WHEN THE SOVIET UNION FELL in 1990 and the Slovakian half of former Soviet satellite Czechoslovakia wanted to secede, they agreed to go peacefully. Both halves flourished, and peaceful relations maintained. This was a god thing all round.
A swift perusal of history (and of the Balkan conflict that erupted at the same time further south) will demonstrate how unusual this is. A check of today's headlines from Georgia and South Ossetia, and the pictures of death and destruction that are the result of this conflict, will reinforce the point.
Arguing with guns, tanks and planes over the sovereignty of small patches of ground leaves nobody the winner, and everybody involved either a loser, or dead. Nobody won in the wars that were fought over the likes of Alsace-Lorraine, Port Douglas and the Amur River. Whatever gains that were hoped for by either side were wiped out the in the resulting death and destruction, and by the materiel and manpower expended in the conflict. That lesson should be learned by the two nuclear powers of India and Pakistan in their decades-long sabre rattling over Kashmir -- any conflict over which will leave both belligerents many times poorer than anything they can possibly gain from sovereignty of Kashmir.
The latest lesson in that vein is now being given in Georgia. Nobody will gain from it anything that was worth the expense, or the carnage.
THE SOVEREIGNTY ARGUMENT BETWEEN Georgia and the Ossetians has been bubbling for decades, but it too erupted in 1990 with the collapse of communism and the end of Soviet rule. While the Czech Republic and Slovakia agreed to break up and achieve prosperity peacefully, the two sides of the Georgian-Ossetian conflict continued to spar, seeking some deluded form of prosperity from sovereignty of this province.
Once again, the result is death and destruction and waste. The lesson of the likes of Czechoslovakia's 'Velvet Divorce' is obviously too clear for the belligerents in these various brushfire conflicts to take. Instead of pouring money and manpower into military materiel to assert some conflicted sovereignty, all sides have more to gain from applying that energy more productively.
D'you think that lesson will ever be learned?
UPDATE: If you want to understand why the Caucasus is riven with inter-tribal conflicts that go back for centuries, have a look at the patchwork quilt that is the ethnic makeup of the area. Like the Balkans, another patchwork of generational hatreds, it is beset by tribalism (which as Ayn Rand points out "is the best name to give to all the group manifestations of the anti-conceptual mentality") and like all of the sadder parts of the world benighted by such 'balkanisation' is, as Rand says, "a long history of caste systems, of national and local (provincial) chauvinism, of rule by brute force and endless, bloody wars ... [of] nations, which are perennially bent upon exterminating one another over minuscule differences of tradition or language."