Herzl's Butlers and Other Geopolitical Conundrums

By: Sam Vaknin, Ph.D.

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Published in Brussels Morning

James Cook misled the British government back home by neglecting to report about the aborigines he spotted on the beaches of New Holland. This convenient omission allowed him to claim the territory for the crown. In the subsequent waves of colonization, the aborigines perished. Modern Australia stands awash in their blood, constructed on their graves, thriving on their confiscated lands. The belated efforts to redress these wrongs meet with hostility and the atavistic fears of the dispossessor.

In "Altneuland" (translated to Hebrew as "Tel Aviv"), the feverish tome composed by Theodore Herzl, Judaism's improbable visionary, the author refers to the Arabs ("negroes", who have nothing to lose and everything to gain from the Jewish process of colonization) as pliant and compliant butlers, replete with gloves and tarbushes ("livery").

In the book, German Jews prophetically land at Haifa, the only port in erstwhile Palestine. They are welcomed and escorted by "Briticized" Arab ("negro") gentlemen's gentlemen who are only too happy to assist their future masters and colonizers to disembark.

Frequently, when religious or ethnic minorities attempted to assimilate themselves within the majority, the latter reacted by spawning racist theories and perpetrating genocide.

Consider the Jews:

They have tried assimilation twice in the two torturous millennia since they have been exiled by the Romans from their ancestral homeland. In Spain, during the 14th and 15th centuries, they converted en masse to Christianity, becoming "conversos" or, as they were disparagingly maligned by the Old Christians, Marranos (pigs).

As B. Netanyahu observes in his magnum opus, "The Origins of the Inquisition in Fifteenth Century Spain":

"The struggle against the conversos, who by virtue of their Christianity sought entry into Spanish society, led to the development of a racial doctrine and a genocidal solution to the converso problem." (p. 584)

Exactly the same happened centuries later in Germany. During the 19th century, Jews leveraged newfound civil liberties and human rights to integrate closely with their society. Their ascendance and success were rejected by Germans of all walks of life. The result was, again, the emergence of Hitler's racist policies based on long expounded "theories" and the genocide known as the Holocaust.

In between these extremes - of annihilation and assimilation - modern Europe has come up with a plethora of models and solutions to the question of minorities which plagued it and still does. Two schools of thought emerged: the nationalistic-ethnic versus the cultural.

Nineteenth-century social-thinkers-turned-freedom-fighters discovered that it is easier to unite a disparate mob and motivate it to achieve common goals when issues are cast in terms of a threat to its “identity” (however mythical or counterfactual it may be). Thus, “race”, “nation”, and “history” trump “equality” and “justice” (or even “prosperity” and “liberty”) when it comes to spawning cohesive, goal-oriented, other-excluding collectives.

Europe has always been torn between centrifugal and centripetal forces. Multi-ethnic empires alternated with swarms of mini-states with dizzying speed. European Unionism clashed with brown-turning-black nationalism and irredentism. Universalistic philosophies such as socialism fought racism tooth and nail. European history became a blood dripping pendulum, swung by the twin yet conflicting energies of separation and integration.

The present is no different. The dream of the European Union confronted the nightmare of a dismembered Yugoslavia throughout the last decade. And ethnic tensions are seething all across the continent. Hungarians in Romania, Slovakia, Ukraine and Serbia, Bulgarians in Moldova, Albanians in Macedonia, Russians in the Baltic countries, even Padans in Italy and the list is long.

The cultural school of co-existence envisaged multi-ethnic states with shared philosophies and value systems which do not infringe upon the maintenance and preservation of the ethnic identities of their components. The first socialists adopted this model enthusiastically. They foresaw a multi-ethnic, multi-cultural socialist mega-state. The socialist values, they believed, will serve as the glue binding together the most disparate of ethnic elements.

In the event, it took a lot more than common convictions. It took suppression on an unprecedented scale and it took concentration camps and the morbid application of the arts and sciences of death. And even then both the Nazi Reich and the Stalinist USSR fell to ethnic pieces.

The national(istic) school supports the formation of ethnically homogenous states, if necessary, by humane and gradual (or inhuman and abrupt) ethnic cleansing . Homogeneity is empirically linked to stability and, therefore, to peace, economic prosperity and oftentimes to democracy. Heterogeneity breeds friction, hatred, violence, instability, poverty and authoritarianism.

The conclusion is simple: ethnicities cannot co-exist. Ethnic groups (a.k.a. nations) must be left to their own devices, put differently: they must be allocated a piece of land and allowed to lead their lives as they see fit. The land thus allocated should correspond, as closely as possible, with the birthplace of the nation, the scenery of its past and the cradle of its culture.

The principle of self-determination allows any group, however small, to declare itself a "nation" and to establish its own "nation-state". This has been carried to laughable extremes in Europe after the Cold War has ended when numerous splinters of former states and federations now claimed nationhood and consequently statehood. The shakier both claims appeared, the more virulent the ensuing nationalism.

Thus, the nationalist school increasingly depended on denial and repression of the existence of heterogeneity and of national minorities. This was done by:

(a) Ethnic Cleansing

Greece and Turkey exchanged population after the first world war. Czechoslovakia expelled the Sudeten Germans after the Second World War and the Nazis rendered big parts of Europe Judenrein. Bulgarians forced Turks to flee. The Yugoslav succession wars were not wars in the Clausewitz sense - rather they were protracted guerilla operations intended to ethnically purge swathes of the "motherland".

(b) Ethnic Denial

In 1984, the Bulgarian communist regime forced the indigenous Turkish population to "Bulgarize" their names. The Slav minorities in the Hungarian part of the Austro-Hungarian empire were forced to "Magyarize" following the 1867 Compromise. Franco's Spain repressed demands for regional autonomy.

Other, more democratic states, fostered a sense of national unity by mass media and school indoctrination. Every facet of life was subjected to and incorporated in this relentless and unforgiving pursuit of national identity: sports, chess, national holidays, heroes, humour. The particularisms of each group gained meaning and legitimacy only through and by their incorporation in the bigger picture of the nation. Thus, Greece denies to this very day that there are Turks or Macedonians on its soil. There are only Muslim Greeks, it insists (often brutally and in violation of human and civil rights). The separate identities of Brittany and Provence were submerged within the French collective one and so was the identity of the Confederate South in the current USA. Some call it "cultural genocide".

The nationalist experiment failed miserably. It was pulverized by a million bombs, slaughtered in battlefields and concentration camps, set ablaze by fanatics and sadists. The pendulum swung. In 1996, Hungarians were included in the Romanian government and in 1998 they made it to the Slovakian one. In Macedonia, Albanian parties took part in all the governments since independence. The cultural school, on the ascendance, was able to offer three variants:

(1) The Local Autonomy

Ethnic minorities are allowed to use their respective languages in certain municipalities where they constitute more than a given percentage (usually twenty) of the total population. Official documents, street signs, traffic tickets and education all are translated to the minority language as well as to the majority's. This rather meaningless placebo has a surprisingly tranquillizing effect on restless youth and nationalistic zealots. In 1997, police fought local residents in a few Albanian municipalities precisely on this issue.

(2) The Territorial Autonomy

Ethnic minorities often constitute a majority in a given region. Some "host" countries allow them to manage funds, collect taxes and engage in limited self-governance. This is the regional or territorial autonomy that Israel offered to the Palestinians (too late) and that Kosovo and Vojvodina enjoyed under the 1974 Yugoslav constitution (which Milosevic shredded to very small pieces). This solution was sometimes adopted by the nationalist competition itself. The Nazis dreamt up at least two such territorial "final solutions" for the Jews (one in Madagascar and one in Poland). Stalin gave the Jews a decrepit wasteland, Birobidjan, to be their "homeland". And, of course, there were the South African "homelands".

(3) The Personal Autonomy

Karl Renner and Otto Bauer advanced the idea of the individual as the source of political authority - regardless of his or her domicile. Between the two world wars, Estonia gave personal autonomy to its Jews and Russians. Wherever they were, they were entitled to vote and elect representatives to bodies of self government. These had symbolic taxation powers but exerted more tangible authority over matters educational and cultural. This idea, however benign sounding, encountered grave opposition from right and left alike. The right wing "exclusive" nationalists rejected it because they regarded minorities the way a sick person regards his germs. And the left wing, "inclusive", nationalists saw in it the seeds of discrimination, an anathema.

How and why did we find ourselves embroiled in such a mess?

It is all the result of the wrong terminology, an example of the power of words. The Jews (and Germans) came up with the "objective", "genetic", "racial" and "organic" nation. Membership was determined by external factors over which the member-individual had no control. The French "civil" model - an 18th century innovation - regarded the nation and the state as voluntary collectives, bound by codes and values which are subject to social contracts. Benedict Anderson called the latter "imagined communities".

