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Happy Birthday South Ossetia and Abkhazia,

a pair of darling twins, though a bit on the small side (populations 70,000 and 250,000 respectively), and perhaps not with a terribly appealing prognosis. In fact, one might wonder whether they have really been born. Russia has recognized them as independent states; the rest of the world considers them provinces of Georgia. They do have de facto independence. What are we to make of this situation?

For one thing, we can look at their elder sibling, Kosovo. Recognized by western countries but not by Russia or China, it declared independence from Serbia in 2008. Russia has made much of this precedent. "If you can decide that Kosovo is a state over our objections, we can decide that South Ossetia is a state over yours!"

International law has little to say about the creation of states. From time to time, one hears statements that a population can obtain statehood if it controls a territory, can have legal relations with other states, and so forth, but in fact statehood is determined by other states, in a recursive process, and when other states can't agree, there are serious problems. Suppose, for example, that the United States would like to persuade the people living in South Ossetia to join an anti-moneylaundering effort. Should it ask South Ossetia to join a treaty? But only states can enter treaties! Should it make a treaty with Georgia? But Georgia can't control the South Ossetians! The United States would like to help Georgia get control over the South Ossetians, but if this doesn't happen -- and it doesn't seem likely -- it will have to eventually bow to reality and recognize South Ossetia as an independent state, or -- to the confusion of all -- treat it like a state without calling it that.

People should be more worried than they are by the fragmentation of states. Consider that shortly after World War II, there were around 60 states. Today, there are almost 200 (depending on how one counts quasi-states like Kosovo, and weird cases like Taiwan, which everyone has agreed is both a state (because it clearly has independence) and that is not a state (to mollify China), and there are even stranger beasts). A lot of this increase is due to decolonization, but in recent years, the main cause has been, essentially, ethnic separatism. Because ethnic groups are mixed together, ethnic separatism is a recipe for civil war, ethnic cleansing, and worse. And because most ethnic groups are tiny, the resulting nation states can be too small to govern themselves -- Kosovo is an example, again. They either become failed states, magnets for terrorists and drug smugglers, or wards of powerful states or what is mischievously called the "international community."

The more states there are, the harder it will be for them to cooperate -- a worry for those concerned with world-scale problems such as climate change and international terrorism. And because international law rests on the cooperative efforts of states themselves, fragmentation may further weaken international law, to the detriment of all.

TGGP (mail) (www):
I think the warnings Adam Smith gave about the cooperation of tradesmen applies even moreso to states. I applaud the rise in the number of states and wish for there to be far more. Here's to 50 new independent republics!
8.26.2008 4:44pm
bornyesterday (mail) (www):
I wonder how many nations are officially recognized by all other officially recognized nations.
8.26.2008 4:46pm
Angus:
To draw a parallel from history, the United States was recognized by zero countries from the beginning of its war in 1775 until 1777 and early 1778 when our declaration of independence was recognized by Morocco and then France. Essentially it was France's strength that forced Great Britain to the table and made them accept U.S. independence.

Ossetia and Abkhazia have now gotten recognition from a foreign power that seeks to affirm their declarations of independence from Georgia.

I'm not naive. Russia is clearly not doing this out of altruism. However, I don't think that invalidates what looks to be a clear case of two provinces that emphatically want to secede, have fought Georgia to a draw since 1991, and now have backing to successfully hold off Georgia for good.
8.26.2008 4:49pm
Displaced Midwesterner:
One of these newborn babies at least is going to have serious development problems and will never be able to actually live on its own. And both are going to have issues over the years with their abusive, drunken parent.

South Ossetia is simply too small and devoid of assets and natural resources to ever be truly independent. Abkhazia in theory could survive as an independent state. Russia, though, is of course not actually interested in anything resembling independence for either.

It is an interesting question whether the proliferation of little states is a problem for international law. On the one hand, more states make it harder to get a consensus on treaties and such as you mention, and creates more possibilities of divergent legal regimes and easily captured polities that can be exploited by organized crime and terrorism. On the other hand, when a region of a state is de facto not under the control of that state you have the same problem with regards to multiplicity, with the further problem of a thorny dilemma over how to treat the region. You note this, but I think it tends to cut against the conclusion that fragmentation weakens international law. To this I would also add that smaller states at times can be more willing to obey international law (at least on most issues--like any state, when IL threatens a core interest of the state, things are different). I suppose in a sense less fragmentation is better for IL, because at the country level we can claim that IL is, for instance, recognized by most states, while treating the problems of a secessionist region as a domestic, internal matter, and therefore not a threat to IL. But that seems like too much of a shell game.

I think fragmentation may actually turn out to be determintal to IL, but it is not really clear that this would necessarily be the case.
8.26.2008 4:50pm
alkali (mail):
Jean Marie Guehenno pointed out some time ago in his book The End Of The Nation-State that the growing significance of multilateral treaties made fragmentation of states convenient: just sign up with the WTO, use the dollar or the euro as your currency, and you have a state.
8.26.2008 4:55pm
Wince and Nod (mail) (www):
Too small to govern themselves? I don't believe it. Neither the Greek city states or the more recent Italian city states were too small to govern themselves. I like small government. Small state - small government. The problem isn't small government. The problem is bad government.

Yours,
Wince
8.26.2008 4:55pm
Sam Draper (mail):
Isnt't South Ossetia just going to join Russia?
8.26.2008 5:01pm
Norman Bates (mail):
A nation is a people with a common culture. A state is a political entity with an absolute monopoly on the legitimate use of force within its borders. Things work best when nation and state are congruent. Lincoln recognized this in his Gettysburg Address which hopefully refered to the USA as a "nation" multiple times.

A major problem in the current world is the fact that many states comprise multiple nations and many nations are split among multiple states. Perhaps the Great War won't be over until this situation is resolved in some way; even, perhaps, by redefining the significance and powers of the state.
8.26.2008 5:03pm
Angus:

Isn't South Ossetia just going to join Russia?
Most likely, yes, rejoining bordering North Ossetia which is a part of Russia. An independent Ossetia is a transitional stage much like the "Republic of Texas" went through from 1836-1845 while petitioning to join the United States.
8.26.2008 5:06pm
JB:
Wince and Nod,
The Greek and Italian city-states had (a) no neighbors bigger than themselves, and (b) no technological benefits to larger size.

