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Opening Pandora's box of national sovereignty?

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The recent crisis between Moscow and Tbilisi in South Ossetia was a good occasion for having some interesting conclusions. At a glance, it seems that the powerfull comeback of Russia in the International political scene creates a new framework, within which geo-political developments in Eurasia will be analyzed from now on. Nevertheless, this isn't the most important issue.

An even more significant accessory of the Ossetia crisis is that it simply confirms Kosovo's aftermath. Because, in a few words, the dispute between Russia and Georgia for domination in South Ossetia and Abkhazia wasn't virginal generation - actually, it was born as a result of Kosovo's independence, as another one affirmation of the incontrollable consequences that prejudiced support of independence movements can have. In an interesting Op-Ed article in Los Angeles Times ("The Pandora's box of sovereignty", August 13, 2008) Thomas Meaney and Harris Mylonas successfully point out that Kosovo set a precedent for similar situations of ethnic conflict leading to independence appeals. They write:

"In February, Bush and most European leaders backed the independence of Kosovo from Serbia, which Putin vociferously opposed. Don't worry, assured U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, saying, "Kosovo cannot be seen as precedent for any other situation in the world today." But precedent is exactly what it set. Just as the West wanted to shield Kosovo from Serbian domination, so Putin hopes to free South Ossetia and Abkhazia from Georgian interference and keep them in the Russian orbit of influence. Thus far, he has succeeded by rolling out tanks while the West has paid only lip service to the territorial integrity of Georgia."

Indeed, like it happened after the dissolution of the former united Yugoslavia in the start of '90s, the recent independence of Kosovo from Serbia created new facts, which tend to invigorate independence minority groups' argumentation around the world. On that specific point, the U.S. Foreign Policy carries a big part of responsibility, exposing an exasperating prejudice in its diplomatic attitude towards independence movements. For example, Washington encourages the independence of southern Sudanese but tries not to refer to Kurds' continuous appeals in eastern Turkey. Isn't that a double-faced practice? It is probably appropriate for diplomacy's realism, but on the other hand, not only feeds the feeling of inequity (If Kosovo, then why not us?), but also invigorates nationalism's audacity in places where there is smouldering ethnic tension.

But, if Kosovo has the right to be independent from Serbia, then - why not? - the same right could be applied to other cases as well: For example, the Basques in Spain, northern Ireland or the Albanian-speaking minority in the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia. Furthermore, when the U.S. government supports independence appeals from the side of Kosovo or Tibet, it seems quite weird to condemn Moscow for its intention to create a similar status-quo in south Ossetia - when your own policy sets a precedent, then you must be ready to accept the obvious consequences. It is like the two sides of the same coin, as long as superpowers see such conditions as an opportunity to afflict each other's interests. Yes, it's all about power and domination, the very nature of International Politics. However, what becomes quite clear is that when governments' attitude towards national independence movements follows the unfair doctrine "one law for the rich and another for the poor", then, indeed, they open Pandora's box of national sovereignty and mine the foundations of Peace and Security themselves.

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Aris Claras is a writer based in Greece.


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