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deletedMar 30, 2022·edited Mar 30, 2022
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deletedMar 30, 2022·edited Mar 30, 2022
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What I heard from someone is that a people is a nation if they are willing to fight for it. So Israelis are certainly willing to fight to defend Israeli nationhood, Finns for Finnish, Palestinians for their nationhood (this one he put some asterisks, initially they were just fighting against Israel, with the PLO founded before '67, but nowadays they qualify), Ukrainians for theirs (was not known until recently, but now they appear to be one), and so on. Now one can object on "might makes right" grounds but I think a decent utilitarian argument can be made for this position.

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This reminds me of John C. Calhoun's discussion of the concurrent majority in his Disquisition on Government (https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/A_Disquisition_on_Government)–the task is ever over how to define who is in and who is out, and how to adjudicate between the two.

There are Schelling points like consangunuity, geography, and history, but ultimately the choice of how to constitute a unit of political organization will be arbitrary. And those arbitrary choices, system-wide, will ramify reflexively; there are bound to be reliance interests & path dependence.

Maybe the most important thing is for normies not to cotton to how arbitrary all these divisions are—for what is arbitrary is not perforce unimportant.

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I wrote a paper on this many years ago in college, in which I argued that secession is legitimate iff it is liberty-increasing (not neutral or liberty-decreasing). So Confederate secession was illegitimate because its intended result was perpetuation of slavery, but Northern secession would have been legitimate. I realize this means that even though the outcome might have been the same (two countries with different intentions about slavery), one way of getting there is ok and one is not. But, you know, process matters (thanks Nozick!).

As to why liberty rather than equality or welfare or some other value: that's mostly based on a sort of fallibility theory, which argues that if states can secede because they increase freedom, that broadens their ability to pursue other goals in a variety of ways, and retains openness so that if it turns out equality or welfare should have been the priorities, then we're more likely to understand that for sure.

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That mechanic (not sure if it's in the Civ games) where you have to convert a conquered populace to your culture in order for it to stop spontaneously rebelling/increase control of it seems relevant here. Once it's free of the original culture and self-defines, then what is it?

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Mar 30, 2022·edited Mar 30, 2022

If this discussion goes back to medieval times, I'd like to bring up Imagined Communities by Benedict Anderson. When I read it, I was fairly convinced by his argument that the modern conception of national consciousness emerged in the 18th-19th century, and that applying this concept to peasants farther back than that is essentially just retconning them into a civilization that in actuality would not recognize itself as belonging to its modern counterpart.

With that in mind, I am skeptical that EITHER of the modern Russian or Ukrainian identities truly have the centuries of heritage they like to bring up. Just because Ivan the Great's name for his territory is phonetically closer to Russia than to Ukraine doesn't mean that Russia is inherently a more real or deserved nationhood, or that it is a sole and direct legitimate successor of his culture. A national consciousness developing in the 18th, 19th, even 20th century is a perfectly legitimate basis for a nation, and "seniority" on the part of Russia should count for nothing.

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founding

Once a nation is a nation it has a right to continue to be a nation.

The definition of a nation is that it has the sole legal right to use force within its own borders.

So, Ukraine is a nation, but the Confederacy failed to be a nation, because it lost its war of independence.

Your street would also fail to be a nation, because presumably it would not succeed in its quest for independence. Unless no one noticed.

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founding

So I have used the phrase Transnistrian Sovereignty multiple times in analogy to the well-known term Westphalian Sovereignty.

Roughly: for certain international purposes (such as “representation” at the United Nations, participation in UEFA football, or not being invaded by space pirates) the region is considered part of Moldova.

For all practical purposes on the ground, the region is fully independent. It doesn't pay taxes, and is welcome to invite foreign armies into its territory over the opposition of the federal government.

At a high level, the system appears to work. But does it actually work? Discuss.

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I think it's worth saying explicitly what this post essentially leaves as subtext, namely, that "a people's right to self-determination" is a fundamentally incoherent concept. Many intuitive political concepts are in fact like this, such as the idea of "indigeneity" (am I indigenous to East Africa because my ancestors evolved there, and if so, does that mean I deserve special rights there I wouldn't deserve in, say, China?). We utilitarians should - at least, when no one else is listening - abandon all talk of such rights, and instead simply support or oppose self-determination on the basis of whether it makes the world a better place or not.

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I think a preference for the status quo has to weigh in to some extent.

All else being equal, sure, I agree with the “any group large enough that it isn’t ludicrous on its face has a right to self-determination” standard.

But all else is almost never equal. Someone wants to secede and someone else wants to conquer—and all of that is enormously disruptive to many other someones.

So I think there’s an immediately obvious utilitarian bias towards the status quo of, oh, the last decade or so. Governments are heavy, complicated things, and I think a group who wants to disrupt that needs to make an affirmative argument based on something other than “self determination” that this is a good idea and all the disruption is worth it for the sake of things being better in the long run.

Which unfortunately gets us nowhere because it brings us right back to debates about culture and history etc.

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Self-Determination is a sort of weird right, because it is inherently a right afforded to groups of people, but not individuals (unless you are an extremely principled libertarian). I think granting rights to groups that are independent of the rights of the constituent individuals makes very little sense. Groups don't have subjective experiences besides the subjective experiences of the individuals, and they can't decide to exercise their rights in the same way that individuals can because they can't want things or make decisions.

I also think the scoping problem is even worse than you say. A defining characteristic of a state is that some group in power (often the majority) can enforce their will on every one else. Why would it be the case that the group in power has the right to their power, but the larger entity having even more power doesn't?

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My immediate response to "what about the Confederacy?" is to say that yes, the people of the South had the right to secede in 1861 if they wanted to - but they didn't.

For one, there was a huge Black population - a majority in South Carolina, and at least a large minority elsewhere - who didn't get to vote, and would presumably have opposed secession.

For another, even the white population probably opposed secession in most places. Many secession conventions had a majority of delegates elected as Unionists who eventually voted for secession. I believe Texas was the only state where it was even submitted to referendum. Admittedly, the delegates would've argued that circumstances changed between their election and their vote - but even ignoring the restricted franchise, this casts their democratic legitimacy in severe doubt.

So, I believe it's quite consistent to support secession in theory but oppose the 1861 secession in practice.

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Mar 30, 2022·edited Mar 30, 2022

So I have a strange outlandish political opinion. I'm very much of proponent of the succession of the City of Memphis from the State of Tennessee. We would be accepted into the Union as the 51st State. Our boundaries would be the entirety of the Memphis Sands Aquifer which is spread across three states.

There's a lot of reasons I believe that this is important, but the primary is to prevent the exhaustion of the Memphis Sands Aquifer.

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Re the Navajo seceding. The general federal status of a federally recognized Indian tribe in the United States is a “domestic dependent nation” in a “government-to-government relationship” with the United States federal entity. Due to the history of this country, beginning at first contact and extending now for several hundred years, there are many, many treaties (which started out as agreements negotiated between separate countries, each Indian tribe being analogous to a country) and many of those treaties are still in force. This is how the SCOTUS recently decided that a large part of eastern Oklahoma is actually answerable to tribal law rather than Oklahoma state law. There is an entire career field of Indian law and it matters a great deal to tribal members, but also nationally in water rights disputes, minerals/mining/drilling, right of way (see DAPL), criminal investigation and prosecution, gaming, and a host of other things. One might not be able to tell when the interstate highway crosses from a state into a reservation, except now gambling is legal in that rest stop, cigarettes are a different price, and that’s due to the reservation being it’s own country in some important respects, with elected government, constitution, etc of its own. It’s more complicated than can be described in a paragraph here, but the gist is there really is a separate legal status going on.

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"Every oblast in Ukraine, including Crimea, voted for independence. Support ranged from over 95 percent in western Ukraine and the Kiev region to 54 percent in Crimea, where ethnic Russians form a substantial majority of the population..."

https://www.csce.gov/sites/helsinkicommission.house.gov/files/120191UkraineReferendum.pdf

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Mar 30, 2022·edited Mar 30, 2022

Worth noting that succinct as it may be, Karlin up there appears to be an actual facist, and the argument from his comment's section is a facist argument. Debates along the axis of that argument are a death trap, and we shouldn't get caught up in them.

I'm of the opinion that there's no reasonable, practical way of determining who gets self-determination, just a thousand thousand competing ideologies. The historical (and modern) method has been force, or the threat of force.

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“ So are Texans/Kurds/Scots/Palestinians a “people”? ”

No, yes, yes, maybe - although Arabs are also potentially one nation.

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Tokelau is a remote southern Pacific Ocean Island currently owned by New Zealand with a population of ~1500 and currently on the UN list of non-self-governing territories. The UN has pushed for referendums towards statehood, two of which have failed. In this case, it seems that by virtue of being an Island rather than just a small town off the interstate, Tokelau may deserve self determination. It's not clear what a 1500-member nation would look like.

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Ethics tells us what we should and should not do. There is a subfield of ethics, political philosophy, which deals with what a state should do and what ones relationship with a state is. If you believe an ethical theory, such as utilitarianism, natural rights or common-sense morality, the question arises as to why the state has different moral rules. This justification is called political authority.

People often debate political authority and legitimacy in philosophy classes; some potential arguments for legitimacy include the social contract and voting. Most non-libertarian people treat political legitimacy as a default--they believe the state is legitimate but that it should operate differently. The thorniness of the problem arises when nations like China make claims over Taiwan, or Russia invades Ukraine. By Westerners these things are regarded as illegitimate and a bit silly. But what are the borders of the United States and Europe but results of similar power struggles.

If the current borders in the West are legitimate, then the defining characteristic seems something like time? Yes, this land was concurred but that was a long time ago. Perhaps 40 years from now people will believe "Of course the Russian Government is the legitimate owner of Ukraine" if they are successful.

There no legitimate government borders because there is no valid defense of political authority. The ethical rules of state actors are the same as the ethical rules of individuals.

"Once one concedes that a single world government is not necessary, then where does one logically stop at the permissibility of separate states? If Canada and the United States can be separate nations without being denounced as in a state of impermissible 'anarchy', why may not the South secede from the United States? New York State from the Union? New York City from the state? Why may not Manhattan secede? Each neighbourhood? Each block? Each house? Each person?" - Murray Rothbard

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My answer to the confederacy thing is that the South didn't really vote to secede, because black Southerners were excluded from the vote. Slaves comprised about 39% of the Confederate population, and were they permitted to cast an informed vote they would almost certainly have voted to remain by an overwhelming margin. That makes the secession vote even more suspect than Russia's 96% figure in Crimea. States should only be obligated to honor credible, independently verifiable and sufficiently representative secession elections, which the confederacy's was not.

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The Kenyan ambassador to the UN gave a speech on this subject that makes an interesting argument: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ofijY6M-OA8&t=20s

(Spoiler) the tl;dr is that wars are bad and so generally speaking we should try to be content with existing borders of states rather than trying to redraw them, even for appealing reasons such as to unite ethnicities under one banner. It's sorta like what you were saying about transaction costs.

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Mar 30, 2022·edited Mar 30, 2022

It might be worth flipping the question around. What gives a group the legitimacy to claim another? Shared historical ties, language and folklore all feel like relevant answers, and those are worth exploring by the LSE, yourself, and Anatoly. If like me you value core liberal principles, your attention might rather be drawn to the ideas of the social contract and of consent of the governed, which allow for a bit more nuance than the libertarian extreme you engage with.

I’ll stick my neck out and argue that a nation’s claim to a particular people grows stronger so long as they consent to their membership, and weaker when they do not. Rather than an on-off switch, it is a rubber band which may rupture under sufficient pressure.

My home region of Savoie was annexed in 1861 by the French state (third republic bad, we should no longer do that sorta thing!). Following a half-century of cultural homogenization, people in our region became satisfied by their membership, and the past century of rather blissful consent makes our belonging to the French nation beyond dispute. You’ll occasionally see a ‘free savoie’ bumper sticker, but they lack widespread political appeal.

In contrast, Ukraine has had a violent, dissident relationship with Russia for over a century, including plausible genocides, brutal uprisings, language laws, and more horrors than those of us in the West could reasonably appreciate. There is a clear sense that the union of Russia with Ukraine has been tenuously enforced at the barrel of a gun. In the past few lifetimes, Ukrainians have not consented to their membership within the Russian empire; no matter how strong the rubber band once was, it has decisively snapped, and we are witnessing their war of independence.

We should support them

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You left out one thing about Crimea, it was transferred from Russia to the Ukraine by Nikita Khrushchev in 1954 after having been Russian since it was acquired by Catherine the Great; I don't believe that anyone bothered consulting the Crimean population at that time. If you argue that sufficient time had passed to erase that, then what about nations that were subsumed in other countries for centuries rather than decades? My answer to that question is probably similar to yours; how practical is self-determination and how strongly is it desired? As to the Crimeans, it wasn't just ethnic Russians who favored the return to Russia; there were also pro-Russian Ukrainians and minorities like the Tartars who also somewhat favored the transfer. By the way, being a native-born Canadian with native-born parents and being of Irish and English ancestry, I have no dog in this fight.

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A functional nation has to be willing to hold itself together, regardless of morality.

You can't allow regions to leave at will: that would be like an army that allows soldiers to freely desert. Half your corps will pull up their tents and return to their farms at the first tactical setback.

