Tag Archives: World War 2

Video of the Week: From Russia With Love – Poll Regarding Crimean Self-Determination

I’ve been wanting to write new articles about issues including shale gas, bitcoin and the foreign exchange rigging scandal. However, events in Ukraine keep making the headlines around the world and thus I’m inclined to cover them.

In my latest post, I had discussed how the Ukranian government had fallen and how Viktor Yanukovych was nowhere to be found. Following those events, something unexpected occurred. On February 28th, armed gunmen wearing unmarked uniforms took over military and government installation throughout Crimea, the autonomous peninsula region of Ukraine. For those of you not familiar with Crimea’s location, this map should help clear things up.

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There are some important facts about Crimea that are necessary to know before we continue. Despite being a territory of Ukraine, Crimea is an autonomous region. It has its own parliament and its own laws to some extent. In fact, it was a part of Russia until 1954 when Soviet leader Nikita Khrushchev decided to kindly hand it over to Ukraine. Sevastapol, which is a city on the southwest coast of Crimea houses Russia’s Black Sea fleet and is crucial for Russia’s naval presence in the Mediterranean Sea. Finally, and most importantly, as the map below shows, majority of Crimea’s population mainly consists of Russian speakers or trace their ethnic roots to Russia. All these factors combined make Crimea a significant piece in Russian-Ukrainian relations.

map_ukraineethnic

To continue, on the very same day that armed gunmen appeared all over Crimea, Yanukovych resurfaced in Russia, claiming to still be the legitimate president of Ukraine. Complications continued when on March 1st, the Russian parliament gave the military the right to invade Russia. Following the parliament’s decision, thousands of Russian troops crossed into Crimea on the pretense that they were mobilizing to defend Crimean citizens of Russian decent. Many Ukrainian military bases were surrounded and the Ukrainian reserves were put on alert. The newly formed temporary Ukrainian government and many western leaders saw Russia’s aggressive actions as a violation of Ukraine’s territorial integrity.

Western leaders were quick to announce their discontent of Russia’s actions. US president Barack Obama sent a message to Putin by stating that “there would be costs for any military intervention in Ukraine”. Other western leaders concurred with Obama and announced that they would instill heavy economic sanctions on Russia in order to punish Putin and his government. British Prime minister decisively affirmed his determination by sending a tweet.

Proposed sanctions currently include travel bans and asset freezes on influential Russians. However, US and European leaders also announced that if Russia continues to escalate its military presence in Crimea, they could consider cancelling certain trade agreements with the Russian government. Sanctions may have not been put into place yet but investors gave Russia a slight pinch over the weekend following the start of the crisis. On Monday, March 3rd, the Russian ruble tumbled in value and the Moscow Stock Exchange (MICEX) fell by 11.2%. As the graph below shows, the MICEX neared its lowest point in a year on the 3rd of March.

 russia stocks

All these events have finally led to this week’s Video of the Week. On March 6th, Crimea’s pro-Russian government decided that they will move to become a part of the Russian Federation. To confirm their decision with their citizens , the Crimean government decided to hold a referendum on the 16th of March. This decision by the Crimean government brought further negative reactions by Western leaders. President Obama stated that the proposed referendum would violate international laws.

If the West does in fact move to place trade sanctions on Russia, this will not only severely hurt Russia, but it will also strike at the European economy as well. As I had stated in my earlier posts, Europe nations import a significant amount of natural gas from Russia. If European nations were to end energy trade deals, then they would deal a major blow to their energy supplies as well. Without natural gas from Russia, the Europeans would have to turn to other sources such as increased imports from the Middle East or an increased investment into national energy production which would take years to develop. This is one of the reasons why some European nations such as Germany are reluctant to implement trade sanctions. The map below depicts the major natural gas pipelines from Russia to Europe.

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There are two issues on which I want to express my own opinion. The first is the premises of Russia’s military intervention. Putin’s justification to intervene in Crimea is to supposedly protect Russian speakers in Crimea. This notion is extremely similar to the excuse Adolf Hitler used to invade Sudetenland (modern day Czech Republic and Slovakia) in 1938 in the lead up to the start of World War II. Back then, Hitler demanded control over the Sudetenland to protect the oppressed German minority of the region. However, as we all know, he had much bigger and much more violent plans. More importantly, the West’s concession of Sudetenland didn’t quench Hitler’s lust for conquest. With that in mind, I don’t believe that a country can claim the responsibility to protect a group of citizens in another country that have ethnic or linguistic ties to it; at least not to the extent that they see the justification to rely on force. If Russia can invade Crimea to protect Russian speakers in Ukraine, whats to stop Mexico from invading the United States in order to protect the rights of Mexicans in America or to stop Turkey from invading Northern Iraq in order to protect the local ethnic Turks. In the modern globalized world,  the age of ethnically homogeneous countries are coming to an end. National populations are becoming more and more diverse with each passing year and with North Korea forming an odd exception, national identities are rarely forged from a single ethnicity or a single language. Thus, Russia’s decision to mobilize its military in order to protect Russian speaking Crimeans seems to be an excuse taken out of the 20th century’s playbook to me.

