Kosovo’s independence lest it set off a chain reaction across the world, with secessionist territories rushing to follow Kosovo’s example by declaring independence. Former Serbian foreign minister Vuk Draskovic suggested these would include northern Cyprus, the Basque country, Corsica, Northern Ireland, Scotland, South Ossetia, Chechnya and Taiwan. A superficially more sophisticated older brother of this argument is the one made by Russian President Putin and his supporters: that if Kosovo is allowed unilaterally to secede from Serbia, the same right should be accorded to the Russian-backed breakaway territories of Abkhazia and South Ossetia (formally parts of Georgia) and Transnistria (formally part of Moldova). Both of these arguments are sophisms, and it is worth pausing for a moment to understand all the reasons why.
We can start by rejecting the obvious falsehood that recognising Kosovo’s independence without Serbia’s consent would be an irresponsible act of radicalism equivalent to Prometheus’s revealing the secret of fire to mankind or Pandora’s opening of the box. Unilateral declarations of independence – and unilateral recognition of the independence of secessionist territories by outside powers – are part and parcel of the modern world. It is enough to mention France’s recognition of the independence of the United States in 1778, Britain’s recognition of the independence of Bangladesh in 1972 and Germany’s recognition of the independence of Croatia in 1991 – all of them without the consent of the country against which the wars of American, Bangladeshi and Croatian independence had been fought. None of these actions led to global chaos. Recognising Kosovo’s independence without Serbia’s consent is hardly an action without precedent in international relations.
Nor is it true that the world is covered by dozens or hundreds of potentially separatist territories, all eagerly watching to see what happens with Kosovo before deciding whether themselves to follow its example. We know this is not true, because several of the territories that are usually cited – South Ossetia, Abkhazia, Transnistria and northern Cyprus, in particular - have already unilaterally seceded from their parent countries. The Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus formally declared independence in 1983, years before Kosovo attempted to secede from Serbia. Anyone with any knowledge of the chronology of historical events in greater south-eastern Europe knows perfectly well that the acts of secession in question were not in any way inspired by events in Kosovo. In the cases of South Ossetia, Abkhazia and Transnistria, the obvious precedent, in the eyes of the secessionist leaderships, was the secession of the constituent republics of the USSR, to which was coupled their own reluctance to be left in an independent Georgia or Moldova.
Secessionist leaderships, in other words, choose the precedents that suit them. Those South Ossetians, Abkhazians and Transnistrians seeking precedents can cite the recognised secession of Lithuania, Azerbaijan, Croatia, Montenegro, etc. If Kosovo is recognised, they will be able to cite Kosovo as well. But nobody should confuse rhetoric and propaganda with genuine motivation. And it is particularly comical to hear the Russian leadership voice its ‘fears’ of Kosovo setting a precedent, when it was the Russians whose military intervention enabled South Ossetia, Abkhazia and Transnistria to break away from Georgia and Moldova in the first place. That the Russians continued to support the secessionists in question while crushing Chechnya’s bid for independence should be enough for us to dispense with the illusion that their arguments over Kosovo have anything to do with principles over consistency and precedent-setting. They could, if they wish, respond to our recognition of Kosovo’s independence by recognising formally the independence of their Transnistrian and South Caucasian clients – as Turkey has recognised northern Cyprus - but nothing forces them to do this, certainly not their infinitely malleable ‘principles’.
This brings us to the question of whether Kosovo really is fundamentally different from those secessionist countries that we have already recognised – Slovenia, Croatia, Latvia, Georgia, Montenegro, etc. - and fundamentally similar to those we have not – South Ossetia, Abkhazia, Transnistria, Nagorno Karabakh, etc. The answer on both counts is, simply, no. Kosovo is different from the latter territories in terms of its status in the former federation to which it belonged: it was – like Croatia, Slovenia and the other former Yugoslav republics – a constituent member of the Yugoslav federation in its own right. By contrast, Abkhazia, South Ossetia and Nagorno Karabakh were not constituent members of the former Soviet Union. Transnistria was not even an autonomous entity at all. If one applies consistently the principle that all the members of the former federations of the USSR, Yugoslavia and Czechoslovakia should have the right to self-determination, then this right belongs to Kosovo.
