Archive | May, 2022

Westphalian Logic and Geopolitical Prudence in the Nuclear Age

24 May

[Prefatory Note: The following post was published in a somewhat modified form in COUTERPUNCH, May 20, 2022. Its main theme is the contrasting normative logics derived from law (Westphalian logic)  on one side, and power politics (geopolitical logic) on the other side. The regulatory guidance of law derives from agreement and interpretation, and that of power politics, from what the Quincy Institute calls ‘responsible statecraft’ and I refer to as ‘responsible statecraft’ that under contemporary circumstances should involve voluntary compliance with international law, that is, in the nuclear age law and geopolitics often converge in their commitments to regulatory rationality.] 

Westphalian Logic and Geopolitical Prudence in the Nuclear Age

The Ukraine War, its complexities and global spillover effects, have not been adequately

depicted by either political leaders or the more influential media. Most commonly, the Ukraine War has been narrowly and reductively depicted as a simple matter of defending Ukraine against Russian aggression. Sometimes this standard portrayal is somewhat enlarged by demonizing Putin as criminally committed to the grandiose project of restoring the full spectrum of Soviet boundaries of post-1994 Russia by force as necessary. What tends to be excluded from almost all presentations of the Ukrainian struggle is the rather distinct U.S. Government policy  agenda of inflicting a humiliating defeat on Russia which purports to be related to the defense and in the interests of Ukraine yet is unfolding in a quite separate manner that seems to depart from the best interest of Ukraine and the wellbeing of its people. 

This geopolitical agenda replicates Cold War confrontations, and in the global setting, seeks to remind China as well as Russia, that only the United States possesses the will, authority, and capabilities to act as the guardian of global security with respect to the maintenance or modification of international boundaries of sovereign states anywhere on the planet. Illustratively, Israel has been given a tacit green light by Washington to annex the Golan Heights, an integral part of Syria until the 1967 War, while Russia remains sanctioned for its annexation of Crimea and its current claims to incorporate parts of the Dombas region of Ukraine have been met with harsh punitive sanctions and allegations of war crimes by the U.S. president, Joe Biden. Additionally, Biden has officially and publicly committed the United States to the military defense of Taiwan in the event of an attack by China.

The most influential Western media platforms, including CNN, BBC, NY Times, The Economist, with few exceptions, have largely supported one-dimensional governmental narrative accounts of the Ukraine War, which leaves the misleading impression that U.S./NATO involvement is strictly responsive to the Russian attack on Ukraine with no broader policy objective in play. The views of progressive and anti-war critics of the manner that American foreign policy has handled the Ukraine crisis are almost totally unrepresented. At the same time, some elements of the extremist right is castigated for daring to oppose the national consensus as if only the only dissenters are conspiracy inclined fascists or those motivated by treasonous sentiments. Almost no attention given by these powerful media outlets to understanding either the buildup of tensions relating to Ukraine in the years preceding the Russian attack or the wider security rationale that could partially explain (although not justify) Putin’s resolve to reassert its former authority in the Ukraine. Similarly, there was virtually no mainstream discussion of or support for ceasefire/diplomatic options, favored by many peace and religious groups, that sought to give priority to ending the killing, coupled with a search for possible reconciling formulas that combined Ukrainian sovereign entitlements with some adjustments taking account of Russian security concerns. 

The most trusted and influential media in the West functioned largely as a war-mongering propaganda machine that was only slightly more nuanced in its support for the official line of the government than what one would expect from unambiguously autocratic regimes. Coverage highlighted visual portrayals of the daily brutalities of the war coupled with a steady stream of condemnations of Russian behavior, detailed reportage on the devastation and civilian suffering endured by Ukrainians in the combat zone, and a tactical overview of how the fighting was proceeding in various parts of the country. These bellicose narratives were repeatedly reinforced by expert commentary from retired generals and intelligence officials, and never subjected to challenge from peace advocates, much less political dissenters and critics. I have yet to hear the voice or read texts on these mainstream media platforms from the most celebrated public intellectuals, Noam Chomsky or Daniel Ellsberg, or even from independent minded high-level former diplomats like Chas Freeman. Of course, these individuals are talking and writing but to learn their views you generally have

to navigate the internet in search of such online websites as COUNTERPUNCH and Common Dreams.

