FLASHPOINTS: STATELESS STATES
Since disputed territories have been the casus belli of conflict for time out of mind, it seems appropriate to feature the principal disputed territories of the world that purport to independence, but are currently in the form of unrecognized states.
As a roster of the world's nation states the UN is probably the most comprehensive. There are few well-known exceptions to the present line-up of nations in membership: Switzerland was the best known, but after thinking about it for fifty four years they eventually joined in 2002. The Vatican is perhaps the most appropriate exception and the Sovereign Order of the Knights of St John of Jerusalem and Malta, the least relevant. Nevertheless, the UN currently has 191 members and with the holdouts and unqualified, there are near enough 200 entities that see themselves as sovereign states. It is amongst the unrecognised that we now probe, their status and claims or indeed pretensions, if it amounts to that. The relevance is that many of these territories are clearly in dispute and as such are capable of sparking a hot war, therefore something about their provenance and current circumstances is included here.
TAIWAN (whose unlikely official name is still "The Republic of China")
The most miscast of the stateless states must surely be
TAIWAN. Today, immensely successful as an unrecognized democratic national entity, it's rulers did it is true, start out claiming to be the legitimate government of China, the most populated nation on earth. In 1949 the defeated nationalist armies and the discredited Kuomintang political party, the vehicles of Generalissimo Chiang Kai-Chek's nationalist government, shipped themselves across the Formosa straits. They were they claimed, waiting for an opportunity to return, purporting meanwhile to be the only legitimate government of China whilst manifestly they were not. It was anything but democratic, and the hapless Taiwanese population found the military and political burdens upon them to be heavy indeed. Corruption was on a super scale but it was the redeeming local good fortune that the world was in the throes of the cold war, so that the US superpower decided to protect them against cross-straits aggression and indeed to seek to stimulate their economy and internal political advancement.
Fifty six years on, the economic success of this island state has become phenomenal. During the Asian financial melt-down, it was the ONLY nation in Asia that suffered no economic ill effects, so strong was its economic base. Politically it has been a different story. The communist government in Beijing has steadfastly refused to relinquish their insistence that Taiwan's status is that of a temporary break-away province of mainland China. Well they would, wouldn't they. Such is the nature of power politics, the nations of the world with few minor exceptions have gone along with that definition. Taiwan has been discouraged at the topmost levels from asserting nation-statehood and to accept the concept that it will meantime be defended and one day be reunited, on terms acceptable to its people. It is this precondition that makes their status of being an unrecognized state (other than by some tiddlers amongst nations), just about tolerable to a majority, but not to all of them, including their out-spoken president.
This all could easily go wrong. The Peoples Liberation Army is constantly exercising on a scenario of cross-straits warfare and deploys a menacing array of missile weapons, trained on Taiwan. The USA maintains a large naval and combined services presence in or near to the Taiwan straits. The island 'no-state' itself spends large sums in hi-tech military equipment which particularly benefits the US and other western arms industries.
The supreme irony is that although the Peoples Republic of China is absolutely in charge of its own political destiny, it has enjoyed several years of a long upsurge economically, largely due to the massive quantity of Foreign Direct Investment from overseas Chinese. This was led by and largely funneled through the Taiwanese, long before other international funds started to move into what by then, was becoming recognised as a likely place to invest. So Taiwan, whose political existence China does not recognize, has actually been the financial midwife at the birth of China's continuing bid for prosperity and world power status.
We move from a small triumph of a quasi-state to one that has long been a disgrace to Europe- and certainly a condemnation of Moscow, through whose vested interest this anomaly continues to exist. It appears that there is no higher motive for this entity than as a corrupt earner of big money for high-ups in Moscow, and until recently at least, in Kiev.
