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Last week, Kurds in northern Iraq voted overwhelmingly in favor of independence for the country's Kurdistan Region. With some 30 million Kurds divided among four states (Iraq, Turkey, Syria, Iran), nationalists argue that they deserve the world's recognition. Does it matter that polls show Catalans, unlike Kurds, to be closely divided on the issue? Does it matter that the states bordering Iraqi Kurdistan might use force to resist secession?Was it right to allow self-determination for the Sudeten Germans, even if it meant stripping Czechoslovakia (which Germany dismembered six months later) of its military defenses?In 1995, a NATO peacekeeping force was sent to the troubled area, but when NATO intervened militarily in Kosovo in 1999, Russia backed Serbia's objections to secession, and Kosovo has still not been admitted to the U.N. In turn, Russia invoked self-determination to support Abkhazia's secession from Georgia in 2008, and its invasion and annexation of Crimea in 2014 .Self-determination turns out to be an ambiguous moral principle. Given that less than 10 percent of the world's states are homogeneous, treating self-determination as a primary rather than secondary moral principle could have disastrous consequences in many parts of the world.
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