Sunday, March 09, 2014

Against oversimplifying foreign policy questions.

This is basically accurate:
Consider the different American views of recent bids for independence.
Chechnya? No.
East Timor? Yes.
Abkhazia? No.
South Sudan? Yes.
Palestine? It’s complicated.

It is an acutely delicate subject in the West, where Britain wants to keep Scotland and Spain wants to keep Catalonia. The United States, after all, was born in revolution, breaking away from London without consent of the national government — something that the Obama administration insists Crimea must have. The young American union later fought a civil war to keep the South from breaking away. Even today, there is occasional fringe talk of secession in Texas.
But that doesn't necessarily mean the U.S., Britain, or any other Western power is being a hypocrite. It would be incredibly foolish for a country to have a policy that it always approves of a secessionist effort, or always disapproves of it. Assuming a country is going to take any position at all on whether a portion of a foreign country should split off (and you can certainly argue that the best policy would be to take no position. But this post is for those who don't subscribe to the "no position" position), it only makes sense to make a case by case call based on the history and circumstances of the situation.

That is not to say that I agree with the U.S. position on each of the above secessionist efforts. But I at least understand how the U.S. could decide to be against Chechen independence in the late-90s/early 00s (when the U.S. was trying to bolster Russia after it's post-cold war economic collapse and avoid a chaotic breakup of that massive country), for East Timoran independence (to stop a bloody anti-insurgent campaign and to reverse Indonesia's 1975 invasion and annexation of East Timor, which the U.S. never recognized), against Abkhazian independence from Georgia (when Georgia was actively wooing the West and becoming one of the most pro-American countries in the Caucasus), and for South Sudan (to end another long-running civil war, to appease American Christians who had made South Sudanese Christian's resistance from domination by the Muslims in Khartoum one of their pet causes, and because it had little love for the Islamist government of Sudan).

In each case, the American position come from weighing many different factors. Even if you don't agree with the ultimate conclusion, it's pure folly to say that the U.S. (or any other country) should not view problems in their proper context. Taking context into account means that it is not always going to come to the same conclusion on the issue of secession. East Timor and Abkhazia are very different places. It is not hypocrisy to look at each case, take their unique factors into account, and come to different conclusions.