Six years ago, I excitedly sat down to a lecture that I thought would help me understand just the way the world worked. It was a class on international law. In the proceeding weeks, I learnt about diplomatic codes and immunities, the power of the UN Security Council and various global treaties. Which was great. But I came to learn that the world worked less on legal niceties but rather forceful fait accompli.
2008 was the year that Kosovo gained independence from Serbia and this is what I wrote at the time in an article titled ‘So Kosovo is Independent huh’?
“ I’m all for the rights of a people to determine their own futures, however, I’m against the methods that the Kosovars used in their quest for independence. I don’t feel comfortable in the fact that a former region in a sovereign nation can, without preamble and involvement of the other parties, declare themselves ‘free’. The Kosovar unilateral declaration of independence opens up a whole can of worms vis-à-vis the legal precedence that it sets. Now that this small European region has become independent with the support of the biggest global powers, which have recognised its move, what does it mean for all the other peoples clamoring for a nation? Because, if the people of Kosovo are allowed to do what they did, then fairness and even common sense dictates that all the mentioned people should be allowed to break away from their mother nations without the resistance of the international community or their national governments”.
The events in Crimea remind me of Kosovo. Like Kosovo, Crimea was an integral part of an
independent state. Like Ukraine, Serbia was supposedly under the protective wing of the ‘big brother’ (in Serbia, Big Brother was Russia and in Ukraine, Big Brother has been the EU and the US). When Kosovo (read, Crimea) with the explicit support of their powerful allies sought to break free and did, the rest of the world could only rant and rave about the illegality of it all. And that, my friends, is international law.
It can be bent to fit whatever scenario the powerful want. The Iraq invasion? It was first about weapons of mass destruction, and then about freeing people. Later on people stopped even trying to justify it. It was fait accompli. Kosovo? Despite Russia’s outr guess what? Even if it hasn’t been granted a seat at the UN General Assembly table, Serbia has given up its rights there. It just a matter of time. Fait accompli once again.
A few days ago, Russia recognized Crimea as an independent state. If that was the end of it, I’m sure that it would’ve been squeezed to death by the powers that be. The EU, the US and Ukraine would have rendered the will of its people null and void through sanctions, lack of international recognition and military pressure. Even with Russia supporting it wholeheartedly, the independent Republic of Crimea would have been stillborn. Which is probably why, in the next few days, the newly independent state will give up its sovereignty to join Russia. This is where realpolitik, fait accompli and international law come together.
Russia is a different cup of tea. Unlike many smaller states, it has the economic, military and diplomatic might to actually make life dicey for the EU and US. Let’s not kid ourselves; it has the nukes to send all of us back to the Stone Age. That is why the talks of sanctions are just that. Talk. No one in their right mind will escalate this to its logical conclusion i.e. enforcing Ukrainian control of Crimea. No one likes Kiev that much.
So, what do we take from all this? Might is right and to hell with international law. A law that is unable to be enforced is simply a waste of the paper it is written on.