Saturday, September 6, 2008

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Vernet on the Caucasus and Kosovo

Daniel Vernet, Le Monde's foreign policy editor, tries to distinguish between Kosovo and Georgia's two separatist provinces, Abkhazia and South Ossetia. His argument is rather tortuous. It culminates with this passage: "The parallel between Kosovo and the Caucasus reveals two opposing conceptions of the international system. On the Western side, you have a clumsy, at times hypocritical attempt to accommodate an evolution of international law to move beyond the principle of national sovereignty and territorial integrity on the one hand and the right of ethnic self-determination on the other. On the Russian side you have power politics predicated on the creation of faits accomplis."

As it stands, this is hardly a ringing endorsement, on clear moral grounds or even in terms of international law, of the supposed alternative to power politics, an alternative for which Vernet finds no better adjectives than "clumsy and hypocritical." Before reaching this conclusion, Vernet fairly recounts the tortured history of Georgia's breakaway provinces. "Georgia's responsibility in the outbreak of hostilities in 1991 is undeniable," he writes, but the subsequent ethnic cleansing led to the elimination of most ethnic Georgians from both provinces. These are the faits accomplis of which the Russians now presume to take advantage. An ugly thing, to be sure, but would it be less ugly to seek to reverse by military means a situation for which Georgia bears part of the "responsibility" in order to restore Georgian "territorial integrity," its territory being already an artificial construct of an earlier era of power politics, and "sovereignty" over provinces now largely devoid of Georgians? I am hard put to see who would gain here, what lofty principles would be preserved, or how such a move would be any less an exercise in "power politics" dedicated to the "creation of faits accomplis" than what the Russians are doing.