Tuesday, August 26, 2008

Georgia on my mind...

What are the issues?

Russia has recognized the formation of South Ossetia and Abkhazia as independent countries.

Just like that, Russia hopes to create two whole new countries out of nothing (or out of Georgia, depending how you look at it).

Can they do that?

What is the controlling international law?

Normally, Russia cannot create another country by recognizing a breakaway region of their neighbor.

Countries are defined under international law by specific qualities: "a state is an entity that has a defined territory and a permanent population under the control of its own government, and that engages in, or has the capacity to engage in, formal relations with other such entities."

Restatement (Third) of the Law of Foreign Relations, section 201

None of these qualities - defined territory, permanent population, government control, & capacity for formal relations with other states - depends on an outside actor. That means South Ossetia has to meet the requirements of statehood on its own. Russia's recognition - while helpful as evidence of capacity to engage in formal relations with other states - does not automatically create a new country.

This is especially true as there is a dispute to territorial integrity in the area. Georgia still claims that area as a dependent province of their own country. No legal actions - including the recent ceasefire agreement - negates Georgia's claim.

Russia might have an argument if the breakaway region was currently part of Russia. Russia could always voluntarily give up part of their own territory to create new countries. Such events were seen to occur when the former U.S.S.R. let it's member states form their own independent countries.

Also governing is the the 1975 Helsinki Final Act that specifically endorses the "Inviolability of frontiers" and "Territorial integrity of States."

Muddying the waters on this issue is the recent formation of Kosovo as a independent nation. Legally speaking, Serbia had the right to maintain control over Kosovo when it broke away. However, many Western countries - including the United States - were quick to recognize Kosovo as an independent state. This vocal support acts as a limiting factor on how Serbia reacts to this separatist movement. So far, they've turned away from military solutions to the International Court of Justice for a ruling on Kosovo's independence.

What does this mean to you?

Believe it or not, separatism movements are commonplace in North America. Quebec wants to leave Canada. Certain populations in the southern states in the U.S. have always maintained that they will 'rise again' and leave the United States. The Zapatistas in Mexico often speak of self-rule for the region of Chiapas. Sometimes, it seems like we're struggling to hold it all together.

Right now, a new precedent is emerging on how the international community deals with separatist movements and breakaway regions.

Kosovo and Georgia are test cases that will determine if our international rules are changing.

If they do change, future upheavals might make it easier for the delicate constructions of nations that we maintain to fall apart. We can go from a situation of assumed national integrity to a fragile coalition that can fall apart at any minute. More importantly, outside actors can take steps - legally - to hasten such breakups.

Russia is trying to set a precedent that outside actors can help tear apart nations to create new states.

If we allow this to be the new international rule, we shouldn't be surprised when some other nation supports Texas leaving the United States.

Sunday, August 17, 2008

The Georgian / Russian Conflict and International Law

There is an excellent article at Opinion Juris on an international legal view of the conflict in Georgia.

Chris Borgen takes an excellent look at the issues surrounding the possible secession movement in South Ossetia and implications in international law.

Borgen rightly notes that secession tends to be a matter of internal, domestic law but can spill over into the international arena. This is a fact of which the Russians appear to have cynically taken advantage.

Borgen goes on to address the Russian's strongest argument - that interference in Georgia is justified similarly to NATO's interference between Serbia & Kosovo.

I find Borgen's analysis to be spot on and Opinio Juris has done a thorough job reviewing the international legal aspects of this tragic affair - much more thorough than I could do.

How does this affect you?

As for North Americans, like most international affairs, the Georgian / Russian conflict has a direct impact on oil prices. Russia is the world's largest exporter of natural gas and the world's second largest oil exporter. Europe is the largest consumer of that oil.

Georgia has one of the few pipelines in the region that is not controlled by Russia. Should Russia succeed in annexing Georgia (or destroying the pipeline), they will have tightened their control on the regional oil exports. Russia will control a spigot they can turn to manipulate oil prices at a whim. Europe will have no choice but to buy oil from Russia or the global market - taking oil that would normally be sold elsewhere.

This means that North Americans would see a shrinking supply of oil and increased prices. So far, falling demand and quick diplomacy from the European Union has prevented a lasting price shock, but tensions still exist. Any resumption of blatant hostilities will lead to a rise in prices at the gas pump.

As a side note, U.S. diplomacy seems to be especially ineffective. The U.S. military invasion of Iraq on trumped up pretenses have given other would be conquerers a powerful rhetorical weapon to through back in the U.S.'s face. We've given a the tinpot dictators of the world cover for blatant acts of illegal aggression. We'll regret this for decades to come.

Wednesday, August 13, 2008

Mexico Invades!

Many conservative pundits and voters worry an invasion of illegal immigrants from Mexico and Central America.

Very often, it's tough to get a nuanced discussion on the economic realities that encourage people to uproot their lives and work in inhumane and degrading conditions in another country. (Personally, I have no idea how bad my life would have to be to make migrant farm work seem attractive.)

Corrupt and ineffective governments force their citizens to seek better lives in our country which has corrupt business practices, and lax and ineffective enforcement of labor laws. There are few winners in the illegal immigration morass - except corrupt meat packing plant owners and consumers of cheap Californian produce.

That's my view.

However, certain events make getting a nuanced debate even harder.

For example, when Mexican army forces illegally enter the U.S.

For four tense minutes, a U.S. Border Agent was held at gunpoint by Mexican troops that had entered the U.S. accidentally in a remote desert region known for smuggling.

This was the 42nd such incident in the last year.

Let's look at the EIL International Law Breakdown in such incidents:

What are the issues involved?
Minus an actual shooting, the only issue here appears to be confusion on the location of the U.S.-Mexico border.

What is the controlling International Law?

Two pieces of International Law apply, the Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo of 1848 and the Gadsden Purchase of 1853. Both of these actions defined who had territorial claim over the region now known as southern Arizona.

Worries about border integrity might also look to the International Court of Justice's (ICJ) 2004 ruling on a fence built by Israel in the occupied territory of the WestBank. This ruling probably does not apply, U.S. border security measures are taken inside the U.S. border; the Israel barrier was built in occupied territory is disputed to be not owned by Israel.

How does this affect you?

Unless your looking for reasons to militarize the U.S.-Mexico border, this occurrence has absolutely no effect on the normal reader. Importantly, this mistake happened between two official bodies that were trying to secure a shared border. Putting more bodies on the border will only end with more incidents of lost officials and tense stand offs. Honestly, instead of turning to International Law as a means of resolving these border incursions, the U.S. should just donate some GPS units to the Mexican army.