Archive for the ‘United Kingdom’ Category

The Iran nuclear deal: Has Barack Obama earned his Nobel Peace Prize? (Revised August 18)

Thursday, July 16th, 2015


Roger Cohen, “The Door to Iran Opens,” New York Times, July 16, 2015.

David Ignatius, “After the nuclear deal, how to contain Iran’s meddling in the Middle East,” Washington Post, July 16, 2015.

David Ignatius, “After a well-crafted deal, the question is: Will Iran behave?” Washington Post, July 14, 2015.

Michael R. Gordon and David E. Sanger, “Deal Reached on Iran Nuclear Program; Limits on Fuel Would Lessen With Time,” New York Times, July 14, 2015.

Thomas Erdbrink, “Ayatollah Khamenei, Backing Iran Negotiators, Endorses Nuclear Deal,” New York Times, July 18, 2015.

A Good Agreement, Considering the Alternatives

President Barack Obama has attained his greatest foreign policy achievement since entering office with the successful conclusion of the P5+1 talks with Iran on the nuclear issue, and the signing of an agreement that will make it extremely unlikely that Iran will develop a nuclear weapon within the next 10-15 years.

The deal is done. It is exceedingly unlikely that Republicans in the Senate and House will succeed in their attempts to block the agreement from taking effect, in the United States.

President Obama and the other Permanent Members of the U.N. Security Council can lift the U.N. santions in accordance with the terms of the agreement, and are expected to do so.

Republicans have little to gain from trying to block implementation of what is, after all, the best deal that could be negotiated between the P5+1 (China, France, Russia, U.K., U.S., Germany) and Iran, a country that has been viewed as an enemy of the United States.

Critics will find a number of points on which, negotiating with themselves, they would have come up with stronger provisions.

However, this was the best deal that could be achieved, after years of hard and intricate negotiations and the slow accretion of trust that made it possible.

It is a very good deal, particularly when one reflects on the fact that the alternatives were (1) Iran proceeding to develop nuclear weapons; or (2) a war with Iran entailing frighteningly uncertain consequences, and a likelihood that Iran would develop nuclear weapons in any event.

A number of countries, such as Japan, Germany, Brazil and South Africa, which have the technology to develop nuclear weapons, have nonetheless decided instead to honor their obligations under the 1968 Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT) or in Latin America the 1967 Treaty of Tlatelolco.

The present agreement will greatly increase the likelihood that Iran will follow a similar course, even after 10 or 15 years.

In international politics, as in life, nothing is absolutely certain. Certainty in the arms control context is an illusion, one that embodies the principle that “the perfect is the enemy of the good”.

We need to look to previous battles over arms control agreements, and the cogent arguments that were advanced to secure their approval, to avoid the error of demanding certainty when verification of compliance with specific terms of highly complex and technical agreements provides a high probability of observance of the agreement’s essential terms.

“Worst-case secaros” could lead us to reject good agreements. We should avoid this pitfall.

The agreement is a good one.

Obama should still rally the nation and the world to support the agreement, in order to enhance its implementation and long-term compliance with its provisions.

The Question of Ends and Means

If one were to think only of the achievement of the Iran nuclear deal, one might conclude that President Obama has now earned the Nobel Peace Prize he was awarded in 2009.

However, one must also consider the means that were used to secure the end.

According to David Ignatius and others, Obama held back from intervening more forcefully in Syria and to oppose Russian aggression in the Ukraine because he didn’t want to derail the nuclear negotiations with Iran.

A deal with Iran has been Obama’s overriding foreign-policy goal since Inauguration Day, when he declared his desire to engage adversaries on a basis of “mutual interest and mutual respect.” He has paid a heavy cost to protect his Iran peacemaking, sidestepping confrontation with Iranian proxies in Syria and Russia in Ukraine, in part because he saw the Iran deal as a higher priority. Obama explained his logic Tuesday morning: “Put simply, no deal means a greater chance of more war in the Middle East.” Historians will have to judge whether he has gained more than he lost.

–David Ignatius, “After a well-crafted deal, the question is: Will Iran behave?” Washington Post, July 14, 2015.

The cost has been over 220,000 killed in Syria (as of January, 2015), the enormous growth of the so-called Islamic State in Syria and beyond (feeding terrorist attacks in the West), over 6,000 killed in the eastern Ukraine as a result of the Russian invasion and the war started there by Russian special operations forces, and virtual silence in the face of continued Russian military occupation of the Crimea, which remains under international law sovereign territory of the Ukraine.

Raison d’Etat or Staatsrason (“Reason of State”) that would justfy such acquiescence in the commission in Syria of war crimes and crimes against humanity on a massive scale, and the appeasement of Russia following its invasion of the Crimea and then the eastern Ukraine, represents an appalling application of the principle that “the end justifies the means”.

In considering whether Obama has finally earned his Nobel Peace Prize by concluding the Iran nuclear agreement, these considerations must also be taken into account.

The agreement is a signal achievement. But we, and historians, must also consider how it was achieved.

The Trenchant Observer

A gift for Nowruz and Easter: The nuclear framework agreement with Iran

Saturday, April 4th, 2015

The United States has led the P5+1 in reaching a historic framework agreement with Iran over the future of its nuclear activities. UN and other sanctions will be lifted, in sequences yet to be determined, in return for measures and guarantees that will restrict to at least a year Iran’s so-called “breakout” capability, i.e., Iran’s ability to break its international agreements (including the 1968 Non-Proliferation Treaty, to which it is a party) and race to build a nuclear weapon.

The “framework agreement” signed on April 2, 2015 does not resolve all questions, but includes agreement on many major issues. The parties have set themselves a deadline of June 30, 2015 for reaching a final, definitive agreement.

One of the most significant aspects of the last year of negotiations has been a growing relationship by which problems can be addressed through serious discussions. Slowly, the parties are learning to trust each other while dealing effectively with critics at home and abroad.