Naturally, it was a Frenchman (Ernest Renan) who wrote:

"Nations are not eternal. They had a beginning and they will have an end. And they will probably be replaced by a European confederation."

He was referring to the fact that nation STATES were nothing but (at the time) a century old invention of dubious philosophical pedigree. The modern state was indeed invented by intellectuals (historians and philologists) and then solidified by ethnic cleansing and the horrors of warfare. Jacob Grimm virtually created the chimeral Serbo-Croat "language". Claude Fauriel dreamt up the reincarnation of ancient Greece in its eponymous successor. The French sociologist and anthropologist Marcel Mauss remarked angrily that "it is almost comical to see little-known, poorly investigated items of folklore invoked at the Peace Conference as proof that the territory of this or that nation should extend over a particular area because a certain shape of dwelling or bizarre custom is still in evidence".

Archaeology, anthropology, philology, history and a host of other sciences and arts were invoked in an effort to substantiate a land claim. And no land claim was subjected to a statute of limitations, no subsequent conquest or invasion or settlement legitimized. Witness the "Dacian wars" between Hungary and Romania over Transylvania (are the Romanians latter day Dacians or did they invade Transylvania long after it was populated by the Hungarians?). Witness the Israelis and the Palestinians. And, needless to add, witness the Serbs and the Albanians, the Greeks and the Macedonians and the Macedonians and the Bulgarians.

Thus, the modern nation-state was a reflection of something more primordial, of human nature itself as it resonated in the national founding myths (most of them fictitious or contrived). The supra-national dream is to many a nightmare. Europe is fragmenting into micro-nations while unifying its economies. These two trends are not mutually exclusive as is widely and erroneously believed. Actually, they are mutually reinforcing. As the modern state loses its major economic roles and functions to a larger, supranational framework - it loses its legitimacy and its raison d'etre.

The one enduring achievement of the state was the replacement of allegiance to a monarch, to a social class, to a region, or to a religion by an allegiance to a "nation". This subversive idea comes back to haunt itself. It is this allegiance to the nation that is the undoing of the tolerant, multi-ethnic, multi-religious, abstract modern state. To be a nationalist is to belong to ever smaller and more homogenous groups and to dismantle the bigger, all inclusive polity which is the modern state.

Indeed, the state is losing in the battlefield of ideas to the other two options: micro-nationalism (homogeneous and geographically confined) and reactionary affiliation. Micro-nationalism gave birth to Palestine and to Kosovo, to the Basque land and to Quebec, to Montenegro and to Moldova, to regionalism and to local patriotism. It is a fragmenting force. Modern technology makes many political units economically viable despite their minuscule size - and so they declare their autonomy and often aspire to independence.

Reactionary Affiliation is cosmopolitan. Think about the businessman, the scholar, the scientist, the pop star, the movie star, the entrepreneur, the arbitrageur and the internet. People feel affiliated to a profession, a social class, a region, or a religion more than they do to their state. Hence the phenomena of ex-pats, mass immigration, international managers. This is a throwback to an earlier age when the modern state was not yet invented. Indeed, the predicament of the nation-state is such that going back may be the only benign way of going forward.

When the Jews rebelled against the occupying Romans, they knew full well what might be the consequences of their actions: exile followed by the eventual loss of their land. After all, the peoples that later coalesced into the Jewish nation have conquered the territory that was to become the Land of Israel from its erstwhile inhabitants, committing multiple, divinely-sanctioned genocides in the process. By choosing mutiny, have they, therefore, relinquished their right to Palestine? Have they given up on Eretz Israel? Have they disastrously gambled with their future and that of their off-spring - and lost? And, if the answers to all these questions are in the affirmative, do the Palestinians possess this right now making them the rightful owners of this disputed Middle-Eastern patch?

Israel has annexed some of the territories it has conquered in the 1967 Six-Day War. It claims historical rights to big chunks of Jerusalem and the West Bank. It, therefore, regards and treats Palestinian militants as either insurgents or terrorists. This point of view is rejected by the international community. Why so?

Secession, National Sovereignty, and Territorial Integrity

I. Introduction

On February 17, 2008, Kosovo became a new state by seceding from Serbia. It was the second time in less than a decade that Kosovo declared its independence.

Pundits warned against this precedent-setting event and foresaw a disintegration of sovereign states from Belgium to Macedonia, whose restive western part is populated by Albanians. In 2001, Macedonia faced the prospect of a civil war. It capitulated and signed the Ohrid Framework Agreement.

Yet, the truth is that there is nothing new about Kosovo's independence. Macedonians need not worry, it would seem. While, under international law, Albanians in its western parts can claim to be insurgents (as they have done in 2001 and, possibly, twice before), they cannot aspire to be a National Liberation Movement and, if they secede, they are very unlikely to be recognized.

To start with, there are considerable and substantive differences between Kosovo's KLA and its counterpart, Macedonia's NLA. Yugoslavia regarded the Kosovo Liberation Army (KLA or UCK, in its Albanian acronym) as a terrorist organization. Not so the rest of the world. It was widely held to be a national liberation movement, or, at the very least, a group of insurgents.

Between 1996-9, the KLA maintained a hierarchical operational structure that wielded control and authority over the Albanians in large swathes of Kosovo. Consequently, it acquired some standing as an international subject under international law.

Thus, what started off as a series of internal skirmishes and clashes in 1993-5 was upgraded in 1999 into an international conflict, with both parties entitled to all the rights and obligations of ius in bello (the law of war).

II. Insurgents in International Law

Traditionally, the international community has been reluctant to treat civil strife the same way it does international armed conflict. No one thinks that encouraging an endless succession of tribal or ethnic secessions is a good idea. In their home territories, insurgents are initially invariably labeled as and treated by the "lawful" government as criminals or terrorists.

Paradoxically, though, the longer and more all-pervasive the conflict and the tighter the control of the rebels on people residing in the territories in which the insurgents habitually operate, the better their chances to acquire some international recognition and standing. Thus, international law actually eggs on rebels to prolong and escalate conflicts rather than resolve them peacefully.

By definition, insurgents are temporary, transient, or provisional international subjects. As Antonio Cassese puts it (in his tome, "International Law", published by Oxford University Press in 2001):

"...(I)nsurgents are quelled by the government, and disappear; or they seize power, and install themselves in the place of the government; or they secede and join another State, or become a new international subject."

In other words, being an intermediate phenomenon, rebels can never claim sovereign rights over territory. Sovereign states can contract with insurrectionary parties and demand that they afford protection and succor to foreigners within the territories affected by their activities. However, this is not a symmetrical relationship. The rebellious party cannot make any reciprocal demands on states. Still, once entered into, agreements can be enforced, using all lawful sanctions

Third party states are allowed to provide assistance - even of a military nature - to governments, but not to insurgents (with the exception of humanitarian aid). Not so when it comes to national liberation movements.

III. National Liberation Movements in International Law

According to the First Geneva Protocol of 1977 and subsequent conventions, what is the difference between a group of "freedom fighters" and a national liberation movement?

A National Liberation Movement represents a collective - nation, or people - in its fight to liberate itself from foreign or colonial domination or from an inequitable (for example: racist) regime. National Liberation Movements maintain an organizational structure although they may or may not be in control of a territory (many operate in exile) but they must aspire to gain domination of the land and the oppressed population thereon. They uphold the principle of self-determination and are, thus, instantaneously deemed to be internationally legitimate.

Though less important from the point of view of international law, the instant recognition by other States that follows the establishment of a National Liberation Movement has enormous practical consequences: States are allowed to extend help, including economic and military assistance (short of armed troops) and are "duty-bound to refrain from assisting a State denying self-determination to a people or a group entitled to it" (Cassesse).

As opposed to mere insurgents, National Liberation Movements can claim and assume the right to self-determination; the rights and obligations of ius in bello (the legal principles pertaining to the conduct of hostilities); the rights and obligations pertaining to treaty making; diplomatic immunity.

Yet, even National Liberation Movements are not allowed to act as sovereigns. For instance, they cannot dispose of land or natural resources within the disputed territory. In this case, though, the "lawful" government or colonial power are similarly barred from such dispositions.

IV. Internal Armed Conflict in International Law

Rebels and insurgents are not lawful combatants (or belligerents). Rather, they are held to be simple criminals by their own State and by the majority of other States. They do not enjoy the status of prisoner of war when captured. Ironically, only the lawful government can upgrade the status of the insurrectionists from bandits to lawful combatants ("recognition of belligerency").

