Why Is the Crimean Referendum Supposed to be Illegal?

The White House keeps saying the referendum is illegal. The basis for those assertions are in this interview, which is at the Council for Foreign Relations website. The CFR is part of the deep government of the U.S.

What we find there are very thin explanations, so brittle as to fall apart upon examination. Take this, for instance:

“International law prefers to preserve the territorial integrity of states and limit the right of popular self-determination because minority secession movements, if allowed to proceed without limits, do not reflect the views of the majority in a state and could lead to the breakdown of the international system.”

This says that the powers-that-be in a state don’t allow self-determination of minorities because (a) the majority doesn’t like it, and (b) the reason they don’t like it is because the existing state would break down. If this happened internationally, the structure of existing states would break down and there’d be many more political subdivisions.

So, for no reasons grounded in justice or rights but only grounded in maintaining the status quo, the powers-that-be in a state want to maintain the state in its current status of control, territory and power. Self-determination is not in this calculus. The term “international law” here simply means what the existing states have decided shall be the arrangements they prefer, and they do not prefer secessions for obvious reasons.

Obama and company are spouting nothing grounded in justice when they refer to international law’s being violated by a referendum. They are really only saying that the powers-that-be have an understanding that secessions are not as a general rule allowed by them.

There is also a Ukrainian constitutional provision to be considered. “The Ukrainian constitution requires that any changes to the territory of Ukraine be approved by a referendum of all of the Ukrainian people.” I will only say that such a rule means that a majority can suppress a minority in economic and other ways such that this minority cannot do anything about it politically. This is not a provision that is consistent with justice or self-determination. How can such a provision be enforced if a minority decides to break away or if a majority acts in such a way as to motivate such a breaking away? It will be like the North invading the South in the American civil war. In other words, this provision will only work when it’s not needed, that is, when the minority does not want to secede. But if it wants to secede, then this provision binds them to the wishes of the majority. It’s an empty provision, in other words. It’s unworkable in the political real world. It’s really a rationale for the use of force by the majority at times when the minority wishes to secede. No rational members of a republic would endorse such a provision, and I can only surmise that it was slipped through like many other constitutional provisions that rational people would never sign on to if given the opportunity.

The bottom line is that if a people wants out from under a political arrangement, they have a right to declare their independence and to sever the bonds of that arrangement. That is precisely what the Declaration of Independence did in 1776. I do not see why that same principle is not applicable today. I think the White House is making a claim about the conflict of the Crimean referendum with the Ukrainian constitution that lacks any substance in view of the right to declare independence.


7:22 pm on March 17, 2014