The interim agreement builds momentum for reaching the final agreement, which if consumated would constitute President Barack Obama’s greatest foreign policy achievement since assuming office in January, 2009.

The timing of the agreement is doubly propitious.

The celebration of Nowruz or the Persian New Year takes place for 13 days following the vernal equinox, which this year was on March 21 in Iran. It is a celebration of “out with the old and in with the new”. Evil spirits are exiled from the home, new clothes are worn, and Persian families visit each other at each others’ homes throughout the period of celebration.

In the West, Easter is celebrated as a time of hope and redemption.

Both are celebrations of life and hope for the future, as Spring in the northern hemispere begins.

For Iranian reactions to the agreement, see

(1) “Iran-P5+1 agreement seeks removal of sanctions, not suspension: Rouhani, Press TV (Tehran), April 5, 2015 (1:3PM).

(2) “Iran top general hails nuclear success in talks with P5+1,” Press TV, April 5, 2015 (3:27PM).

“A senior Iranian military official has heaped praise on the country’s negotiating team for emerging successful in talks with the P5+1 group in Switzerland, expressing hope that a final agreement would be reached soon.

“In a message to Leader of the Islamic Revolution Ayatollah Seyyed Ali Khamenei on Sunday, Iranian Armed Forces’ Chief of Staff Major General Hassan Firouzabadi said the 1979 Islamic Revolution’s progressive movement is continuing “strongly and successfully” thanks to the Leader’s guidelines.

“He congratulated Ayatollah Khamenei and the Iranian nation on the breakthrough and praised efforts by President Hassan Rouhani and Iran’s nuclear negotiating team led by Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif.”

(3) “Iran, P5+1 joint statement calling for removal of all anti-Iran sanctions,” Press TV, April 2, 2015 (5:38PM).

For details of the agreement and how it is being portrayed at home by both sides, see

Michael R. Gordon, “Outline of Iran Nuclear Deal Sounds Different From Each Side,” New York Times, April 4, 2015.

With this hopeful development, perhaps thbe world’s leaders can now turn their thoughts from visions of war, which have dominated their thinking in recent years, to visions of peace and how to turn them into reality.

The Trenchant Observer

Ukraine Update: Overview and signficance of the continuing Russan invasion

Thursday, March 5th, 2015



Matthew Schofield, “A year after Russia took Crimea, stronger Ukraine military braces for long fight, McClatchyDC, March 5, 2015 (updated 4:17 p.m. EDT).

“Russischer Soldat beschreibt Einsatz bei Debalzewe; Von der Grenze zur Mongolei wurde er in die Ukraine geschickt, erzählt ein russischer Soldat. Er beschreibt auch, wie Panzer umlackiert und Abzeichen abgelegt wurden. 4. März 2015 (19:34 Uhr).

CARSTEN LUTHER, ALEXANDER SCHWABE UND STEFFEN DOBBERT, “OPPOSITION IN RUSSLAND: Die wenigen, die nicht schweigen. Boris Nemzow ist tot, Putins Politik der Einschüchterung wirkt. Sieben Beispiele, die davon erzählen, wie schwer es in Russland ist, Kritik an der Regierung zu üben,” Die Zeit, 3. Marz 2015 (16:16 Uhr).

News of the Russian invasion of the Ukraine has become “old hat”, no longer “hot” news because it continues on a daily basis.

Vladimir Putin has adapted the “salami technique”, used by the Soviet Union to take first one, then another country in Eastern Europe after World War II, to the new demands of the hybrid hidden war, executed first in the Crimea and then in the eastern Ukraine.

Why follow the details of the ongoing Russian invasion of the Ukraine?

Why follow the continued faltering response of the West, led by pacifists and appeasers who have failed to respond to Russian military aggression in Europe with more than economic sanctions?

Those sanctions have always been “too little, too late”. They always seem to come long after the most serious and definite of threats to deter some move or another by Putin, which he ignores, and which have then repeatedly been forgotten–not carried out. Instead, they are recycled and converted to threats to forestall his and Russia’s next act of military aggression.

As a result, such threats are not credible.

It is almost as if Western leaders and their foreign ministers are too busy flying around to meet with each other, and with Putin, to read the newspapers and form a coherent view of what is going on, what has worked and not worked, and what needs to be done.

Just today, less than a week after the assassination in Moscow (some 100 meters from the Kremlin’s walls) of Boris Nemtsov, a leading opposition figure who was an outspoken critic of Putin’s military aggression in the Ukraine—a cold-blooded execution that was almost certainly ordered by Putin or carried out with his approval—Italian prime minister Matteo Renzi flew to Moscow for a “quick visit” with Putin.

His attempt to have it both ways, by visiting the scene where Nemtsov was executed, was pathetic. What counted was that he traveled to Moscow to see Putin, sending the signal that Italy will not push for harsher sanctions against Russia for its current invasion of the Donbas. No doubt Renzi hopes for some kind of gas deal or other concession in exchange.

According to the U.S. military, Russia now has some 12,000 soldiers in the Donbas leading and fighting alongside the so-called “separatists”– which Putin called into being in April, 2014. Further, Russia has an estimated 50,000 troops threateningly poised on its border with the Ukraine, in addition to the 28,000 troops it has stationed in the Crimea.

Today, March 5, 2015, Russia continues its overflights near NATO countries flexing its military muscles, seeking as it were an incident that might provide a further “provocation”.

Yet beyond Russia and the Ukraine, there is so much more going on in the world, such as the advance of Iraqi army and militia forces, and Iranian-led forces, on Tikrit in an effort to reconquer that city from ISIS or the Islamic State group.

In Europe, the Greek crisis has slowed but not let up, leaving Greece’s participation in the Euro Zone and the possibility of a collapse of its financial system very much up in the air.

