The Post-War Population Transfers
War has been abolished, albeit imperfectly: what do the exceptions prove about the rule of international law?
We start with a thesis:
National borders have been more stable post-World War II than at any point since the invention of national borders.
Regarding the historical comparison, the only time period seriously worth considering is the 1814-1914 century “Concert of Europe”; before that, war for territorial expansion was simply expected.. While some European borders were fixed in the 19th century, there is the Franco-Prussian War as well as the formation of Germany and Italy. Outside Europe, that timeframe also included the Scramble for Africa, treaty ports in China, the United States annexing large parts of Mexico, etc.
Regarding recent stability, there have been only a few changes to the map after the World War II and de-colonization1. A few countries have partitioned - Sudan, Ethiopia, Pakistan, Yugoslavia, and Czechoslovakia. A few others have unified - Germany and Vietnam. Yemen has done both. But, to a first approximation, national borders have been frozen and inviolate for 75 years.
This leaves just two situations2 which need further analysis: the successor states of the Soviet Union, and the post-1949 territorial acquisitions of Israel.
The Soviet Union
After the end of the Second World War, the external borders of the Soviet Union were fairly well established. In Eastern Europe, the Soviet Union bordered a set of satellite states. These were nation-states (ref. Devereaux) such as Poland and Bulgaria. In Asia, it had borders with Iran, Mongolia, China, and other countries - while there were border skirmishes the conflicts were minimal. The USSR itself consisted of 15 constituent republics3, with borders that were in many cases arbitrary.
After the collapse of the USSR, these formerly-internal borders have become disputed international borders. The most prominent disputes are:
the multiple wars over Nagorno-Karabakh between Armenia and Azerbaijan
wars over Chechnya, South Ossetia, Abkhazia, etc. between Russia, Georgia, and local separatists
the Secession of Crimea from Ukraine and its subsequent Accession4 to Russia
the existence of Transnistria, a semi-independent enclave of Moldova
That’s a lot of border conflicts, compared to the approximately zero in the rest of the world in that time. But why? Because the borders were not fixed5 after World War II.
First they drew Poland on a map, then they moved the Poles there.
Both World Wars were followed by substantial population transfers. Rather than describe them de novo, we quote Wikipedia:
The 1923 population exchange between Greece and Turkey stemmed from the "Convention Concerning the Exchange of Greek and Turkish Populations" signed at Lausanne, Switzerland, on 30 January 1923, by the governments of Greece and Turkey. It involved at least 1.6 million people (1,221,489 Greek Orthodox and 355,000–400,000 Muslims, most of whom were forcibly made refugees and de jure denaturalized from their homelands.
The Partition of India was the division of British India in 1947 into two independent Dominions: India and Pakistan. The Dominion of India is today the Republic of India, and the Dominion of Pakistan the Islamic Republic of Pakistan and the People's Republic of Bangladesh. The partition involved the division of two provinces, Bengal and Punjab, based on district-wide non-Muslim or Muslim majorities. … The partition displaced between 10 and 20 million people along religious lines, creating overwhelming refugee crises in the newly constituted dominions.
During the later stages of World War II and the post-war period, Germans and Volksdeutsche fled or were expelled6 from various Eastern and Central European countries, including Czechoslovakia, and the former German provinces of Silesia, Pomerania, and East Prussia, which were annexed by Poland and the Soviet Union. … By 1950, a total of approximately 12 million Germans had fled or been expelled from east-central Europe into Allied-occupied Germany and Austria.
The population exchange between Poland and Soviet Ukraine at the end of World War II was based on a treaty signed on 9 September 1944 by the Ukrainian SSR with the newly-formed Polish Committee of National Liberation (PKWN). The exchange stipulated the transfer of ethnic Ukrainians to the Ukrainian SSR and of ethnic Poles and Jews who had Polish citizenship before September 17, 1939 (date of the Soviet Invasion of Poland) to post-war Poland, in accordance with the resolutions of the Yalta and Tehran conferences and the plans about the new Poland–Ukraine border. Similar agreements were signed with the Byelorussian SSR and the Lithuanian SSR.
Note “Poles and Jews” in that last quote. Yet the country is not called “Pole and Jew Land”.
If you drew nation-states within the borders of Austria-Hungary and the Russian Empire in 1890, there would surely be an Ashkenazi7 state in Eastern Europe. Some demographics include 5 million Yiddish-speakers8 in the Russian Empire, and 2 million Jews in Austria-Hungary. It would probably include the cities of Lviv (Lemberg) and Lublin, both of which were around 30% Jewish at the turn of the century.