How the government chooses to fight rebels and insurgents is, therefore, not regulated. As long as it refrains from intentionally harming civilians, it can do very much as it pleases.

But international law is in flux and, increasingly, civil strife is being "internationalized" and treated as a run-of-the-mill bilateral or even multilateral armed conflict. The doctrine of "human rights intervention" on behalf of an oppressed people has gained traction. Hence Operation Allied Force in Kosovo in 1999.

Moreover, if a civil war expands and engulfs third party States and if the insurgents are well-organized, both as an armed force and as a civilian administration of the territory being fought over, it is today commonly accepted that the conflict should be regarded and treated as international.

As the Second Geneva Protocol of 1977 makes crystal clear, mere uprisings or riots (such as in Macedonia, 2001) are still not covered by the international rules of war, except for the general principles related to non-combatants and their protection (for instance, through Article 3 of the four 1949 Geneva Conventions) and customary law proscribing the use of chemical weapons, land and anti-personnel mines, booby traps, and such.

Both parties - the State and the insurrectionary group - are bound by these few rules. If they violate them, they may be committing war crimes and crimes against humanity.

V. Secession in International Law

The new state of Kosovo has been immediately recognized by the USA, Germany, and other major European powers. The Canadian Supreme Court made clear in its ruling in the Quebec case in 1998 that the status of statehood is not conditioned upon such recognition, but that (p. 289):

"...(T)he viability of a would-be state in the international community depends, as a practical matter, upon recognition by other states."

The constitutional law of some federal states provides for a mechanism of orderly secession. The constitutions of both the late USSR and SFRY (Yugoslavia, 1974) incorporated such provisions. In other cases - the USA, Canada, and the United Kingdom come to mind - the supreme echelons of the judicial system had to step in and rule regarding the right to secession, its procedures, and mechanisms.

Again, facts on the ground determine international legitimacy. As early as 1877, in the wake of the bloodiest secessionist war of all time, the American Civil War (1861-5), the Supreme Court of the USA wrote (in William vs. Bruffy):

"The validity of (the secessionists') acts, both against the parent State and its citizens and subjects, depends entirely upon its ultimate success. If it fail (sic) to establish itself permanently, all such acts perish with it. If it succeed (sic), and become recognized, its acts from the commencement of its existence are upheld as those of an independent nation."

In "The Creation of States in International Law" (Clarendon Press, 2nd ed., 2006), James Crawford suggests that there is no internationally recognized right to secede and that secession is a "legally neutral act". Not so. As Aleksandar Pavkovic observes in his book (with contributions by Peter Radan), "Creating New States - Theory and Practice of Secession" (Ashgate, 2007), the universal legal right to self-determination encompasses the universal legal right to secede.

The Albanians in Kosovo are a "people" according to the Decisions of the Badinter Commission. But, though, they occupy a well-defined and demarcated territory, their land is within the borders of an existing State. In this strict sense, their unilateral secession does set a precedent: it goes against the territorial definition of a people as embedded in the United Nations Charter and subsequent Conventions.

Still, the general drift of international law (for instance, as interpreted by Canada's Supreme Court) is to allow that a State can be composed of several "peoples" and that its cultural-ethnic constituents have a right to self-determination. This seems to uphold the 19th century concept of a homogenous nation-state over the French model (of a civil State of all its citizens, regardless of ethnicity or religious creed).

Pavkovic contends that, according to principle 5 of the United Nations' General Assembly's Declaration on Principles of International Law Concerning Friendly Relations and Co-operation Among States in Accordance With the Charter of the United Nations, the right to territorial integrity overrides the right to self-determination.

Thus, if a State is made up of several "peoples", its right to maintain itself intact and to avoid being dismembered or impaired is paramount and prevails over the right of its constituent peoples to secede. But, the right to territorial integrity is limited to States:

"(C)onducting themselves in compliance with the principle of equal rights and self-determination of peoples ... and thus possessed of a government representing the whole people belonging to the territory without distinction as to race, creed, or colour."

The words "as to race, creed, or colour" in the text supra have been replaced with the words "of any kind" (in the 1995 Declaration on the Occasion of the Fiftieth Anniversary of the United Nations).

Yugoslavia under Milosevic failed this test in its treatment of the Albanian minority within its borders. They were relegated to second-class citizenship, derided, blatantly and discriminated against in every turn. Thus, according to principle 5, the Kosovars had a clear right to unilaterally secede.

As early as 1972, an International Commission of Jurists wrote in a report titled "The Events in East Pakistan, 1971":

"(T)his principle (of territorial integrity) is subject to the requirement that the government does comply with the principle of equal rights and does represent the whole people without distinction. If one of the constituent peoples of a state is denied equal rights and is discriminated against ... their full right of self-determination will revive." (p. 46)

A quarter of a century later, Canada's Supreme Court concurred (Quebec, 1998):

"(T)he international law right to self-determination only generates, at best, a right to external self-determination in situations ... where a definable group is denied meaningful access to government to pursue their political, economic, social, and cultural development."

In his seminal tome, "Self-Determination of Peoples: A Legal Appraisal" (Cambridge University Press, 19950, Antonio Cassese neatly sums up this exception to the right to territorial integrity enjoyed by States:

"(W)hen the central authorities of a sovereign State persistently refuse to grant participatory rights to a religious or racial group, grossly and systematically trample upon their fundamental rights, and deny the possibility of reaching a peaceful settlement within the framework of the State structure ... A racial or religious group may secede ... once it is clear that all attempts to achieve internal self-determination have failed or are destined to fail." (p. 119-120)

VI. The Cases of Kosovo and Western Macedonia

In former Yugoslavia (SFRY), Kosovo was an autonomous province within the Socialist Republic of Serbia. The Albanians in Yugoslavia were not recognized as a "people" (narod), merely as a "nationality" (narodnost).

In January 1990, the Constitutional Court of SFRY ruled illegal a unilateral secession from the Yugoslav Federation. The right to secede belonged to "the peoples of Yugoslavia and their socialist republics (and autonomous provinces)". Kosovo was an autonomous province, but the Albanians were not a "people". Indeed, in a later decision, dealing specifically with Kosovo's first declaration of independence, the Constitutional Court spoke:

"(O)nly peoples of Yugoslavia had the right of self-determination."

Western Macedonia has always been an integral part of the Republic of Macedonia within the SFRY. It had never acquired the status of an autonomous province, let alone a Republic. Albanians in Macedonia are a minority. They are well-represented in government and law enforcement and have equal access to education and the institutions of the State. Their rights are guaranteed by multiple constitutional, legal, and international instruments. They have no leg to stand on if they choose to unilaterally secede from Macedonia (for instance, in order to join Kosovo).

The Albanians of western Macedonia may, however, successfully secede from Macedonia within the framework of a realignment of borders between Serbia, Kosovo, Albania, Macedonia, and, perhaps, Greece, and Bulgaria. While Macedonia is extremely unlikely to welcome such a move, it may be coerced into acquiescence by the international community. Macedonia was strong-armed into the Ohrid Framework Agreement in 2001. There is no guarantee that this scenario will not repeat itself.

Macedonia should urgently adopt steps to change the demographic composition of its western territories. This is not without precedent. Israel has done the same in its northern territory (the Galilee), Poland with its Ukrainian borderlands, Germany in its east, the USA in its "wild" West.

Macedonia should offer economic incentives to anyone willing to relocate from the rest of its territory to its west: jobs, free land and agricultural inputs, subsidized credits, housing, infrastructure, and educational opportunities. The government should move many of its ministries, agencies, and facilities from Skopje to western Macedonia.

Misuse of the Concept of "Erga Omnes" in the Greek-Macedonian Name Dispute

The "name issue" involves a protracted dispute over the last 18 years between two Balkan polities over Macedonia's right to use its constitutional name, "The Republic of Macedonia". The Greeks claim that Macedonia is a region in Greece and that, therefore, the country Macedonia has no right to monopolize the name and its derivatives ("Macedonian").


The Greeks feel that Macedonians have designs on the part of Greece that borders the tiny, landlocked country and that the use of Macedonia's constitutional name internationally will only serve to enhance irredentist and secessionist tendencies, thus adversely affecting the entire region's stability.


Starting in the late 1970s, the Greeks have transitioned from a territorial-political Great Idea to a cultural-historical Great Idea. They now claim to be the sole spiritual descendants and successors to the Hellenic and Byzantine civilizations. The Greek Ministry of Foreign Affairs has this to say:




"Historically, the Greek name Macedonia refers to the state and civilisation of the ancient Macedonians, which beyond doubt is part of Greece’s national and historical heritage and bears no relation whatsoever with the residents of the former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia, who are Slavs by descent and arrived in the region of the ancient Kingdom of Macedonia at a much later stage."


