Unless Russia changes course – which seems unlikely anytime soon – the global consequences are apt to be grave. The US and the European Union will impose sanctions, weakening Russia’s economy and the world economy – and stoking even more tension and nationalism. Mistakes on one side or the other could lead to violent disaster. We need only to recall the spiral of hubris and miscalculation that led to the outbreak of World War I, a century ago this year.
As frightening as the Ukraine crisis is, the more general disregard of international law in recent years must not be overlooked. Without diminishing the seriousness of Russia’s recent actions, we should note that they come in the context of repeated violations of international law by the US, the EU, and NATO. Every such violation undermines the fragile edifice of international law, and risks throwing the world into a lawless war of all against all.
The US and its allies have also launched a series of military interventions in recent years in contravention of the United Nations Charter and without the support of the UN Security Council. The US-led NATO bombing of Serbia in 1999 lacked the sanction of international law, and occurred despite the strong objections of Russia, a Serbian ally. Kosovo’s subsequent declaration of independence from Serbia, recognized by the US and most EU members, is a precedent that Russia eagerly cites for its actions in Crimea. The ironies are obvious.
The Kosovo War was followed by the US-led wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, both of which occurred without the support of the Security Council, and in the case of Iraq, despite vigorous objections within it. The results for both Afghanistan and Iraq have been utterly devastating…
One can add many other US actions, including drone strikes on the territory of sovereign states without their governments’ permission; covert military operations; renditions and torture of terror suspects; and massive spying by the US National Security Agency. When challenged by other countries or UN organizations, the US has brushed aside their objections.
International law itself is at a crossroads. The US, Russia, the EU, and NATO cite it when it is to their advantage and disregard it when they deem it a nuisance. Again, this is not to justify Russia’s unacceptable actions; rather, it is to add them to the sequence of actions contrary to international law.
The point of this post is not to endorse Jeffrey Sachs’ particular analysis of any piece of history. Though I often agree — I sometimes disagree. The man has spent a creative political life in a quest for regional and global solutions to the problems politicians continue to create, re-invent.
His understanding of the benefits of International Law is one that isn’t challenged by anyone short of the sort of self-assured maniacs we have managed to throw up from one or another crisis-demented country every couple of generations. Some are obvious threats from the beginning of their political careers. Some – unfortunately – have spent sufficient time in academia, finance or the upper strata of class society to ooze calm and deadly solutions worthy of Solomon or Kissinger or Churchill. Butter wouldn’t melt in their mouths.
We continue to die to satisfy their vision of political economy, nationalism and this week’s omelet.
The Crimean parliament has voted to join Russia, with the Ukraine region’s deputy prime minister saying the decree was effective immediately and that Russian soldiers are the only legitimate forces in Crimea.
The parliament unanimously adopted a motion on Thursday for the strategic peninsula to join the Russian Federation…
The Crimea parliament also said a referendum on the region’s status was being brought forward to from March 30 to March 16. Temirgaliev said there would be two questions on the ballot.
“The first: Are you in favor of Crimea becoming a constituent territory of the Russian Federation. The second: Are you in favor of restoring Crimea’s 1992 constitution.” According to the 1992 constitution, Crimea is part of Ukraine but has relations with Kiev.
However, Al Jazeera’s Hoda Hamid, reporting from Sevastopol, said there were serious questions about the legitimacy of the parliament and prime minister.
“The prime minister came to power arguably at gunpoint when the parliament was taken over,” she said. “Then there is a question of legitimacy in the constitution, which says parliament cannot take such a decision…”
As opposed to the democratic thumbs up or thumbs down of insurgents occupying Independence Square in Kiev which validated the current Ukrainian Parliament, eh?
The Crimea parliament, which is afforded some autonomy under current Ukrainian law, voted 78 – 0 with eight abstentions in favour of holding the referendum.
The US president, Barack Obama, meanwhile issued an executive order on Thursday saying that Russia’s involvement in Crimea constituted “an unusual and extraordinary threat to the national security and foreign policy of the United States”.
While Putin has about the same level of moral authority in global politics as, say, Dick Cheney, he foretold occurrences like the Crimean move to regain independence from Ukraine when the UN and the US recognized Kosovo. For, regardless of the historic circumstances leading to the move for independence, the context is much the same, e.g., a single ethnicity being the majority of a region and then taking that region into secession.
Nations, even states, which prate about democracy find themselves with their nickers bunched over this question time and again. The LDS Church, American Mormons, were forced to resettle from state-to-state until they picked up and moved to faraway Utah to live their own lives. The US Constitution was ignored by their Midwestern Christian neighbors who said they had a moral imperative to keep Mormons from voting. Still, the LDS hierarchy had to revise their ideology to join the union of the United States of America. And they had no Mormon next-door neighbor to acquire their new state. Kosovo, for example, has Albania – should they so choose. Crimea has Russia.