But of course that didn’t happen. While there were proposals to transfer Jews to Kenya, Australia, Madagascar, Argentina, etc. I do not see any serious historical proposals for a Jewish state in the vicinity of the Pale of Settlement. This can be attributed partly to antisemitism, and partly to the forces of Zionism.
Zionism has perhaps a longer history among Christians than among Jews, but became a prominent political force among Jews towards the end of the 19th century. In 1917, the United Kingdom made the Balfour Declaration in support of a Jewish state in what would be Mandatory Palestine after the war. US President Woodrow Wilson also supported this, and his Fourteen Points do not mention the Jews.
As far as antisemitism, we must start with Nazi Germany, which, after briefly considering expelling the Jews from the Third Reich, determined instead to simply exterminate them. The Soviet Union, rather than establish a state where Jews already lived, created a Jewish Autonomous Oblast halfway around the world in Birobidzhan (on the Manchurian border) in the 1930s, which was then purged of most Jewish aspects in 1949.
So the partition of the Ottoman Empire ended 30 years after that empire ended, with a Jewish state on the eastern shores of the Mediterranean.
Israel, a brief history
The original plan for the de-colonization of Mandatory Palestine involved the creation of two states. This outcome was not acceptable to the neighboring Arab states, which promptly invaded. Once peace was established9 in 1949, there was the State of Israel. The Gaza Strip was controlled by Egypt, and the West Bank was controlled by Jordan.
Peace held (mostly10) until 1967. That June, Israel declared war on Egypt11 (the Six Day War), with the specific casus belli of the closure of the Straits of Tiran. A secondary cause was surely issues related to water access. And we cannot forget “because we can” — as noted already the war took less than a week, ending with a complete Israeli victory over Egypt, Jordan, and Syria. This victory came with a massive annexation of territory.
A few years later, there was another war, but after 1973 there have been no major wars between nation-states. What there has been is 50 years of irregular conflict, peace talks, peace-for-land talks, agreements, broken agreements, multiple assassinations (Sadat, Rabin), and no real progress on comprehensive peace.
So we are left with one faction desiring the impossibility of a pre-1949 status quo ante, and another faction claiming that acquiring territory in a war in 1967 is somehow not an embarrassing exception to post-War international law. One faction with a dysfunctional government that has not seen elections in 15 years, and one faction with a higher risk for policy change by assassination or coup than anyone dares admit. One faction that talks incessantly of third-generation “refugees” and that is “aided” by an Arab league that has historically preferred promoting victimhood to providing substantive aid.
And overshadowing all of that, a thousand year religious conflict. More on that later, though not particularly soon …
Some people will point to the Kellogg-Briand Pact of 1928 as being important towards this end. Apart from this footnote, I see no need to mention it.
Saddam Hussein’s attempted invasion of Kuwait is notable only in that it proves the rule - an attempt to engage in wars of conquest will not be tolerated.
It is perhaps more accurate to say there were 14 constituent republics plus Mother Russia, which was at least the first among equals.
As a matter of procedure, Crimea declared secession from Ukraine, and then immediately conducted a referendum to accede to Russia. While there were egregious procedural issues, it is difficult to argue that a fair referendum would have produced a different result.
The word “fixed” means both “repaired” and “made immutable” here.
The Wikipedia article [[Flight and expulsion of Germans (1944–1950)]] currently has serious issues with completeness and bias. In particular, it is almost completely glossed over that Germans had relocated to Nazi-occupied territories during the war.
The distinction between ethnicity, language, and religion is often glossed over as they almost uniformly overlap in Europe of 1900. Ashkenazi (plural Ashkenazim) in 1900 was an ethnic group, primarily Yiddish-speaking Jews. We use “Jew” interchangably for Ashkenazi, although it is important to note that only about half of Israeli Jews are Ashkenazi, the others having immigrated largely from Arab countries.
Yiddish is recorded as a dialect of German in the Austro-Hungarian census.
It is important to note the contemporaneous Indian invasion of Hyderabad here. The plans drawn in Europe after World War II did not always survive contact with the real world.
The Suez Crisis of 1956 is perhaps the oddest geo-political event of the 20th century. I have no particular expertise on the topic, and will not discuss it in any detail.