Winnipeg Free Press - ONLINE EDITION

Is ‘territorial integrity’ overblown?

  • Print

WASHINGTON — Vladimir Putin signed a treaty this week annexing Crimea as part of Russia, delivering a combative speech that expounded Russia’s links to the region dating back to Prince Vladimir’s baptism and conversion of the Kievan Rus to Christianity in the 10th century through the breakup of the Soviet Union. "Millions of Russians went to bed in one country and woke up abroad," he said.

Of course, that’s exactly what happened to the two million residents of Crimea, including the more than 40 per cent of them who do not identify as ethnically Russian.

This seeming contradiction is not new for Putin, who routinely accuses the West of using human rights "as an excuse for a presumptuous violation of national sovereignty" yet is willing to use the rights of ethnic Russians as pretext for seizing territory from Russia’s neighbours.

To be fair, when it comes to questions of territorial integrity, everyone’s a bit of a hypocrite. (Organized Hypocrisy is the title of one academic text on the subject of national sovereignty.)

At The Washington Post’s Monkey Cage blog, Erik Voeten asks why governments are so hung up on the question of territorial integrity to begin with. "There is no reason to think that existing borders are somehow morally the right ones or that they are socially or economically efficient," he writes, noting that "the rules can leave people trapped in a country that they do not identify with and/or a government that abuses them."

Indeed, in many cases there’s good reason to believe that existing borders often hold countries back both economically and politically.

The thing is, while there’s nothing morally superior about keeping borders as they’re currently arranged, there are relatively few historical examples in which territory is simply reallocated without bloodshed.

As Steve Saideman writes, "Countries do not give up pieces of themselves all that willingly, and when they do it is to create new countries, not give hunks of territory to their neighbours." The seizure in Crimea may have transpired with remarkably little violence, but there’s good reason to believe it would not turn out so neatly if Russia’s irredentism goes further.

In an ideal world, governments might be more open to negotiating border changes along more rational lines, but in the actually existing world, such changes more often than not involve creating new disenfranchised minorities (the Ukrainians and Tatars who woke up in a newly declared foreign country this week) or in the worst cases, war and ethnic cleansing.

Defending the territorial integrity of states as they currently exist may involve a good deal of hypocrisy, but for the most part, governments and international institutions embrace that hypocrisy because the alternative is seen as far worse.

 

Joshua Keating is a staff writer at Slate focusing on international news, social science and related topics. He was previously an editor at Foreign Policy magazine.

—Slate

 

Fact Check

Fact Check

Have you found an error, or know of something we’ve missed in one of our stories?
Please use the form below and let us know.

* Required
  • Please post the headline of the story or the title of the video with the error.

  • Please post exactly what was wrong with the story.

  • Please indicate your source for the correct information.

  • Yes

    No

  • This will only be used to contact you if we have a question about your submission, it will not be used to identify you or be published.

  • Cancel

Having problems with the form?

Contact Us Directly
  • Print

You can comment on most stories on winnipegfreepress.com. You can also agree or disagree with other comments. All you need to do is be a Winnipeg Free Press print or e-edition subscriber to join the conversation and give your feedback.

You can comment on most stories on winnipegfreepress.com. You can also agree or disagree with other comments. All you need to do is be a Winnipeg Free Press print or e-edition subscriber to join the conversation and give your feedback.

Have Your Say

New to commenting? Check out our Frequently Asked Questions.

Have Your Say

Comments are open to Winnipeg Free Press print or e-edition subscribers only. why?

Have Your Say

Comments are open to Winnipeg Free Press Subscribers only. why?

The Winnipeg Free Press does not necessarily endorse any of the views posted. By submitting your comment, you agree to our Terms and Conditions. These terms were revised effective April 16, 2010.

letters

Make text: Larger | Smaller

LATEST VIDEO

Jets This Week: Predicting the line-ups

View more like this

Photo Store Gallery

  • MIKE DEAL / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS 060711 Chris Pedersen breeds Monarch butterflies in his back yard in East Selkirk watching as it transforms from the Larva or caterpillar through the Chrysalis stage to an adult Monarch. Here an adult Monarch within an hour of it emerging from the Chrysalis which can be seen underneath it.
  • A goose flys defensively to protect their young Wednesday near Kenaston Blvd and Waverley -See Bryksa 30 Day goose challenge- Day 16 - May 23, 2012   (JOE BRYKSA / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS)

View More Gallery Photos

Poll

Are you worried Ebola might make its way to Canada?

View Results

View Related Story

Ads by Google