It came into being at the dissolution of the USSR when it had been a part of the all-union republic of
MOLDOVA, itself one of the smallest of the fifteen SSRs that comprised the Soviet Union. Over recent centuries there had been much chopping and changing of borders in this corner of SE Europe, but when the USSR ceased to exist in early 1991,
MOLDOVA looked to its future as a part of Europe. Specifically, some of its politicians even toyed with the idea of a union with
ROMANIA. A majority of its peoples were ethnic Romanians and before the great powers started carving it all up, they had shared a lot of history with what is now this quite separate neighbouring state to their south and west. But as
ROMANIA was at the time of the dissolution of the USSR, if anything even poorer than post-soviet
MOLDOVA, there was little enthusiasm in either country for this idea of a merger of 'down-and-outs'.
But it was not a lack of enthusiasm that drove the secession of the easternmost province of
MOLDOVA, that narrow strip of land that lies across the Dniester river which had never been any part of
ROMANIA and whose people apart from Moldovans, included a sizeable minority of Ukrainians - which large country is the neighbour to the north and east. And of Russians, who during the days of Soviet planning had been sent there to work and settle. These slav minorities immediately took alarm at being no longer subject to familiar Moscow, but to a Moldovan government in Chisinau. When it was suggested that in turn, they might as a part of the new
MOLDOVA be handed on to a Romanian government in Bucharest, their fears were cynically marshalled by those who saw advantage in provoking an armed uprising. Chisinau responded by sending in the Moldovan army and in a short campaign there were many casualties with no clear outcome. The Transnistrians, on their side were receiving help from the former Soviet army, who had a large garrison there, as close by the city of Tiraspol was located a major arsenal of the former Red Army, hence the garrison, whose continuing presence was and remains of critical importance to all the players.
Moscow under pressure from the west sent in a new army commander, none other than General Alexander Lebed, who quickly brought fighting to a halt. He was then moved on (too soon for a resolution here), to do the same thing to end the first Chechnyan war. But although the peace held, and there was by this time no possibility of Moldova merging with Romania, there was therefore no reasonable cause for a continued split between Moldova and its wayward province.
This was fifteen years ago and still the territory remains separated from its rightful motherland, calling itself the Transnistrian republic, recognized by no nation in the world, not even its patron
RUSSIA. Without their protective embrace it would return under the aegis of Chisinau with the benefit of a generous, largely self-ruling federal settlement, already on offer.
Why then does Moscow intercede and block all attempts to end this scandal? The key lies in the military stockpiles at Tiraspol which have been raided and sold throughout the world in a near-perfect arms dealer's scenario, operating as they do wherever there is a demand for weapons, but from a base which is untouchable. Since it is not recognised and has no diplomatic relations anywhere, this territory cannot be sanctioned. Because of its Russian protector it cannot be invaded. Unsurprisingly they diversified into narcotics and people smuggling.
Apart from the start they received by having vast stocks of redundant former soviet weaponry for sale, they can be relied upon to obtain almost any weapons system bespoke. Until the Orange revolution their giant neighbour
UKRAINE, was privy to this and undoubtedly Ukrainian contractors arranged delivery world-wide, probably via those unmarked white Antonov freighters that can often be seen on airports of third world countries. The previous Ukrainian president, Kuchma, no slouch in the armaments field himself, was said to be a close friend of the Tiraspol 'president' Smirnoff and other leaders, for reasons that may be easily imagined.
Kiev was then as supportive as Moscow. Since the election of Yushchenko to the Ukrainian presidency he has joined with Moldova's President Voronin in calling for an end to the scandal which is the continuing presence of this quasi-state. But
UKRAINE has still been somewhat ambiguous, 'dragging its feet' about policing its border with Transnistria, which only testifies to the impressive power of folding money in such countries.
The reality is that the sums of money involved in this major international arms dealer, drugs and people smuggler are stratospheric. By elimination of all reasonable arguments to the contrary, it seems that Moscow continues to go along with all of this, simply because its own military and political bosses have been doing so very well from it for such a very long time.
