A Pariah State

Today Vladimir Putin signed a treaty with the self-styled independent government of Crimea, annexing Crimea to Russia. I did not see this coming. It is an unprecedented deviation from the post-World War 2 international norm that force and the threat of force shall not be used for conquest. Article 2 of the United Nations Charter states: “All Members shall refrain in their international relations from the threat or use of force against the territorial integrity or political independence of any state, or in any other manner inconsistent with the Purposes of the United Nations.” When Saddam Hussein invaded and annexed Kuwait to Iraq, the UN Security Council swiftly and unanimously approved sanctions, and when Hussein did not withdraw, authorized the use of force to expel his forces. Other de facto annexations have happened — Russia has occupied Abkhazia, South Ossetia, and Transnistria, and Armenia has occupied Nagorno-Karabakh — but in none of these cases has annexation been formalized. There have been other conflicts over disputed territory — China-India, Somalia-Ethiopia, and Britain-Argentina, for instance — but in all these cases there was a legitimate dispute over proper ownership of the territories involved. By contrast, Russia had previously guaranteed to respect the territorial integrity of Ukraine, in exchange for obtaining the latter’s nuclear weapons. Finally, all secessions between 1945 and 2007 were widely recognized only with the consent (however begrudging) of the rump state. Kosovo’s independence was an important — some would say “dangerous” — deviation from this pattern in 2008.

Russia’s annexation of Crimea therefore sets a dangerous new precedent. It threatens to return the world to an environment in which the “strong do what they can, and the weak suffer what they must,” with adverse repercussions not just for Russia and Ukraine, but for the whole world. Russia under Putin bids fair to become a pariah state.

8 thoughts on “A Pariah State

  1. Why didn’t you see this coming? Lots in Crimea want to be Russian; Obama’s got America looking like a bunch of wusses. While this annexation may be suspiciously swift,I can’t paint it with the same brush as Hussein’s actions since I don’t recall Kuwait voting on whether they wanted to become part of Iraq.

  2. Once the Russian “volunteers” entered Crimea it was clear Russia would annex it. The pity is they almost certainly rigged the election (given the high percentage “yes” vote) where they could probably have run an honest election with the same result.

    Beyond the simple Crimea vote, this is scary. Mr. Putin is testing the West, and so far has determined that the EU and US will cave in when he annexes a bit of territory. Not sure this will end up in a major war, but given the time since WWII we may be due for one.

    1. So long as Putin doesn’t go on an annexation rampage (Transnistria, e.g.) or invade eastern Ukraine, I doubt a major war will happen. Still, the precedent these actions set will have bad consequences for the long term, especially for small countries.

  3. Sorry, Professor Sorens, but you’re wrong. There is one “pariah state” in the present day, or, more precisely, one powerful rogue state, and it isn’t Russia, it’s our own. It’s the United States that invades and bombs countries at will, and it’s our President, no other world leader, who claims the right to assassinate anyone anywhere he sees fit to kill. The U.S. subverts countries that don’t fall in line, or tries to, in the case of Ukraine; the facts are easily available, at the libertarian sites LewRockwell.com and antiwar.com, and elsewhere. As it fights its global “war on terrorism,” the U.S. government is in the process of destroying what constitutional rights remain to us. Ron Paul is exactly right: that’s what should concern us, and not a squabble over some territory half a world away.

    1. As scholars, we should take interest in events around the world. The U.S. government shares part of the blame for causing Russia to be so paranoid about its interests, chiefly through NATO expansion and the forcible dismemberment of Serbia, Russia’s close ally. But all the same, Russia has violated a fundamental norm of international law and will be ostracized by the rest of the international community as a result. The analysis I’m giving here is fundamentally positive rather than normative.

      The U.S. government has made many mistakes, but it’s empirically not a pariah state, presumably because it is sufficiently powerful and status quo-oriented to be a useful ally for many, many other governments.

    2. It was a “squabble over some territory half a world away” that started WWI and WWII. Fortunately, the U.S. got its blinders off in time to do something. While I agree the home front needs the lion’s share of our attention, we can’t be turning a blind eye (or in Obama’s case, paying lip-service to empty threats) towards the rest of the world.

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