Archive for August 11th, 2008

Monday, August 11, 2008

Are borders in Europe to be sacrosanct for ever?

It has been one of the rules of post-war Europe – borders cannot be changed except by agreement, as say in Czechoslovakia. Perhaps this rule has been applied too inflexibly. Yet governments like that of Georgia are reluctant to give up any territory, even when the local population is so clearly hostile and might be in that state simply as a result of some past arbitrary decision.


Alliances must not be entered into lightly or unadvisedly. If Georgia had been in Nato, what would have happened?

Paul Reynolds, “Early lessons from South Ossetia Conflict”, BBC »

Monday, August 11, 2008

South Ossetia, Tibet, and Xinjiang

Criticise Russia’s action – or reaction – during the Ossetia crisis of recent days while talking with a Russian national, and you may get more than one response from him or her. But one tit-for-tat will almost certainly come into play: “Maybe you will think more carefully next time before recognizing statehood of another territory, like you did with Kosovo.”

One can’t consider the Russian “peace keepers” in South Ossetia impartial. But most South Ossetians probably don’t see their future within Georgia. I don’t buy Russian comparisons between Kosovo and South Ossetia, but if a majority of people wants to go, one can try to hold the territory – but in the long run, that will probably lead to an entanglement of crime and permanent repression. It may be useful to wait and see how far Russia is ready to go – to “liberate” South Ossetia and have them join the Russian federation would come at the cost of Russia’s own plausibility. And apparently, Russia’s government sees that.

Someone who doesn’t appreciate the collective Han Chinese stance on Tibet and Xinjiang shouldn’t support a Georgian idea that South Ossetia should, by all means, remain Georgian. If the price for “unity and territorial integrity” is state crime and mass repression, to let go looks like a much better choice. In the end, what people on the ground want must count – not what a central government thinks would fit into its picture.

The wide-spread European opposition to pushing Georgian [NATO] membership earlier this year was the usual desire to stay out of trouble. Although that was hardly a desire driven by a sense of justice, it was probably still right to block president Bush’s initiative to import a border conflict into the allicance. No Western country should sacrify sacrifice lives for keeping Georgia and South Ossetia together. I’m wondering if Georgia should sacrifice lives for such a goal.

How far this sad story will go is up to Georgia, too. It should show some respect for the South Ossetians, no matter to which side it will turn in the end. After all, no rule will be accepted without that kind of respect anyway. Once Georgia’s borders are defined, NATO should invite the country in. If Georgia shows no interest then, so much the better. NATO expansion should not be justified with Western security interests. Those don’t require its alliance’s expansion.

But if sovereign states with open societies consider it in their interest to join, NATO’s doors should be open. And Russia shouldn’t complain. Its own, rigid stance on “territorial integrity”, just as China’s, is in itself the best explanation as to why the North Atlantic alliance looks so attractive to so many nations that want to be – and remain – free.

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