This small, beautifully situated piece of the Georgian Black Sea coast was always a favoured playgound of the Soviet elite - Stalin had a villa here, as did Beria - native Georgians both. The secession of this province from
GEORGIA happened when the USSR broke-up which was only possible of course, as is its continuing 'independent' survival, because it is totally dependent on
RUSSIA. Abkhazia, which abuts troubled Chechnya, is technically Moslem. That doesn't mean too much in religious terms after seventy years in the religion-suppressing Soviet Union, but its citizens do feel a sense of ethnic difference from the Christian Georgians, whose adoption of Christianity as a state religion goes back to the 4th century and predates that of Constantinople and Rome. After Abkhazia seceded, there was a military showdown in which the unlikely result was the rebuffing of the Georgian army. How did this come about?
RUSSIA inserted ample munitions and modern weaponry and more - skilled military leadership. The irony is that the Russians (way back then), invited the neighbouring Chechens to help their nominal co-religionists. De facto command was offered to and accepted by the man Moscow now excoriates as the Chechens bandit-chief, the terrorist who organized the Beslan school and Moscow theatre massacres and other outrages against Russian civilians, on whose head they have placed a reward of $10 millions, none other than the war-lord Shamil Baseyev.
Tbilisi, which for fourteen years has unwillingly hosted 30,000 Georgian refugees from the territory, in permanent / temporary accommodation, has long sought a political solution, clearly long overdue. But the Abkhazian top people like it the way it is, and Moscow who also wants to keep it this way, has a military base there and 'peace-keeping' troops firmly entrenched to keep Georgia out. The
RUSSIA-GEORGIA situation is any way tense and
RUSSIA has appeared to continually ratchet that situation up, so there is an undoubted volatility in the simple presence of this secessionist territory.
Another chunk of GEORGIA that seceded with the assistance of Moscow and is sustained by
RUSSIA, again with 'peace-keeping' troops facing off against Georgian soldiers. It is a fragment of a former Persian empire and its people have ethnic links with
IRAN. Again, it is nominally Moslem but so are large swathes of southern Russia without that being a real problem. There is a North Ossetia, a Russian federated republic adjacent. The South Ossetians reasonably enough, did not appreciate that because of the vagaries of Moscow planning during Soviet days, that the distinction between the
Russian 'federated republics' like North Ossetia of which
RUSSIA has eighty nine and the fifteen 'all-union republics' of the USSR of which Georgia itself was one, and to which South Ossetia was assigned as a province, would mean they would find themselves, in effect, ejected from mother
But in reality, the secession has meant that this hasn't happened.
RUSSIA sustains them and treats them like citizens - they can hold Russian passports for example. Meanwhile Georgia frets and fumes calling on international bodies to help, but to little avail. The Georgian parliament has called for the Russian 'peacekeepers' to be replaced with an international force, which of course
RUSSIA, which has had troops stationed in GEORGIA for two centuries, is resisting.
Why does RUSSIA behave this way? To understand that, one must understand the depth of anger at the Yeltsin decision in 1991 to abolish the USSR and its then boundaries, as after conferring with only Ukraine and Belarus, he decided to do.
GEORGIA had been one of the earliest acquisitions of the Tsarist imperial drive south, as early as the 18th century. For many Russians it was and remains indistinguishable from Russia . As already noted, Stalin himself was a Georgian, as was his chief of the KGB, Lavrenti Beria. The Russian Foreign Service clearly ploughed its own furrow during those Yeltsin years, with policies that proved to be entirely in accord with the new regime of Vladimir Putin. A key element of this was to retain as much control as possible over the 'near abroad,' originally through the CIS, following that up with bi-lateral measures. The essence of the policy was simple and remains, to transform the former 'Soviet space' into 'Russian space'.
