Archive for the ‘U.S Foreign Relations’ Category

REPRISE — Putin’s wager: Russia’s rogue authoritarianism versus fundamental human rights and the existing international political and legal order

Saturday, August 9th, 2014

Russia and the Ukraine—The Big Picture

Originally published April 24, 2014

In a fatal error, Putin challenges the modern postwar international political and legal order

It is historically ironic, and from Vladimir Putin’s point of view perhaps tragic, that Russia’s crowning achievement at the Sochi Winter Games culminated precisely when the Yanukovych government in the Ukraine began to stumble and fall. On the other hand, Putin had only himself to blame.

Since then, Vladimir Putin has overreached, and made the fatal mistake of undertaking actions that put Russia permanently at odds with the world’s international political, legal and economic order.

While formally created during and at the end of World War II (1939-1945), the system has roots that go back to Hugo Grotius and the Thirty Years’ War of 1618-1648. The idea for the United Nations can be traced back to the Hague Peace Conferences of 1899 and 1907, and the Covenant of the League of Nations and the founding of the League in 1919.

Since the founding of the United Nations in 1945, the system of international law established within the framework of the United Nations Charter, including its bedrock principle prohibiting the threat or use of force against the territorial integrity or political independence of any state, has become the very fabric of international society, constituting principles that have been repeatedly accepted in countless treaties and agreements as binding norms of international law by virtually every country.

Now along comes Russia’s new Dictator to suppress within Russia fundamental human rights such as freedom of the press, freedom of assembly, and the right to a fair trial; to challenge the entire structure of the existing international political and legal order by invading the Ukraine, seizing the Crimea by military force and annexing it to Russia; and now threatening to invade the eastern Ukraine if the government of that country responds to Russia’s initial invasion by special forces and seizure of government buildings by force with its own necessary and legal use of force to reassert its control over its own government offices and territory.

Putin wants Russia to be able to invade the eastern Ukraine with special forces, and then to be able to decry any attempt by the Ukrainian government to restore public order as “crimes” against the Ukrainian constitution. He does so without mentioning his own crimes against the Russian constitution by suppressing civil liberties, or his own use of brutal force in putting down the rebellion in Chechnya–which included the commission of war crimes on a very large scale.

Putin and his lieutenant, Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov, accuse the Ukraine and the West of violating international law, as they sit on the spoils of Russian aggression in the Crimea, and openly threaten military intervention in the Eastern Ukraine if that country’s government moves with force to restore public order and the ordinary functioning of government institutions.

Like the case of Northern Cyprus, invaded by Turkey in 1967, or East Timor which was invaded and annexed by Indonesia in 1975, Russian invasion and annexation of the Crimea will never be accepted by other nations.

Nor will any further conquests in the eastern Ukraine, or of independent countries which formerly made up the Soviet Union, ever be recognized.

An invasion of the eastern Ukraine will indeed produce results, just not those Putin in his demented shortsightedness seeks to secure.

An immediate result will be stiffer sanctions from the U.S. and the EU, which moreover are likely to grow in intensity over time.

An invasion is highly likely to produce permanent enmity toward Russia in the Ukraine, and to strengthen the desire of Ukrainians, East and West, to join the European Union and, if necessary to protect their independence in the future, to join NATO as well (whatever time may be required to achieve this result).

An invasion is also likely to produce energetic responses from NATO aimed at Russia, if not immediately then at least over the intermediate term. To counter potential Russian aggression, large forces of American and other NATO-country troops are likely to eventually be moved from Germany to forward bases in Poland, Romania, Lithuania, Estonia and Latvia. The current drawdown of American forces from Europe, in time, could be reversed.

Europe will probably also undertake vigorous policies to reduce its consumption of Russian gas and oil, though this may take a few years.

Putin’s wager is that his domestic repression and suppression of freedom of the press, free elections, the right to a fair trial and other fundamental human rights will be a model others will want to emulate, or at least be willing to ignore.

His wager that wars of aggression involving military invasions and the annexation of conquered territories will not matter to other countries, which will be happy to look the other way and continue doing business with Russia, is not likely to be successful in the middle or long term.

