Is Abkhazia a country?

Gadsden1 "Igor Lukes, a professor of international relations at Boston University, said international law contained clear standards for evaluating whether an independence movement should be recognized, in part based upon whether such a territory has well-defined borders, a well-established central authority and a populace that strongly desires secession.

The problem is that these judgments typically become hostage to conflicts between large nations, as in the case of Kosovo, South Ossetia and Abkhazia, Mr. Lukes said.

“These situations are not really murky,” he said. “What makes the situations murky is each superpower tries to exploit ad hoc situations as they emerge to advance its interests and to hurt its rivals. It’s really the way the superpowers manipulate the reality. It’s not the reality that is complicated.”"  Levy in the NY Times


"…to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed.  That whenever any Form of Government becomes destructive of these ends, it is the Right of the People to alter or abolish it, and to institute new Government, laying its foundation on such principles and organizing its powers in such form, as to them shall seem most likely to effect their Safety and Happiness."

Thomas Jefferson in the Declaration of Independence of the United States.


Jefferson, the Second Continental Congress and Professor Lukes all see the issue of self determination in the same light.  For them, the will of a people living a communal life within their own collective identity trumped any claims that might be made by a distant, alien government.

Some will find this an attractive idea, others will find that their sense of order in the universe is offended by the "messiness" of what will happen if "popular sovereignty" is the effective basis of state formation.

Whatever ones opinion may be on this subject, the truth is that self determination as a principle matters not if it can not be defended by force of arms.  History makes that very clear everywhere, including the United States.   Force Majeure, force majeure…

Georgian rule is unwelcome in South Ossetia and Abkhazia.  The majority of people in those regions are not Georgians.  If it were not for Russia, these places would eventually have been subdued by force majeure.  Would that have been better?

Are the two great powers really going to carry their quarrel over this to the brink of war?  Are we really going to do that?  pl

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42 Responses to Is Abkhazia a country?

  1. Shrike58 says:

    I know that I find picking a fight over a boundary that Uncle Joe drew to be a bit much, even if Moscow went way over the top with this.
    While there are legitimate issues involved here one does have to wonder Colonel if the main point from the neo-con noise machine isn’t to give John McCain a bloody shirt to wave. That Obama chose Biden as his running mate suggests this is the case, and that the correct response was made.
    I’m more optimistic about Obama’s chances then you are but for McCain the Russians being beastly is the next best thing to an airplane being flown into a building the week before the election, though only if the media runs with it.

  2. b says:

    Are the two great powers really going to carry their quarrel over this to the brink of war? Are we really going to do that?
    I asked Karl Rove the same question and he answered:
    “If it gets McCain elected you can bet we will …”

  3. mo says:

    There was a post sometime ago quoting Thucydides. Amongst the many words, which are some of the most profound I have ever read (and yes that only points to the paucity of my reading) was the sentence:
    “in the discussion of human affairs the question of justice only enters where there is equal power to enforce it, and that the powerful exact what they can, and the weak grant what they must”
    The Georgia affair is the culmination IMHO, of eight years of sorry mismangement of foreign policy by the Bush administration.
    For nearly a century, the US has been able to influence and mould the global stage on the basis of projection of power.
    For the Neo-Cons that wasn’t enough. The Project for the New American Century, a blueprint for putting boots on the ground of nearly every nation on the planet has led to what?
    Groups and nations opposed to US hegemony of the world have gone from strength to strength. The US is constantly sidelined and ignored, even by its allies and now Russia has decided that if every one else can thumb their nose at the US, by God, it can. And since the West did such a good job of rubbing Russia’s nose in the former Yugoslavia, they will be enjoying this no end at all.
    So the time for the US to “exact what it can” and for the weak to “grant what they must” seems to be over.
    The time when you could only claim fair treatment and/or independence on the world stage depended entirely on your accepting Western domination is over.
    The weak are either getting strong or getting brave enough to make alliances with those that are strong.
    Perhaps, after eight long years, hundreds of thousands of innocent deaths, trillions wasted and lives destroyed, we, that is we who believe in a fair and just world, will actually have reason to say to GW Bush, Mr President, we thank you.

  4. jon says:

    Abkhazia will be a country if they can maintain their territorial integrity, govern themselves in some fashion and persist over time. Circumstances do not seem favorable.

  5. Clifford Kiracofe says:

    1. Of course it is a country measured by contemporary standards. Looks like it has good tourism potential from the beaches and palm trees I saw on TV; nice mountains, maybe some good hunting and fishing. When things settle down I look to some vacation time there, little sun and surf, brush up the Russian…
    Abkhazia has a population of about 160-190,000 with a landmass of some 2,156 square miles.
    Compare with European countries such as the Most Serene Republic of San Marino country with a population of about 30,000 and a land mass of 23.5 square miles.
    Compare with the Principality of Liechtenstein with about 35,000 people in a landmass of 62 sqaure miles.
    Compare with the Principality of Monaco with a population of about 33,000 in a landmass of under one square mile (.76).
    Luxemburg has about 998 square miles.
    Bahrain is 253 square miles.
    Barbados is 167 square miles.
    Consult the following list of “Small Countries” and Enclaves:
    2. Gavrilo P. Shakashvili as leader of the Duchy of Gran Fenwick. Instead of attacking the US, he attacks Abkhazia-Ossetia and Russia and gets an alliance with the US and NATO…what would Peter Sellers think of this “mouse that roared”?
    3. IMO, for the United States, the Caucasus (not to mention the Balkans or Ukraine) aren’t worth “the bones of a single Pomeranian grenadier” so to speak. Or North Dakotan, or Californian, or Virginian…
    Brzezinski’s phantasmagoric “Grand Chessboard” geopolitical narcissism with is obsessions with Poland, Ukraine, Georgia and its Russophobia is BS. I hope Obama, not to mention the US foreign policy elite, will dispense with it. But I am not counting on it.
    Definition: phan·tas·ma·go·ri·a (fn-tzm-gôr-, -gr-) also phan·tas·ma·go·ry (fn-tzm-gôr, -gr)
    n. pl. phan·tas·ma·go·ri·as also phan·tas·ma·go·ries
    a. A fantastic sequence of haphazardly associative imagery, as seen in dreams or fever.
    b. A constantly changing scene composed of numerous elements.
    2. Fantastic imagery as represented in art”
    Ah yes, “dreams or fever”…

