Russia takes a bite out of state sovereignty
The real clash with Georgia is sovereignty vs. self-determination.
The roots of the current Russo-Georgian crisis are complex. Geopolitically, the Russian invasion of Georgia represents Moscow's attempt to reassert its dominance in the Caucasus and Central Asia while sending a message that Russia is now strong enough to counter Western incursions into its sphere of influence.Skip to next paragraph
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But in so doing, the Russians are also exploiting a dangerous and frequent source of conflict in the international arena: the clash between sovereignty and self-determination.
In this case, it's the sovereignty of Georgia, an independent state recognized by the international community, that's in conflict with the self-determination of the South Ossetians.
They are a disaffected minority within Georgia who wish to secede and unite with North Ossetia, which is under Russia's political control. Russia has recognized South Ossetia's "independence," exploiting the attempted secession to punish Georgia for its defiance of Russian power and to deny Georgia's attempt to align itself with the liberal West.
The modern state, for all its shortcomings, has been a source of stability in the international system. Unfortunately for international peace and security, state boundaries often include populations that do not wish to be part of a given state.
Such populations are motivated by the principle of ethnic or national self-determination, a principle associated with nationalism, the belief in a common identity based on blood or language.
Modern nationalism is based on the idea that mankind is naturally divided into nations and that there are determinate criteria for identifying a nation and recognizing its members. Nationalism holds that each nation is entitled to an independent government of its own and that states are legitimate only if constituted in accordance with this principle.
Peace will prevail only when every nation forms a single state and every state consists exclusively of the whole of one nation. As the 19th-century Italian nationalist Giuseppe Mazzini put it, the political unity and independence of every nation within the boundaries of its own state is ordained by God.
Such conditions rarely prevail. Accordingly, much of the conflict in the world since the breakup of the Soviet empire has been nationalist and ethnic in character.
Because nationalists are often highly suspicious, resentful, and fearful of other national groups (xenophobia), their movement frequently results in tension and bloodshed.