There is a debate going on between libertarians on what is a correct libertarian position on the Russian seizure of Crimea. It took off when Alexander McCobin and Eglė Markevičiūtė of Students for Liberty criticized Ron Paul for his stance which triggered a response by Daniel McAdams of the Ron Paul Institute for Peace. Subsequently Justin Raimondo and John Glaser of antiwar.com and Anthony Gregory of the Independent Institute all weighed in on the matter.
John Glaser finds the original article by McCobin which jump-started the debate to be “perfectly respectful.” Indeed the tone McCobin adopts is polite, however, it is grating he chooses to challenge Ron Paul on a matter it is clear he knows so little about. This is most obvious when he alleges the Crimean referendum only asked the participants whether Crimea would “join Russia now or later.” Actually this is patently false, as the second option was for Crimea to remain in Ukraine, but with its autonomy fully restored. It would have been far more respectful of McCobin if he had taken the time to learn more about an issue he was going to challenge Paul on.
McCobin’s lack of knowledge does not do his position any favors. He argues by assertion, the only depth to his arguments is provided by a few unconvincing links. At the end of it the only thing his piece effectively communicates is that McCobin is grated by Putin. Perhaps for some street cred and an air of authority he partners up with one Eglė Markevičiūtė who invokes “people in Eastern Europe” and is sure to mention he is speaking “as an Eastern European.” Of course Eastern Europeans come in all shapes and sizes, as well as positions on the Russian military seizure of Crimea. Indeed the Crimeans themselves reside in the eastern half of the European continent and a substantial number of them actually greeted the Russian invasion.
For his part, in replying to McCobin, McAdams is wrong in not accepting that invasion is the proper term to describe the Russian military operation in Crimea. That is actually exactly what took place. Russian forces poured out from its bases and established full control over the peninsula and forced the retreat, resignation or defection of Ukrainian government forces. Fortunately the takeover was nearly bloodless and apparently without a single instance of actual fighting directly between Russian and Ukrainian servicemen.
At this point it would be useful to point out the Russian invasion clearly violated international law. Russian forces took military control of a part of the Republic of Ukraine. In this sense Russian actions were clearly an act of aggression and should be denounced as such. At the same time, however, this is not necessarily a moral judgment. As libertarians we are opposed to government power and therefore seek to restrain the state as much as possible. This often has us insisting a state should adhere to its constitution, or in other contexts, to international law. This, however, does not mean we necessarily grant any special validity or moral worth to such laws, which after all have been tailor-made by governments. We merely do this because it seems logical to us that limited states should, at the very least, adhere to the restraints imposed on them by the rulebooks they themselves claim to accept.
This means it is not sufficient we characterize the Russian invasion as an “aggression” as Anthony Gregory does and leave it at that. It was an aggression against the Republic of Ukraine, but since we hold that states do not have rights in the first place (only individuals do) this is a technical rather than a moral condemnation. We must define whose legitimate rights the Russian invasion and annexation of Crimea has trampled on.
Clearly the Russians here have trampled over the rights of up to 470,000 Crimeans who do not want to become subjects of the Russian Federation, but were left with no say in the matter. Certainly we should spare a thought for the plight that awaits them. Paying taxes to or being conscripted by a state many of them detest, they are going to suffer and feel themselves oppressed. This is extremely unfortunate and unjust. As libertarians we should denounce the coercion against them and argue they be allowed to remain in Ukraine.
Meanwhile up to 1,880,000 Crimeans replaced Ukraine for the Russian Federation willingly. Obviously there was no aggression against them. On the contrary. They are now rid of Ukrainian rule that weighted heavily on them and have replaced it with Russian rule that they expect to find more tolerable. In as much as they are concerned the invasion was not aggression but liberation.
Indeed then as libertarians we must denounce the Russian seizure of Crimea as oppression against some of its people, just as we applaud it as liberation of others. The Russian actions here were both commendable and objectionable. The invasion broke international law and could have led to substantial loss of life and damage. Also, even as the Russian-majority of Crimea rejoices, the Russian state has now been imposed on another half a million people who never showed an inclination of wanting this.
[image credits: Slate.com from work by Juliana Jiménez and Dennis Grombkowski]