By THÉRÈSE MARGOLIS
The first step in resolving any international territorial dispute is for both parties to acknowledge their involvement in the conflict, said Brenda Shaffer, coauthor of the Washington-based political research organization Foundation for Defense of Democracies’ (FDD) recent publication “Occupied Elsewhere” (dealing with protracted international conflicts and territorial disputes) and Georgetown University professor of foreign policy and international energy studies.
“Today, one of the most sinister ways that some countries are occupying others is through proxy regimes that they set up so that they can claim that they are not a party to the dispute,” Shaffer said during a conference on territorial occupations and unresolved conflicts organized on Thursday, March 5, by the private-sector Mexican Council of International Affairs (Comexi) think tank.
“All they have to do is create a flag and a name for their so-called state and then they can pretend that they are not involved in the dispute, even if they are sending troops and arms and sponsoring the occupation.”
Shaffer, who specializes in the South Caucasus and greater Caspian regions, went on to note that this is exactly what is happening in the case of Georgia (which is involved with an ongoing dispute with Russia over what Moscow refers to as the breakaway regions of South Ossetia and Abkhazia and what Tbilisi maintains is an occupied region of its national territory) and Azerbaijan (which has for the last three decade had a full 20 percent of its territory occupied by Armenian forces).
“What we are really talking about in these occupied territories is phony regimes,” she said.
“The fact is there is no such thing as a de facto state, and the world needs to recognize this fact, not just for political reasons, but for commercial reasons as well.”
Shaffer explained that if the occupants of pseudo states such the Republic of Abkhazia (recognized only by the Russian government and four other UN member states) and Transnistria (the still-in-political-limbo disputed territory of Moldovia) are allowed to exploit and export products from these regions under the banner of a fake nation, then they can get away with violating international regulations regarding country of origin rulings.
”Worse yet is the fact that these countries can avoid peace negotiations to resolve the conflict simply by saying that they have nothing to do with the matter,” Shaffer said.
“You cannot resolve an occupation if you deny it, and that is what they are doing.”
“You cannot resolve an occupation if you deny it.”
Shaffer said that the FDD currently recognizes nine unresolved international protracted conflicts and territorial disputes, including those of Cyprus, Crimea, Donbass, Kashmir, Israel and the Western Sahara, as well as the aforementioned cases of Azerbaijan, Georgia and Moldovia.
“Basically, since the end of World War II, the international community has accepted the concept of defined borders and national territorial integrity,” Shaffer said.
As a result, she said, those countries which have wanted to occupy another country have come up with creative mechanisms like the establishment of phony states to justify their actions and to diffuse global condemnation.
Consequently, for the most part, they have remained unopposed and unstopped in their territorial aggressions.
Shaffer also said that there is an inherent danger for all nations in the establishment of these phony states because they essentially become no man’s lands, without law and order, so organized criminals can exploit them as bases for human, drug and arms trafficking.
Still, she said, since most outside powers prefer to not shake the geopolitical boat of the current status quo, international mediation has rendered little or no resolution of the conflicts.
“The United Nations has no teeth,” Shaffer said bluntly. “And there really is no such thing as international law.”
There is an inherent danger for all nations in the establishment of these phony states because they essentially become no man’s lands, without law and order, so organized criminals can exploit them as bases for human, drug and arms trafficking.
So how can the countries victimized by outside occupation find justice within the framework of the current world order?
Shaffer said that one approach would be to address the issues on commercial terms.
She offered as an example the case of the recent European Union requirement that all wines produced in the Palestinian West Bank be labeled as from that disputed territory, rather than as a “Product of Israel.”
“If that is the case, how can Yerevan be selling products from the (occupied Azerbaijani territory of) Karabakh and labeling it as a product of Armenia?” she asked rhetorically.
“How can Yerevan be selling products from the (occupied Azerbaijani territory of) Karabakh and labeling it as a product of Armenia?”
“Countries like Georgia and Azerbaijan should take their cases to the International Court of Justice to demand equal treatment.”
Shaffer also pointed out that there is a great deal of bias and hypocrisy in how the EU applies its morality-based regulations, noting that in the case of the Western Sahara, Europe specifically exempted any exclusion of products from the contested region from being labeled as “Made in Morocco” because it depends of phosphorous and other minerals from that area or its industries.
At the end of the day, Shaffer said, it is business and commerce that drive global geopolitical decisions, not morality or ethics.
“There are no easy solutions to these conflicts and territorial disputes,” she said.
“Each case is different and each has its own unique history and nuances, but the countries in question can demand fair and balanced treatment from international organizations.”