Georgia, faced with the difficult task of making independence a reality, saw its way forward as providing an alternative oil and gas route through to Turkey and the Mediterranean for the new reserves coming on stream from Azerbaijan and Kazakstan. By these means, not only sharing in the oil wealth by means of the transit fees, but also transforming their situation in western eyes from a no-account Caucasian state deserving of sympathy but not much more, into a vital strategic energy-link worthy of comprehensive western support.
Russia, hitherto the only way of routing Caspian and Caucasian oil has been unable to stop it, but through these two unrecognised states on Georgian territory, plus another candidate province Adjara which has teetered on the edge of secession, has retained the ability to fundamentally destabilize Georgia and render it ungovernable, if ever it should choose to do so.
Another territory remaining legally adrift after the collapse of the Soviet Union, this enclave is within the territory of
AZERBAIJAN. But it is populated by ethnic Armenians settled there in the mid-nineteenth century when
ARMENIA also was within the Imperial Russia of the Tsars. The Armenian part of the population took the opportunity to seek to throw off the Azeri connection, which resulted in a full-scale war between the two Caucasian nations.
ARMENIA, a loyal Christian helot of Moscow received large scale military assistance from
RUSSIA, whilst Moslem AZERBAIJAN, developing its oil industry independently of the age-old Russian connection, looked for help to
TURKEY, a NATO member, and therefore became aligned with the west. ARMENIA quickly gained the ascendancy and
AZERBAIJAN lost not only its quarrel over the enclave from which thousands of ethnic Azeris were expelled, but also lost 20% of its total territory, which Armenian forces still occupy (on the basis of establishing a corridor to ARMENIA - plus a lot more). On the level of human misery, both countries are having to handle enormous refugee populations. ARMENIA had 240,000 displaced ethnic refugees who fled there from
AZERBAIJAN, and the latter seeks to cope with 272,000 Azeri refugees - in addition to those large numbers displaced internally.
ARMENIA is run by President Robert Kocharian, who previously was the 'president' of Nagorno Karabakh and was undoubtedly the leading warlord. It does appear that he is unwilling to accept any solution to the problem other than to incorporate the enclave plus its corridor into ARMENIA - or alternatively to make it fully independent - which would be unlikely to gain recognition anywhere, unless it were the result of a treaty with
That Caspian Sea country is becoming progressively richer through oil exports, a source of wealth unavailable to ARMENIA and there is real concern that with the means to build up its armed forces, a frustrated
AZERBAIJAN might again seek a military solution.
There can be little doubt that the Kosovo problem is one of the most difficult to plague those international agencies whose role it is to find a solution. Its official status is as an autonomous province (of a Yugoslavia now reduced by secession, to just
SERBIA & MONTENEGRO). Regrettably the 'autonomous' description was rendered meaningless by the Serbian tyrant Slobodan Milosevic. There was first serious misrule from Belgrade, and then ethnic cleansing by the Serbian military of the Moslem majority. This became an international scandal with NATO's eventual bombing of Serbian installations taking place in 1999, until the withdrawal of the Serbian military from the province.
Since then it has been in constitutional limbo with a UN High Representative and European peace-keeping troops. Negotiations are now in place between the Serbian government of what is now a democracy, concerned about their territorial integrity and for the remaining 100,000 Serbs living there, together with the elected representatives of the 1.5 million ethnic Albanians who seek independence. In fact, independence has been a big issue here since the 1980's after the death of Tito, who had welded together post-WWII Yugoslavia on a non-ethnic basis.
Nothing short of independence is likely to satisfy the Kosovans, but apart from strenuous Serbian opposition to this, it seems that the major powers are really against any further (and literal)
'balkanisation' of the Balkans, with Montenegro, currently a component part of the Serbian federation, also perhaps looking to
separate in this way. Tito's single state of Yugoslavia has already mushroomed into five sovereign states and although along with the other Balkan countries, they all seek to join the European Union, the polities of some at the lower-end are positively ruritanian, and the economies hardly self-sustainable. Will the land-locked Kosovo go that route also, or will it be possible to induce some form of real autonomy within Serbia that Kososvo's leaders could accept?
