We interrupt the naval chronicles to bring you this important notice: The restless ghost of John C. Calhoun is turning furiously in his grave, throwing up a plume of dust visible all the way to Sevastopol.
For those not quite prepared for their US History exams this Spring, here’s an instructive quote from the source of the plume, the father of secession:
“The object of secession is to free the withdrawing member from the obligation of the association or the union, and is applicable to cases were the object of the association or union has failed either by an abuse of power on the part of its members, or other causes.”
It should be noted that in this particular case, Calhoun was laboring to create a distinction between secession and nullification, as his enemies were arguing that nullifying a federal law at the state level amounted to practical secession, a view with which he did not hold. Nevertheless, the man’s sympathies are clear. He cleaves to local democracy, and holds its interests over those of the Union with impressive consistency, especially for a professional politician.
For those who believe in democracy, even limited democracy, this issue dredges up a lot of skeletons. On the one hand, many (Thomas Jefferson in any case) in the democracy camp seem to agree that sovereignty lies in the hands of the people. However, some (heavily armed, belligerent) disagreement has occasionally surfaced in response to the question, “Which people, our side or theirs?” Consider the varying names for the U.S. Civil War – “The War for the Union,” “The War between the States,” “The War of Southern Independence” – a simple demonstration that democracy is by no means an assurance of territorial integrity. Despite the egregious and utterly discrediting suppression of true democracy in the antebellum South, there is no paucity of queer internal logic to the South’s secessional position, most especially in a federation explicitly designed to wrap fragile minorities in the protective cocoon of state jurisdiction.
What then are we to make of Crimean secession? It too resists reduction to the will of the people. The south had its elephant in the room; Crimea’s corresponding woolly behemoth pants heavily across the fence.
And in spite its deservedly unsavory reputation in matters of democracy and self-determination, said mammoth has a number of strong arguments in its favor. Even UN documents admit a “tension between basic Charter principles involving the norms of self-determination and of territorial integrity.” Could Russia argue under the wording of the UN charter that it is acting “based on respect for the principle of equal rights and self-determination of peoples?” Probably not with full credibility, as moves are to be taken only to “strengthen universal peace.” On the other hand, should NATO argue that Russia must “refrain in [its] international relations from the threat or use of force against the territorial integrity or political independence of any State,” against clear evidence that so doing might disregard the aforesaid, “principle of equal rights and self-determination of peoples?” There certainly is no language here to place the rights of “states” in paragraph 4 either above or below the rights of “peoples” in paragraph 2 (both in Ch. 12 Art. 2).
In the appended discussion of this tension, perhaps the most informative case is the first mentioned, that of 1974 Cypriot coup and the subsequent Turkish invasion. The seed of that conflict was planted when Cyprus became independent from Britain in 1960, and was immediately filled with Greek and Turkish troops. Eventually, a Greek military junta was formed, but this was then overthrown by a group seeking union with Athens. Turkey sent military aid to its Cypriot population, the island was divided, and it remains in an awkward state of partition to this day. The UN has called for “an enduring, comprehensive and just settlement based on a bicommunal, bizonal federation with political equality,” a wording not quite ambiguous enough to conceal its antipathy to Greek annexation.
The parallels with Ukraine’s territorial and ethnic divisions following independence from the Soviet Union should be clear enough. Unfortunately, these parallels offer little promise for a satisfactory solution, especially for the minority populations unhappy at the idea of a return to the Russian fold.
Maybe Crimean Tatars and other dissidents may place some hope in the West. It seems possible that Russia’s now-integrated market may be vulnerable to pressure from Western sanctions, but it is by no means certain that Russia will yield to economic pressure, however successful such pressure may be in damaging Russian prosperity. Perhaps cash-strapped Russian oligarchs will pressure Putin to settle on some state of semi-autonomy equally distasteful to Russian expansionist interests, Western opposition to Russian power, and Crimean Russians in return for the lifting of sanctions, but perhaps not. Nothing, at this point, is particularly clear in Crimea’s future.
What is abundantly transparent though, is that the West’s current ideology has yet to resolve tensions extant since its inception between the rights of the state to territorial integrity, our association of static boundaries with peace, and the rights of peoples within a state to self-determination.
If you would like your hopes for any resolution of this tension nicely crushed, check out today's primary post.