The South certainly stopped believing in "states rights" when East Tennesseeans tried to break off from the Confederacy and form a Union-aligned state in 1861. They put the state under martial law.

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This all assumes uniform desire among a people. If 70% of Texans want to leave the Union should they be able to force it on the other 30%? 20%? 10%? One guy who is really a transplant from California anyways?

Doesn't it kind of matter if the group leaving is sitting on vital resources and infrastructure that the mainland might relies on?

This whole topic is very interesting and something I did always wonder about growing up in a liberal part of Texas. The generally believed to be whackos who wanted to secede never really received a counter argument against their desires besides logistical concerns that really convinced me.

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You should consider reading (or rereading) Lincoln's first inaugural address. It is, as you might expect, extremely interesting on the issue of the right to secede (or not), although of course dealing with his own specific circumstances and with very different categories than any modern person would use.

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This reminded me of the weirdness that was the Bantustans. IIRC, the apartheid government of South Africa had the brilliant idea of "Hey, if all the black people were in their own country instead of South Africa, then we wouldn't be oppressing them anymore and everyone would love us again!" So they declared the black majority areas to be independent. This failed miserably because the response from the international community was that the Bantustans were just client states, not meaningfully independent in any way, and reliant on support from South Africa. (Please correct me if I'm getting the details wrong.)

I don't know what the actual inhabitants of the Bantustans thought (though I imagine the local leaders who were funded by the South African government were all for it), but supposing that at least some of them wanted independence, they would have been in a very strange position vis-a-vis self-determination.

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Mar 30, 2022·edited Mar 30, 2022

I've always believed Ukraine was a country, because Ukraine is on the Risk board. This "Russia" is not.

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Mar 30, 2022·edited Mar 30, 2022

"Switzerland for instance is a confederation made up of pieces of three other nations, but the Swiss have created a highly interesting and distinct polity (blablabla)"

As a Swiss guy I really have to object to this history-ignorant take. Most Swiss Cantons were never vassal states much less part of neighboring countries - which would have been hard to do anyways given neither Germany nor Italy existed until fairly recently. Many were informally part of the holy roman empire as independent entities, the Habsburg ruled over some cantons for a while (btw. Habsburg dynasty originated from Switzerland in first place, so debatable whether this even counts as foreign rule), and there was a brief period when Napoleon conquered the country when it wasn't independent, but other than that it has been independent for 6-700 years. Just because various pieces of the country adopted the language of neighboring places doesn't fricking mean they are the same people. Even in Roman times the Helvetii were considered a different people than the Gauls or the Germanic tribes.

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Mar 30, 2022·edited Mar 30, 2022

"Does my street (population: ~100) have the right to declare independence from the USA? If not, then street-sized entities apparently don’t have the right to self-determination. Why not?"

The analytic philosopher Timothy Williamson writes a lot about such questions involving vagueness, or what in the field's jargon are, I think, called "vague predicates." (He wrote a whole book on the topic: "Vagueness.") When, precisely, does a man losing hair become bald? Williamson actually defends a philosophical position called supervaluationism, in which, e.g., there is a precise hair that gets lost and, before that hair fell out, the man wasn't bald, but with the loss he suddenly is. I don't understand this. But you might find his work interesting to look into even if your first question above was partly in jest.

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Before Civ there was Risk, and Ukraine . . .

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If the roles were reversed, and Ukraine was a Russia-style autocracy and Russia a modernizing democracy, and a free, democratic Russia invaded a despotic Ukraine...

Well, I'd be against it. But I definitely wouldn't want the US to support Ukraine in such a case, and would find difficulty summoning the same moral outrage over the invading.

Is this just self-serving bias on behalf of the liberal democratic West? Maybe, but I don't think that's most of it. I don't think whether Ukraine is friendly or unfriendly with the US in this scenario would particularly change my feelings on this.

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This is similar to my thoughts on the matter, except of course expressed better.

I also can't help but notice Ukraine has introduced conscription and banned opposition parties, no doubt because not all ukrainians agree with him. In order to "create" a people, somehow you always have to use large amounts of force. If the Ukrainians were so gung hu about Ukraine, why do you have to draft them by force? Also there seems to be a lack of reciprocity, Ukrainian government prepared for the war with denial and doing nothing, but they still demand their citizens give everything for it! (except they wont meaningfully draft women, because ukraine is still sexist in the face of annihilation as a nation state!)

The best argument I can think of against Crimean becoming Russian is that people should be allowed to vote but not be allowed to vote for dictatorship, except that kind of goes away because now ukraine is authoritarian and banned the second most popular party, the Opposition Platform for Life.

This is why we need (near) open borders, so we don't sentence a person to the country they were born into!

Until we have that I think you kind have to take it by an extremely case by case basis, will the polity that likely emerges from whatever group who wants independence this Tuesday be better for the median person (or maybe better based on being more moral) than the one it replaces?

And will it be so much better to justify the massive cost of war? Pretty rarely yes, but sometimes yes

Like I tend to think Palestine would not form a very efficient and just government, though I do think Ukraine would be better than russia, or at the very least not so bad as to justify war.

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Simple answer to your last proposition. The union had to stay together to prevent European powers from carving up North America once again. Had the Confederacy succeeded Spain or France or England would have been able to drive a wedge between the South and the North and as Lincoln knew...divided we fall. The repercussions of that are too ugly to contemplate. History, as James Joyce said, is a nightmare we're trying to awaken from, and the United States and only the United States has escaped.

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I think it's worth at least considering the possibility that if American cities and states were allowed to secede and rejoin more or less at will (filling in a logistics of doing this in a non-insane way is left as an exercise for the reader), this would create a significant pressure towards reform and competence. Or at least, I think if poorly run states were in genuine fear of their most lucrative cities voting to be Canadian instead, it'd force them to get their shit together and provide a strong financial incentive towards reform. Certainly it's hard to imagine Texas doing their recent abortion shenanigans if there was a serious risk of Austin or Houston leaving.

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Realpolitik at least is useful for predicting behavior as Mearsheimer illustrates. The US wouldn't tolerate Mexico joining Russia, for example, and when the Ukrainians cut off the water supply to Crimea it was only a matter of time before the Russians had to do something. Blowing up the damn happened within the first week or so, I believe. Curious that Ukraine is offering to be a neutral state now that we're in peace talks, and that wasn't on the table before the invasion. To think the war could have been avoided is just heart-breaking.

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The set of national borders that the world has today are a mix of historical happenstance that frequently seems very arbitrary. Even the existence of many national identities as a recognizable concept is the constructed work of specific people. (For instance, Greece: Biography of a Modern Nation is a great book to understand how the Greek national mythos was actively built decades before Greece became an independent entity.)

Countries defy easy categorization that group X is here and group Y is here. However, easy orderly categorization shouldn't be a goal in and of itself, certainly not at the cost is potentially carries. Kenya's UN Ambassador Martin Kimani gave a good speech on this point is response to the Russia-Ukraine War (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=jwDWxyLVBxk). Worth watching, but the summary is: Yes, the borders in Africa are stupid and inconvenient legacies of colonialism, but going to war to "fix" them would be a fruitless exercise with tremendous consequences. We've just got to live with them.

On self-determination more generally, perhaps the better question to ask is "How do subgroups get self-determination?" rather than "Who gets self-determination?". Full succession to either become its own country or join another country is the extreme case. A much more common model is giving a high level of self-government to sub-entities (as is done for states, cities and provinces worldwide).

This can offer a high degree of flexibility, while also providing certain basis standards (e.g. human rights). Sure, if 60% of a region want independent decision making, that seems reasonable, but not if it is so they can murder or enslave the other 40%. This addresses your Confederacy scenario.

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Mar 30, 2022·edited Mar 30, 2022

The point about putting a military base in the Bahamas is a good example of an important broader point: There are lots of other values at stake in deciding what country owns what, besides just the lives and votes of the people who live there. Besides security and military concerns, there are natural resources to argue about. Can the part of Norway with all the oil secede? Do they get to keep all the oil money if they do? Can another country buy them out without the consent of the rest of Norway?

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Mar 30, 2022·edited Mar 30, 2022

I think my views on this is a purely realpolitik one. Might makes right - if you have the will and means to fight for your independence and prevail you have the right to be a nation, if a neighbor has the will and means to fight you and prevail and control your territory indefinitely then you don't. This approach has been in place since the beginning of time and has resulted in vast majority of national boundaries today. There are sometimes added complexities about alliances and other nations not wanting wrong example to be set, or wanting to weaken the aggressing nation etc. and hence help out the nation trying to remain independent. But these again are out of political considerations. I'd prefer if we just left the theoretical-moralistic fig leaves out of this completely.

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My approach here is that I think that nation-states were kind of a bad idea, but once you've got one running decently well, it's better to keep it running than violently knock it over and try again. So the real norm for me is that countries should not generally try to modify the international status quo through all-out invasion, particularly against places that are managing to be somewhat liberal and somewhat democratic.

If Ukraine had remained part of Russia and then launched a war of independence this year, I doubt you'd see western countries pouring weapons in. And if they did, I think it would be fair to criticize it as some shady cold war antics that cause way more harm than good. But that's not how things went down when the soviets fell, and now that Ukraine has managed to establish itself, it is worth protecting because the alternative is obviously worse.

Is this fair? Probably not really. But I do think it's a reasonable way to approach the messy world of international politics. Focusing too much on grand universal values like "self-determination" will trip you up more than it helps you.

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My hometown of Staten Island famously voted to secede from the rest of NYC in 1993, with 65% of the island voting to leave. They tried the establishment of an independent city by passage of a city charter, but this was blocked by the state legislature of New York. Apparently since an act of the legislature created NYC out of the five boroughs in 1898, the legislature could just look at the charter Staten Island passed and say “Nah, you can’t leave.” This never made much sense to me, but neither did secession. I understood why lots of people wanted it, but still can’t see how it would have improved things.

The whole movement was diffused in that same election, because the high turnout from largely Republican Staten Island elected Rudy Giuliani mayor of NYC. Giuliani made sure Staten Island’s biggest grievances were dealt with, and the movement to secede fizzled.

Apparently it revived a bit under DeBlasio, who was seriously hated by just about everyone but especially Staten Island. But I haven’t lived there in 20 years and never heard anyone had been considering secession in 2019 until much later. I still don’t know what improvements people imagined, or if they’d considered all the trade-offs.

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Mar 30, 2022·edited Mar 30, 2022

I am Russian and I consider Ukraine separate county.

Not because of some centuries old s**t (even though I am a big fan of history) or language (I look down on Russian sometimes and Ukranian has 6x less people and it's book market/internet culture is even worse) but because of modern political culture.

Russia and Belarus had a chance to go in direction of democracy.

I guess Belarus was to small and it was captured by single clique.

In Russia authoritarianism is based on outstanding might of Gasprom - natural gas monopolist. Putin follows interests of Gasprom and is supported by it. Gasprom has enormous profits and it is centralised by its nature - natural gas pipelines should be managed by single authority.

Ukraine managed to walk the narrow path to democracy without single clique dominating the scene. Ukranian elites had to learn how to communicate and cooperate despite their differences way better than their Russian counterparts (read about Putin's "vertical line of power" - it is even worse than it sounds). And that cultural difference seems to be the source of the hatred from Russians "blues"/"righties".

Should Ukraine join Russia or not is a moot point with brave resistance that it's army shows today.

Crimea is indeed is mostly populated by Russians and Russia's navy base and tourists always projected lots of influence there. Ukrain had to manage that region much more carefully and it would be the best if it remained Russian or at least got some very special status.

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Mar 30, 2022·edited Mar 30, 2022

There are several counties of eastern Oregon that have voted to join Idaho. (https://www.theatlantic.com/politics/archive/2021/12/oregon-secession-idaho-move-border/621087/)

US state governments do something very different from what national governments do, but the Senate and Electoral College mechanisms make state borders ridiculously important at the national level. (I once saw a fantasy map of the 2016 presidential election, in which the Ohio-Michigan line was moved slightly, and Alabama got a bit more of the Florida Panhandle, and Clinton ends up with a strong victory by taking Michigan and Florida.)

Someone might think the moral issues are the same, and they might somehow *feel* the same for the self-respect of the people, but they seem extremely different in other ways.

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The question of self determination in regards to forming a state should take into account the purpose of forming that state.

Now this gets us into the deep waters of political philosophy and you could argue that it is exactly the point of self determination that us outsiders aren't allowed to care about the purpose, because, you know, the people should be free to determine it for themselves.

I have no fleshed out argument here, but my intuition is something like this:

>the purpose of forming a state is to further individual freedom, both positive and negative.

>the legitimacy of seceding and political self determination partly depends on if that is an effective way of fulfilling this purpose

in this way very specific circumstances factor into the question.

your street isnt allowed to secede, because there is no way this actually makes the people of your street more self determined while making alot of trouble for everyone.

crimea probably isnt allowed to secede from kinda democratic Ukraine to pretty undemocratic russia bc obviously people will be less free.

The south wasnt allowed to secede from the US because it explicitly wanted a large part of its people to be not free.

Taiwan would be allowed to secede from the peoples republic of china because it is in many ways more free, except for the fact that if China feels they need to emphasize their opinion on the matter by force, a lot of people wil be less free so we hover in paradoxical limbo of not-saying-that-they-are-allowed-to-secede-so-they-can-continue-to-secede-without-too-much-risk.