To be sure, the slowness with which democracies respond to military challenges may appear to be acqiescence or appeasement in the short term, but in the intermediate to longer term the combined economic and military strength of the U.S., NATO, Japan and their allies will be able to contain Russian military expansionism while depriving Russia of vital opportunities to join the first ranks of nations in a wired and interconnected world.

Finally, Putin’s wager overlooks the vital forces within Russia itself, symbolized by courageous dissidents such as Andrei Sakharov, or even Communist party leaders like Mikhail Gorbachev and Boris Yeltsin. These forces have visions of Russia that are deeply at odds with Putin’s embodiment of autocratic dictatorship at home, and wars of aggression abroad.

Putin’s wager may in fact hasten the day when his greatest fears are realized, the day the Maidan comes to Red Square.

The Trenchant Observer

If you accept the May 25 elections, Mr. Putin, then order a “full-stop” to aggression in the eastern Ukraine

Friday, May 23rd, 2014

Russian President Vladimir Putin, who sent special operations forces into eastern Ukraine to spark and coordinate “separatist” rebellions by the use of force, continues to play his duplicitous and treacherous “double game” in the Ukraine.

If he hoped to retain a shred of credibility in saying he would respect the results of the May 25, 2014 national elections in the Ukraine, he would have had to call a “FULL STOP” to further violence by pro-Russian forces.

Instead, the subversive forces which he launched into action under the leadership and coordination of Russian special operations forces (including so-called “little green men”) continue to seize control of government buildings by the use of force, in a region they seek to turn into a pro-Russian dictatorship which holds sway by fear, intimidation, assassinations, and the public display and use of armed force.

Far from acting as if Russia will respect the results of the Ukrainian elections, these Russian special operations forces and intelligence operatives, whose true identities have been unmasked, are engaged in violent suppression of the exercise of fundamental human rights, including the right to freedom of the press, the right to physical integrity and to be free from the arbitrary use of force, and the right to participate in government and to vote in free and fair elections, particularly in the Donetsk and Luhansk areas.

Because the taking of a human life constitutes murder when it occurs outside the framework of domestic and international law, these Russians and Russian agents are, in clear moral and legal terms, committing murder against the Ukrainian security forces (and others) who are legitimately seeking to restore public order in the eastern Ukraine.

While Putin was announcing he would “respect” the results of the May 25 elections, Russian agents were murdering innocent Ukrainian soldiers, including in one ambush where some 17 were killed.

Now Putin strides on the world stage to claim that the invasion and annexation of the Crimea were justified under international law, and that he has no interest in further irredentist actions.

His response is due to the firmness of the West in threatening further, “Stage Three” sanctions, the enhanced deployment of NATO capabilities along the borders of NATO countries which border Russia, and the likelihood of NATO now stationing combat forces in Lithuania, Latvia, Estonia, Poland, and Romania. He may also be responding to pressures from China, which certainly does not want to see any secessionist movements succeed which might inspire Uighur or Tibetan separatists.

Putin has a losing hand, and seems to be slowly recognizing that reality. Perhaps he thinks the West and the civilized nations of the world will quickly forget about his invasion and annexation of the Crimea.

That is not a good long-term bet, as the bedrock principles of the U.N. Charter prohibiting the use of force and annexation of conquered territories may be tenaciously held and defended over the longer term. One need only think of Cyprus or East Timor to grasp the point.

In view of the above, it is now a time for vigilance against potential actions by a treacherous Russian leader, whose mendacity is evident in every statement he makes, including those intended to give a conciliatory impression in the West.

If you are going to respect the May 25 election results in the Ukraine, Mr. Putin, begin respecting the election now by calling off your special operations forces and intelligence operatives and their agents in the eastern Ukraine.

ORDER THEM TO DESIST FROM FURTHER VIOLENCE, SEIZURE OF GOVERNMENT BUILDINGS, AND ACTIONS TO DISRUPT THE HOLDING OF THE ELECTIONS ON SUNDAY.

ORDER A FULL-STOP, MR. PUTIN. NOW.

The Trenchant Observer

Der Scharfsinniger Beobachter
L’Observateur Incisif
El Observador Incisivo

The West at a crossroads in the Ukraine: “Rechtstaat” or “Machtpolitik”?