(a) is of course vitiated by Persia, Macedonia, and Rome, but since the latter two conquered and the first was held off by a federation, I think they're exceptions that prove the rule.

Ossetia could govern itself in the traditional way, but the standard of living would be low which would invite corruption, smuggling, gang rule, and wholesale theft of whatever international aid managed to arrive—the result being far worse for your average Ossetian than being part of Russia or Georgia.
8.26.2008 5:12pm
Angus:
Another angle often overlooked in all of this is that there is a strong element of payback to all of this. Georgia tried to give Russia a poke in the 1990s by recognizing Chechnya's independence for a time, plus providing safe haven for Chechnyan rebels in Georgia, before ultimately reconsidering.

There is a lot of old and new bad blood between Georgia and Russia, and neither party are the good guys.
8.26.2008 5:13pm
zippypinhead:
Russia, though, is of course not actually interested in anything resembling independence for either.
Which is the crux of the problem. The cynic might argue this is simply the first step an an effort to reassemble the Soviet empire, round II.

Does size matter in whether you're a successful state? The classical internationalist answer would be "no," provided you have some comparative advantage to exploit. Singapore, Luxembourg, and several other viable microstates suggest that you can make a viable go of it without any particular minimium scale. But South Ossetia and Abkhazia? They strike me as mere Bear food...
8.26.2008 5:17pm
Brian Mac:
Is there a consensus that there's a correlation between the size of a state and it's economic / political prosperity, and on what that correlation is?
8.26.2008 5:19pm
Pashley (mail):
There are two different aspects of this problem.

One is the creation of nations that are ethno or cultural centric. This is the curse of the Wilson Presidency in its efforts to tear apart the Austro-Hungarian empire. There is no such thing as national purity, there is a majority and repressed minorities, however each party is define, mixed together in population, economic ties as well as location, and ethnic nationalism turns into a destructive tornado striking at whomever it will. You should always view the creation of ethnocentric states with foreboding.

The second is security. Large states are created because security forces that decision on them. Inversely, states will be as small and as local as the security situation allows. American military supremacy is the hothouse allowing the growth of small states in the late 20th century.
8.26.2008 5:26pm
Bill Poser (mail) (www):
Angus,

Why was it so bad for Georgia to support Chechny against Russia? I grant that this gives Russia a grudge against Georgia, but Chechnya had quite legitimate reasons for wanting out of the the Empire. Chechnya has deservedly lost a lot of sympathy due to the terrorist tactics it has employed, but that doesn't change the fact that the Chechens have a very different culture, language, and history from the Russians and good reasons for not wanting to be part of a corrupt, undemocratic, jingoist Russian state.
8.26.2008 5:28pm
PLR:
Why was it so bad for Georgia to support Chechny against Russia?

I think the suggestion is that it was tactically bad, not intrinsically evil.
8.26.2008 5:41pm
Dick Clark (mail) (www):
This libertarian is looking forward to the day when there will be six billion sovereign entities, all engaging each other in the market in mutually beneficial exchange.

Do we really so doubt the market that we believe we need international law in order to insure that international trade goes on? What silliness! The international black market continues to flourish as never before in spite of government restrictions or even outright prohibition on the trafficked goods.

The benefits that flow from the division and specialization of labor are all that is required to inspire international trade. Smaller states are typically weaker states, and weaker states will find it much more difficult to institute protectionist tariffs and other counterproductive market barriers.
8.26.2008 6:02pm
Scott Scheule (mail) (www):
This libertarian, however, is skeptical.
8.26.2008 6:03pm
BruceM (mail) (www):
Can someone explain to me why we, in the West, would be against a country being given its independence from a larger country, when that's clearly what the people living there want? It's not like Georgia is a country which the USA has given BFF status and the breakaway country is full of satanist-communists.
8.26.2008 6:06pm
Ohgoodgrief (mail):
Might makes Right???

History is filled with revolutions and their outcomes. Though I can't recall the author or the exact aphorism, someone said: History is written by the victors; people who succeed in their revolution are called founding fathers, the losers are called traitors. (close enough, I think.)

We, here in the US like things clean and neat. One only has to look to the African continent to see how most of the rest of the world thinks.
8.26.2008 6:17pm
Jeff R.:

Isnt't South Ossetia just going to join Russia?


The problem with that is that we have, post WWII, a general principle that (despite the facts on the ground in many places) no state ought to be able to extend its borders as the result of a war. There may be a minor exception for purely defensive wars, but certainly not for offensive or coming-to-the-aid-of-the-oppressed-locals-type wars.

One notes that nobody is seriously considering allowing Albania to annex Kosovo even though that would otherwise make quite a bit of sense and be quite popular with the people in both places.

South Osstia could probably get away with joining up with an also-independent North Osstia, but pigs will reach orbit before Russia would allow that prerequisite, I'd think.
8.26.2008 6:23pm
PLR:
Can someone explain to me why we, in the West, would be against a country being given its independence from a larger country, when that's clearly what the people living there want?

The Kurdish part of Iraq sure has lot of oil under the ground relative to central Iraq.

Oops, sorry. What was the question again? Secession? I think the VC just had a topic on that recently.
8.26.2008 6:24pm
Mike S.:
i am more interested in the last sentence. has international law done anything so useful that we should consider its weakening to by to anyone's detriment?
8.26.2008 6:24pm
Eli Rabett (www):
Think Turkish Cyprus. No future
8.26.2008 7:15pm
Michael B (mail):
Totten reporting, from Tbilisi, excerpt, opening two graphs, extended emphasis added:

"Virtually everyone believes Georgian President Mikheil Saakashvili foolishly provoked a Russian invasion on August 7, 2008, when he sent troops into the breakaway district of South Ossetia. "The warfare began Aug. 7 when Georgia launched a barrage targeting South Ossetia," the Associated Press reported over the weekend in typical fashion.

