One of the most trotted out excuses for the US led proxy war in Ukraine is that Ukraine’s borders must be protected. The territorial integrity of Ukraine must be preserved, at an obviously enormous cost. Specifically what is meant by this claim is the borders of Ukraine as they existed in 1991. We will get to why 1991 in just a bit.
For now we should dive into the question about national borders in general. The question to be investigated is whether national borders in general should be considered inviolate. We will find upon examination that the “sacrosanct” nature of national borders is highly dependent upon who’s interests are being served.
There Has Been No Such Thing as Inviolate Borders…Ever
The idea that borders have ever been inviolate is laughable. A brief view of world history should dispel this insipid idea. Simply consider all the migrations, invasions and movements of peoples since humans first walked upright. Or consider the various empires and political entities that have risen and fallen across the ages. Borders are determined by one group’s ability to enforce them with arms, and nothing else. When one group prattles on about their borders being violated, it is because they simply lack the force to protect them. Never mind they created those borders through force in the first place.
US history is a clear example of this. The colonization of the America’s, the genocide against the Indians, the conquering of Mexican holdings (itself an outgrowth of the Spanish conquest), then the purchase of various tracts to round out the current US borders all underline the shifting nature of borders.
Europe’s recent history is also an example of this. The shifting borders that occurred in the creation of modern Germany and Italy, the continual shifting of territory between Germany and France, Germany and Poland, Russia and Poland and the wholesale redrawing of the map after the first and then second world wars, make this point effortlessly. There is not time to consider the shifting borders involved with European colonization. When one considers it, most of world history is the story of the shifting of borders between various armed groups.
The Very Violate Borders of “Ukraine”
In the current Ukrainian context we need only go back to 1783. This was the year that Russia under the leadership of Catherine the Great annexed Crimea from the Ottoman Empire, which of course conquered it from the Byzantine Empire who conquered it from…we could regress all the way back to the Fall with this history, but you get the point. From 1783 on the Crimea was culturally, linguistically, and ethnically Russian.
In 1954 the newly powerful Nikita Khrushchev arbitrarily had Crimea moved from Russia to Ukraine. While Khrushchev was himself ethnically Russian, his power base was in the Ukraine. In fact he made his bones in the Soviet defense of Stalingrad. His move was a sop to his power base to shore up support for his position as supreme Soviet leader. This remained the situation even after the fall of the USSR until 2014, when the Russians provoked by the US led coup that removed a democratically elected government in Ukraine that was insufficiently pro US, annexed Crimea back to Russia proper. Just another of a long line of shifting borders in this as in every other region of the globe.
This history of Russian control of Crimea parallels the broader story of Ukraine’s shifting border over time. The point can be easily illustrated via the image below:
Ukraine’s history of shifting borders is as fluid as any in world history. This brief overview should put the lie to the notion that any borders, including Ukraine’s are sacred.
The Real Reason for Current Ukrainian Border Claims
The clearly obvious reason why the US is demanding that the 1991 Ukrainian borders be held inviolate is that it serves current US imperial policy. This is the reason that any armed entity claims that any particular borders are sacred. This is true from the US empire all the way down to the Crips and the Bloods.
Currently, the US wants to weaken Russia. To do this the US has armed Ukraine with ever more modern weapons and training. The goal is to bleed Russia and degrade its military and its economy. This is consistent with the US led expansion of NATO to Russia’s borders, even though the Cold War had ended. It is consistent with US policy to clip Russia economically by severing it from their energy markets in western Europe. In this context the 1991 borders of Ukraine are maximally helpful to the US imperial project.
It should also be obvious that the US concern for sacrosanct borders in general is very situational. Currently the US is occupying a third of Syrian territory over the objections of that nation’s government. This is only the latest in a long ling of violations of other nation’s borders when it suits the US.
This is what empires do, as I have discussed here, here, here, and here. All empires justify their actions based upon lies and myths. Rome, in its own mind, never fought an aggressive war. They were all “justified” as defensive. Does that sound familiar. As part of this justification the US has, in this case, used the 1991 borders as a convenient place to justify pressing Russia and provoking them all while claiming that any change of those 1991 borders violates an act of God. We should see these claims for what they are: self-serving rationales for imperial violence, of the type that every armed entity (yes, including Russia) uses to justify their violence, theft and rights abuses.
Should Borders Be Inviolate?
There is no moral case to be made for the existence of borders. They represent political boundaries and are endemic to a world beset by violence. Borders are maintained by criminal enterprises known as governments and in reality, represent the end of one gang’s monopoly control of violence and the beginning of another gang’s.
In a perfect world there would be no borders. The earth would be one interwoven, interdependent ecosystem of cultural, and economic unity. This may represent God’s ideal and perhaps heaven, but we will always fall far short of that standard here.
So, what to do? In our lives we must recognize the imperfection of this fallen world. There are such things as governments and borders. They are a result of our fallen state and in ways that we cannot comprehend, are a part of God’s plan for His children. Our response to God’s gifts of grace upon grace is to do the best we can in witness to our faith.
To that end, we can make use of borders to bring about a better world. We must recognize that they are not historically inviolate, and not likely to ever be so.
One thing history teaches is that better (not perfect) outcomes are produced when there are many smaller political entities. This was likely the primary driver of why the west grew wealthy and freer to begin with. There was no reconstitution of a Roman empire but rather a fractured series of competing polities. While these entities caused a great deal of mayhem, none ever grew strong enough to impose power across the continent. This incentivized governments to allow for freer, trade and cooperative economic activity. This thesis was developed best in this fine essay. This stands in stark contrast to the mega empires that kept rising and falling in the middle east and in China. All through this time borders did change, often to the betterment of the population. Just the threat of a change in borders made many governments more circumspect in their use of power.
So there may very well be times when we can acknowledge that it is good that borders change. Perhaps when a group of people wish to succeed, as the French speaking wish to do in Canada, or the Scottish in Great Britain. Creating more borders by way of breaking larger polities into smaller ones may also be a way to improve the world. I am certain a world made up of a million Luxemburg’s would be a better world by far.
It may also be good to negotiate border changes to produce an end to a war. There is little doubt that the ethnically and linguistically Russian peoples of the eastern Donbas region of “Ukraine” have a greater affinity for Moscow than Kiev. Negotiating a border change just might suit these folks better than a destructive war (ya think!). Such a border change may also allay Russia of some of it’s anxiety regarding its future (along with no Ukraine in NATO). All nations, yes, even the good ole US of A have such anxieties (imagine Mexico being invited into the Warsaw Pact). Not a pretty sight, but this is also the reality of our fallen world. None of this is perfect, nor perhaps even moral, but it presents a possible way forward that stops the slaughter of innocent people and turns down the threat of a nuclear war that destroys all of human civilization.
What is most certain is that national borders of all things in this world should not be considered immutable. They are quite ephemeral. What is not ephemeral is the manipulation of ideas like “sacrosanct borders” by corrupt violent entities to press forward their nefarious goals of conquest and domination. Also not ephemeral is our obligation as faithful people to see past this obvious bullshit and seek a world of less violence, with a greater chance of human flourishing. If this means moving some borders around then so be it, if this means honoring existing borders, then so be it. In the coming Kingdom of God all borders between us and Him will be obliterated anyway, so let’s go ahead and get busy building up a world that more reflects His borderless love for all of His children
Praise Be to God