Tuesday, May 13th, 2014

Barack Obama, Angela Merkel, and other leaders from the West seem lost in the flow of events in the Ukraine, responding only to immediate pressures. Even when they react, they appear to do so only in a manner marked by pacifism and what can only appear to Moscow (and not only Moscow) as a deep-rooted fear of confrontation with Russia, either through countervailing force or the threat thereof, or through  broad economic sanctions that might actually dissuade Vladimir Putin from his current course.

Like the French and the English following the signature by Eduourd Daladier and Neville Chamberlain of the Munich Pact on September 30, 1938, ceding the Sudetenland to Germany in the face of a planned German invasion the next day, against all evidence the current leaders of the West continue to harbor the illusion that a little bit of aggression and a little bit of annexation will not deflect the current course of history and the enjoyment of “peace in our time”.

The deepest illusion they harbor is the belief that Russia will soon become like a Western European state, and not revert to the ruthless totalitarian state from which it emerged only in 1991, following the liberalizing reforms of Mikhail Gorbacev after 1985.

Such a development does not seem likely, at least not in the foreseeable future in which the leadership of Russia is likely to be controlled by Vladimir Putin and his entourage.

The issue does raise an important further question, however:

How are the policies adopted by the West likely to affect the interplay of domestic political forces in Russia that will determine the kinds of leaders and political forms that will emerge after Putin has left the scene?

A strong argument can be made that if the West seeks to foster the development of democratic forces in Russia which might assume power after Putin, it should respond to Putin’s aggression against the Ukraine in a principled manner, built on commitment to the rule of law. This commitment would need to apply both internationally, through insistance on compliance with basic norms of international law, and domestically, within both Russia and the Ukraine, by insisting on the observance and protection of the fundamental human rights of all individuals in each country.

Such an approach makes sense, because reformers in Russia–and every other country in the world–will take careful note of the values that the EU, the U.S., and other countries actually promote and defend through their actions, and not merely their words.

Robust Western defense of the rule of law will provide them with hope and implicit encouragement. Appeasement and disregard for the protection of the human rights of all Ukrainans would be likely to have the opposite effect.

The larger issue, which seems to escape the short-term calculus of the current leaders of the West, is whether they and their populations are willing to fight for, and make sacrifices for, the rule of law.

Are they willing to make sacrifices and impose sanctions which will also affect their own economies, in order to uphold the rule of law on the international level, to fulfill the purposes and goals of the founders of the United Nations, “to save succeeding generations from the scourge of war”?

Secondly, are they willing to make the sacrifices that may be necessary to uphold and protect fundamental human rights, secured by treaties, the U.N. Charter, and customary international law?

Will they stand up for the protection of the fundamental human rights of all individuals in the eastern Ukraine?

The constitutions of EU member states are founded on the rule of law and the protection of human rights, as is the U.S. constitution and the whole edifice of the European Union, the Council of Europe, and NATO.

At bottom, the critical question in the Ukranian crisis is whether Europe, the U.S., and other civilized countries are still willing to make serious sacrifices in order to uphold the rule of law, or whether appeasement and acceptance of some aggression, some annexation, and acquiescence in widespread violation of fundamental human rights in the eastern Ukraine is the preferred course.

The stark choice, as it was put in Germany in the late 1920′s, is between a world built on the concept of the “Rechtstaat” (democratic state governed by law) or “Machtpolitik”(the politics of military power).

Rechtstaat oder Machtpolitik? Oder?
(Rule of law state or the politics of power? Or????)

The Trenchant Observer

Ukraine: Latest developments on the ground (May 5)

Monday, May 5th, 2014

David Blair (Slavyansk) “Ukraine crisis: Eight killed in bitter battle in Slavyansk,” The Telegraph, May 5, 2014 (7:36 PM BST).

Ukraine: Latest news and opinion (May 4)

Sunday, May 4th, 2014

For an insightful account of how different people are thinking in the eastern Ukraine, based on two reorters’ travels in the regionover the last week, see:

Jörg Eigendorf und Julia Smirnova, “Bürgerkrieg: Im Osten der Ukraine herrscht der blanke Hass,” Die Welt, 4. mai 2014 (20:13 Uhr).