The fog of war has been replaced by a war fever while making the transition from helping Ukraine defend itself against aggression to pursuing a victory over Russia increasingly heedless of nuclear dangers and worldwide economic dislocations that threatened many millions with famine, acute insecurity, and destitution. The shrill assured voices of generals and think tank security gurus dominated commentary, while pleas for peace from the UN Secretary General, the Dalai Lama, and Pope Francis, if reported ed at all, were confined to the outer margins of public awareness.

This unfortunate absence of reasoned and responsible debate was further distorted by dangerously misleading statements made by the highest public official responsible for the formation and explanation of American foreign policy, the Secretary of State, Antony Blinken. Whether out of ignorance or the convenience of the moment, Secretary Blinken has been widely quoted as explaining to the public here and abroad in prime time that the U.S. does not recognize ‘spheres of influence,’ an idea “that should have been retired after World War II.” Really! Without mutual respect for spheres of influence throughout the Cold War it is probable that World War III would have been ignited by Soviet interventions in East Europe, most notoriously in Hungary (1956) and Czechoslovakia (1968). Similar deference was exhibited by Moscow. U.S. interferences in Western Europe as well as the Soviet Bloc defection of Yugoslavia were tolerated by the Kremlin. Some of the most dangerous armed confrontations occurred during the Cold War Era were revealingly located  in the three divided country of Germany, Korea, and Vietnam where norms of self-determination exerted continuous pressures on boundaries artificially imposed on these countries for reasons of geopolitical convenience. 

Since the end of the Cold War, Blinken should be embarrassed about telling the peoples of Cuba, Nicaragua, and Venezuela that the idea of spheres of influence is no longer descriptive of how the U.S. shapes its policy in the Western Hemisphere. Decades age Octavio Paz, the Mexican author found vivid words to express the reality of such spheres: “The tragedy of Mexico is to be so far from God and so near to the United States.”  As has been observed, the Russian assertion of a traditional spheres of influence has more continuity with the past than does respect for territorial sovereignty of the countries that have regained statehood within such spheres after the Soviet collapse. This recognition is not meant to express approval of such spheres, serving only as a realization of geopolitical practice that has persisted through the whole of modernity and a further sense that mounting a challenge in light of this practice is almost certain to produce friction and heighten risks of major warfare., which in relations among states armed with nuclear weapons should induce extreme caution on the part of prudent actors. To pretend that spheres of influence are a thing of the past, as Blinken seems to be doing in relation to Ukraine, is doubly unfortunate—it is mindless about the relevance of geopolitical prudence in the nuclear age and it either ignorantly or maliciously condemns behavior of others while overlooking the analogous behavior of his own country, thereby adopting a U.S. posture of geopolitical hubris ill-suited to human survival in the nuclear age.

In the months before it became politically convenient to throw spheres of influence into the dustbin of history, Blinken was lecturing the Chinese about adhering to a ‘rule-governed’ international order that he contended was descriptive of U.S. behavior. Such an invidious comparison was a cover for confronting the quite different Chinese challenge to unipolarity being mounted as a result of China’s growing competitive edge in economic and diplomatic influence and technological breakthroughs. A puzzle for Washington arose because it could not complain that the Chinese ascent was due to posing a security threat due to its military capabilities and its aggressive uses of force (except, interestingly, within its traditional coastal and territorial spheres of influence). And so, the claim centered on the rather original allegation that China was not playing the game of power with respect to intellectual property rights by the ‘rules,’ but what are these rules and where does their authority derive from? Blinken was careful in his complaints about Chinese violations not to identify the rules with international law or decisions of the United Nations. Wherefrom then? Most probably Blinken has in mind a self-serving interpretation of the Breton Woods neoliberal framework associated with the operations of the World Bank and IMF, but refrained from saying so.

