In a joint press conference with German Chancellor Angela Merkel, President Obama stated that he was considering sending weapons to the government of Ukraine. Noting that Russia had already annexed Crimea and was now backing separatist rebels in eastern Ukraine, the president warned that “the West cannot stand and simply allow the borders of Europe to be redrawn at the barrel of a gun.”
Such sentiments might have more credibility if the Western powers, including the United States, had not engaged in similar conduct. But Washington and its NATO allies have indeed redrawn borders, including borders in Europe, through military force. Two incidents are especially relevant. Turkey, a leading member of NATO, invaded Cyprus in 1974 and amputated some 37 percent of that country’s territory. Turkish forces ethnically cleansed the area of its Greek Cypriot inhabitants and, in the years that followed, desecrated a large number of Greek historical and religious sites.
Ankara subsequently established a client state, the Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus in the occupied territories. Turkey has steadfastly refused to atone for its illegal invasion and occupation, much less disgorge the land that it conquered. Yet except for some token economic sanctions imposed shortly after the invasion, which were soon lifted, Washington has never even condemned the aggression that its NATO ally committed.
One might assume that it would be awkward for U.S. leaders to excoriate Vladimir Putin’s regime for annexing Crimea or setting up puppet states in the occupied Georgian provinces of Abkhazia and South Ossetia (which Moscow did after a short, nasty war in 2008) when a NATO member is guilty of similar behavior. But such flagrant inconsistency has apparently caused American officials little difficulty.
The other, even more blatant, case of redrawing European borders by force was the 1999 Kosovo war and its aftermath. The United States and its NATO allies launched an air war against Serbia lasting 78 days to compel Belgrade to withdraw its security forces and relinquish control of the rebellious province. A UN Security Council resolution ratifying that action still recognized Serbia’s sovereignty over Kosovo but mandated international control and governance of the territory for an indefinite period. A NATO occupation force became the instrument of that control, despite Russia’s misgivings.
In early 2008, the Western powers encouraged and then formally recognized Kosovo’s unilateral declaration of independence from (a now democratic) Serbia. Russia, China, and other countries strenuously objected to that decision, both because it bypassed the UN Security Council and set what they believed was a worrisome precedent in the international community. Indeed, nearly half of the member-states of the UN (including several members of the European Union) still refuse to recognize Kosovo’s independence.
Given those precedents, it is astonishing for Obama or any other Western official to assert that redrawing European borders by force is unacceptable. Russia’s actions in Crimea and eastern Ukraine deserve condemnation, but the West’s hypocrisy is nothing short of breathtaking.