  6. Buzz G says:

    To me the question is not if “we” are really going to do that, it is if “they” are really going to do that. “They” being the NeoCons who control our foreign policy and their allies who profit from these policies.
    For the NeoCons (and friends) war, any war, means profits, the consolidation of domestic power and possibly the extension of their foreign power and future profits.
    They benefit, the rest of the country pays the price.
    Do you think William Kristol is willing to die to defend his country? To bring democracy to Iraq? To free the Georgians?

  7. JohnH says:

    “Are the two great powers really going to carry their quarrel over this to the brink of war? Are we really going to do that?”
    Thirst for natural resources has been known to adle the brains of national leaders. The US has already wasted more than a trillion dollars trying to control Iraq’s oil and potential pipeline routes from Central Asia via Afghanistan. Now Russia has cast its first vote on Central Asian oil.
    Neither the US nor Europe is yet desperate for this oil. What will happen when they get desperate?

  8. Patrick Lang says:

    You quote the Melian Dialogue, but you knew that. pl

  9. Tyler says:

    Interestingly, Russia has gone East and is talking with China about recognition of South Osentia and Abkhazia.
    Also for all the chest beating from the US, they decided not to steam into Poti and instead put the cutter Dallas into a more southern port.
    Is there a reason that the USCG is in the Black Sea?

  10. Clifford Kiracofe says:

    Sorry about typo for Abkhazia landmass. Need another cup of coffee. Per Wiki, it is 3,256 square miles or 8,432 sq. km.

  11. TomB says:

    “… well-defined borders, a well-established central authority and a populace that strongly desires secession ….”
    Doesn’t intellectual honesty require adherents of this formulation to say that Lincoln ought to have let the Confederate States secede then, and condemn the result of the consequent war?
    Not that there’s anything wrong with that, but just as a matter of logic….
    Population about nine million if I recall, with about 2/3 of same being white and “strongly desiring secession,” no?
    “What makes the situations murky is each superpower tries to exploit ad hoc situations….”
    As do others who want to fuzz this formulation or, even more typically, avoid stating any principle at all. For instance, per Lukes’, while Abkhazia would clearly qualify, Ossetia probably wouldn’t, nor would various chunks of Ukraine that Russia apparently covets, including (albeit to a lesser degree) the Crimea. (Although it would still seem to somewhat violate common principle in recognizing it as Russian while it’s geographically severed entirely from Russia otherwise.)
    If force majeur is to be condemned when used by states to restrain regions which have whatever we regard as *valid* breakaway aspirations, it’s then equally to be condemned in others attempting to obtain those breakaway regions which *don’t* have such aspirations.
    Otherwise the formulation becomes … “I don’t believe in force majeur except when someone I like employs it or when someone I don’t like is hurt by it.”

  12. PitchPole says:

    “Do you think William Kristol is willing to die to defend his country?”
    Man, you bring to mind one of my enduring fantasies from the last eight years. In my mind’s eye, I see a flimsy pickup truck, bouncing into a restive urban setting – Shia, Sunni who cares? – and sitting on the bed sweating profusely in oven blast Iraqi summer heat made worse by the hand-me-down Vietnam era body armor sit Billy Kristol, Lard Ass Kagan (and any of his like minded namesakes/relatives), Richard Perl, any other sundry neocons and – dare I suggest it? – some of our even more exhalted “leaders”. If I had time and photoshop skill, I’d doctor up a photo. Sadly, that’s as close to their handiwork as any of these sorry excuses will ever get.

  13. mo says:

    Yes, but I only know it thanks to you.

  14. J says:

    Abkhazia is a member of the Unrepresented Nations and Peoples Organization (UNPO), an organization based in The Hague that has already seen prior members Kosovo, Palau, Estonia, Latvia, Georgia, Armenia, and East Timor achieve independence. UNPO’s web site states: “Abkhazian Statehood stretches over 12 centuries of history. For centuries the people of Abkhazia have had to struggle to preserve their independence. Since the start of the disintegration of the Soviet Union, the people of Abkhazia have intensified their struggle for their lost State independence. The adoption on 25th August 1990 of the ‘Declaration of State Sovereignty’ by the Supreme Council of Abkhazia was a first step to its restoration. The disruption of state-legal relations between Abkhazia and Georgia initiated by the Georgian authorities and the subsequent Abkhazo-Georgian war of 1992-1993 resulted in the independence of Abkhazia both de facto and de jure.”