Eine Woche waren “Welt”-Reporter zwischen Dnipropetrowsk und der Grenze zu Russland unterwegs. Und erlebten, wie die Menschen immer radikaler werden. Tagebuch über ein Land auf dem Weg in den Krieg.

Details of clash at pro-Russian checkpoint near Sloviansk

Monday, April 21st, 2014

For an extraordinary account, citing eyewitnesses, of the clash at a pro-Russian checkpoint near Sloviansk in the eastern Ukraine on April 20, Sunday, see:

Julia Smirnova (Slawjansk), “Die russische Invasion hat längst begonnen,” Die Welt, 21. April 2014.

In der gefährlichsten Stadt der Ukraine herrscht seit Tagen Angst. Vieles spricht dafür, dass Militärs und Geheimdienstmitarbeiter Slawjansk in der Ostukraine zum russischen Brückenkopf ausbauen.

This and other sources suggest that whatever the origins of the shoot-out, it seems highly unlikely that it was an attack launched by Rightest Sector operatives, as alleged in the Russian media.

The Trenchant Observer

Airlift of NATO troops to Ukraine should be considered; U.N. Security Council meets on March 13 (links to video and press statements)

Thursday, March 13th, 2014

The Security Council met today to consider the grave threat to international peace and security represented by Russian aggression in the Ukraine including the military seizure of the Crimea.

Vladimir Putin has amassed such concentrated power that no one in an official position seems willing to oppose him. His decision to seize the Crimea by military force was reportedly taken by him and a very narrow circle of advisors which did not include the foreign minister or his representatives.

Putin now heads a rogue state and is accountable to no one, which places the world in a most precarious state given the fact that he commands thousands of nuclear weapons which, if a spark were to set off hostilities, could precipitate a nuclear exchange with wholly unforeseeable consequences.

Today the Security Council met to consider this delicate state of affairs, in which a Russian-orchestrated “referendum” is to be held in the Crimea on Sunday to decide whether to become part of Russia. Given the tightly choreographed scenario Putin is commanding, and clear indications from the Russian Duma, annexation by Russia is likely to follow within a matter of days. The fait accompli will then be achieved, with the only remaining question being whether Russian forces will move into other parts of the Ukraine.

Putin has adopted the worst agitprop techniques from Stalin’s times, using the “Big Lie” technique set forth by Adolf Hitler in Mein Kampf–and later put into practice in places like the Sudetenland.

While Europe and the U.S. have ruled out military action, one has to wonder whether an airlift of 10,000 or 20,000 NATO troops into the Ukraine in response to a request from Kiev for action in collective self-defense under Article 51 of the U.N. Charter might not help to bring Putin to his senses.

At today’s meeting of the Security Council, Prime Minister Arseniy Yatsenyuk of the Ukraine strongly set forth what has happened and his appeal for assistance from the Security Council and the international community.

The webcast video of the Security Council meeting, as well as press statements by various delegates and questions and answers with the press, can be found here.

Putin has done the West and the other civilized nations of the world a great favor: He has ripped away the last illusions about his character and the nature of the Russian state under his leadership.

Although those who followed Syria and the perfidious diplomacy of Russia over the last three years may have harbored few illusions about Putin, as he supported Syria’s al-Assad in committing war crimes and crimes against humanity on a massive scale (over 140,000 dead, so far), now even the naive leaders who preferred “to work through the Russians” in seeking solutions in Syria must have been brought to their senses.

At this point, it should have become clear that Putin will not be persuaded by rational considerations. To prevent him from moving into eastern parts of the Ukraine, or beyond, serious consideration should now be given to moving NATO troops, or troops from some NATO countries, into the Ukraine. Such action would bolster Ukrainian defenses against a rogue state currently engaged in military intervention against its territory.

Without a countervailing force, it is hard to see what can stop Putin from pursuing whatever couse he in his madness may choose. In his mind perhaps, he may think he has little to lose. He has already destroyed the bases for commercial and economic relations with the West.

