Expert: A new country can only be born at the expense of existing ones

Rene Värk
Rene Värk Source: ERR

All the territories in the world have been divided up and the harsh reality is that any new country can only come about at the expense of existing ones, expert of international law Rene Värk said on the "Välisilm" program when talking about Kurdish aspirations.

Legally speaking, do the Kurds have any chance of getting their own country?

There is always a chance. But countries are hard to come by, and the harsh reality is that there are not enough for everyone. Peoples that want one still appeal to Woodrow Wilson's right to self-determination that has been brought up time and again after World War II. But theory is one thing, while practice is something else entirely.

It seems right now that Syria, which of course belongs to Syria, has a lot of territories that are kind of vacant and ready for a local tribe to declare it wants a country there.

There are no free territories in the world today. All the land has been portioned out to existing countries. That is one side of the harsh reality that a country can only be born at the expense of others. Show me countries that want to see a part of their territory taken away and for a new one to be created there.

Countries can be born through the use of force.

There are very few examples of countries coming about nicely. South Sudan was one relatively good example from recent times. In most cases, countries are born violently. Let us recall if only our own country — we also had to wage a war of independence for two years.

While we're on the subject of territories being divided up, there are a lot of countries where borders have clearly been drawn wrong. Let us look at the position of Kurds in Iraq. And what is Iraq? Is there no option in international law to declare that borders have been drawn poorly, leaving different peoples in different countries? We have plenty of examples, and it is the basis of a lot of conflicts. Redrawing those borders would probably pacify many of them.

There are regions where borders have been shaped more naturally, like Europe for instance. But if we look at Africa, the Middle East, they were largely drawn arbitrarily by colonial powers. They met somewhere, with one side coming from the west and the other from the east, and drew a line there. Because these are often desert areas, borders were literally drawn on a map using a ruler. Could these borders be changed? Naturally, if the sides agree, but whether we can see genuine willingness to do so is another matter entirely.

I simply perceive a contradiction here in that there is such a thing as international law that is treating with unfair national borders.

The fact is that states are the central elements of international law. States create international law for themselves, and they wield it. It is inevitable that peoples, individuals — our chances of affecting all that are second-rate.

Looking at Turkey's actions, what does international law have to say about it?

The Turkish operation is problematic from the point of view of international law. The latter states that countries can use force in international relations on two occasions: for self-defense and when sanctioned by the UN Security Council. While Turkey has sent the Security Council a letter explaining its decision to use force, pointing to self-defense, the latter only applies in cases where a country comes under armed attack. Turkey does not use the term in its letter, pointing to the need to react to a terrorist threat instead. That is a rather vague claim and one very difficult to verify.

It is problematic because we are talking about a NATO ally? The Turkish president recently asked German Chancellor Angela Merkel over the phone whether Turkey is still in NATO or not. It is all becoming very vague.

Whether Turkey is a NATO member or not shouldn't affect their obligation to stick to the UN charter. When a country's obligations to the NATO charter clash with obligations arising from other international agreements, the former takes precedent. The UN charter bans use of force and includes the two aforementioned exceptions.

Turkey, therefore, has no serious arguments at present?

One argument Turkey points out and other countries have used before is that if a neighboring country really is a source of danger and is unable to or refuses to address the problem, it is necessary to go in there and solve that problem as a last resort. That is the paradigm Turkey is trying to use, but it is highly problematic. Many countries do not support it, many legal experts are against it because the interpretation is too open to misuse.

And there are countries in the world that pick up such dubious ventures and use them to justify their own actions, saying "they did it first."

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Editor: Marcus Turovski

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