UN Charter: Negotiations!
Ex-UN diplomat Michael von der Schulenburg explains why not only Russia but also the West violates the principles of the UN Charter. He says that the Charter does not give the West "the right to seek a military victory over Russia and to refuse all peace efforts on those grounds."
March 6, 2023 by Michael von der Schulenburg
[This article posted on 3/6/2023 is translated from the German on the Internet, https://www.emma.de/artikel/verpflichtung-zum-frieden-340191.]
The war in Ukraine is now entering a second year without even an attempt at a diplomatic solution. Instead of peace talks, the warring and conflicting parties have become further entangled in a dangerous spiral of military escalation through the use of ever more powerful weapons systems. As if we were still stuck in the unfortunate thinking of the first half of the 20th century, large-scale military offensives are now supposed to bring the solution. This will only further destroy Ukraine. But an even more dangerous consequence is that the prestige of the world's two largest nuclear powers hangs on the outcome of such offensives. This increases the risk of a direct confrontation between the U.S. and Russia, the nuclear powers - two countries that possess about 90% of all nuclear weapons in the world.
After World Wars I and II, this would be the third time that a war on European soil has escalated into a world war - only this time with potentially significantly devastating consequences. Already, the vast majority of the world's population uninvolved in the war is suffering the economic consequences of that war; a nuclear war could wipe out everyone, regardless of whether they belong to a warring party or not. Thus a war situation has arisen which our forefathers had wanted to prevent by the UN Charter.
Large-scale military offensives are supposed to bring the solution - a spiral of escalation
The preamble to the UN Charter states that "the peoples of the United Nations (are) determined to save future generations from the scourge of war, which twice in our lifetime has brought untold suffering to mankind." Unfortunately, this appeal of the UN Charter seems forgotten today. This is mainly because the actual protecting powers (and UN founding members) of the UN Charter, the US, UK, France and now Russia, have continuously eroded the principles of the UN Charter, indeed, repeatedly ignored them altogether. This is possible for them as permanent members of the UN Security Council with veto power. In the war in Ukraine, these four protective and veto powers have now become adversaries in the conflict. As such, they bear primary responsibility for this war vis-à-vis humanity.
A constantly repeated accusation in the West is that Russia's war of aggression against Ukraine is illegal under international law and that Ukraine thus not only has the right to defend itself, but also has the right to ask other states for help in defending itself. This is indisputable, as this statement is based on the UN Charter. But does the UN Charter thereby also give the West the right to continue this war at will, to seek a military victory over Russia and to refuse all peace efforts on these grounds? Certainly not!
Because in its core the UN Charter is a mutual obligation of all member countries to solve conflicts peacefully; only on this is based the general ban on the use of military force for political goals - and not vice versa. The UN Charter is precisely not a global ceasefire agreement, but a call to all member countries to guarantee worldwide peace through peaceful means. The charter is first a peace commandment and only then a war prohibition! It is this aspect of the peace commandment which breaks with a military logic which had led to so many wars in the past, especially in Europe. If today it is again argued that peace can only be achieved by force of arms - i.e. by war - this is a relapse into the warlike times before the UN Charter.
The UN Charter's peace imperative breaks with the military logic of the past
The UN Charter then goes on to say that the main task is "to maintain international peace and security and, to this end, to take effective collective measures to prevent and eliminate threats to the peace, to suppress acts of aggression and other breaches of the peace, and to settle or settle by peaceful means, in accordance with the principles of justice and international law, international disputes or situations which might lead to a breach of the peace." And then more explicitly, "All Members shall settle their international disputes by peaceful means in such a way as not to endanger international peace, security and justice."
The obligation to resolve conflicts peacefully exists not only to prevent wars, but also to find ways out of wars. For example, the UN General Assembly resolution of March 2, 2022, strongly condemning Russia's military intervention, calls not only on Russia and Ukraine, but on all states involved, to find a peaceful solution to the Ukrainian war: "The General Assembly urges the immediate peaceful settlement of the conflict between the Russian Federation and Ukraine through political dialogue, negotiation, mediation and other peaceful means."