  15. This place always educates me on the really important matters. I am now going to look up the Melian Dialogue, thank you Mo and Col. Lang. The quote makes me think of the Palestinians…
    I’m reading a novel set in Nigeria/Biafra during the 1960s – my writing group is reading it together, it’s sort of an assignment. I knew nothing of Biafra before this. Nor did I understand the nature of the Nigerian state – two disparate regions forced into a union for political motives by the British. Sounds like Iraq…
    Massacres, rebellion, ethnic cleansing, corruption, miserable post-colonial mess. It does seem that the nation-state is the dysfunctional unit and the tribes would all be better off retreating to their own, tiny, autonomous areas, and working out how to cooperate in the cities which attract mixed groups. The parallel to Lebanon is instructive. Israel too. Georgia?
    The issue of large federal union encompassing many states and many smaller ethnic and religious minorities applies to our own situation here, as well as many other places in the world. We also have our problems with competing regions and ethnic groups. I mean, California is not going to be happy if a few “undecided” voters in Ohio give us McCain for president.

  16. Keith says:

    If this were really about the rights of people to be self-governed then Russia would immediately recognize independent states in Chechnya and Dagestan who absolutely hate Russia, have seperate ethnic identities, and strong central leadership and structures (at least until Russia blew them all up).

  17. Clifford Kiracofe says:

    I met General Ojukwu some years back and we had some most interesting exchanges of view. Fascinating man. The Ibo had a good point… and the oil.
    1. Meanwhile,
    “Russia’s ambassador to NATO, Dmitry Rogozin, warned that any NATO attack on the Moscow-backed regions would “mean a declaration of war on Russia,” in an interview with Russian newspaper Vremya Novostei.”
    2. Anent the buildup in the Black Sea, always a sensitive issue for Russia, what about the present status of the Montreux Convention of 1936?
    3. SCO meeting in Dushanbe.
    4. MOSCOW, August 27 (RIA Novosti) – A senior Russian military analyst said on Wednesday that the U.S. and NATO by arming Tbilisi used the conflict in Georgia as a dress rehearsal for a future military operation in Iran.
    Col. Gen Leonid Ivashov, president of the Academy of Geopolitical Studies, told a news conference at RIA Novosti, “We are close to a serious conflict – U.S. and NATO preparations on a strategic scale are ongoing. In the operation the West conducted on Georgian soil against Russia – South Ossetians were the victims or hostages of it – we can see a rehearsal for an attack on Iran. There is a great deal of “new features” that today are being fine tuned in the theater of military operations.”
    He said the likelihood of a war against Iran was growing with each passing day, “As a result, the situation in the region will become destabilized,” and added “causing chaos and instability” was becoming Washington’s official policy line.
    Ivashov said it was difficult to predict how other countries would react to a conflict with Iran, but according to him, “old Europe” would be reluctant for events to develop and to some degree would become Russia’s allies.
    With regard to the Georgia-South Ossetian conflict, he said that one of the principal goals of NATO’s “geopolitical operation” was to neutralize Russia as a global player.”
    Of course, we can all be comforted because Cindy McCain, the “swank” (?)globe trotting beer baroness, is holding Gavrilo P. Saakashvili’s hand this week. But can she keep him from eating his tie on TV again? That stress thing….
    David Habakkuk,
    Just what are Miliband, Cameron, and all of that ilk smoking these days? A flighty lot.

  18. Drongo says:

    “How horrible, fantastic it is that we should be digging trenches and trying on gas-masks here because of a quarrel in a far away country between people of whom we know nothing.” Neville Chamberlain, 1938.
    The Sudeten Germans undoubtedly aspired to unity with the rest of the German Volk and incorporation of their lands into the neighbouring territory of the Thousand Year Reich. Near one million Britons and a million and a half Frenchmen had died in the Great War that ended only twenty years before Munich, and it was this horror of the immense bloodletting in the mud of the trenches that led Chamberlain to insist that Czechoslovakia cede territory to Germany. History has judged this to be a foolish and craven surrender and left us the “A” word – appeasement – forever to be used as a weapon with which to bludgeon those who would look to diplomacy rather than armed conflict to solve any problem of confrontation between the great powers. Personally, I fully agree with Col. Lang’s incredulity that war might be contemplated over the issue of the slivers of land bordering on Georgia and Russia; the west – or perhaps, more accurately, the US – has foolishly and arrogantly encroached upon Russia’s security and dignity and encouraged the fool Saakashvili to headstrong and dangerous acts of aggression. I am, however, uncomfortably aware of the echo of Chamberlain’s words quoted above in what Col. Lang states: “Georgian rule is unwelcome in South Ossetia and Abkhazia. The majority of people in those regions are not Georgians.” and asks “Are the two great powers really going to carry their quarrel over this to the brink of war?” The bellophiles will accuse those who would avoid armed conflict with Russia over Abkhazia and Ossetia with the A word. How do we rebut those charges?

  19. robt willmann says:

    Quoted above is that splendid passage from the Declaration of Independence.
    Since a government claiming a State is a mandatory monopoly over a particular geographical area, force often does come into play, since monopolists do not like competition (neither do oligopolists and oligarchies).
    Professor Igor Lukes says that “international law” has “clear standards” for evaluating whether an independence movement should be recognized, including “well-defined borders”.
    Leila Abu-Saba says that the quote about force in the Melian Dialogue makes her think of the Palestinians. I agree.
    But there’s more. Professor Lukes makes me think of the Israeli government which, it seems, has never declared the borders of Israel (it also apparently has no constitution).
    This raises the fun question: should Israel be “recognized” by “international law” if it has never declared its borders?