The second, and more important issue that I want to further discuss is Crimea’s right to self-determination, which is a fancy term for a region, or a country to determine its national identity or allegiance. The Crimean government announced that it wishes to be a part of Russia. But should it have the right to decide to which country it wants to belong to? I’m a fervent supporter of democratic rights and I know that Crimea is an autonomous region. However, Crimea is also still a part of Ukraine, and if Crimea is to join Russia or become independent, then all of Ukraine should have a say in the decision. Self determination seems rightful when you look at the issue from the side of those that are seeking it. However, not many may realize that in this case, if Crimea were to break away from Ukraine without the entire country’s consent, then Ukrainians would have their rights trampled on too. What sort of rights you may ask. The right to access, the right to utilize the public resources of that area and the right to do business are a few that come to my mind. Lets use the example of Catalonia, a region within Spain that also talks now and then about becoming an independent nation. The capital of Catalonia is Barcelona. Now imagine that I’m a Spaniard living in Madrid. As a Spanish citizen, I have the right to travel, live and move in Barcelona just like I would have those rights in Valencia. As a citizen of Spain, I should also have the right to utilize the resources of that region, whether it be public resources accumulated by the government or resources I might earn by setting up my own company there. If that region breaks off from Spain without the vote of all of the country’s citizens, then my rights would be violated. I’m sure that there are many regions within countries across the world where if a vote was held just in that region for secession, then it would pass. Catalonia, Quebec, the majority Kurdish populated regions of Turkey and Crimea are just a few that come into mind. Popular culture might make us symphatise with the struggle of these small regions. However, it is important to look at the issue on a national scale. That is why I’m against regional self determination without national consent.

Nevertheless, I’m an open minded person and I’m curious on what you might have to say about this issue. I’m sure that a lot of good arguments can be made in favor of self determination, such as the fact that many of the countries that exist today are a result of a struggle for self determination. Thus, for the first time, I’m creating a poll on my blog to see what you think. Should regions such as Crimea be able to secede or join another country or should it be up to the entire nation. I’m looking forward to hearing some interesting arguments that will challenge my opinions and perhaps sway me away from my current views.

Hopefully, the crisis in Ukraine comes to a peaceful end and I can write about other subjects. Until then, I’m looking forward to your views on my poll. As always, I’ll stay up to date on all matters regarding Ukraine. Stay tuned…

“The claims by President Putin and other Russians that they had to go into Crimea and maybe further into eastern Ukraine because they had to protect the Russian minorities, that is reminiscent of claims that were made back in the 1930s when Germany under the Nazis kept talking about how they had to protect German minorities in Poland and Czechoslovakia and elsewhere throughout Europe”
-Hillary Clinton

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The Pacific Theater – Chinese Show of Forces Displeases Japan and the United States

Welcome to the first post of the Pacific Theater, a new recurring segment regarding the geopolitical events currently unfolding between the nations of the Pacific region. I’ve decided to take a distinct look at this region for a couple of important reasons. Firstly, the 3 largest economies in the world: the US, China, and Japan; are all located in this region. Although many people might not consider America as a Pacific nation, its influence and power extends deeply into this corner of the globe. Even though all three nations have strong economic ties with one another, they each have different geopolitical ambitions. Secondly, ever since the debate regarding the Diaoyu/Senkaku Islands began between China and Japan over a year ago (which I will discuss soon), the tensions  between the countries in this region have been increasing at a gradual pace. Thus, it’ll be very interesting to see how events unfold in this part of the world. Before we get into the latest news however, let me give you a brief history lesson.

Relations between Pacific nations have always been uneasy and the history of the region has been riddled with tension and conflict; so much that it would put Brazilian soap operas to shame. To get a better understanding of the region, it is crucial to learn more about 3 significant historical events.

1) Japanese Incursions and Hostilities – Japan had been an empire from 1889 to 1945 when it was defeated in World War 2. As you can see from the map below, during World War 2, Japan invaded pretty much  all of the its east Asian neighbors. It was especially brutal in its invasion of China where just in Nanking, Japanese soldiers killed somewhere between 250,000 to 300,000 Chinese civilians. However, that was not Japan’s only show of hostility to its Pacific neighbors. In fact throughout its history, Japan had been at war with its neighbors, especially China and Korea, many times. I think you’re starting to see a pattern here. Japan is pretty much the Germany of the Pacific and most Pacific nations are still upset at all the havoc and destruction that Japan has caused in the past. The fact that some government approved history books in Japan don’t recognize their country’s actions during World War 2 and that the Japanese government has yet to properly apologize for those acts does not help their reputation at all. Thus, there is still unease between Japan and other Pacific nations that stem from the past.

