Today In History: On July 23, 1940, The United States Denied The Legitimacy Of The Soviet Takeover Of The Baltic States

On July 23, 1940, the State Department of the United States issued the following statement about the Soviet takeover of Estonia, Latvia, and Lithuania, which was arranged as part of the Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact of 1939 that divided up Eastern Europe into German and Soviet spheres of control:

“During these past few days the devious processes whereunder the political independence and territorial integrity of the three small Baltic Republics – Estonia, Latvia, and Lithuania – were to be deliberately annihilated by one of their more powerful neighbors, have been rapidly drawing to their conclusion.

From the day when the peoples of those Republics first gained their independent and democratic form of government the people of the United States have watched their admirable progress in self-government with deep and sympathetic interest.

The policy of this Government is universally known. The people of the United States are opposed to predatory activities no matter whether they are carried on by the use of force or by the threat of force. They are likewise opposed to any form of intervention on the part of one state, however powerful, in the domestic concerns of any other sovereign state, however weak.

These principles constitute the very foundations upon which the existing relationship between the twenty-one sovereign republics of the New World rests.

The United States will continue to stand by these principles, because of the conviction of the American people that unless the doctrine in which these principles are inherent once again governs the relations between nations, the rule of reason, of justice and of law – in other words, the basis of modern civilization itself – cannot be preserved [1].”

This particular statement was known as the Welles Declaration [2], and its implications remain important to the present day. For one, the declaration denied that predation by strong states on weak states was legitimate, and affirmed the principle of international law known as ex injuria jus non oritur, which, translated roughly, means that unjust and illegal seizures cannot serve as the basis of claiming rights based on possession on the part of a predatory party. It is striking, and telling, that this principle was so enforced against the Russians, for although they were far from the only predatory nation at that time (Nazi Germany, Fascist Italy, and Imperial Japan were similarly rapacious nations during that time period in such areas as Poland, Czechoslovakia, Albania, Ethiopia, and China, to name but a few examples), they are a particularly relevant nation to whom this doctrine currently applies. As a result of this declaration, the Baltic states were able to keep alive their international legations and to preserve their international funds from Soviet seizure, all of which benefited them when they were able to declare their independence once again fifty years later and soon thereafter join the European Union.

Let us note that this strongly and fiercely worded document may also serve to rebuke the current Russian government, which like its Communist ancestors has sought to increase its rule through predatory behavior in such areas as Georgia and Ukraine. In such areas as South Ossetia, Abkhazia, the Crimean peninsula, the Transdnistr region of Moldova, and Donetsk, the Russians have through their military and economic strength, and through the repercussions of Soviet population movements, sought to destabilize the recently independent nations they used to hold in bondage directly. Although Russia is a particularly heinous example of such behavior, though, we must remember as well that part of the moral strength upon which our own Republic stands (if we are Americans) or that of whatever other nation we come from springs from our restraint of bullying those who are weaker than us. It is a blessed thing to stand up against bullies, but we must do so, to the greatest extent possible, with clean hands unmuddied by our own bullying and predation. To effectively speak out against predatory behavior, we must restrain ourselves from predation as well. Lamentably, as a nation, we have too often been guilty of such predation in our own neighborhood, which makes us appear to the bullies we speak out against as hypocrites, and requires that we repent of our own sins that we may forcefully confront the evil that we see around us.

It should be noted as well that this glorious praise of the little republics of Estonia, Latvia, and Lithuania, which have happily enjoyed their freedom now for almost twenty-five years from Soviet domination, and are now integrated into the European Union echoes the praise of another little republic made almost eighty years before. After all [3], when President Lincoln recognized the independence of San Marino during the course of the Civil War, he too gave a declaration that the United States would support the interests of small nations with a popular republican government like our own. To be sure, not all decisions made by a democratic or republican regime may be wise or thoughtful, but all the same, there is no possibility for legitimate rule that does not either spring from divine ordination or popular acclamation, for aside from the people who are to be ruled, the only legitimate basis of government springs from a covenant with God, in which we accept the rule of our Lord and Savior and Creator. The accommodations that must be made to rapacious and irresistible force do not in any way bequeath a legitimate to those who exploit and tyrannize others. Let us not be guilty of such predation ourselves, so that we may with a clear conscience condemn those who prey on others.

[1] John Hilden, Vahur Made, David J. Smith, editors. The Baltic Question During The Cold War. London: Routledge, 2008. 39.



About nathanalbright

I'm a person with diverse interests who loves to read. If you want to know something about me, just ask.
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7 Responses to Today In History: On July 23, 1940, The United States Denied The Legitimacy Of The Soviet Takeover Of The Baltic States

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