In many ways, the UN Charter is far superior to today's black-and-white view of a world between good and evil, or even between supposedly democratic and authoritarian states. For example, the UN Charter does not use terms such as war of aggression, preventive war, anti-terrorist war or even humanitarian war. It does not distinguish between the respective political systems of the member states, nor does it distinguish between justified and unjustified points of contention between the parties to a conflict. The UN Charter assumes that there are always two sides to every conflict, which are to be reconciled by peaceful means. Applied to the Ukraine war, Russia's and Ukraine's security interests would have been equal and should have been resolved through negotiations.
The seriousness of the escalating conflict had been clear to those involved since 1994
The seriousness of the escalating conflict over NATO's expansion to Russia's borders, which has now led to war, has been clear to all involved since at least 1994. Russia has repeatedly warned that admitting Ukraine and Georgia to NATO would violate its elementary security interests and cross a red line. This is a classic conflict of the kind that often occurs. In accordance with the UN Charter, this conflict should have been - and probably could have been - resolved diplomatically. But that did not happen, neither to prevent a war nor to achieve a peaceful outcome to the war once it had begun. This, too, is a violation of the UN Charter.
Nevertheless, Ukraine's accession to NATO was systematically pursued, especially by the U.S., and Russia's concerns were simply ignored. This was not without provocations. In 2014, the West did not even shy away from supporting the violent overthrow of a legitimately elected (OSCE) president in order to install a government in Ukraine that would be favorable to NATO accession. According to Victoria Nuland, now U.S. Deputy Secretary of State, the U.S. had invested five billion U.S. dollars since 1991 to reform and orient Ukraine to the West. In reality, this may have been a much higher amount.
Some of this money has gone into influencing elections and building U.S.-friendly forces, as leaked U.S. wire reports also confirm. Nuland, Senator McCain, and other Western government officials have taken to personally cheering on protesters in Maidan Square and quite blatantly plotting a future pro-Western government for Ukraine after the overthrow. This, too, is a gross violation of Ukraine's sovereignty and thus a breach of the UN Charter.
Talks about Ukraine joining NATO categorically rejected
After the recent statements of Angela Merkel and Francois Holland on the Minsk I and Minsk II agreements, the question also arises whether these were negotiated at all in 'good faith' on the part of the West or only served the purpose of creating time for the military build-up of Ukraine. Since these agreements became legally binding by UN Security Council decision, that would be a shocking travesty of any international law.
In December 2021, when Russia responded to NATO's decision to move forward with Ukraine's accession by making a threatening gesture and massing troops on its border with Ukraine, it was simultaneously making another attempt to reach a peaceful resolution. This led to a number of diplomatic activities, but talks about Ukraine joining NATO were categorically rejected by Western interlocutors. The Ukrainian government even responded in February 2022 with massive bombardments of the pro-Russian rebel-held Donbas and the civilian population there.
Even after the war broke out, all peace efforts undertaken were torpedoed by NATO, especially by the US and UK. In the first week of March, the then Prime Minister of Israel, Naftali Bennet, was already trying to reach a ceasefire between Russia and Ukraine. According to his recent statements, Russia and Ukraine had a great interest in a quick end to the war. Concessions by Russia had also, according to Bennet, brought a cease-fire "within reach." But it did not come to that, because, Bennet continued, "they (the U.S. and UK) blocked a cease-fire, and I thought they were wrong."
Russia and Ukraine had already agreed on a peace deal
And then there were the Ukrainian-Russian peace talks, in which the two sides had already agreed on the broad outlines of a peace settlement in the third week of March, just a month after the war broke out: Ukraine promised not to join NATO and not to allow military bases of foreign powers on its territory, while Russia promised in return to recognize Ukraine's territorial integrity and to withdraw all Russian occupation troops. Special arrangements were made for the Donbas and Crimea. A peace conference in Istanbul, scheduled for March 29,22 was to develop these outlines further. But then Ukraine withdrew from the peace negotiations under U.S. and U.K. pressure. Turkish Foreign Minister Çavuşoğlu would later say of the failed Istanbul peace conference, "Some NATO countries wanted the war in Ukraine to continue in order to weaken Russia."