"Virtually everyone is wrong. Georgia didn't start it on August 7, nor on any other date. The South Ossetian militia started it on August 6 when its fighters fired on Georgian peacekeepers and Georgian villages with weapons banned by the agreement hammered out between the two sides in 1994. At the same time, the Russian military sent its invasion force bearing down on Georgia from the north side of the Caucasus Mountains on the Russian side of the border through the Roki tunnel and into Georgia. This happened before Saakashvili sent additional troops to South Ossetia and allegedly started the war."

Which, again, dovetails with other information, including an extensive cyber and propaganda campaign initiated from within Russia.
8.26.2008 8:18pm
D.R.M.:

Suppose, for example, that the United States would like to persuade the people living in South Ossetia to join an anti-moneylaundering effort. Should it ask South Ossetia to join a treaty? But only states can enter treaties! Should it make a treaty with Georgia? But Georgia can't control the South Ossetians! The United States would like to help Georgia get control over the South Ossetians, but if this doesn't happen -- and it doesn't seem likely -- it will have to eventually bow to reality and recognize South Ossetia as an independent state, or -- to the confusion of all -- treat it like a state without calling it that.


If South Ossetia had de facto independence, rather than being a Russian-occupied zone, sure, we'd wind up treating it de facto like a state. But it doesn't, so we won't. If we have problems with it, we'll talk to the Russians, just like we'd talk to the Republic of Turkey about problems in the soi-disant Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus, rather than the TRNC or the Republic of Cyprus.
8.26.2008 9:10pm
Angus:
Michael B,

Except that Totten only arrived in Tblisi after all the fighting was over. Then, the only people he talked to were an anti-Russian academic and a Georgian government media spokesman. He spoke to no one from South Ossetia or Russia.

Not exactly good reporting there.
8.26.2008 9:33pm
BruceM (mail) (www):
PLR: I've been saying Iraq should be divided up into 3 independent states (e.g. Kurdistan, Sumeria, Mesopotamia) for the Kurds, Shiites, and Sunnis. Do the best we can to divide the oil up in an equal and fair manner.

If people want to be independent, they should be. Especially if they are distinct groups of people with their own races, religions, traditions, and/or languages. Forcing them all to live together when they clearly don't want to is simply not justifiable.

Russia is giving people their freedom and independence and we have a problem with it? I don't get it. Although I concede I am somewhat uninformed on this whole Ossetia issue. What am I missing here?
8.26.2008 9:35pm
ReaderY:

The problem with that is that we have, post WWII, a general principle that (despite the facts on the ground in many places) no state ought to be able to extend its borders as the result of a war.


Interesting principle. Is it worth a war to defend?
8.26.2008 9:50pm
LM (mail):
How small (population-wise) can an ethnically homogeneous enclave get before it risks inbreeding itself out of existence?
8.26.2008 9:56pm
Anon Y. Mous:

Russia is giving people their freedom and independence and we have a problem with it? I don't get it. Although I concede I am somewhat uninformed on this whole Ossetia issue. What am I missing here?

Well, for starters, Russia didn't stop at expelling the Georgians from South Ossetia. They occupied much of Georgia, and continue to do so despite promises to pull out. If it was believed that Russia had made it's point and will be dialing back the hostilities, the new reality might be grudgingly accepted. However, there are indications that they might just have more in mind.
8.26.2008 10:06pm
Gabriel McCall (mail):
People should be more worried than they are by the fragmentation of states... Because ethnic groups are mixed together, ethnic separatism is a recipe for civil war, ethnic cleansing, and worse.

I'm not convinced I should be worried. Ethnic separatism isn't a recipe for civil war, ethnic cramming-together is a recipe for civil war; violent separatism is just what happens once that recipe is done cooking. If we don't jam hostile peoples together under one government in the first place, they wouldn't have to fight so hard to get out of it.

Yes, when an oppressed minority gets sick and tired of being oppressed and decides they'd rather live free or die, things are going to get bloody. Should we tell a population of slaves that they should not revolt because such fracases offend our delicate sensibilities?
8.26.2008 10:07pm
Jeff R.:

Interesting principle. Is it worth a war to defend?



Depends on who the war is with. Wasn't for Tibet, was for Kuwait. And Tibet may be the last solid counterexample. The potential diplomatic backlash from using the word 'annex' has been strong enough to stop Israel (which doesn't have all that much to lose, diplomatically), with regard to most of the world) from pulling that trigger. Russia probably won't see any need to try; a permanent occupation/puppet statelet is more that sufficient for their purposes, I think. Unless someone does manage to erode the principle by annexing Kosovo to Albania or the like, at least...
8.26.2008 10:27pm
Tom Round (mail):
methinks Eric Posner is mixuing up two distinct problems here, which happen contingently to coincide in relation to Ossetia:

(a) unmanageably large number of unviably small states (even if they have definite boundaries)

(b) disputed boundaries of states (even if there's only a small number and/or they're all large).

While having a larger number of states raises the number required for unanimity, a two-thirds majority, or even 50 percent plus 1 of the UN Gen Ass (whatever threshold of "consensus" one is seeking), it may make it easier to sway each individual state, if these are small and homogenous. A large, diverse country may be "paralysed" from taking active, definite international action if thism is vociferously opposed by 35% or 45% of its citizens at home. (Note how the EU, although larger than the US, finds it much harder to assemble a union-wide majority in favour of doing anything. Note also how Canada has often chosen de facto neutrality as the safest way of placating the Francophone minority at home.)

Whereas small states, even if numerous, can often be *persuaded/ *bought off [* pick one] by the superpowers. The US found it much easier to assemble a Coalition of the Willing in 2003 (including Fiji, Poland, et al) than to persuade China and Russia to go along.

While I generally favour a presumptive right of secession, I acknowledge one big sticking point. If the union had put a lot of money into developments and internal improvements in the seceding region, should that region have to "settle its account" before it leaves? Otherwise, a central government may be reluctant to spend anything on infrastructure in a possibly separatist member-state or province. Pour a few billion into building roads or airports in Texas, Quebec, Slovakia, Southern Ireland or Western Australia, and you may have to end up writing that off. Worse, if (like the former USSR, or the British with Southern Ireland) you build military bases or ports in your former province; you may be rendering yourself militarily very vulnerable if Kiev or Dublin later secedes.
8.26.2008 10:34pm
TDPerkins (mail):

There is a lot of old and new bad blood between Georgia and Russia, and neither party are the good guys.


