Modern Day Border Changing: The Importance of National Sovereignty

By Nicholas Esser – For the past few weeks the world has anxiously been following the events occurring in Ukraine. It is indisputable that Russia, led by President Putin, has greatly disturbed the inhabitants and the borders of Ukraine. This gives rise to a few important questions. In an age in which borders have remained greatly fixed—with exceptions for the emergence of a few independent African nations—is it reasonable to allow part of a nation to simply join another? This question is split in two ways: 1) Is it legal? 2) Should it be allowed? This article does not seek to answer these questions, but to broach them and give fuel to begin thinking about them.

There has been a great deal of discussion as to the individual sovereignty of states. This concept has been discussed in academic and governmental circles for a long time, however, recently we have seen the development of a new method of thought. The case has been made to limit national sovereignty, or scrape away at its absolute protection, in favor of protecting what is viewed as larger and more important goals. Specifically the goals discussed are environmental concerns and the protection of human rights. These are vital issues and should absolutely be addressed. Indeed the academic articles about them are very insightful and convincing. Yet, like all movements that begin with good intentions, there are unintended consequences. Does the weakening of national sovereignty create wiggle room for individuals like Vladimir Putin?

Articles discuss the importance of “self-determination. “The United Nations has a role in protecting this fundamental right of self-determination and popular sovereignty.” While this is surely an abuse of the concepts in these articles, the concepts are taken to the extreme here to see if there is justification for Putin’s actions. [1] What is the concept of self-determination? It is based on the classical liberal notion of personal sovereignty, which is key to democratic republics like the United States. Personal sovereignty can be explained as the right of an individual to choose where they belong or how they will be governed. However, when viewed under the light of international intervention, the idea can be misused. People ceding sovereignty to the government of their choice and thus joining in with that nation is an admirable belief, but free choice does not come from the barrel of a gun.

Ukraine is a member of the United Nations. As a member of the UN, they are entitled to certain rights and protections.  “The Organization is based on the principle of the sovereign equality of all its Members.” “The Organization and its Members, in pursuit of the Purposes stated in Article 1, shall act in accordance with the following Principles.” The charter states “shall,” not “may” and should be treated with that level of intensity. This semi-forced cessation of Crimea from Ukraine is highly suspect. It would appear that the US government and other European nations have acted on the belief that the way Crimea split from Ukraine and joined Russia is wrong. While the UN member nations have leveraged economic sanctions on Russia and have excluded it from the now G-7 proceedings, the world community has made it clear that it is vital to the continuance of a peaceful world that the world show that encroachment of this sort is not allowed.

[1] Putin points to the Kosovo incident where amid atrocities on Kosovar Albanians broke away from Serbia with Western help and eventually declared independence.

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