Macedonia retorts that it has publicly renounced any claims to any territory of any of its neighbors. Greece is Macedonia's second largest foreign investor. The disparities in size, military power and geopolitical and economic prowess between the two countries make Greek "fears" appear to be ridiculous. Macedonians have a right to decide how they are to be called, say exasperated Macedonian officials.


The Greek demands are without precedent either in history or in international law. Many countries bear variants of the same name (Yemen, Korea, Germany until 1990, Russia and Byelorussia, Mongolia). Others share their name with a region in another country (Brittany in France and Great Britain across the channel, for instance). Currently, no UN member state bears a name with a geographic qualifier.


In the alliance's Bucharest Summit, in April 2008, Macedonia was not invited to join NATO. Macedonia was rejected because it would not succumb to Greek intransigence: Greece insisted that Macedonia should change its constitutional name to cater to Greek domestic political sensitivities.


On its Website, the Greek Ministry of Foreign Affairs calls for:


 "(T)he adoption of a definitive composite name with geographical qualification of the term Macedonia, for all purposes (erga omnes) and for all uses, so as to avoid confusion with Greek Macedonia and to put an end to the irredentist policy and territorial aspirations of the former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia."


This is a curious subversion of the principle of erga omnes.


"Erga Omnes" ("towards or in relation to everyone" in Latin) is a term reserved in international law to describe obligations of one state towards all other states, or towards the international community, or towards Mankind or Humanity as a whole. The operative word is: "obligations". The principle of erga omnes is incorporated in the ILC Articles on State Responsibility and in various International Court of Justice (ICJ) decisions, most famously its obiter dictum in the Barcelona Traction Case (1970), where it said:


"(A)n essential distinction should be drawn between the obligations of a State towards the International community as a whole, and those arising vis-a-vis another State In the field of diplomatic protection. By their very nature the former are the concern of all States. In view of the Importance of the rights Involved, all States can be held to have a legal Interest In their protection; they are obligations erga omnes. Such obligations derive, for example. In contemporary International law, from the outlawing of acts of aggression, and of genocide, as also from the principles and rules concerning the basic rights of the human person, Including protection from slavery and racial discrimination. Some of the corresponding rights of protection have entered Into the body of general international law...; others are conferred by International Instruments of a universal or quasi universal character."


These views were affirmed repeatedly in much newer cases (e.g., the East Timor Case, the Nuclear Tests Case, and the South West Africa Case rulings).


Erga omnes obligations can be incorporated in treaties, but they refer to acts or omissions, not to states of affairs. Thus, erga omnes can apply to conduct in the fields of human rights and the environment; to crimes against humanity (such as genocide, slavery, or racial discrimination); to peacekeeping, and so on. It cannot apply to a country's name or to its constitutional arrangements as is demanded by Greece in its dispute with Macedonia over the latter's name.


Moreover, there are grounds to claim that articles 55 and 56 of the United Nations Charter constitute a list of erga omnes obligations, among them: the maintenance of international peace and security; mutual respect for other countries' sovereignty; the pursuit of justice; and the upholding of human rights. The right to self-determination (of peoples and minorities) - including the right to choose how they are called - has long been considered by many to be an erga omnes obligation. These obligations were expanded upon, interpreted, and embedded in a long range of international conventions and treaties and a case can and has been made (for instance, by Bruno Simma) that they are derivatives of jus cogens (peremptory norms that are the very foundations of the international order).


There are grounds to claim that Greece has repeatedly violated some of these obligations by imposing trade embargoes on Macedonia (in 1992 and 1994); by sanctioning its neighbor into changing its name (an insult to its sovereignty and right to self-determination); by violating the human rights of individuals in Greece who insist that they belong to a Macedonian minority with a distinct language and culture; and by endangering peace and stability in the region at large.


Erga omnes obligations are indivisible, multilateral, and non-reciprocal. In other words, a country cannot breach its erga omnes obligations in retaliation for a similar or dissimilar breach by another polity, even if these obligations are set in specific multilateral treaties. The ICJ in its Advisory Opinion on "Reservations to the Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide" wrote:


"In such a convention the contracting States do not have an interest of their own; they merely have, one and all, a common interest, namely the accomplishment of those high purposes which are the raison d'être of the convention. Consequently, in a convention of this type one cannot speak of individual advantages or disadvantages to States, or of a maintenance of a perfect contractual balance between the rights and duties."


Does the act of recognition of a State with a specific name by multiple States give rise or crystallize a new erga omnes obligation? Of course not. It only means that the parties implicitly and reciprocally accept erga omnes obligations that are of the jus cogens type as well as erga omnes obligations to which they are signatories in multilateral treaties. Recognition of a state is merely the acceptance of a factual situation in conformity with the criteria of statehood, it creates no new entities, nor does it generate new international or multilateral rights or obligations. On the very contrary: recognition is often premised on the explicit adoption and acceptance of erga omnes obligations by the state seeking it.


Whatever transpires in this most inane of international conflicts, the misuse of the term "erga omnes" should be dispensed with forthwith. It is either the outcome of ignorance or malice.




Cassese, Antonio - International Law - Oxford University Press, 2002


Pavkovic, Aleksandar and Radan, Peter - Creating New States: Theory and Practice of Secession - Ashgate Publishing, UK, 2007


Pegan, Olivia Lopes - Counter-claims and Obligations Erga Omnes before the International Court of Justice - European Journal of International Law 9 (1998), pp.724-736


Posner, Eric A. - Erga Omnes Norms, Institutionalization, and Constitutionalism in International Law - U of Chicago Law & Economics, Olin Working Paper No. 419 and U of Chicago, Public Law Working Paper No. 224


Ragazzi, Maurizio - The Concept of International Obligations Erga Omnes - Oxford Scholarship Online: January 2010

Simma, Bruno - From Bilateralism to Community Interest in International Law - RdC (Recueil des Cours) 250 (1994), 229 on.


Tams, Christian J. - Enforcing Obligations Erga Omnes in International Law - Cambridge Studies in International and Comparative Law (No. 44) - 2006


Zemanek, Karl - New Trends in the Enforcement of erga omnes Obligations - J.A. Frowein and R. Wolfrum (Eds.) - Max Planck Yearbook of United Nations Law, pp.1-52 - Netherlands, Kluwer Law International


Kissinger is Dead, Long Live Realpolitik (Brussels Morning)


It is time to give up on the failing liberal democracy project and its attendant ideologies: human rights, sanctity of life, rule of law, civic engagement, international community, and other such infantile inanities.


Liberal democracy is fading everywhere because exactly like Communism it is founded on a counterfactual view of human psychology and on a fallacious reframing of human history.

Ideologies are inflexible and self-defeating straightjackets. Adherence to such fantasies ineluctably and inexorably leads to conflict and mayhem. 


As the USA’s Founding Fathers knew, universal franchise democracy is a dangerously flawed idea. It empowers the nescient and the dumb, gives rise to demagogues, and elevates ruthless, populist antisocial leaders.


Similarly the human and civil rights agendas are totalitarian victimhood doctrines that abrogate the inalienable and primordial right for self-defense and the meritocratic allocation of resources, among many other consequent distortions.


We need to get rid of all this delusional enlightenment baggage and revert to Realpolitik: the consummate use of power, hard and soft, to create and maintain peace and to regulate conflict.


Contrary to deliberate misrepresentations by bleeding heart acolytes of the liberal democracy religion, Realpolitik does not equate might with right nor does it do away with a civil discourse among interest-holders. It merely recognizes reality, adapts to it transigently, on the fly, without preconceptions, and aspires to optimize outcomes in a game theoretical manner.


Where is the place of existing structures in a Realpolitik world?


Human institutions are founded on the preservation of utilization of power: its dissemination, its management, and its maintenance. Realpolitik is about honestly admitting to this fact, not about instigating a revolution.


What about the rule of law? It is a natural derivative of Realpolitik because the state possesses a monopoly on the legitimate use of violence.


But will not Realpolitik sacrifice niceties such as human and civil rights? Not necessarily and not always. But it will dispense summarily with the self-imputed right to intervene in the internal affairs of sovereigns. Let domestic power matrices within polities determines the local admixtures of the rights and obligations of the populace and the shape and functioning of their institutions.


By far the greatest impact of Realpolitik will be the pacification of international affairs. In a Realpolitik world, powers – global and regional – would recognize each other’s spheres of influence and rarely trespass for as long as overt, unambiguously signalled might is the regulating and organizing principle of international affairs.