Except in this time around, when Georgia clearly is a good guy, and Russia not.

Angus, Totten has a history of getting it right.

And frankly, being anti-Russian is just a result of having open eyes.

The natural and just geographic extent of Russia comports well with the borders of the Grand Duchy of Moscow.

The expense of clawing on to every colony of Russian throughout the old Empire will only hasten the shrinkage to those old small borders.

Yours, TDP, ml, msl, &pfpp
8.26.2008 10:50pm
Fat Man (mail):
International law has little to say about the creation of states.


And even less to say about anything else, and, nothing to say that is helpful.
8.26.2008 10:55pm
smitty1e:
>The more states there are, the harder it will be for them to cooperate -- a worry for those concerned with world-scale problems such as climate change and international terrorism.

Not sure that increased lack of cooperation follows directly from upping the count of states.
As the UN is only slightly better than no UN, one possible direction to go would be increasing emphasis on regional security regimes.
8.26.2008 11:06pm
Monch:
If people want to be independent, they should be. Especially if they are distinct groups of people with their own races, religions, traditions, and/or languages. Forcing them all to live together when they clearly don't want to is simply not justifiable.

Does your sentiment apply to Hawai'i and Puerto Rico?
8.26.2008 11:14pm
Monch:
If people want to be independent, they should be. Especially if they are distinct groups of people with their own races, religions, traditions, and/or languages. Forcing them all to live together when they clearly don't want to is simply not justifiable.

Does your sentiment apply to Hawai'i and Puerto Rico?
8.26.2008 11:14pm
Y.K.:

The potential diplomatic backlash from using the word 'annex' has been strong enough to stop Israel (which doesn't have all that much to lose, diplomatically), with regard to most of the world) from pulling that trigger.

I don't that's accurate. After all, Israel did annex the Golan and East Jerusalem in 1982 (as can be expected, this is unrecognized by other states). I suspect the real reasons for non-annexation are more demography and internal-politics related.
8.26.2008 11:24pm
Angus:

Except in this time around, when Georgia clearly is a good guy, and Russia not.

Indeed, good guys often launch "pre-emptive" invasions of their neighbors, ethnically cleanse those not the same as themselves, suppress freedom of the press, etc. Yep, that Georgia is all sunshine, roses, and goodness and has been since the fall of the Soviet Union.

Let's face it, Georgia over the past several years has courted the U.S. and NATO specifically for the purpose of us running interference with the Russians while they militarily reconquered South Ossetia. Only Georgia found to its disappointment that it wasn't important enough for the U.S. to risk a war with Russia over.
8.26.2008 11:28pm
Angus:

Does your sentiment apply to Hawai'i and Puerto Rico?

As far as I know, Puerto Rico's status is voluntary, and they can declare complete independence whenever they choose. They just don't want to.

The people of Hawaii also do not, last I checked, support independence from the U.S. Should they choose to do so, I would accede to their wishes given the unsavoury way in which the United States conquered and subjugated an independent country.
8.26.2008 11:40pm
TDPerkins (mail):

Indeed, good guys often launch "pre-emptive" invasions of their neighbors



When their neighbors are going to invade them they very well might. That is no disqualification.


ethnically cleanse those not the same as themselves,


Tit for tat if you hadn't noticed. And not recently either in the Georgian on Russian direction. And what are the Georgians who take Russian passports doing, hmm?


suppress freedom of the press



Lay out the circumstances for consideration, and bear in mind they need to be doing worse than Putin for me to care a whit.


etc. Yep, that Georgia is all sunshine, roses, and goodness and has been since the fall of the Soviet Union.



It doesn't have to have been to be the good guy in this, it just has to be better than Russia.

And it is.


Let's face it, Georgia over the past several years has courted the U.S. and NATO specifically for the purpose of us running interference with the Russians while they militarily reconquered South Ossetia.


And why shouldn't the legitimate government retake South Ossetia? It was 60% Georgian before the Ossetians ethnically cleansed the area with Russian help.


Only Georgia found to its disappointment that it wasn't important enough for the U.S. to risk a war with Russia over.


It was no surprise to them, they weren't counting on American or NATO help in this. The Georgian actions in South Ossetia were an attempt to blunt an unprovoked Russian attack which the Kremlin had long in the works.

Too bad it didn't work better.

Yours, TPD, ml, msl, &pfpp
8.26.2008 11:41pm
TDPerkins (mail):

The people of Hawaii also do not, last I checked, support independence from the U.S. Should they choose to do so, I would accede to their wishes given the unsavoury way in which the United States conquered and subjugated an independent country.


I would oppose it unless they had a better constitution and had the benefit of an amendment to the US constitution to support them, since all ill-actors taking part in that are dead, monarchy is an atrocity against mankind and reason, and the constitution does not permit secession besides.

And given it's precedential import, I would oppose the amendment.

Yours, TDP, ml, msl, &pfpp
8.26.2008 11:45pm
TDPerkins (mail):
...taking part in that...

By that I mean the overthrow of the Hawaiian monarchy.

Yours, TDP, ml, msl, &pfpp
8.26.2008 11:48pm
Michael B (mail):
Angus,

So rather than attempt to refute anything along cogent lines, or even discernable lines beyond a rank dismissiveness, you opt for precisely - and only - that: an unsupported dismissiveness.

Or for a contrast, your own opinings have been formed on the basis of what information, forwarded by whom, and from where? Reuters? The AP? Your own imaginings and certitudes? Or perhaps you're simply a Putinist, contentedly kowtowing to the Kremlin's raw power?

Of course, if you had noted that Totten's report is not the final and only say-so of the affair, that would be entirely reasonable - if also patently obvious - but that's not what you're suggesting. It's a report, not a thesis. (You're also wrong in noting he relied simply upon the two people you take note of. Iow, the lone fact you do take note of, you even get that wrong.)

