AFP/Getty Images
Published on: July 21, 2014
After MH17
No More Frozen Conflicts

In the wake of the Malaysia Air shoot down, Many Western leaders are calling for a ceasefire and a political solution to the conflict in Ukraine. They’re making a big mistake—one that could end up creating yet another “frozen conflict” along Russia’s periphery. The West should instead be helping the leadership in Kiev restore full sovereignty over Ukraine’s territory.

Svante E. Cornell is director of the Central Asia-Caucasus Institute at the Johns Hopkins University’s Paul H. Nitze School of Advanced International Studies. 
show comments
  • Andrew Allison

    Spot on analysis! The West should be helping the leadership of all the countries referenced to restore full sovereignty over their territories.

  • Pete

    “The West should instead be helping the leadership in Kiev restore full sovereignty over Ukraine’s territory.”

    Does this include the Crimea?

    Not to specifically address the Crimea one way or another makes this article inherently deceitful. Being ambiguous, we don’t know how far Cornell wants America to go to satisfy him. Why won’t he say?

    Then our boy writes, “America and Europe must respond forcefully and demonstrate to Moscow that these tactics will no longer work..”

    Note the “‘must.” Not ‘should,’ but ‘must.’ How arrogant. How ignorant.

    • Andrew Allison

      Not necessarily deceitful, just careless. Crimea is fait accompli and the Ukraine government needs to accept the fact that Khrushchev’s 1954 gift has been rescinded. The article obviously refers to the pro-Russian separatists in the remaining Eastern Ukraine. Furthermore, Cornell wrote “The West”, not the US. If Europe doesn’t recognize the threat, there’s no point in our getting involved.

      • Pete

        I agree.

  • LarryD

    Irony – the point of the UN and The League of Nations before it is to freeze borders and keep wars from ever resolving the underlying conflicts.

    The Westphalian system is breaking down, especially in the Middle East, where there were few nation states to begin with.

    • Andrew Allison

      As you point out, borders are changed by the winners of wars. Isn’t it the prevention of wars which would resolve the underlying conflicts, and/or dictating their outcomes without the power to maintain order which is guaranteeing continued strife? IMO, the current catastrophe is a direct result of the misguided attempt to establish nation states after the collapse of the Ottoman Empire (which replaced the Abbasid Caliphate’s rule over the North African and Levantine tribes).

      • LarryD

        Yeah, that pretty much describes the mess in the ME. The Russians spread the seeds of conflict around in their former empire by deliberately mixing up ethnic groups (I think to diminish minorities ability to resist Russian rule).

        I understand that the Turks and Greeks once repatriated their intermixed population in Crete, a voluntary, and peaceful, form of ethnic cleansing that promoted peace.

    • Corlyss

      Spot on! The best way to resolve a political disagreement that has escalated to armed conflict is for one side to destroy the other’s capacity and willingness to continue the conflict and then impose peace terms, period. Yet that is precisely the type that is not allowed to occur! The UN’s ideal war is the Sri Lanka 25 year war, and the Arab Israeli 70 year self indulgence. NGOs and their impotence is a major reason for the proliferation of these never ending wars: they will not allow them to resolve in the most natural way.

    • Boritz

      Time for this Robert A. Heinlein quote. He wrote this before invoking the name of that German chancellor in a debate was discouraged.

      Anyone who clings to the historically untrue — and — thoroughly immoral
      doctrine that violence never solves anything I would advise to conjure up the
      ghosts of Napoleon Bonaparte and the Duke of Wellington and let them debate it.
      The ghost of Hitler would referee. Violence, naked force, has settled more
      issues in history than has any other factor; and the contrary opinion is wishful
      thinking at its worst. Breeds that forget this basic truth have always paid for
      it with their lives and their freedoms. -R.H.

  • Corlyss

    Frozen conflicts (interesting term) is the norm precisely because the are preferred by feckless NGOs, who have no purchase to impose peace, to risk averse nations that recoil in horror from having to make moral judgments that might invoke a moral obligation to act, nations who much prefer to cultivate population dependence on welfare programs for the warm feelings cultivated by the dependent and the excuse such spending provides for avoiding a lot of defense spending they really don’t want to do anyway. It would be difficult to find a “conflict” more suited to the modern welfare state that the West now fins sooooo much more attractive today.

  • wigwag

    Why “must” the West do anything? Let Putin keep Crimea, let him annex Eastern Ukraine, let him take all of Ukraine if he has the chops to do it. There is absolutely nothing about Ukraine which obligates Western Europe or the United States to provide any assistance at all. We cannot fix Ukraine; it is hopeless. The country has no history of democracy, pluralism or an attachment to liberal values. It is imploding demographically and most Ukrainians with any talent have left long ago. Given the rise of Asia, the chances that Ukraine will ever be able to compete economically and achieve prosperity is near zero. Ukraine is in extremis; the West can’t fix it. Let Putin have it.

    Perhaps Professor Cornell can explain why Russian speakers in Ukraine’s East who want to be citizens of their own nation or to pledge allegiance to Russia aren’t entitled to have their aspirations fulfilled, while Kosovars who wanted to secede from Serbia saw their wish fulfilled courtesy of a NATO bombing campaign that killed hundreds.

    • Pete

      Excellent!

    • BobSykes

      Agreed. The crisis was created by the US/EU coup. The only solution is partition. In the best of all possible worlds, Russia will finally intervene and impose the correct solution.

    • nebanesc

      Dangerously wrong. Did Putin stop after Ukraine? No! This is politic of power. He go for Romania, Bulgaria, Serbia, Montenegro…. all bakan state, & than go for west Europe.
      Politic of power can only be stoped with power. As early as possible.

  • gabrielsyme

    One of the main causes of “frozen conflicts” is the dogmatic insistence on existing borders (with the scandalous exception of Kosovo); such a position means that every dispute has a pre-determined outcome, which can only discourage negotiation and final settlements. Sometimes borders should be adjusted; naturally, there should be a high bar to such changes, but there are times when recognising new borders is the best option.

    Nor should all “frozen conflicts” be treated the same. Nagorno-Karabakh is an ethnically-Armenian region that only was part of the Azerbaijan SSR due to a self-serving Soviet decision by Stalin designed to propitiate Turkey. At the time the USSR fell apart, Armenians faced pogroms and ethnic cleansing in Azerbaijan, a pattern Armenians know only too well. Russia’s support for Armenia was just and right, and the sensible and just thing now is to transfer Nagorno-Karabakh permanently to Armenia.

    Other post-Soviet frozen conflicts find the Russians less admirably situated. There is certainly no doubt that Abkhazia and South Ossetia face no real threats from Georgian rule, and while Transnistria understandably wants little to do with Moldova, the intelligent thing to do would be to let Moldova evaporate altogether, with Transnistria becoming part of Ukraine and the majority of Moldova becoming part of Romania. Moldovans and Romanians are, in essence, the same people, and Moldovans would find themselves far better off with their cousins in a functioning state than independent.

© The American Interest LLC 2005-2017 About Us Masthead Submissions Advertise Customer Service