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Legal Consequences of Russia’s War of Aggression

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Recent history reveals the need for the adherence of all nations
to a new international security framework.

César ChelalaRussia’s war of aggression against Ukraine and its intervention into that country’s internal affairs constitute serious breaches of international law.

The eloquent statement about aggression from Nuremberg

According to the International Military Tribunal at Nuremberg, “War is essentially an evil thing. Its consequences are not confined to the belligerent states alone but affect the whole world…

To initiate a war of aggression, therefore, is not only an international crime; it is the supreme international crime differing only from other war crimes in that it contains within itself the accumulated evil of the whole.”

The International Criminal Court, more and more relevant

The Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court states that the crime of aggression is one of the “most serious crimes of concern to the international community,” and provides that the crime falls within the jurisdiction of the International Criminal Court (ICC).

As of November 2019, 123 states are parties to the Statute of the Court. Four of these signatory states – the United States, Russia, Israel, and Sudan — have informed the United Nations Secretary-General that they no longer intend to abide by the laws of the Statute.

Those four nations therefore claim to have no legal obligations arising from their signature.

Starvation tactics violate the Geneva Convention of 1949

Current Russian military actions in Ukraine are clear violations of the Geneva Convention of 1949, particularly its attacks against civilians who are not participating in hostilities.

The Russian army has blockaded hundreds of Ukrainian civilians in the basements of churches, theaters, and subway stations in conditions of near starvation.

All UN member states are bound by the Geneva Convention

The 1949 Geneva Conventions have been ratified by all Member States of the United Nations, which are then bound by its tenets.

In 1965, the UN General Assembly issued a Declaration on the Inadmissibility of Intervention and Interference in the Domestic Affairs of States (UNGA resolution 2131).

A red line against interfering in the affairs of other states

According to that declaration, “no state has the right to intervene, directly or indirectly, for any reason whatever, in the internal or external affairs of any other state…and no state shall organize, assist, foment, finance, incite or tolerate subversive, terrorist or armed activities directed toward the violent overthrow of another state or interfere in civil strife in another state.”

Russia’s interference in Ukraine is not new

Even before launching its armed aggression, Russia had conducted a campaign of cyberattacks against critical Ukrainian infrastructures.

Nicaragua and interference by the United States

The UN General Assembly resolutions, however, are considered recommendations and are not, therefore, legally binding.

The principle of non-intervention was alleged in the case of Nicaragua vs. United States, following the U.S. support for the “contras” fighting the Nicaraguan government and the mining of Nicaraguan harbors.

The case was decided in 1986 by the International Court of Justice (ICJ). The ICJ ruled in favor of Nicaragua and against the United States and awarded reparations to the Nicaraguan government.

The United States violated international law against Nicaragua

According to the ICJ, the actions of the U.S. against Nicaragua violated international law. The U.S. resisted participating in the proceedings after the Court rejected its argument that the ICJ lacked jurisdiction to hear the case.

Neither Russia nor the U.S. has the right to “preventive” war

Related to the principle of intervention is the reputed right to carry out a preventive war against another country perceived to be a threat.

That principle was argued – unsuccessfully — by the Bush administration's war against Iraq. It also does not stand in Vladimir Putin’s war against Ukraine.

The threat was to Ukraine, not Russia

If any party should have felt threatened it would be Ukraine, given the massive deployment of military equipment by the Russian government on the border area with Ukraine before launching its fateful attack.

In addition, Putin had at his disposal other means to show his supposed anger at the expansion of NATO. He didn’t need to initiate a war that has already caused thousands of deaths and the forced displacement of millions of civilians.

The United Nations needs structural changes

Ukraine’s president Volodymyr Zelenskyy has accused the United Nations of being ineffective because of its failure to protect Ukraine from Russian attack. However, the UN is as strong and effective as its member states want it to be.

The UN Security Council needs urgently to be revisited, incorporating new members and reconsidering the conditions of the veto power of present members.

A new international security framework is needed

International laws regarding the use of force and intervention against another country have been repeatedly breached in recent times.

The serious consequences of the armed interventions against Iraq, Afghanistan, Lebanon, Syria, Libya, Yemen, and now Ukraine indicate the need to honor those laws.

Conclusion

A new international security framework needs to be created whereby every country will feel secure that it will not be invaded at the whim and unilateral decision of more powerful countries.

Until the perpetrators of these violations accept such a framework, brutal force will continue to be used and the sovereignty of nations will continue to be violated.

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* César Chelala is a global health consultant and contributing editor for The Globalist. [New York, United States]

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