Finally, Totten's report reflects absolutely superb reporting. It's both transparently and cogently rendered; there is no op-ed or news-ed styled assertions beguilingly woven into his piece; it's informative, bare minimum, in the sense that it doesn't pretend to be more than it is; it's well written. But again, I await the illumination of your own contrasting example, as requested in my second graph above. I doubt you'll provide it and I can't help but take note of the fact that you've failed to offer it on a voluntary basis in the first place. To paraphrase your own final comment:

Not exactly good reasoning skills there, Angus. Tergiversate much?

(And here's a BBC report furnishing some information, and another report that renders some perspective in terms of other nations located on Russia's frontier.)
8.27.2008 12:17am
Angus:

The Georgian actions in South Ossetia were an attempt to blunt an unprovoked Russian attack which the Kremlin had long in the works.
This has become something of a meme: "Russia was about to invade Georgia." The problem is that there is no evidence that this was so. What we do know for sure is that Georgia launched a massive invasion of South Ossetia to start off the crisis.

And why shouldn't the legitimate government retake South Ossetia? It was 60% Georgian before the Ossetians ethnically cleansed the area with Russian help.

South Ossetia for the last 80 years at least (haven't seen older census data) has been more than 65% Ossetian. At no time were Georgians even 30% of the population. Georgians are still estimated to be over 25% of the population.
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/South_Ossetia#Demographics

I don't think the Russians are the good guys here by a long shot. But I think Georgia is more to blame for the situation than anyone else. Georgia's leaders bet they could win before Russia could react, did something stupid, and now are trying to act like innocent victims. Sorry, but that dog don't hunt.
8.27.2008 12:22am
Angus:
I stand corrected. 98% of his piece is the interview with those two pro-Georgia people. The other 2% of his proof that Ossetia was asking to be invaded relies on an interview with two wounded Georgian soldiers. Not at all one-sided to include quotes only from Georgians, but no rebuttals from Ossetia or Russia. Perfectly fine journalism.

And Totten's piece is nakedly editorializing:

"Virtually everyone is wrong. Georgia didn't start it on August 7, nor on any other date. The South Ossetian militia started it on August 6..."

No language about ..."according to officials in Georgia." It also admits that "virtually everyone else" says that Georgia launched the first invasion.

At another point (and very few of the words are Totten's own--about 90% of the text is verbatim reproductions of the Georgia government media guy's talking points) Totten editorializes:


Russian rules of engagement, so to speak, go down harder than communism. And the Soviet era habits of disinformation are alive and well.
His source for that? Not his own observations. Not anything a Russian official told him that he knows to be false. Nope. His only source for that editorial comment is the Georgian government media guy.

Even within his own article, the wounded soldiers can't remember what day they were fired upon, and both were stationed inside South Ossetia. Flare ups have happened in South Ossetia over the past 15 years. The difference this time is that Georgia responsed with a massive invasion.

What's the real story? Who is lying? I honesty don't know with 100% accuracy except that everyone involved is lying to some extent. But I do know that Totten didn't make much of an effort to actually find out the truth. He arrived, talked to a few Georgians, and wrote it all up as gospel truth. I think a journalism class could use this as a teachable case of journalistic laziness.
8.27.2008 12:49am
Kirk:
Jeff R.,
nobody is seriously considering allowing Albania to annex Kosovo even though that would ... be quite popular with the people in both places.
Ahh, have you got any evidence for the both part of your statement?

Gabriel, but we already have ethnic cramming-together. Nobody jammed the various ethnicities/religions that formerly inhabited Sarajevo together, they just accumulated. Same with Rwanda. Same with South Osettia, it appears.

smitty1e,
As the UN is only slightly better than no UN
That's a sentiment agree with which I shall not! (Apologies to Winston...) The UN is far, far worse than no UN.
8.27.2008 1:29am
Angus:
BTW, a balanced account of the war's beginning was in the Washington Post over a week ago. It actually looks at more than just the Georgia perspective. I can't get links to work for some reason, but you can google "A Two-Sided Descent Into Full-Scale War"
8.27.2008 1:45am
PLR:
BruceM at 8:35:PLR: I've been saying Iraq should be divided up into 3 independent states (e.g. Kurdistan, Sumeria, Mesopotamia) for the Kurds, Shiites, and Sunnis. Do the best we can to divide the oil up in an equal and fair manner.

If people want to be independent, they should be. Especially if they are distinct groups of people with their own races, religions, traditions, and/or languages. Forcing them all to live together when they clearly don't want to is simply not justifiable.

Russia is giving people their freedom and independence and we have a problem with it? I don't get it. Although I concede I am somewhat uninformed on this whole Ossetia issue. What am I missing here?

Iraq partitioning would be a disaster. The central, Sunni-dominated portion of Iraq has no oil, and would wind up as a perpetual second (or third) world poor country along the lines of Jordan, surrounded on all sides by hostiles who are better off.

In the major cities, Sunnis and Shiites lived together in mixed neighborhoods under Saddam due to so many intermarriages. The Kurds are another matter entirely, and I'm not going to meddle in that. Eric Posner's post on statehood, though brief, is quite good here IMO.

Russia is not really in the business of giving people independence, see Chechnya. See also any of the posts by Angus on this thread and the prior ones.
8.27.2008 1:48am
Michael B (mail):
Angus,

So the WaPo is your source? This piece, contributed from a Washington D.C. based correspondent and a Moscow based correspondent? A piece with such lines as, "The Kremlin, long angry over Georgia's close ties with the United States and Western Europe, may have been itching for a fight, as Georgian President Mikheil Saakashvili has long insisted."? And a piece which unquestioningly confirms your own view? Why do you regard it as authoritative?

As to this:
"Virtually everyone is wrong. Georgia didn't start it on August 7, nor on any other date. The South Ossetian militia started it on August 6...,"
it is obviously a reference to and seeks to be a refutation of the August 7 date that has been so widely - almost universally - accepted. It is the "truth" that is being referenced in the title of his piece.