Furthermore, when Kosovo joined Serbia in 1945, it did so formally of its own free will, by a vote of its provincial assembly. Kosovo was, before Slobodan Milosevic’s abrogation of its autonomy in the late 1980s, already effectively independent of Serbia, which was a composite republic consisting of the two autonomous provinces of Kosovo and Vojvodina and so-called ‘Serbia proper’ – each of which was a member of the Yugoslav federation in its own right, independently of the other two. There is absolutely no reason why the international community should, given the collapse of this federation, automatically assign Kosovo to the possession of an independent Serbia. Since Kosovo joined Serbia in 1945 on the understanding that it was simultaneously part of Yugoslavia, the only reasonable course of action would be to permit Kosovo’s assembly to decide what its status should be in the new circumstances. These new circumstances were, let us not forget, created by the leadership of Serbia’s deliberate and successful campaign to break up Yugoslavia and deprive all Yugoslavs – including the Kosovars – of their common homeland.
Not only is Kosovo not equivalent to Abkhazia, South Ossetia and Transnistria in legal and constitutional terms, but it is not equivalent to them in other respects either. With roughly two million people, Kosovo has a resident population roughly four times the size of Transnistria’s, ten times the size of Abkhazia’s and thirty times the size of South Ossetia’s. It has a larger population than several independent European states, including Estonia, Cyprus, Malta and Iceland (about five times the population of Malta and seven times the population of Iceland, in fact). Furthermore, Kosovo’s population is overwhelmingly Albanian and supportive of independence, and was so even before the exodus of non-Albanians following the Kosovo war in 1999.
By contrast, Abkhazia’s largest nationality was, until the ethnic cleansing operations of the early 1990s, the ethnic Georgians, who outnumbered ethnic Abkhaz by two and a half times, who comprised nearly half the population of Abkhazia and who oppose independence. In South Ossetia, ethnic Ossetians outnumbered ethnic Georgians by two-to-one; still, an independent South Ossetia would be considerably smaller in terms of population and territory than any independent European state except for mini-states like Monaco, Liechtenstein and San Marino. Were their independence recognised, Abkhazia and South Ossetia would in practice become parts of Russia; a vast state would thereby have expanded its borders at the expense of a much smaller state (Georgia). As for Transnistria, its population is somewhat larger than Abkhazia’s or South Ossetia’s, but Moldovans who oppose independence comprise the largest nationality, albeit outnumbered by non-Moldovans two-to-one. And as we noted above, Transnistria’s claim to independence on constitutional grounds is even weaker than Abkhazia’s or South Ossetia’s. One could make a case for the independence of any of these territories, but in terms of constitutional status, population size, national homogeneity and viability, Kosovo’s is by far the strongest.
Modern European history has witnessed the continual emergence of newly independent states that successfully secede from larger entities: roughly in chronological order, these have been Switzerland, Sweden, the Netherlands, Portugal, Greece, Belgium, Luxemburg, Serbia, Montenegro, Romania, Norway, Bulgaria, Albania, Poland, Finland, Czechoslovakia, Ireland, Iceland, Cyprus, Malta, Lithuania, Latvia, Estonia, Georgia, Armenia, Azerbaijan, Ukraine, Belarus, Slovenia, Croatia, Macedonia, Bosnia-Hercegovina, Slovakia, the Czech Republic and Montenegro (for the second time). There are, of course, many countries or nations that have failed to secede, or whose secession has not been recognised internationally. The merits of any particular claim to self-determination have to be judged on their own basis.
In supporting Kosovo’s independence, both justice and as many precedents as we care to pick will be on our side. And we can safely ignore the sophisms put forward by hostile governments against us.
This article was published yesterday on the website of the Henry Jackson Society.
- Basque Country
- Central Europe
- East Timor
- European Union
- Faroe Islands
- Former Soviet Union
- Former Yugoslavia
- Marko Attila Hoare
- Middle East
- Political correctness
- Red-Brown Alliance
- South Ossetia
- The Left