Notes on the Current Crisis

Brenner, Robert; et. al

Publisher:  Against the Current
Date Written:  01/05/2014
Year Published:  2014  
Resource Type:  Article
Cx Number:  CX20400

The editors debate the subjectivity of international law as the United States publically denounces Russia's seizure of Crimea yet condones Israel's occupation of Palestine and treatment of its people.



On the face of it, the United States' defense of Ukraine's territorial integrity, while letting Palestine go to hell, gives imperial hypocrisy a bad name. But whether we're talking about the United States, Russia, Germany or any other power, states and the regimes that govern them in today's global system cannot be expected to act -- consistently or otherwise -- on ethical principles. They behave according to their own interests or more precisely, the perceived interests of their ruling classes or elites. What's called "international law" is useful to them only to the extent it regulates state conflicts and prevents them from escalating beyond their real importance to state and regime interests.

Popular social and political movements (e.g. antiwar, civil rights, human rights or solidarity movements) may act on moral principles, effectively so when they're able to appeal to both the real interests and the ordinary human decency of masses of people. Socialist governments of the future, representing such interests of a conscious and mobilized majority, may also act in that way; but those of us who seek to build democratic and popular struggles today must learn how to make an ethical appeal without imagining that the rulers of the United States or any other regime will act morally and decently.

The Ukrainian crisis serves to illustrate great-power dynamics. Russia's annexation of Crimea certainly irritates U.S.-Russia and Europe-Russia relations, but probably will not rupture the web of economic connections and mutual interests -- especially Europe's dependence on Russian natural gas, and Russia's reliance on western investment and technology and the global financial system -- that make today's situation so different from the political-military conflicts of the Cold War.

Breaking those connections would impose severe costs on the Russian economy but also on Europe, and the accomplished fact of Russia's takeover of Crimea is not in itself a cause for doing so. The dismemberment of Ukraine, however, would be at least an economic and financial casus belli, hence the provocations and counter-provocations are likely to stop short of that point.

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