In Africa, Boko Haram continues its massacres in northern Nigeria and beyond.

In Argentina, the ex-wife of Alberto Nisman, a prosecutor who wss drafting a complaint against President Cristina Kirchner, says she has proof Nisman was murdered. He was killed by a gunshot to the head at close range the evening before he was to testify about a conspiracy with Iran not to bring to justice the authors of a 1994 bombing of a synagogue in Buenos Aires which claimed 84 lives. Nisman had no gunpowder trace on his hands.

In Washington, Israeli President Benjamin Netanyahu delivers a strong speech to the U.S. Congress attacking the deal Obama and the P5+1 are negotiating with Iran to resolve the nuclear issue.

With all of this going on, why should we continue to pay close attention to the Russian invasion of the Ukraine and the response of the West?

The answer is stark and unyielding.

So long as Russia continues to defy the most fundamental norms of the United Nations Charter and international law, through its invasion of the eastern Ukraine but also through its continued military occupation of the Crimea, Russian-occupied Ukrainian territory conquered by military force, the entire international political and legal order established after World War II under the U.N. Charter (1945) is swaying under the assault of Russia, one of the five permanent members of the Security Council.

We must pay close attention to the Russian military aggression against the Ukraine, and its military threats elsewhere, because the resolution of all the other international conflicts that face the world today, including the Iranian nuclear question and the future of the nuclear non-proliferation regime, depend on upholding the U.N. Charter’s fundamental norms and the rules and mechanisms it lays out for the maintenance of international peace and security.

The threat represented by Putin’s and Russia’s policies of military aggressiom is also an existential threat to the West and the rest of the world.

Putin and Russia possess thousands of nuclear weapons and missile delivery systems which if used–and Russia has raised the possibility of nuclear war–could result in destroying the world.

Managing the risks of accidental nuclear war, or even the intentional use of nuclear weapons, outside the framework of international law and the U.N. Charter, and their definitions of legitimate state actions, is several orders of magnitude more difficult than managing these risks within that framework.

That is why we must pay close attention to Russian policies of military aggression and annexation, however familiar the headlines may become.

So long as Russia defies the postwar international legal and political order established under the U.N. Charter, no nation will be safe, as citizens throughout the world face an unacceptably high risk of nuclear war and annihilation.

The Trenchant Observer

To stop Russian tanks in Ukraine: (1) Ban Russia from SWIFT; (2) Boycott / change venue of 2018 World Cup; and (3) Add Putin to sanctions list

Tuesday, February 17th, 2015



AFP, “Rebels claim to capture key Ukraine rail hub of Debaltseve
Fighting breaks out for first time inside flashpoint town in east Ukraine, say officials, with rebels claiming victory in harsh blow to a fragile ceasefire,” The Telegraph, February 17, 2015 (12:56 p.m. GMT).

To stop Russian tanks from advancing in Ukraine:

(1) Ban Russia, effective immediately, from participation in SWIFT international payments system;

(2) Boycott / change venue of 2018 FIFA World Cup Championship; and

(3) Add Putin to the Ukraine sanctions list, with exception by special authorization for diplomatic travel.

The Trenchant Observer

What’s the hurry? Russia pushes hard for U.N. Security Council resolution endorsing Minsk II agreement—a “Munich II” agreement reached under the pressure of Russian military aggression

Sunday, February 15th, 2015

Angela Merkel and Francois Hollande may assume they have achieved something notable in the Minsk II agreement of February 12, but in point of fact they have forged an agreement at the end of the barrel of a Russian gun which weakens the provisions already agreed upon on September 5, 2014 in the Minsk Protocol.

Bearing in mind that the Minsk II agreement represents paper promises by Vladimir Putin, who used the paper promises in the Minsk Protocol to lull the West to sleep while pouring more Russian troops, tanks, artillery and other war machines into the eastern Ukraine, then lauching military offensives with Russian troops leading and fighting alongside “separatist” forces (Putin  puppets) to produce the territorial gains now in place on the ground, one has to ask why Russia wants the Security Council to endorse the Minsk II agreement.

The answer is manifestly clear. The Minsk II Agreement represents an outstanding victory over the pacifists and appeasers who lead the West, a victory which Putin now wants to put into stone with a U.N. Security Council resolution.

Moreover, he apparently has the support of France, Germany and Ukraine for such a resolution. The threat, hardly veiled, is that Russia will continue its military onslaught in the eastern Ukraine if it doesn’t get its way.

That is the same threat the West will face if Putin doesn’t get his way in the future negotiations called for in the Minsk II agreement, over future elections in the separatist-controlled areas of the Donbass, or the legal and constitutional reforms that are conditions for a return of the border to the Ukraine, and in practice a withdrawal of Russia troops, irregulars and war machines from the territory of the Donbas.

What would a Security Council resolution endorsing Minsk II add to the latter?

Absolutely nothing.

The Minsk II agreement depends on Putin for its implementation, and if he doesn’t cooperate there is nothing the West can do about it through direct military means, other than begin the delivery of lethal weapons to Kiev. That, while advisable for a number of reasons, will hardly be decisive against the largest land army in Europe.

Instead of endorsing the terms of Minsk II, the Security Council should be called upon to vote on a draft resolution demanding an immediate withdrawal of Russian troops and irregular forces, and their military equipment, and immediate restoration of Ukrainian border control in the Donbas.

The role of the Security Council is to halt aggression and restore international peace and security at the earliest possible moment.

It is not to become embroiled in a ceasefire charade or an illusory political solution as it did with Resolutions 2042 (2012) and 2043 (2012) on Syria, and the wholly illusory 6-point peace plan of Kofi Annan, which led to the useless Geneva I and Geneva II peace conferences, while over 200,000 Syrians were being killed –with full Russian backing of the government and diplomacy of Bashar al-Assad.