It is not reassuring that many of his actions appear delusional. Dictators with delusions of grandeur can be the most dangerous of them all. He certainly does not appear to be as clear-eyed and level-headed as Nikita Khrushchev was during the Cuban Missile Crisis in 1962.

Like Julius Caesar, he has crossed the Rubicon. The entire edifice of his hold on power in Russia is now at stake. In such circumstances, one simply cannot predict what might happen, or what he might do.

The Trenchant Observer

Der Scharfsinniger Beobachter
L’Obervateur Incisif
El Observador Incisivo

Ukraine: latest news, opinion and analysis

Wednesday, March 5th, 2014

Developing

News Reports

(1) Muchael R. Gordon and Steven Ehrlanger, “U.S. Effort to Broker Russia-Ukraine Diplomacy Fails,” New York Times, March 5, 2014.

(2) Somini Senguptamarch, “Senior U.N. Envoy Threatened at Gunpoint in Crimea, New York Times, March 5, 2014.

(3) (Avec AFP), “Le cauchemar de l’envoyé spécial de l’ONU en Crimée, Le Soir, 5 mars 2014.

Menacé par des hommes armés, harcelé par la foule, Robert Serry a dû rentrer précipitamment à Kiev.

(4) Peter Baker, “No Easy Way Out of Ukraine Crisis,” New York Times, March 4, 2014.

This story, by the White House correspondent of the New York Times, who Obama frequently uses to explain what he is thinking–or even to channel his stream of consciousness, reflects the fact that Obama still doesn’t understand that the conduct of foreign policy is not just an analytical game, where you “explain” to the news media and other countries your analysis of a situation and your thought processes in considering various courses of action.

The public and the world need an executive, not an analyst. They, other nations and history will judge Obama not on the basis of his analyses and speeches, but rather on his actions, and the results they produce.

Opinion and Commentary

(1) Henry A. Kissinger, “how the Ukraine crisis ends,” Washington Post, March 5, 2014 (2:58 p.m.).

(2) Stefan Kornelius (Kommentar), “Russische Besetzung der Krim; Putin muss beeindruckt werdenr,” Süddeutsche Zeitung, “>5. März 2014 (13:14 Uhr).

Eine Woche Intensivkurs Putinismus haben gelehrt: Rationalität steht nicht hinter den Entscheidungen des russischen Präsidenten. Die EU muss klarmachen, dass sie die von Putin geschaffenen Fakten nicht akzeptiert. Nur die Entschlossenheit zu weitreichenden Sanktionen wird ihn zu Gesprächen bewegen.

(3) Lord Weidenfeld, “Außenpolitisch ist Barack Obama eine Niete, Die Welt, 4. März 2014.

In einem sind sich Freunde wie Feinde des US-Präsidenten einig: In der Außenpolitik agiert Barack Obama fast schon schockierend undurchsichtig. Als Führer der freien Welt taugt er nicht.

(4) Eric T. Hansen, “Europa muss Machtpolitik lernen (Kolumne Wir Amis), Die Zeit, 4. März 2014 (22:35 Uhr).

In Europa bilden wir uns ein, die Welt funktioniere auf der Basis von Vernunft, Rücksicht und Kompromissen. Der russische Präsident Putin zeigt uns, dass es nicht so ist.

The Trenchant Observer
(Der Scharfsinniger Beobachter)
(L’Obervateur Incisif)
(El Observador Incisivio)

Vladimir Putin’s March 4, 2014 press conference (transcript—partial—developing); video links to March 3, 2014 Security Council meeting on Ukraine

Tuesday, March 4th, 2014

(Dwveloping)

“Vladimir Putin answered journalists’ questions on the situation in Ukraine, Press Conference, March 4, 2014, (15:40) Novo-Ogaryovo, Moscow Region.

For a video to the webcast of March 3, 2014 of the Security Council Meeting on Ukraine, click here.

For a video of the March 3 Security Council meeting webcast in the original language of the speaker, click here.

For links to wecast videos of statements made at the Press stakeout, click here.

The Security Council issued apress release on March 3, which contains a summery of the remarks made at the meeting. See U.N. Doc. SC/11305, March 3, 2014.