  20. Curious says:

    Related to topic, here come the loan shark. Georgia will be forever in IMF debt now.
    The International Monetary Fund is considering lending Georgia $750 million to help buoy investor confidence after Russia’s invasion, according to a fund official involved in the negotiations.
    Georgia is dependent on foreign capital to finance its trade deficit, raising concern that the country’s economy may suffer if overseas investment slows. The IMF sent a mission to the country to assess the damage and the fund’s board is likely to consider a loan or credit line soon, said the official, who spoke on condition of anonymity.

    Georgia’s trade deficit widened to $2.8 billion in the first seven months of the year as energy costs pushed up the value of imports, from $2.4 billion in June, the Tbilisi-based statistics department said Aug. 22.

    And they want to sell tanks and fighters to Georgia. Who is going to pay? AIPAC?
    I don’t think the Georgian knows how truly screwed they are now. Zimbabwe style screwed. Forever in debt.
    Russia doesn’t have to do a thing except lobing explosive down the road every now and then to destroy economic confidence in georgia.
    I give Georgian economy 18 months to collapse.

  21. Curious says:

    omg. Georgia is beyond screwed….
    Georgia’s forex was only &1Bm or so with gigantic twin deficits. (this is before the war) And they are asking for $2Billion aids to Washington?
    Even Abkhazia can invade Georgia and win a war against Georgia next year.
    Reserves of foreign exchange and gold:
    $1.361 billion (31 December 2007 est.)
    Debt – external:
    $4.5 billion (2007)

  22. alnval says:

    Col. Lang:
    Unreal. Where is ‘Mutually Assured Destruction’ when you need it?
    Froomkin in today’s WaPo devotes most of his column to what’s happening in Georgia. It’s not pretty when one of our Coast Guard vessels is afraid to enter port because the Russians are controlling it.
    Regardless, the difficulty with these kinds of inter-nation problems is our inherent need to find a rational if arbitrary basis for their genesis and solution. The Melians tried and look what happened to them.
    In our time a world war was ostensibly started because a Serbian nationalist killed an Archduke in Sarajevo of all places.
    A second was started because we didn’t know how to end the first one.
    And a third, also a product of the first, may yet be in the offing.

  23. Clifford Kiracofe says:

    Situation in Caucasus regarding Armenia and Azerbaijan:
    “The events of the “five-day war” in South Ossetia demonstrated that countries of the Southern Caucasus largely act according to their own national interests, and not on the assurances of “eternal friendships.” Thus, both Armenia and Azerbaijan behave in a careful and calculated manner, realizing that getting involved in the Russian-Georgian conflict bears a lot of “hidden reefs” which could prove to be more dangerous than the status-quo that is so despised by Baku and so cherished by Yerevan.”…

  24. John Howley says:

    (1) Georgia is not far from Iran. Turkey, Armenia and Azerbaijan EACH have borders with BOTH countries.
    (2) Klare, in his 2008 book Rising Powers, put the Caspian at the top of his list of petroleum hotspots. Klare cites Georgia and Kyrgyzstan as being of special interest because they are among the few (only?) countries where active-duty Russian and US military units were stationed within the same boundaries. (That didn’t happen in the Cold War I don’t think.) Increases potential for mischief and/or miscalculation.
    (3) The News Hour had an interesting segment on Abkhazia…sent a correspondent there who found some that spoke English:

  25. J says:

    And that’s not the good part — if Georgia accepts the IMF ‘loan’ of $750 Million, they’ll be ‘forever in debit’ to the IMF vampire club.

  26. Marcus says:

    A new war? With what army? The one exhausted and deranged from playing Russian Roulette with IED in Iraq?
    How bout a draft? Don’t think so, the country didn’t have the stomach to fight one of the axis of evil units post 9-11 by draft.
    You think the Europeans are itching with a fight with their largest energy supplier? No, they’ll be happy to drag their feet until the fool and the neo-cons are out of office.
    The only scenario I see is if Shrub wants to burn down the house to hide the crime. The crime being the rape and pillage of the economy through Reagan, Bush, Bush malign neglect and corruption.

  27. Curious says:

    To Washington and London dudes, the problem with talking smack about Russian’s money: “They are liquid” and we are not.
    Wait until Putin start saying “beware those western countries. They gonna do trade embargo on us, repatriate your fund.!” All those russians money are going to bail from US and UK market.
    Guess where all those FTSE, DOW and bonds money are going to go?
    The russian can short our market like nobody’s business. They are liquid.
    (Man, the russian will sooner or later do the chinese move. start dumping bonds on people who talk smack on them. This is how the chinese made Bush stop talking nasty.)
    I can feel it. The Russian is going to F the market.
    The Russians are going to start thinking how to use their money smarter than parking it on off shore bank account.
    U.S. policymakers have debated whether and how Russia should be punished for its incursion into Georgia. Already, a civil nuclear deal between Russia and the United States appears dead in Congress, and Russia’s 13-year effort to join the World Trade Organization is in trouble. Russian officials in recent weeks have disparaged such concerns — Prime Minister Vladimir Putin this week said he sees “no advantages” to joining the WTO — but U.S. officials predict Russia will suffer if it becomes isolated.
    Similarly, in a speech yesterday in Kiev, Ukraine, British Foreign Secretary David Miliband said: “Today Russia is more isolated, less trusted and less respected than two weeks ago. It has made military gains in the short term. But over time, it will feel economic and political losses.”
    Miliband noted that Russia’s foreign exchange reserves have fallen by $16 billion and risk premiums for investing in Russia have soared since the crisis began. By contrast, when the Soviet Union attacked Czechoslovakia in 1968, “no one asked what impact its actions had on the Russian stock market. There was no Russian stock market.”