Again and again, the motivations for secession are often grounded either in hopes for profit – so many of my nationalist friends in Scotland; freedom from ethnic suppression – La Raza in the American Southwest or the Quebecois in Canada; or truly reactionary hatred – today’s Tea Party Confederates mostly in the American South but anywhere else that harbors militia-level paranoia.
Only the egregious deny the likelihood of Crimea voting to claim full independence from Ukraine, tried previously in 1992, and rejoin Russia. Crimea returned over 70% vote for Janukovych in the last election. Their joining to Ukraine was a welfare check to Kiev, payment from the Soviet Black Sea navy. Uncle Sugar will make up that welfare check and more until – and unless – some future election involving all of Ukraine displeases Washington. When Catholic western Ukraine decides it really is Poland…and Russian-speaking eastern Ukraine prefers independence from the west.
Then, we can play the same game all over again.
In many of these nations, from Scotland to Ukraine, I have old friends and relatives on both sides of the individual questions. Depending a lot on their influence on this old brain, my own position may fluctuate. I try to stick to whatever fits within my understanding of political economy. For a more detailed relation of the history of the Balkans and everything east of the Danube, I’d suggest wandering through Ina Vukic’ blog.
The 2014 Arizona ballot will include a referendum on whether voters or lawmakers should opt to withhold resources supporting federal policies, officials said.
The as-yet-untitled measure, if approved, would permit the voters or the Legislature in Phoenix to decide on a case-by-case basis whether Arizona should withhold personnel or other resources needed to carry out a federal policy on matters ranging from national forest road closures to highway construction to air-pollution…
State Sen. Chester Crandell, R-Heber, said.”It’s not defying the federal government. It’s saying, ‘We’re not going to help you…’”
Crandell also was the main advocate of last year’s Proposition 120, which proposed declaring Arizona sovereign over all land, air, water, wildlife, minerals and natural resources within its boundaries. Had it passed, it effectively would have nullified the federal government’s control over the 45 percent of the state that is federal land, but voters rejected the measure 68 percent to 32 percent.
Arizona is known as the Mississippi of the West for many reasons. Notably racial and ethnic bigotry. But, the idjit vote concentrated in the Tea Party/Republican Party is perfectly willing to latch onto almost anything that sounds truly stupid.
Photograph: Xan Rice for the Guardian
The freedom suit is tan, single-breasted and has three buttons. It hangs in Charles Mamur’s tent, covered by a black bag to protect it from the dust that blows in from the dirt streets of South Sudan’s capital, Juba.
Mamur bought the suit two years ago for about £50 but he has never worn it. He was keeping it for a special occasion, a time that he had dreamed of since the day nearly 50 years ago when, as a 10-year-old boy, he took up arms against the Arab government in Khartoum in the north.
“I never believed that the moment of freedom would come,” Mamur, 58, said this week, unzipping the bag to show off his suit, as well as the yellow tie and black shoes he picked to go with it. “But I wanted to be well dressed if it did.”
The moment has now arrived. At around noon on Saturday in the swelter of Juba, a besuited Mamur will be among tens of thousands of South Sudanese and foreign dignitaries, including the British foreign secretary, William Hague, and the UN secretary general, Ban Ki-moon, who will watch as the flag of Sudan is lowered. Then, a giant South Sudan flag, six metres by four metres, will be raised on a 32-metre electronically operated flagpole that was installed this week by Chinese contractors who claim it is the tallest on the continent.
Six years after the end of Africa’s longest-running civil war – and one of its deadliest – its largest country will be officially split in two. The Arab-dominated north under President Omar al-Bashir will remain Sudan, only with much less territory and oil. The ethnically African, non-Muslim south, governed by former rebel Salva Kiir, will become the 193rd country to join the United Nations – the Republic of South Sudan.
RTFA. Long and filled with anecdotes from the history of this struggle for independence.
Scholars and students of history can step back and analyze the pros and cons of secession, of independence for nations from another. There are historic definitions – and damned few reasonable, successful examples.
As a general rule, I rarely support the politics behind secession. This time, I think the joy of self-rule will be worth the political toil that follows the bitter civil war that preceded the founding of the nation of South Sudan.
Arizona – the Mississippi of the West
One of the most radical offshoots of modern conservatism in the United States is called “tentherism,” which invokes the Constitution’s Tenth Amendment to claim that a whole host of federal government powers are illegitimate, from the operations of the Social Security program to the national highway system, and that states are supreme.
During a speech at the Oceanside Tea Party rally in recent months, Arizona State Senate President Russell Pearce (R) took this philosophy to a new extreme. In the speech, where he denounced the federal government’s efforts to stop the implementation of the state’s radical anti-immigrant law, Pearce claimed that Americans aren’t even citizens of the United States, that they are rather citizens of “sovereign states,” meaning that we should be loyal to the laws of individual states rather than the federal government…
It’s ironic that Pearce says that it’s “time somebody gets its right” with respect to the Constitution — because he doesn’t. While it may not need to be said that Americans are, of course, citizens of the United States, if the Arizona state senator is confused about this issue he could always reference the very document he cites. The 14th Amendment of the constitution lays out very plainly that all people born in the United States are citizens of the United States…
And if Pearce actually read the Constitution, he would also see that it clearly trumps state law and “shall be the supreme Law of the Land; and the Judges in every State shall be bound thereby.”