Hollande and Merkel have given us the 2015 equivalent of the Munich Pact of 1938, surrendering to Vladimir Putin and Russia on all real issues likely to affect military developments on the ground in the Donbas.

They now want to accede to Russia’s demands for a Security Council resolution to further placate the Russian Aggressor, while covering over their own fecklessness in concluding the Minsk II agreement, accepting at face value the promises of a known and pathological liar while ceding to him huge military concessions on the ground.

There is no reason for haste in adopting any U.N. Security Council resolution on the Ukraine,

Any such resolution should in any event refer specifically to the  Russian military occupation of the Crimea, sovereign territory of the Ukraine, and the steps that will be taken to secure the withdrawal of Russian troops, perhaps establish an international authority, and after a period of years hold a plebiscite under international supervision and control on the future of the Crimea and the city of Sevastopol.

The postwar international political and legal order must be restored, and the fruits of Russian military aggression rolled back.

The Trenchant Observer

U.S., France, U.K. and other members should vehemently oppose any Russian-backed Security Council resolution endorsing Minsk II agreement

Saturday, February 14th, 2015

News reports speak of the intention of Russia to bring a resolution to the U.N. Security Council which would incorporate the terms of the Minsk II agreement reached on February 12.


“Ukraine-Krise: Poroschenko will bei Scheitern der Waffenruhe Kriegsrecht verhängen,” Der Siegel, 14. Februar 2015 (18:30 Uhr).

“Russland brachte einen Resolutionsentwurf in den Weltsicherheitsrat ein, mit dem die Vereinbarungen der Minsker Friedensgespräche vom Donnerstag festgehalten werden sollen. Wie die Staatsagentur Tass berichtete, könnte das mächtige Uno-Gremium an diesem Sonntag darüber abstimmen. Frühere Uno-Resolutionen hatte Russland blockiert.”

While such a resolution endorsing the original Minsk Protocol might have been a good idea, the U.S., France, the United Kingdom and other Security Council members should oppose and vote against any resolution that would endorse the Minsk II agreement.

What is at issue is the fact that Article 2 paragraph 4 of the United Nations Charter prohibits “the threat or use of force against the territorial integrity or political independence of any state.”

This is a principle of jus cogens or mandatory international law to which there can be no exception, even by agreement. As we pointed out yesterday, this means that the provision in the Minsk II agreement that would delay restoration of control of the border to the Ukraine up to the end of 2015, contingent on the “separatists” agreeing to various measures called for in the Minsk II agreement, is null and void under international law.

Consequently, Russia is under an international legal obligation to withdraw its troops, tanks, artillery, irregular fighters and other war equipment immediately, and to halt its military aggression in the eastern Ukraine immediately.

If a U.N. Security Council resolution endorses or incorporates the terms of the Minsk II agreement, this could change. Security Council resolutions under Chapter VII of the Charter are binding on all member states.

If such a resolution were to be adopted, Russia could then argue that the Security Council had authorized it to remain in the eastern Ukraine until at least the end of 2015, and that the provisions requiring approval by the Donetsk and Luhansk “separatist” leaders were binding on all states under international law.

In this way, while the Western powers are asleep, Putin and Russia will have succeeed in creating  “a frozen conflict” that is backed by a legally binding Security Council resolution.

Some experts in international law might still argue that the Security Council had exceeded its powers, but this would be a purely academic debate of no relevance to the national decision makers responsible for acting to manage and resolve the conflict in the eastern Ukraine.

If states want to freeze the conflict in the eastern Ukraine by backing the Minsk II agreement with a binding Chapter VII resolution, they should vote with the Russians.

If they want Russian military aggression against the Ukraine to cease forthwith, they should vehemently oppose and vote against any such Russian-backed resolution.

Any Security Council resolution on the Ukraine should call for:

(1) the immediate withdrawal of all Russian forces and war machines and equipment from the eastern Ukraine;

(2) the immediate withdrawal of all other Russian irregular and special operations forces and equipment from the eastern Ukraine; and

(3) the immediate cessation of Russian supplies of weapons, machines of war and other equipment to the so-called “separatists” in the Donbas region of the Ukraine.

The Minsk II Agreement has a lot of well-sounding language in it, as did the original Minsk Protocol of September 5, 2014.

Putin through systematic violations of the Minsk Protocol, with the direct participation of Russian military forces and equipment in the fighting in the eastern Ukraine, has changed the facts on the ground, and forced Petro Poroshenko and his French and German supporters to make further concessions in the Minsk II agreement.

Virtually all of the changes from the original Minsk Protocol of September 5 and the implementing Minsk Memorandum of September 19 have been secured through further, intensified, and more transparent Russian aggression against the Ukraine.

This Russian perfidy should not be endorsed by the Security Council, or anyone else.

Russia needs to get its troops, weapons, special operatives and irregular forces out of the Ukraine along with all their weapons, to immediately halt their supply of weapons and equipment to the so-called “separatists”, and to comply fully with the ceasefire and heavy weapons withdrawal provisions of the Minsk II agreement.

Meanwhile, the U.S. the EU and NATO should prepare to ban Russia from the SWIFT international payments system, boycott or move the 2018 FIFA World Cup competition from Russia to a non-aggressor state, prepare crippling sectoral economic sanctions against Russia, deliver lethal defensive weapons to Kiev, and begin moving NATO troops to the eastern front with Russia, should Russia or the “separatists” (Putin’s puppets) fail to comply with the ceasefire, withdrawal and other provisions of the Minsk Protocol and the Minsk II Agreement of February 12.

Putin should have no illusions that continued military aggression against the Ukraine will be able to avoid a hardball conflict with the West, in which his tanks and war machines will prove no match for the economic weapons at the disposal of the West, which can bring the Russian economy to a halt.