There is, to be sure, a subtle complexity about rules of order in international relations, especially on matters bearing on the use of force in international relations. A normative dividing line can be identified as 1928 when many leading governments, including the U.S., signed on to the Pact of Paris outlawing war as an instrument of national policy, [see Oona A. Hathaway & Scott Shapiro, The Internationalists: How a Radical Plan to Outlaw War Remade the World (2017)]. This ambitious norm, was then turned into the formulation of a Crime Against Peace in the London Agreement of 1945 by the victorious powers in World War II that set forth the War Crimes Charter that provided the jurisprudential foundation for the Nuremberg and Tokyo criminal prosecutions of surviving German and Japanese political leaders and military commanders. These legal innovations, although treated as major milestones in the development of international law, were never meant to constitute new rules of order and accountability that would bind sovereign states enjoying geopolitical stature as made plain in the UN Charter. Probably that should have been evident given the supreme irony of the London Agreement being formally signed by these governments on August 8, 1945, two days after the first atomic bomb was dropped on the city of Hiroshima and one day prior to the second atomic bomb was dropped on Nagasaki.

Otherwise, how could one explain the conferral of a right of veto on the five permanent members of the UN Security Council, which can only be viewed as a geopolitical right of exception, at the very least within the UN context. Apologists for this seeming repudiation of a law-oriented approach when it came to the most dangerous states at the time point to the need to give the Soviet Union assurances that it would not be outvoted by the West, or otherwise it would be unwilling to participate in the UN, and the Organization would wither on the vine in the manner of the League of Nations. But if this was truly the dominant reason for the veto, a less obtrusive could have been chosen as the way of providing reassurance, such as requiring decisions of the Security Council opposed by the Soviet Union to be supported by all non-permanent members. There would be no comparable need to give the four other states the veto unless there was an overriding motive to entrench in the UN Charter the prerogatives of geopolitical leverage as measured by being on the winning side in World War II.

Such an observation makes us aware that there exists more than one source of normative authority in the sphere of international relations. and at least two. There is the fundamental idea deriving from the origins of the modern states system identified with the Peace of Westphalia in 1648, which accorded equality to sovereign states. And then there is a second source of largely unwritten and rarely spoken about normative authority that regulates those few states that are freed from the constraints of international law and enjoy impunity for their actions. These are the states given the veto power, and among these states are those that seek the added discretion of being non-accountable for their acts. This deference to power and national supremacy, undermines fidelity to law where it seems most needed, and has long been a fundamental deficiency of sustaining peace in a nuclear-armed world. Yet geopolitics, like international law itself, possesses a normative order that is designed to impose certain limits on these geopolitical actors that if responsibly applied serves the public good. The Quincy Institute recognizes this vital feature of international relations by its positive emphasis on ‘responsible statecraft,’ which is roughly equivalent to my call for ‘geopolitical prudence.’

A crucial geopolitical prescription along these lines was the appreciation of spheres of influence as delimiting extraterritorial zones of exclusive influence, which might include ‘unlawful’ interventions and exploitations of weaker states (e.g. ‘banana republics’). As abusive as the diplomacy of spheres has been for targeted societies it has also been a way of discouraging competitive interventions that might otherwise lead to intensive wars between the Great Powers, and as mentioned, plays an indispensable role in reducing the prospect of dangerous escalations in the nuclear age. How Blinken can be so myopic in addressing this essential feature of world order is stunning, and is paralleled by the failure of the media to expose such dangerous and self-serving nonsense.

To be sure international law is itself subject to geopolitical influence in the formation and interpretation of its rules and their unequal implementation, and is far from serving justice or even public order in many critical circumstances, including its validation of settler colonialism. [See Noura Erakat, Justice for Some: Law and the Question of Palestine(2019)] Yet when it comes to upholding the prohibition on non-defensive uses of force and accountability for war crimes, it has sought to uphold the norms unless violated by major geopolitical actors and their special friends. The ad hoc International Criminal Tribunal for Former Yugoslavia, established by the UN, did not distinguish between winners and losers in the manner of the Nuremberg and Tokyo Tribunals or for that matter the Supreme Iraqi Criminal Tribunal (2005-06), which imposed a death sentence on Saddam Hussein while ignoring the U.S./UK crimes of aggression in the Iraq War of 2003.

