Crime shouldn't get a vote
On public diplomacy in the 21st Century, the UN charter, and reasons why Elon Musk ought to try harder to restrain his impulses
Elon Musk has thoughts on the Russian war of aggression against Ukraine, and he has shared those thoughts with the world on Twitter, the social media platform he is trying not to buy. It is entirely within Musk's rights as an American citizen to exercise his First Amendment protections by voicing an opinion. But it's an opinion in dire need of reconsideration.
■ Musk proposed that step one towards a peace between Ukraine and Russia would be: "Redo elections of annexed regions under UN supervision. Russia leaves if that is will of the people." He spun the proposal as an exercise in realism, writing "This is highly likely to be the outcome in the end -- just a question of how many die before then". But what he overlooks is a central problem in the entire affair: To "redo" the illegitimate referenda in the four Ukrainian regions which Russia is trying to occupy is to suggest that those votes had some basis of legitimacy in the first place.
■ Chapter 1, Article 2 of the UN charter states: "All Members shall refrain in their international relations from the threat or use of force against the territorial integrity or political independence of any state". It does not say "We'll supervise a do-over".
■ Making this all more intriguing is that Ukraine's president has responded directly to Musk's tweet with a Twitter poll of his own, asking "Which Elon Musk do you like more? One who supports Ukraine [or] one who supports Russia"? Public diplomacy in 2022 is absolutely nothing like any reasonable person would have guessed 20 years ago.
■ But the heart of the matter remains: Are people entitled to self-determination? Absolutely. And in trying to cover for his initial mistake, Musk has subsequently tried to frame his question as merely offering the people of those occupied regions that basic choice of self-determination.
■ Yet it's not unlike sending in the police after a hostage has been taken and asking the hostage, "Would you rather go home or go with your captors? We'll let you vote in a secret ballot." The very act of submitting it as a choice presumes that there was legitimacy to the hostage-taking in the first place.
■ Elon Musk has a first-rate mind, but his self-control is often second-class at best. Proffering a "peace" plan that assumes that the world should submit an invasion to a vote -- under the supervision of the United Nations, whose Secretary-General has already expressly denounced the fraudulent referenda -- is the sort of choice from which Musk ought to have restrained himself.