The Trenchant Observer

February 11 Minsk Summit on the Ukraine: Latest update and analysis (Updated February 10, 2015)

Monday, February 9th, 2015

Updated February 10, 2015


The following articles, by some of the most experienced and incisive commentators writing on international affairs, provide the context and background necessary to understand the negotiations planned for the Minsk summit on November 11:

(1) Anne Applebaum, “The long view with Russia,” Washington Post, February 8, 2015.

(2) Roger Cohen, “Western Illusions Over Ukraine,” New York Times, February 9, 2015.

(3) Julia Smirnva, “Was erhofft sich Putin von Verhandlungen? Diplomatie auf höchster Ebene soll die Ukraine-Krise beenden. Russlands Präsident Putin scheint bei den Gesprächen mit dem Westen darauf zu setzen, dass die Krise zum “eingefrorenen Konflikt” wird,” Die Welt, 9. February 2015.

Angela Merkel, François Hollande, Petro Poroshenko and Vladimir Putin are to meet in Minsk on Wednesday, February 11, 2015, to see if they can hammer out some kind of a “deal” that will include a ceasefire in the Donetsk and Luhansk regions of the Ukraine known as the Donbas, and perhaps other areas where the so-called “separatists” (Putin’s puppets) have, with active Russian military participation, extended the territory under their control.

Putin’s objectives will be to make just enough concessions to confuse the Europeans and make the renewal of existing economic sanctions against Russia over the Ukraine as problematic and uncertain as possible, while sowing divisions among the EU’s members that will make the imposition of new and really tough sectoral sanctions impossible given the unaniminity requirement for action by the EU.

He will also seek to forestall any decision—much less action!—by President Barack Obama to send “lethal” military weapons and other assistance to Kiev, or for European countries to even consider doing so.  Here he will be trying to intimidate both the Europeans and the Americans and make them fear his reaction if they do send weapons, and certainly to make them have qualms about sending arms in a quantity and manner than could really make a difference on the ground.

Today’s leaders, in Europe as in the United States, seem to have little grasp of history, international law, or the origins and history of the United Nations. Their response to Russian military aggression against the Ukraine, beginning in the Crimea in February, has been one of incredulity followed by laughable “sanctions” against Russia that were always “too little, too late”.

Throughout, their fear of the aggressor and unwillingness to contemplate any military moves–such as sending arms to Kiev–has given Putin an open playing field where, having militarily dismantled the border between Russia and the Donetsk and Luhansk regions of the Ukraine, he has been left free to move tanks, artillery, advanced air defense weapons systems, and other advanced electronic equipment, as well as thousands of Russian special operations forces, irregular forces, and regular Russian troops and equipment back and forth across the border at will.

If Western leaders did know something of history, they might remember that the United Nations was established to provide international peace and security, above all else, to the nations of the world, based on the concept of collective security. Thus, when a state was the object of aggression, the U.N. Security Council was to be called upon to take action to restore international peace and security, including binding measures and the authorization of the use of military force to secure that objective.

However, given the veto in the Security Council which was granted to the five great and victorious powers in 1945–the United States, the Soviet Union, the United Kingdom, France, and China–the U.N. Charter also provided for the taking of measures of “collective self-defense” up to and including the use of force whenever an “armed attack” was committed against one of its members, (a rule later extended to include all states).

The concept was not that some states would come to the collective self-defense only of other states in a military alliance to which they belonged (such as NATO, which was not formed until 1949), but rather that any and all willing states could come to the defense of any state which was the victim of an armed attack.

This concept is worth preserving, since the alternative is a large number of overlapping military alliances (such as the Warsaw Pact, or the system of regional collective security under the Inter-American Treaty of Reciprocal Assistance (or “Rio Treaty”) established in the Americas under the auspices of the Organization of American States.

The original Charter scheme of collective security made sense in 1945, and it makes sense now.

Any state should feel free and legally authorized to take measures to aid the Ukraine in collective self-defense in repelling Russian aggression, as authorized by Article 51 of the U.N. Charter. This includes sending arms, or even troops.

The idea was and remains that any country that was the victim of an “armed attack” had the right to benefit from military assistance from any other states in order to repel and bring to an end the armed attack. Thus, from its very inception, the United Nations Charter created a system in which a country such as the Ukraine which was the victim of an armed attack carried out by a country such as Russia would as a matter of course be entitled to receive military assistance, including lethal arms or even troops, from other states acting in collective self-defense under Article 51 of the U.N. Charter.

The United Nations Charter also embodied another idea: the sovereign equality of all states, and their rights under the Charter and international law not to be coerced by large military powers to adopt policies and actions in subordination of their sovereign will.

In other words, the old “balance of power” system from the 19th century, which had led to two world wars in the 20th century, was to be replaced by a system based on the basic principles of the Charter, which included the prohibition of the threat or use of force against the territorial integrity or political independence of any state, and the obligation of states to conduct their international relations in accordance with the Charter, international law, and treaties to which they were parties that had been validly concluded under international law.

That is the scheme of the United Nations Charter, and the system of international peace and security which up until 2014 never encountered a frontal rejection such as that represented by Russia’s military aggression against the Ukraine during the last year, and its “annexation” of the Crimea, Russian-occupied territory of the Ukraine.

The biggest issue the delegates to the Minsk summit on Wednesday will face may not be at the top of the list of their immediate concerns, but it remains the biggest issue nonetheless:

What is to be done about the Russian invasion, occupation and purported “annexation” of the Crimea?

As news stories about the latest negotiations in Minsk hit the headlines, it will be useful for the readers bear in mind the broader context in which the negotiations are taking place.

They should bear in mind the monstrous lies Putin and his propaganda machine, including Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov, have been telling–denying for example that Russia has sent any troops and tanks, etc. into the Donbas.

They should bear in mind that Putin has not honored a single agreement Russia has made on the Ukraine.

They should bear in mind what the United Nations Charter and international law have to say about military aggression by one country invading another.