Time to resurrect Henry Kissinger and the long line of wise statesmen who preceded him throughout history and who served as his intellectual inspiration.

Appendix: Arctic Lessons

Interview with Barry Scott Zellen, Deputy Editor, "Strategic Insights", and Research Editor of the Arctic Security Project at the Center for Contemporary Conflict.

Q. In your book "Breaking the Ice: From Land Claims to Tribal Sovereignty in the Arctic" (Lexington Books, 2008) you describe the long and, ultimately, fruitful quest by the native tribes of the Arctic to regain a modicum of sovereignty over their ancient lands. Can you give us a capsule history of this process?


BSZ: “Breaking the Ice” describes the movement for native land claims and indigenous rights in Alaska and the Canadian Arctic, and the resulting transformation in domestic politics as the indigenous peoples of the North gained an increasingly prominent role in the governance of their homeland. Its main thesis is that land claims started out as a tool whose primary aim was assimilation, as the Alaska Native Claims Settlement Act (ANCSA) was designed primarily as a contemporary tool of economic modernization — to quickly bring Alaska Natives into the modern economy, and its corporate model was a dominant characteristic. ANCSA’s original model proved inadequate to meet the full needs and aspirations of northern Natives, who sought to preserve their traditions (including subsistence harvesting) as much if not more than to modernize their economies, and whose movement to settle land claims was driven as much by their aspiration for civil and Aboriginal rights as it was for economic modernization — with the tribal sovereignty movement emerging to challenge the new corporate culture created by land claims implementation, and which in Alaska placed Aboriginal title to traditional lands at risk of forfeiture if the land claim was not modified by 1991. When land claims crossed into Canada and came to the NWT in 1984 with the passage of the Inuvialuit Final Agreement (IFA), the model was significantly modified — so that land claims would, in addition to creating new corporations to manage Native lands, financial compensation, and investments, also help to promote Aboriginal culture and traditions, preserve the land and the wildlife, and help empower not just new corporate interests but also traditional cultural interests as well. Alaska Natives likewise sought to modify their original land claim, working to defuse what was sometimes called the "1991 time bomb" which would have seen Native land title come under risk. Additional efforts, often resulting in political tensions with non-Native interests, have been made to protect subsistence hunting in the years that have followed ANCSA’s enactment. With these efforts by Natives to transform the land claims model — and make it reflect not just the future as defined by modern governments but also their age-old traditions — land claims now help to balance both visions of the Arctic's future. While not perfect, land claims have proven to be resilient and adaptive — providing northern Natives with an important stepping stone toward self-government, protecting much of their traditional land base, while at the same providing them with tools and managerial experience to make self-government more viable and successful.


Q. What distinguished the Arctic tribal revival from neotribal upsurges elsewhere (for instance, in the Balkans)? What innovative techniques of negotiation, mediation, and bargaining have they deployed to achieve their aims? To what do you attribute their ultimate success?


BSZ: Land claims in the Arctic were the first concrete step in the process of decolonizing the North by devolving decision-making authority from what many northerners have long perceived to be far away, colonial centers of administration and decision-making to local communities: by letting go, central authorities were in fact strengthening their hand, gaining greater political legitimacy through their new collaboration, co-management, and devolutionary policies. After more than 35 years, the process begun by land claims that started in Alaska in 1971 is still by no means complete. Indeed, throughout large portions of Canada, hundreds of specific and regional land claims agreements are either still in the process of being settled, or have yet to be started, having proceeded at a snail’s pace for over three decades, precipitating a political crisis in June 2007 when renewed fears of Native militancy began to spread. Ottawa has since redoubled its commitment to a just and lasting reconciliation between Native and non-Native, promising to empower its Indian Claims Commission (ICC), created in 1991, by creating a new, independent tribunal to more speedily resolve Native claims. Furthermore, nearly four decades after the U.S. Congress enacted ANCSA, many Native villages continue to reject the land claims model in favor of alternative approaches to Native empowerment, such as through tribal governance. However, most of the Arctic has embraced the land claims model as an important step forward—if also a necessary evil—in their effort to restore Aboriginal rights, political control, and elements of their tribal sovereignty. As a result, the many Inuit communities along the Arctic littoral have now settled their land claims, and have moved on to the challenges of restoring self-government to their homeland.


Generally speaking, the tribal experience in the Arctic mirrors the tribal experience around the world. One major differentiator, of course, is that the United States was fundamentally transformed by its own civil rights movement, which solidified the ideals that were militarily victorious during the U.S. Civil War. It took a long time, but by the end of the 1960s, minority rights of all sorts, even the relatively late-blooming field of Aboriginal rights, had worked their way into the psyche of decision-makers at all levels of government, providing a fairly welcoming environment for land claims negotiations and other processes of Native empowerment. Even in places like Alaska where strong state interests have been pitted against the Native community in a long battle over who controls the resource wealth extracted from the land, the situation between state and tribe is far more harmonious than between state and tribe in other parts of the world where ethnic violence and civil warfare have erupted in response to the same centrifugal forces.


In the Arctic, as in many parts of the world that were once colonized, colonial impulses long dictated the pace of the North’s political development. What the North offered the South, in terms of economic opportunity as well as military security, drove the northward expansion of government, which in turn contributed to a growing indigenous, pan-Arctic movement for greater autonomy that ultimately redrew the map of northern Canada and Alaska, as these new institutions of local and regional self-governance proliferated, first gaining regulatory powers and later, governmental authority (most dramatically illustrated by the birth of the Nunavut territory in 1999, an Inuit-governed territory.) The roots of this drama thus date back to the expansion of commerce by Europe’s great powers into the northernmost reaches of North America: Russia expanded its empire from Siberia to Russian America, extending juridical sovereignty over Alaska in the 19th century; Britain, through the Hudson’s Bay Company, penetrated the interior northern territory known as Rupert’s Land even earlier, transforming the political economy of the indigenous northland from pure subsistence to commercial hunting and trapping.


Across the Arctic and sub-Arctic, there has been a long legacy of government-from-afar, and generations of northerners have felt a deep and troubling concern with the ongoing neglect by distant government administrators. The interests and needs of Northern Native peoples had, in fact, been neglected since the time of first contact, and in the early years of colonization of the North, those colonial governments had a tendency to overlook the rights of First Peoples, using disproportionate levels of military force, as the Russians and Americans both did in early Alaskan history. With time, however, the concept of Aboriginal rights evolved—and gradually transformed the political relationship between governments and the people of the North, as colonialism gave way to democratic impulses and greater political participation by Native peoples in the governing of the North. While the forces of modernism and traditionalism would continue to clash in the years ahead, these conflicts would be managed by the structures of co-management, corporate development, and self-government created by the region’s comprehensive land claims settlements.


What Natives have achieved in northern Canada, through peaceful negotiation, with their negotiation partner many times more powerful by any military or economic measure, is remarkable. Especially when compared to the chaos and violence that have resulted from other tribal aspirations along the Cold War’s other peripheral regions where unassimilated, un-integrated tribal and sub-national movements emerged to challenge the old state boundaries. The age of land claims has transmuted this very same tribal force into something else altogether in the North: a peaceful force to spawn the emergence of new structures of Aboriginal self-government. Caught between their tribal past and the demands of a modern future, they’ve crafted a synthesis between these two competing, dialectical forces. I believe the outcome of this clash between tribe and state, a blending of contemporary economic, political and constitutional institutions to preserve age-old traditions, defines the very essence of neotribalism -- neither a surrender to the forces of assimilation, colonialism, or even imperial occupation; nor a rejection of the modern state outright. Instead, the Natives North, walking in two worlds, have found ways to blend elements of both, forging a unique and one might hope enduring synthesis.


Q. The Arctic Peoples had the largely benign government of Canada as their interlocutor. Even so, initially, they had to resort to force and even kill. What makes you think that their methods would be applicable to the junta of Myanmar, to China's Communist Party, or to the Russian Kremlin?


BSZ: The junta in Burma and the Chinese Communist Party aren’t so very different in their mindset from the military governments that governed Alaska early in its history. My sense is that in time, with generational change, we will witness domestic political transformations in both countries, with some elements of democratization. Looking at Chinese press coverage of the recent earthquake in Sichuan, I was struck by how that government felt the need to embrace, at least for the moment, a free press, and to let that free press cover the tragedy, and the government’s response, with unexpected liberty. It reminded me of how after Chernobyl, the reformist Soviet premier Mikhail Gorbachev realized the scale of the disaster and the corrosive effect of unfiltered gossip demanded a similar loosening of press restrictions, and as we now know, there was no turning it off.


