The culture of forced annexation

Thucydides had opined that “the strong do what they can and the weak suffer what they must”

Khurram Minhas September 22, 2019
The writer is a PhD candidate at NUST and researcher at the Islamabad Policy Research Institute

Thucydides had opined that “the strong do what they can and the weak suffer what they must”. After two millennia of evolutionary thought process, the western concept of interstate cooperation with greater emphasis on liberal values had kept many in an illusion that in the 21st century, the strong will not do what they can and the weak will not suffer what they must. However, from February 27, 2014, till date, a series of forced annexations including Crimea, Kashmir and now the Jordan Valley have severely dented these liberal ideals.

On August 5, 2019, India abrogated the special status of occupied Jammu and Kashmir by undoing Article 370 and 35-A. Following his Indian counterpart, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has recently announced his intention that if elected, he will formalise Israeli de facto sovereignty of the Jordan Valley and the northern Dead Sea. According to official data, some 65,000 Palestinians and 11,000 Israeli settlers live in the area — mostly under Israeli military control. These two recent annexations have resemblance in their appearance, which demonstrates a similar mindset of the oppressors and similar consequences of such unilateral acts. These annexations will not only legalise settlements but will also help change the demographics of these respective regions.

Primarily, this culture of forced annexation was promoted due to a naive response of the international community to these unilateral decisions of regional powers. If the international community had taken considerable measures against the forced annexation of Crimea, it would have been able to stop forced annexations in the future. The aftershocks of the Crimean annexation are now visible as the degradation of international norms and weak central authority has proved that “might is right”. Trump’s recognition of Israeli sovereignty over Golan Heights has not only further damaged morality-based international politics in recent times but also encouraged other countries to forcefully annex disputed territories.

This culture will indisputably add insecurity in various disputed regions of the world. Many former British and French colonies have been locked into territorial disputes for decades. Their resolution through dialogue under the United Nations auspices was a universal established norm. However, it seems that a new norm of forced annexation will be practiced routinely to solve such disputes, which might encounter a wave of retaliation from disgruntled communities.

Japan’s annexation of Manchuria on September 18, 1931, and Germany’s annexation of Austria on March 12, 1938, had catastrophic effects not only for the respective regions but for the entire world. This is why annexation based on the illegal use of force was condemned in the Charter of the United Nations. Almost nine decades later, the same situation has once again emerged where the strong have been given a free hand to do what they can. It is evident that this culture will severely affect the political and legal architecture of the world. The norm of self-determination has been dying a slow death with a series of forced annexations, which would add resentment among the people of a region. It is believed that resentment among suppressed communities proved an effective tool for non-state actors to recruit members for violent activities. For instance, Daesh used the marginalization of Muslims as a tool to lure in youngsters from various parts of the world, which initially helped them gain their political objectives.

Recent history suggests that around 20% of wars were intentionally waged by states while the remainder erupted due to public despair and anger, the continued belligerence of stronger states and an environment conducive for war. The culture of forced annexation and a subsequently naive response of the international community is providing all such ingredients that have added public despair and anger in the respective annexed areas, while belligerence of the strong has created an enabling environment for war or a limited conflict.

Published in The Express Tribune, September 22nd, 2019.

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