See “Russia’s utter and continuing violation of international law in the Ukraine: U.N. General Assembly Resolution A/RES/25/2625 (1970) on Principles of International Law and Friendly Relations Among States,” The Trenchant Observer, February 8, 2015.

They should bear in mind the risks of inadvertent nuclear war in view of the present collision course on which NATO and Russia are embarked, and the risks of further acts of appeasement leading to heightened risks of further conflict driven by an emboldened Vladimir Putin, whose goals appear to include disabling NATO and Europe, and not just winning in the Ukraine.

See “Strategy beyond the Ukraine: It’s time to start thinking about the risks of nuclear war with Russia, and of appeasement,” The Trenchant Observer, February 8, 2015.

“Putin’s Larger Plan: The sobering facts of Russia’s assault on Europe and the West,” The Trenchant Observer, December 1, 2014.

They should bear in mind that the real issue is the prompt adoption of really biting sectoral sanctions against Russia so long as it keeps its troops and ongoing military operations underway in the Ukraine.

Sanctions which might be adopted now include the following:

Immediate steps that can be taken would be to block Russia’s access to the SWIFT international payments system, to impose much broader sectoral sanctions on the Russian economy, to organize a boycott of the 2018 FIFA World Cup in Russia (militating for a change of venue to a non-aggressor state), and to add Vladimir Putin himself to the sanctions list, including the freezing of all of his assets abroad.

Putin has machines of war and soldiers in and near the Ukraine to continue his military aggression against that country. The West has far more powerful economic weapons that it can use to defend the Ukraine, and if necessary to bring Russia’s economy to a halt. With an active Russian military invasion of the eastern Ukraine in progress, and accelerating, while Russian military occupation of the Ukrainian territory of the Crimea continues, the West should use those weapons now, decisively.

The Trenchant Observer

Russia’s utter and continuing violation of international law in the Ukraine: U.N. General Assembly Resolution A/RES/25/2625 (1970) on Principles of International Law and Friendly Relations Among States

Sunday, February 8th, 2015

In 1970, at the height of the Cold War and only two years after the invasion of Czechoslovakia by the Soviet Union and its Warsaw Pact Allies, the United Nations General Assembly approved Resolution A/RES/25/2625 (October 24, 1970) containing the “Declaration on Principles of International Law concerning Friendly Relations and Co-operation among States in accordance with the Charter of the United Nations.”

The Declaration has been universally accepted and is considered today to represent a definitive codification of the international law governing the use of force. As such, it is particularly relevant to any consideration of Russia’s ongoing violations of international law in invading and occupying the Crimea, and in invading the eastern Ukraine.

The text of relevant portions of the Resolution follow:


The General Assembly,

Reaffirming in the terms of the Charter of the United Nations that the maintenance of international peace and security and the development of friendly relations and co-operation between nations are among the fundamental purposes of the United Nations,

Recalling that the peoples of the United Nations are determined to practise tolerance and live together in peace with one another as good neighbours,

Bearing in mind the importance of maintaining and strengthening international peace founded upon freedom, equality, justice and respect for fundamental human rights and of developing friendly relations among nations irrespective of their political, economic and social systems or the levels of their development,

Bearing in mind also the paramount importance of the Charter of the United Nations in the promotion of the rule of law among nations,

Considering that the faithful observance of the principles of international law concerning friendly relations and co-operation among States and the fulfillment in good faith of the obligations assumed by States, in accordance with the Charter, is of the greatest importance for the maintenance of international peace and security and for the implementation of the other purposes of the United Nations,

Noting that the great political, economic and social changes and scientific progress which have taken place in the world since the adoption of the Charter give increased importance to these principles and to the need for their more effective application in the conduct of States wherever carried on,

Recalling the established principle that outer space, including the Moon and other celestial bodies, is not subject to national appropriation by claim of sovereignty, by means of use or occupation, or by any other means, and mindful of the fact that consideration is being given in the United Nations to the question of establishing other appropriate provisions similarly inspired,

Convinced that the strict observance by States of the obligation not to intervene in the affairs of any other State is an essential condition to ensure that nations live together in peace with one another, since the practice of any form of intervention not only violates the spirit and letter of the Charter, but also leads to the creation of situations which threaten international peace and security,

Recalling the duty of States to refrain in their international relations from military, political, economic or any other form of coercion aimed against the political independence or territorial integrity of any State,

Considering it essential that all States shall refrain in their international relations from the threat or use of force against the territorial integrity or political independence of any State, or in any other manner inconsistent with the purposes of the United Nations,

Considering it equally essential that all States shall settle their international disputes by peaceful means in accordance with the Charter,

Reaffirming, in accordance with the Charter, the basic importance of sovereign equality and stressing that the purposes of the United Nations can be implemented only if States enjoy sovereign equality and comply fully with the requirements of this principle in their international relations,

Convinced that the subjection of peoples to alien subjugation, domination and exploitation constitutes a major obstacle to the promotion of international peace and security, Convinced that the principle of equal rights and self-determination of peoples constitutes a significant contribution to contemporary international law, and that its effective application is of paramount importance for the promotion of friendly relations among States, based on respect for the principle of sovereign equality,

Convinced in consequence that any attempt aimed at the partial or total disruption of the national unity and territorial integrity of a State or country or at its political independence is incompatible with the purposes and principles of the Charter,

Considering the provisions of the Charter as a whole and taking into account the role of relevant resolutions adopted by the competent organs of the United Nations relating to the content of the principles,

