Territorial integrity norms

by Henry on August 11, 2008

So I have a quite different take on the broader geo-politics of the Russia-Georgia conflict than either “Matt Yglesias”:http://yglesias.thinkprogress.org/archives/2008/08/georgia_on_my_mind.php (in “new digs”:http://yglesias.thinkprogress.org/ – update blogroll accordingly) or “Steve Clemons”:http://www.thewashingtonnote.com/archives/2008/08/georgiarussia_c/. Clemons:

much of what we are seeing unfold between Russia and Georgia involves a high quotient of American culpability. When Kosovo declared independence and the US and other European states recognized it — thus sidestepping Russia’s veto in the United Nations Security Council — many of us believed that the price for Russian cooperation in other major global problems just went much higher and that the chance of a clash over Georgia’s breakaway border provinces increased dramatically. By pushing Kosovo the way the US did and aggravating nationalist sensitivities, Russia could in reaction be rationally expected to further integrate and cultivate South Ossetia and Abkhazia under de facto Russian control and pull these provinces that border Russia away from the state of Georgia. At the time, there was word from senior level sources that Russia had asked the US to stretch an independence process for Kosovo over a longer stretch of time — and tie to it some process of independence for the two autonomous Georgia provinces. In exchange, Russia would not veto the creation of a new state of Kosovo at the Security Council. The U.S. rejected Russia’s secret entreaties and instead rushed recognition of Kosovo and said damn the consequences.


In a broader sense Steve Clemons raises the good point that the government of Russia made it pretty clear that if the United States recognized Kosovo’s unilateral declaration of independence from Serbia over Russian objections that Russia would retaliate by stepping up support for separatists in Abkhazia and South Ossetia. This doesn’t seem to have given any of Georgia’s outspoken friends in the United States any pause. Indeed, strong pro-Georgian views in the U.S. media and foreign policy community correlate heavily with strong pro-Kosovo views. This highlights the fact that the underlying issue here is simply a disposition to take a dim view of Moscow and to favor aggressive policies to roll back Russian influence rather than some kind of deep and sincerely felt desire to help Georgia.

Now I’m not too keen on the ‘brave little Georgia’ crowd myself, but neither of these seems to me to be right. Steve, who’s a realist, doesn’t seem to me to be providing a realist enough take on Russia’s motivations, while Matt seems to be soft-pedalling his liberal internationalism. There are many ways to interpret what’s been happening over the last few days, but one important part of the explanation is an argument over norms, and specifically the relationship between the norms of territorial integrity and self determination, that has been playing out since the end of the Cold War. [click to continue…]