By AVI PERRY
Why are the U.S. and the EU so insistent on keeping the territorial integrity of countries like Ukraine, Iraq and even the Palestinian proposed state (based on the 1948-1967 borders), when actual conditions on the ground would be better served otherwise?
The Crimean peninsula has been part of Russia since the 18th century and all throughout the first half of the 20th century when it was offered as a gift from Russia to Ukraine by former (Ukrainian-born) leader of the Soviet Union, Nikita Khrushchev, and became part of the Soviet Republic of Ukraine. The change in ownership was more symbolic than materialistic due to the fact that Ukraine was a region in the Soviet Union under Russian leadership. Consequently, this figurative transformation did not bring about any meaningful metamorphosis in the daily life of a citizen living in the Crimean peninsula.
With the breakup of the Soviet Union in 1990, Crimea remained part of Ukraine. But unlike the rest of the Ukrainian administrative regions, it was able to preserve its special Russian character by becoming the only autonomous Ukrainian republic.
According to the 2001 Ukrainian population census, 58.5 percent of the population of Crimea were ethnic Russians and 24.4 percent were ethnic Ukrainians. Consequently, Russian has been and still is the principal spoken language in Crimea. What’s more, Russia inherited – as per the breakup agreement with Ukraine – the Soviet Union’s most important warm water Black Sea seaport with its accompanying fleet of war ships in (Russian-governed) Sevastopol where its navy retains one of its principal bases.
The latest revolution in Kiev brought to power politicians whose chief common attribute was their hostility toward Russia. The re-energized Ukrainian authorities have just repealed a law giving regional rights to minority languages. This was one of their most prominent initiatives since assuming power. They have also signed a new bill banning Russian media in Ukraine. These moves must have been popular in the western part of the country. But in Crimea and in some Eastern regions it must have been seen as an indication of the further repression (of the Russian and Russian-speaking Ukrainian citizens) to come.
Anxiety among Russian-speaking Ukrainians has been justifiably intensified in the past few days. Had a referendum been offered in Crimea today over whether the republic should be part of Ukraine or part of Russia, there is no doubt that the local citizens would have chosen the latter. If we believe in democracy, if we believe in facilitating the will of the people, then why are we upset when someone else’s territorial integrity is sacrificed in order to make the most out of what the affected people really want? It is their way of life, their welfare and their happiness that we are trying to downgrade in the name of territorial integrity. What is so divine about unnatural territorial integrity – an integrity that came to pass as a result of a historical accident?
Let’s think it over.
Please note, however, that I am not supporting a Russian invasion of western Ukraine. If Russia tries to control the rest of the Ukrainian territory and embrace it as part of a greater Russian empire, then it would commit the same human rights violation they are trying to prevent from occurring in Crimea.
Now a look at Iraq. The state boundaries of Iraq were established by the British empire after the First World War. There was nothing natural about those boundaries other than political considerations by the British who viewed gifting King Faisal with territory he could rule over under British guardianship. In fact, Iraqi citizens comprise three major sects; Sunnis, Shiites and Kurds. They are concentrated in three contiguous regions respectively except for the capital city of Bagdad, where the different sects are more mixed although most neighborhoods are dominated by a majority of one sect or another. The fact is that whoever assumes power in Iraq, whether it is a leadership dominated by one sect or another, is trying to suppress the other sects. There is also deep hostility and mistrust between the various sects.
Iraqi minorities like the Sunnis and the Kurds could be better off if they were able to form their own state in the region where they are a significant majority, and hence govern themselves. These people know it as well. The current sectarian civil war that is taking place in Iraq is proof that forcing territorial integrity on this country, only due to a historical accident that unified it under a puppet king, is rooted in an obsession with preserving the status quo, regardless of whether or not it makes sense, regardless of whether or not it brings about violations of human rights for minorities, and regardless of whether or not it serves world peace.
The same logic applies to Israel and the Palestinian territories.
The border between Israel and Jordan was established over the ceasefire line at the end of the 1948 war. It was accidental. In fact, had the war continued for one more month, Jerusalem would not have been a divided city for the 19 years that followed. It would have fallen into the hands of the Jewish state and the rest of Israel’s borders would have moved further east.
Still, in the name of “territorial integrity” the rest of the world views the West Bank (also known as Judea and Samaria) as Palestinian territory.
Once again, the rest of the world sticks to preserving a historic status quo regardless of whether or not it makes sense. The only correct way to draw the borders of a future Palestinian state is to ensure that it includes all major Arab population centers. Empty regions should be subject to direct negotiations between the parties involved, and areas populated by Jewish settlements contiguous to the state of Israel should be annexed by the Jewish state. Furthermore, areas populated by Arabs west of but contiguous to the 1948 ceasefire line, may be incorporated into the new Palestinian state as part of the final settlement.
Preserving territorial integrity does not, in many cases, serve justice, happiness or human rights. We have witnessed the peaceful divorce of Czechoslovakia, the bloody disintegration of Yugoslavia, the Sudan split, and the breakup of the Soviet Union. In all of these cases, the resulting independent states were better off after the uncoupling had transpired.
The EU and the U.S. should let go of the concept that territorial integrity must not be violated even when it makes no sense. Let’s not pretend that we are the Catholic pope. Let these countries get a divorce when divorce is the best option.
Dr. Avi Perry, a talk show host at Paltalk News Network, is the author of Fundamentals of Voice Quality Engineering in Wireless Networks and more recently, 72 Virgins, a thriller about the covert war on Islamic terror. He was vice president at NMS Communications, a Bell Laboratories company – distinguished staff member and manager, as well as a delegate of the U.S. and Lucent Technologies to the ITU—the UN International Standards body in Geneva, a professor at Northwestern University and an intelligence expert for the Israeli Government. He may be reached through his web site www.aviperry.org