The fruits of pacifist foreign policies: Aggression in Ukraine, atrocities in Syria; Merkel’s fact-finding mission—a last chance to avert disaster?

Monday, March 3rd, 2014

The new hybrid pacifism

The new, hybrid pacifism of Barack Obama and NATO countries has been obscured by Obama’s use of drones, and military operations begun long ago but now winding down in Afghanistan.

The military intervention of France and NATO in Libya pursuant to a U.N. Security Council mandate represented an exception to the general pacifism which characterizes Obama’s foreign policy, an exception and now rare case (outside of Africa) where military action is undertaken pursuant to authorization by the U.N. Security Council.

Other interventions by France and U.N. and African Union forces in Mali and the Central African Republic have reflected the paradoxical nature of current pacifist policies, which are hybrid in nature, admitting the use of military force to stabilize situations in African countries when there is a Security Council mandate or an invitation by the government of the target country.

However, often hiding behind simplistic interpretations of legal prohibitions, in effect ruling out the strong use of military force against powerful opponents when real blood and treasure must be put at risk, the new hybrid pacifism has the effect of ceding the playing field to ruthless countries such as Syria, Iran and Russia, allowing war crimes, crimes against humanity, and military invasions to effectively go unopposed.

On legal interpretations and justifications, see Sir Daniel Bethlehem QC, “Stepping Back a Moment – The Legal Basis in Favour of a Principle of Humanitarian Intervention,” EJIL Talk, September12, 2013.

The U.S. and other NATO countries, reeling from their losses in Iraq and Afghanistan, with little to show for their sacrifices, don’t want to live in a world where real military force may have to be used.

So they rule it out. U.S. and NATO military leaders, seemingly unaware of the impact of their words on adversaries, loudly proclaim they are ruling out the possible use of military force. This has occurred not only in the Ukraine, but also and repeatedly in Syria. These statements, like those of U.S. military leaders stressing the difficulty of taking military action in Syria, are essentially aimed at domestic audiences and allied governments while naively ignoring their impact on opponents.

Furthermore, it is painful to see military and NATO leaders allow themselves to get drawn into political debates, in public. These discussions should be conducted behind closed doors, without leaks to the press about what is going on or what leaders are thinking with respect to military action.

In Syria, this new, hybrid pacifism has been obscured behind cynical acceptance of Kofi Annan’s illusory six-point peace plan for Syria (and the promise of political settlement at the Geneva I and Geneva II peace conferences), and behind the simplistic legal argument that the U.N. Charter prohibits any military action (except self-defense) without the approval of the Security Council, even to stop the commission of war crimes and crimes against humanity on a massive scale, as in Syria.

Under this interpretation, Russia would have been allowed to install nuclear missiles aimed at the United States during the Cuban Missile Crisis in October, 1963, the genocidal war in the former Yugoslavia would never have been halted, and Serbian ethnic cleansing in Kosovo in 1999 would have been allowed to proceed.

In a future world (after the Permanent Members’ veto has been eliminated), adherence to such a norm would be essential. In the meantime, we must rely on the closest approximations possible, limiting any such actions to the most narrowly circumscribed cases, where there is overwhelming support by the nations of the world for the action to be undertaken, and preferably when it is carried out under the authorization of another international organization.

In any event, this new form of hybrid pacifism has taken hold in America and NATO countries. As a result, Bashar al-Assad has been left free to commit his atrocities, which include not only the bombardment of civilian populations including hospitals and medical personnel, but also the arrests, torture, and executions in the night which do not make the daily news, and of which those who follow events closely only hear much later from international organizations when the latter report, for example, that maybe 80,000 people have “disappeared”.

Another, highly significant result has been Russia’s aggression against the Ukraine in February and March, 2014. This aggression follows that in Georgia in 2008, which NATO and the West allowed to stand, conducting business as usual with Russia afterwards. To be sure, Georgia was not blameless in the evolution of events. However, in the end Russian aggression through the illegal use of force across international frontiers was allowed to stand, without serious consequences for Russia.

Russia’s calculus in the Ukraine might have been very different had Anders Rasmussen, the Secretary General of NATO, not assured his members–and Russia–that options involving the use of force by NATO were not under consideration, and if, for example, NATO countries had put their military forces on alert, and NATO naval and air assets been strategically deployed within the region.

