Wednesday, February 27, 2008

In Praise of the Serbian Foreign Minister

Vuc Jeremic, the foreign minister of Serbia, has an op-ed in today's Times criticizing the willingness of the West to go along with the independence of Kosovo, writing that to accept Kosvo's independence is to abjure the binding principles of the postwar international system, principles that "include the sovereign equality of states, the respect for the territorial integrity and the inviolability of internationally recognized borders." Mr. Jeremic is absolutely right. The independence of Kosovo does indeed alter the involability of those principles, and it's about damn time.

While I'm sure Serbians aren't particularly happy about being the test-case for the slowly emerging post-Westphalian international order, the fact is that the notion of self-determination of peoples is slowly catching on as a countervailing force to state sovereignty in the twenty first century, particularly when governments don't live up to their "responsibility to protect" their own citizens. In a world as economically, politically and culturally interdependent as ours, it makes little sense to hold the notion of sovereignty, formulated in 1648 as Europe climbed out of the Middle Ages, as sacrosanct in the same manner it was so held a century ago.

This, of course, brings up a whole boatload of difficult questions. Would I be okay with a state seceding from the U.S. (I suppose it depends which one you're talking about...)? 140 years ago America fought a vicious civil war to prevent just such an eventuality. What is different now? Hypothetically, what process would make such an act legitimate? Perfect answers, of course don't exist. That is the nature of living in transitional times. Important philosophical pillars of the international system must remain in tension. As a matter of principle, though, I do believe that when a sub-state group's experiences - of isolation, of oppression, of coercion - render it no longer meaningfully attached to the political community that it is supposed to inhabit, it has the right to see such separation institutionally enshrined. Kosovo has done this. Along with the Serbian foreign minister, I suspect that it will be followed.


Saint in Exile said...

What about Quebec's attempt at seceding from Canada? If they succeed in getting it to a vote again, and they win, do you think that would be kosher? Or what about the (hypothetical) prospect of a large latino influx being the precursor to a reconquista of the southwestern US, if done so democratically?

Matt Eckel said...

As someone who lived in Montreal for a while, I don't think it would be the greatest idea for Quebec to secede from Canada, but if the people of Quebec were to experess in a clear and unambiguous way that they desired independence, I would support it. The American example is a bit too hypothetical for my taste. I don't necessarily believe that overt separation is always the best solution to problems of political difference(though it a place like Kosovo, where you had recent ethnic cleansing, it probably makes sense). In Canada, for example, there are a number of laws that aim to protect the cultural identity of the Quebecois within the framework of the Canadian state. Ultimately, though, self-determination has to be given significant weight. My point is that the principles of sovereignty and of self-determination often exist in tension, a tension which can't be cleanly resolved.