Regarding this,
"Russian rules of engagement, so to speak, go down harder than communism. And the Soviet era habits of disinformation are alive and well."
here's some supportive information, but there's other sources as well. So no, it's not mere editorializing. Not even close.

Finally, as to the report in general, it doesn't pretend to be something it's not - cf. and pace the WaPo piece you recommend and which link is now provided. He only recently arrived, and he doesn't pretend otherwise. Having just recently arrived, he interviews Worms with confirming support from Goltz, and presents it in precisely that manner, nothing less and nothing more - i.e. it's transparently rendered. So I still see no cards being dealt from the bottom of the deck, not by any stretch of the imagination - excepting the expanse of your own imagination. By contrast, the WaPo piece virtually uses an authorial, omniscient voice at times, as if it's the final authority, not to be questioned.

Finally, as a recent commenter at Totten's site notes, South Ossetia has a population of around 60,000. I.e. not a sufficient number to fill a football stadium and a number that additionally includes ample numbers of Georgians. Yet - a sufficient number, according to your rationale, for Russia to "protect" - and to venture into Georgia proper.

60,000 people? At this rate, every race and ethnic hustler on the face of the planet can start their own country and - if they can garner military backing from a Russia, a North Korea, a Fidel or Chavez, an Ahmadinejad - then we should simply accept it all, bowing and kowtowing to brute military force. And if 60,000 works, why not 30,000, or 10,000? Why not?

In summary, yes there is a de facto realpolitik that will need to be acknowledged, it is not worth a world war, not least of all because Saakashvili was not at all blameless, in addition to the general history. But the options available are not a simple, binary choice of world war vs. kowtowing - much less enthusiastic or apathetic - acceptance.
8.27.2008 2:22am
Michael B (mail):
Oops, this is the link I had intended to provide at the CounterTerrorism Blog, rather than the one written by Walid Phares.

And btw, of those 60k South Ossetians, 15k to 20k of which are/were Georgians, there's the additional contingent of South Ossetians who were willing to work with Tbilisi. For example, the WaPo article notes an assassination attempt on one of the leaders of that contingent. So the South Ossetian population not only cannot fill a football stadium, it additionally comprises 15k to 20k of Georgians and withint the remaining South Ossetians per se, it's not a unitary or monolithic composite.
8.27.2008 3:02am
TGGP (mail) (www):
MichaelB, I'm not a regular reader of his, but when has Totten EVER gotten it right? Wasn't he a cheerleader for the invasion of Iraq and Israel's recent embarassment in Lebanon?

TdPerkins, as monarchy is not here to defend its good name which you have besmirched, I will have to take up the slack on its behalf. Is the "reason" it is an atrocity against the same "reason" that the Jacobins claimed to have over the Bourbons? And can you look at the Hohenzollerns, Hapsburgs and Romanovs of pre-WW1 Europe and honestly say you prefer their successors to them? Is the monarchy of Luxembourg doing a terrible job of things? And why do its more democratic neighbors envy Dubai?

Monarchy actually has good logic behind it, the same as for property rights. A monarch is loathe to take reckless risks with his country (like pursue total war and unconditional surrender or any Great Leap Forward), for it is something like his property and we take good care of our property. Even near the end of his life he does so, as he hopes for his heir to have the a rich land. The monarchs of old had far less power than the democratic governments that replaced them, in part because the masses willingly hand it over to their representatives but resist the encroachments of the monarch (that is mainly the duty of the aristocracy, who gave us the Magna Carta). Elected officials will resort to demagoguery, they have short time preferences because once they are out the problems they caused belong to someone else (Bruce Bueno de Mesquita makes that point here). Voters are rationally ignorant and irrational, so why should we expect them to have anything useful to add to the process? Politicians excel at being elected, a monarch is trained to take care of his country. They have longer time preferences and do not resort to whipping up the mob, as their counterparts are always tempted to. They do not need to indoctrinate the citizenry as non-monarchical regimes do, because their legitimacy does not rest on the people who are not expected to have any involvement in politics. Their position is quite secure, and so they do not engage in the same sort of paranoid purges that bedevil every People's Democratic Republic of Whereverstan. I recommend to you Bertrand de Jouvenel's "On Power" and Erik von Kuehnelt-Leddihn's "Liberty or Equality" (as wells "Procustes: Against the Herd"). I haven't gotten around to reading them myself, but Hans Herman Hoppe's "Democracy: The God That Failed" and Bryan Caplan's "The Myth of the Rational Voter" attack the problem more directly and with less Catholic baggage.

I suppose I should admit that part of this has merely been Devil's Advocate as I am not sold on monarchism, but judging it by its fruits I would say it is about as reasonable as its main competitors.
8.27.2008 3:41am
D.R.M.:
Angus, you cannot move a third of an armored division into combat on 24 hours notice, if you aren't already on a war alert. There's too many people, supplies, auxiliary vehicles, and the rest that need to be made ready to do it.

Sure, if you're not going to fight anyone, you can just drive your tanks over and refuel at your destination. But if you are going to be fighting, you need to have your whole logistical train ready to move. A tank without ammunition, fuel, or support is soon just scrap metal.

So, on August 6th, before the Georgians attacked South Ossetia, the Russians were preparing to fight someone in the Caucasus. Who do you think they were planning on going to war with?
8.27.2008 4:04am
Angus:
Likewise, Georgia didn't send much of its army into Ossetia on a few hours notice. They obviously had planned such an operation days or weeks in advance.

However, none of that is shocking. Indeed, I'd be surprised if Georgia and Russia had not had pre-existing plans for military action in the area, just in case, given that both had peacekeeping units in South Ossetia already. Much the same way as American troops stationed in hot spots around the globe -- the United State has contingency plans to rapidly reinforce and support any of them, and usually within 24 hours.
8.27.2008 8:01am
dccupp:
D.R.M I was going to make the same point. And also point out that this was a VERY coordinated effort between the Russian ground troops, air force AND navy.