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It's a good time to re-read your own general case treatment on the topic, and how it is very path dependent: https://slatestarcodex.com/2016/04/04/the-ideology-is-not-the-movement/

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I really like the independence-plus-EU model for a lot of this.

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Also: I consider Cossacks: European Wars to be a more authoritative source than Civilization (because much more historically accurate) and it has Ukraine as one of the playable factions. Ukrainian peasants in the game have the unique ability to resist capture/conversion by enemy military units. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Cossacks:_European_Wars :)

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Mar 30, 2022·edited Mar 30, 2022

I don't think that "might makes right", but I do think that might makes a nation.

If your street declared itself to be a nation and could successfully form its own government, laws, taxes, and the means to enforce them -- while also preventing the city, state, and country you're located in from enforcing their laws or collecting taxes from you -- congratulations, your street is a nation.

These questions tend to be resolved by force, not by a moral theory of who has a "right" to self determination. The moral character of a group claiming to be a nation is important, but they will determine their own course if they can prevent anyone else from determining it.

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Mar 30, 2022·edited Mar 30, 2022

Good article but people make this stuff way to complicated. It's not about morality orethics but simply might makes right, and the victors get to write the history books. We didn't defeat the Nazis because the Nazis were bad and evil, we firebombed Dresden and killed them until they gave up. The answer to the question "Who gets self-determination?" is whoever can take it. If it can't be won peacefully, it must be won through force (see Clausewitz, Carl). Kill more of them then they kill you until they give up. This is the way it has always been and the way it always will be.

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This all seems pretty obvious to me. _Of course_ Crimea has the right to secede from Ukraine and join Russia if its population (and Russia) wants to! (I don't know whether they do.) Likewise for Donetsk and Luhansk, Transnistria, Kurdistan, Palestine, Hong Kong, Scotland, Catalonia, Basque Country, Quebec, Texas, California, and all the others I'm missing. Canada and Britain seem to have accepted this, Spain hasn't, which honestly makes Spain and the EU look pretty hypocritical and undermines international law. (As does the US support of Israel which is hiding behind same "not a real people" nonsense discussed in the article, as well as ancient trivia. But the US has always been quite selective about whether international law applies.)

The American South had every right to secede. They didn't have the right to own humans. And given that those humans were previously residents (if not citizens) of the US, I'm calling the War of Northern Aggression justified. There's no other possible justification for it.

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The whole "people" thing just seems like a mcguffin to me. I was born in the UK, a fairly small "country" (made up of four smaller "countries"!) and now live in China, which is very large and claims to be 90% one "nation". But if you just look at those people, it's a joke. Southern Chinese people look like South East Asians. Northern Chinese people look big and moon-faced like Mongolians. (I'm stereotyping massively; there's huge variation; the north-south thing is just the most obvious one that smacks you in the eye.) And they speak different languages. India, any African country, and obviously the USA present the same problems.

In fact, I suspect the nation/people concept was really just a European invention to try to move intellectually away from the concept of feudal allegiance to whoever the current strongman is. Europe had a problem: constant war among robber barons, kings, and emperors, in which the winners would take ownership of land and everything (including the people) on it. Europe's solution was to invent a bunch of different political philosophies to use to resist them. Those philosophies included communism, democracy, and nationalism (or racism sent to do some work for a change).

I don't see any reason to grant even the concept of "peoples" any respect. I understand that people use it, and many are very attached to it, but it's ultimately just another bit of historical baggage.

When the technology (both electronic and legal technology) gets good enough, we'll have people choosing their own "country" based on preference, not geographical location. (Bit like diaspora Jewishness, I guess.)

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If applied to Russia, things could get messy pretty quickly... https://twitter.com/ofer_rubin/status/1497560012490780674

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I think the idea of having a moral obligation to invade and stop countries committing atrocities is a fairly reasonable take, with the obvious caveat that it's really hard for a modern state to actually seize enough control to change the status quo. (Also, that it's hard to distinguish this motivation from imperialism on the inside - the "White Man's Burden" is a good example of this) Generally, I'm not a fan of self-determination as a value on its own. Countries which have no merits other than "self-determination" - that is to say, they perpetuate a terrible status quo - have no right to exist, assuming that there is something better which could take their place. I would not lose sleep if the government of North Korea was snapped out of existence and replaced with something better, and if somebody could do this without any other consequence, I would consider it their ethical obligation.

The obvious argument for Ukrainian independence from Russia in this framework is that Ukrainian democracy is simply more functional and healthy than Russia's is. Given that Ukraine ended up with a Zelenskyy and Russia ended up with a Putin, I think this is self-evident. Arguments to the opposite effect might point to Ukraine's weaker GDP per capita, but I'm unconvinced. Cultural or ethnic homogeneity in a region might be a factor, but only in the sense that the nation which rests on top of those demographics might not treat minority groups well. A state must by organized in the interests of the greater good. How we get there is what's up for debate.

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The US doesn't really follow principles on the questions, but does have a status-quo bias when it comes to borders.

Ukraine with Crimea came out of the dissolution of the USSR, along with other new countries. The US position is that once those borders were set, other powers don't get to unilaterally change that or redraw borders, even if the current borders don't make much sense.

The US is really blinded by this. Other examples - Iraq, Afghanistan, Somalia, Yemen and many others - countries that don't make geographical or cultural sense whose borders were created thanks to short-sighted imperial border-drawing, primarily by the British (hello Gertrude Bell and Sir Henry Mortimer Durand).

In some of these countries we've sought - in vain - to inculcate a cohesive national identity and governments that are representative of population. Afghanistan was intentionally created as a buffer state between the British and Russian empires and no one at the time gave a care about long-term stability or geographical or ethnic coherence. But the US is ignorant to all of that, too blinded by the status-quo bias regarding borders, than we can't even imagine alternatives. And so we spent 20 years trying to turn an incoherent landlocked buffer state into an actual nation and predictably failed.

One exception might be South Sudan, where we husbanded the creation of this new state justifying it on the basis of a popular independence movement. Unfortunately, and predictably, once South Sudan came into existence it immediately descended into a bloody civil war in which around a half million people died. South Sudan will likely never be a stable nation, yet now that we've set the borders, none of that matters and we consider them inviolable to change by outside powers.

But civil wars do bring up an exception - see the Former Yugoslavia. It's not really clear to me why the violent creation of new states and borders was both acceptable and encouraged there, while vigorously opposed elsewhere.

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I think these fights are usually about what faction gets power over group decision making. Statehood/cultural heritage/etc is mostly cover.

If group A (ethnic, cultural, ideological, economic specialization, Really Into Knitting, whatever) are a minority in a large region, but a majority in a narrower region, then the more autonomy that small region has, the more power they will have over decision making, and the more incentive there is to separate from the larger entity. Groups that are minorities in the smaller region but majorities (or pluralities, or just larger minorities) in the larger region are motivated to unify with that region.

I'd argue this covers everything from US independence from Britain to Russia/Ukraine to the UK leaving the EU (but Scotland and Londoners not wanting to).

Ethnicity/historicity arguments are no more or less ethically relevant than economic ones.

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Kinda taking panpsychism and applying it to countries, how about this?

A nation is a nation to the degree which it is capable of convincing all other nations to recognize its sovereignty.

So the US, Russia, China, France, Norway - 100% nations

Taiwan - 85-95% nation

Ukraine - 97% nation

ISIS - 7% nation

Confederacy, 1861 - 30-45% nation

Confederacy, 1865 - 10-20% nation

Texas, 1830 - 25% nation

Texas, 2022 - 0% nation

Scott’s street - 0% nation

Apart from the percentages being completely ass-pulled for illustration only, what is this concept missing?

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I think the question of historical investment has some relevance here. If Texas wants to secede, fine, but the USA has invested heavily in it over the years...what's the divorce bill? Similar issue with US independence regarding taxation and Britain's capital and military investments.

From the outside, this was one of the most interesting parts of the Brexit negotiations.

Of course, given that the ethics of multi-generational collective debt/guilt/obligation are difficult in general, I don't think this *simplifies* the discussion.

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I would be rather amused if Zelensky were to say “I agree with Mr. Putin that the citizens of Russia, Ukraine, and Belarus are one People, and by rights should be one Nation - with her capital in Kyiv, her mother city”

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Politically Recognizable Country = (Collective Will + Power) * Managed (or Leveraged) Resources

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Kudos to Anatoly Karlin for making his argument with the earnestness it deserves :)))

Part of the problem with "the Crimeans want to be in Russia" is that the Soviets systematically deported the Crimean Tatars from their land and resettled it with Russians (see https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Deportation_of_the_Crimean_Tatars ). In 2014, something similar happened, albeit in a less brutal way: Crimeans who didn't want to live in Russia (or, worse, a Russian-controlled enclave with plausible deniability and therefore zero accountability) voted with their feet. Siberians replaced them ( https://www.rferl.org/a/russia-accused-of-reshaping-annexed-crimea-demographics-ukraine/29262130.html ). While it may be argued that the newcomers of the 1950s are grandfathered in, the ones from 2015 can hardly claim to own the land. Why should squatters decide who owns the land?

Can't say I'm very keen on comparing anything with the Civil War -- maybe that's the European in me resisting Americanization. With the Fugitive Slave Act, the secession wasn't a very clear-cut case of the South "going their own way"; but more importantly, how many other 19th century wars are we judging by modern standards? I don't recall any discussions about the justification of the 1870 Franco-Prussian War or even the 1905 Russo-Japanese one. Is it that hard to view the Civil War as a piece of history as opposed to a morality tale?

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I have thought about these things quite a bit as a (possibly former? I’m not sure anymore) supporter of Quebec independence. Back when it was still an immediate political issue, there was some talks from opponents, mostly Anglophone Canadians (including the minority Anglophone Quebecers), about a possible Partition of Quebec. The Canadian prime minister at the time of the first independence referendum in 1980, Trudeau Sr., said that “If Canada is divisible, Quebec must also be divisible.” The lands populated by anglophones or indigenous people (e.g. in the north, where they speak English more than French) would possibly remain in Canada after Quebec became independent, if that’s what they wanted.

There’s a detailed Wikipedia article about this: https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Partition_of_Quebec. The arguments against partition seem to be that Quebec is indivisible under international law, that it would be impractical, that municipalities are created by the Quebec government so they wouldn’t have the right to secede, and that it would involve an asymmetry in the potential results (if the regions that vote against independence get to stay in Canada if “leave” wins, why wouldn’t the regions that vote yes get to leave if the overall result is “remain”?).

Overall they seem to boil down to some sort of collective agreeing that Quebec exists in some current state, e.g. its borders are what they are, and negotiations will become way too complicated if we relax these assumptions. (The partition of Canada itself would be acceptable in principle because Quebec is a federated entity; it’s easy to imagine what its secession would look like.)

I agree that partition would be a bad idea for reasons of impracticality and complexity, but the vehement opposition to it from everyone in Quebec has always seemed a bit exaggerated. If an English-speaking suburb of Montreal wants to secede, you can’t arbitrarily decide that they can’t. They should have the right to organize a referendum if they so wish, although we should note that it has to be distinct from a general Quebec independence referendum, since voting against Quebec secession on the latter doesn’t mean you think your suburb should become an isolated Canadian island within an independent Quebec.

Yet as far as I know, almost no one has ever expressed that reasonable (at least to me) take. I think this indicates that people have an incentive to stick to existing consensus as much as possible. Quebec independentists (or actually everyone who cares about Quebec) should never open the door even slightly to partition; doing so would open a can of worms and make future negotiation harder.

Similarly, Ukrainians and supporters of Ukraine should never accept even considering giving up Crimea or Donbas, even if everyone secretly agrees that it’s fine if these regions actually want to leave. At least, they should never consider that in public until they suddenly agree about it during a closed door round of negotiations where they get something else in exchange, like the end of the war.

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My bone to pick here is that the entire idea of nations are a myth, and treating them as anything deeper risks serious category errors. You can look at France, the prototypical self-actualizing national state, and it's borders are arbitrary-- it took Nice from Piedmont in a backroom deal to allow the latter to become Italy, and it fought to get Alsace-Lorraine, which is not distinctly French or German. Mike Duncan's excellent Revolutions podcast is right now talking about the Russian Revolution, and he's in the phase of the post-WW1 period where Wilson and Lloyd-George are drawing out nations on maps and the people of Eastern Europe are drawing their national boundaries in blood and corpses. Why does Poland have a nation after WW1 and Ukraine doesn't? Because the Red Army beat the Ukrainian armies but lost to the Poles. Heck, a lot of interwar Baltic nations, some with little precedence as distinct historical units, owe their existence to the Poles beating the Red Army. There has never been any national that has made itself exist except by a willingness to take up arms. When we look at a map of a region and try to lay out the peoples and nations within, we are often just legitimizing a state of affairs that rather than being organic is downstream of thousands of years of violence and resistance.

The Kenyan Ambassador to the U.N., Martin Kimani, said in his speech on the crisis in Ukraine:

"Today, across the border of every single African country, live our countrymen with whom we share deep historical, cultural, and linguistic bonds. At independence, had we chosen to pursue states on the basis of ethnic, racial, or religious homogeneity, we would still be waging bloody wars these many decades later... We believe that all states formed from empires that have collapsed or retreated have many peoples in them yearning for integration with peoples in neighboring states. This is normal and understandable. After all, who does not want to be joined to their brethren and to make common purpose with them? However, Kenya rejects such a yearning from being pursued by force. We must complete our recovery from the embers of dead empires in a way that does not plunge us back into new forms of domination and oppression. We rejected irredentism and expansionism on any basis, including racial, ethnic, religious, or cultural factors."

This speech already admits that this is an unromantic compromise: let the old colonial maps of Africa become the unchangeable national borders, solely because to do otherwise would risk incredible violence. But in most cases the sort of autonomy that national communities want is often achievable without succession, and even stridently nationalist states like Britain and Spain which once repressed their linguistic minorities now give them a greater measure of local autonomy than would've been conceivable under the political order of a hundred years ago. If nothing else, advocating for peaceful transfers of political power to localities is far less risky for activists than a revolution which dramatically increases the odds that the state one is defying will turn to ethnic cleansing.

Overall, I think it's a mistake to posit that a solidified Ukrainian national identity is necessary for a defense of the Ukrainian state. Many Ukrainians in the areas invaded and occupied by Russia are Russian-speaking, voted for pro-Russian candidates in elections (remember that Zelenskyy was always the pro-Russian candidate in relative terms), and may not have identified with Ukraine as a nation much at all-- until they were invaded, which no one particularly likes. One very likely mistake we will instantiate going forward is to assume that the nationalist sentiment that has arisen now is the unveiling of something long dormant. In fact, likely as not, Putin has provoked a Ukrainian nationalism previously lacking in many regions of the country-- as has been said, a nation is a group that is willing to defend themselves, and so those who want to defend against an invasion render themselves as nationalists.

From the perspective of the international community, the only and entire problem is that wars of conquest are bad and destabilizing-- we never needed to assume a Kuwaiti national identity to turn back Saddam's invasion of the country.

But to close, this stuff is all fake, it's all post hoc constructions to rationalize arbitrary and spontaneous order, and the best we can do is keep in place whatever rules minimize state violence as we look for ways to defuse national tensions which won't appear on a map.

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I think one can resolve the Confederacy problem by going back to moral reasoning on the level people and emphasizing exit rights. Which is to say a big enough nation has the right to secede conditional on allowing anyone in that nation (including slaves) to leave. Of course for the Confederacy this would defeat the purpose.

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You’ve basically made the case against moralism in foreign policy and for sticking to and defending arbitrary norms. Borders are what they are, once settled we treat them as sacrosanct to the greatest extent possible. Despite exceptions like Kosovo and Crime we’ve done a pretty good job with that since 1945. There’s no other rule that doesn’t lead to permanent bloodshed.

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I propose that the Confederacy doesn’t get to secede because actually there were rather a lot of people in the Confederacy who presumably did not want to secede.

I suppose this doesn’t really resolve the more general question though.

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Mar 30, 2022·edited Mar 30, 2022

Two things that seem important to consider when deciding whether to support some state-type-entity's secession or continued existence are something like the (possibly predicted) democracy/freedom indices of the entities being considered*, and whether these entities would become tax havens for rich people who use their money in ways that are not sufficiently good for other people. For instance, all else equal, conditional in particular on it being done bloodlessly and conditional on no one ever finding out that a norm was eroded, I'd support Russia annexing North Korea. And for instance, it might be bad to allow not-sufficiently-(efficiently-)philanthropic billionaires to secede. In fact, it seems quite possible that these two are the criteria I'd use if I was given 3 minutes to decide whether I will support a particular instance of desired secession.

*Of course, when a group likely to end up with an authoritarian regime wishes to secede from a democratic state, then this includes consideration of the possibly liberalizing effect of that group's secession on the politics of the state it seceded from.

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I feel the whole assumption there is some list of features that grant a group of people the right to self-determination is kind of a category mistake. Sometimes it will make the world better to let a group of people form a seperate country sometimes it won't. The difference between Ukraine and the confederacy is as simple as: the world was better off not letting the confederacy self-determine and worse if Russia stops Ukraine from doing so. It even plausibly depends on who the occupier is and how they treat them (if the Basque region was in China not Spain no question it would be better to allow self-determination...as of now unclear to me as it imposes costs on both sides).

It's like asking who is truly (has the right to be) the parent (ie has custody) of this child. I mean we've picked a legal answer but imagine trying to insist that there is a true morally correct parent of any child if we had yet to formulate custody laws. Sure, in most cases the rules we've adopted into law track certain traditional factors (the biological parents) that any decent custody system but in the other cases (eg, adoption, divorce, orphans abused children) we choose our laws based on overall pragmatic considerations.

I mean imagine goi g to a country whose laws and traditions favor giving aunt's and uncle's priority when a child is orphaned and insist "no no, the *true* parent of that child is his grandmother.". Some ppl really do have such feelings about their traditions but (assuming you don't believe the religious justifications) it seems like they are just confused. You can argue that one system for assigning custody is is better system than the other but the idea that there is some kind of simply morally correct rule is crazy.

I mean, if you were in a small community marooned on a far away planet and the question came up who gets to be the parent of some orphaned child you'd just pick whoever would be the best for the child not look to some kind of universal right to parent status that certain ppl have vis-a-vis their genetic or social ties.

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And yes, this can make it quite hard to coordinate norms around these areas. I mean, it would be great if we could work in a preference against dictatorial states into the UN's notion of a people but that will never get sufficient agreement.

But, in the long run, I think it won't matter because we'll all converge on a level of freedom and wealth sufficient to make the question much less important.

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Mar 30, 2022·edited Mar 30, 2022

Glad to see this — I found it offputting how many people pro-Ukraine pieces accepted the "are they or are they not a people" framing. My own moral intuitions seem more extreme, though, and even less actionable.

Ukraine, Russia, your street, Crimea, the South, Texas — none of them can "want" things. A person can want things. Lots of people, or even a majority of people in some group, can all want similar things. But to say "A People" wants things is a type error. It's just an apparently-useful fiction to say they do.

(I'm sure lots of people agree partially or entirely with that, and in particular you didn't mean phrasings like "Crimea probably did want to join Russia" literally. I still think it's worth pointing out that it's a type error, especially since that framing is so common.)

I'm not an anarchist, because there's a tradeoff between individualism and other values. But I sure would be more ethically satisfied with having governments if the "social contract" was an actual thing you could opt out of — or as you put it, government is "one those rights violation which utilitarians occasionally allow for the greater good."

I think this viewpoint means I don't have the "Confederacy" problem, because at a fundamental ethical level, my viewpoint doesn't involve weighing the preferences and rights of conflicting groups, but of conflicting individuals (which in that case was a one-sided conflict). The utilitarian rights violation isn't not letting The South secede; the utilitarian rights violation is freed slaves (and everyone else) still living beneath a government.

Not very actionable, I know. But it's why I'm a fan of liberalism, open borders, limited government, houses that can easily be moved from place to place, laboratories of democracy, etc. So eg on the original question, (1) Crimea being a part of Russia is probably less bad than being part of Ukraine, but (2) there should be open borders between Ukraine and Russia so actual individuals can choose to live where they want to, and most importantly (3) which government you live under should matter much less.

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In the open source clone of Civilization called freeciv, there are 2 sets of nations - "Core" & "Extended". Both include Russia. Ukrainian is only in "Extended", along with Breton, Catalan, Kievan Rus', Kurdish, Kosovar, Palestinian, Pictish, Pashtun. And Antarctican, Californian, Knights Templar...

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I think the US case is easiest, because we have a specific definition of "nationhood". To me, US Citizenship means the Constiturion -- remember, US Presidents (and Congress, IIRC) swear an oath to "...protect and defend the CONSTITUTION of the United States...". Not the People, or the Territory, or any Tribe or Group.

Swearing allegience to a document that is a pretty good template for internal co-operation, conflict resolution, and contract enforcement, is a much more robust and logical (and portable) way to define "nation-state". Would that politicians nowadays remember that....

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Mar 30, 2022·edited Mar 30, 2022

> "But if you believe this, shouldn’t Russia get Crimea?"

Mu.

Call me an edgy cynical realpolitik fan, but self-determination is purely and solely a question of violence and threatening it. There isn't a moral right to it, and nobody deserves or doesn't deserve it - it's just that either your small nation-leviathan is going to get eaten by larger leviathans with sharper teeth and longer claws(or bitten its body parts off), or it will manage to repel them. The whole of "international law" on this is totally arbitrary consensus of whom some group of those nation-leviathans admit to their pack, within which they don't eat each other.

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Mar 30, 2022·edited Mar 30, 2022

I would say that for a place to be permitted to secede, it should be reasonably contiguous, and reasonably large. I would *also* say that in pretty much no real-life situation where secession is in question is this uncertain enough that it matters. You can argue hypotheticals about if a 100 person street wants to secede, but in *practice*, it won't. Nobody talking about either Ukraine, or the Confederacy, or Crimea, or the 13 colonies, seriously invokes size or contiguousness in denying the right to secede.

And I'd make a blanket rule against secessions in occupied territories like Crimea because it's really hard to prove that the place is freely seceding without the influence of the foreign troops (and, if the press is not free, the foreign propaganda). It's too easy to say "well, we have no absolute proof that the polls in Crimea were influenced by the Russians, and there's a large Russian population so it's not implausible they'd choose to secede, so let's be charitable to them and assume that the polls are accurate". That standard isn't strict enough and no occupied territory could meet one that is, unless you have a psychic conclusively reading the minds of everyone in the territory.

You could of course ask "how long before an occupation counts as replacing the natives--aren't the Union and Confederacy both just occupiers?" This does come up sometimes, and we may need criteria like "how continuous is the claim" and "did the original occupation happen in modern times after we've established international rules about occupying countries" and "did the occupation happen after a defensive war", but there are a lot of cases where it's not an issue either.

And yes, for the Confederacy, I'd say "they have a right to secede, but the Union has a right to invade to end slavery". I would not impose an *obligation* to invade to end slavery as you seem to think this idea requires.

And you don't get to invade the seceding country unless it would be moral to shoot someone in self-defense for a smaller scale version of it. So you could invade to stop slavery, or large scale kidnapping, or rape, but you couldn't invade a state that secedes because they want to outlaw abortion or raise taxes.

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Or maybe "historical rights" are a bad category in a world with highly overlapping historical claims. Saudi Arabia has just as much claim to Israel as Italy and Turkey do, but we don't take any of their claims very seriously. Certainly less seriously than either the Jewish or local Arab claims.

I think marriage is a better guide than property. You don't *have* a nation, you're *part of* a nation. A nation is decided by its people, or at least in a direct sense its leaders, so changes to that nation should be too. Neither the French nor the Americans objected to the sale of Louisiana. Neither the Russians nor the Americans objected to the sale of Alaska. Israel giving up the Sinai and later Gaza and parts of the West Bank had very mixed popularity within Israel, but the majority approved. East and West Germany merged back into a single unified Germany. In all cases, the leaders found a mutually agreeable position. It's possible!

It follows from that starting point that invasion is obviously wrong because it's supported by at most the majority of one country, not both. Secession is also wrong, it would follow, because it's a minority opinion within one country.

The Middle East and Eastern Europe represent an interesting case study, in that their modern forms come in the wake of the fall of an empire. Eastern Europe was formed from the fall of the Soviet empire, and the Middle East from the fall of the Ottoman Empire. Both occasions were used as opportunities to restore previously-disenfranchised local groups. In Eastern Europe we got various post-Soviet nation like Ukraine, Poland, and East Germany. In the Middle East we got various post-Ottoman nations like the Arab states of Syria, Lebanon, Iraq, and Saudi Arabia, and the Jewish state of Israel. And this makes sense under the "mutual consent" framework, because when one of the parties just vanishes from the equation then you can focus exclusively on the party that had been smaller and less well served in the past.

The most obvious limitation of this approach is that it forecasts that opportunities to restore a people can be few and far between. It tells Native Americans in North America and the Irish in Britain and the balkanized Kurds that even if they want independence, and have a historical case, they have to wait around until the larger nation they're now part of falls, and hope it doesn't drag them down with them. If you swallow another country and just wait, eventually you sort of do have a claim, and would-be conquerors will always believe that audacity and time will favor them.

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Mar 30, 2022·edited Mar 30, 2022

The funniest one you forgot to ask is 'what about the Donbass?'

My view of this is that everything *currently* country-sized are a people, and separation of a smaller people from a bigger people requires the smaller people to win in some way. The bigger people can accede, or the smaller people can win a war, or the bigger people could get smacked by external factors that leave the smaller people in de facto independence for long enough. The latter happened twice, and I call that settled, in a way that the Donbass's ongoing independence struggle has not been. (Speaking of national utility, what use is it to subject the Ukrainians to rule that collapses all the time?)

This has almost no bearing on whether anyone can control Russia invading, or whether it's right from the Russian perspective to invade, except to clarify that it *is* an invasion. That Ukraine definitely won for about thirty years means that Russia is not continuing something or undoing something but *starting* something. All the propaganda is treating it like reconnecting with an estranged child; they do not seem to admit to themselves that they are taking a people who are currently nationally self-determining and taking it away from them. If they were to say 'yes, we're invading and conquering and all those other semantically-more-authoritarian things', there wouldn't be anything anyone can do about it, but I suspect it'd suddenly get a lot less popular support.

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The self-determination threshold is like the divorce threshold. When should you be separate? When the costs for being together are unfixably high.

And just like in divorce cases, the propagandists for each side can always point at cherry-picked reasons for why they should get the kids...

Secession is super costly, but sometimes union is genuinely worse. It's something you settle by particular facts in the case.

One more commonality with divorce: you can be a bad person/country and still much better than the other; you can be a good person/country and still be in the wrong.

Again, secession is always a loss on certain axes; it's just that sometimes continued union is a worse loss on other axes. No general theory will be adequate, because the better choice depends ineluctably on the particular facts.

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Personally, I think the answer to your question of “why not the confederacy?” is that governments derive their legitimacy from the consent of the governed, and obviously there is no consent in slavery.

Rather than a “moral duty to conquer any country doing sufficiently bad things”, I would propose that any country which enslaves without due process an entire group has no legitimacy, and thus opens the door for morally justified successions (e.g. West Virginia), liberations (e.g. the Union Army), or revolutions (e.g. slave uprisings). In the anarchy between states, such non-consent of the governed is the equivalent of taking your statehood out and putting it on the curb next to the used couch with a sign that says “free”. Nobody is obligated to take it, but sooner or later someone will (whether from within or without).

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Everyone gets self-determination except for birds, because they're not real. And racoons; they know what they did.

AI get self-determination when they ask for it really nicely.

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Scott writes "The position that most tempts me is “The Confederacy had every right to secede..." - wow, before long you might end up writing about why the War of Northern Aggression shouldn't have happened and slavery could have been effectively ended by a nationwide negotiated buyout/manumission, at 1/10th price of the war!

Beware, this road leads to being a libertarian and being condemned by all right-thinking people.

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Mar 30, 2022·edited Mar 30, 2022

"I can disagree with Russia’s decision to force the matter with an invasion, and I can excuse Ukraine for not worrying about it too much. But overall I think I’m stuck consistently applying the principle 'please let regions leave your country if you want'."

Regions don't want things. People want things. People in Crimea who wanted to leave Ukraine were already allowed to do so, no foreign invasion or separatist movement needed. If anything, the rights of actually-existing people -- as opposed to "regions" -- to exit would probably be more likely to get curtailed under Russian rule than Ukrainian.

My answer to your more general question is similar. A people or nation cannot have inalienable rights; only an individual person can have that. A nation-state is best thought of not as an entity with rights, but rather a sort of unofficial trade agreement: a government agrees to uphold justice and protect individuals within its territory, and in turn said individuals agree to obey the government and not make trouble for it. When an existing government refuses to offer justice and protection for particular groups among its inhabitants, then the contract may be considered void, giving members of those groups the moral right to deny their contractual duties by attempting secession if they wish. This justifies independence movements for Kurds living under Saddam Hussein and Kosovars under Milosevic, among others. But in the absence of such failures on the part of the government, attempts at secession are just unprovoked trouble-making, and hence illegitimate. So movements for Crimea to secede from Ukraine weren't legitimate, nor are Quebecois secession attempts here in Canada. The Confederate secession attempt's entire purpose was to *prevent* the government from upholding justice for certain inhabitants, so it was extra illegitimate.

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Palestinians have a right to their nation, free from Israel's military dictatorship which brings out a bit of terrorism from time to time.

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iirc the position on the Confederation that you've articulated was basically Lysander Spooner's position on it at around that time.

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A nation (or "a people") is a group of people who can act somewhat coherently as an agent over the long-term.

Regardless of form of government, this will usually require some way of reliably having, over the course of many generations, members that prioritize the group's interests and long-term future over themselves as individuals. (Even in non-democratic countries, leaders are eventually replaced by other leaders, who usually (ostensibly) share at least some broader set of goals. Replacement dictators come from the same population.)

This definition, when applied to the rules of allowing nations to have their own states, enables an international system where it is meaningful for sovereign states to be able to own property and take loans which will be repaid, make agreements and promises which outlast the lives of any individuals involved, and have interests which the state will consistently work towards. Quoting Trump (or his speechwriter, whatever): "[T]here can be no substitute for strong, sovereign, and independent nations — nations that are rooted in their histories and invested in their destinies; [...] and most important of all, nations that are home to patriots, to men and women who are willing to sacrifice for their countries, their fellow citizens, and for all that is best in the human spirit."

Now, a group having their own language or ethnicity or glorious history makes these things more likely. So does a self-reinforcing culture, a bunch of centuries of sunk costs, an unusual set of values, or a dramatic-sounding philosophy. However, the relevant thing here is the "national identity", that ability to act as a coherent long-lived group, however the group comes about it.

A group of 100 people on your street would not have that. Quebec probably would, but Western Quebec would not. I have no idea whether Texas would. (I'd guess not.) Catalonia probably would, but it's hard to tell with contemporary economic issues potentially influencing their votes. (A referendum is not always a valid indicator that a group is actually a nation.) Scotland, Wales, and Kurdistan probably would.

I believe this is, more or less, what is meant by "nations" in the idea of "All nations have the right of self-determination."

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what if one believes in following principles:

1. territorial conquest by force must be strongly disincentivized as it will involve violence, instability, potential descent into chaos and would open a can of worms of similar claims elsewhere,

2. west should punish russia not just because it cares about ukraine but so that future rulers anywhere who seek to conquer territory by force know that it will be super costly,

3. at the same time the bounds of punishment must be clearly defined. In particular, never destroy the state itself (as was done in Iraq). In current situation, regime change in russia should not be considered,

4. it should be perfectly acceptable to democratically fight for regional independence within existing nation states but states should be free to deal with violent insurgent groups

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You missed one obvious aspect of the 'right' to "declare yourself to be independent", namely some version of fairness. Otherwise as soon as oil gets discovered, the oil-rich province decides it would rather secede than share the loot. This was, of course, a large part of the background in Biafra and the Second Sudanese Civil War, and versions of this seem (as far as I can tell) to be relevant to other places, from East Timor to various Myanmar would-be independence movements.

This seems to be one of those weathervane causes, where people will spin from loving to hating it depending on the details you insert into the story. Should a leftist go with the self-determination argument, or with the sharing argument? Decisions, decisions.

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OTOH...

"Which is better---to be ruled by one tyrant three thousand miles away or by three thousand tyrants one mile away?"---Mather Byles

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Re. Slavic language/dialects - my understanding from folks more expert in linguistics than me is that the Slavic languages are a continuum from east to west such that any 2 neighboring dialects are mutually understandable, and the further apart 2 dialects are geographically the less mutually understandable they are. So Croatian and Russian would be the least mutually understandable.

Politics of course plays a role - there's a story that when the president of (then so-called) Macedonia visited the president of Bulgaria, the former insisted on using a translator and the latter insisted he didn't need one.

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Note that all of this is further complicated by the fact that the people and the land they're living on are distinct. Hypothetically, you could provide people with "self-determination" by allowing them to emigrate, without allowing them to secede. If you allow secession of any region by popular vote of the people currently living there, then a highly-populous country can steal your land by sending a bunch of people to live there and then vote to secede.

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Why didn't you discuss the Crimean Tartars?

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Feel like this post ignores a whole lot of international law both around statehood (eg four criteria for statehood under customary international law - http://eprints.lse.ac.uk/103132/) and self-determination (Wikipedia disagrees with you that “ International law makes no effort to answer this question [of what is a peoples]”)… And/or is trying to make a moral point using international law terminology? Either way feels a bit confused and certainly misses the biggest legal point that a cardinal rule under international law is that States aren’t allowed to invade other States (see above re what is a State).

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'I'm nervous asserting Crimea wants/wanted to join Russia'

I don't know about 'Crimea wanted to join Russia 2014'. It's the island around Sevastopol, Russia's major navy base, so the Russians were going to either claim it or just shoot any armed foreigners who got too close to their base. Then when the color revolution ethnically cleansed a bunch of Russians from the good jobs, maybe they had an overwhelming majority that loved Russia, maybe not.

But it's been eight years of everyone who hates Russia moving west and everyone who hates Ukraine moving east. The wank Putin view about this war is that Putin built better than he knew when he set the borders in 2014.

(No expert and disbelieved all news about Russia invading for most of the first day)

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you're a people if you have at least one good ethnic restaurant in new york city. Ukraine has several so it passes with flying colors

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I think this is more relevant when deciding whether to help someone get statehood in the first place (e.g. Kurds).

For Ukraine, it's moot: Ukraine was *already* recognized as a sovereign state (including by Russia), and international law doesn't let any state revoke any other state's sovereignty

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Having worked in law it would have never occurred to me to try to come up with a moral principle on this subject and I'm glad you made an attempt to do so.

I gotta tell you though - even when it's a domestic policy where we can just make the rules, this kind of argument is about 30% actual principle and about 70% something that sounds enough like principle that we can justify doing the thing we need to do while protecting the legitimacy of the system.

My whole brain's been poisoned by the experience because even now trying to come up with a moral principle on this my answer is "probably all people have a right to self determination but if we admit that we bind ourselves to action that would definitely make the world a worse place. So when articulating the principle it should be whatever is closest to a universal right to self determination that doesn't make a decision not to become overly committed to Taiwan or whatever into a moral failing."

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"Category error" is probably the correct way to think of a "right" to self-determination. Rights ultimately must have the backing of law to be worth anything*, and international law is, as mentioned, incredibly vague and unhelpful in this regard (not to mention the obvious fact that powerful actors can ignore it to a certain degree). Furthermore, as mentioned in many comments, the specific details of a particular secession and/or revolutionary movement are very important in determining whether or not the success of the endeavor is desirable. "People" is a fuzzy enough category that the statement "all peoples have the right to self-determination" is less than useless, given that international laws and customs are at best applied arbitrarily. Asserting this right grants undue benefits to more belligerent nationalities, to larger (population-wise) nationalities, and those that can call upon more powerful friends, irrespective of the justice of their particular cause. Furthermore, the privileging of nationality, over religion, ideology, and any other form of semi-arbitrary form of social organization, seems an anachronism of the 19th century (to say nothing of groups that blend various forms of identity).

I want Ukraine to be "successful" (a term that encompasses a range of potential outcomes) in their war with Russia not because the Ukrainians qua Ukrainians deserve "self-determination," but because the erosion of Russian military power and prestige is good for my desired vision of the future for the world generally and the United States specifically. A Chinese nationalist may wish the reverse for the same ostensible reasons, and this is fine. Ultimately, nationality is just one component of identity, and a historically fluid one at that. That people at some places and times are willing to die for it should not privilege it over greater moral considerations of correct action**.

*I bite the "human rights don't exist" bullet. That all humans should be treated with a degree of dignity, and possess safety and material comforts, are certainly worthy desiderata. If I had the power to make such a thing so, I would. But desires aren't the same thing as enforceable rights.

**For a variety of reasons, I do not think the Russian cause is "just," in addition to more amoral considerations of great power gains and losses. Regardless, morality is just another word for aesthetic sensibilities, and the Russian state aesthetic leaves much to be desired, relative to "the West," broadly defined in my view.

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You're making the mistake of Nationalists everywhere, by conflating a bunch of things that are in fact not tied together. Just because you can identity a people that hypothetically has the right to self determination, does not mean:

A) that the people have a territorial claim

B) that they can walk away with whatever chunk of the national infrastructure happens to be located on that territory

C) that they can walk away with whatever assets happen to be located on that territory

D) that they have the right to overrule anybody affected who is not one of the people

E) that they can demand the retention of the privileges of statehood even after independence

This is why, most of the time, the right to self determination is not in fact exercised, or is only exercised as part of a larger nation.

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EDIT: So apparently in my holy wrath, I overlooked the line saying that the long take is a reader's comment on Karlin's blog. Sorry for misattributing the thoughts. I am letting the rest of the comment stay as it is, as a memory of my sleep-deprived idiocy.

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Oh. My. God. From a Slavic (Czech) perspective, Karlin's take is terrifying. A person that knows absolute sh** about your history wants to dictate your future in the sake of what precisely? Satisfying their need for neat maps?

Scott, Karlin's idea is about as "refreshing" as some Chinese or Indonesian saying "the Western world should push all the Jews into ghettos again because they are so colorful when they live next to one another and the mixing with gentiles is a major source of annoyment anyway". Absolutely oblivious to the death, destruction and suffering that is connected with such concepts.

Russian and Serbian imperialism was/is very dysfunctional. In the league of empires, those two sit on the bottom of the ladder. Yugoslavia disintegrated in a spectacular geyser of blood for a reason, and people are willing to fight to death not to be reabsorbed into any kind of neo-Russian empire again. This includes Russian speakers from Kharkiv, Mariupol and Kherson.

And if Karlin cringes when writing Kyiv, I cringe when writing his name, because Praha-Karlín is the neighborhood where the Prague meetup was held, and every pavement brick there is still smarter than him, or at least has seen more history to be less judgmental.

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Your extreme examples have historical precedents.

"Does my street (population: ~100) have the right to declare independence from the USA?"

Freetown Christiania is an anarchist commune within the city limits of Copenhagen that has declared itself free since 1971. It has a population of about 1,000 and covers 19 acres, so it is larger than your street, but not by much. There has always been significant controversy between Christiania and the city of Copenhagen, and the city has gotten more effective at limiting Christiania's sovereignty since it started sending police in to arrest drug sellers in 2004.

