Aurobinda Mahapatra (India)

0 1.09.2008

The developments in this year would likely generate a huge
turning process in international political order. With the rise
in aspirations of regions to get independent, their recognitions
amidst contestations the state system vogue almost for three and half
centuries has received a jolt, especially with the recognition of South
Ossetia and Abkhazia by Russia and earlier that of Kosovo. Russia
has justified its recognition and cited Kosovo's independence as a
perfect precedent which can be equally applicable to the breakaway
regions of Georgia. The question that needs to be elicited is not
that of Kosovo, Abkhazia or South Ossetia, but it is the larger
question of the survival of the state system. There are around the
world numerous disgruntled regions which, if granted independence,
would radically alter the existing state system.

The modern state system derives its existence to the treaty of
Westphalia, 1648, which recognised the sovereignty of nation
states. The treaty which encompasses the two peace treaties of
Osnabruck and Munster, signed on 15 May and 24 October of 1648
respectively, ended both the Thirty Years' War in Germany and the
Eighty Years' War between Spain and the Netherlands. It initiated a new
order in Europe based on the concept of national sovereignty. Earlier,
it was not the state per20 se in the sense of its modern usage, but it
was the empires and kingdoms, whether Greek, Roman, Mongol, Ottoman,
Persian, Russian, etc. that were reigning over the world space. The
medieval era was particularly called dark phase as it witnessed
tussle between temporal and papal authorities at its height. The
Westphalia treaty among then major powers led the emergence of the
current state system.

The two world wars were fought in the name of fighting imperialism
and making the world safe for democracy. President Woodrow
Wilson propounded fourteen points in 1918 as postulates of peace
and order. The second world war that led to the defeat of Nazi
totalitarianism was also aimed at making the world free from retrograde
forces, and to provide rights to emerging nations to live in peace. The
UN Charter of 1945 was an improved version of the League of Nations,
which ostensibly failed to address the complicated issues, and due to
non-compliance of its terms by its members. The UN Charter, Article
1 of Chapter 1, called for international peace and security.

The question of balancing national sovereignty and right to self
determination has become a difficult balance in international politics
as always. The concept of nationalism too has been highly contested
and the same with the concept of right to self determination. The cold
war, much driven by ideological considerations, witnessed much of the
energy wasted over trivial issues. The world was polarised into two
camps, with some of the developing countries adhering to a policy
of non-alignment. The military blocs such as NATO and Warsaw Pact,
erection of the Berlin wall on ideological basis, etc. led to much
of the weakening of the state system.

The UN succumbed to these ideological divisions and lost its sheen
as a world body to maintain international peace and security.

The end of the cold war did not witness any significant changes
in international system, despite change in the patterns of global
politics. It appeared that the old rivalry has not died down,
rather it has refashioned itself. Though writers like Fukuyama has
propounded that after the end of the cold war liberal ideas would
emerge victorious, the international politics appeared to be much
skewed as earlier. In the post cold war the hottest bed of politics,
the theatre of contestation has been the Central Eurasian region. The
ethnic diversities of the region have challenged the structure of
state. Whether it was Nagorno-Karabakh, South Ossetia or Abkhazia,
the ethnic identities have resurfaced to assert their identities,
not often recognised under international law.

On a different plane, the imperatives of the new world order do not
imply the disintegration of state system, but rather accommodation of
diverse demands in a framework resilient federal structure. In the
modern world, no particular state is absolutely homogenous20in its
structure. Diverse aspirations are there, but it is the resilience and
flexibility of the federal state to accommodate diverse aspirations
or its rigid and totalitarian control over regions- that is going
to determine much of the shape of state system in coming years. The
question then revolves around possible harmonious coexistence of the
diverse identities within a broader framework of national sovereignty.

In South Ossetia and Abkhazia, the question then arises, could these
regions stay united with the Georgian framework. Russia has argued
that the Kosovo precedence is a clear case that set precedent for
the independence of South Ossetia and Abkhazia. If Kosovo with a
distinct identity with the larger Serbian state system could not be
accommodated, they why could the two republics within Georgia? Russia
has taken into account its citizens in the two regions, the refugee
issue in North Ossetia, and the attack of Georgia as the immediate
trigger for the recognition of the republics.

Beyond the surface things, it appears it is the tussle between
the two approaches, not ideologies that have played much of the
game. The Central Eurasian region, including the Trans-Caucasus,
has become the theatre of new power politics. Behind the grandiose
terms of New Great Game, Grand Chessboard, etc. the coming years may
likely witness further conflagration in the region. In this rapidly
developing fragile scenario, the responsibility o f powers like the
US, Russia, the EU must be put to test in order to protect the state
and affiliated vibrancy, instead of accelerating its demise.