Considering that the progressive development and codification of the following principles:

a.  The principle that States shall refrain in their international relations from the threat or use of force against the territorial integrity or political independence of any State, or in any other manner inconsistent with the purposes of the United Nations,

b  .The principle that States shall settle their international disputes by peaceful means in such a manner that international peace and security and justice are not endangered,

c.  The duty not to intervene in matters within the domestic jurisdiction of any State, in accordance with the Charter,

d.  The duty of States to co-operate with one another in accordance with the Charter,

e.  The principle of equal rights and self-determination of peoples,

f.  The principle of sovereign equality of States,

g.  The principle that States shall fulfil in good faith the obligations assumed by them in accordance with the Charter,

so as to secure their more effective application within the international community, would promote the realization of the purposes of the United Nations,

Having considered the principles of international law relating to friendly relations and co-operation among States,

1.  Solemnly proclaims the following principles:

The principle that States shall refrain in their international relations from the threat or use of force against the territorial integrity or political independence of any State or in any other manner inconsistent with the purposes of the United Nations

Every State has the duty to refrain in its international relations from the threat or use of force against the territorial integrity or political independence of any State, or in any other manner inconsistent with the purposes of the United Nations. Such a threat or use of force constitutes a violation of international law and the Charter of the United Nations and shall never be employed as a means of settling international issues.

A war of aggression constitutes a crime against the peace, for which there is responsibility under international law.

In accordance with the purposes and principles of the United Nations, States have the duty to refrain from propaganda for wars of aggression.

Every State has the duty to refrain from the threat or use of force to violate the existing international boundaries of another State or as a means of solving international disputes, including territorial disputes and problems concerning frontiers of States.

Every State likewise has the duty to refrain from the threat or use of force to violate international lines of demarcation, such as armistice lines, established by or pursuant to an international agreement to which it is a party or which it is otherwise bound to respect. Nothing in the foregoing shall be construed as prejudicing the positions of the parties concerned with regard to the status and effects of such lines under their special regimes or as affecting their temporary character.

States have a duty to refrain from acts of reprisal involving the use of force.

Every State has the duty to refrain from any forcible action which deprives peoples referred to in the elaboration of the principle of equal rights and self-determination of their right to self-determination and freedom and independence.

Every State has the duty to refrain from organizing or encouraging the organization of irregular forces or armed bands including mercenaries, for incursion into the territory of another State.

Every State has the duty to refrain from organizing, instigating, assisting or participating in acts of civil strife or terrorist acts in another State or acquiescing in organized activities within its territory directed towards the commission of such acts, when the acts referred to in the present paragraph involve a threat or use of force.

The territory of a State shall not be the object of military occupation resulting from the use of force in contravention of the provisions of the Charter. The territory of a State shall not be the object of acquisition by another State resulting from the threat or use of force. No territorial acquisition resulting from the threat or use of force shall be recognized as legal. Nothing in the foregoing shall be construed as affecting:

a.  Provisions of the Charter or any international agreement prior to the Charter regime and valid under international law; or

b.  The powers of the Security Council under the Charter.

All States shall pursue in good faith negotiations for the early conclusion of a universal treaty on general and complete disarmament under effective international control and strive to adopt appropriate measures to reduce international tensions and strengthen confidence among States.

All States shall comply in good faith with their obligations under the generally recognized principles and rules of international law with respect to the maintenance of international peace and security, and shall endeavour to make the United Nations security system based on the Charter more effective.

Nothing in the foregoing paragraphs shall be construed as enlarging or diminishing in any way the scope of thue provisions of the Charter concerning cases in which the use of force is lawful.

The principle that States shall settle their international disputes by peaceful means in such a manner that international peace and security and justice are not endangered

Every State shall settle its international disputes with other States by peaceful means in such a manner that international peace and security and justice are not endangered.

States shall accordingly seek early and just settlement of their international disputes by negotiation, inquiry, mediation, conciliation, arbitration, judicial settlement, resort to regional agencies or arrangements or other peaceful means of their choice. In seeking such a settlement the parties shall agree upon such peaceful means as may be appropriate to the circumstances and nature of the dispute.

The parties to a dispute have the duty, in the event of failure to reach a solution by any one of the above peaceful means, to continue to seek a settlement of the dispute by other peaceful means agreed upon by them.

States parties to an international dispute, as well as other States shall refrain from any action which may aggravate the Situation so as to endanger the maintenance of international peace and security, and shall act in accordance with the purposes and principles of the United Nations.

International disputes shall be settled on the basis of the Sovereign equality of States and in accordance with the Principle of free choice of means. Recourse to, or acceptance of, a settlement procedure freely agreed to by States with regard to existing or future disputes to which they are parties shall not be regarded as incompatible with sovereign equality.

Nothing in the foregoing paragraphs prejudices or derogates from the applicable provisions of the Charter, in particular those relating to the pacific settlement of international disputes.

The principle concerning the duty not to intervene in matters within the domestic jurisdiction of any State, in accordance with the Charter

No State or group of States has the right to intervene, directly or indirectly, for any reason whatever, in the internal or external affairs of any other State. Consequently, armed intervention and all other forms of interference or attempted threats against the personality of the State or against its political, economic and cultural elements, are in violation of international law.

No State may use or encourage the use of economic political or any other type of measures to coerce another State in order to obtain from it the subordination of the exercise of its sovereign rights and to secure from it advantages of any kind. Also, no State shall organize, assist, foment, finance, incite or tolerate subversive, terrorist or armed activities directed towards the violent overthrow of the regime of another State, or interfere in civil strife in another State.

The use of force to deprive peoples of their national identity constitutes a violation of their inalienable rights and of the principle of non-intervention.

Every State has an inalienable right to choose its political, economic, social and cultural systems, without interference in any form by another State.

Nothing in the foregoing paragraphs shall be construed as enlarging or diminishing in any way the scope of the provisions of the Charter concerning cases in which the use of force is lawful.

The duty of States to co-operate with one another in accordance with the Charter

The principle of equal rights and self-determination of peoples

The principle of sovereign equality of States

All States enjoy sovereign equality. They have equal rights and duties and are equal members of the international community, notwithstanding differences of an economic, social, political or other nature.