How much suffering, how many lives, and how much destruction could have been avoided if NATO had gotten behind Ukrainian-Russian peace efforts in March? For preventing it, however, NATO countries bear a heavy share of the blame for the casualties of war since then.
And here is another word in defense of Ukraine. President Zelensky had very well tried to find a quick peaceful solution to the war that had now broken out. He had asked Israeli Prime Minister Bennet to mediate with Russia, and it was he, too, who had authorized Ukrainian-Russian peace negotiations. As late as March 27, 2022, Zelensky had shown the courage to defend the results of the Ukrainian-Russian peace negotiations in public before Russian journalists - and this despite the fact that NATO had already decided on March 24, 2022, at a special summit not to support these peace negotiations. In the end, Zelensky gave in to NATO's pressure and backed a continuation of the war.
Some NATO countries wanted the war to continue in order to weaken Russia
That decision has now led to widespread destruction of Ukraine, immeasurable suffering for the people there, and the loss of large parts of Ukraine. Today, Ukraine's negotiating position would be much worse than it was in March 2022. This certainly explains Zelensky's current stance, now betting everything on a total victory over Russia. But even such a victory, should it be possible at all, would come only at enormous human cost and could lead to the complete destruction of Ukraine.
It must have become clear to Zelensky and most of his comrades-in-arms by now that they had better not have listened to their friends from the West in March/April and that by rejecting a peaceful, negotiation-based, solution they are now paying with their own blood for the strategic war aims of others. It will not be the last time that Ukrainians will feel betrayed.
Since the end of the Cold War, the West, especially the United States, has repeatedly cast doubt on the validity of the UN Charter. The UN Charter and its principle of "sovereign equality" are simply not compatible with the USA's sole claim to global leadership. According to the US Congressional Research Service, the USA has carried out 251 military interventions in other countries since the end of the Cold War, not counting secret CIA operations and the financing of proxy wars. It can be assumed that many-if not most-of these interventions were violations of the UN charter. In almost all cases, they have left only human suffering, destruction, chaos, and dysfunctional governments; democracies have never emerged from them. Is Ukraine now destined for a similar fate?
The U.S. has conducted 251 military interventions since the end of the Cold War
The war in Ukraine has brought the world closer to nuclear catastrophe than any other conflict since the end of the Cold War - perhaps even since the end of the world wars. This should have made us all painfully aware of how important, indeed irreplaceable, the UN Charter remains today. In order to maintain world peace, the only way left to us is through a voluntary agreement between states to resolve conflicts peacefully.
The UN Charter was once a gift to mankind from the victorious powers of the Second World War, the USA, the then Soviet Union, UK and France. Today, these very states (or their successor states) have discredited themselves with the Ukraine war in such a way that we cannot expect any renewal of the UN Charter from them. The torch for a peaceful, cooperative world order must now be carried by other countries, by countries like Brazil, Argentina and Mexico in Latin America; by India, China and Indonesia in Asia; by South Africa, Nigeria and Ethiopia in Africa or Egypt and Saudi Arabia in the Middle East. By assuming greater responsibility for world peace, these countries would take another step toward a more multipolar and more equal world. What could be more appropriate than a peace order built on the UN Charter and the principle of "the sovereign equality of all its members"?
Michael von der Schulenburg, former Assistant Secretary-General of the United Nations, fled the GDR in 1969, studied in Berlin, London and Paris, worked and lived for over 34 years in peace and development missions of the United Nations and briefly the OSCE in many crisis areas. These included long-term assignments in Haiti, Pakistan, Afghanistan, Iran, Iraq, and Sierra Leone, as well as shorter assignments in Syria, Somalia, the Balkans, the Sahel, and Central Asia. In 2017, he published a book, On Building Peace-Rescuing the Nation-State and Saving the United Nations.
