A headline you will never see:

“Taiwan recognizes the Republics of Lugansk and Donetsk, pledging support of Russia’s commitment to defend the newly independent republics.”

SECTION 1

The missing solidarity

This imaginary headline above is jarring to anyone who has followed news coming out of the US hegemonic sphere in recent months because it is obviously absurd. Taiwan independence is currently gaining more support than ever from the United States, and Taiwan has for decades been an important part of the high-tech supply chain and a purchaser of US weapons. Yet from the perspective of universal justice, a sincere commitment to the ideals of independence should force Taiwan to express solidarity with all peoples in similar struggles.

Because of the difficulty in distinguishing them, herein I refer to types of “national” struggle interchangeably, whether they refer to themselves as independence movements, civil wars, separatism, claims for lost territory, self-determination, liberation, de-occupation, or nationalist. In the case of Taiwan, for example, the problem there has been variously framed as an independence movement, an unresolved civil war over which side is the rightful ruler of all of China,  or an evolving self-determination of a new state made up of the aboriginal peoples and ethnic Chinese who came from elsewhere long ago.

In any case, solidarity with other struggles is utterly lacking and impossible for Taiwan and many independence movements. They focus on realism and the pursuit of their own interests, and that means building alliances and networks of support with states that are powerful enough to help them. Just as “no man is an island,” neither is any state an island, so independence struggles usually ignore any separatist cause that that is in conflict with their chosen allies.

Japan, for example, wants Russia to return the Kuril Islands (what Japan calls its Northern Territories), which are Russian territory according to treaties Japan signed after WWII. Regardless of these treaties, Japan still resents the loss of land once colonized by Japan. In that process, Japan paid no attention to the sovereignty of the Ainu, the aboriginal people already living there. Furthermore, Japan cares nothing about the democratic will of the people of the Japanese prefecture of Okinawa (annexed by Japan in 1879) to have US military bases removed from their land. In negotiations Putin once said to Japanese Prime Minister Abe (I paraphrase), “Suppose we could work out some arrangement in your favor. The next day, the US might say it wants to put military bases on those islands. You couldn’t say no, and this makes me wonder if you have true sovereignty, and if you don’t, it’s not you we should be negotiating with.”

This example, like many others I could cite, illustrates that there is seldom any solidarity or commitment to principles of justice among separatist movements or nations’ claims for territory. There is in most cases only political realism—the desire to put aside ideals and justice and focus on whatever relations can help the separatist or national cause. According to the Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy, “The negative side of the realists’ emphasis on power and self-interest is often their skepticism regarding the relevance of ethical norms to relations among states.”[1] This is abundantly clear in many cases, and it is often what drains away sympathy for separatism and nationalism.

For example, eventually, world opinion will change as people begin to understand Ukrainian history and the sordid reasons that its nationalist aspirations were used by NATO to exploit its resources and to provoke Russia. The nationalist mythology, created during the collapse of the Austro-Hungarian and Ottoman Empires and the rise of Bolshevism, and after centuries of Polish domination, is taken seriously only in the western region of the country. It glorifies Nazi collaborators and mass murderers as heroes, and as a result it is not, to say the least, enough to inspire the hearts and minds of the world for very long.[2] There is just no romance in the story arc of soccer hooligans who grew up to join the Azov Battalion. There is no uplift, no utopian vision—in the best sense of the word that just means the opposite of cynical realism—to build something better that has not existed before. Nation-building has to be based on much more than just the stunted mindset of resentment and hatred of “the other.”

Even when a people achieve the status of a sovereign recognized nation with a seat at the United Nations, their sovereignty can be undermined by economic and military alliances they have had to join—the acceptance of US military bases (Status of Forces Agreements), the IMF-imposed economic restructuring, foreign debt, the sale of national assets to foreign corporations, the loss of their right to set standards for labor and environmental protection. This happened to all the Warsaw Bloc countries and former republics of the USSR and Yugoslavia. After their initial high hopes of gaining “Western affluence and freedom,” actual experience forced the victims to ask what the point was of pursuing sovereignty and democracy if they don’t exist in any substantial way and social security evaporates.[3] 

It is well known that struggles for self-determination and independence are messy, sordid affairs that are rife with contradictions and hypocrisies that carry within them the potential for destabilization, war, and genocide. The former minority group becomes the new oppressor of smaller minorities within the new nation. People may realize that the new nation has no real sovereignty and their living standards have declined. Nonetheless, those who govern the world and lead discussion of such matters as Taiwan independence, for example, still present the issue of independence as if it were a simple matter of advancing “freedom and democracy” and countering “tyranny” or “authoritarianism.” None of the complexity of history or the potential for worsening material conditions is acknowledged.

The right to self-determination is upheld by the UN Charter, but in reality, very few nations have been able to determine themselves unless they were allowed to by the US and unless they agreed to take up a subordinate role in “the rules-based order.” Independence struggles that are not recognized or needed by the US make no progress. At best they might achieve the status of “unrecognized breakaway state,” as South Ossetia did with Russian support when it resisted Georgian aggression in 2008. The “international community” could not admit Russia’s influence there by recognizing South Ossetia, so it remains as an “unrecognized breakaway state” because it has simply not been recognized by the right people. In other instances, recalcitrant states become perpetual irritants to the empire, forced to live under economic warfare (sanctions) and the threat of internal interference and overthrow.