Because of the presence of peacekeeping troops there a hot war is unlikely, but there is always a risk of a resumption of guerilla activities from either side - life here has been held cheap and guns are easy to come by - if a settlement is not to their liking.
THE KACHIN, WA & KAREN STATES
These remote but large tribal areas in the north east of Myanmar bordering China, India Thailand and Laos, have sought independence since the time of the British Empire, which left Burma, as it was then called in 1948. Their warriors had fought in alliance with the British and Indian armies in the Burma campaigns against the Japanese, and had inherited weapons and goodwill from the departing troops at the end of empire. They were already by then used to modern weapons and they succeeded in keeping the forces of Rangoon at bay. This was also possible because of their remoteness and their proximity to frontiers, particularly to a part of China equally remote. Furthermore their ability to resist the new Burmese state was enhanced by the flow of funds coming through the massive drugs trade of which this general area had become a world center of opium growth and refining into heroin. The general lawlessness of the region is illustrated by the fact that for very many years, a Chinese Kuomintang army which had retreated across the frontier as the main forces of Chiang crossed to Taiwan, had eventually become an independent armed base for the production, distillation and distribution of narcotics and the enrichment of its generals.
The Karen and associated tribal groups successfully resisted successive armies of the Burmese state, now Myanmar, sent to subdue them until in 1994, K.I.A the de facto government, signed a treaty with the Rangoon forces giving them virtual independence within the Burmese state. But although, perhaps because of, the fact that a large proportion of the Burmese army is stationed within the 34,000 sq kms of the Kachin State as it became known, virtually none of the undertakings of the settlement had been observed. This led in 1999 to a new movement, the Kachin National Organisation setting up a parallel government and declaring themselves independent. The Wa tribes set up UWSA, the United Wa State Army, so that after sixty years of the independent Burmese state, armed ethnic groups maintain their struggle for independence.
The situation is further complicated by the fact that the Burmese military government is itself illegal as it refused to concede power to the elected politicians in the 1990 representative elections, indeed imprisoned the winning political leaders.
The military government renamed the country Myanmar, which has been declared in 2004 by Condaleezza Rice, as one of six 'Outposts of Tyranny' - and as such can expect to have the US and allies opposed to it. Also the tribal regions remain a narcotics center, of an importance second only to
AFGHANISTAN and as such, are targeted by the US and international agencies. It can be expected therefore that this area will not remain the forgotten land it has been for so long.
This is as chaotic and depressing a failed country as any that can be imagined. The only surprising thing is that although Africa has too many states that trail the rest of the world in democracy, prosperity, education, health, freedom from disease, and which in many cases have reverted to brutal forms of tribalism, there is nowhere other than Somalia which fails to even maintain the pretensions of a nation state.
The novel and film, "Black Hawk Down" gives a graphic account of what happened when western powers intervened at the behest of the UN, who left there after many casualties in 1995. Descriptions like 'Rogue State' won't do because there is no coherent state. The original Somalia was made up of former British and Italian colonies and just fell apart in 1991 as the tribal leaders could not agree on who would lead them, consequently no-one does. There is an incoherent Transitional Administration, basically wished on them by their neighbours like Kenya, but it is fundamentally lacking in authority. The problem is, that there is little or no sense of statehood and a very powerful sense of tribe and clan, from which all political power stems.
So far, apart from what was the core of the country around the city of Mogadishu, two unrecognized states have emerged, Puntland, in north-eastern Somalia which has called itself an 'autonomous state' since 1998; and the Republic of Somaliland, largely the former British colony in the north west of Somalia (comprising five of the former eighteen administrative regions of the 'old' Somalia), that made its appearance in 1991. Both of these quasi-states have a military and police and attempt a rule of law. Other provinces of Somalia are basically clan based self-governing entities, by necessity.