  28. mlaw230 says:

    It is increasingly difficult to deny the “oily” argument.
    It appears evident that regardless of the truth of the “peak oil” theory, this administration believes it. If we analyze their conduct in that light i.e. peak oil is upon us and we will soon be dividing the world between the haves and have nots, the last 8 years start to make sense.
    This explains our strange commitment to “democracy” that coincides almost exclusively with the presence of oil. Iraq, Iran ,Georgia, Turkmenistan, the seemingly useless European missile shield, blustering in Venezuala, all fall into place if one simply assumes we are about to be in a global war over a scarce, dwindling and irreplaceable natural resource.
    I am now removing the tinfoil hat.

  29. arbogast says:

    Israel and Georgia
    This article in Time is detailed and even-handed I would say.
    To me, it makes clear that Georgia’s provocation of Russian did not serve Israel’s immediate interests. Nor did it serve Georgian interests.
    So, it’s a Sherlock Holmes moment. Eliminate the impossible and whatever remains, however improbable, is the truth.
    It served John McCain’s interests.

  30. Shrike58 says:

    alnval: That’s part of the problem; the neo-con’s never believed in MAD. They believe in counter-force/first strike with BMD to fend off the remnants. Of course, this neglects small matters such as nuclear winter (even if you can get a BMD capability you can trust), but the weather is merely a liberal plot anyway.

  31. Curious says:

    Hey, we got to redo the cold war again…
    (kinda amazing, nobody notes both countries are shooting their nuke capable weapons and have 2 heavy destroyers nose to nose.)
    Russia’s Topol ICBM hits target with new warhead in test launch
    16:35 28/ 08/ 2008
    MOSCOW, August 28 (RIA Novosti) – A Russian Topol strategic missile test-launched on Thursday from the Plesetsk space center has successfully hit a designated target on the Kamchatka peninsula, a Strategic Missile Forces spokesman said.
    LockMart Trident II D5 Missile Achieves 124 Successful Test Launches In A Row
    The U.S. Navy has conducted a successful test launch of two Trident II D5 Fleet Ballistic Missiles (FBMs) built by Lockheed Martin. The Navy launched the unarmed missiles from the submerged submarine USS Louisiana (SSBN 743) in thePacific Ocean.

  32. Clifford Kiracofe says:

    mlaw230, All
    Well yes, the matter boils down to the underlying geopolitical assumptions driving US grand strategy.
    1. The US foreign policy elite since the Carter Administration has essentially relied on Zbig’s geopolitics and thus we see a certain continuity. Zbig provided the geopolitical justification for the Trilateral Commission — US, Europe, Japan containment of Eurasian landmass (Russia, China).
    2. Clinton created the pipeline tsar slot and Zbig advised BP etal. on the BTC so nothing new about Georgia and nothing new about White House obsessions with pipeline routes.
    3. The general game plan was expressed in Brzezinki’s book “The Grand Chessboard. American Primacy and Its Geostrategic Imperatives” (New York: Basic Books, 1997).
    4. Brzezinski seeks to update the Brit Halford Mackinder for American purposes. Mackinder was a late 19th century strategist with a British imperial perspective. The idea here is that the US should ape 19th century imperial British geopolitics and thus attain and maintain global hegemony. This line of thought is institutionalized in the various National Strategy reports of the SecDef.
    See the following overview:
    Do Zbig’s alien neo-baroque geopolitical fantasies promote the American national interest in the new multipolar world which has been emerging since 1992? No, and therefore they need to be dropped for a realistic American approach.

  33. Patrick Lang says:

    It seem that all you realpolitcians are uninterested in the Wilsonian and Jeffersonian ideas and ideals of the past. pl

