A Reply to Steve Saideman

A reply to Steve Saideman’s piece “In Crimea’s sham referendum, all questions lead to ‘yes’,” from David Carment.

The opening paragraph in this piece is simply wrong. Crimeans will have the choice of joining Russia or remaining an autonomous republic within Ukraine as per the 1992 constitution. To suggest that Crimeans are choosing between secession or irredenta indicates a poor reading of the situation since it is not even close to what the referendum is asking voters. A direct translation of the referendum questions from Ukrainian and Russian to English confirms the choice is autonomy within Ukraine as per the 1992 constitution (Crimea is already an autonomous region with Ukraine) or joining Russia contra Saideman.

There is not a single reliable source that states that the second question pertains to full independence or secession. Even  the Kyiv entry the author provides in Ukrainian states the choice as follows:

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Reading up on Irredentism and Secession.

A lot of discussion on Ukraine has focused on the implications of Russia reclaiming Crimean territory. These two studies provide empirical evidence and theoretical support  showing that typically irredenta are more violent than secessions and that leaders who choose to annex territory are driven by limited constraints internationally and domestically. Questions of salience and gravity of threat are examined as a basis for explaining high levels of  violence.

The International Dimensions of Ethnic Conflict: Concepts, Indicators, and Theory.


One of the growing debates among students of international politics concerns the precise linkage between ethnic conflict and international conflict. The present investigation attempts to contribute to this dialogue in three ways. First, prior studies of ethnic conflict and international relations are reappraised in terms of the central concepts and presumed causal linkage, leading to several changes in approach. Specifically, a typology of ethnic conflicts is devised deductively, including a rank ordering of types of ethnic conflicts in terms of the impact they have on levels of international violence. Second, testing focuses on the presumed ordering of ethnic conflicts from anti-colonial, secessionist and irredentist utilizing data from the International Crisis Behaviour Project on cases in the period 1945-81. A set of bivariate and multivariate indicators and an index of violence are used in the assessment of the proposed impact ethnic conflicts have on interstate violence. Four of the five propositions are confirmed. Third, the paper offers some preliminary conclusions about the policy and theoretical implications of the international dimensions of ethnic conflict, including directions for future research.

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The False Promise of Policy Making Through Analogy: Sudetenland and the Crimea

A version of the article has been published by iPolitics.

It is well documented that reasoning through analogy is an accepted form of argumentation though not always a particularly good one. For policy makers, analogies are a lazy way to make day-to-day decisions. During a crisis, they can be dangerous. In essence, reasoning through analogy imposes blinders on policy makers by restricting relevant information in generating appropriate foreign policy choices in response to a crisis situation.

Reasoning through analogy is like taking a short cut. Think of a good policy choice as one that comes from a process that considers a range of inputs and information sources, that weighs and balances those pieces of information, revises initial assumptions and then comes up with viable options. Under situations of uncertainty, like a crisis situation, decision makers don’t know exactly what their adversary intends to do, and they are, therefore, required to do a lot of assuming about their adversary’s intent. Decision makers might also not have a lot of time to search for the information they need. Crises are stressful situations because they typically impose a time constraint on leaders with the probability of war looming in the background.

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Is there a Peaceful Way out of the Crimea Crisis?

The Crimean Verkovyna Sovet called a referendum to be held in Simferopol on March 16th, twice rescheduled over just the past two weeks. This means there is limited opportunity for facilitating dialogue between the parties and for   Crimeans to ponder the significance of their decisions. For those asking if the Crimean crisis must inevitably lead to war the answer is no. There is a peaceful way of resolving this crisis but it depends on carefully coordinated step-by-step measures taken by all parties. And, it involves entertaining the idea that creating Crimean autonomy requires flexibility, incentives and territorial concessions on both sides of  the negotiating table. Three conditions must be satisfied.

First, there must be concerted international pressure to come to a mutually agreed upon solution in a swift and decisive manner that satisfies the needs and interests of all Crimeans. Second, there must be an enforcement mechanism, which ensures that all sides abide by the negotiated outcome. Finally, the process must be elite-led and peaceful. Leaders on both sides must take immediate action to prevent violence of any kind in order to create space for constructive dialogue.

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Going into Greater Detail: Developing Trust in Crimea

Several recent posts to the blog – The Ukraine: Unfinished Business and Uncomfortable Truths, Canada has a Key Role to Play in Ukraine’s Future, and The Ukraine: Unfinished Business – have discussed how building trust will be an important component in stabilizing Ukraine. For those wanting more detail than a blog post can provide, attached is an article by Milana Nikolko and David Carment on the matter – Social Capital Development in Multiethnic Crimea: Global Regional and Local Constraints and Opportunities.


Ukraine narrative rich in irony

As originally published by Embassy.

As coverage of the unfolding crisis in Ukraine shifts focus away from the protests in Kiev and the installment of a shaky and inexperienced government, a new dominant narrative has begun to emerge in Canadian media.

It is a narrative rich in irony, mixed with hysteria and moral outrage, driven by a singular underlying theme: Russia bad, West good and Ukraine victim.

It is reminiscent of former United States secretary of state John Foster Dulles’ Cold War mindset that saw Russians as only capable of acting in bad faith.

This narrative is unhelpful. Ultimately the blame game gets in the way of constructive dialogue which is really the only way out of this mess.

For anyone sifting through all the messages sent, from reporters on the ground to those reacting in Washington, there has been a clear disconnect.
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The Ukraine: Unfinished Business and Uncomfortable Truths

When not teaching graduate students at Carleton University’s School of International Affairs, much of my practical work abroad has focused on deeply divided societies experiencing protracted conflict and sporadic bouts of violence. The bulk of my efforts in these fragile states, entails training organisations in conflict early warning, conflict resolution and conflict prevention. This practical work means engaging local civil society organisations who are the focal points of activity when government institutions are weak, divided or incapable of acting on behalf of the public interest. Sometimes, I have the opportunity to work alongside representatives from governmental and intergovernmental agencies whose analytical needs are much different than civil society organisations. Whereas civil society is often seen as using conflict analysis as part of their advocacy toolkit, pushing for specific policy options, policy makers are expected to use their information gathering and analysis for public administration purposes; to determine how a particular policy choice might play out within their constituency for example, or to establish if a religious or ethnic minority within their group is at risk so appropriate action can be taken in advance of the outbreak of conflict. These mechanisms and the training efforts that go into them have been applied in Bulgaria, Kosovo, and Serbia among other places with a reasonable degree of success. However, such a forward looking, preventive approach assumes that government actors are both willing and able to use evidence to advance the public good and that they stand above parochial interests.

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