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They Have to Get It Together First : U.S is wise to delay recognition of the republics

Russia is pressing the United States to recognize its independence and that of Ukraine and Belarus, the other founding members of the Commonwealth of Independent States that is emerging as the successor to the Soviet Union.

Secretary of State James A. Baker III, touring the capitals of the republics, says Washington will look closely at the request. Defense Secretary Dick Cheney, however, says he sees no reason for delay. “The reality is . . . the old Soviet Union is dead . . . and we’ve got to deal with (the) new mechanism.” Cheney, though, doesn’t have to clear his views with State Department lawyers, who must weigh the sweeping consequences of recognizing the independence of not just two or three new states but perhaps a dozen.

A huge problem is that there is simply no precedent for dealing with what is befalling the vast empire assembled by the czars and their Marxist successors. The dissolution of the Austro-Hungarian empire in 1918 and the emergence of successor states under the Treaty of Versailles was, comparatively, a model of orderly political evolution. The world is used to dealing with a powerful central government in Moscow, one that could be held accountable for the agreements and treaties it signed. But the new commonwealth, so its founders say, will be without a strong central executive, except when it comes to controlling nuclear weapons. The daunting prospect is that the world will have to deal separately on all issues with a host of new states. Will the foreign policy of Turkmenistan be the same as that of Belarus? Will Ukraine’s resources entitle it to international loans and credits denied Uzbekistan?

Washington has set legitimate preconditions for granting Ukraine the diplomatic recognition it first asked for weeks ago. Among them: protection of minority rights, no border changes without mutual agreement, tight controls over nuclear weapons and assumption of a fair share of the Soviet debt. Certainly these conditions should apply to the other emerging states.

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Russia seeks prompt recognition in order, as its foreign minister dramatically if somewhat ambiguously proclaims, to arrest “further disintegration.” At some point recognition is inevitable, for the Soviet Union has ceased to exist. But while implicitly accepting that fact, Washington is wise to delay acting until it has full reason to believe that the new states will behave responsibly, both domestically and internationally.

The first thing the states of the new commonwealth must do is decide among themselves what the legal basis of their relations will be, and how they will deal with the outside world. The vague agreement reached by the three Slavic republics does little to define that basis. One consideration among many yet to be resolved: What becomes of the permanent Security Council seat the U.N. Charter reserves for “the Soviet Union”? Russia may try to claim the seat as its own; Kazakhstan may have other ideas. National independence raises many problems. The new states have not even begun to consider them.


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