50 Years Ago: The Soviet invasion of Czechoslovakia, and its enduring significance


“August 20, 1968 — “Dubček, Svoboda!” The Trenchant Observer, August 10, 2010.

50 years ago, the Soviet Union and its Warsaw Pact allies invaded Czechoslovakia and overthrew the independent government of Alexander Dubcek and his vice president, Ludvik Svoboda.

Four years ago, Russia invaded the Ukraine and seized the peninsula of the Crimea.

80 years ago, Adolf Hitler used military threats to secure the acquiescence of France and Great Britain to the German annexation of the part of Czechoslovakia known as the Sudetenland.

10 years ago, Russia invaded Georgia parts of which its troops still occupy.

In 1945, the UN charter drew the lessons from Hitler’s aggressions and banned the threat or use of force across international frontiers, in Article 2 paragraph 4 of the Charter.

This prohibition, and its general acceptance by the nations of the world, constitutes the greatest achievement of international society, now embodied in the organization of the United Nations, over the last 73 years.

That is why the US and the EU have imposed heavy sanctions on Russia, for its invasions of the Crimea and the eastern Ukraine in 2014. To uphold the norm and its deterrent force, is the principal reason why sanctions against Russia should not be lifted until Russia withdraws its forces and complies with the 2015 Minsk II Accords in the eastern Ukraine, and withdraws its forces from the Crimea. A return to the status quo ante, before the February 2014 invasion, would provide an obvious starting point for negotiations that might lead to a solution, leaving Russia with its lease of naval facilities on the peninsula. Then and only then, the sanctions might be lifted and Russia could resume its status as a UN member which supports the prohibition of the international use of force. This is very important, because Russia is a permanent member of the Security Council with the power of veto.

Of course, it is always possible that the US and the West will look the other way, and lift the sanctions without Russia withdrawing its troops and support from the Crimea and the eastern Ukraine.

That would be likely to lead to a quickening breakdown in international order and security. This has already begun to occur as we can see with the Saudi led blockade of Qatar, in violation of basic principles of international law, and attempts by China to seize control of the South China Sea in open violation of the law of the Sea Convention and Aarticle 2 Paragraph 4 of the UN charter.

Recent reports suggest that Saudi Arabia had plans to invade Qatar until  these were thwarted by US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson. The whole scheme had the appearance of a plot by Saudi crown prince Mohamed bin Salman and Jared Kushner, before the State Department and the international lawyers got wind of it.


Alex Emmons, “Saudi Arabia Planned to Invade Qatar Last Summer. Rex Tillerson’s Efforts to Stop It May Have Cost Him His Job,” The Intercept, August 1 2018 (4:00 a.m.).

Interestingly, the ascent of Mohammed bin Salman and his father, the current king, suggests that Kushner and the US were at least passive backers of what appears to have been a coup d’état within the Saudi royal family in June 2017.  The coup might not have succeeded without the acquiescence if not approval of the Trump administration, led by Jared Kushner. Tillerson may not have been a great Secretary of State but at least he understood some basics of international law. Like you can’t launch military invasions of other countries, like Qatar, or build military bases in the South China Sea on reefs that are not within your territory. At his confirmation hearings, in fact, he said the US would vigorously defend international law and freedom of navigation in the South China Sea.

Dubček, Svoboda!

“Dubček, Svoboda!” was the cry of those Czechs and others who resisted the Soviet invasion of Czechoslovakia 50 years ago today. It might also be our rallying cry now and far into the future for the defense of article 2 paragraph 4 of the UN charter and the prohibition of the international use of force. By any country whether that be Saudi Arabia and its plans to invade Qatar, Vladimir Putin and the Russian invasions of the Ukraine, or Xi  Jingpi and the Chinese efforts to seize the South China Sea.

The Trenchant Observer

About the Author

James Rowles
"The Trenchant Observer" is edited and published by James Rowles (aka "The Observer"), an author and international lawyer who has taught International Law, Human Rights, and Comparative Law at major U.S. universities, including Harvard, Brandeis, the University of Pittsburgh, and the University of Kansas. Dr. Rowles is a former staff attorney at the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR) of the Organization of American States OAS), in Wasington, D.C., , where he was in charge of Brazil, Haiti, Mexico and the United States, and also worked on complaints from and reports on other countries including Argentina, Chile, Uruguay, El Salvador, Nicaragua, and Guatemala. As an international development expert, he has worked on Rule of Law, Human Rights, and Judicial Reform in a number of countries in Latin America, the Caribbean, Africa, the Middle East, South Asia, and the Russian Federation. In the private sector, Dr. Rowles has worked as an international attorney for a leading national law firm and major global companies, on joint ventures and other matters in a number of countries in Europe (including Russia and the Ukraine), throughout Latin America and the Caribbean, and in Australia, Indonesia, Vietnam, China and Japan. The Trenchant Observer blog provides an unfiltered international perspective for news and opinion on current events, in their historical context, drawing on a daily review of leading German, French, Spanish and English newspapers as well as the New York Times, the Wall Street Journal, the Washington Post, and other American newspapers, and on sources in other countries relevant to issues being analyzed. Dr. Rowles speaks fluent English, French, German, Portuguese and Spanish, and also knows other languages. He holds an S.J.D. or Doctor of Juridical Science in International Law from Harvard University, and a Doctor of Law (J.D.) and a Master of the Science of Law (J.S.M.=LL.M.), from Stanford University. As an undergraduate, he received a Bachelor of Arts degree, also from Stanford, where he graduated “With Great Distinction” (summa cum laude) and received the James Birdsall Weter Prize for the best Senior Honors Thesis in History. In addition to having taught as a Lecturer on Law at Harvard Law School, Dr. Rowles has been a Visiting Scholar at Harvard University's Center for International Affairs (CFIA). His fellowships include a Stanford Postdoctoral Fellowship in Law and Development, the Rómulo Gallegos Fellowship in International Human Rights awarded by the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights, and a Harvard MacArthur Fellowship in International Peace and Security. Beyond his articles in The Trenchant Observer, he is the author of two books and numerous scholarly articles on subjects of international and comparative law. Currently he is working on a manuscript drawing on some the best articles that have appeared in the blog.