The height of Imperial Japanese control during World War II

2) The Korean “War” – The Korean War was fought from 1950 to 1953 between the Communist nations of North Korea and China versus South Korea and the United Nations. The official war resulted in stalemate which led to the current borders of Korea. However, the two sides are still unofficially at war. North Korea is still a closed totalitarian dictatorship led by the ever handsome and charismatic Kim Jong-Un who promises every now and again to rain a fiery death upon South Korea and the United States.

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The only thing stopping a war between the two sides is the fact that the United States and South Korea are strong allies and the US has pledged to support South Korea against any possible force of hostility by North Korea. However, North Korea’s only ally and trading partner in the region is China, creating an even additional layer of awkwardness in the Pacific.

3) Chinese Claim on Taiwan – The Chinese Civil War was fought from 1927 to 1950 between the Communists and the Nationalists. The war resulted in a victory for the Communists when the Nationalists where driven out of mainland China to the island of Taiwan in 1950. Since then Taiwan has become its own nation. However, it is still not recognized by China and many other nations. Both countries in fact claim to be the actual China. The (mainland) Chinese have always had their eyes set on retaking Taiwan by force. However, just like in Korea, because Taiwan is a liberalized democracy, it is an ally of the United States. Thus, any war against Taiwan would also drag the United States into it as well. Now you might get a better sense of why I believe that the United States is one of the crucial Pacific nations. No major event or war can take place in the region without the United States’ involvement.

Recent Events

There is an island chain located between China, Japan and Taiwan called Senkaku in Japanese and Diaoyu in Chinese.  Even though the islands were first discovered by the Japanese, throughout the history, these islands have been continuously disputed between China and Japan. The area surrounding the islands is rich in fishing areas and possibly oil. Up until recently, the islands had a private owner. However, on April 2012, Tokyo governor Shintaro Ishihara announced that he would use public funds to buy the islands. Of course the Chinese were outraged and a nationalist anti-Japanese sentiment started to develop within China. Some Chinese nationalists even called on a boycott of Japanese goods and tried to slander Japanese products. The Chinese government saw this as a provocation and set out to undermine Japan’s control of the islands through incursions of surveillance vessels and patrol aircraft; to which Japan responded by scrambling fighter jets. Recently an unmanned Chinese drone flew over the islands. When Japan threatened to shoot down the next one, a Chinese general said that would be an act of war.

I told you this was just like a Brazilian soap opera.

map-locating-disputed-south

Fast forward to November 23rd of 2013, when, in effort to retaliate against the Japanese and further increase its military influence on the global stage, China declared a large portion of the East China Sea to be part of its “Air Defence Identification Zone” (ADIZ). According to Chinese officials, all aircraft that intend to enter the zone must file flight plans with the Chinese authorities and maintain communications with Chinese controllers or face “defensive emergency measures”. The map below displays the area that China claims as its ADIZ.

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As you can see, the AIDZ clearly includes the disputed Senkaku/Diaoyu islands. The area also runs awfully close to Taiwanese and South Korean territories, causing these two nations to be spooked as well.

In an act of defiance, just 3 days after the Chinese introduced the ADIZ, the United States flew two B-52 bombers over the Senkaku/Diaoyu islands within the ADIZ. Suddenly, the United States had entered into the fray to protect the freedom of movement and to curb Chinese ambitions. Then, earlier in December, US Vice President Joe Biden traveled to China to meet with Chinese President Xi Jinping and told him that the United States does not recognize the Chinese ADIZ. However, the Chinese did not seem to budge. On a side note, it is so assuring to know that the negotiations to defuse tensions among the world’s most powerful nations are being handled by a man renowned for his gaffes. If you have 5-6 minutes to kill for a good laugh, enjoy Biden’s gaffe reel.

Response to the ADIZ by other Pacific nations have also been in a militaristic manner. On December 8th, to respond  to the Chinese ADIZ, South Korea declared its own ADIZ. Just like the Chinese ADIZ covers disputed territories with Japan, the South Korean ADIZ covered disputed territories with China. Similarly, Japan announced this Tuesday that it would invest 24.7 trillion yen ($240 billion) over the next 5 years on purchases of stealth fighters, submarines and drones. Japan’s military has been pacifistic and almost non-existent since World War 2. However, recently elected hawkish Prime Minister Shinzo Abe has stated that he wants to normalize the military of Japan. In recent years, China’s increase in defense spending has been in double digits, and as China starts throwing its weight around both economically and militarily, it won’t be a surprise to see neighboring countries strengthen their military and territorial claims as well.

On the positive side, most of these nations are crucial trading partners. So any type of direct military conflict would hurt everyone involved. Thus, the chance of an actual war is quite slim. Nevertheless, it will be very interesting to see the next step in the chess match between these Pacific powers. Stay tuned for more.

“The vast Pacific Ocean has ample space for China and the United States. We welcome a constructive role by the United States in promoting peace, stability and prosperity in the region. We also hope that the United States will fully respect and accommodate the major interests and legitimate concerns of Asia-Pacific countries.”
-Xi Jinping