Wilsonianism Run Amuck?

Georgia, bounded to the west by the Black Sea, to the north by Russia, to the south by Turkey and Armenia, and to the east by Azerbaijan.  Abkhazia is the highlighted part of Georgia to the northwest.  Source:  Wikipedia
Georgia, bounded to the west by the Black Sea, to the north by Russia, to the south by Turkey and Armenia, and to the east by Azerbaijan. Abkhazia is the highlighted part of Georgia to the northwest. Source: Wikipedia
Since President Wilson enunciated his Fourteen Points during World War I, the principle of national self-determination has been an objective of the Western Powers.  The plethora of weak national states in Eastern Europe in the interwar years, and the temptation this gave a revanchist Germany to invade and a greedy Soviet Russia to divide the spoils tempered to some extent postwar Western support of national self-determination.  It remains a principle the world community supports…however selectively.

An interesting NYTimes article discusses the national aspirations of less than 100,000 ethnic Abkhaz in Georgia, a nation of 4.7 million (mostly ethnic Georgians), which finds itself hosting NATO exercises and therefore in a tense relationship with neighboring Russia.  Russia recognizes the independence of Abkhazia and South Ossetia.  Most every other nation in the world does not. 

The conflicts there are complex, with poor judgment taking place on both sides.  Abkhaz nationalists are seeking to attract some 500,000 Abkhaz living in Turkey to return and help build an independent state.  Ottoman Turkey invaded Abkhazia in the 16th century and converted the local population to Islam (versus the Orthodox Christianity of ethnic Georgians).  Interestingly, it seems much of the Abkhaz diaspora had fled Georgia in the 19th century to escape the rule of an expanding Czarist Russia.  Russia is now of course the principal benefactor of Abkhaz separatists.

So, where does our moralistic support of national self-determination of peoples begin and end?  The Abkhaz and South Ossetians? The Chechens? The Basques of Spain and France? The Kosovar Albanians?  The Palestinians?  The Tibetans and Taiwanese?  The Kurds, the Armenians, the Azeris?  The Sunni of Iraq?  The residents of Darfur and of southern Sudan? Kashmiri Muslims under Indian rule? Tamils in Sri Lanka?  German speakers in the Italian Sud Tirol?   Difficult questions affecting minorities in some Rising Powers, as well as the world’s other powers who have to formulate policies balancing the principle of national self-determination against other interests.

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