In conclusion, it is important to recognize the interplay of international law and the geopolitical normative order. The former rests on agreement of juridically equal states as to norms and customary practice. International law also increasingly rests on voluntary compliance as illustrated by the World Court being confined in its law-declaring role to issuing ‘Advisory Opinion’ that states and international institution are permitted to disregard. Or more substantively, in relation to compliance with carbon emission pledges of parties to the Paris Climate Change Agreement of 2015.

The geopolitical normative order depends on prudence along the lines of the precautionary principle, its norms being self-interpreted, best guided by past experience, tradition, mutuality, and common sense. It should be understood that geopolitical status of the Permanent Members of the Security Council is not reflective of their de facto role in international relations. At present, only the United States, China, and Russia enjoy an existential geopolitical status; France and the UK do not, and perhaps, India, Nigeria/South Africa, Brazil possess some de facto geopolitical attributes, but lack a corresponding de jure recognition.

In the context of the Ukraine War Russia is to be faulted for its flagrant violation of the prohibition of aggressive war and its war crimes in Ukrainian combat zones, and for intimating

a willingness to have recourse to nuclear weapons if its vital interests are threatened. The United States is to be faulted for irresponsible statecraft or imprudent geopolitics by its replacement of a defensive role of support for Ukrainian resistance by more recently pushing for the defeat of Russia through the massive increases of aid, encouragement of enlarged Ukrainian goals, supplying offensive weaponry, continuation of demonizing Putin, absence of advocacy of ceasefire and peace diplomacy, inattentiveness to escalation risks especially in relation to nuclear dangers, and overall manipulation of Ukraine Crisis as part of its strategic commitment to the sort of unipolar geopolitics that has emerged during the aftermath of the Cold War. Unipolarity entails a repudiation of Chinese and Russian efforts to achieve a multipolar management of global governance. It is this latter tension that if not addressed points to a second Cold War more dangerous than its predecessor, feverish arms races, periodic crises, and the diversion of resources and energies from such urgent global challenges as climate change, food security, and humane migration policies.  

A Ukraine Peoples Tribunal?

7 May

[Prefatory Note: A somewhat modified version of this pose was published online in CounterPunch on May 6, 2022 under the title “Toward a Ukraine Wars Peoples Tribunal. The most important change is the insistence that the Geopolitical War taking place under the rubric of the Ukraine War is different and farmore dangerous than what is being described as a ‘proxy war.’ Also important is the growingevidence that the inflammatory nature of Biden’s tactics in the Geopolitical War, especially the endorsement of ‘a victory scenario’ compounds the dangers, including heightening the risk that nuclear weapons will be used. What is needed is for civil society to frame with a sense of urgency ‘a peace scenario’ with as many specifications of its character as possible. I consider the proposal to form a civil society tribunal a step in this direction.]

Toward a Peoples Ukraine Wars Tribunal

The deepening current Ukraine Crisis is properly linked to the Russian aggression that commenced with a massive military attack against Ukraine on February 24, 2022, although it should not cover up the provocative developments of preceding years that prepared the way for what has erupted. The Russian attack has continued to ravage the country since, including inducing a refugee flow numbering several million. There is a broad consensus around the world that such aggression is a criminal violation of international law, and while noting the irresponsible nature of NATO provocations, it is widely agreed, fail to provide Russia with a legally, morally, or even politically persuasive rationale with respect to accountability for such a violent encroachment on Ukrainian sovereign rights and territorial integrity. At the same time, from the outset of these events there was much more limited international support for the American led punitive response by NATO featuring harsh comprehensive sanctions amounting to ‘economic warfare,’ shipment of weaponry to the beleaguered country, dehumanization of Putin and Russo-phobic propaganda, along with silence about recourse to a diplomacy directed at stopping the killing and devastation. In the background of the two-level war was the related internal struggle within Ukraine between dominant indigenous forces in the Western part of the country and the Russian-speaking Ukrainians who are the majority in the industrial heartland of the country in the Dombas East.

