The Perils of Territorial Annexation

    Paul R. Pillar

    Politics, Eurasia

    Trump’s proposal to invite Russia to return to the G-7 is valid, but it need not be a recognition of ownership of Crimea or the taking of a position regarding any other territorial dispute.

    The main takeaway from the recent G-7 summit obviously is the damage to U.S.-allied relations from Donald Trump’s accusations about trade. Also worth assessing, however, is a different and milder disagreement between the U.S. president and the other summit participants: Trump’s urging (with support only from the Italian prime minister, the front man for a newly installed populist coalition in Rome) to readmit Russia to the group. The Group of Seven was established in the 1970s and did not expand to include Russia until the 1990s, after the collapse of the USSR. The other seven members suspended Russia’s participation in response to its annexation of Crimea in 2014.

    Forceful seizures of territory that have been allowed to stand, even though they have been internationally condemned, have been extremely rare since World War II. Seizures through armed aggression that were not allowed to stand but instead were reversed with military force have included North Korea’s invasion of South Korea in 1950 and Iraq’s swallowing of Kuwait in 1990. But although unreversed seizures are rare, Crimea is not the only one. In June 1967 Israel initiated a war with a surprise attack on Egypt. After Egypt prevailed on Jordan and Syria to enter the war, victorious Israeli forces seized territory from all three. A later negotiated settlement with Egypt included return of the captured Sinai. Jordan disavowed any claim to the Palestinian Arab-inhabited West Bank, which Israel continues to occupy. And in the Golan Heights, Israel continues to occupy, fifty-one years after its capture through armed force, a chunk of Syria.

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