The idea that Georgia "caused" the Russian invasian into Georgia with all the Russian forces just happening to be in the right place at the right time with the right plan goes agains all of the facts of the situation. The fact that the media and other circles state that the Georgia is at fault here does not necessarily make that view correct.
8.27.2008 9:22am
Jason Sorens (www):
While state fragmentation raises the transaction costs of international cooperation, it also increases the preference of the average state for international cooperation. Small states generally need multilateral institutions to guarantee free trade across borders and resolution of other cross-border externalities. The upshot is that it's unclear whether state fragmentation will on net increase or decrease international cooperation. One could argue that European frameworks for cooperation are much stronger now than they were pre-WWI, when there were fewer states. Indeed, in the late medieval period, extreme state fragmentation coexisted with extensive economic and security cooperation precisely in those regions of Europe most afflicted by small state size (the Holy Roman Empire, Hanseatic League, etc.).
8.27.2008 10:14am
justaguy (mail):
"Hoisted on our own petard" is the phrase that comes to mind when a resurgent Russia peels pieces off from an ally and takes another big step toward monopolizing all energy in Europe.

Wasn't America the country that right after supporting the side with the state sponsored terrorists and 1914's equivalent to a 9-11- that created some policy about self determination? Kosovo was only the latest in a long line of excuses for realpolitic and the great game. Let's see- use military force without UN sanction to support ehtnic minority rights, break away a piece of a country against the wishes of the majority of that country- not much different than Germany in 1930s, or Russia in 2008.
8.27.2008 1:32pm
Big Bill (mail):
Eric: "People should be more worried than they are by the fragmentation of states. Consider that shortly after World War II, there were around 60 states. Today, there are almost 200 (depending on how one counts quasi-states like Kosovo, ... ."

Fortunately, there are other states that are growing tired of independence and are surrendering their identity and sovereignty.

The "states" of the United States have long since surrendered their sovereignty, although Texas is holding out (for a brief shining moment) with regard to its duty to notify Mexican prisoners of their right to consult the MExican consulate in death penalty cases.

The "states" of the EU are substantially diminished and should be extinct in another twenty years. That will reduce the number somewhat.

It may be difficult "peeling their cold dead fingers" from UN (or NATO) membership, but it will happen. And when it happens, it probably will not take too big a fight, for the European "states" and their peoples are already tired and ready for their eternal rest.

So rest easy, Eric. Just as there are some nations that find a life in an independent state something worth fighting for, there are other nations that are exhausted and ready to call it quits.
8.27.2008 1:52pm
David Chesler (mail) (www):
Something I've been wondering about since those days in the early 1990s: When the Soviet Union dissolved, who decided which of their former administrative units got to be states? I don't recall any discussion or debate as to whether it should be anything other than the former "republics", no matter when they'd been absorbed into the empire; as a good 'merican I didn't know the difference between Ukraine and Siberia.

(That's separate from the secession issue that PRL reminds us was just discussed, or the question about why Russia got the old Soviet Union UN seat, or why the UN is one vote per nation.)

Also as an American I don't get that "ethnic" claim. Does Russia have a claim on Brighton Beach? (or avoiding the complications brought on by Russian Jews, make the same claim for an area populated by Americans of Italian or Irish or Swedish descent.)

I see the commenters have discussed how the rules for recognizing split-off places interplay with the rules for recognizing joined-together places, but that confuses me too.

Pat Buchanan has just argued, I think, that Russia has as good a right to the birthplace of Stalin as Christiandom has to the birthplace of Jesus, or something, so that's good enough for me.
8.27.2008 4:31pm
David Chesler (mail) (www):
PS - who gets to decide who is a country for Olympic purposes? Not just the CIS, but Puerto Rico. (And if the Olympics are all about peace and brotherhood and athleticisms, why do individuals have to represent countries at all?)
8.27.2008 4:34pm
Tom Round (mail):
"A monarch is loathe to take reckless risks with his country ... for it is something like his property and we take good care of our property"

Yep, unlike those Communist "People's Republics" where the Great Leader doesn't care what happens to the country after he dies because he knows that there'll be an open, competitive election for his seat and that he'll have no chance of simply bequeathing the entire populace, like a herd of prize cattle, to his oldest son.

Maybe Communist republics would be better-governed if they did follow the principle of hereditary succession, non? Then they might avoid disastrous misjudgments like the Thirty Years' War...
8.27.2008 6:37pm
davod (mail):
"However, none of that is shocking. Indeed, I'd be surprised if Georgia and Russia had not had pre-existing plans for military action in the area, just in case, given that both had peacekeeping units in South Ossetia already. "

The Russians moved their First Army Group into position for this. They also transported 4000 marines in ships from the Ukraine and had sufficient air force assets in place to conduct extended operations over Georgia. The logistics involved was enormous.
8.27.2008 7:51pm
TDPerkins (mail):
TGGP, Totten has reported on the war quite accurately, being neither a cheerleader or doomsayer.

And frankly, monarchies are horrible ideas. Kings have not been reticent to enter their states into fruitless, pointless wars, in fact, just such wars are the majority of human history.


I suppose I should admit that part of this has merely been Devil's Advocate as I am not sold on monarchism, but judging it by its fruits I would say it is about as reasonable as its main competitors.


Herman history to date is a refutation of Hoppe; additionally, as opposed to merely democracy, he should have examined the nature of constitutionally limited classically liberal republics as opposed to it's alternatives. Few people claim democracy is a good unless it is limited from majoritarianism.

Yours, TDP, ml, msl, &pfpp
8.27.2008 9:58pm
TDPerkins (mail):

Let's see- use military force without UN sanction to support ehtnic minority rights, break away a piece of a country against the wishes of the majority of that country- not much different than Germany in 1930s, or Russia in 2008.


Your moral equivalence claim implies you have no morals of your own, at the best none worth mentioning.

You have your email.

Yours, TDP, ml, msl, &pfpp
8.27.2008 10:00pm
Angus:

And frankly, monarchies are horrible ideas. Kings have not been reticent to enter their states into fruitless, pointless wars, in fact, just such wars are the majority of human history.
Must...resist...
8.27.2008 11:02pm
TGGP (mail) (www):
In which communist countries has a leader been succeeded by their child? The only one I can recall is North Korea (and keep in mind how much political nepotism exists in democracies). The principle of hereditary succession is certainly not very reliable there. Lenin specifically did not want Stalin to succeed him, nevertheless that is what happened. Kruschev was removed from office by other communist muckety-mucks and Gorbachev was nearly removed by coup. As revolutionary regimes there is a sort of inherent instability that also breeds unpleasant paranoia. If they achieve stability they may mellow out later, as happened with China and Vietnam (though I can't say they would not be better off had they retained their emperors).