Like most of the dimwits prancing around under secessionist flags and gun-powered foolishness, these gutless wonders dedicate every chance they get to bad-mouthing democracy and the rule of law – until they need a helping hand. Then the handout becomes their bible until the next election cycle, of course.
Ali Osman Mohamed Taha, Sudan’s vice president, has said that he accepts the oil-producing south’s split after the first official results showed a 99 per cent vote for independence in a referendum hoping to end a bitter cycle of civil war.
“We announce our agreement and our acceptance of the result of the referendum announced yesterday.
“We wish our brothers in the south good luck and a fruitful future in organising the issues surrounding the new country.” said Taha on Monday.
The comments end speculation that hard-line elements in the Khartoum government would delay recognition of the referendum to garner leverage ahead of talks on how to divide the country’s assets and liabilities.
Taha negotiated the 2005 accord with southern rebel leader John Garang who died three weeks after taking office in the coalition government formed under the deal.
The south is now looking to the international community to recognise its independence, which will likely happen once the final results are confirmed next month…
“The vote for separation was 99.57 per cent,” Chan Reek Madut, the deputy head of the commission organising the vote, told cheering crowds on Sunday in the first official announcement of preliminary results…
Madut said voter turnout in the south was also 99 per cent. He said more than 60 per cent of eligible voters turned out in the country’s north, 58 per cent of whom voted for secession.
Bravo. Decades overdue.
The truthful part of the commemoration
Daylife/AP Photo used by permission
What is the appropriate way to mark the 150th anniversary of the political beginning of the American civil war? For about 300 people from Charleston, South Carolina, it seemed the best commemoration was a gala ball replete with champagne, period dress and dancing.
A ballroom full of white guests gathered last night, each paying $100, to mark the anniversary of 20 December 1860, the day that South Carolina became the first state in the US to declare secession from the Union in order to protect the right to slavery.
The evening began with a theatrical depiction of the secession convention in which 169 of the state’s politicians voted unanimously to break with the Union and declare independence. The show ended with a rousing speech in which the show’s narrator proclaimed: “The spirit of the south still stands. The spirit of freedom and honour gets passed from one generation to the next…”
“For us the secession is not about a racial issue,” said Michael Givens, the commander-in-chief of the Sons of Confederate Veterans, which sponsored the event. “We are not celebrating slavery, we are celebrating the courage and the tenacity of the people who were prepared to go out and defend their homes.”
But outside the ballroom a crowd of about 150 protesters convened by the largest civil rights group in America, the NAACP, had a very different take on the proceedings. “What would happen if Japanese Americans decided to have a ball to celebrate Pearl Harbour?” Rev Nelson Rivers asked the protesters. “Or if German Americans celebrated the Holocaust? For African Americans tonight, that is exactly what’s happening here.”
White Americans work really hard at ignoring the history of slavery and the institutionalized racism that followed emancipation. Though many fought hard to support the fight for civil rights, it never was part of mainstream American politics.
Though representatives of both of the tweedledeedum parties supported the struggle – mostly urbane Democrats – much American political history since the passage of the Civil Rights Act has been characterized by the mantle of racism taken over by the national Republicans – from southern Democrats.
The border between Georgia and Russia has been the driest of tinder; the only question was where the fire would start.
It’s scarcely clear yet how things will stand between the two when the smoke clears. But it’s safe to say that while Russia has a massive advantage in firepower, Georgia, an open, free-market, more-or-less-democratic nation that sees itself as a distant outpost of Europe, enjoys a decisive rhetorical and political edge. In recent conversations there, President Saakashvili compared Georgia to Czechoslovakia in 1938, trusting the West to save it from a ravenous neighbor. “If Georgia fails,” he said to me darkly two months ago, “it will send a message to everyone that this path doesn’t work.”
Georgians are a melodramatic people, and few more so than their hyperactive president; but they have good reason to fear the ambitions, and the wrath, of a rejuvenated Russia seeking to regain lost power.
A senior American official said that while the United States and Russia have common interests, Russia has become “a revisionist and aggressive power,” and the West “has to be prepared to push back.” But the Bush administration also recognizes that Russia has legitimate security interests, and that Saakashvili has played a dangerous game of baiting the Russian bear. Officials were laboring into the weekend — in vain, they feared — to coax both sides back to their corners. For much of the diplomatic and policy-making world, the border where Georgia faces Russia, with South Ossetia and Abkhazia between them, has become a new cold war frontier.
In a slightly more recent article:
Georgia has said its troops have pulled out of the breakaway region of South Ossetia and that Russian forces are in control of its capital, Tskhinvali.