The text first appeared at Makroskop.de
Good wars, bad wars?
by Sabine Schiffer
[This article posted on 2/26/2023 is translated from the German on the Internet, https://www.telepolis.de/features/Gute-Kriege-schlechte-Kriege-7527975.html?seite=all.]
The West's record on international and human rights is devastating from a global perspective. Nevertheless, it sees itself as the guardian of law and morality. A plea for international law and critical media.
Like the intensifying war in Ukraine, a narrative has become entrenched in the reporting and commentary surrounding this war that must be recognized as part of a governmental language regime: It now assigns the terms "turning point in time" (Yugoslav war in 1999 with German participation) and "breach of civilization" (Holocaust) to Russia's attack on Ukraine, as if Vladimir Putin had invented the war of aggression that violated international law.
This is relativization. The wording not only hides the prehistory of the current war in Ukraine, but also the entire history of wars in violation of international law since the end of World War II, including the illegal overthrow of elected governments, of which this year marks the 70th anniversary of the coup against Iran's democratically elected Prime Minister Mohammad Mossadegh.
Framing through deliberate omissions-a hallmark of strategic communication-supports the policy of breaking off diplomacy with the Russian Federation and masking the economic crisis through militarization at all levels.
On the one hand, this leads to protests against recognizable double standards. But on the other hand, it also leads to a new double standard among some critics of the political course. And that is fatal.
This article is about the big trap that the operators of discourse narrowing and discourse shifting have set up and that some well-meaning people might stumble into.
When double standards replace standards
Russia's President Putin de facto declared war on Ukraine with his "special operation" on February 24, 2022; he has been bombing the country from multiple sides and invading his troops ever since. As justified and necessary as the outrage over the attack is, which is not made up for even by the self-empowerment to seize the Donetsk and Luhansk oblasts, which have long been under (Ukrainian) fire, the double standard in its assessment and the relativization of comparable war crimes by "friendly" warmongers is frightening.
Quite officially, the German government states when asked that it only classifies the current war against Ukraine as illegal under international law, but refuses to assess previous wars. This indicates that the German government is not interested in factual assessment, but seems to be guided by interests. Since the common good and fulfillment of the oath of office are obviously no longer at stake, strategic language is needed to nevertheless suggest compliance with the "rule-based order" of a "value West" that is so readily held up.
Thus, the Russian attack on Ukraine in 2022 not only escalates already existing conflicts and struggles, it also enables the German government to officially declare a "turn of the times", which we have had for more than 20 years, and to rely on a credit-financed war economy - by means of "special assets".
In fact, we are in year 24 of the new world war order, which was initiated with the serious breaches of law in the Yugoslav war and the resulting NATO doctrine in 1999.
The reasons for war formulated therein - "humanitarian intervention," "securing resources," and "strong migration movements" - we see taking effect everywhere today. International law is hardly ever invoked anymore, and the UN and OSCE have been sidelined for years - above all by the United States, which, if need be, goes into battle with a "coalition of the willing," whether or not the UN subsequently grants it a resolution.
The world war order that is emerging in the context of the climate crisis and resource struggles as well as flight and migration movements was thus envisaged by the leading strategists at an early stage. The opportunity is now favorable to assign it to the derailed Putin as the sole culprit.
This is truly not a good prospect, because it throws a spotlight on the goal of discursive escalation here at home, and in the event of a limited nuclear war on European soil, only one wins: the far-flung U.S., which is already among the war profiteers by changing the energy mix in Europe to include hitherto unsaleable fracked gas.
Underpinning the one-sided blame is linguistic steering. The phrase of George W. Bush's "War on Terror," which has permanently undermined international law and declared state borders obsolete, was followed by another strategic phrase, that of the "preemptive strike," which as a Bush doctrine will occupy us further below.
Other strategic terms, so-called spins, are "asymmetric war" or "hybrid warfare." They allow for perpetrator-victim reversal in the power-analytic sense. They serve to maintain existing power relations and suggest a "superiority of (actually inferior) evil."
A verbal false flag operation, in other words, that serves to stage the military action of a superior power as "self-defense." Disinformation and manipulation through strategic language are not only Putin's skills.