The USSR and Yugoslavia

In contrast to the “unrecognized” states, consider the newly independent states that have been recognized instantly, with very little consideration for the chaos, economic decline, human rights abuses, and civil wars that would come from the disappearance of the larger state that held them together peacefully in a federation. In spite of the Helsinki Agreements of 1975 which committed Europe and the Soviet Union to maintain borders as they were, the US, the UK, France, and Germany acted quickly in the 1980s to accelerate the breakup the Soviet Union and Yugoslavia. Germany was thrilled to resuscitate an independent Croatia, its WWII fascist ally, welcoming leaders who were ideologically aligned with and proud of Croatia’s fascist past.[4]

It is “common wisdom” that the USSR and Yugoslavia broke up because of their own inevitable weaknesses and historical ethnic rivalries, but few ever ask the question of what might have been, and what bloodshed might have been avoided, if the “responsible” nations of the West had upheld the principles of the Helsinki Accords, refrained from internal interference, and stubbornly refused to support or to recognize Croatia, Serbia, Bosnia, Belarus, Ukraine and Russia, and many others. No recognition, no state, no foreign aid, no loans, no seat at the UN. Leave well enough alone and go back and work something out with the federation that you belong to.

Regardless of whatever legitimate yearnings there were for independence in various regions of the USSR, the international community could have given them the same neglect they give to Catalonia. Perhaps some Europeans sympathize with Catalonians, but no separatist longings in the heart of Europe will be tolerated by the NATO-EU bloc. What would Catalonia gain in any case when all the nations of Europe have lost so much sovereignty to the Euro, the EU and NATO? What is the point when national sovereignty is in decline everywhere?

In the case of the USSR, the major powers at the UN could have declared that the only agreement that mattered was the referendum of March 1991 that endorsed the proposed New Union Treaty organized by Gorbachev. Boris Yeltsin could have been told by the international community that his secret deal with Ukraine and Belarus to terminate the USSSR—the Belovezh Accords—was a dangerous, undemocratic, and illegal conspiracy to undermine the New Union Treaty and its popular endorsement by referendum.

Gorbachev, in addition to describing Yeltsin as his worst backstabbing enemy, wrote the following about his treachery in Belovezh:

The fate of the multinational state cannot be determined by the will of the leaders of three republics [Belarus, Ukraine, and Russia]. The question should be decided only by constitutional means with the participation of all sovereign states [the fifteen republics of the USSR] and taking into account the will of all their citizens. The statement that Unionwide legal norms would cease to be in effect is also illegal and dangerous; it can only worsen the chaos and anarchy in society. The hastiness with which the document appeared is also of serious concern. It was not discussed by the populations nor by the Supreme Soviets of the republics in whose name it was signed. Even worse, it appeared at the moment when the draft treaty for a Union of Sovereign States, drafted by the USSR State Council, was being discussed by the parliaments of the republics.[5]

From right to left, the leaders of Russia, Ukraine, and Belarus signing the
Belovezh Accords, December 1991 (Boris Yeltsin, Leonid Kravchuk, Stanislav Shushkevich)

Gorbachev’s assessment of Belovezh reveals why Putin was absolutely correct when he said in February 2022 that Ukrainian independence had been recognized too quickly and too carelessly. Unlike France or Germany, for example, it had no history as sovereign state with fixed borders and a national identity. It had been put together as a part of the Soviet Union, with no expectation at the time that it would ever have to function as a sovereign nation with the given geographical boundaries and ethnic composition. The ethnic identities and loyalties of the people in various regions should have been dealt with before the borders were finalized. The logical outcome of that process would have been Odessa, Crimea, and the eastern regions joining Russia, and this is exactly the transformation that is taking place through other less favorable means. It is unlikely that Russia will ever stop its support of the new republics in Donbass or surrender the territory it has gained where it has support of the local population. Anyone who is hoping that Russia will lose and leave these regions should know that within Ukraine there are elements that would engage in massive acts of retribution against the populations that welcomed the arrival of Russian forces. The “international community” seems to be woefully unaware of the need to prepare some way to stop such a genocide from occurring, if indeed they care at all about preventing atrocities against Russians.

Balkanization reloaded

There is obvious hypocrisy now on display (in 2022) in NATO’s non-support of the separatist aspirations of Lugansk and Donetsk while it lends support to Ukraine, Taiwan, Hong Kong and any separatist movement that weakens China or Russia.

What should be at issue, if we care about principles and international law, is Ukraine’s failure to uphold the Minsk Agreements, the unconstitutional overthrow of the Ukrainian government in 2014 (supported by various US agencies), and that illegitimate government’s declared genocidal policies toward ethnic Russians. The failure of a state to protect its minority populations, or a stated intent to commit crimes against it, is supposed to be enough to de-legitimize that government and provoke an intervention by the United Nations. Genocidal policy is exactly what President Poroshenko announced in 2014,[6] but the “international community” was silent, even though the rationale of the “right to protect” and humanitarian intervention were used to justify aggression against Serbia and other nations attacked by the US in recent decades. There was also the supposed “never again” promise after Rwanda in 1994, even though atrocities continued in Congo for many years while the “international community” stopped paying attention.[7]

Russia invoked the right to protect in 2022, but no one acknowledged Russia’s reasoning. Citing Chapter VII, article 51 of the UN Charter, Russia took action to defend a civilian population until such time as the United Nations could act to defend them. In the West, few know about this, and fewer care even if they might have heard about it. The obedient citizenry has been whipped into a hypnotic singular focus on one of many conflicts in the world—one of the least deserving of their sympathy.