In particular, sovereign equality includes the following elements:

a.  States are judicially equal;

b.  Each State enjoys the rights inherent in full sovereignty;

c.  Each State has the duty to respect the personality of other States;

d.  The territorial integrity and political independence of the State are inviolable;

e.  Each State has the right freely to choose and develop its political, social, economic and cultural systems;

f.  Each State has the duty to comply fully and in good faith with its international obligations and to live in peace with other States.

The principle that States shall fulfil in good faith the obligations assumed by them in accordance with the Charter.

Every State has the duty to fulfil in good faith the obligations assumed by it in accordance with the Charter of the United Nations.

Every State has the duty to fulfil in good faith its obligations under the generally recognized principles and rules of international law.

Every State has the duty to fulfil in good faith its obligations under international agreements valid under the generally recognized principles and rules of international law.

Where obligations arising under international agreements are in conflict with the obligations of Members of the United Nations under the Charter of the United Nations, the obligations under the Charter shall prevail.

General Part

2.Declares that:

In their interpretation and application the above principles are interrelated and each principle should be construed in the context of the other principles. Nothing in this Declaration shall be construed as prejudicing in any manner the provisions of the Charter or the rights and duties of Member States under the Charter or the rights of peoples under the Charter, taking into acchount the elaboration of these rights in this Declaration;

3. Declares further that:

The principles of the Charter which are embodied in this Declaration constitute basic principles of international law, and consequently  appeals to all States to be guided by these principles in their international conduct and to develop their mutual relations on the basis of the strict observance of these principles




These are binding principles of international law.

These principles of international law have been developed and agreed to over the last four hundred years, and particularly over the last century with the experience and hindsight of the devastation and suffering of World War I and World War II which,  in the words of the Preamble of the United Nations Charter, “have caused untold suffering to mankind.”

Any agreement with Valdimir Putin and the Russian Federation to halt and undo their aggression in the Ukraine, including the purported “annexation” of the Russian-occupied territory of the Ukraine known as the Crimea and the City of Sevastopol, must necessarily be consistent with these legal norms, if the postwar system for maintaining international peace and security established in the United Nations Charter is to be upheld.

The Trenchant Observer

The Elephant in the Room: Reflections on the nuclear deterrent and the Ukraine

Monday, December 1st, 2014


As Russia flexes its military muscles around the world, after annexing the Crimea and while conducting an ongoing military intervention in the eastern Ukraine, one factor stands out as “the elephant in the room” which no one will mention.

That factor is the nuclear deterrent of the United States and its NATO allies.

For over 40 years it was the lynchpin of NATO strategy for containing the massive land forces of the Soviet Union. It stayed in place even after the Berlin Wall came down in November 1989 and the Soviet Union was disbanded in December, 1991 following an abortive miltary coup in August of that year.

It remains in place, as Putin remilitarizes Russia and has embarked on a militaristic foreign policy whose immediate fruits–in the Crimea and portions of Donetsk and Luhansk provinces in the Donbas region of Ukraine–we can now see with great clarity.

Russian military intervention in and violations of Ukrainian sovereignty continue daily, across a border which Russia has through military means rendered wide-open.

The elephant in the room is the U.S. and NATO nuclear deterrent.

Without it, U.S. military doctrine always recognized, Western Europe would not be able to defend itself against Soviet invasion by ground troops and other forces.

Today, it would appear that NATO countries are ill-prepared to defend their periphery by conventional means against an invasion by Russian ground troops.

Nonetheless, one has the strong impression that President Barack Obama has taken the U.S. and NATO nuclear deterrent off the table.

Russian President Vladimir Putin has grasped this fundamental change in the U.S.-Russian balance of power, and has acted decisively to take advantage of it in the Ukraine.

During the conflict between the West and Russia over Syria beginning in 2011, Putin and then President Dimitry Medvedev (2008-2012) made a number of veiled and not-so-veiled threats of nuclear war. Obama, at least in public, never seemed even to acknowledge them.

After the chemical weapons attacks at Ghouta by the Bashar al-Assad government on August 21, 2013, President Obama flinched at the moment of truth and refused to pull the trigger on a long-threatened and long-awaited military response against Syria for crossing his “red line” on the use of chemical weapons.

Putin’s veiled and not-so-veiled nuclear threats have continued.

One has the strong impression that Putin came to the conclusion that Obama would never use nuclear weapons, no matter what the provocation. Meanwhile, the provocations continue.

What indeed happened to the U.S. nuclear deterrent as a part of NATO’s strategy for defending against a Russian ground invasion in Europe?

Is it not time for people to start talking about the elephant in the room?

Perhaps Senator John McCain (R.-Arizona), as the new Chair of the Senate Armed Forces Committe, can initiate a full review of American nuclear strategy and readiness, particularly as it pertains to countering Russian threats and military actions in Europe.

The Trenchant Observer

REPRISE — The fruits of pacifist foreign policies: Aggression in Ukraine, atrocities in Syria

Tuesday, October 21st, 2014

Viewing the developing Russian-Ukrainian war from the vantage point of March 3, 2014, it is striking to note how much of what has happened since was in effect a tragedy foretold. It has indeed been a tragedy foretold, like in a Greek tragedy where the audience (here, some in the audience) know the outcome, but the chief protagonists don’t, as they proceed to go about playing their tragic roles.

The question today (October 21, 2014), of course, is whether we can see further tragedies about to unfold and yet may still act to avert what the Greeks might have considered to be irreversible Fate.


REPRISE — The fruits of pacifist foreign policies: Aggression in Ukraine, atrocities in Syria; Merkel’s fact-finding mission—a last chance to avert disaster?,” The Trenchant Observer, March 3, 2014.

First published on March 3, 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 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

Ommitted: Preamble to the United Nations Charter