European and international security after the Ukraine Crisis

We may be in the gravest military crisis since the Cuban Missile Crisis in 1962…

How will it all end? It could all end in a flash, and if it does it will be the last flash you will ever see.

The U.S., NATO, and the rest of the world need to pull out all the stops to ensure that we never see that flash.

–“Ukraine Crisis, February 5, 2022: News reports ignore developments on the ground, with a few notable exceptions; Russian invasion not ‘imminent’, but could occur at any moment–UPDATED NOW WITH LINKS TO LATEST DISPATCHES,” The Trenchant Observer, February 5, 2022.

Assuming we all make it through the current Ukraine Crisis, what should be done afterwards to strengthen European and international security?

The parochialism of the Europeans has been starkly revealed by their continued references to a “European Security Order”, as if European Security could be divorced, boxed off, from international peace and security in general.

Any thoughts that one can have a “European Security Order” divorced from the U.N. and the norms and procedures under the U.N. Charter governing international peace and security are not grounded in reality.

For one thing, Article 103 of the U.N. Charter provides that the Charter’s provisions take precedence over those in any other treaties.

One of the principles enshrined in the Charter is the sovereign equality of all states (Article 2 paragraph 1). That means that no spheres of influence may be established in legally binding agreements.

It means further that no military conquests can be legally recognized. That means that Russia’s purported “annexation” of the Crimea can never be recognized, and that any attempt by Vladimir Putin to recognize the “separatist” provinces of Donetsk and Luhansk in the Eastern Ukraine (the “Donbas”) could never be legally accepted by other states.

What can be learned from the Ukraine Crisis?

One of the first lessons to be learned is that the Cold War practice of limiting collective self-defense to fellow members in a mutal defense treaty such as the NATO treaty is not an adequate response to the challenges of today and the future. Such a practice leads countries to try to join mutual security pacts, a phenomenon which itself generates military insecurities and tensions.

The original concept of collective self-defense in the United Nations Charter of 1945 was not premised on the existence of such mutual defense treaties. Indeed, the NATO Treaty itself did not come into force until 1949.

In 1990, a broad coalition if countries came to the collective self-defense of Kuwait after it was invaded by Iraq. Most did not do so under the terms of any mutual security pact. This precedent should be borne in mind when thinking about the future of international security.

We have seen, once again, that international security is indivisible.

If Ukraine must be defended against Russian aggression, so too should Taiwan be defended against any future Chinese aggression from the mainland.

Both are prohibited by the U.N. Charter and international law, though Vladimir Putin would prefer you not remember Article 2 paragraph 4 of the U.N. Charter, while Xi Jinping would have you believe that Chinese concepts take precedence over the U.N. Charter. They don’t.

The experience of confronting Vladimir Putin, a dictator under no internal constraints and with the power to blow up the world, should ring the alarm bells.

For humanity cannot allow a single dictator to personally hold such power. Humanity cannot run the risk that such a dictator might become mad, and decide to blow up not only himself but also to take humanity with him.

Viewed in this light, the promotion and defense of international human rights and democracy take on a new urgency. For it may be that humanity can only defend itself against the risks of such destruction by insisting on the implementation of more representative forms of government.

As new technologies of destruction are developed, the risks of a dictator runing amok multiply. Such a madman could not only launch a nuclear war but also unleash a biological agent upon the world that would destroy all humanity.

We need look no further than Adolf Hitler and a number of Roman emperors to find such madmen at the helm. Now with new technologies, they may have the power to destroy not just thousands or tens of thousands, but all humanity.

Humanity, acting through the United Nations and using the instrument of international law, must act to ensure that such scenarios do not become possible.

And, finally, we must find some way of punishing Putin for what he has done in bringing Europe and the world to the threshold of a major ground war in Europe.

Perhaps he can be prosecuted some day in a national court exercising universal jurisdiction for crimes against peace, or by the International Criminal Court under some kind of expanded jurisdiction in the future.

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.