Victor Davis Hanson: Why International Borders Remain in Flux

Roundup: Historians' Take

[Victor Davis Hanson is a conservative military historian, as well as a columnist, author, and a former classics professor.]

After the convulsions that followed the postwar collapse of European imperialism in Asia and Africa, we had once again become accustomed to the idea that the map as we knew it was static and fixed. The emerging global village was supposed to have transcended endless nineteenth and early twentieth-century squabbling, ethnic rivalry, and religious sectarianism that had led to the bloody creation and destruction of nation-states.

Then came the end of the Cold War and the end of the Soviet Union. Suddenly all those weird -stan (“country”) suffixes — Kazakhstan, Tajikistan, Turkmenistan, Uzbekistan — that we once read about only in nineteen-century novels of British imperialism or remembered from old weathered atlases were back again. Surely no one in the 1980s thought we would ever see again an independent Croatia, Slovakia, or Serbia, the latter remembered in our textbooks only in the context of having something to do with the cause of the First World War.

For all the eloquent eulogies over the demise of the nation-state, these nineteenth-century relics reappear almost yearly. Just when we thought that the former Yugoslavia could not fragment into any more national entities, suddenly an independent Kosovo appeared — apparently a result of the Muslim, Albanian-speaking majority wanting nation-state status. The so-called Middle East crisis once morphed from a border dispute between Israel and Jordan into fighting with independent Palestinians over the West Bank. And now it has devolved again into a sort of tripartite gunfight between Israel, the West Bank, and the newly emerging Gaza.

Either out of fear of terrorism, or anti-Semitism and anti-Westernism, or due to calculations about demography and petroleum, the world singularly condemns Israel for occupying the West Bank. It forgets that there are just as serious disputes over borders, occupations, and national sovereignty between Armenia and Azerbaijan, fights of Greeks and Turks over Cyprus, and Japanese complaints over a Russian presence in some of the Kurile Islands.

Countries as diverse as Spain and China were not eager to recognize the newly autonomous Kosovo from fear that a “me too” effect would birth infants like a Basque state, Catalonia, and Tibet....

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