A contradiction of a state such as this is, occupying territory yet without meaningful government, represents a menace not only to its neighbours, but to a wider world. Because of its lawless nature, acts of piracy affecting international shipping have become ever more daring off its coasts. Clan disputes and the fighting associated with them spill over into Kenya for example, where some clans are historically spread across the post- colonial political boundaries, and where there is no authority to restrain cross-border cattle thieving. Landlocked Ethiopia looks to Somali ports to have access to the sea. And always there are dark suspicions of this territory harbouring Islamic terrorists, even as some theories go, it would be a likely place for Osama bin Laden to have a refuge.
TURKISH REPUBLIC OF NORTH CYPRUS
One third of the island of Cyprus has an administration with the above title and a population almost exclusively Turkish. It is recognized only by
The remaining two thirds, the Republic of Cyprus has a population ethnically Greek and is not only internationally recognized, but is now a by a certain sleight of hand, a member of the European Union. There had been a concerted campaign by the UN supported by the EU over many years, to restore the integrity of Cyprus as a single island state. The EU Commissioner responsible for the admission of new members believed he had the agreement of the Greek Cypriot political leaders not to oppose the UN plan, which would have re-united Cyprus as a single island state, preparatory to its entry into the EU.
In the event he was deceived by the assurances and Cyprus was accepted into membership before the referendum took place. The Turkish part of the island voted for the UN plan even over the objections of their political leaders. The Greek Cypriot politicians however campaigned flat out for rejection, loyally supported by their citizens. So the Greek Cypriot government of the Republic of Cyprus became the only recognized authority for all the island, even though their writ does not run beyond the ethnic Greek area. It is a tragedy, as the basic problems remain unsolved and many might think that justice has not been done, with the inevitable consequence that it remains an open sore.
The origins of the political divide of the island, which became the Republic of Cyprus in 1960, having won their independence from the British empire, goes back to 1974.
GREECE had at that time fallen into the hands of the military dictatorship of 'the Colonels,' who organised a coup attempt in Cyprus, removing the elected president Archbishop Makarios, by organizing a mutiny in the armed forces and shelling the presidential palace. This was accompanied simultaneously by a series of bloody, ethnic-cleansing raids by Greek Cypriot pro-Athens terrorists, EOKA -B, on Turkish communities in villages in the majority 'Greek' southern end of the island. This had the desired effect of having some 75,000 Turkish men, women and children, run for their lives, mostly for sanctuary to British military bases on the island, and then later by ship to the safety of the north. In mainland
TURKEY, the irate response was to mount a military invasion and then in turn to ethnically cleanse the mainly 'Turkish' northern part of the island, causing 195,000 Greek Cypriots to flee south. The Athens-inspired coup failed and the Archbishop was returned. In
GREECE, the colonels were removed from power, but the inter-ethnic damage by now was done.
The Turkish army never left. A physical wall was built dividing the island and the UN had to come in to keep the peace. This was the impasse that Kofi Annan had tried to resolve by the referendum thirty years later, but with the result above.
The passage of time has resulted in few people believing that any attempt at an imposed or military solution from either side, is now at all likely.
TURKEY and GREECE have a new and quite good relationship,
TURKEY indeed is itself a candidate for entry into the EU and is supported in that by
GREECE. Cyprus however is no puppet of Athens.
Its economy is perhaps twenty years in advance of that of the Turkish north of the island, but that will change. Given it's non-acceptance in terms of international recognition, there is a considerable danger that a cynical lawlessness might take hold there, in terms of dealing in international contraband - in narcotics, and even in the new big-paying crime of people smuggling. With half of the island in the EU there must be temptations in that direction already. Even the Cypriot government may come to see that it is a deeply unsatisfactory situation that this small island should be divided in this way, with such memories still extant amongst living people of evil deeds perpetrated on both sides of the ethnic divide. The UN referendum approach is likely to be seen to be the best solution available.
Clive Lindley - Publisher