If this discussion of separatism and nationalism is too brief, the contradictions and hypocrisies of most separatist causes become evident upon consideration of a list of many struggles that exist and how they intersect with a large glossary of terms one must contend with to discuss war, international relations, or any separatist or nationalist movements which are, in most cases, just cover for the empire’s plans to balkanize and bring new small nations into its fold. It becomes a monumental task to sort out which causes might be worthy of sympathy and support, and which others are shit-disturbing destabilization projects, provocations, opportunism, or outright aggression and land grabs. As the saying goes, there are a lot of moving parts here, “a lot of ins, a lot of outs,” to borrow a phrase in The Big Lebowski that described its complex plot.

These lists of case studies (not exhaustive) and terminology appear in Section 2, after which this essay continues in Section 3.

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SECTION 2

Places with a history of independence struggles, some resolved, most ongoing

Aceh, Armenia, Catalonia, Chechnya, Crimea, Cuba and The Philippines in the 1898-1913 war of independence from Spain, followed by a war with the US, its “liberator” in that war, Cyprus/Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus, Donbass (Lugansk and Donetsk), East Timor, every decolonized nation, every First Nation and aboriginal group in the Americas and Australia, French Polynesia (semi-autonomous French overseas nation—“pays d’outre-mer”), Ireland, Islamic separatists in Thailand, Jammu and Kashmir, Kosovo, Kurdish minorities in Turkey, Iraq, and Syria, the Maori in New Zealand, Marshall Islands, Nuevomexicanos (in the southwest US), Palestine, Quebec, Rohingya in Myanmar, Scotland, South Ossetia, Taiwan, The Hawaiian Kingdom, The Ryukyu Kingdom (Okinawa), Tibet, Transnistria, United States (from Britain), Xinjiang, West Papua…

Terminology

Independence, self-determination, sovereignty, occupation, splittism, revanchism, irredentism, balkanization, paying of tribute, de facto, de jure, recognition, sovereignty, nationalism, tribalism, ethnic states, religious states, rump states, reservations, enclaves, exclaves, semi-exclaves, “unrecognized” breakaway states, provisional governments (acting governments in exile or in states under occupation), client states, vassal states, international law, “rules-based” order, alliances, non-aggression pacts, status of forces agreements, protectorates, blocs, empires, federations, annexations, occupations, terrorist separatist groups, partisans, insurgents, counter-insurgents, reactionaries, humanitarian interventions, sanctions and economic warfare (“make the economy scream”), activist refugee groups (“weaponized immigrants”—activist diasporas, White Russians, Zionists, Tutsis, Banderites, “rightful” rulers waiting in exile to return to power), fascism—the merger of state and corporate power in an infantile masquerade that imitates authentic struggles for national liberation.

Supra-national economic and political collectives

Economic blocs, common currency zones, autonomous regions, defensive and offensive alliances, spheres of influence, empires, commonwealths, first nations and aboriginal peoples uniting in common cause

Examples of supra-national economic and political collectives

United Nations, NATO, Nation of Islam (Black nationalism within the US), Eurozone (shared currency), Bretton Woods Agreement (1944), European Union, ASEAN, G7, G20, Organization of American States, African Union, First, the Second and the Third World, Mercado Común del Sur (MERCOSUR), Non-Aligned Movement, the American Indian Movement (AIM), the global trading system based on the Petro-Dollar (US dollar as the global reserve currency).

Political actions, concepts, movements, and organizations that interact with separatist and nationalist causes

Realpolitik, geopolitics, demagoguery, foreign interference, soft coups, hard coups, legislative coups, revolution, insurgency, counter-insurgency, civil war, secession, internationalism, globalization, colonialism, decolonization, neocolonialism, Third World solidarity, the Non-Aligned Movement, the Jakarta Method (the global anti-communist witch-hunt)—the 20th century iteration of The Inquisition (1184-1808), the War on Terror, the National Endowment for Democracy, USAID, Voice of America, the CIA.

Global organizations of influence, state and non-state actors

National Endowment for Democracy, USAID, Voice of America, CIA, International Monetary Fund (IMF), World Bank, World Economic Forum (WEF), Trilateral Commission, Council on Foreign Relations (CFR), Atlantic Council, the annual Bilderberg Meeting, Rockefeller Foundation, Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation…

Treaties and Laws that Created the World Order

Doctrine of Discovery (15th century), Treaty of Westphalia (1648), Congress of Vienna (1814-15), League of Nations (1919), Kellogg-Briand Pact (1928),[8] the conferences at which the USSR, the US and the UK decided the borders and spheres of influence of the post-war world—Casablanca (January 1943), Cairo (November 1943), Tehran (December 1943), Quebec (September 1944), Yalta (February 1945), Potsdam (July 1945)—United Nations Charter (1945), Helsinki Accords (1975, commitment to principles, not ratified), Nuremberg Code and international laws defining crimes against humanity and genocide (post 1945), International Court of Arbitration, international courts in the Hague, Netherlands—International Court of Justice (ICJ), International Criminal Court (ICC), International Residual Mechanism for Criminal Tribunals (IRMCT).

Natural endowment

Unequal natural endowment of resources and geographical size—agricultural land, potential for food self-sufficiency, climate advantages, access to the sea, freshwater resources, underground mineral and energy resources.

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SECTION 3

Separatism, nationalism, and resentment

In many separatist and nationalist causes, there is a dangerous neglect of everything that is going well enough. The status quo is rejected too readily. There is instead often an adolescent rejection of authority, a refusal to accept that “it sucks to be governed” no matter who is in charge.  Just as a teenager resents his parents’ rules, or the middle-aged man with Peter Pan syndrome wants to walk away from commitments, separatist longings can be immature, unjustified, and oblivious to negative consequences.

In fact, separatist sentiment arises in times of chaos when material conditions deteriorate, when there is increasingly a feeling of “nothing to lose” and something to gain in the “glory of conquest.” This is indeed the goal of destabilization projects and internal interference. In the 1980s, the US spent hundreds of millions of dollars on soft-power projects within the Soviet Union, and the dividends were enormous.[9] In such circumstances, separatist causes become fascistic, led by demagogues voicing grievances which, if acted upon, only worsen the situation. Yet the forces that destabilized the federation in the first place do not care about this radicalization. In fact, they encourage it because it furthers their goals. The dissolution of the USSR and Yugoslavia, discussed above, make this point obvious. The historical record shows that the empire never supports a separatist cause on principle. It lends support only in the pursuit of its own goals. This has never been plainer to see than now when we can look at the split between who supports Taiwan and who supports Lugansk and Donetsk.

A full discussion of the terms and case studies listed in Section 2 would require this essay to become a heavy textbook on separatism and nationalism. I wrote Section 2 primarily to provoke awareness of the unspoken motivations and complexities that lie behind simplistic reporting and facile expressions of support for Ukraine or Taiwan, or, equally, condemnations of Russia or Syria.

One more important issue remains to cover, and that is the question of size.

The World Economic Forum describes itself as “globalism,” and “globalism” is their word for “colonialism”. It used to be called “imperialism.” Every imperial European country—Britain, Holland, France—were all globalists… President Biden used a different vocabulary when he said it’s really not between globalism and anti-imperialism. It’s between “democracy” and “autocracy” … Aristotle described how all democracies tend to evolve into oligarchies… ever since ancient Greece, that’s been the case… the World Economic Forum is sort of the board of directors of the Western economy… The Greek [oligarchs] used to get together on one of the sacred islands, either Delos or Delphi, and that’s the role that Switzerland has today. Now all of a sudden, what you have is autocracy. Autocracy means a country with a strong enough government to prevent an oligarchy from taking over.
– Michael Hudson, “The Big Context,” Michael-Hudson.com, August 8, 2022

Size Matters

In a lecture given in 2011, American historian Gal Alperovitz asked an audience of progressive reformers, “If you don’t like capitalism or state socialism, what do you want?” Along with this question, he brought up a topic that is rarely addressed when people talk about perfecting nations and democratic governance: What is the ideal size of a democratic state, in terms of geographical size and population? In nations the size of continents, with populations over 100 million, is democracy even possible? He described the problem this way:

Germany in scale could be tucked into Montana. We live in a continent. If you want democracy in a continent, you’ve got a big problem because those countries are little. I sometimes say to my students “like those dinky little countries France and Germany,” meaning that the polity is organizable in smaller scale than in a continent (from 14:10 in the video) … If you take the high estimate of the Census Bureau, [the US population] will be over a billion by the end of the century. Now, hopefully, we’re not going to have that high estimate, but the numbers get very large no matter what. To those of you who believe in participatory democracy, [I ask] if you can have any form of meaningful participatory democracy in a continent of five or six hundred million people? The answer is probably no, and if most states are too small for economic management or too large for democracy, we are already stalemated in this archaic political system. The intermediate unit is called the region. There was a huge debate amongst liberals and conservatives and radicals in the 1930s about how you begin to regionalize and decentralize the economic system, and I think that’s inevitable under almost any regime. People don’t like to think about regionalizing. It’s a hard one, but some of the most interesting work on this was done by thoughtful conservatives, by the way, as well as thoughtful radicals … so I think that’s on our agenda. (from 44:30 in the video)[10]

Perhaps it would be better if states were limited in size to be no larger than Germany, and no alliances like NATO were allowed. There would be more equality in possession of natural resources, no superpowers, no states that could assemble massive military power and nuclear arsenals, and there would be better interaction between the government and the governed. However, this topic is never on the agenda in mainstream US political discourse. Instead, all of the political and economic forces within the empire deal with this issue in its only permissible form—as psychological projection aimed at Russia and China. It is seldom stated explicitly, but the goal is not the war in Ukraine or Putin, or Taiwan. These are small short-term projects within a larger long-term project to foment and support separatist and nationalist movements to balkanize Russia and China and gain control of their resources. The United States and the NATO bloc are never said to be too big and too unwieldy to allow for freedom and democracy, but size is definitely considered a problem for “our great power adversaries.”

The Free Nations of Russia Forum is an example of one organization that is working with a low profile but stating explicitly that its goal is the fracturing of Russia into a number of smaller states. The idea is: if it worked in the 1980s and 1990s for the Soviet Union and Yugoslavia, why not keep the show going? There are similar projects to break Xinjiang, Tibet, Hong Kong, and Taiwan away from China.

