Wednesday, August 13, 2008

Georgia and the Sovereignty Principle

So the Washington Post is giving a platform to people who don't understand what sovereignty means but talk about it anyway, while the Wall Street Journal says the conflict has put the UN Security Council in "Cold War mode."

I feel necessary to explain how stupid all of this is. First, for Njoroge Wachai's piece likening Zimbabwe to Georgia... Zimbabwe is an internal issue. Georgia is a battle between sovereign states over territory whose status is in dispute. These conflicts have zilch in common. Georgia is clearly an issue that falls under the Security Council's purview, and Zimbabwe pretty clearly isn't.

So why isn't the Council taking action on Georgia? Well, as the Journal points out, Russia is blocking such action. But let's turn it around for a second. When the Council was deadlocked on the US invasion on Iraq, or when the US blocked any Council action on the Israeli-Hezbollah war in August 2006, which allowed the two sides to inflict punishing airstrikes and rocket attacks on each other for 34 days with no result, this wasn't "Cold War mode." The fact is that, thanks to the veto power, when a great power is directly involved in a conflict, of course the Council's ability to take action is limited. This is the price of the veto power, which was necessary to bring the US and Russia into the UN in the first place.

The whole point of the Sovereignty Principle is that countries control their territory, and the international system exists to defend free sovereign states against aggressors. But who is the aggressor in the Russia-Georgia case? Both sides have been goading each other for years, and finally Georgia invaded the disputed territory of South Ossetia, which was patrolled by Russian peacekeepers, and where much of the population has been granted Russian citizenship. No powerful country on earth would not respond to something like this. As I argued previously on this page, South Ossetia and Kosovo have a lot in common. Was it "Cold War mode" when the US and European countries recognized Kosovo's independence? No? Then calm down. As for the airstrikes and attacks in Georgia proper, the US did precisely the same thing in Serbia during the Kosovo action in 1999. Was that "Cold War mode"? No? Then calm down.

The real threat to sovereignty at this point is if Russia decides it has the authority to remove the leadership in Tbilisi. The US and EU have done a good job of standing up for Georgia's sovereignty, while not overplaying their hand and making demands about the future of the disputed provinces. Is Russia very much in favor of Saakashvili stepping down? Yes. Have they said they will remove him? No, quite the opposite. Have they occupied Tbilisi and deposed Saakasvhili? No. Wake me up when that happens, because until then, this is just a bloody territory spat, and nobody's sovereignty is in long-term danger.

Sovereignty! Live it!

No comments: