Russia, Georgia, and International Law: Is South Ossetia a "State"?
Aug-9-08 02:50 pm
Photo-- Denis Sinyakov/Reuters
What does international law have to say about the Russian actions in South Ossetia? Check out Chris Borgen's outstanding legal analysis over at Opinio Juris. Chris notes:
South Ossetia and Abkhazia are secessionist enclaves. They are unrecognized by any other state and, as such, are considered to still be part of Georgia. More generally, international law treats secessionist conflicts as matters of domestic law and politics.This is excellent analysis. There is one factual question-- about which I cannot claim to have the answer-- is South Ossetia a de facto state? While it may not be recognized by other states (see bolded section in Chris's comments), if it truly is a de facto state, possessing the traditionally recognized attributes of statehood, then Georgian action would be illegal. Russia could come to the aid of South Ossetia in exercise of its right of collective self-defense under Article 51 of the United Nations Charter.
On the question of South Ossetia's status, I would note that my good friend and Georgetown colleague Charles King, an international-recognized expert on the region, has claimed for a number of years that South Ossetia enjoys de facto status. For example, in the March/April 2004 issue of Foreign Affairs, King explained:
Because of these disputes, the state known as "Georgia" has largely been a fiction of recent international diplomacy. Nearly 20 percent of the country's territory remains beyond the central government's control. Abkhazia and South Ossetia, for example, function as de facto independent countries, even though no one has recognized them. The presence of Russian soldiers -- in peacekeeping contingents authorized by the Georgians themselves and on bases left over from the Soviet era -- has discouraged Tbilisi from trying to retake the areas by force. And Adjaria, a province along the Black Sea, maintains an uneasy "autonomous" relationship with the Georgian center -- and hosts a Russian military base to underscore it. (emphasis added)In a subsequent post-script in Foreign Affairs in August 2004, King made reference to "South Ossetia, the region in north-central Georgia which has effectively existed as an independent state for more than a decade."
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Commentary and analysis at the intersection of international law and politics.
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