Since the 1648 Peace of Westphalia ended the Thirty Years’ War, the conception of “Westphalian sovereignty” has been understood to mean that individual nation states control the sovereignty of their borders, without meddling by neighbor states, and that separate states stand on some degree of equal footing by respecting each other’s borders. For over 350 years, the system more or less worked, as endless wars have been fought to maintain borders and re-establish borders compromised by aggressors, e.g. the Sudetenland in World War 2.
However, globalization, the development of regional political entities (the EU), the rise of international institutions (the UN), and the development of non-state actors (al Qaeda), have challenged the Westphalian paradigm. Today, porous borders pose the greatest threats to states by facilitating political upheaval, economic chaos, and worst of all, terrorism, as on 9/11.
The effects of a porous border policy magnify the weaknesses of a leader by revealing the consequences of his ineptitude in ways other failings cannot. President Obama has countless such problems, but three border conflicts clearly illustrate the consequences of his incompetence, and the effects at home and abroad.
First, Ukraine. In the fall of 2013, Ukraine, a small light for freedom in a sea of post-Soviet political darkness, stood on the precipice of NATO membership. Vladimir Putin read the political tea leaves and disliked what he saw. After taking the measure of President Obama, no doubt an emboldening experience for the former KGBer, Putin sent his special forces, the Spetsnaz, into Eastern Ukraine to foment insurrection.
President Obama, asleep at the switch amidst the false confidence of his Administration’s pathetic “reset,” watched Russia make a mockery of Ukraine’s borders as it strolled into the Crimea and annexed it before NATO knew what was happening. Since then, Ukraine has been under siege by Moscow and has been subject to military and economic assault. Putin sets the agenda as statesman provocateur, while the president lamely sends the world’s most feckless diplomat, the wind-surfing John Kerry, to scold Russian foreign minister Sergey Lavrov. To no one’s great surprise, Lavrov politely ignores Kerry.