"Suppose dozens of US cities declared independence. The result would be lots of isolated enclaves with tiny markets and no ability to defend themselves. Those cities might wish that there was some pact keeping them together."

This sounds a lot like the Free Imperial Cities of the Holy Roman Empire. They had no sovereign except the emperor and he didn't have much influence. The towns quickly realized that they did not have enough power on their own to keep from being bossed around by the neighboring lords, so they formed city leagues. The largest and strongest of these was the Hanseatic League, which monopolized trade in the Baltic and North Seas for hundreds of years. There was also the Lombard League, the Swabian League, the Lusatian League, and the Decapole. In the Early Modern Era, the city leagues faced increasing competition from centralized monarchies, were riven by the Protestant Reformation, and then mostly destroyed in the Thirty Years' War.

Lots of different groups of people have declared their right to self determination in lots of interesting different ways.

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You forgot to mention the Donbas, which is what started this whole mess in the first place. The eastern regions of Ukraine broke away (as they wanted to be a part of a Russian-oriented Ukraine, not a Western-oriented one) and the Ukrainian state started a war to prevent their secession. Russia then provided support to the separatist republics. Over 10,000 people have been killed since -- and this was *before* the recent invasion by Russia.

This is also not mentioning other minorities in Ukraine that have *not* been accepted as independent minorities. The Rusyns, for example, are recognized as a separate ethnic group by everyone in the region...except the Ukrainians.

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Rusyns

Ergo, if you're defending Ukraine because you think they represent the idea that people have the right to be self-determining, you're not paying close enough attention.

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Mar 30, 2022·edited Mar 30, 2022

My position on this question is that trying to have consistent principles on this issue is bad actually, and I will unapologetically evaluate self-determination issues on a case-by-case basis.

I disagree that letting whatever nontrivially-sized place secede is good, because states getting smaller and more numerous makes coordination problems on large scales worse (I'm aware there are plenty of arguments for the reverse, but I'm not going to expand on this issue for now). And a norm that every group gets a right to self-determination in the future if and only if they already have it now offers a lot of advantages in terms of stability; not redrawing borders at all can cut down on warfare. But neither of these heuristics seem like good reasons not to have taken away Serbia's ability to genocide Kosovar Albanians. Russia taking Crimea from Ukraine doesn't change how many different countries need to be involved in large-scale coordination challenges, and that particular operation didn't even involve any bloodshed, so you could make a case that that undercuts my argument that border changes are bad because war is bad. But this won't stop me from opposing Russia's annexation of Crimea, because Russia agreed not to do that without Ukraine's consent as part of an agreement for Ukraine to give up nuclear weapons, and undermining incentives for states to give up nuclear weapons is bad.

If you come up with a consistent principle, you'll inevitably encounter situations where it turned out your principle was missing something important. The actual principle I'm using here is "a group of people gets self-determination if and only if it is best for the world for them to get self-determination", but I'm not counting that as a real principle because it's too underspecified. Why should I adopt a different principle instead? It seems to me that if "what's best for the world" ends up conflicting with some more well-specified principle, I should go with what's best for the world.

One possible answer to this is that different people have different opinions about what's best for the world, and can end up in conflict over it, but if they can all agree to follow certain consistent principles instead, this can avoid conflict. I agree this is an issue (and isn't even the only source of conflict here; some people will simply have more provincial concerns than what's best for the world), but using consistent principles doesn't actually solve this, because there will be conflict over which principles to use. If you think self-determination is generally good, and I think too much self-determination creates too much coordination-problem headaches to be worth it, then "any at-least-city-sized group of people who want independence gets it" does not work as a compromise. I'd actually prefer just letting you choose every time, since then if there's some situation where letting some specific city declare independence ends up being obviously terrible, you might notice this and put a stop to it. Groups with conflicting interests can negotiate compromises without having clear abstract ethical principles behind their compromises, and that's okay. If the principles you come up with so that there doesn't need to be any conflict doesn't include anything like "... unless it's on this side of this arbitrary line, because we need to placate France", you're doing it wrong, and should probably stop trying to follow principles.

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Mar 30, 2022·edited Mar 30, 2022

The problem with Crimea is that it is so Russian due to brutal deportations and oppression.

See say https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Deportation_of_the_Crimean_Tatars

> Within three days, the NKVD used cattle trains to deport mostly women, children, the elderly, even Communists and members of the Red Army, to mostly the Uzbek SSR, several thousand kilometres away.

Though that opens another issue - how long such argument applies? Invading and murdering/deporting people and immediately declaring that due to self-determination your army owns land is an evil farce.

Demanding land that people you consider as your ancestors controlled 5000 years ago is silly.

Part of problem is that you have middle ground where one solution is evil and other silly, and both unworkable.

-------------------------------------------------------

Though I admit that for Ukraine at this point the Crimea may be better used for negotiating it away in exchange of something (but not just Russian promises! Russian promises are worthless).

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I'm curious why you didn't engage with the underlying theoretical question of where sovereignty derives from? Surely that's the first order principle. If sovereignty comes from elections or cultural unity or military force you end up with different answers. You seem like you're trying to derive case specific principles from second order reasoning rather than starting with first principles and generalizing.

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Mar 30, 2022·edited Mar 30, 2022

Not sure if someone has suggested this already. But nationhood might be best considered an inter-subjective reality.

That is to say that a nation exists if a group of people believe that they’re part of that nation. So Ukraine exists as a nation because 40 million people believe that they’re part of the Ukrainian nation. Same with the Swiss, the Dutch, and the Navajo.

But presumably the people on your street, or in your city don’t honestly believe in the nationhood of said street or city.

In this view, shared culture, language, religion, history are relevant to nationhood in that they persuade people to believe in the nation’s existence. But other factors like a system of government (I.e. Switzerland), the experience of fighting a war, or mere propaganda can create nationhood.

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I'm honestly surprised nobody has brought up sovereign citizens.

https://www.loweringthebar.net/?s=sovereign+citizen

I think the absence of a workable universal system of international law throws the whole issue back to a practical problem. A citizen can't enforce their sovereignty against a state that disagrees. You could always go Seasteading, but then you're just hoping to fall through the cracks in the system and again you have to be able to defend yourself from pirates. If you get big enough, or have a good relationship with enough big players that you can sustain sovereignty, congratulations, you're a country.

This fits edge cases like the US South not being able to sustain sovereignty. Its economic and other ties to the North meant that their bid at sovereignty was contested. They asked Britain and France to help out, and if they'd gotten that aid it's possible they would have succeeded. But without friends, they weren't strong enough on their own, so they don't get sovereignty. Israel has lots of friends, so they get sovereignty. South Sudan gets it, too, because they were able to support their sovereign bid against the parent country, and nobody else in the world cares enough to get involved one way or another.

It's more realpolitik than Big Guys Always Win. Is there an edge case where this framework doesn't work?

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Something you very briefly touch on, which I think deserves much more weight, is that changing a region's government comes with large and unavoidable risks. Replacing the government and attempting to build a new one frequently leads to civil war, terror, famine, and general immiseration of the populace. Because of this, a moral rule that says "Thou shalt not overthrow governments except when the benefits of doing so are clear and enormous" is easily justified on simple, utilitarian terms. People get confused looking for the definition of "a nation," "a people," and so on, when the only concept you need to understand 90% of these conflicts is "a government." If you want to know whether Texas should secede, don't ask if Texans are a "people." Just ask whether, In the event of a Texan secession, is it likely that the Texans would replace the US Federal Government with some governing institution so much better fitted to Texas' needs that it would cancel out the insane amounts of human suffering that achieving Texas secession would likely require.

An obvious consequence of this theory is that a revolution and secession is more justified when it is easier to carry out -- for instance, when the existing government is weak. Another consequence is that secession is more justifiable than revolution, since secession requires only overthrowing central authority, but revolution requires that plus building a new central authority.

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founding

Epistemic Status: feels sophomoric but trivially true. Seeking criticism.

It seems trivially obvious that attempts to scale up individual morality to international relations is a category error. States, much like companies, are not people. They are algorithms operating on meat hardware - social technology. These technologies are not moral entities in the sense that they are mostly an abstraction for a set of behaviors across a number of entities. Asking if a company is right to pursue profit is a mistake - companies by definition pursue profit.

Corollary: the correct question is whether a profit seeking entity is the most cost effective or politically feasible solution.

States pursue something like a monopoly on violence and a sort of operating system for individuals (regulation, welfare) over a given territory. They are established by people who live there. They are as moral as those people, no more no less.

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Re: Somebody’s going to ask “but what about the Confederacy?”

It's strange that you fail to apply a principle consistently immediately after a paragraph that contains the sentence "But it’s just the result of applying the same principle consistently.".

By that principle, the South has a right to secede, and the US government war wrong to treat this as a casus belli.

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One area that had to deal with exactly this 60 years ago is Africa. And I think its instructive to look at where things went well and wrong there.

Following decolonisation the borders for countries were dumb. I'm not talking about the straight lines as they're normally just through desert but I mean the separation of tribes and people's between countries. One solution would have been an orgy of war until the borders made sense, but the alternative is to just lump it and make the best of it.

Very early on the African Union and early heads of state/independence leaders realised how dangerous it was to "rationalise" borders. You saw something of this in between Somalia and Ethiopia. Somalia wanted the somalis in Ethiopia to be part of Somalia and it completely fucked up both countries fighting about it. So much like you're enlightened cities not secedeing event though they could, African leaders knew the horrors that would await them.

While I think self determination out of an empire is good because empires are bad. Just chopping up borders to make them make more sense is dumb. The catalans are dumb. The Scottish nationalists are dumb. The ranchers in Idaho that want to secede are dumb. Ukrainians, they're not dumb. Neither are the African Union. Lots of useful examples in African history for how to deal with these nationalist questions.

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It's the distinction between nations and states. In practice, states are mostly the UN club, which - like most franchise-based leagues - is highly reluctant to approve new members even when it really should. As to nations.... ACOUP has a post I really like on this, about the USA not being a nation:

https://acoup.blog/2021/07/02/collections-my-country-isnt-a-nation/

Nation-states are not the only form of state organization, even if you reject anarchism. Furthermore, I'd argue that they're a particularly bad form of state organization, because they lock people to a specific state - if the whole world is divided into mutually exclusive nation-states, immigration is forbidden. Much better to have states defined entirely by location, i.e. city-states (which usually do include the hinterland around a city, but the point is to have a single center everyone can agree on). And sometimes even better (and sometimes much worse, because ISIL also fits in this category) is defining a state by ideas. Harder, though. An idea-state is a gauntlet thrown, a challenge to the entire world.

The United States is the biggest example of this, among current states, built on a dream above all else. (I guess i.e. the Vatican also counts, but most of the other settler colonies are more defined by place - I wouldn't say Australia and Canada have fundamentally different founding ideologies to the USA, though maybe Australians and Canadians would disagree.) But of course there was another example not too long ago, a different dream. One even further from being lived up to than the American one, but even so - there's a lot of people in the rationalist space that fundamentally misunderstand this. The USSR was born of a utopian dream. It built itself around the core of that dream, it spilled oceans of blood for it, and when, in the end, its people stopped really believing in communism, when the only thing left in that furnace-core was trite slogans and memorized essays, it collapsed in upon itself.

We're short on utopian dreams nowadays. But this much of the American one, I certainly agree with - that it's the rights of individuals that matter, not of groups. States jealously guard their power, and so perhaps it's fine to grandfather existing nation-states in to avoid conflict; but in the Internet age, to *actually* care about nationalism, as a terminal value, is just fundamentally stupid.

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I don't think anywhere you've mentioned what I thought the real "rule" was, in international law:

By default, no one has the right to secede from their country. The only exception is when they've been persecuted by their country. In that exceptional case, they have the right to secede.

More broadly, I think that existing borders are sacred, unless something exceptional happens that necessitates changing them.

[EDIT] Just to add, this means that "national self-determination" is not a thing. In a democratic country like Ukraine, the right to secede has to be given by the central government. International law favours the status quo, and the status quo is that Ukraine is a country.

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Why not just the straightforward Hobbesian solution: the natural extent of the state is whatever extent the largest coordination problems extend, i.e. the entire world. Any smaller state would just be an excuse to treat individuals differently for the arbitrary reason of geography while failing to solve at least some big coordination problems. In this view, nations only exist because of the lack of a global order, and the morality of nationhood is just whatever pragmatic theory that in the long run leads to a unitary global democracy with the least amount of hickups along the way. So Ukraine is a proper nation because the expansion of western liberal democracy benefits from it being a proper nation.

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"What exactly makes the Ukraine a nation?"

Kicking the Russian Army that was trying to conquer Kiev back to Belarus this week?

It's rather like the question you used to hear from Zionists about what makes Palestine a nation. By now, the answer is pretty clear: three quarters of a century of struggle against Israel.

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As the writer Bruno Macaes points out, the current situation suggests a heuristic you haven’t mentioned: try and invade us, then find out how much of a nation we are.

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*Wakes up* sees 359 comment count after 6 hours*. Hot take: this just shows that self-determination is fundamentally confused and bad concept. We need different reasons why wars of aggression are bad, or perhaps different definition of the very concept of the "war of aggression", than that which is based on self-determination.

This does not strike me as an especially difficult problem, though. There does not seem to be anything wrong with well-established norm of international law that when a government of a given country sometimes in the past recognized some territory as a part of another country, future governments of recognizing country are not allowed to unilaterally claim that territory for themselves.