As Russian military operations proceeded, perceptions of the core conflict began to change. What seemed at first a simple war of aggression, to be followed by belligerent operation, became by successive phases a geopolitical war between the United States and Russia, with strategic goals quite apart from the outcome of events in Ukraine, as well as heightening costs of the encounter for the entire world, including the people of Ukraine and especially the extreme poor everywhere. And while Washington bears the main responsibility for this shift, the Russian response was also irresponsible– not compromising war goals and recourse to veiled threats of nuclear warfare emanating from Moscow and Putin. Yet the essential character in this elevation of the war strategy to a geopolitical level of engagement is the rather explicit American shift in its policy entailing less of an emphasis upon bolstering Ukrainian resistance to Russian aggression and far more about inflicting a stunning geopolitical defeat on Russia and at the same time revitalizing post-Cold War transatlantic unity through a reaffirmation of the benefits of the NATO alliance in a global text where Russia is once more cast as the enemy of Western democracy. 

It is important to understand that this Geopolitical War raises the stakes in Ukraine much higher than the prevailing tendency to view the second level war between the U.S. and Russia as a ‘proxy war.’ A proxy war conceives of the strategic stakes in terms of the outcome of the conflict on the ground, whose overt antagonists are Russia and Ukraine. Conceiving of this confrontation as a geopolitical war calls attention to the much larger strategic consequences and risks because what is at stake is the structure of power on a global scale, specifically this Geopolitical War will influence the struggle between the U.S., Russia, and China as to whether the global security will reflect unipolarity or multipolarity. It is easier for a country to accept defeat in a proxy war than in a geopolitical war, and herein lies embedded grave dangers of escalation.

Given such developments, the time has come for civil society initiatives to counter the disastrous global confrontation that is now endangering the world, and indeed even species survival prospects, in the pursuit of these geopolitical goals by the United States disguised somewhat by media complicity that continues to convey the impression that the Ukraine War is still only about the defense of Ukrainian sovereignty and territorial integrity, the daily war crimes attributable to the Russians, and the heroic and increasingly successful efforts of the Zelensky leadership and the courageous national unity of the Ukrainian people. I believe this is a basically deceptive and potentially dangerous image, including for Ukraine, and even for the main disseminator of hostile geopolitical propaganda, the U.S. Government and consequently, the American people. Perhaps, it comes as a disturbing surprise that only the political extremes of right and left are interpreting the Ukraine War as producing a global disaster that begun to spill across the borders of Ukraine, with far worse to come without even taking full account of the growing nuclear dangers. What has also become evident is the helplessness of peace-oriented approaches. Such voices are being shut out by mainstream media platforms, which is reinforced by the inability of the UN to act independently of a geopolitical consensus, and by inter-governmental impotence to safeguard human interest in face of the menacing moves by the most powerful states motivated by strong contradictory geopolitical goals.

In light of this line of interpretation, I am proposing the establishment of a civil society tribunal along the lines of the Russell Tribunal that brought independent critical voices to the fore during the Vietnam War, which has become the principal combat theater of the Cold War in 1966-67. Although the tribunal was controversial at the time and of questionable relevance to ending that war, the Russell undertaking inspired many notable efforts along the same lines, most notably organized under the sponsorship of the Lelio Basso Foundation in Rome. Perhaps, most notable was the elaborate series of such initiatives in response to U.S. aggression against Iraq in 2003 culminating in the very significant Iraq War Tribunal of 2005. The proceedings of that event, appropriately held in Istanbul, can be beneficially studies to cast light on the policy dilemmas of the Ukraine Crisis. This self-funded event in Istanbul orchestrated brilliantly by a group of Turkish progressive women citizens brought together internationally prominent jurists and moral authority figures including Arundhati Roy who served as the chair of the jury of conscience that sat in judgment, and rendered an opinion of lasting significance, especially for anti-war world tendencies. 

It is my belief that such a tribunal devoted to passing judgment of the Ukraine Wars, constituted as a matter of urgency, is more important than any of these previous comparable civic events because the stakes for humanity are higher. The use of the plural for what is happening in Ukraine is not a typo, but reflects the view explained in my prior articles that the Ukraine Crisis can only be properly understood if interpreted as three interrelated wars with contradictory features: Level 1: Russia vs. Ukraine; Level: 2: U.S. vs. Russia; Level 3: Western Ukraine vs. Dombas. It is for this reason that I am proposing here that the tribunal named Peoples Tribunal on the Ukraine Wars, despite its awkwardness.

