Tuesday, September 02, 2008

Democracy Part XIV: Of Political Corpses and Global Vampires

Russian President Dmitry Medvedev has described his Georgian counterpart as a "political corpse", saying Moscow does not recognise him as president. "President Saakashvili no longer exists in our eyes. He is a political corpse," he told Italy's Rai television. Russian President Dmitry Medvedev has described his Georgian counterpart as a "political corpse", saying Moscow does not recognise him as president. "President Saakashvili no longer exists in our eyes. He is a political corpse," he told Italy's Rai television.
Saakashvili a "Political Corpse," BBC News Online , September 2, 2008. Does this make Vladimir Putin a political vampire, member of the community of the undead living off the life sources of others; and thus Dmitry Medvedev serves as his Renfew? More importantly, what does it suggest about the limits of democratic choice among the peoples of smaller, or less powerful, states? I have already suggested one difference--the availability of the structure of multi-national, multi-ethnic and multi-religious organization. See Larry Catá Backer, On the Cuban View of the Russian Invasion of Ossetia/Georgia, Law at the End of the Day, August 11, 2008.

It is clear that the people of larger states may choose as they will, with little interference. The essence of democratic organization is preserved to them--however they wish to organize it. See Boris Dewiel, Deocracy: A History of Ideas 142-172 (Vancouver, BC: UBC Press, 2000) ("Democracy may be defined as an institutionalized argument over the proper meaning and relative importance of liberty, equality, and community. Certain institutions, including partisan competition, elections and legislative debates, are at the very heart of democracy. Every democeracy will have institutions of evaluative contestation." Id., at 171-172). Even the smaller states of the European Union may choose to void a process of constitutional change desired by its larger fellow Member States. But no so unconnected smaller and less powerful states. The discussion of the Russian President and his master, the Russian Prime Minister, suggests a reversion to a simpler time, when the international legal order recognized a small number of truly sovereign states, with all others lawfully subject to interference, and in extreme cases, subjugation, by sovereign act of the few supremely sovereign states.
Just as, in municipal law, [states] are regarded as the possessors of independent wills and as the entities in which are vested certain rights and responsibilities, so, in international law, they are viewed as political persons having definite rights and obligations. This status they have, however, in full effect at least, only insofar as they are regarded as members of what is known as the "Family of Nations," which Family does not include all the States of the world but only those nations which have reached a certain aegree of civilization. . . . The States which are members of this narrower group have assumed to themselves the right to determine what other States shall be admitted to full membership with themselves. . . . With reference to the States that are still outside the Family of Nations, Cobbett points out that they can scarcely be held to be altogether outside the pale of international law. He says: 'Such States may be said to occupy in the international system much the same position as persons subject to the disabilities of infancy or alienage occupy in municipal law, but their exact position is hard to define.'
Westel W. Willoughby, The Fundamental Concepts Of Public Law 307-308 (New York: The MacMillan Company 1924).

Russia is civilized and powerful. Georgia is none of those things. Russia is sovereign; Georgia is only so to the extent recognized by Russia. Russia now counts itself among the first rank of states. Georgia is definitely not first tier. It is not permitted the freedom of action of first tier states. To wage war without permission is an offense--against Russia. In the absence of adequate protection from another first tier state (in Georgia's case that would be the United States), then Georgia must pay the price. The same, of course, applies to other entities--the Palestinians, for example. A Russian understanding of democracy and its application based on a hierarchy of States sovereignty makes plausible the American and Israeli reaction to the election of Hamas to the government (and to confine it to Gaza). It might, as easily explain the Chinese reaction to the restiveness of the transnational Turkish nation on and within its claimed eastern frontiers.

As Antony Anghie has argued:
because sovereignty was shaped by the colonial encounter, its exercise often reproduces the inequalities inherent in that encounter. But the further and broader point is that sovereignty is a flexible instrument which readily lends itself to the powerful imperatives of the civilizing mission, in part because it is through engagement with that mission that sovereignty extends and expands its reach and scope. That is why the essential structure of the civilizing mission may be reconstructed in the very contemporary vocabulary of human rights, governance and economic liberalization. In this larger sense, then, the nineteenth century is both very distinctive, and yet entiorely familiar, part of internaitonal law.
Antony Anghie, Imperialism, Sovereignty and the Making of International Law 114 (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2004).

No comments: