Sunday, March 9, 2014

America’s duplicity

The current crisis in Ukraine, or more particularly in the Crimean peninsula, has become a conundrum that is both as old and as new as the issue of self-determination. To the United States and Europe, Crimea is but a smokescreen for Russian invasion.
Sevastopol in Crimea is home to Russia’s Black Sea Fleet since 1783, thus emphasizing the great strategic military value of the peninsula to the Russians. Crimea has also strong historical and ethnic ties to Russia or to the old Soviet Union before Khrushchev gave it up to Ukraine, and its population predominantly speak Russian as their language.
The Black Sea and Sevastopol, home of the Russian Black Sea Fleet. Photo courtesy of
Now the pro-Russian regional Parliament in Crimea has voted to hold a referendum on whether to secede from Ukraine and become part of the Russian Federation, a decision immediately condemned by the United States and Europe as a violation of the constitution of Ukraine and international law. Ignoring sanctions like suspension of negotiations on wide-ranging political-economic issues, travel bans, asset seizures and cancellation of a planned E.U.-Russia summit meeting, Russia appears to be tightening its grip over Crimea and testing the political will of the West, especially the United States.
Whether the proposed referendum has legal grounds is certainly problematic even though Article 73 of the Ukrainian constitution provides that altering the territory of Ukraine must be resolved exclusively by an All-Ukrainian referendum. Reality is not merely a cut-and-dried constitutional issue. Attempts toward secession in other countries have shown that it also requires recognition by other states and a form of negotiation between the seceding territory and the central government.
For instance, on the issue of Quebec’s referendum for secession in 1998, the Supreme Court of Canada ruled that neither the Quebec government nor its legislature has the legal right under Canadian constitutional law or under international law to unilaterally secede from Canada. The court however emphasized that the rest of Canada would have a political obligation to negotiate Quebec’s separation if a clear majority of that province’s population voted in favour of it. This has reinforced the belief of the separatist Parti Quebecois that the people of Quebec have a legitimate aspiration for independence based on the authority of a mandate from the people. Although Quebec’s secession from Canada did not materialize when the Parti Quebecois lost in the referendum, the dream of an independent Quebec continues.
Scotland is also voting for independence from the United Kingdom in September 2014. The British government has agreed to hold the referendum and the prospect of a separate Scotland is already dividing many citizens in the UK. In the Philippines, the proposed Bangsamoro nation that was brokered by the Aquino administration with the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) is about to be tabled in Congress despite attempts by renegade groups like the Moro National Liberation Front (MNLF) and the Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Fighters (BIFF) to derail the peace process. The Bangsamoro framework agreement entails carving out an autonomous region for Filipino Muslims in Mindanao that will alter the entire breadth of the Philippine territory. There are those who argue that this is only possible by amending the Constitution. Consider, too, that the referendum to ratify the Bangsamoro law is at least about two years away.
While Crimea is an autonomous republic in Ukraine, with its own powers under the Ukrainian constitution, its secession could depend not necessarily on the legal provisions of the national constitution, but also on the mandate of its people as determined through a popular referendum. The United States and Europe could raise their objection on whatever legal or moral grounds but in the end it is the people of Crimea who will decide their fate.
A rally backing Russia in Sevastopol in Crimea. Photo by Viktor Drachev/
Agence-France-Presse--Getty Images.
Instead of conducting the Crimean referendum under duress of Russian military occupation, Russia’s willingness to negotiate with the Ukrainian parliament for a genuine referendum could probably soften Crimea’s impending secession. Just like in the Quebec secession where the Canadian Supreme Court for the first time introduced the concept of a constitutional duty to negotiate, absent any provision in the Constitution or in international law authorizing secession by a part or territory of a state. Or as in the ongoing negotiations between the Philippine government and the MILF for a separate Bangsamoro government, which ultimately aims to establish a separate state within an existing state. In the final analysis, whatever the Crimean people choose—whether to secede from Ukraine or join the Russian Federation—must be respected. Of course, this is easier said than done.
The trouble with the United States and Europe which have denounced the legality of the Crimea referendum is their inconsistency and double-standard policy when it comes to the struggle for self-determination of countries or states not belonging to their political bloc.