The four main goals of the Free Nations of Russia Forum are “de-imperialization and decolonization,” “de-Putinization and de-Nazification,” “de-militarization and de-nuclearization,” and “economic and social changes.”

It is difficult not to laugh at the immaturity, hypocrisy and ignorance expressed by this forum. Russia is not, by any stretch of semantics, an imperial or colonial power.[11] The forum seems to be saying that Russia is, paradoxically, imperialistic within its own territory, over regions that are, supposedly, actually oppressed independent nations. The people living there just don’t know it yet.

It is absurd to believe that one could destroy a sovereign nation by removing one leader and his influence. It is outrageous that these non-Russian citizens think they have the right to interfere in the internal affairs of Russia. They declare it shamelessly, oblivious to their flaunting of the UN Charter and the Helsinki Accords as they actively call for interference in the internal affairs of a sovereign nation and promote the destruction of it. They are oblivious to the reality that there is a lack support for this project among Russian people.

They are oblivious to the military budget of the US which is more than ten times larger than Russia’s. They are oblivious to the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty which obliges all nuclear powers to reduce and eventually eliminate their nuclear arsenals. The treaty does not stipulate in any way that the United States is to remain intact with its nuclear arsenal while “de-nuclearization” is set as a goal to be achieved only after the nation called Russia ceases to exist.

Finally, there is something grandly insulting and ironic in calling for the destruction and “de-Nazification” of the country that made the greatest contribution to defeating Nazi Germany. In fact, the goal of Nazi Germany was exactly the same as the goal of the Free Nations of Russia Forum—to turn Russia into a group of weak colonies led by a local comprador class. The forum is clearly a sign of the return of fascism and imperialism—the Fourth Reich, one could say, picking up a project that suffered a setback at Stalingrad in 1942. The forum expresses pure projection of its hidden motives—to colonize Russia by turning it into a group of client states that will be open for exploitation by “the blob” of Trans-Atlantic power that is 21st century imperialism. The forum does all this at a moment in history when the US empire has entered a period of steep decline. The only realistic statement in the forum’s platform is the final item in the list. There would indeed be “economic and social changes” if, in their wildest dreams, they succeeded.

Realism and Idealism

The obvious question to ask at this point is about which independence struggles are worth supporting, and which will lead to positive outcomes if they are supported. In the present era, many struggles have sought help from the hegemonic power, which condemns them in advance from ever having any true form of sovereignty. The struggles that are worth supporting are precisely the ones that the hegemon has ignored and disdained.

The present era is one in which cynical realism has prevailed, even among the weak who adopt it to pursue their goals only to find that in their “independence” they have become vassals. The tension between realism and idealism is as old as the study of history and international relations, as the Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy tells us:

Thucydides shows that power, if it is unrestrained by moderation and a sense of justice, brings about the uncontrolled desire for more power… Drunk with the prospect of glory and gain, after conquering Melos, the Athenians engage in a war against Sicily. They pay no attention to the Melian argument that considerations of justice are useful to all in the longer run. And, as the Athenians overestimate their strength and, in the end, lose the war, their self-interested logic proves to be very shortsighted indeed.

It is utopian to ignore the reality of power in international relations, but it is equally blind to rely on power alone. Thucydides appears to support neither the naive idealism of the Melians nor the cynicism of their Athenian opponents. He teaches us to be on guard “against naïve-dreaming on international politics,” on the one hand, and “against the other pernicious extreme: unrestrained cynicism,” on the other. If he can be regarded as a political realist, his realism nonetheless prefigures neither realpolitik, in which traditional ethics is denied, nor today’s scientific neorealism, in which moral questions are largely ignored. Thucydides’ realism, neither immoral nor amoral, can rather be compared to that of Hans Morgenthau, Raymond Aron, and other twentieth-century classical realists, who, although sensible to the demands of national interest, would not deny that political actors on the international scene are subject to moral judgment.[12]

Like Athenians of the past, the modern empire is drunk on its prospects for glory and gain, as are those who seek to gain from cooperation with it. They have forgotten that “considerations of justice are useful in the long run.”

Palestine is the most obvious example of a cause worth supporting. In addition, the long occupation of the Hawaiian Kingdom should end. That would be a good way for the United States to begin to wrap up its imperial project and join the family of nations as an equal.

We should support the independence of West Papua, a region that never received fair treatment during the post-war period of de-colonization. As they were leaving their colonies in Southeast Asia, the Dutch argued that West Papua was culturally, racially, and linguistically unrelated to Indonesia and that the United Nations should help it go through its own process of self-determination. However, in the early 1960s, realpolitik dictated that Indonesia was too strategically important. The US and Russia, (members of the UN Security Council), and China were all courting President Sukarno, hoping that Indonesia could be a buffer against the influence of opposing great power adversaries. President Kennedy crafted the “New York Agreement” that was signed between Indonesia and the Netherlands, thus ensuring that the United Nations would recognize West Papua as part of Indonesia.[13]

The New York Agreement called for a plebiscite in 1969 to allow West Papuans to accept or reject Indonesian control. This Act of Free Choice has been described thus by Thomas Musgrave in his book chapter “An analysis of the 1969 Act of Free Choice in West Papua”:

