State Department Legal Adviser

Biden’s defeatist approach to Ukraine: “If Putin invades Ukraine, we will sanction every clerk in his office.” In the meantime, U.S. clerks will go through the motions at the U.N. Significant risk of nuclear war exists.

The U.S. has called for an “open” meeting of the U.N. Security Council for Monday, January 31, the last possible day before Russia takes over the rotating Presidency of the Council for the month of February. It is not clear if this call was for an “Emergency Meeting” of the Security Council. If it wasn’t, it should have been.

The call for a meeting on Monday and not Friday reveals the total lack of urgency which seems to animate the Biden Administration’s actions.

Having not heard any serious international law arguments criticizing Russia’s actions and threats against Ukraine, one must assume that the call for a Security Council meeting is just a perfunctory gesture. Someone must have woken up and realized that the Russians were assuming the Presidency of the Council on Tuesday, which could make convening a meeting more difficult.

John F. Kennedy read The Guns of August by Barbara Tuchman in 1962. We should all be reading it now. And another of her books which which is highly relevant, The March of Folly (1984).

The Guns of August, which was published only months before the Cuban Missile crisis, appears to have had a deep impact on John F. Kennedy and his approach to decision-making during the Cuban Missile Crisis. Given how dicey that U.S.-Soviet nuclear confrontation was, it could be that one reason we are all here is that he read that book.

If you see international lawyers and diplomats on television talking about international law, there may be some hope for diplomacy.

If you see generals talking about military capabilities and deployments, we may be headed toward a major ground war in Europe, and the attendant risks of escalation to a limited nuclear conflict or to an all-out nuclear war.


REPRISE: The fatal flaws in U.S. thinking about responses to Russian aggression against Ukraine–UPDATED January 20, 2022

(Ignatius) reported that American military advisors and policy makers were discussing how to provide assistance to Ukrainian “insurgents” or a Ukrainian “insurgency”. Ignatius on January 6 and David E. Sanger and Eric Schmitt on January 8 report that policymakers are still using the same terminology.

In doing so they have framed the question in a way which naively fails to take international law into account, much less to use it actively to achieve American deterrence goals, while employing a conceptual framework that assumes Ukrainian defeat. They are talking in terms of providing military assistance to “insurgents” after Russia has taken over Ukraine.

The conceptual framework assumes defeat, while completely ignoring international law and the U.N. Charter.


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