In 1999, the United States supported Kosovo’s bid for secession from Serbia while Moscow saw it as an infringement of Serbia’s sovereignty. Kosovo ultimately gained independence in 2008.

Now 15 years later, the US and Russia are at odds again, but they have switched sides. Russia supports Crimea’s right to break off from Ukraine while the United States calls it illegitimate, a showdown that revives a long-drawn debate over the right of self-determination versus the territorial integrity of nation-states.

Former Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovych, who was duly elected, was ousted by a coup. No matter how you describe it, it was a demonstration supported by the West as a protest against a pro-Russian dictator. Yanukovych was seen as anti-Europe when he abandoned a trade agreement with the European Union. After fleeing Kiev and showing up in Moscow seeking help from Russian President Vladimir Putin, Russian troops took over Crimea on the pretext that they were protecting Russian interests in the region.
This double-standard policy was evident during the crises in Tunisia, Egypt and Libya. The United States supported the public demonstrations and protests against the corrupt and repressive governments of these countries only to cuddle the succeeding regimes which are equally repressive and even more corrupt. American foreign policy plays favourites with repressive and not-so-democratic countries like Pakistan by pouring in millions of dollars in military assistance to fight the Taliban, yet it condemns repression in Iran and North Korea which happen to fall outside its circle of allies.
Duality or duplicity in American foreign relations was already evident two hundred years ago when the US forced Spain to agree to a treaty that extended American frontiers. Yet, John Quincy Adams who helped draft the Monroe Doctrine said: “We are friends of liberty all over the world, but we do not go abroad in search for monsters to destroy.” Exactly what the Americans are doing now in Ukraine, in the never-ending Middle East conflict, and in the simmering dispute between China and its neighbours over some islands and rock formations on the China Sea.
The United States has used the Monroe Doctrine in authorizing intervention against aggression by other countries, yet at the same time the doctrine espoused neither interference nor meddling in the internal concerns of other countries. The Iraq invasion and the Gulf War are recent examples of the application of the Monroe Doctrine with a little tweak—by involving the support of American allies. Afghanistan’s invasion could also qualify under the umbrella of the Monroe Doctrine except that it was a response to the war on terror, a new twist in justifying American intervention.
Last November 2013, US Secretary of State John Kerry told the Organization of American States (OAS) that that the Monroe Doctrine was dead. Not really true. While Kerry was apparently calling for mutual partnership with other countries in the Americas, it was essentially in keeping with Monroe’s initial message than with the policies the US government had enacted long after Monroe’s death. Noam Chomsky called the Monroe Doctrine as America’s endearing rationale for declaring hegemony and the right of unilateral intervention all at the same time.
Crimea’s future has already been sealed. It will eventually join the Russian Federation despite censure from Ukraine, the United States and its allies in Europe. Sanctions against Russia will probably intensify but in the end will not matter much.
Vladimir Putin and the Russian Army are marching ahead towards gradual partitioning of the countries that used to be satellites of the old Soviet regime and picking up one territory after another. Will Putin be able to restore Russia’s superpower status which it lost during the end of the Cold War in the 1990s?
It’s still too early to say. The Crimean crisis or the ongoing disputes among other countries elsewhere in the world, however, clearly indicate that at the heart of all these tensions is a much broader conflict. It is not about the quarrel between the smaller protagonists, i.e., between Crimea and Ukraine, or Bangsamoro and the Philippine national government, or between those for or against Scottish independence.
This could be what Samuel Huntington called the emergence of a “multipolar” world, where the United States hangs on as the only superpower but must now come to terms with other regional powers who resent interference in their own spheres of influence, whether by the United States alone or with its coalition of the willing.

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