There is no doubt whatsoever that the process of self-determination in West Papua was nothing more than a sham and amounted to a gross travesty. From whatever angle the situation is considered, be it the requirements of Resolutions 1514(XV) and 1541(XV), or the terms of the New York Agreement, or basic principles of general international law, Indonesia not only failed to fulfil its international obligations but in fact consistently acted in a manner which traduced those obligations. As a result, the people of West Papua were never given any real opportunity to exercise their right of self-determination and West Papua was incorporated into Indonesia without the true consent of its people.[14]

Through a coup d’état in 1965, followed by the US-backed “Jakarta Method” of killing at least half a million unarmed members of the Indonesian Communist Party, Sukarno was overthrown in any case, and Indonesia, including West Papua, became a dictatorship in which foreign corporations exploited the tremendous gold and oil reserves of West Papua, as well as the resources of Indonesia.[15] The violence against the indigenous population of West Papua reached genocidal levels. UN rapporteurs and the “diplomatic community” know all about it, but it remains completely beyond the awareness of the masses of people who can be so quickly manipulated to voice sympathy for Ukraine and Taiwan.

The final example most worthy of respect is a nation that didn’t separate from anything geographically or redraw its borders in any way. It separated from its past and built a new nation, and it has been punished for that success ever since. The Cuban Revolution of 1959 was motivated by idealism, not realism. It aligned with the quote attributed to Einstein’s that “the real purpose of socialism is precisely to overcome and advance beyond the predatory phase of human development.”

Many independence and nationalist movements express no concern for the higher concepts of social evolution and liberation, but Cuba did, and it achieved much. It eliminated the nefarious presence of casinos, brothels, and organized crime. It liberated itself from foreign ownership of its economy. It gave citizens literacy, health care, employment, and housing, and established a military that could defend these achievements and values. Over 25 years Cuba sent 500,000 soldiers to Africa to help with liberation struggles there. For that effort Cuba gained no ownership of African resources, and imposed no onerous debt. It asked for nothing in return. In 1975, Fidel Castro stated emphatically:

Some imperialists ask why we’re helping the Angolans, what our interest is. They assume that countries only act out of a desire for petrol, copper, diamonds, or some other resource. No. We have no material interest. Of course, the imperialists don’t understand this. They would only do it for jingoistic, selfish reasons. We are fulfilling an elementary internationalist duty in helping the people of Angola.[16]

The Cuban government did some mean things to people who wanted to prevent its progress, and as a result, ever since then, Cuba been subjected to economic warfare and internal interference, and condemned as a tyrannical dictatorship.

Castro also always expressed an interest in democratizing the revolution. In a review of Arnold August’s Cuba and Its Neighbors: Democracy in Motion, Max Forte described the evolution of democracy in Cuba since 1959:

August substantiates his point that much of US scholarship on Cuba suffers from a blind spot when it comes to participatory democracy in the country. If multi-party elections were rejected it was because they symbolized the old order when a minority ruled in the interests of a minority—such a system not only coexists happily with oligarchy (as we ought to know), it serves it. Even the US State Department had to admit in 1960 that “the majority of Cubans support Castro”. In building up the participatory feature of the new Cuban political system, Committees for the Defense of the Revolution (CDR) were established at the neighborhood level. Just one year after their founding in 1960, more than 800,000 Cubans voluntarily participated in these associations. A counterpart of the CDR are the National Revolutionary Militias (MNR), that were first established in the autumn of 1959. The Literacy Campaign was also built on grass-roots participation, and one of the key organizations behind it was the Federation of Cuban Women (FMC). Local government was also redeveloped from 1961 onwards, with elections for municipal delegates organized in neighborhoods and places of work from 1966. This was known then as “Local Power,” and as August explains, was the first systematic attempt to create government institutions that were directly accountable to the public. At the party level, multiple leftist organizations and movements developed a new Cuban Communist Party (PCC) by 1965, the passage of years reflecting the critical degree of work required to bring together multiple factions. By 1970, the PCC launched an effort to further democratize the revolution by suggesting the creation of Organs of Popular Power (OPP). A new Constitution was also drafted. This was not some party dictate—the draft was taken to the public, and discussed in schools, workplaces, in rural areas, and by the end of the months of discussions there had been 70,812 neighborhood meetings with 2,064,755 participants (p. 114). In 1976, by universal, secret ballot, the Constitution was approved by 97.7% of voters, with a voter turnout of 98%. After that, municipal, provincial, and national elections took place that resulted in the formation of the National Assembly of Popular Power (ANPP). The PCC, meanwhile, never functioned as an electoral party… [17]

This description should at least be humbling for every citizen living in liberal democracies, and for some it must provoke envy. For most people in classic multi-party liberal democracies, there is no opportunity to participate in such nation-building projects. Cuba’s success is, to steal a phrase from an American election campaign, the sort of “change we can believe in,” and it stands as an inspiring example of the sort of independence struggle that deserves to be supported globally. It stands in sharp contrast with Taiwan and Ukraine where there is no plan to go beyond “the predatory phase of human development.” Ukraine wants to become a client state and sell off its national treasure, and Taiwan would let itself become a second Okinawa—an unsinkable US battleship—if China were not committed to stopping that from happening by any means necessary.