I think China will experience something similar; there are too many channels of communications, whether through wireless telecom, the wired Internet, foreign radio, TV and web broadcasts, underground press and unofficial blogs, even the simple but powerful new reality of camera-phones transmitting images without any real possibility of real-time censorship, as Beijing learned only a few months earlier during the spontaneous pan-Tibetan uprisings that proliferated like a flash-mob. Burma, being much further behind in economic and infrastructure development, may remain immune from these forces for a longer period. Its initial reaction to its own recent disaster was quite contrary to Beijing’s response; but after a week or two, it’s started to lift some of its earlier restrictions on international aid. And last summer during the monks’ rebellion, the Burmese government simply unplugged the Internet to prevent imagery of the uprising and its crackdown from reaching the world.


As for Russia, the Kremlin does seem to miss the old Soviet days of an iron fist and no real civil society to restrain the heavy hand of the state. But with so much of its natural resources in the Russian Arctic, requiring some degree of Native support to ensure the security of pipelines and other isolated infrastructure associated with getting resources like natural gas to market, I suspect we’ll also see something of a softening in terms of Moscow’s approach to indigenous minorities. Moscow, like Beijing, might in the end realize the business benefits of positive PR, which can help to really seed the market for future cooperation. If Russia, like China, wants to sell its natural resources and/or manufactured products to the democratic world, playing nice with its own minorities might go far to boost business. This economic pragmatism, which could well take root in both China and Russia, may in the end lead to a political thaw, even if it stops short of true democracy. Within this evolving environment of accommodation, tribal minorities might find much more room for both asserting, and fulfilling, their aspirations.


Or, perhaps a limit will be reached, as we saw last summer in Burma when the unarmed monks bravely rose up only to be quickly smacked down by the state. It might well be the governments, long used to oppressing their ethnic minorities, might be reluctant to mellow. But my instinct tells me that history is on the side of a gradual thawing that will result in Aboriginal rights becoming the rule and not the exception, and the experience of Alaska and Canadian Natives will be mirrored even in countries that today seem much less hospitable to minority rights.


Interestingly, I read in the April 24 edition of the “Barents Observer” an article that reported Gazprom had “got the necessary consent from regional indigenous peoples for the development of the huge Bovanenkovskoe field in the Yamal Peninsula,” and that the chief of the Gazprom Dobycha Nadym subsidiary had claimed “the intrusion of the oil industry in a zone managed by indigenous peoples is conducted in a highly careful and civilized manner” and that “all decisions regarding the laying of pipelines and infrastructure in the area are made only after consultations with representatives of the regional indigenous peoples.” While quite likely an overstatement, it does suggest some movement in this direction is already happening. With oil at $130 per barrel, there is enough profit to share with local stakeholders, so at least the opportunity exists for fair compensation and remediation of cultural and environmental impacts. I think in China there is a similar pushback by locals, whether members of China’s many indigenous minority groups or even the Han majority, as more and more people lose their fear of the party or of the state, and demand justice, fairness and inclusion.


So in sum, while there are dictatorships and authoritarian regimes that are hostile to minority rights, the fact that the USSR could collapse or the brutal Apartheid regime could allow itself to be digested by a democratic revolution only fifteen or twenty years ago suggests the night is young, and that anything is possible! 


Q. In the wake of the Cold War, do you believe the Nation-State is on the wane? What caused what: did resurgent tribal tensions and claims destabilize the State or did the gradual diminishment in the role of the State give rise to tribal and ethnic friction?


BSZ: I don’t think the nation-state is on the wane, but I do think the nation-state has had to adapt to the post Cold War era, and move beyond ideology, and back to the core building blocks of the state. In some multi-ethnic societies, this proved especially challenging, as we saw in the Balkans where minority groups that controlled demographically cohesive territories demanded outright sovereignty, resulting in state collapse. With tribalism resurgent, the nation-state must reach out and find a way to accommodate the interests of small and often outnumbered minorities, lest it face all sorts of internal resistance to its authority. Tribes may not have the power to escape state domination but they do have plenty of wiggle room to define greater autonomy. Some, like the Kosovars, found willing allies in the international community to make formal sovereignty possible, but most tribal minorities are on their own, without an international benefactor to come to their rescue. So it is up to them to learn what the limits are, what methods work, and how far the state can be pushed in terms of granting autonomy. The Natives of the Arctic have shown tremendous insight in identifying the limits of autonomy, hence the very different structures and outcomes as seen in Alaska, as compared to the Northwest Territories, as compared to Nunavut. As time went by, more and more became possible that had been hitherto denied as the concept of Aboriginal rights evolved and the state grew more comfortable with devolving authority.


The land claims journey, and the transformation of the land claims model from being a tool of assimilation, wielded by state against peripheral and interior tribes, into a tool of empowerment wielded by the tribe against those very forces of assimilation induced by the continued penetration of the modern state into its frontier region, reveals a fundamentally dialectical interaction (inherently interactive and iterative, but obscuring cause and effect), but this suggests the potential for a synthesis to the long conflict between state and tribe since the modern era of nation-states began. Earlier in history, as the state expanded, it digested tribal entities; those that refused to modernize were subsequently crushed by the state’s expanded power. When the modern state crossed the Atlantic to the New World, finding hundreds of tribal groups at an earlier level of industrial development, it overwhelmed those tribes militarily, eventually conquering the Americas. But within the new constitutional structures that emerged in post-revolutionary America, surviving tribes were able to preserve their identity and apply tools of the modern state to preserve their own survival. In so doing, I believe they made the state stronger, by enriching its constitutional DNA. Something similar, I believe, will inevitably happen all around the world.


Q. The environmental movement has been heavily involved (under the mantle of "sustainable development") in the protracted battle of the Peoples of the Arctic. Is sustainable development an oxymoron? Is the environmental movement being overly politicized? Do you see other ethnic groups leveraging or even abusing environmental principles to further their narrow political and economic agendas?


BSZ: I don’t think sustainable development is oxymoronic, though it is clearly an aspirational concept that is expensive, and quite difficult, to achieve. Development can be sustained so long as resources remain accessible, and so long  decision-making and regulatory structures and supportive values exist to ensure that development does not happen at a pace or in a manner that obliterates the local, cultural, and tribal values of the indigenous peoples whose homelands contain the resources sought by the resource development entities. If you look at how exploration and development of natural resources has evolved in the last century, you can see remarkable progress, so much so that the environment and the local indigenous peoples are no longer merely bulldozed out of the way, but included in the process, with environmental assessments, cultural impact studies, and participation agreements routinely implemented.


Sure, some activities like oil drilling and mining, will always leave long-term scars on the land, and present significant risks of environmental contamination. But at least now when this happens, there are efforts at remediation and compensation, which is of itself a big win for the Native peoples who not too long ago were neither consulted not compensated. That being said, any development activity does impact the land and the people, and these impacts mean that the old, pristine, world is forever gone. The new world is more complicated, messier, but it also offers many other tangible fruits: such as educational, medical, and transportation improvements that help increase life span and improve the quality of life. Not all change is bad, just as not all development activities are unsustainable.


As for the politicization of the environmental movement, and its polarization, this is something that does concern me. Many of those committed to political action recognize the need to mobilize a coalition of likeminded actors, whether states, corporations, and/or individuals to act united against the threat perceived. Case in point: climate change. When it comes to the movement to stop climate change or to slow its onset, the need for mobilization does seem to color their analysis: to warn the sky is falling is more effective, the activists of climate change believe intuitively, than a more balanced and nuanced assessment of risk, with all its inherent ambiguities. In short, the subtleties of nature, the inherent complexities, are often ignored by those committed to political action, which requires at least the illusion of certainty.


Q. Is the Arctic Thaw for real - or is it a figment of the febrile and not too scientific imagination of environmental advocates?


BSZ: Yes, it is real! Something truly transformative is indeed happening up along our last frontier! The long frozen, seemingly impenetrable polar sea is starting to thaw, unexpectedly fast, opening up larger and larger portions of the Arctic Ocean to seasonally ice-free conditions for longer and longer periods of time. So quickly is the ice melting that the prospect of a navigable, ice-free Arctic Ocean is no longer the stuff of fanciful imagination, and has been the topic of two NOAA National Ice Center-sponsored conferences, the April 2001 Naval Operations in an Ice Free Arctic Symposium, and the July 2007 Impact of an Ice-Diminishing Arctic on Naval and Maritime Operations Symposium. Within our lifetimes, and possibly in less than a single generation, we may witness the opening up of Arctic sea lanes that are fully navigable year-round: the strategic, economic and diplomatic consequences will be enormous. According to scientists from the U.S. National Snow and Ice Data Center (NSIDC), the Arctic Ocean will be ice-free by 2060 if current warming trends continue. NSIDC research last summer found that the Arctic was “experiencing an unprecedented sixth consecutive year with much less sea ice than normal,” and that the extent of Arctic sea ice for 2007 “set a new record minimum that [was] substantially below the 2005 record.” This summer looks to be on track for a near-record melt, though probably not as extreme as last summer’s.


