Plucky Little Russia: Misreading the Georgian War through the Distorting Lens of Aggression
Waters, Timothy William, Stanford Journal of International Law
One might expect massed armor crossing an international frontier to constitute the paradigmatic example of aggression---a case perfectly fit to analyze with the rules of jus ad bellum--and in the first flush and shock of the Georgian War in 2008, this is exactly how Western leaders described Russia's actions. Yet that August, a constellation of circumstances combined to produce an anomalous outcome: an international war without any aggressor or any wrongful violation of territorial integrity. In theory--in doctrine--this is not supposed to happen.
The key to this puzzle is the special regime created by the 1992 Sochi Agreement, which functioned as an internationalized mechanism regulating the internal conflict between Georgia and South Ossetia by creating a new territorial status within Georgia's sovereignty. Once we view Sochi in this way, the performance of the various actors in August 2008 looks rather different." Rather than aggressors, Russian tanks are a responsive mechanism designed to stop Georgian incursions in violation of the Sochi regime--a mechanism, moreover, that actually worked as it was supposed to. Understanding the Georgian War in this way leads us to confront our present, dualistic approaches to sovereignty: Under international law, it is by definition impossible for Georgia to aggress against itself or violate its own territorial integrity, and it is only because of the Sochi regime that we can describe Georgia's actions as wrongful.
In some ways, the 2008 war looks like part of a rising phenomenon: the effort to regulate the resort to violence within states. Indeed, the Sochi regime suggests a far better mechanism than some of the current proposals, since it creates a new category of protectable territory, rather than identifying levels of harm that trigger a reaction; this may be particularly useful in selfdetermination disputes, in which separatists challenge the very fact of the state's sovereignty. Still, seeing the Georgian War in this way is not necessarily a source of optimism. Sochi was the product of a specific context, and there is no reason to suppose it is generalizable. But the greatest source of pessimism concerns the rhetorical reactions to the war: Western leaders resorted to the vocabularies of the jus ad bellum in ways that distracted them from the actual operation of the mechanism regulating the underlying conflict. It seems we remain enchanted by categories, ill-equipped to recognize the real logic of our own imperfect efforts to regulate internal wars.
INTRODUCTION: PUZZLING CRITICISM, AND A DOCTRINAL PUZZLE--WAR WITHOUT A LEGAL WRONG? Some Prefatory Notes on Methodology and Purpose I. THE SOCHI REGIME: INTERNATIONALIZING AND FREEZING AN INTERNAL CONFLICT II. NOT 1968: U.S. CHARACTERIZATIONS OF THE WAR A. Aggression and Violation of Territorial Integrity B. Illegal Occupation and Violation of the Ceasefire C. Recognition of Breakaway States D. Disproportionate Force and Jus in Bello Objections III. A CURIOUS OUTCOME: HOW SHOULD THE LAW CHARACTERIZE WHAT HAPPENED IN THE WAR? A. Aggression and Violation of Territorial Integrity B. Illegal Occupation and Violation of the Ceasefire C. Recognition of Breakaway States D. Disproportionate Force and the Geographic Scope of the Conflict IV.WAITING FOR A MECHANISM (WHICH WE ALREADY HAVE): INTERNATIONALIZING TERRITORIALITY IN INTERNAL CONFLICTS A. Layered Territoriality: Sochi as a Special Constraint on Georgia's Sovereignty B. From Lex Specialis to a General Rule: Internationalizing Internal Conflicts C. Reasons for Pessimism: A Mechanism We Do Not Recognize When It Works
INTRODUCTION: PUZZLING CRITICISM, AND A DOCTRINAL PUZZLE-WAR WITHOUT A LEGAL WRONG.'?
The August 2008 Georgian War (1) elicited immediate, strong condemnation of Russia by most Western states. While understandable from a geopolitical perspective or as an expression …
Questia, a part of Gale, Cengage Learning. www.questia.com
Publication information: Article title: Plucky Little Russia: Misreading the Georgian War through the Distorting Lens of Aggression. Contributors: Waters, Timothy William - Author. Journal title: Stanford Journal of International Law. Volume: 49. Issue: 1 Publication date: Winter 2013. Page number: 176+. © 2009 Stanford Law School. COPYRIGHT 2013 Gale Group.
This material is protected by copyright and, with the exception of fair use, may not be further copied, distributed or transmitted in any form or by any means.