The case for such an initiative is not only to give expression to views of the Ukraine Crisis that take international law, geopolitical crime, and nuclear dangers seriously, but also in view of the political incapacity of the UN to act effectively and responsibly when geopolitical actors get heavily embroiled in such a violent conflict which threatens world peace generally and causes massive suffering throughout the world, especially in the least developed countries or in societies dependent on import of basic foodstuffs and energy for reliable supplies at affordable prices. Most of the people vulnerable to such a mega-crisis live in states that have hardly any influence in the formation of global policy, but often bear the heaviest weight of its shortcomings. At present a normative vacuum exists in response to the Ukraine Crisis. This leaves transnational civil society as the last, best hope to exert a responsibility to act, and indeed seize the opportunity to goad the formal political actors on the global stage to operationalize a peace scenario before it is too late

.  

Clarifying the Background

First, when it comes to war/peace issues there exist two operational sets of norms with respect to international relations: (1) International Law, binding of all sovereign states; (2) Geopolitics that privileges a few powerful states. The identity of geopolitical actors is not as clearly identified as is that of sovereign states, which is rather clearly signified by internationally recognized territorial boundaries and access to membership in the UN, now numbering 193, that is, virtually all. The most influential, yet still misleading, guideline as to geopolitical stature is contained in the UN Charter, taking the form of the right of veto conferred on the five Permanent Members of the Security Council (also known as the P-5) who happened to be the winners in World War II and also the five countries first to acquire nuclear weapons. As the composition of the P-5 has remained frozen in time for more than 77 years it is no longer descriptive of the geopolitical landscape, and never was. For this reason alone geopolitical identity is currently more blurred and problematic than earlier. Some P-5 members have declined in both hard and soft power since 1945, such as the UK and France, and seem to lack the capabilities and stature to qualify any longer as first tier geopolitical actors. In contrast, countries such as India, Japan, Germany, Brazil, Nigeria, Indonesia, South Africa have increased their capabilities and raised their stature in such ways as to seem existentially entitled to the status of ‘geopolitical actors’ at least regionally, and in some instances, globally.

From a normative point of view the distinction between international law and geopolitics is fundamental, and again is made clear by the significance of P-5 status within the UN framework which was designed to keep the peace after World War II. International law is applicable to every state, but is explicitly not obligatory for the P-5, which is what has made the UN so limited in its operational ability to provide humanity with a globally supervised war prevention system based on compliance with international law. Giving the Western states a veto was tantamount to acknowledging, as had been true for international relations in prior centuries, that the UN could not be expected to implement its own Charter norms if they collided with strategic interests of the P-5, but that compliance with these norms, if forthcoming at all would depend on geopolitical self-restraint or the counterforce of adversary geopolitical actors exerted outside the UN. A similar pattern of obstruction existed when Russia was the Soviet Union, yet its participation that was seen as vital in 1945 if the UN was to enjoy global legitimacy premised on universal membership. Granting the USSR a right of veto was also a matter of protecting the country against its understandable anxiety about facing a Western majority on vital issues. As the decades have shown, the U.S. in particular has used the veto (e.g. to shield Israel) or avoided the UN (as in the Vietnam War, NATO Kosovo War, and Iraq War of 2003) when it thought its proposed plan of action would be vetoed, or otherwise not supported. The UN was deliberately disempowered from any legal attempt to implement compliance with the UN Charter in relation to geopolitical actors, and the existential reality was not dissimilar from the pre-UN Westphalian structure of and experience with world order since the mid-17th century. Regulation of the use of force by the Great Powers, as they were formerly called, depended on a mixture of their self-restraint and what came to be known as ‘the balance of power,’ redesigned in the nuclear age as ‘deterrence.’ These nuclear dimensions are under challenge from many non-geopolitical states and world public opinion, most recently in the form of the 2021 Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons (TCNP). This initiative is so far limited in its impacts due to the distressing non-participation of any of the nine nuclear states, as well as their allies staking their security on the reliability of the ‘the nuclear prrotectorate’ provided by geopolitical actors. 