The impacts of global warming and the resulting Arctic thaw will be profound. Michael T. Klare, a professor of peace and world security studies at Hampshire College and defense correspondent for “The Nation,” once explained to me that “global warming will affect resource competition and conflict profoundly” in the coming years, and while “global warming’s effects cannot be predicted with certainty, it is likely to produce diminished rainfall in many parts of the world, leading to a rise in desertification in these areas and a decline in their ability to sustain agriculture” -- which may in turn “force people to fight over remaining sources of water and arable land, or to migrate in large numbers to other areas, where their presence may be resented by the existing inhabitants.” Klare said that “global warming is also expected to produce a significant rise global sea levels, and this will result in the inundation of low-lying coastal areas around the world,” resulting in “the widespread loss of agricultural lands, forcing many millions of people to migrate to higher areas, possible encountering resistance in the process.” He cautioned that “because many poor countries will be unable to cope with the catastrophic effects of global warming, state collapse is a likely result along with an accompanying epidemic of warlordism, ethnic violence, and civil disorder.”


There are climate change skeptics and deniers out there; but I’ve seen evidence of the thaw, from melting permafrost and boiling methane fields, to the emergence of new hybrid polar/brown bears as a new genetic mixing takes place with more and more of the proud white bears migrating south, onto land, where they not only compete with the grizzlies but are now breeding with them. We’re witnessing the birth of a new sub-species, and though this could mean the end for the polar bear as a distinct subspecies, it is evidence of how profound the changes taking place are.


Q. What are the geostrategic implications of the Arctic Thaw? Are we likely to witness a Second Cold War premised on a neo-colonialist pursuit of mineral deposits in the Arctic? If so, who would be the likely contestants? Is the situation likely to escalate to open warfare?


BSZ: As with all things, there are Arctic pessimists and optimists. I find myself torn between the logic of both schools of thought. In my gut, while the changes happening are profound, I think they may turn out to be positive in the North, fostering a concert of mutual interests that can be sustained through an open, navigable, polar sea, with resources a plenty for all stakeholders. And since the Arctic basin is a sea and not a continent, we won’t see as many of the territorial divisions that resulted, much to the world’s regret, in the modern Middle East, with artificial states bisecting nomadic, tribal and national groups, leaving a legacy of friction, conflict and war. What remains to be carved up is offshore. We will probably see a militarization of the Arctic region, and a significant increase in naval activity. But this will likely be more defensive than offensive, protecting sea lanes and ports.


In the Arctic region itself, the melting ice will open up an entire ocean that has been ice-covered for millennia, bringing an end to what we can think of as the final chapter of the last ice age. As the polar ice melts, we’ll witness the gradual emergence a brand new world, unlocking what just a few years ago would have been unimaginable economic opportunities, as the long-closed Arctic waterways open up to rising volumes of commercial shipping and naval traffic, and as the thinning (and later disappearing) ice makes it more cost-effective, and technologically viable, to explore the region’s undersea natural resource potential, and to fully develop those new discoveries. This new world is not unlike that discovered by early explorers when they journeyed across the Atlantic, from the Old World to the New, in search of undiscovered countries and riches. We, too, are on a journey of discovery to a new and unknown world—a world full of riches unknown, but not unimagined! But it’s the imagination of these riches that led a new diplomatic crisis, which began last August 2, not long after Russia dispatched the flagship of its Antarctic research fleet, the Akademik Fyodorov, and the nuclear-powered icebreaker Rossiya to the North Pole, where Artur Chilingarov, Deputy Speaker in Russia’s Lower House and a well-known polar hero from Soviet times, and fellow parliamentarian Vladimir Gruzdev, descended 4,200 metres to the sea floor in a Mir mini-sub, where they left a titanium Russian flag and boldly laid claim to the North Pole on behalf of mother Russia. While the stated objective of their undersea polar mission was to advance Russia's claim to a vast extension of its continental shelf extending from Russia’s northern shores to the North Pole along the Lomonosov Ridge, the expedition was largely a public relations stunt designed to bring Russia’s claim to the attention of the world. A more properly scientific mission exploring the undersea contours of the Lomonosov Ridge and retrieving geological samples to help Russia back its claim with scientific evidence took place in May 2007. 


Prior to their descent into the chilly depths, Chilingarov announced, “The Arctic is Russian. We must prove the North Pole is an extension of the Russian coastal shelf,” and asserted. “The Arctic is ours and we should manifest our presence.” Upon resurfacing to an international diplomatic uproar, he proclaimed: “I don't give a damn what all these foreign politicians there are saying about this. If someone doesn't like this, let them go down themselves,” and to “then try to put something there.” He further stated that “Russia must win. Russia has what it takes to win. The Arctic has always been Russian.” Russia’s claim was quickly rejected by Canada, whose High Arctic archipelago abuts the North Pole, where its own territorial ambitions come face to face with Russia’s recent polar assertiveness. As then Canadian Foreign Minister Peter MacKay, who was later reassigned to run the Defense Ministry, told the press, “You can't going around the world these days dropping a flag somewhere,” adding, “This isn't the 14th or 15th century!” Yet at the same time, Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper hastily embarked upon a three-day Arctic visit during which he announced Canada’s decision to develop a $100 million deepwater port facility at Nanisivik, near the eastern entrance of the Northwest Passage, boosting Canada’s ability to project naval power into not just the waters of the fabled passage, but into the High Arctic as well. Harper also announced the formation of an Arctic training facility for its armed forces at Resolute Bay. He had announced a month before his government’s intentions to spend over $7 billion to build and maintain six to eight Polar Class 5 Arctic Offshore Patrol Ships. As Harper explained: “Canada has a choice when it comes to defending our sovereignty over the Arctic. We either use it or lose it. And make no mistake, this government intends to use it.” The Russians evidently share this use it or lose it philosophy; in addition to its recent expeditions in Arctic waters, its air force soon commenced strategic bomber exercises over the North Pole, where it practiced firing cruise missiles, navigating the polar region, and aerial refueling.


While Ottawa and Moscow were engaged in a muscular display of diplomacy reminiscent of the Cold War, hope was not lost for a more multilateral approach. According to the Law of the Sea Convention, in addition to a 200-mile exclusive economic zone (EEZ), signatories may also claim as additional territory any extensions to their continental shelves that they can scientifically substantiate. Russia, Denmark and Canada all hope the Lomonosov structure extends outward from their continental shelf; all treaty signatories have ten years from their signing to make their claim. Russia first claimed the ridge in 2001 but the International Seabed Authority requested scientific proof. Denmark is currently conducting research to make its case, as is Canada. Because Canada did not sign the Law of the Sea Convention until 2003, it has until 2013 to make its case, while Russia signed in 1997, so must submit its evidence this year. Denmark signed in 2001 so has until 2011. The United States, owing to its recent taste for unilateralism, has yet to sign the treaty—so for the moment is on the sidelines in the race for Arctic claims, though its newest icebreaker, the USCGC Healy, soon after the Russian polar theatrics, steamed North into the Beaufort Sea to map the U.S. continental shelf as part of its Arctic West Summer (AWS) 2007 expedition, and is again in northern waters conducting further undersea research for AWS 2008.


Despite this brewing regional rivalry, my view is that when the Arctic ice melts, the polar sea will reunite the Atlantic and the Pacific, and this will be huge enough a win for all: shipping lanes will traverse the pole, shortening trade routes between Asia and Europe, reducing the cost of transportation and consumption of fuel. This will mean bypassing many of the troublesome chokepoints that leave many countries vulnerable to terrorism and piracy. As well, the undersea resources of the Arctic are among the last, virgin natural resource deposits left on Earth, some experts think one third of the world’s hydrocarbons might lie offshore in the Arctic region. If so, that means the potential of a steady oil supply without having to worry about the political chaos of the Middle East, and gives us great reason to come to a full and lasting peace with Russia, who owns the other half of the Arctic but will obviously want to export these resources to such oil-hungry markets as China, Japan, Europe, and possibly even North America. Business has a way of turning political opponents into close friends.


Q. What would be the role of indigenous Arctic tribes and Peoples in such a future race for mineral wealth and geopolitical prowess?