He also copies successful strategies of both war propaganda (cf. Bush doctrine of preemptive strike) and warfare (cf. Warden doctrine of the Five Rings, which was applied in Yugoslavia, among other places) to destroy civilian infrastructure. In the friend-foe scheme, however, only the enemy side is condemned and demonized, and in German war discourse this is only Russia.
The right to self-defense
Criticizing this one-sidedness, however, must not lead to the idealization of the other side. Especially a factual criticism should stick to the condemnation of all wars, even if a scheme of different evaluation and relativization is established by the other side.
Even if there is an important difference between the war lies of George Bush and Tony Blair, who led a "coalition of the willing" into the Iraq war in 2003, which was against international law, compared to the situation on the Russian border today. There is a scintilla of truth here in terms of an affliction of Russia, no matter how vehemently every Nato spokesman denies it. Nato deployments and trainings up to the Lithuanian-Russian border or in the Baltic Sea already reach close to the most important cities of the Russian Federation.
And the inclusion of Ukraine in various training programs may not have reassured the Russian leadership either. But does that justify an attack on the neighboring country? Especially since one has to wonder whether the Russian president has really exhausted all other options for action - invoking the UN Security Council, etc.
Sure, the U.S. has shown that ritualized abuses can be committed in the process. But does that justify skipping these formal steps? In any case, it is not wise.
Now there is a discussion in some circles whether Ukraine or Russia can claim the right to self-defense under paragraph 51 of the UN Charter.
From the Ukrainian point of view, the legal claim is quite clear, while a "precautionary attack" always retains a legitimacy problem. Putin has miscalculated militarily as well as with the trick of annexing the Donetsk and Luhansk oblasts into his own territory.
Even the long-standing fight against the Russian minorities on Ukraine's southeastern border with Russia does not make up for this.
There was no UN protection status for them. This was different in South Ossetia, where Russia had the UN mandate as a protecting power, which is why it had to intervene there after Georgia attacked in late summer 2008.
This was confirmed by an EU fact-finding commission a year later, which was reported on several times in Der Spiegel, among others.
Nevertheless, the fact seems to be forgotten today or politicians and media vehemently spread the untruth about it. Perhaps because a Russian attack fits better into the enemy framing and one thinks there would be good fake news in the sense of an attacked victim?
This assessment does not detract from the finding of the current breach of law by Russia. Even if one does not understand Putin's officially declared attack on Ukraine on February 24, 2022 as the starting point of a military conflict, because one knows about the developments in Russia, Ukraine, EU and the USA - especially with regard to the Ukraine crisis in 2013/2014, but also before - this knowledge cannot justify this attack.
If one does not emphasize this, in the end those who always criticized the ignoring on the part of the USA push the dismantling of international law standards.
But how to protest in the future, or for what, if the standards are now thrown overboard? Whom does one want to rally behind legal bases that no longer exist? With this task, one would be working for the wrong people, namely those who have been working for a long time on the dismantling of international law as well as the institutions representing it. This would not only mean submission, but would also weaken one's own concern - namely the clear condemnation of wars as a means of geopolitics.
Human and international law as an indispensable basis for understanding
Leaving aside the dispute about the history of origins and Eurocentrism in matters of human and international law, I would like to defend these legal foundations unapologetically. After all, what else are we getting worked up about? If everyone can break international law, why can't Russia?
It is only the other way around: Those who criticize Russia's breach of international law and war crimes must ensure that the law and the prosecution of crimes are consistently implemented for all - i.e., of course, also for crimes committed by Ukraine, just like all other actors.
What assessment and punishment is carried out, depending on the severity and context, is a matter for courts, whose independence and reach must be strengthened, not weakened. This is precisely the goal for the future, which can only be shaped with justice - to be credible and connectable for truly everyone.
And for jurisdiction and justice, there is a need for universally valid standards. Here, too, the pull of the bad example can be seen: After the cancellation of arms control treaties on the part of the USA, Russia is now following suit by suspending them at New Start.