A second set of related considerations can be identified as the ‘Nuremberg Exception,’ which can be interpreted as follows: a geopolitical actor loses its impunity with respect to international law if it is defeated in a major war. This attitude is evident in the course of the unfolding two-level war in Ukraine. The U.S. at the highest level of its government has been condemning the Russian attack as a war crime that should engage criminal accountability of Putin, and others, if the International Criminal Court acts to fulfill its mandate. This can be viewed from one angle as a kind of ‘winner takes all’ feature of geopolitical order, or from another as gross hypocrisy by recourse to one-sided (in)justice beneath the banner of ‘Victors’ Justice.’ Nuremberg would enjoy somewhat increased jurisprudential credibility if the U.S. had demonstrated post-Nuremberg its own willingness to be held accountable under the frameworks of international criminal law or the codified version of the Nuremberg Principles, which do not acknowledge that a Nuremberg Exception exists, despite its persisting reality.

Thirdly, what is missing in this recital of the jurisprudential realities of international relations is the availability of a venue capable of a legitimate normative assessment of the behavior of geopolitical actors whether they are on the winning or losing side in a major war. It is evident that the UN lacks the constitutional mandate and political independence to undertake such a challenge without a thorough overhaul in its authority structure. Such reforms would require the approval of the very actors whose behavior would then become subject to international law, and these actors show no readiness to curtail their discretion. It is for this reason that the only way to close the accountability gap is to rely on civil society activism as a legitimate source of normative authority. One such responsive effort, used in the past, has been to convene a tribunal based on the authority of ordinary people as representatives of society to uphold international law in the event of the failure of the UN or governments to do so. In the setting of the Ukraine Crisis such a tribunal could be entrusted with investigating the three levels of the war from the perspective of international law, with the addition of an aspirational norm that extends the reach of the tribunal to the geopolitical domain. 

At present, inter-governmentally generated international law not surprisingly fails to criminalize geopolitical wrongdoing. It is not surprising because throughout modern history geopolitical actors have been the principal architects of international law and vigilant about protecting their freedom of action along with their national interest more generally. I believe it has become desirable to posit the existence of a residual civil society legislative capacity somewhat analogous to the residual role of the General Assembly of the UN if at an impasse is present in the Security Council with respect to a serious threat to international peace and security. On this basis a civil society endorsement of the concept of ‘geopolitical crime’ is justified to bring the US/Russia Geopolitical War within the ambit of the authority of The Ukraine Wars Tribunal.

There are two obvious weaknesses of this line of thinking that should be acknowledged. First, the Tribunal lacks any formal enforcement capability, although it could call for civil society boycotts and divestments that were effective in exerting transformative pressure on South Africa’s apartheid regime. Secondly, the activist impulses that fund and make operational The Ukrainian Wars Tribunal are themselves self-consciously partisan or reflect the outlook of social movement, which is of course not qualitative different than the deep biases intergovernmental institutions. Such partisanship of this radical civic action will be subject to criticism from start to finish, which may yield a helpful debate about war, law, and accountability.

It is evident that this proposal is principally an undertaking whose effectiveness will in the first instance registered symbolically rather than substantively in the sense that nothing immediate will change behaviorally in the prosecution and conduct of the three Ukrainian wars. Symbolic impacts should not be underestimated. The political outcomes in the most salient wars since 1945, including the epic struggles against colonialism, were politically controlled, often after many years of devastating warfare, by the weaker side if measured by material, especially military capabilities. I recall hearing the American president, Lyndon Johnson, in the mid-1960s boast that there was no way the United States could lose the war to Vietnam, ‘a tenth-rate Asian power.’ Symbolic venues shift power balances due to the commitments of people, and even alter the impacts of material interests over time. The struggles against slavery, racism, and patriarchy each manifest this dynamic. What at first seemed futile somehow became history!

In concluding, I hope some readers throughout the world will feel motivated enough to make the Peoples Ukraine Wars Tribunal a reality! It should be thought about as contributing to the imperative of framing A Peace Scenario that challenges the now ascendant Victory Scenario.