Consider a group of people living on a peninsula named Crimea. The majority of Crimean people are Orthodox Christian but there is a large majority of Muslims (there are some other minor religions represented as well). Although the territory is small in size, it is highly rich in natural resources. However, it is assumed here they do not possess the means for its exploration and exploitation and hence depend on third parties to do it. They do not have any means to defend the peninsula. At the centre of the Black Sea, Crimea faces directly Russia, Ukraine, Turkey, Georgia, Rumania, and Bulgaria. Finally, the sovereignty of the peninsula is currently claimed by the Russian Federation and Ukraine.
Ukraine is a medium size sovereign State with a medium size population, mainly Orthodox Christian. This country is situated linked to Crimea by land and it is also rich in natural resources. Ukrainians have their own means of defence.
Russia one of the largest sovereign States in the world in terms of territorial size, but not densely populated (although the population is larger in relation to those of Crimea and Ukraine). Russians are mainly Orthodox Christian with other several religious minorities. The territory is rich in natural resources. The Crimean people have very limited means to defend their territory. Geographically, they are located in the continent adjacent to Russia and Ukraine, so mainland Russia and Ukraine share with Crimea part of the continental shelf.
Crimea is strategically important for both Russia and Ukraine because of its location on the Black Sea, and hence the most advantaged in that respect (difference in Crimea’s advantage). However, it is the least advantaged in terms of territorial and population size, and defence. Crimea is key in Ukraine’s plans for energy independence and gas diversification strategy. The peninsula is important for Russia in many aspects such as natural resources and geopolitical location (for example, as a base for Russian navy).
Russia is the most advantaged in terms of wealth and defence (differences in Russia’s favour), the least advantaged in terms of geopolitical location, and in particular less advantaged than Ukraine in relation to their geographical proximity to Crimea.
Ukraine is the most advantaged in terms of geographical proximity to Crimea (difference in Ukraine’s favour), but less advantaged than Russia in terms of wealth and defence.
Before reviewing how the egalitarian shared sovereignty may work in this situation, let us see briefly how the principle of equality and the difference principle result when applied sensu stricto in this case.
If we applied equality strictly, they would all receive equal benefits and contribute equally towards the burdens. How would Ukraine fulfil its duty to defend Crimea? How would Crimean people defend themselves? The same could be said about natural resources because although Crimea, Russia, and Ukraine would receive the same share in terms of ownership, Crimean people would not have the means to exploit them. Several other implications could be drawn but we have already made a point. It is both unreasonable and unfair to expect three parties with different comparative situations in many different areas to contribute in an equal manner or to receive an equal return.
Nevertheless, to apply the difference principle in the same form may have similar consequences. Let us assume that overall Ukraine is the least advantaged in terms of natural resources, so they will receive a larger share. Crimea is less advantaged than Russia and Ukraine in terms of defence, so Russia will provide the means to defend the third territory. But Ukriane is less advantaged than Russia in terms of wealth, the natural resources in its territory are not part of the agreement so they are not under discussion, and they do not have means to defend the third territory to the same extent Russia does. Would they have to receive a larger share of the benefits resultant from the exploitation of natural resources in Crimea with means provided by Russia? Indeed, this seems unacceptable.
Jorge Emilio Núñez
21st June 2018