‘Sovereignty’ in Crimea

“I am deeply proud,” Anatoly Krepichev told Dan Peleschuck of the Global Post, “that we’re finally reuniting with Mother Russia.”[1]

I have my doubts that Crimeans are doing the right thing. I am, as I have said before (and as a commenter has ignored), as opposed to Russian imperialism as I am to U.S. imperialism.[2] But it is not for me to decide.

Apparently, however, U.S. President Barack Obama and the leaders in the European Union do believe that it is for themselves—and not for Crimeans—to decide. According to an unnamed “senior [Obama] administration official,”

the so-called referendum . . . took place without the participation and involvement of the government in Kyiv –- a referendum that was in violation of Ukraine’s constitution, that took place in an environment of coercion, with Russia having violated international law through its intervention in Crimea.[3]

Crimean election officials declared that the vote was 97 percent in favor of accession to Russia, but apparently Tatars—a minority— did not participate as there was no option on the ballot to choose the status quo.[4] That said, it seems clear that a great many Crimeans are celebrating the outcome.[5]

[Crimea] had been in Moscow’s hands for more than 150 years before the Soviet leadership gifted the region to Ukraine in 1954, and holds a special place in many Russians’ collective imagination.

It’s why locals like Krepichev, the former police officer, say Crimea is “returning home.”[6]

The upshot seems to be that Obama and the EU are, in effect, declaring that Crimeans do not have the right to choose their rulers. Of course the Ukrainian government would oppose the secession. Of course the Ukrainian government would oppose the referendum. But Ukrainian sovereignty counts for more than the will of any of its people.

An important concept related to the theory and practice of states is sovereignty, defined by French political economist Jean Bodin (in 1756) as “the state’s supreme authority over citizens and subjects.” In other words, under the doctrine of sovereignty, states are the final arbiter of earthly disputes and issues. There is no higher recourse.[7]

Max Weber was more succinct: “Ultimately, one can define the modern state sociologically only in terms of the specific means peculiar to it, as to every political association, namely, the use of physical force.”[8] He went on to say “that a state is a human community that (successfully) claims the monopoly of the legitimate use of physical force within a given territory.”[9]

Sovereignty, then, has absolutely nothing to do with democracy and everything to do with the decree, imposed by unlimited force. If it is indeed true that the so-called “Western democracies” of the United States and the European Union uphold democracy as a principle (and they do not: their systems are republics—see the Federalist no. 10[10]), they have chosen today to set it aside. Again.

  1. [1]Dan Peleschuck, “Crimea celebrates ‘victory’ after vote to join Russia,” Global Post, March 16, 2014, http://www.globalpost.com/dispatch/news/regions/europe/140316/crimea-celebrates-victory-after-vote-join-russia
  2. [2]David Benfell, “Democracy Now!’s not-so-good interview with Stephen Cohen on the Ukraine,” Not Housebroken, February 20, 2014, https://disunitedstates.org/?p=6170
  3. [3]Office of the Press Secretary, “Background Briefing by Senior Administration Officials on Ukraine,” White House, March 17, 2014, http://www.whitehouse.gov/the-press-office/2014/03/17/background-briefing-senior-administration-officials-ukraine
  4. [4]Luke Harding and Shaun Walker, “Crimea applies to be part of Russian Federation after vote to leave Ukraine,” Guardian, March 17, 2014, http://www.theguardian.com/world/2014/mar/17/ukraine-crimea-russia-referendum-complain-result
  5. [5]Dan Peleschuck, “Crimea celebrates ‘victory’ after vote to join Russia,” Global Post, March 16, 2014, http://www.globalpost.com/dispatch/news/regions/europe/140316/crimea-celebrates-victory-after-vote-join-russia
  6. [6]Dan Peleschuck, “Crimea celebrates ‘victory’ after vote to join Russia,” Global Post, March 17, 2014, http://www.globalpost.com/dispatch/news/regions/europe/140316/crimea-celebrates-victory-after-vote-join-russia
  7. [7]David P. Barash and Charles P. Webel, Peace and Conflict Studies (Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage, 2002), 187.
  8. [8]Max Weber, “What Is Politics?” in Social Theory: The Multicultural and Classic Readings, ed. Charles Lemert, 4th ed. (Boulder, CO: Westview, 2010), 114.
  9. [9]Max Weber, “What Is Politics?” in Social Theory: The Multicultural and Classic Readings, ed. Charles Lemert, 4th ed. (Boulder, CO: Westview, 2010), 115.
  10. [10]James Madison, “Federalist No. 10,” in The Federalist Papers, ed. Garry Wills (1982; repr., New York: Bantam, 2003).

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