Monarchs are often associated with war and militarism, but much of that is simply demotist propaganda. Prussia's famous soldier king was too enamored of his impressive troops (especially the ones recruited from the tallest people in Europe) that he could not bear to waste any by engaging in war (his son started a number of wars, though they were short, limited and successful). The United States has repeatedly engaged in wars with no bearing on its security or national interest reasonably construed. As Erik-Kuehnelt Leddihn discusses in Liberty or Equality, the monarchies of old managed to keep the map of Europe basically the same for over a century, merely exchanging provinces rather than eliminating or creating new countries. The French Revolution and its infection of republican nationalism changed that. The 30 years war (in fact more a series of wars) is comparable to World Wars 1 and 2, or more broadly the Hemoclysm. The end of monarchy certainly did not portend a decrease in wars, rather I think Sailer's Dirt Theory is a better explanation (alternately there is Pinker's more long-term theory of why things kept getting better and more peaceful even under monarchy). I discuss some of that here.

Part of the problem with democratic republics even with a liberal constitutional basis is that democracy tends to erode that basis. This phenomenon has been known to writers from Aristotle to de Tocqueville. Note how all the Anti-Federalist predictions came true and all the reassurances from the Federalists how such-and-such could not come about because Article Z of the Constitution says this and that. The masses are not liberal and if given power they will replace liberal restrictions with something to their liking. It was when the franchise was severely restricted that we enacted our liberal constitution, as the franchise has expanded we have become less liberal in the classical sense. For a fair comparison you should contrast a liberal constitutional democracy with a liberal constitutional monarchy (Luxembourg perhaps?).

I should note that while Hoppe prefers monarchy to democracy, he would prefer not to have it but rather anarcho-capitalism. He regards monarchy as something like degenerated anarcho-capitalism which is in risk of further degenerating towards a democracy and perhaps later socialism or some other form of revolutionary ochlocracy.

For those who would like a more extended argument for monarchy over democracy which I have borrowed heavily from, you can read Mencius Moldbug (who is oddly enough a big fan of Totten, believing him to be as "independent" as Yon). For my arguments contra MM on that issue you can read my own blog.
8.28.2008 3:44am
Aleks:
Re: A lot of this increase is due to decolonization, but in recent years, the main cause has been, essentially, ethnic separatism.

How many countries qualify here? The Czech-Slovak velvet divorce, certainly. Would-be nations like Kosovo, Abkhazia and South Ossetia, also. But anything else? East Timor is ultimately the result of decolonization. And the fracturing of Yugoslavia is a case of collapsing imperial pretensions as Croatia, Bosnia and Slovenia were glommed onto by Serbia after WWI (and Macedonia hd been grabbed a few years earlier during the Balkan wars). Ditto, the fission of the Soviet Union into its constituent republics.

Re: the United States was recognized by zero countries from the beginning of its war in 1775 until 1777 and early 1778 when our declaration of independence was recognized by Morocco and then France.

Also Spain and the Netherlands, who more or less followed France and wanted to take Britain down a peg.

Re: The cynic might argue this is simply the first step an an effort to reassemble the Soviet empire, round II.

Better: the Russian Empire, Round III. The Soviet Union did not contain any significant territory that had not been ruled by the Tsars before.

Re: One is the creation of nations that are ethno or cultural centric. This is the curse of the Wilson Presidency in its efforts to tear apart the Austro-Hungarian empire.

Nation-states antedate Wilson by quite a it. The Portuguese had one by the late Middle Ages.

Re: The natural and just geographic extent of Russia comports well with the borders of the Grand Duchy of Moscow.

If we're going to break down nation states to their medieval borders does that mean France will dissolve into Paris, Normandy, Burgundy, Aquitaine and the Provence? Shall the old Heptarchy take the place of England (which will have already relinquished Scotland, Wales, Northern Ireland and Cornwall)? and should we replace the United states with 50 nations, and Canada with a dozen?

Re: Does your sentiment apply to Hawai'i and Puerto Rico?

Or for that matter, the Navaho, Cheyenne and Sioux?

Re: Monarchy actually has good logic behind it, the same as for property rights. A monarch is loathe to take reckless risks with his country (like pursue total war and unconditional surrender or any Great Leap Forward), for it is something like his property and we take good care of our property.

Of course, there are never any stupid, incompetent, fanatical or plain old wicked monarchs. Ivan the Terrible, Bloody Mary, Charles the Simple, Michael the Drunkard and Selim the Sot just had bad press agents.
8.28.2008 8:15pm
Tom Round (mail):
I was mainly thinking of North Korea, but Haiti and a few African "republics" would also qualify.

Even within the category of monarchies, the more power for the hereditary ruler and the less for the elected representatives (if any), the worse a place it usually is to live in. Saudi Arabia is a worse place to live than Jordan, Tonga and Thailand, let alone the UK.

Anarcho-capitalists are queer fish, constitutionally speaking. If they're not lauding hereditary monarchy, they're calling for term limits. Which makes sense if one views running for (re-) election as the chief source of corruption for rulers. But it sits oddly if one is trying to work out whether rulers do or do not rule wisely if they face the real possibility that they and their families may end up as ruled "commoners" later in their own lives.
8.28.2008 10:15pm
TDPerkins (mail):

The natural and just geographic extent of Russia comports well with the borders of the Grand Duchy of Moscow.


I am referring solely to the Russians, who with better examples before them insist on misbehaving. Instead of spending energy making life worth living in Russia, so there are naturally more Russians, they are trying to drag ethnic Russians in the near abroad into the gyre.

Why should we not oppose it's widening?

Yours, TDP, ml, msl, &pfpp
8.29.2008 8:24am

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