Vladimir Putin’s Crimean land-grab was akin to a boulder dropped by a bear into the geopolitical pond. Though the ripples will spread for years, the one that travels farthest will have less to do with Ukraine’s immediate future and everything to do with norms, a cherished notion of the international relations intelligentsia.
Norms, the invisible backbone of the international system, determine what’s ‘right’ in the world. They explain why Washington wouldn’t bomb London over a dispute concerning cod fishing in the North Atlantic, despite America’s military might. It’s silly to imagine. Yet if the Cod War turned hot and an attack was launched, the silliness would be chipped away. Acts once considered crazy would seem less so, norms would change and the world would be different. Whether everything becomes more dangerous depends, of course, on the norm.
This is the fear with Crimea. Annexation with no consequence is Putin’s Pandora’s box, and small countries the world over should be concerned. And though the farce of Crimea’s annexation is hardly self-determination, there are other territories hoping to hoist another country’s flag up their pole.
Keen followers of The White House website would have seen yesterday a petition for Alaska to join Russia. It seems more than 10,000 Americans want to swap burgers for beef stroganov. There are rumours that Russian speakers in the Gaza Strip hope to follow suit with a Russian referendum of their own. And millions last week in Italy’s Veneto region reportedly voted for independence from their well-suited overlords in Rome.
Look also at Sardinia, that gorgeous sun-baked slice of paradise in the Mediterranean. I spent a week there in the summer, knowing nothing of the island’s simmering secessionism. It seems that a minority hopes to become Swiss. And despite that country’s immigration record of late, the 1,800km of coastline might just win them over.
As global norms change, we’re bound to see an increase in cases. A poll of Midori House yielded a few suggestions for the budding annexationist or the would-be secessionist. If Hong Kong needs a bit of breathing space, perhaps Wyoming would be of use? The nightlife in Paris could use a few more hours, so São Paulo should do just fine. And Finland could grab southern Spain for the sun. Just leave Long Island alone.
Daniel Giacopelli is a producer for Monocle 24.