  34. David Habakkuk says:

    Clifford Kiracofe,
    As to Miliband and Cameron. Part of the explanation may be that these are two prime specimens of the modern British political class, which is largely composed of professional politicians, which commonly means experts in rhetoric and not much else.
    But it may also be that both are articulating a familiar Russophobia which has been common in the British elite since the late imperial period (remember Kipling’s The Truce of the Bear). Some of us think that this Russophobia had unfortunate consequences even at a time — the late Thirties — when the regime in Russia really was a peculiarly savage tyranny, and threatens to once again today, when this is patently not the case.
    Compounding the problem, they seem to have lost sight of the basic principle of traditional British foreign policy — try to keep actual or potential enemies apart.
    This brings me on to the issue Drongo raises about countering the potency of the ‘appeasement’ analogy. This is a quite fundamental issue — so I hope to be forgiven an excessively long comment.
    A number of points:
    1. Contrary to what those who denounce ‘appeasement’ often appear to think, none of Britain’s options in the autumn of 1938 were very promising.
    Perhaps they think that Hitler would have been ‘deterred’ by a strong British stand? Or that the French and British would have avoided by fighting in 1938 the thrashing they got at the hands of the Wehrmacht when they went to war the following year? It may be relevant that Hitler went to his death regretting that he had not his war a year earlier. This makes it seem unlikely that he would have been ‘deterred’ — and he may well have been right that the delay worked against Germany. We lost the Czech defences — but gained the Spitfire and Hurricane.
    It is often suggested that confronting Germany would have produced a military coup. Perhaps. But then basing policy on the hope of ‘regime change’ would have been a gamble on an attempt to unseat an overwhelmingly popular nationalist demagogue by a tiny minority of senior military (particularly military intelligence) officers and diplomats. (Perhaps one might see some of the leading figures as German equivalents of what I understand is sometimes called in the U.S. the Striped Pants set.) Even if the coup had materialised and not been nipped in the bud, a civil war would have been a not unlikely outcome.
    And for what it is worth, in his sympathetic 1992 study of the German resistance to Hitler, Klemens von Klemperer has no difficulty understanding why the Chamberlain government was unwilling to gamble on hopes of ‘regime change’.
    2. To understand arguments within Britain about Germany in the Thirties one has also to understand arguments about the Soviet Union.
    If the threat of war with Britain and France was rather unlikely to have deterred Hitler in the autumn of 1938, the threat of a revival of the 1914 coalition — Britain, France and Russia — might have. So hopes of preserving peace in Europe, in the view of some of the most incisive opponents of appeasement, depended upon not only France but Britain responding to the ‘collective security’ overtures of Litvinov.
    (See for example the account given in her memoir The Parting of Ways, by a leading British champion of the Czechs, Sheila Grant Duff, both of Czech strategic calculations and of the view of the great American anti-appeasement polemicist Edgar Ansel Mowrer, her teacher in journalism and politics.)
    One reason the appeasers opposed this was that they thought such an alliance more likely to provoke war than to avert it. But they were also suspicious of Soviet motives. In the early Thirties, remember, the German Communists had been engaged in an all-out attack against the Social Democrats. The sudden volte-face in Moscow in favour of ‘collective security’ and the ‘Popular Front’ was widely interpreted in the West as a tactical move — whose goal was to finesse Germany and the Western powers into a war from which the Soviets could then stand aside. In this reading, the Soviets were offering to cooperate in the defence of Czechoslovakia, in the hope of precipitating a war, from which they could then stand aside.
    As with a possible German civil war, the appeasers feared that a protracted European war might deliver Europe to communism. And they thought this was what Stalin was playing for.
    Were they right? The matter remains controversial. An erudite restatement of a sophisticated version of the appeasers’ view can be found in the 1992 study Stalin in Power by the American historian (and former diplomat) Robert C. Tucker. An erudite counter-argument is in the 1999 study Grand Delusion by the Israeli historian Gabriel Gorodetsky.
    3. When however Hitler occupied the — unambiguously non-German — rump of Czechoslovakia in March 1939, a situation was created where the British had nothing to lose by seeking an alliance with the Soviets.
    There was no remaining point in worrying about an alliance with the Soviets precipitating war, as it was clear that unless Britain was to acquiesce in an expansion of German power to the East which could no longer be represented as having obvious limits, it was likely to have to fight. Such hopes of successful ‘deterrence’ as remained clearly depended on having the Soviets onside; while if there was to be a war, we were clearly far better off with them in than out. What had at all costs to be avoided, moreover, was a rapprochement between Hitler and Stalin — and intelligence pointing to the possibility of this happening was frankly coming out of our ears.
    What Chamberlain then did was to give a unilateral guarantee to Poland, which destroyed any leverage we had on the Poles, while precipitating Hitler’s approach to the Soviets. And indeed, as Gorodetsky notes, on the day the Nazi-Soviet Pact was signed, the pro-appeasement British ambassador in Berlin, Sir Nevile Henderson, admitted that British policy towards Poland ‘would always have made it inevitable in the end.’ If Gorodetsky is right — as I tend to think he is — then the Polish guarantee was not just a mistake but may have been a highly consequential one, which condemned many millions to death.
    4. From where I stand — as someone whose family background as well present convictions aligns him with the Mowrer/Grant Duff view — the true heirs of Neville Chamberlain are not people like myself who have always thought NATO expansion a mistake. It is in David Cameron — our probable next Prime Minister — that the spirit of Neville Chamberlain lives again. Like Chamberlain, he — as also Miliband — thinks is it prudent to disregard Russian security concerns; does not grasp that this may cause the Russians to seek allies in places we would prefer them not to; and — last but hardly least — seems incapable of grasping that reckless giving of guarantees to countries on Russia’s borders may not increase either one’s own security or that of the countries concerned.
    5. A real joke however is that people like Perle and Pipes hold a view of Soviet policy which was in direct line of descent from that of the ‘appeasers’ — without ever apparently realising this. In both cases, the assumption was that the overt Soviet policy line — ‘collective security’ in the Thirties, Soviet interest in arms control in the Seventies and Eighties — was a disingenuous ploy, hiding a quite different covert strategy. In both cases, the assumption was that a chief asset of the Soviets was the gullibility of liberals. An irony, of course, in terms of the interpretation of the appeasers, it was those who were arguing for a confrontation with Germany over Czechoslovakia who were Stalin’s dupes. And among them, of course, was Winston Churchill.