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As always we have some ethical intuitions and practical constraints on the possible solutions. Ethically every group should be able to self-determine - but that would not work in practice.

First of all it would not be practical to grant that to a group that cannot defend their sovereignty, because they would quickly lose it and generate a lot of misery in that process. That does not mean the group need to do that defending all by itself - it can have allies, etc, but it needs to be able to do that *in practice*. An important prerequisite is:

"a people is a nation if they are willing to fight for it"

The defense of sovereignty is a coordination problem - it only makes sense to fight if others would fight too. This is a https://www.lesswrong.com/tag/stag-hunt and a https://www.lesswrong.com/tag/common-knowledge problem. The self-referentiality of the common knowledge problem makes it very complex.

One heuristic people would use to answer the question if is it worth to fight is to look a their ancestors if their ancestors fought then maybe it is worth it:

"Consider Venice. When Napoleon came they surrendered without a shot. Very smart, saved lives, saved the city. It's just killed the mythos of Venice. People lived but the Republic died. It was never restored and is unlikely to be restored again" https://twitter.com/kamilkazani/status/1498079371847995392

"Theorists of war of the bygone age understood it. Clausewitz pointed out that it's important not only if you lost independence but *how* you lost it. If you submitted without a fight, you saved lives. But you killed your mythos. You'll be digested by the conqueror" [from the same thread]

The practical constraints change with technological progress, but common-knowledge also takes time to establish and it tends to accumulate the old. Initially states were smaller than nations and contained within them. Then they started to grow and become kind of independent, with empires and so on. Then in about XIX century the notion of a nation-state became popular - that simplifies the common-knowledge problem.

We also have all the complications of above-state organizations. I am not expert on the USA political system, but Texas actually is a state in some meaning of that word, but it is also a part of the USA. I think initially it was more a real state - but now the proper state is the whole USA. Then we have the EU, and the UN, etc.

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In this case Russia guaranteed Ukraine's sovereignty. Why genocide if being thrown around haphazardly for "except in self-defence ..." case.

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Budapest_Memorandum_on_Security_Assurances

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One problem with regions joining whatevrr country they want is that it might asymetrically favor opressive countries .

Opressive countries won't ever let a region leave by opressing spreading propaganda, oipressing people who look like thye might supoport leaving, falsifying referendum results. But it's feasible for them to get a region to join an opressive country. They just need to get the region to support joining them for a short while. Especialy if they can get awaya with invadinng then holding a referendum (where they can cheat).

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Kinda related:

1) I think we need more wild space in addition to Antarctica and international waters. De facto it exists in various empty regions, but de iure it does not, so it is impossible to have a true frontier any more. This makes it much more difficult to experiment with novel forms of governance. We should institute, by international law, some system where swathes of territory are "released" by countries every couple of years.

2) I would like to see a country experiment with having a max enforceable border length. Like if your circumference is 5000 km, and you only have 500 to spare, what would you prioritize? Probably we'd see the re-emergence of city states, which is a good thing. Note: in this arrangement, the laws of a country still apply to non bordered land, but you can't bar entry. You can control entry only for the places where you "applied" the border.

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Mar 30, 2022·edited Mar 30, 2022

>I like how it [...] avoids [...] hard-headed “the strong do what they will, the weak suffer what they must” realpolitik

And yet the answer to all the questions you ask could be just that: A People have a right to self-determination IF they can back it up. In fact your own answer to the question of the confederacy is "yeah sure they could secede, and we'd just kill'em then because we could and wanted to".

Also, beyond the morality-based questions of self-determination, and assuming one accept that people do, in fact, have a right to self-determination, and that a state should not prevent attempts at secession (at least some of them, such as referendums), there is one practical problem:

How often should a state allow such referendums to be held?

In 1998, the French government struck a deal with new-caledony independentists to plan 3 successive referendums for independance, each rejected (first 56% againt, then 53% against, and finally upon boycott by independentists, 96% against). Should it be the end of it? Surely the next generation of new-caledonians ought not be bound against their will by the votes of those that came before them? How often should such referendums be held? Every 20 years? Every 5 years? Every day until they have their way?

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Mar 30, 2022·edited Mar 30, 2022

The Union could probably have invaded the Confederacy under a norm called Responsibility to Protect (R2P), which the UN endorsed in 2005. States have an obligation to protect their people, and if they fail, other states should intervene (although the question is, which ones?)

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Responsibility_to_protect

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The Karlin comment is interesting in the way that I'd almost think almost the exact opposite - my heart says that large nations - say, the ones that have been Civilization civilizations - are generally evil and deserve to be broken up to smaller subunits. Romantically, I support separatism and the right of small countries to exist.

Still, that romantic notion is different from what is sensible. The part of history where "self-determination" was actually probably the most meaningful as a concept was decolonization. When the UN was formed, there were a lot of self-governing territories (ie. colonial powers, and others generally recognized as independent) and non-self-governing ones (chiefly colonies; defined territories where the administration was imposed from another defined separate territory) The UN took a fairly strong stand that the non-self-governing territories should become self-governing, and that's what they eventually became.

However, decolonization also shows another strong norm in post-WW2 international politics; established borders are sacrosant, and should, at the very least, not be altered through force. When colonies became independent, they did so as (mostly) the same colonial units that had been established by colonizing powers, usually with the same borders. Do those borders make sense? No, but trying to alter them by force to make "more" sense would lead to endless bloodbaths; thus, it is generally considered that even though, say, Ghana is basically just a collection of small ethnic groups that used to be the British colony of Gold Coast, formed for British for administrating economic exploitation, it's still better to just construct a "Ghanaian" identity for that former colonial unit than enter into a bound-to-be-chaotic process of ethnostate formation.

The same respect for established borders and units is the reason why the international community generally looks down upon separatism and unilateral declarations of independence. An area like Somaliland, despite having been de facto independent from Somalia for decades, is not recognized as independent by other countries, and is unlikely to be recognized. At the same time, countries *can* form if a sovereign nation decides to grant independence to a part of its territory. If Scotland had voted for independence, and assuming UK didn't get cold feet and granted that independence, other countries would not have had any issues in recognizing that independence - after UK had recognized it.

Considering this, there should be no issues at all in the policy the international community (or at least the West) has taken regarding Ukraine. Ukraine, her independence and her borders have been formally recognized by Russia - of course, Ukraine and Russia were separate units even in the Soviet Union, but Russia still formally accepted the continuity of the Soviet Union. This included Crimea and Donbass. Thus, Russia has no right to unilaterally change this arrangement, especially by force. Granting Russia that right would open a Pandora's box and increase international chaos. Whether the Crimeans actually supported, or currently support, that annexation is not all that important here - after all, the whole concept of sanctity of existing borders is heavily affected by things like German annexation of Sudetenland in 1938, and it's almost certain the vast majority of Sudetenlanders supported that annexation.

As always, there are caveats and hypocrisies. There are still non-self-governing territories like Palestine and Western Sahara, after all, and the West is not in a hurry in helping them becoming formally self-governing by, say, recognizing their independence. On the other hand, Western countries did recognize the unilateral declaration of independence by Kosovo - something Serbia has still not acceded to. Still, one has to ask whether those cases mean the principle is completely dead, or useless. Russia would certainly probably prefer to think that way, considering the amount of times they've referred to Kosovo - but principles like this are never that rigid, they just get weaker and weaker every time they get broken and that break is not properly challenged, and even if the independence of Kosovo has weakened the moral argument for this principle, it's no reason for Russia to attempt to weaken it even further.

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The right to self-determination can’t depend on ethical motives, because the ethical discussion is very slippery, to the point that it allows ethnical self-determination (on racial grounds) if a group believes it has been oppressed long or hard enough by any other group -- before you point to Europe or Asia, consider the US: does anyone think that racial self-determination really is the solution to any problem here, rather than just a solution in search of a problem? Utilitarian grounds is where the action is. If you compare the history of Europe and Eastern Asia (China plus adjacents), you can easily see the tremendous dynamism and political, artistic and scientific freedom that self-determination (in a nutshell: nationalism) brought to Europe, with scientists and thinkers escaping from one court to another to avoid the wrath of churches or rulers; China only really competed head to head with Europe when it was Europe: during the Warring States era. On purely utilitarian grounds, when it comes to the benefits derived by locals and everybody else, nations must be preferred to sluggish, inefficient empire-countries. Now, the question is how each case fits within this framework. I’d say the rule of thumb is whether secession will create a bigger problem than the one existing before. That was the case with the American South, that would have surely emerged as a deadly rival of the American North. Even ignoring slavery, which is a pretty big “if,” it’s pretty easy to argue that any benefits from the increased competitiveness would have been offset by the increased aggression, and the huge potential for wars, skirmishes, enemy blocs, etc. In Europe, many often compare the “velvet revolution” that led to the Czech Republic and Slovakia splitting in the 90s (possible because it was a clean cut with very few downside risks and lots of upside risks) with the Yugoslavian wars of the 90s, that left open wounds that will probably never close because there was no possible clean closure and, if there ever were was a such chance, foreign intervention spoiled it. In modern times, you can compare the possible benefits derived from an independent Scotland, cleanly free from the UK, and the Yugoslavian-Iberian scenario created by an independent Catalonia with territorial claims on multiple Spanish and French regions, Croat- and Serb-style. I’d argue that the Ukraine fits within the Catalonian/Yugoslavian/US South template. Yes, Russia is huge already, but an independent, anti-Russian Ukraine is a massive WW3 risk in waiting, and the Ukraine’s post-independence history is rather depressive and dysfunctional, so it’s not as if the world would be losing a really vibrant contributor. An utilitarian viewpoint would support the idea of the Ukraine, at the very least, as a Finlandized state. That worked pretty well for Finland, which did evolve from overly-friendly-to-Nazis state to high-tech human development hub, so I’ve never understood the argument against such a solution.

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This is a Why Do I Not Suck post.

>(is it meaningful that Crimea wanted to join Russia rather than become independent? I think no; if you agree they have a right to become independent, then they could become independent and then immediately join Russia; everyone agrees independent countries have the right to join other countries if they want)

Pedantic quibble: everyone agrees independent countries have the right to join other countries if *both* want. Relevant cases are the German Question (i.e. "is Austria allowed to join Germany") and the expulsion of Singapore from Malaysia. This is not pertinent to the Crimean question, though, as Russia is very happy to have the Crimea.

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Imagine your street (or another territory) gains independence, but the country that it gains independence from decides to not cooperate and cuts all ties. It doesn't issue entry visas to the citizens of the new state, doesn't sell electricity and doesn't provide other services. If your new country can survive this, then your independence movement is viable. If you would be completely screwed by this development, then you shouldn't pursue independence.

And yes, this does mean that some of the existing countries like Vatican or San Marino shouldn't have become independent states, and were grandfathered into the statehood.

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Crimea shouldn't be Ukraine's, and it shouldn't be Russia's! Before a few waves of ethnic cleansing my grand grand grandparents fleed from there and were among the lucky that survived. The Russian majority there is the result of ethnic engineering so they should go back to where their ancestors were and Crimea should be an independent Tatar state. IF instead of full independence they decide to be a semi independent Tatar state under Russia, or Ukraine, or any other nation then that can of course be.

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> If my neighborhood declared independence from the US, China could offer to make us all multi-millionaires in exchange for hosting a military base on our territory

I am a complete dummy in terms of geopolitics, so explain this to me. Why would China want to have a military base in the middle of the US? It would be a major pain in the ass to fund and maintain, being surrounded by US from all sides, and what would it have to gain? Surely it wouldn't invade the US from it or anything.

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Ukraine does have the questionable benefit, in that it is useful to the West as a graveyard-sponge for Russian armies. Questionable because that means many people die as a result of the war, which for sure is not a desirable outcome. But smashing out the teeth of the Russian army is probably a global public benefit.

That said, true Crimea should be divided between the Khanate, Genoa, and Theodoro!

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This whole post is wrong, because its frame (and by consequence all viewpoints contained within it) are wrong. Scott declares to proceed on the basis of a right to self-determination, but that application itself is arbitrary. Historically and internationally, self-determination can be applied only in specific circumstances. These are either when a place was colonised or appears-to-be-colonised-but-we-can't-say-because-it's-not-obvious-to-know (for e.g. Israel-Palestine).

There is a simple first-order answer to the question of territories, that is legality. Self-determination arises only after legality is a non-question (such as in colonised countries, where if colonisation was legal or not is a difficult question to answer given the times it took place in). To demonstrate, take India's argument for Kashmir against Pakistan. The Kashmir state signed an Instrument of Accession in 1947 with the Indian government, so now India considers it part of itself. No matter how much annexation of territory happens by another country, or self-determination is called for (by internal militias) (after a demographic change in Kashmir's case), there is no case for this application because legality solves all.

In Ukraine's case, we don't have to argue against the Russian 'we are basically the same peoples' argument. We don't even have to look at self-determination, because the case for the legal territory being Ukrainian has been well established since the post-Soviet times, as well as by Russian international commitment before they started backtracking.

Of course, this has an implication that this so-called 'legality' before self-determination is assumed to be well established. This is not the case, there are two main theories of statehood (Declarative and Constitutive/Montevideo) and many others. But that does not mean we are allowed to be lazy and say, 'Let's just ask what do the people want?'

