With today’s vote, Crimea is now firmly poised to be annexed by Russia.

This is a worrisome development for those of us who believe that the rule of law should replace the rule of the jungle in international relations. One basic premise of the international system built after World War Two (and enshrined by the UN Charter) is that countries must respect the territorial integrity of their neighbors. When there is a dispute between countries, the more powerful one cannot simply steal territory from its neighbor.

What is happening in Crimea is a grievous violation of a basic tenant of international law and international relations. It is deeply concerning to the UN system, which requires that countries adhere to the charter and the rule of law. When the charter is ignored, the UN is weakened.

International law serves as a constraint on powerful countries’ pursuit of national interests through war and conquest. When that prohibition is chipped away, the world becomes a less stable and peaceful place.

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