Now, however, absent a determined will to deploy force against the illegal threat or use of force, the pacifist leaders of the U.S. and Europe, and other NATO countries, must now resign themselves to the depredations of a Russian leader willing to invade neighboring countries in utter defiance of international law, and indeed the foundations of the post-WW II international legal and political order.

Given the current pacifism of the West, and given the fact that major consequences for Russia have already been triggered by its military intervention in the Ukraine, there is little to dissuade Putin from similarly using his military power to bring Georgia and Moldova (and other former Soviet Republics) back within the Russian “sphere of influence” or community of states.

China supports Russia, suggesting that it too might in the future be willing to settle its disputes with its neighbors through the use of military force.

Nonetheless, we need to recall certain hard-won lessons from history.

International law and order are in the end indivisible, for if the prohibition of the threat or use of force can be defied with impunity by one country in one part of the world, surely it can be defied by other countries elsewhere. When Argentina invaded the Falkland Islands in 1983, it is worth recalling, the military operation was named “Operation Goa”, recalling the precedent set by India when it invaded the Portuguese colony and enclave of Goa in 1961.

Obama’s pacifism, and that of Europe and NATO, have left a vacuum in Europe which Vladimir Putin appears ready to fill with Russian military forces. Even if his actions are delusional, and make no sense in reality as the latter is understood in the West, they have already had momentous consequences which will reshape economic and political relations in Europe and beyond for decades to come.

Further, Putin’s actions have produced a situation in which the Ukraine has become a tinderbox, while madmen are running around with torches in their hands.

War is by its very nature wholly unpredictable. What could happen, for example, if Russians started killing Ukrainians, and Poland decided to send military forces to support Kiev in exercise of the right of collective self-defense?

Impact on Nuclear Proliferation

One impact from Russian intervention in Ukraine is of exceptional significance for the future of international peace and security. Following Russia’s violation of the 1994 Budapest Memorandum guaranteeing the territorial integrity, sovereignty and political independence of the Ukraine in exchange for its surrender of its nuclear weapons, it is inconceivable that any arms control agreement with Russia could be ratified by the U.S. Senate so long as Putin remains in power–and probably long thereafter.

See Peter Spiegel, “Ukraine and the West: an international legal primer, Financial Times (Brussels Blog), March 2, 2014.

If one thinks carefully about the Russian military intervention in the Ukraine, it is obvious that Russia would have been extremely reluctant to engage in such behavior if the Ukraine still had the 1900 nuclear warheads on missiles it surrendered in 1994, when it also joined the Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT).

One of the greatest impacts of the Russian military intervention in the Ukraine is likely to be the powerful impetus it will give to the forces of nuclear proliferation. Even in the context of the 5+1 nuclear talks with Iran, the invasion is likely to reduce the credibility of any guarantees of Iranian territorial integrity, sovereignty and political independence to near zero, at least insofar as Russia is concerned..

A Last chance to draw back from the abyss? Merkel’s fact-finding mission

There may still be a slight chance to avoid unleashing the dogs of war, what the founders of the United Nations referred to as “the scourge of war, which twice in our lifetime has brought untold sorrow to mankind” (U.N. Charter, Preamble, below).

Russia and Putin appear to be under a kind of delusional spell which seems to result from believing their own propaganda, having stirred up a public which appears eager to use military force, in scenes reminiscent of the enthusiasm for war felt among the populations of the European powers in 1914 on the eve of and during the first days of World War I.

In these circumstances, Angela Merkel’s proposal to send an impartial fact-finding mission to the Crimea and the Ukraine should be implemented immediately. Putin has told Merkel that he agrees to the proposition.

The mission could be undertaken under the aegis of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE), or even an organ of the U.N. such as the Human Rights Council where Russia does not have a veto.

At the same time, it could be useful for NATO to place some military forces on alert and move military assets into place in case a need arises for them to be used.

Russia is spewing lies about what is going on in the Crimea and the Ukraine, and seeking to provoke violence which might provide a thin veneer of legitimacy to its legal claims that it is intervening in the Crimea to protect its nationals.