BSZ: The potential economic benefits from resource development and transpolar shipping will bring much hope to the indigenous people of the North in terms of jobs, training, education, medical services, and other essentials. And this might help reduce the tragic situation in the Arctic villages in terms of epidemic suicide levels and widespread social problems that are perpetuated by the poverty, lack of opportunity, and harshness of the climate.  With climate change, there is at least some hope of real, lasting change and new opportunity. It will be disruptive, and challenge many traditions, but there is reason to be optimistic. With the real political gains of land claims and the various self-government processes, Natives are positioned to reap huge rewards from the coming wave of development. They own most of the coastal land, have significant regulatory powers and various co-management regimes that will ensure numerous benefits, from training and employment, including indigenous hiring and tendering preferences, to royalties, compensation, and remediation guarantees. The Inuit will find themselves in a central role not unlike that now enjoyed by the Saudi royal family.


Q. What can the United States and Canada do to forestall such ominous developments?


BSZ: As many experts have suggested, the impacts of global warming and the resulting Arctic thaw will indeed be profound. But there is a tendency to exaggerate the negative, while dismissing the positive dimensions of these impacts. Climate change pessimists worry about increased resource competition, coastal flooding, infrastructure damage from melting permafrost, changes in wildlife migration patterns, and stresses on some species—especially polar bears—as well as on the indigenous cultures of the region. So fearful of this calamity have we become that former Vice President Al Gore won a coveted Nobel Prize for Peace for his efforts to delay its onset, as if global warming was itself an act of war against mother earth.


But it may not turn out so bad. The melting ice will open up an entire ocean that has been ice-covered for millennia, bringing an end to what we can think of as the final chapter of the last ice age. We’ll witness the emergence a brand new world, unlocking what just a few years ago would have been unimaginable economic opportunities, as the long-closed Arctic waterways experience rising volumes of commercial and naval traffic, and as the disappearing ice makes it more cost-effective, and technologically viable, to explore the region’s vast  undersea natural resource potential. This will in turn stimulate the economic development of Arctic ports and communities, and secure sea lanes across the top will enable shipping of strategic commodities without the risks associated with our current sea lanes and their vulnerable chokepoints, reducing the risk of war and conflict. So while pessimists fear the changes that are under way, a more optimistic, and ultimately more prudent, approach would be to prepare to make the most of these new, emerging opportunities. Just as scholar Francis Fukuyama described the end of the Cold War as the “End of History” as we knew it and the start of a new and uncertain era, we once again find ourselves standing at the threshold of new era that promises not just uncertainty, but also much hope and opportunity for the people of the North. Because of this under-appreciated upside potential, I believe that Canada and the United States should not in fact do anything to forestall global warming but instead prepare to leverage these potential opportunities as they emerge.


Q. Is the issue of Climate Change being trivialized and leveraged by politicians, tribes, and states in the Arctic? If so, can you tell us how?


BSZ: I’m not sure the problem is one of trivializing the issue. I think the real problem is all the pessimism, and the negative hype, which prevents a more balanced debate from taking place. Indeed, many indigenous leaders in the North have joined with former U.S. Vice President, 2007 Academy Award winner, and 2008 Nobel Peace prize winner Al Gore and his allies to try to stop the clock. Yet while many respected theorists, climate scientists, policy-makers, diplomats, statesmen, and world leaders have concluded like Gore that the earth is spinning out of control toward certain doom, and that action is required at a planetary level to prevent the coming tragedy caused by climate change, my view is that the future is as yet unwritten, and though evidence of climate change has tipped from possible to probable (the deep, bone-chilling Arctic winter of 2008 notwithstanding), the debate on winners and losers is still one worth having, and that rumors of our imminent demise, as a species, as a planet, may in fact be greatly exaggerated.


Many of those committed to political action recognize the need to mobilize a global coalition of states, corporations, and individuals to act united against the threat of climate change, and this need for mobilization colors their analysis: to warn the sky is falling is more effective, the activists of climate change believe intuitively, than a more balanced and nuanced assessment of risk, with all its inherent ambiguities. As pioneering quantum theorist Heisenberg observed, at the fundamental level of perception, the act of observation influences the outcome of events since the lonely photon that measures any atom’s position or momentum also changes these coordinates in time and space. Thus we can never know, with certainty, since the act of observation changes reality. Uncertainty transcends the impact of observation itself; deeper down, in the bowels of quantum reality, we are confronted with a greater mosaic of duality and contradiction. Just as Einstein showed energy and mass were different expressions of the same thing, and that one could be converted to the other and vice versa, Heisenberg is famous for introducing us to the wave-particle duality, which tells us that atoms can act like particles, and waves, with their distinct behavioral differences, and that probability itself is part and parcel of the fabric of the universe at the subatomic level. Up higher, in the Newtonian world that we more readily understand, we have clarity and certainty and predictability, but down deep in the inner folds of the universe’s underlying fabric, we only have uncertainty, ambiguity, and duality, an omnipresence of chaos, albeit with meta-patterns that hint at an underlying order.


Political action has always been a Newtonian phenomenon, with the individual atomic unit being us, people, and our various aggregations into groups, be they corporations, social groups, or states. But scientific knowledge, with its complex granularity, from the macro to the micro, from the cosmic to the quantum, has been forced to recognize harder truths, such as those unearthed by the imaginative leaps of Einstein and Heisenberg, among others. And these harder truths are, at the quantum level, riddled with ambiguity. And when scaled up to global systems, those ambiguities do not disappear, but cast a long shadow. Climate change is thus a realm of scientific thought that currently aspires for a certainty compatible with political mobilization for action, but which in fact is fertile ground for the riddles of chaos theory, and the dualistic ambiguities of quantum uncertainty.


And so the activists tell us, the sky is falling, as Gore told us as he accepted his Nobel Peace Prize in 2007. (His words were more concise, more humble, and more appropriate when he accepted his Oscar in Hollywood earlier in 2007.) But what if they are wrong? What if their position has become reified because they believe the stakes are so high, that inaction itself is tantamount to complicity in planetary genocide? What if they have taken a page from the anti-nuclear movement, arguing that there are, cannot be, will not be winners in nuclear war, so we must bottle up our atomic genie, and step away from the nuclear chasm before we fall in and self-destruct? During the Cold War, the anti-nuclear activists had their faith that we would all be losers in nuclear war, that the only solution was stepping back, and seeking nuclear abolition. But theirs was not the only point of view: closer to the strategic nerve-centers of the nuclear states were a diverse ecosystem of nuclear thinkers, strategists, and planners whose jobs involved figuring out how to do what the anti-nuclearists said was impossible: winning a nuclear war. Men like Herman Kahn dared to “think about the unthinkable,” coming up with various proposals and ideas to mitigate the risks and dangers of nuclear war, from more thoughtful civil defense, to more detailed war plans in the case deterrence failed. The Cold War ended suddenly before there was an apocalyptic show-down, so we’ll never know who was right or wrong. But with regard to climate change, we must confront this self-same duality, this annoying ambiguity, this reluctant riddle that remains unanswered: are there both winners and losers in climate change? Might there in fact be more winners than the activists, already committed to their position that we are all losers in this drama, will acknowledge?


The story not told by the climate change pessimists is the other half of the evolution story, not the extinction of species that did not make the cut, but the creation of those that did, as new genetic factors becomes strengths and not weaknesses. Life itself is a process of renewal and decay, extinction and species birth, and to cry out that extinction is itself a tragedy dishonors the species to come, whose birth itself was forestalled by efforts to prevent the natural process from continuing. Mourn we may but not at the price of stopping life itself from evolving, for it is the story of evolution that we must continue to tell, indeed to act out, as players on its stage. As the predominant creature, ruling over most of the earth’s surface, we naturally want evolution to stand still, our time to last forever. But this is not necessarily nature’s way. Nor is it nature’s way to pick sides, and fight to keep one species alive at the expense of another’s arrival on this earth. We all have our time, its beginning and its end. We can fight to keep the polar bear white, but is this not a crime against the emerging hybrid polar/brown bear? We can fight to keep the caribou alive, but what of the deer, should they be denied their time in the North? The dinosaurs had their day, and so did we; would we stop the age of the dinosaurs from ending if we had the power to do so? And should we try to stop the clock, and hold back this process of global warming which might in fact bring an end to the ice age itself, and free the polar regions from its continued, icy tyranny of climatic extremism?


These are the issues we need to debate, and explore, and consider, without passing judgment. And while Gore has his Nobel Prize for Peace for the war that he has declared against man’s recklessness and climate-aggression, this does not mean that Gore’s perspective is the only valid one, nor the correct one. From the Arctic perspective, Gore’s logic would mean a perpetuation of an ice age that the rest of the world was all too happy to see end.


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