Conclusion

I hope this essay has made it clear that when people of various parts of the world are being asked to show solidarity with Ukraine or Taiwan, or whatever the next thing is going to be, we need to ask whom these nations are aligned with and why, and we have to ask why they express no solidarity with other independence and nationalist causes. The answer is that they support no one but themselves and the powerful entities that are eager to exploit their cause. The Ukrainian government will not ask for the end of sanctions against Cuba, Iran, and Venezuela. The Taiwanese government will not antagonize Indonesia by speaking up for West Papua.

I doubt that more than a handful of people in Taiwan know the least thing about the plight of their neighbor in the Southwest Pacific. If they learned about it, they would see the main difference between Taiwan and West Papua. Taiwan is peaceful and prosperous. China has refrained from the use of force and waited patiently for a peaceful settlement of the issue, in spite of the fact that the US and the UN long ago recognized Taiwan as a part of China. In contrast, as soon as the UN recognized West Papua as part of Indonesia, Indonesia occupied the territory, repressed the indigenous independence movement, and engaged in settler colonialism, also known as cultural genocide. It has been ongoing since the 1960s, but Indonesia has never been subjected to sanctions or condemnation by “the international community.”

The nationalist causes of Ukraine and Taiwan are compromised from the start by the team they have chosen. If they don’t care about others, why should we care about them? Why should the rest of the world give them billions of dollars in foreign aid, deprive themselves of resources, pay more for food, and risk nuclear war to support these causes? Ukraine and Taiwan were at peace and doing well enough before the US decided to meddle in their affairs and turn them into causes célèbres for the world to suddenly be pre-occupied with. The fact is that these causes could not even exist if they were not useful as the empire’s proxy wars against what it refers to as its “great power rivals.” Without the massive amounts of weapons and money coming from a nation on the opposite side of the globe, they would have long ago realized that their best option was to find a way to get along with their closest neighbors and avoid war.

With or without war, the end result is often the same. Defeated Japan became an industrial powerhouse within US hegemony. The US could have avoided war in Vietnam, and Vietnam would have become exactly the sort of nation it became after its enemy left—a socialist country open to foreign investment and development aid from the US and other nations. Carl von Clausewitz famously said, “War is the continuation of policy with other means,” and we could say in a variation of this aphorism, “Policy can be the achieving of, with means other than war, precisely what the outcome of war would be.”

Notes that include further discussion follow the appendix

Appendix

The Helsinki Accords, notes compiled from: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Helsinki_Accords

All then-existing European countries (except Andorra and pro-Chinese Albania) as well as the United States and Canada and the USSR, altogether 35 participating states, signed the Final Act in an attempt to improve the détente between the East and the West. The Helsinki Accords, however, were not binding as they did not have treaty status that would have to be ratified by parliaments. Sometimes the term “Helsinki pact(s)” was also used unofficially. President Ford said at the time if the accord failed to be ratified, it wouldn’t matter because everything pledged in the accords is already enshrined in the UN Charter and other official endorsements of human rights.

The first basket, the “Declaration on Principles Guiding Relations between Participating States” (also known as “The Decalogue”) enumerated the following 10 points:

Sovereign equality, respect for the rights inherent in sovereignty, Refraining from the threat or use of force, inviolability of frontiers, territorial integrity of states, peaceful settlement of disputes, non-intervention in internal affairs, respect for human rights and fundamental freedoms, including the freedom of thought, conscience, religion or belief, equal rights and self-determination of peoples, co-operation among States, fulfillment in good faith of obligations under international law

The second basket promised economic, scientific, and technological cooperation; facilitating business contacts and industrial cooperation; linking together transportation networks; and increasing the flow of information.

The third basket involved commitments to improve the human context of family reunions, marriages, and travel. It also sought to improve the conditions of journalists and expand cultural exchanges.

The fourth basket dealt with procedures to monitor implementation, and to plan future meetings.

In July 1975, US President Gerald Ford told the delegation of Americans from East European backgrounds:

The Helsinki documents involve political and moral commitments aimed at lessening tensions and opening further the lines of communication between peoples of East and West … We are not committing ourselves to anything beyond what we are already committed to by our own moral and legal standards and by more formal treaty agreements such as the United Nations Charter and Declaration of Human Rights … If it all fails, Europe will be no worse off than it is now. If even a part of it succeeds, the lot the people in Eastern Europe will be that much better, and the cause of freedom will advance at least that far.[18]

NOTES


[1]Political Realism in International Relations,” Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy, May 24, 2017.

[2] John-Paul Himka, “War Criminality: A Blank Spot in the Collective Memory of the Ukrainian Diaspora,” Spaces of Identity, Special Issue: War Crimes, Vol.5, No.1, 2005.

[3] Michael Parenti, Blackshirts and Reds: Rational Fascism and the Overthrow of Communism (City Lights Publishers, 1997). This book provides a thorough description of the true cost of “liberation” for the citizens of the former socialist countries in the 1980s and 1990s.

