Posted on 01 April 2014.
Russia’s recent annexation of Ukraine raises an interesting question: What is required for legal territory annexation or secession under international law?
The UN has declared Russia’s annexation of Crimea illegal under international law and the Ukrainian Constitution. Image: Allvoices.com
It is illegal under international law to annex territory by coercion or force, but the possibility remains that one country can annex the territory of another through “legal” means. Russia’s actions in annexing Crimea have been declared illegal by the United Nations. In its resolution, the UN General assembly noted that the annexation was not only against international law, but contravened the Ukrainian constitution. This implies that Russia may annex Crimea if Ukraine, as a nation, agrees to let Crimea go.
The illegality of Russia’s actions in Ukraine have led the United States and the European Union to impose sanctions against Russia. It remains to be seen whether these actions will have any effect on the Crimean situation. Russia has responded to these sanctions by saying it has the right to respond “tit for tat.” Russian troops poised on the border with Ukraine are seen as indications that Russia intends to annex the rest of the country, which was formerly a part of the Soviet Union, while Ukraine is in the midst of political crisis. U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry has stressed that no decision about Ukraine’s future can be made without the involvement of Kiev, which has also declared Russia’s annexation of Crimea to be illegal.
Exactly who has a say as to what territory belongs to which country is an interesting question. The Ukrainian government based in Kiev is clearly loath to permit Russia to take over Crimea. However, Russia did not annex Crimea by force or arms. Instead, a referendum was held and a majority of Crimeans voted to leave Ukraine and join Russia. This referendum is controversial, and the presence of Russian troops in Crimea at the time do not aid its validity.
If armed forces had not been involved, would the Crimea referendum be viewed differently? Later this year a referendum will be held in Scotland to determine whether Scotland will remain in the United Kingdom or depart from that union to become an independent country. As the debate heats up about the effects of an independent Scotland, many in England have voiced the opinion that Scotland’s independence should not be decided by the Scottish alone. Although the referendum has the blessing of the U.K. Parliament and Prime Minister David Cameron, many English residents are concerned because they have not been given the chance to voice their own opinion on Scottish independence at the polls.
Is it essential to the legality of territory secession or annexation to have all countries agree to the new border? Or is it simply enough that no force or coercion is used in the annexation of territory? As is clear from the Crimea referendum, military presence casts doubt on the legality of a vote. The international community has also expressed great concern about the lack of Ukraine’s involvement in the referendum. Scotland’s referendum may be a guiding example of peaceful secession and independence under international law, but this remains to be seen.
Laura Wood is Senior Managing Editor of the Denver Journal of International Law and Policy
Posted in 1TVFA Posts, 2Featured Articles, DJILP Staff, Laura Wood
Posted on 03 December 2013.
Ownership of the disputed islands is crucial for the rights to use the oil, minerals, and fish in the surrounding waters. Image Source: Wikimedia
On November 23, 2013, China declared an Air Defense Identification Zone (ADIZ), which stated that “aircraft in the area must report their flight plans to China, maintain two-way radio and clearly mark their nationalities on the aircraft.” China’s declaration has drawn harsh criticism from Japan and the United States.
While ADIZs are not a new concept, China’s ADIZ has created tension because the zone includes a chain of islands that are the center of a long dispute between China and Japan. ADIZs are declared by many nations, allowing the territory to potentially stop unfriendly aircraft from entering its airspace. James Hardy, the Asia-Pacific Editor of IHS Jane’s Defence Weekly, stated that an ADIZ is “unilaterally imposed, so it doesn’t really have a legal basis and isn’t based on negotiations with neighbors.” The ADIZ includes the Daioyu/Senkaku islands, which both Japan and China claim as part of their territory.
Secretary of State John Kerry released a press statement on November 23, noting its deep concern over China’s ADIZ and warning that the move will increase tensions and a risk of an accident. The Secretary stated that the United States does not “apply its ADIZ procedures to foreign aircraft not intending to enter U.S. national airspace,” and urged China not to take action against aircraft that do not comply. China’s state-run news agency said that the U.S. and Japan are “pursuing double standards,” condemning the countries for voicing concerns over China setting up an ADIZ while both countries have had an ADIZ in place for years. The state-run news agency said, “Japan set up such a zone in the 1960’s and it even one-sidedly allowed the zone to cover China’s Diaoyu Islands.”
The disputed islands, called Senkaku Islands by Japan and Diaoyu Islands by China, are claimed by both Japan and China. China claims that Chinese fisherman began using the islands in the 1400’s, and has had a right of ownership ever since. However, Japan recognized the islands as part of its territory in 1895, after conducting a survey in which it “saw no trace of Chinese control of the islands.” After Japan’s surrender at the end of World War II, the islands were “administered by the U.S. occupation force.” Once the U.S. withdrew in 1972, the U.S. returned the islands back to Japan.
The islands have remained in dispute, but tensions have increased over the past year. In April 2013, a Japanese nationalist group sent several boats into the disputed waters, a mission aimed at “publicizing Japan’s territorial claim to the area.” China responded by sending five more ships to the already three ships stationed in the waters to monitor Japan’s activity. When Japan’s coast guard ordered the Chinese ships to leave, the ships refused, claiming they were “patrolling Chinese territory.” Eventually the ships set out by the Japanese nationalist group left the area without incident. The islands are important to both countries because the territory that owns the islands has “exclusive oil, mineral, and fishing rights in surrounding waters.”
On November 26, two United States Air Force B-52 planes flew over the ADIZ, and the pilots did not identify themselves as required by China. Although the United States has stated that it does not recognize China’s ADIZ, it is urging commercial pilots to adhere to China’s new requirements, citing safety reasons. However, Japan has stated that its commercial airlines will not follow China’s requirements. As tensions rise in the Pacific, the U.S. has cause for concern – Japan and the U.S. have “a mutual security treaty.” Although the Treaty does have a provision where both parties undertake to solve disputes peacefully, Article V of the Treaty recognizes that each party would “act to meet the common danger” in the event of an armed attack in Japan.
Lisa Browning is a 3L and the Training Editor on the Denver Journal of International Law & Policy
Posted in 1TVFA Posts, 2Featured Articles, DJILP Staff, Lisa Browning