These claims should be rebutted immediately in official reports published by NATO and other countries. The fact that the transitional president of Ukraine has vetoed a bill which would have revoked the 2010 language law allowing use of Russian as a second language should be made known to every citizen in Ukraine.

During the Cuban Missile Crisis in 1963, John F. Kennedy and Nikita Krushchev exchanged letters at the most critical moments of the crisis, when nuclear war was a most palpable possibility. Khrushchev sent one letter to Kennedy on Friday, October 26 which was conciliatory in tone:

If, however, you have not lost your self-control and sensibly conceive what this might lead to, then, Mr. President, you and I ought not now to pull on the ends of the rope in which you have tied the knots of war, because the more the two of us pull, the tighter the knot will be tied. And a moment may come when that knot will be tied so tight that even he who tied it will not have the strength to untie it, and then it will be necessary to cut that knot, and what that would mean is not for me to explain to you, because you yourself understand perfectly of what terrible forces our countries dispose.

–”Krushchev letter of October 26, as received in the White House,” reprinted in Larson, “Cuban Crisis”, pp. 175-80, quoted in Graham Allison and Philip Zelikow, “Essence of Decision: Explaining the Cuban Missile Crisis,” at p. 355 (2d ed. 1999).

Saturday, October 27, when an American U-2 was shot down over Cuba, a much harsher letter bearing the stamp of the Kremlin’s collective leadership was broadcast over the radio, adding new conditions to the offer in the Friday letter. Kennedy decided to ignore the second letter and to reply to the first (in what was referred to as “a Trollope ploy”, alluding to the acceptance of ambivalent gestures as a marriage proposal, in Anthony Trollope’s 19th century novels).

The West should now follow Kennedy’s example, and accept Putin’s acceptance of Merkel’s proposal for sending a fact-finding mission to the Ukraine, regardless of what he or the Russians have said since. Moreover, they should do so at breakneck speed, blasting through the diplomatic procedures that normally slow things down. The goal must be to get the first elements of the fact-finding mission on the ground in the Crimea within a matter of hours, not days. Time is of the essence.

Reports from the mission, including daily press briefings or updates, could then help defuse the war fever in Russia, affording Putin a gradual way to climb down should he become sufficiently enlightened to do so. Also worth bearing in mind is the fact that he may have unleashed organizational and bureaucratic forces which are not easily controlled, and may need time to be able to reverse course successfully when and if he comes to his senses and decides to do so.

The ends of the rope on which the knot of war has been tied must be loosened now, if at all possible, even at this late hour. German Chancellor Angela Merkel, assisted by her capable and experienced foreign minister, Walter-Frank Steinmeier, should lead the effort, with full support from the United States, France, Poland and other European and NATO countries.

The Trenchant Observer
(Der Scharfsinniger Beobachter)
(L’Obervateur Incisif)
(El Observador Incisivio)

At this moment, the following words from the Preamble to the United Nations Charter, in which the drafters explained their purposes, are particularly worth recalling:

PREAMBLE

WE THE PEOPLES OF THE UNITED NATIONS DETERMINED
• to save succeeding generations from the scourge of war, which twice in our lifetime has brought untold sorrow to mankind, and
• to reaffirm faith in fundamental human rights, in the dignity and worth of the human person, in the equal rights of men and women and of nations large and small, and
• to establish conditions under which justice and respect for the obligations arising from treaties and other sources of international law can be maintained, and
• to promote social progress and better standards of life in larger freedom,

AND FOR THESE ENDS
• to practice tolerance and live together in peace with one another as good neighbours, and
• to unite our strength to maintain international peace and security, and
• to ensure, by the acceptance of principles and the institution of methods, that armed force shall not be used, save in the common interest, and
• to employ international machinery for the promotion of the economic and social advancement of all peoples,

HAVE RESOLVED TO COMBINE OUR EFFORTS TO ACCOMPLISH THESE AIMS

Accordingly, our respective Governments, through representatives assembled in the city of San Francisco, who have exhibited their full powers found to be in good and due form, have agreed to the present Charter of the United Nations and do hereby establish an international organization to be known as the United Nations.