Developing Dispatches 1) Edward Malnick, “Crippling’ sanctions could be lifted if Russia withdraws from Ukraine, says Liz Truss; Foreign Secretary indicates a possible ‘off ramp’…
What is most striking about discussions about sanctions is the way officials talk about what the negative effects of really serious sanction would be on their economies or the international financial system, as if the alternative were a simple continuation of the status quo.
The real comparison they should be making is between the effects of the sanctions, if they are adopted, and the effects on their economies of a major ground war in Europe with the attendant risks of escalation to nuclear war, if they are not.
A nuclear war could have a really negative impact on their economies.
Moreover, everyone should bear in mind that once a war begins, all the assumptions of the “rational actor” paradigm no longer hold, if they ever did even to a limited extent. The rational calculation of costs and benefits would be out the window, as would be the ability of any leader, even Putin, to control the course of events. We should recall the 1962 Cuban Missile Crisis, and how dicey that was.
We should also recall how, in the run-up to World War I, the mobilization of Russian military units set in motion forces that could not be controlled, leading to the outbreak of hostilities in August, 1914.
Three critical questions have received little attention:
1) First, if Russia invades Ukraine and a war ensues, how will the war be stopped?
2) Second, if Russia invades Ukraine, how will the risks of accidental or intentional escalation be moderated? If such escalation occurs, in the fog of war, how will the risks of further escalation to nuclear war be controlled? Could the Security Council play a useful role, now, by debating a draft resolution which takes those risks into account?
Assuming Russia would veto any such resolution, should members be preparing, now, to take that Resolution to the General Assembly and bring it to a vote?
3) The third question is whether countries should think, now, about forming a “great coalition” to bring military force and other power to bear in forcing Russian troops out of Ukraine? This is precisely what members of the United Nations did in 1990, when they joined a military coalition to use force, in exercise of the right of collective self-defense, and repelled Saddam Hussein’s Iraqi forces following their invasion and occupation of Kuwait.
Kuwait was not a member if NATO. Yet the countries of the world felt it was important to defend the territorial integrity of Kuwait and the bedrock prohibition against the international use of force enshrined in article 2 (4) of the Charter.
Repelling aggression by a nuclear power which is a Permanent Member of the Security Council would represent an unprecedented challenge. How would that work out?
Germany should state clearly, immediately, and unequivocally, that it will support expulsion of Russia from the SWIFT international payments system if Russia invades Ukraine. Germany’s ambivalence on this point has greatly diluted the deterrent force of threats to adopt this measure.
Germany should also state unequivocally, and immediately, that if Putin invades Ukraine, it will kill the Nordstream II gas pipeline project and will never authorize it to operate in its territory.
Germany, which was responsible for the collapse of the international legal order beginning in 1938, owes the world at least these two measures.
Politically and financially, these steps will not be easy to take. Germany now stands at the center of the world stage, with a potentially decisive voice in Putin’s calculations.
International law and international order require sacrifices. These, however, are minimal when compared to the sacrifices of war.
It is time for leaders in many countries to wake up to what is going on and to what the stakes are, and to take Russia’s threat of launching a major European war to the United Nation Security Council. They need not wait further on the foreign policy leadership of the U.S. Great Britain, or France, Ukraine, or any member of Security Council, or the Secretary General of the U.N., can call for an Emergency Meeting. This they can do at any time, but the right time is now.
Such action would complement diplomatic efforts currently being led by the U.S. Britain, in particular, and also Germany, seem to have a better understanding of the U.N. Charter and international law than do current leaders in the United States.