Irredentism and Border Disputes After Crimea: New Sources of Political Risk

Russia has successfully annexed Crimea. It continues to build its troop strength along Ukraine’s eastern border and may yet move to annex Russian populated parts of Ukraine. Russia has flaunted international law and a treaty it had signed with Ukraine and the U.S. to guarantee Ukraine’s territorial integrity. Russia’s imperialist move has increased global political risk, will stimulate other countries’ irredentist claims and may lead to yet more conflict.

Wikipedia defines “irredentism” in the following way:

“Irredentism (from Italian irredento, “unredeemed”) is any position of a state advocating annexation of territories administered by another state on the grounds of common ethnicity or prior historical possession, actual or alleged. It is often advocated by pan-nationalist movements and has been a repeated feature of identity politics, cultural and political geography. Because most borders have been moved and redrawn over time, a great many countries could theoretically present irredentist claims to their neighbors.”

A great number of states have irredentist claims that are the sources of potential conflict. (‘Pan-Nationalist movements’ are found all over the world, but, fortunately, are largely distant from power.) Some of these claims which threaten to descend into conflict:

Spain has been active in claiming Gibraltar, including arguing its case before the United Nations on the grounds that its territorial integrity is being damaged by the British ‘occupation.’

In the Treaty of Trianon (1920), Hungary lost 71% of its territory and one third of its ethnic Hungarians. While the government of Hungary has denied any territorial claims, the loss if its stature weights heavily on the country. Its first post-Communist president, Arpad Goncz, published a book showing the current territory of Hungary bounded by barbed wire.

Aleksandar Vucic’s Serbian Progressive Party (SNS) won a startling victory in the March 16 elections. He will become prime minister who can rule without a coalition partner. In the past, he was an ardent nationalist seeking to build a Greater Serbia incorporating Bosnia and even Croatia. More recently he has silenced those claims and wants Serbia to join the European Union. It is not Vucic who has been talking of Serbian irredentist claims but Putin, who compares Crimea to Kosovo. Still, Greater Serbian nationalism is a powerful force in the country.

With the collapse of the Soviet Union, the newly independent republics of Armenia and Azerbaijan fought the Nagorno-Karabakh War from 1991 – 1994. The region, Armenian populated but wedged between Azerbaijan and Iran, declared its independence after the war. The long-term goal is to unite with Armenia. But Azerbaijan has other ideas.

The Russian republics along the northern edge of the Caucasus, populated largely by Muslims, continue to seek their independence form Russia. After the collapse of the Soviet Union, Chechnya fought the first Chechen War, won and declared its independence. With Vladimir Putin as Prime Minister, Russia launched the Second Chechen War, devastated the territory and especially the capital Grozny, and reincorporated the territory. But dreams of an independent country remain.

President Putin has presented different justifications for his seizure of Crimea. But he keeps returning to his commitment of protecting the interests of Russians living outside of Russia. Russians constitute majorities in parts of other independent countries, particularly Estonia, Latvia, Ukraine, and Kazakhstan.

Japan has refused to accept the loss of four of the Kuril Islands chain in the final days of World War II to the former USSR and now Russia.

China has significantly raised the possibility of conflict in East Asia through its claim over the Diaoyu Islands, known as the Senkaku in Japan and Tiaoyutai in Taiwan. (The U.S. actually administered the archipelago from 1945 to 1972 but otherwise it has been administered by Japan since 1895.

China, meanwhile, is also vigorously asserting its claims to all of the Gulf of Tonkin and the South China Sea, to the dismay of the other claimants – Vietnam, Malaysia, Brunei, and the Philippines.

Pakistan continues to claim all of Jammu and Kashmir; a claim that leads to periodic conflict with India. The ISI, Pakistan’s intelligence service, sends terrorists into India and into Jammu and Kashmir to assert its claim.

Then, there’s always the conflict over territory between the Israelis and the Palestinians. Secretary of State Kerry’s mission appears to be failing. More violence is the likely outcome.

While Russia appears to have successfully pulled off its latest imperialist venture, it may very well stimulate other irredentist claims around the world. Global political risk has increased and conflict may follow.

One Response to "Irredentism and Border Disputes After Crimea: New Sources of Political Risk"

  1. DiranM   March 29, 2014 at 9:45 am

    What about EU imperialism and their power grab, overturned an elected government in the Ukraine (with help from Vicky Nuland with whose authorization and funding….), who had just rejected their proposed free trade agreement and opted for the Russian offer of US$ 15 billion finance and entry into the Russian trade block? Has not this brazen action opened this hornets nest with Russian acting defensively and pushing back on EU expansionism? Does not the EU already have its hands full trying to pacify and keep its present colonial possessions like Greece and most of the Periphery increasingly marginalized economically and under growing political repression? Should not Nuland be subpoenaed before Congress to explain her actions and sources of funding. EU meddling has put the Ukrainians between a rock and hard place, soon to suffer from an IMF workout that will likely lead to further instability and pressures for more Russian speaking oblasts to join Russia.