South Ossetia and “the Will of the People”

by Chris Borgen

With the announcement of a six-point plan for a Georgian cease-fire, attention is shifting to how to construct a durable and equitable peace in the Caucasus. As the parties settle-in for some sort of negotiation, I find it interesting how the ideas about international law and norms are used in the statements of the parties.  Here are a couple of examples from a CNN report from this evening:

Sarkozy said he and Medvedev agreed Georgia is an independent country and Russia has no intention of annexing it. But Medvedev also said “sovereignty is based on the will of the people” and “territorial integrity can be demonstrated by the actual facts on the ground.”

Medvedev said, “I think that these are some very good principles in order to resolve the problem which has arisen from this very dramatic situation, and these principles can be used by Georgia and South Ossetia.”

The seemingly innocuous phrase “sovereignty is based on the will of the people” actually has some quite striking implications.  (I will leave aside the territorial integrity comment…)

First of all, the key question is “which people?”  This has been at the heart of debates over what it means for a “people” to have a right of self-determination. My guess is that Medvedev believes that “people” refers to “South Ossetians” and that Saakashvili would say that it refers to “all the people of Georgia.”

Unfortunately, international law has had a pretty hard time defining what a “people” is for the purposes of self-determination…

Georgia Taking Russia to Court? And Vice Versa?

by Chris Borgen

As the fighting winds down or escalates (depending on whom you believe), the legal battle that Ken discussed yesterday seems to be gearing up and getting more complex, with the International Court of Justice, the International Criminal Court, and the European Court of Human Rights now all being mentioned in news stories…

UPDATE: Be sure to see the new information and links from various commentors in the comments section. Thank you, all!

The Investigative Committee in Russia and Alleged Georgian Crimes?

by Kenneth Anderson

Military analyst at AEI Fred Kagan has offered a list of provocative possibilities for where the Georgian-Russian war goes next.  What interests me most here are two of Kagan’s comments on possible Russian investigations into alleged Georgian crimes in South Ossetia, presumably in the course of the Georgian push into South Ossetia, but perhaps not limited to that, apparently, according to Kagan, to be referred to a special organ of the Russian government called the Investigative Committee.  Presumably the Investigative Committee of the Russian Procuracy; a recent paper by American University’s Ethan Burger and NYU’s Mary Holland on SSRN describes it as having been created, however, for “corrupt political purposes.”

Frozen Conflicts Unfreezing

by Kenneth Anderson

Like many OJ readers, I’ve been watching with shock and dismay as the situation unfolds in Georgia – unsure what exactly to say about policy and US policy in particular.  I mean, it’s easy to agree with both the Obama and McCain campaign reactions (I paraphrase) … ‘Russian invasions are bad’ (Obama) and ‘Put the tanks in reverse, Putin’ (McCain) – but that’s not policy, it’s a (very) small step toward actual policy. The situation appears to worsen as the hours pass.  It seems to have gone from the natural breaking point, for Russia, in driving the Georgian army from South Ossetia and Abkhazia, apparently to something – hard to say with certainty at this point, but apparently – wildly, frighteningly more aggressive from the standpoint of international law and policy, toppling the government in Georgia and seeing it replaced with something more to Moscow’s liking.

I was in Georgia, South Ossetia, and Abkhazia in the early 1990s when these conflicts got going in the process of the breakup of the Soviet Union and the independence of Georgia.  I was covering these conflicts for the Human Rights Watch Arms Division, which meant a focus on violations of the laws of war in the conflicts and looking at where the weapons used in the violations came from – not that the last question was all that hard to answer in this case.  So, I was in Georgia in 1993; after the civil war that messed up Tbilisi very badly, as the South Ossetia conflict had quieted down, but Abkhazia was in full swing. The Georgian army today is pretty well professionalized, disciplined, and trained, in large part by the US (although obviously not large enough to take on the Russian military), although that is disputed by Moscow, which claims criminal acts in the Georgian military incursion.  But discipline was not the case in the multiple civil wars that were in large part the genesis of the war on-going now.  

In this post, I’m not going to discuss current policy, but instead talk about what I saw in these conflicts as I watched them unfold back then.  Maybe there’s something to understanding the on the ground circumstances of those conflicts fifteen years ago that is relevant now.  Or maybe not.

The War in Georgia: Issues of Escalation and Justification

by Chris Borgen

This is a follow-up to my previous post concerning the legal issues of the conflict in Georgia with some more about the current military and diplomatic situations (and the resultant legal concerns).

The fighting is moving beyond South Ossetia and into other parts of Georgia, such as the port city of Poti…

International Law, Power Politics, and Russian Intervention in Georgia

by Chris Borgen

Russia’s intervention in Georgia is the latest, and most obvious, example of the peculiar role that Russia plays in the various so-called frozen conflicts in former republics of the USSR.  As international security expert Dov Lynch has put it, Russia can be thought of as a “mediator-cum-supporter-cum-combatant.”  Why has Russia undertaken such a foreign policy in Georgia and what, if anything, does international law have to say about the situation?…

Frozen Conflict Becomes Hot War: Russia Invades Georgia

by Chris Borgen

The frozen conflict over the Georgian separatist region South Ossetia has become a shooting war. Russia’s invasion of Georgia brings to a head many issues that have been floating around, ranging from arguments over NATO’s invasion of Kosovo to the proper understanding of self-determination to the role of Russia in the other so-called “frozen conflicts” in the former Soviet Union…

Fine Hiking (Never Mind the Troop Movements)

by Chris Borgen