Monday, September 01, 2008

Russia and the New Medievalism in the International Law of States

A short reverie on Labor Day on the labor of nations:

Today we are informed that "European Union leaders have agreed to suspend talks on a new partnership agreement with Moscow until Russian troops have withdrawn from Georgia." EU Suspend Talks on Russia Pact, BBC News Online, September 1, 2008. In return, "Russia has warned further support for Georgia would be a "historic" mistake." Id. For all that, Europe is divided. In contrast to the British, the French and Germans seek a different path:
""By pointing the finger at Russia, we isolate it and continue to trample on it," Prime Minister Francois Fillon said. "This is not the way France has chosen. It's not the way Europe has chosen... and the word 'sanctions' is not on the agenda." . . . German Chancellor Angela Merkel also said the EU should not break off dialogue with Moscow but instead "speak clearly", echoing earlier comments by Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier. "
Id. An interesting conundrum--how to show sympathy without cost, how to assert power without appearing assertive, how to be polite in war, and how to avoid war while profiting from it both in one's internal relations within the European Union, and outside of it, against the Russians directly and the United States indirectly. Europe looks to Georgia, Russia looks to the United States, each looks to advantage while the Americans busy themselves with its periodic change in the formal holders of power. "Russia, the Kremlin leader declared, would no longer accept a situation whereby a single country, like the US, sought global domination. . . . Mr Medvedev also pledged to defend the lives and dignity of Russian citizens, wherever they are located." Id. Europe seeks to cultivate systems based on networks of relationships based on law and rule of law as an international systems device for the controlling of arbitrary conduct by any state. Russia, necessarily, is giving in to its traditional sense of inferiority, now hardwired as its political culture. For effectuating the tenets of its new political cosmology, Russia must now treat as substantially irrelevant those systems of international law and rule of law as they have come to be understood, especially after 1989, within the community of internationalists elites in the developed world.

For modern Russian engagement with the world something more ancient is required. That ancient structure substitutes a different set of law for the carefully crafted system of international relations crafted by the United States after 1945 and embraced by the Europeans thereafter. Russian jurisdiction now travels with its citizens where ever they might be located--at least if they are located in places where Russian military power might reach. That is the new basis for legality--or that is to say there is the re-institution of the old basis for sovereign jurisdiction. On the backs of its citizens will Russia now seek to project its power. Though it is ultimately the power of a paper tiger, inevitably subject to collapse on the basis of a reluctance by its privileged population (European stock Russian Orthodox believers ) to breed and an unwillingness to share power effectively among its subject peoples, except when convenient. While Russia plays at expansion through its citizens in foreign territories, it will lose eastern Siberia to the Chinese and its south central core to the Turkish peoples eventually, or be consumed by them within an empire that, like that of the Visigoth minority ion Spain, they will not be able to hold while retaining their traditional national character. But that is in the future.

In the present, the Russians have chosen to hide their weakness behind a passing technological superiority (a potential lesson to Americans seeking to become complacent on that score) and to propose the re-institution of the old pre modern system of status citizenship. In this, Russia might well be reaping first what others have been sowing. See Larry Catá Backer, On Israel's 60th Anniversary of Statehood: Views From the Empire and the Caliphate, LAW AT THE END OF THE DAY, May 16, 2008. It is ironic that this is a principle lesson the Russian establishment has learned from its Islamic fundamentalist friends in Iran and its foes in Chechnya. In place of the system of international law grounded on the customary law of the community of nations, with its sophisticated system of rules designed to instill notions of constitutional restraint through internationalized rule of law principles, Russia would have us return to the principles of politics grounded on the rights of states to project their power as defenders of citizens where ever located. Russia would have us return to a world in which states have spheres of privilege over which they are free to assert quasi-sovereign authority, or least to the extent of their power (and that, of course, is the trick here. . . no likelihood of Russian troops marching into Brooklyn to protect the dignity of Russians living there). "Mr Medvedev. . . made it clear that there were parts of the world where Russia sees itself as having privileged interests."EU Suspend Talks on Russia, supra.

This is both a pre-modern imperialist vision which the Russian national character has never overcome, and also a post modern vision that grounds of state relations in notions of supra national community based on a privileged characteristic of belonging. For the Russians it is "citizenship." For some Islamic thinkers, it is membership in the community of Islam, for others it might be membership in ethnic communities whose bonds are privileged over the obligations of citizenship in multinational states (an idea pioneered by the Germans in the last century with hints of resurgence in places like Kosovo/Albania). This framework makes clear the rationale for actions, such as those by Turkey's religious party, the leaders of whom welcomed the Sudanese president.
Sudan's President Omar al-Bashir is attending a summit of African leaders in Turkey, his first foreign trip since he was accused of war crimes. . . . Last month, the International Criminal Court's chief prosecutor asked the court to issue an arrest warrant related to crimes in Darfur. . . . Neither Sudan nor Turkey recognise the international court based at the Hague. . . . Turkey is keen to complete its membership of the African Development Bank Group, which would allow Turkish firms to compete for development contracts in Africa.. . . On Monday, Turkey's foreign minister asked that African nations back the country's bid for a temporary seat on the UN Security Council, pledging to become its "voice of Africa". Sudan's Bashir in Visit to Turkey, BBC News Online, August 19, 2008.
Wheels within wheels, formal compliance with systems masking its own undoing. Such privileging slowly undoes the delicate system of international rule of law even as it appears to be be instituted by the acclamation of those who would subvert it from birth. Now here is corruption in a more subtle, though more global, form. See Larry Catá Backer, End and Goal, Law at the End of the Day, August 28, 2008. It seems that only Europe is keen to play by its own rules, and then only when it is convenient for the French and the Germans. It seems that Europe, too, is a keen fan of its own universalist norms not as law, but as convenience. All this recalls an old poem by William Blake:
My Pretty Rose-tree

A flower was offer'd to me,
Such a flower as May never bore;
But I said "I've a Pretty Rose-tree,"
And I passed the sweet flower o'er.

Then I went to my Pretty Rose-tree,
To tend her by day and by night;
But my Rose turn'd away with jealousy,
And her thorns were my only delight.

William Blake, "My Pretty Rose-tree," from Songs of Experience, in William Blake, The Works of William Blake: Selected Poetry and Prose 44 (Roslyn, New York: Black's Readers Service Company 1953). Nations, communities, and peoples are developing tastes for the sight of Pretty Rose-trees, but especially for the feel of its thorns.

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