  35. alnval says:

    Col. Lang:
    You posed two issues:
    1) Are the two great powers really going to carry their quarrel over this to the brink of war? Are we really going to do that? pl
    2) It seem[s] that all you realpolitcians are uninterested in the Wilsonian and Jeffersonian ideas and ideals of the past. pl
    Although your discussion leading up to your two questions frames a context for their answers in either Wilsonian or Jeffersonian terms, would not the achieving of such solutions rest on the availability to the two Georgian territories of resources that could guarantee their implementation and success? Isn’t that what ‘force majeure’, i.e. realpolitik, is all about?
    If South Ossetia and Abkhazia possessed these resources then with whom would they be arguing and about what? That the United States assumed that it possessed the power necessary to help Georgia deny these two territories self-determination only to find out that it didn’t when the Russians raised the ante, says virtually nothing about whether the South Ossetians or Abkhazians are theoretically, ethically or morally entitled to pursue their own form of government. Of course they are.
    From the reports we’ve been reading it sounds as if the South Ossetians and Abkhazians have been quietly pursuing self-government for years. And, if it had not been for the Georgian government’s willingness – with the backing of the United States – to exercise ‘force majeure’ in South Ossetia nobody would have been the wiser.
    Whether any country is entitled to impose its political system on another is not at issue. Neither Jefferson nor Wilson would countenance the imposition of any political system on anybody even though both believed that the United States had an obligation to inform if not spread democracy around the world.
    This being said, how are we to avoid ‘realpolitik’ in addressing these issues. Unfortunately, the ideal still remains the enemy of what works.

  36. Clifford Kiracofe says:

    <"the modern British political class, which is largely composed of professional politicians, which commonly means experts in rhetoric and not much else.">
    David Habakkuk,
    Thank you for your thoughtful insights. We have the same problem over here with the current political class.
    I have not studied in detail the appeasement issue. However, it seems to me one complicating problem in the 1920s-30s in Europe and even in the US was that certain powerful factions were pro-Hitler [pro-Fascist generally including the Italian version] precisely because they believed he could be a battering ram against the Soviet bogeyman. A sort of Germanic Napoleon who would this time defeat Russia; hence, to be supported and built up so as to create “The New Order” in Europe.
    In the United States, at the elite level, this sort of thinking was embodied in the “American Liberty League” for which see:
    The best study is
    George Wolfskill’s and it has relevance to today’s political situation:
    “The Revolt of the Conservatives: A. History of the American Liberty League, 1934-1940. (Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 1962).”
    I would also draw your attention to James Stewart Martin, All Honorable Men (Boston: Little Brown, 1950) which is ESSENTIAL reading.

  37. Clifford Kiracofe says:

    <"...Jeffersonian ideas and ideals of the past.">
    I indicated on one of these threads that the US and Russia had excellent relations in the 19th century. Why shouldn’t this be a goal of American diplomacy today?
    Jefferson had a friendly correspondence with Alexander I and even placed a statue of him at Monticello:
    What was Jefferson’s strategic vision? As a realist, he viewed Russia as a counterweight to Britain and France.
    Later, Jefferson reasoned the Peace of Tilsit (1807) between Russia and France opened further trade opportunites with Russia and was conducive to Russian support for US diplomacy.
    Did the United States object to Imperial Russian expansion in the Caucasus? No. Did the United States demur in the 19th century from relations with Imperial Russia because it was an autocracy? No.
    The first sentence in our 1824 treaty with Russia with respect to the Pacific Ocean begins:
    “In the name of the Most Holy and Indivisible Trinity.” …

  38. David Habakkuk says:

    Clifford Kiracofe,
    The James Stewart Martin book seems to be very hard to get hold of — second hand copies starting at $500.
    The issue of sympathy for National Socialism on the British right — which was certainly very considerable — is not one I have studied closely. But I think that various elements came into play. Certainly there were people who hoped that if Hitler moved East, he could destroy communism for them.
    But Chamberlain genuinely believed that Hitler’s goal was bringing ethnic Germans back into the Reich. Many conservatives indeed saw Nazi Germany as a defensive bulwark. A common and fatal mistake was to see Hitler as a figure who had used the techniques of mass politics of which the Bolsheviks had been pioneers for conservative purposes.
    One of the things that Churchill clearly understood was the essentially revolutionary nature of the Nazi regime. Likewise, today, there are still conservatives who do not understand the essentially Jacobin nature of neoconservatism. It may be David Cameron is among them — which could be another point of resemblance between him and Chamberlain.
    Unfortunately there were good reasons, as well as bad ones, for distrusting Churchill.
    As emerges very clearly in John Lukacs’ essay Five Days in London, May 1940, one of the most committed appeasers was R.A. Butler, then undersecretary to Lord Halifax at the Foreign Office. He had been a principal architect of the 1935 Government of India Act, the opposition to which was led by Churchill. Both his father Montagu and his uncle Harcourt had served with distinction in the Indian Civil Service.
    The Butlers were — very sensibly — pursuing a strategy of ‘appeasement’ in relation to Indian nationalism. Quite rightly, they thought that the strategy of confrontation advocated by Churchill in regard to India was likely to produce a catastrophe. Quite wrongly, they interpreted arguments over Europe in terms of arguments over India.
    Ironically, with most German nationalist leaders other than Hitler, ‘appeasement’ might very well have worked. What it left out of account was precisely the revolutionary — ultimately nihilistic — undercurrent in National Socialism, which was particularly strong in Hitler himself.

  39. Arun says:

    A people seeking to secede can claim the Jeffersonian creed **if and only if** they intent to implement a government that protects civil liberties.
    Otherwise it doesn’t make sense. Say, imagine a Talibanesque province’s claim to secession from Afghanistan, based in part on the idea that a secular government in Kabul “violats Islam”; their proposed new state wants to, among other things, impose severe limitations on the rights of women and on people of other faiths, based on some religious notions.
    As per me, there might improbably be other reasons why such a secession movement is legitimate; but they are not to be found in the Declaration of Independence or in Jefferson or in any of the Founding Fathers.
    Yes, I’m aware that the Founding Fathers represented property-owing straight males of European descent, and that that union they brought about was imperfect perhaps not only in its implementation but perhaps even in their conception. I do not know if they ever thought about the more than half of the population they did not confer equal rights to (speak of inalienable!) But it was at the head of the class for its time, and their blueprint has enabled us to at least keep up with the times if not always lead.
    So in Abkhazia, is it Abkhazians versus non-Abkhazians? or is it citizens versus an oppressive government? Is it “Abkhazia for its ethnic group?” or is it “Abkhazia for its residents?”

  40. Clifford Kiracofe says:

    Russian naval base for Abkhazia? Should benefit the local economy.
    “MOSCOW, August 29 (RIA Novosti) – Russia’s Black Sea Fleet may eventually use the Abkhazian port of Sukhumi as a naval base, former fleet commander said on Friday.
    After Russia recognized the independence of Georgia’s two breakaway regions, Abkhazia and South Ossetia, Abkhazian President Sergei Bagapsh suggested that Russia’s Black Sea Fleet could use one of the ports in the republic to station its warships.
    “Sukhumi could easily host Black Sea Fleet ships, for instance a naval brigade of up to 30 vessels,” said Admiral Eduard Baltin, commenting on Bagapsh’s statement.
    Baltin, 71, said a naval brigade might comprise a division of small ASW ships, a division of small missile ships or boats, and a division of minesweepers.
    He said one of the large piers at the Sukhumi port had not been used since the 1992 Georgian-Abkhazian conflict because several ships were sunk there.
    “If we cleared up the harbor at the cargo terminal, we would be able to station the ships from the naval brigade there,” the admiral said.

  41. Clifford Kiracofe says:

    David Habakkuk,
    I will have a photocopy made from my copy of the Martin book and get it off to you.
    Charles Higham’s Trading With the Enemy. The Nazi-American Money Plot 1933-1949 (New York:Barnes and Noble 1983) presents a quite good overview on the US side of Wall Street/Big Business collaboration with the Nazi regime. Has a useful bibliography which includes Martin.
    One can say Hitler was, in effect, carrying out to some degree the earlier strategic vision and program of the Alldeutscher Verband (est. 1891)…”Mitteleuropa” and all that. Haushofer’s update of Mackinder etal. flows out of this milieu.
    [Does Zbig see himself as some sort of messianic geopolitician along Haushofer lines? Reading his “Grand Chessboard” one might conclude in the affirmative. One hopes Obama will not fall into this.]
    The single best analytical study I have seen of German politics leading to Hitler, with extensive bibliography, is:
    W. M. Knight-Patterson, Germany from Defeat to Conquest 1913-1933 (London: George Allen and Unwin), 1945. Forward by Lord Vansittart.
    I was able to obtain a copy of Eugen Spier, FOCUS. A Footnote to the History of the Thirties (London: Oswald Wolff, 1963) from a UK book dealer. Most interesting insider’s recollections of the Churchill circle (the “FOCUS” group) which included Lord Cecil of Chelwood, Lord Davies, Sir Arthur Salter, Noel-Baker, Philip Guedalla, Wickham Steed, Violet Bonham Carter, Arthur Henderson, Kingsley Martin, and etc.
    Per India, we did something similar with our colonial possession, Philippines, to cut against Japanese penetration/propaganda. This was the Tydings-McDuffie Act (The Philippines Independence Act) of 1934 promising full independence in 10 years after a transition period.

  42. Clifford Kiracofe says:

    <"As to Miliband and Cameron. Part of the explanation may be that these are two prime specimens of the modern British political class, which is largely composed of professional politicians, which commonly means experts in rhetoric and not much else. But it may also be that both are articulating a familiar Russophobia which has been common in the British elite since the late imperial period ...">
    David Habakkuk,
    Over here the mass media takes special care to censor British opposition voices. In the run up to the Iraq War, the US press and media bubble “protected” the American public from the very stiff debate in Parliament and the strong opposition to the war voices in Labour in particular. Logically, if opposition to the war was strong in our closest ally, the American people better not get wind of this as they might get ideas.
    I note the latest analysis per the split in the UK between the younger generation of politicians who seem to be smoking old fashioned 19th century opium while fashionably running a couple of grams of modern coke up their noses for that extra “edge.”
    Just as the Neocons penetrated both the Democratic Party (starting as Truman Cold War Zionists) and the Republican Party (during the Reagan years) over here we can see how Neocon-ism has penetrated Labour and the Conservatives. I suspect there is a similar situation on the Continent.
    Says Whitaker at the Independent:
    “One of the most striking divisions exposed by the crisis in the Caucasus has been on the Western side, between the older generation and those too young to remember the days when two nuclear-armed blocs kept each other in check with the doctrine of MAD, or mutually assured destruction. But the curious thing is that, apart from one or two old recalcitrants such as Mr Cheney and the Republican presidential candidate, John McCain, it is the older generation urging caution. Those speaking the language of confrontation against the Kremlin tend to be closer in age to Georgia’s warm-blooded President, who is 40….”

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