uti possidetis – a judgement

in international law, the concept of uti possidetis refers to the idea that former colonial states, at the point of gaining independence, should remain as an entity within the already existing borders. literally it means ‘as you possess’. that idea makes sense. after all, the experience of global affairs shows that, more often than not, the redefining of borders is a conflict loaded, potentially violent process. after all, by definition, a borderline can not be redrawn from only one state without effecting another. particularly not in the system that we today refer to as the westphalian state structure and that at least the continent of europe and all its existing colonies and areas of influences were modeled after. adding to these general assumptions, the consideration that the decolonization process happened in a quite short time frame, within many regions of the world, and in the shadow of two devastating world wars, identifying stability as an unquestioned priority lies at hand.

it was at this moment that the newly born international community, already in its second trial run, abandoned the primary idea of self-determination of nations, leaving it only as a loose flag to fly as a banner over the more realistic geo-strategic policy, and instead turned towards the ideal of a stability. it was there that the positive vision of peace under woodrow wilson got a realistic turn into the understanding of a negative definition of peace as the absence of conflict and the goal was set to find a stable balance of conflict prevention in the international scene. after all, if the ethnic and religious and social and economical and political and ideological and other fundamental differences in the newly born states would break out, it was something the powerful states could always either brush off as an ‘internal issue’ they had nothing to do with – calling out the principle of non-intervention and demanding of the local governments to get their people under control; not even minding that much the question of how this stability might be achieved – or otherwise declare it as an issue of ‘international concern’, waving the flag of human rights and the responsibility to help defend whatever rights and freedoms they themselves decided to give international legitimacy and universality to.

it was this later thought that made me more and more skeptical about the idea of uti possidetis. while i understand the need for stability, yes one could even call it a longing, as well as i can see how stability is an enabling basis for future economic growth and prosperity, i can not help but wonder if uti possidetis, by enforcing unity where there is none, actually just puts a hold on a probably unavoidable conflict. and while i would not go as far as claiming that this principle will never work – i want to belief that ethnicity and religion and even ideology can be brought together in a just system of inclusion of all the members of a society that form a state – more often than not i feel that the focus on maintaining borders unchanged, no matter what, is demanding too high a price, which is the lives of all those people who would like to make their own choices, define for themselves who they are and where they want to belong to, and who instead become nothing but simple objects, figures, in the chess game of big power players who decide depending on the daily weather of which moral flag to fly today: international law and uti possidetis, or rather human rights and self-determination of the world’s nations.

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