In this respect, the proposals of Interior Minister Marco Buschmann (FDP), who speaks of a "further development of international criminal law," must be examined critically. In his key points paper, Minister Buschmann is primarily concerned with strengthening the possibilities for prosecuting war criminals, although he does not seem to have all of them in mind.
However, a possible lex Putin should not obscure the fact that, in addition to Russia, the United States and other actors who have already repeatedly broken international law do not recognize the International Criminal Court. The possibilities for prosecution beyond this explicit recognition would certainly be worth discussing - but of course only if equal law applies to all here as well.
Mediation institutions systematically weakened
The dismantling of the UN by the United States and Great Britain, as well as the attempts by NATO to take over the OSCE (Doctrine 1999) and the founding of many think tanks, must not lead to a rejection of the negotiating and mediating institutions that call for and can contribute to the reconciliation of interests and the resolution of conflicts long before the use of military force.
For all the inefficiency that can be observed in these institutions today, this state of affairs must be understood as having been willed and made by precisely those who feel they have the upper hand. The contradiction to the basic idea of a community of nations - in the best, and not in the völkisch sense of the word - already becomes clear here.
But if the survival of mankind on this planet is to be at stake, then we simply will not be able to do without honest mediating institutions. It was political decisions that led to the current misery, so other political decisions can be made - with the aim of strengthening the exchange of experience and the balance of interests and making mediation fit for the future. This probably includes the introduction of equal voting rights in the UN and the assignment of the so-called Security Council as an advisory body at best.
The fact that the upgrading of the voting weight of the countries of the Global South has not yet taken place is a scandal that bears traits of neocolonialism, but has not yet found its way into the media. In this respect, "further development" of executive institutions to enforce international law would certainly be worth considering, but not changing the legal basis.
Is progress coming from the Global South?
Colonial experience, interference in internal affairs and current economic structures of exploitation have led to a credibility crisis of the value West.
The framing of the southern countries as dependent on Russia and China, which dominates the media, is far less effective in the Global South. In contrast, neocolonialism in the form of IMF loans and import-export controls, as well as interventionism as part of a "rule-based order," is perceived there. The call to condemn only Russia's attack on another country is apparently also placed in this scheme.
There, many are asking: Why only Russia? What is different here than in the other attacks? Why isn't equal justice for all? The assassinations of Lumumba in Congo, Allende in Chile and other interventions are more present in the consciousness of the affected countries than in the discourse here.
So, beyond extortionate "investments" and "development aid", why should we take the side of those who have so far been conspicuous mainly for their exercise of power and exploitative structures, and whose reputation is sinking in the light of the global resource and environmental crisis? But there are also voices in Africa calling for the same condemnation of all breaches of international law.
The more global view, however, also includes the fact that the USA's and NATO's gaze, which is visibly drifting toward the Indo-Pacific, foreshadows how the "value West" will soon withdraw its attention from Ukraine just as it recently withdrew its attention from Afghanistan - in which our security was supposedly defended for 20 years and which is now suddenly no longer threatened.
Moreover, the danger of drone killings on suspicion in violation of international law was not limited to Afghanistan. And now one wants to tell the people in the altogether more threatened Global South that the so-called Kamikazedrones of Iranian design, which Russia is using in Ukraine, are supposed to be worse than the deadly US drones controlled via Ramstein?
Of course, criticism of the double standard should not be used to throw overboard the outlawing of these weapons. Here, too, the reverse is true. What else are we supposed to orient ourselves to in the future if the erosion of standards is allowed to continue or even encouraged?
The dysfunctionality of the international order with its challenged institutions can therefore neither serve to justify a power advantage nor a war logic, nor even to gloss over the increasingly evident empowerment of NATO as a political actor in its own right.
On the contrary, there is only one answer to this: Without any ifs and buts - i.e. without double standards - the applicable standards must finally come into their own, for everyone equally, as it were. Only this can counteract their damage and put a spoke in the wheel of the warmongers on both sides.
Because, as I recently read on a demonstration sign, the following statement is certainly true: "The rich supply the weapons, the poor supply the corpses." And they seem to know this better in the South than in much of the northern hemisphere.