[4]The Yugoslavia Counter-Narrative in 1993: Sean Gervasi, a neglected expert, spoke out in the early years of the catastrophe.” Transcript of an interview recorded in 1993 for “Conversations with Harold Hudson Channer,” a public access cable television series in New York. Sean Gervasi: “I would say that Mr. Kohl’s [German chancellor] recognition of the seceding republics is without any doubt what precipitated the wars in Yugoslavia. It didn’t start them, but it turned them into major international conflicts… it is an important element here in understanding what’s happened in Yugoslavia because the Germans really helped to precipitate that. They helped to precipitate the war between Croatia and Yugoslavia, the secession of Croatia, and they have armed, assisted, advised etc., guided the new version of the independent Croatian state under Mr. Tudjman… This is a very serious question because of the historical background which I mentioned—the independent Croatian state and the genocide conducted against various populations, the Serbs in particular between 1941 and 1945. At the time that Croatia declared its independence in June of 1991, there were 750,000 Serbs living in parts of the Krajina, as they’re called, which by the way is the geopolitical heart of Croatia. There were 1,300,000 or 1,400,000 Serbs living in Bosnia at the time that Bosnian independence was declared in April of last year. These secessions took place in a manner which raised the historic fears, historically justified fears, of the Serbian populations of these areas that they would be the target of genocidal persecutions again.”

[5] Mikhail Gorbachev, On My Country and the World (Columbia University Press, 2000), 151-152.

[6] Anne Laure Bonnel (director), “Donbass,” 2016. President Poroshenko, speaking in December 2014, is quoted at the beginning of the film speaking about how he planned to treat a Russian-speaking minority group within Ukraine: “We will have jobs and they won’t. We will have retirement benefits and they won’t. We will have benefits for seniors and children, and they won’t. Our children will go to school and kindergarten, but theirs won’t. Their children will stay in basements because they won’t know how to do anything. And like this, precisely like this, we will win this war.” The international community, is, supposedly, obliged to intervene in cases in which there is a declared intent of genocidal policy.

[7]  “UN Mapping Report,” Friends of the Congo, accessed August 23, 2022. From this article describing the Mapping Report: “[the report covers] the most serious violations of human rights and international humanitarian law committed with the territory of the DRC between March 1993 and June 2003… The claim that the victims of the 1994 genocide in Rwanda may be culpable of committing a genocide in the Congo has generated a great deal of interest… The authors of the report indicated that they were concerned that the language of ‘genocide’ may be watered down before the official publishing of the document… The discovery of three mass graves in North Kivu in 2005 was a stark reminder to the United Nations that the past human rights violations in the Congo had remained largely uninvestigated.“

[8] Christopher Black, “The Legality of War,” New Eastern Outlook, March 8, 2022. This article provides an excellent brief explanation of how war came to be illegal under international law but permitted in some instances to authorize wars in defense of a nation that was under attack. The author points out that the veto power of members of the UN Security Council “has effectively led to the paralysis of the United Nations in a number of international conflicts, where national interests are in conflict, and has resulted in reality in a state of the world where might makes right.”

[9] Sean Gervasi, “Western Intervention in the USSR,” Covert Action Information Bulletin No.39, January 1, 1991. “The minimal conclusion that can be deduced… even taking into account the complex channeling and re-channeling of funds and projects through intermediaries, is that during the 1980s, Western governments, businesses and private organizations were devoting something on the order of $100 million per year to intervention in the internal affairs of the Soviet Union.”

[10]Gar Alperovitz: If you don’t like capitalism or state socialism, what do you want?Democracy Collective/New Economics Institute, New York, November 5, 2011.

[11]The Leninist Theory of Imperialism,” ML Today, September 2, 2016. Lenin defined imperialism as having five economic features. His definition endures as the most useful because it went beyond looking at imperialism as merely a nation state expanding its power outside its territory. Lenin looked instead at the nature of financial capital in the world. He described the fifth feature thus: “The territorial division of the whole world among the biggest capitalist powers is completed. Imperialism is capitalism at that stage of development at which the dominance of monopolies and finance capital is established; in which the export of capital has acquired pronounced importance; in which the division of the world among the international trusts has begun, in which the division of all territories of the globe among the biggest capitalist powers has been completed.”

[12]Political Realism in International Relations,” Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy, May 24, 2017.

[13] Yamin Kogoya, “West Papua’s Colonial Fate—the UN ‘New York Agreement,’” Greenleft, August 17, 2022.

[14] Thomas D. Musgrave, “An analysis of the 1969 Act of Free Choice in West Papua,” Chapter 12 in Sovereignty, Statehood and State Responsibility (Cambridge University Press, 2015).

[15] Vincent Bevins, The Jakarta Method: Washington’s Anticommunist Crusade and the Mass Murder Program that Shaped Our World (Hachette Book Group, 2020).

[16] Jihan Al-Tahri (director), Cuba: An African Odyssey (Part 2), Temps-noir-Big Sister, 37:40~. Fidel Castro in 1975: “It is obvious that [US President] Ford’s declarations show how annoyed the capitalists are with us. Why are they so annoyed? Because they had planned to seize control in Angola before November 11th. Angola is rich in natural resources. Cabinda has large oil reserves. Some imperialists ask why we’re helping the Angolans, what our interest is. They assume that countries only act out of a desire for petrol, copper, diamonds, or some other resource. No. We have no material interest. Of course, the imperialists don’t understand this. They would only do it for jingoistic, selfish reasons. We are fulfilling an elementary internationalist duty in helping the people of Angola.

[17] Maximilian Forte, “Part 1: ‘Democracy in Cuba and at Home,’” Zero Anthropology, December 30, 2014. See also “Part 2: ‘The Real World of Democracy (and Anthropology).’”

[18] Gerald R. Ford, “Public Papers of the Presidents of the United States: Gerald R. Ford,” 1975, 1030–31.