PS. This might come off as somewhat anti-democratic -- which it is -- but here's the thing, it's because the circumstance of self-determination don't apply. If they did, the people's will would reign supreme.

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As far as I remember from school, Stalin saw the strategic importance of Crimea, and through a combination of the Holodomor, forced resettlement of the native Crimean Tatar population, and "incentives" for pro-Stalin Russians to settle there, he produced a situation where a majority of people on the peninsula today probably would vote to join Russia in a freely held referendum.

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There are similar issues even when limiting size or allowing any region. First: what counts as a region *wanting* self-determination? If we require unanimous agreement for everyone inside, then it's a non-starter. But if we allow 51%, you're setting up future strife when that minority can't secceed in turn due to being too small.

Secondly, this is massively complicated by the fact that you get different results depending on how you draw borders.

Ie. if a country has regions A, B and C and 90% of region C want to secede, as do 40% of region B, then can the joint region BC secede? 65% of the population want to, but if C seceded on its own, and you asked B if they want to join them, they'd say no. And why stop at regions? Your street might be too small, but how about region BC **plus** your street. Or however many streets in region A that they can take until the popularity drops below 51% (or better, a spiderweb border of areas with high natural resources and low populations to get the most bang for your buck). This would clearly be pretty unfair, but likewise if region A gets to decide the region that gets to vote, it could play the same tricks.

We could assume fixed regions and only allow those regions to secede as a whole, but what's the principle that dictates what counts as a "region"? What if those regions don't map well to the clusters wanting independence, such that there's a big area that'd fully justify self-determination, but because historical borders were drawn without consideration of that population group, it spans the borders of 4 regions, diluted below 50% due to the population there? Ultimately, we're back to the same kind of problem as identifying what a "people" is.

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I think the Crimea question is less interesting than the question of Donbass. With Crimea majority of people would indeed probably voted to associate with Russia rather than with Ukraine even before the annexation. But I'm much less certain about Donbass.

I think Donbass can be seen as an experiment of purposefull creation of new "people". Russia has likely incentivised the rebellion in it and provoked Ukrane to wage civil war in the region. This made people in the region to oppose Ukraine. Are they valid for self-determination now?

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Mar 30, 2022·edited Mar 30, 2022

I think this article does not put enough emphasis on the importance of status-quo maintenance.

I think the whole point of having “international laws” is to prevent wars which historically have been responsible for enormous amounts of death and suffering.

That doesn’t mean all attempts to change status quos are automatically wrong - but it does mean we should bias favoring the status quo when there is a gray area and changing the status quo requires war.

So Russia invading Ukraine is wrong.

But if Russia does invade Ukraine anyway and then 100 years later Ukraine tries to secede, they are also wrong for doing that. Unless they are given less rights than normal Russians for those 100 years or unless their culture/ethnicity/language etc diverges more from Russian.

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>> But what is the objective in Ukraine? It is to become just another gay western democracy.

Hey, a gay Western democracy where Russians who didn't like the similarities between Russia and Mordor could feel mostly at home was a really cool idea. I guess it's thoroughly shattered now :(

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My answer for the Confederacy is that the people living there did not want to secede. White men were the only people who got to vote so are the only people whose opinions were recorded in bulk, and they were divided on secession (about 60-40). We can safely assume that black people were much more robustly opposed (80-20 at the very least, likely more like 90-10), easily enough to shift the overall majority the other way (assuming that white women's opinions were similar to white men's; polling never shows the sort of 30-point gender gap that would be necessary for this not to be true).

My position is that self-determination is for any group capable of forming an independent state, but that changes to borders or independence should be done on the basis of the "settled will" of the people making that self-determination, so a narrow vote in a one-off referendum should not generally be adequate. If you can consistently win repeated votes narrowly, or you can win a one-off by a large margin and there isn't evidence (e.g. polling) to show that many people have changed their minds during the independence process, then that would be sufficient.

Self-determination, in my worldview, also applies to internal political boundaries. If California wants to split into two states, then that shouldn't be a matter for non-Californians, if part of Oregon wants to join Idaho, then that is a matter only for the people living in that part of Oregon and the people of Idaho (to decide whether to accept them) - the people of Portland do not have the right to insist that they stay in Oregon.

"Settled will" is partly a transaction-costs issue - if it's too easy to change borders, then people will do it all the time, and changing borders is expensive. The quote is from the Scottish Constitutional Convention (of 1994) and was on the idea that establishing a devolved parliament for Scotland was the settled will of the Scottish people; it gets used by both sides of the independence debate there, both unionists saying that a simple referendum won 51-49 would not represent a settled will for independence, and nationalists claiming that there is a settled will even though they lost a referendum 45-55 because they win elections (which certainly shows that the meaning is contested, but so would anything else be; at least it is a standard that both sides have agreed to measure themselves against).

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A good counterargument to the claim that Ukraine is not a proper country and should therefore be subsumed by Russia is the observation that as things stand Ukraine is actually better at being a country than Russia - in that it has a significantly better-functioning democracy (as per e.g. the Democracy Index).

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Re Crimea: I think we should never forget about people when talking about entities. If (let's say) 58% of Crimeans wanted it to be a part of Russia and 42% wanted it to be a part of Ukraine, there are still 42% who didn't get what they want. Do the desires of 58% outrank those of 42%?Sometimes, yes, other times, unclear. If 58% wanted to join ISIS, it would be a pretty clear "hell no". Russia is not ISIS but a number of activists were disappeared and murdered after the annexation of Crimea, and overall people certainly lost some rights compared to what they had in Ukraine, so it's maybe in the "unclear" territory. At least, unclear until Russia decided to force the issue.

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Just want to comment on " if you agree they have a right to become independent, then they could become independent and then immediately join Russia" - it is exactly the russian official position It says, that on March 17, 2014 Crimea declared independence and immediately asked Russia to become part of it. The same day Putin wrote an act, that recognized independent Crimea. Next day Russia wrote a treaty with Crimea to let their forces be moved on a peninsula. Then on March 21st, Russia accepted the annexation.

That of course was just a bureaucratic game (though some argue that there was a discussion in Russia about the course of action). But anyway the official Russian position is that Crimea became independent, was recognized by Russia as such, as an independent entity it wrote some treaties with Russia, including the request to join, that was approved in a timely manner.

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The idea that "nations" are pre-existing categories has proved very problematic in the real world. https://sharpenyouraxe.substack.com/p/nationalism-means-war?s=r

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Mar 30, 2022·edited Mar 30, 2022

It sounds like maybe you're reaching the conclusion that myths around nationhood and peoples are just arbitrary grab-bags of ideas that don't really hold water.

If we run with the idea that all groups, no matter how small, have the right to self determination, then all you need to do is make 'defensive weapons' (i.e. javelin missiles, anti-aircraft batteries, personal kevlar vests, firearms) as cheap as possible, and anyone invading anyone else would face the same kind of nightmare Russia faces in Ukraine, 10 times over. This is exactly what Confucius argued for thousands of years ago, and i think this is the right way way for things to be today.

If small countries get bullied, they will choose to join big countries for protection. If the big countries become run by arrogant assholes and start mandating all kinds of ridiculous things (totally hypothetical!) small groups can break off. Where is the problem in that? Without a right to secession, what reason to big countries have not to bully minority groups?

The right objection to "the south seceded" is, So what? they were going to get economically buried by the north eventually _anyhow_. The north could have opened their gates to runaway slaves, and pissed off northerners could go in there on vigilante raids. That might have been less destructive in the long term, as southerns would see Northern innovations like electricity and refrigeration, and then voluntarily come back to the fold, rather than being forced in, and then, surprise surprise, being all pissy about it.

You can't dominate people into dropping bad ideas. The world has been failing to learn this lesson for hundreds of years. When bad ideas are a problem, you need to let people just go off on their own, instead of trying to crush the bad ideas out of them. If america had declared war on the USSR the universities in the west would still be full of marxists claiming that communism would have worked if america had let it, that the gulags were made up, etc.

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Real Texans are the people who don’t want to secede, but want all of y’all to secede so that we can keep the American flag, national anthem, and pledge of allegiance. So I suppose we’re a people, though we’re being inundated by refugees from California.

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Mar 30, 2022·edited Mar 30, 2022

Two matters were left unaddressed.

If everyone in a group wants to secede, they should be able to. (Note that that includes a group of 1.) But 50%+1? Nah.

Imagine Navajo + 0.01% of the richest people seceding despite the 0.01% being against it. Or Alice, Bill Gates and Charlie seceding just to fuck with Bill legally. Or all men in US plus all women in the eastern 70% of states forming the Patriarchic States of Most of America.

What does make sense is using existing representation mechanisms. If Separatistan has its own parliament that can pass local laws according to the laws of Empiregrad, then the Separatistan's parliament can vote to secede from Empiregrad while keeping the legal structure and the material property they already have.

This brings up the second matter: splitting up the stuff.

The only way for a change to be unambiguously good is if everyone involved consents. When ownership is involved, especially land ownership, anyone on Earth can claim being involved.

I don't have a solution, but I believe it should be a combination of

1. Groups forming representations by voting to do so unanimously.

2. Anyone being allowed to leave at any time with everything they own as recognized by the group. This includes smaller groups seceding from larger groups through their representatives deciding to do so.

3. Conflicts over ownership where no consensus ever existed being resolved through realpolitik, possibly with additional international agreements.

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Mar 30, 2022·edited Mar 30, 2022

Putin consolidated power fighting separatists (like Palpatine, lol) in Chechnya. Ukraine didn't have similar problem at the time, it might be why Ukraine is more democratic than Russia now. If Ukraine repels invasion on her own, Ukraine will likely be less democratic as a result. This invasion might lead to erosion of democracy everywhere.

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Mar 30, 2022·edited Mar 30, 2022

>I can disagree with Russia’s decision to force the matter with an invasion

Well if Ukraine has a right to assert self-determination militarily against Russia, if Kosovo has the right to assert self determination military against Serbia etc then why can't Crimea/Donbass assert their own self determination militarily with the help of Russia? After all Crimea/Donbass have claimed themselves independent of Ukraine and in response to that Russia stepped in and defended their right to self-determination. So it seems like you're gong to have to accept that Russia implementing Crimea/Donbass' right to self-determination militarily is morally just if you'd like to be consistent.

The problem with neoliberal foreign policy and moral consistency is that they inevitably find themselves in opposition to one another. As you yourself see in this post.

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"My opinion is that I’m in favor of the right of self-determination for any region big enough that it’s not inherently ridiculous for them to be their own country."

So, no smaller than Monaco or San Marino? :p My parish is coastal and the motorway runs alongside it rather than through it, meaning we wouldn't be disrupting transport for the rest of Britain *too* much (the railway is another matter). Do we get the right of self-determination, since we could construct a port (really more of a marina) and trade with the rest of the world without needing to continually go through another country?

It wouldn't make sense for us to do so of course, not unless absolutely pushed; there's too many problems with not being part of a currency, customs, and free movement union with our massive neighbour. Which applies to someone declaring their house independent -- all they'd be doing is sentencing themselves to house arrest, since their neighbours have the right to bar them from walking on the street, what with them no longer being a citizen of the country the street belongs to.

The bigger issue is resources. Who gets them? Scotland claims the oil is theirs, but if they have the right to secede so do Orkney and Shetland, and a big big chunk of that oil would cease to be Scotlands. Otoh, this would incentivise the creation of lots of very small states atop vast piles of fuel and minerals, which would be a lot easier to strongarm into giving good deals, so the overall result would probably be the creation of a few thousand millionaires and cheaper commodities. Infrastructure though, that needs to be paid for... if the UK takes on debt to build a railway in Scotland and they leave, who's debt is it?

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“The Confederacy had every right to secede, because every region that wants to secede has that right - but immediately upon granting them independence, the Union should have invaded in order to stop the atrocity of slavery”

That one would be even more awkward given that there were still 4 slave states that remained loyal to the union. Absent the war there wouldn't have been the same impetus for the emancipation proclamation and rich landowners in those loyal states probably would still have had strong incentive to oppose change.

In that light it's hard to imagine the union invading a foreign country to end slavery... when the union still had slave states.

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>(is it meaningful that Crimea wanted to join Russia rather than become independent? I think no; if you agree they have a right to become independent, then they could become independent and then immediately join Russia; everyone agrees independent countries have the right to join other countries if they want)

Once you leave a loophole, everyone will use it. When a country wants to annex a bordering country's province, it'll happen through "self-determination followed by independence followed by joining". This is in fact what formally happened in Crimea; although the referendum called for joining Russia, following the referendum they declared independence, then asked to join Russia literally the next day.

I'll note here that at least for the Sevastopol part of the Crimean referendum (the city of Sevastopol in Crimea had separate governance and a separate referendum for historical reasons), it's ironclad that the referendum was a sham and the results were written in rather than counted. And anyone who understands the easy math point can verify that (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/2014_Crimean_status_referendum#Official_results):

Total registered voters: 306,258

Total votes 274,101: As percentage of registered voters: 89.500029%.

89.5% of 306,258 is 274,100.91

Yes votes: 262,041. As percentage of total voters: 95.60016%

95.6% of 274,101 is 262,040.556

It's probable that the all-Crimea results were falsified in the same way, just not so carelessly as by starting up with the desired percentage and calculating the number of votes.

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