This war, which in principle started at the latest with the Western-backed pro-Western coup in Kiev in 2014, is not a pure Russian-Ukrainian war, but a multidimensional war: It is a war between Russia and the West, perhaps even a war between the West on the one hand and the East and Global South on the other hand on Ukrainian soil. It is about global hegemony, it is about whether the West can once again secure its global hegemony or whether the world of states will be structured in a multi-polar way.
Russia’s war in the mirror of western international law nihilism and propaganda
by Alexander Neu
[This article posted on 11/30/2022 is translated from the German on the Internet, Russlands Krieg im Spiegel von westlichem Völkerrechtsnihilismus und Propaganda.]
The covert war between Russia and Ukraine that has been ongoing since 2014 took on a new, overtly belligerent quality on February 24, 2022. According to the Russian linguistic regime, the war of aggression is not called a war, but a “special operation,” although it has all the characteristics of a war. The avoidance of the term “war” is intended to rebut the accusation of a breach of the mandatory prohibition of the use of force codified in the UN Charter, which is immediately associated with the term war. According to the motto: Since we do not call this war, it is not war and therefore the action does not constitute a breach of international law. With the Orwellian renaming, the Russian leadership is adopting a habit of Western war propaganda. By Dr. Alexander S. Neu.
Who does not remember the years of “well drilling by the Bundeswehr (German army)” in Afghanistan, in which 59 soldiers and many more Afghans lost their lives. Until 2009, when the German Michel was jolted out of his well-deserved humanistic deep sleep in view of the bombing of two tanker trucks, arranged on the instructions of the then German Colonel Klein, with over 100 civilians killed. It was the then defense minister and until then unrecognized plagiarism expert KT zu Guttenberg who used the term “war” publicly for the first time shortly thereafter. No less trivializing was the designation of the US-led NATO’s war of aggression against the remnants of Yugoslavia in 1999, which was also not called a war, but euphemistically referred to as an “air campaign.”
With the following words, the then Chancellor Gerhard Schröder tuned the population in Germany to the “altruistic” and thus, in the Western self-image, unproblematic war under international law, without calling the war by its name, indeed downright negating it:
“Dear fellow citizens,
This evening NATO has begun air strikes against military targets in Yugoslavia. (…). We are not waging war, but we are called upon to enforce a peaceful solution in Kosovo, also by military means. The military action is not directed against the Serbian people. (…). The German government did not take its decision lightly, after all, for the first time (sic!) since the end of World War II, German soldiers are on combat duty.”
According to the wording of the last sentence, the 2nd World War was probably also just a combat mission …
At least G. Schröder in the context of the unconstitutional secession of Crimea and the integration of the same into the Russian Federation in 2014, which was against international law, revealed the double standards so readily practiced by the West by admitting that this NATO war of aggression was also against international law:
“That’s when we sent our planes into Serbia, and they, along with NATO, bombed a sovereign state – without any Security Council decision.”
This unusual but refreshing admission by the former German chancellor caused a sniffle in political and media circles in Berlin – after all, the previous narrative, cultivated with much propagandistic effort, of a mere “air campaign” that was somehow covered by international law, seemed secure. For their part, the “scientific” support for this narrative construct was provided by those who actually knew better and yet willingly placed themselves in the service of the German government and NATO, thereby doing their guild no favors: The “international law experts”, they tried with astonishing imagination to interpret the NATO war of aggression as conforming to international law after all, while these “international law experts”, in turn, have no problems understanding the letter and spirit of the UN Charter in the case of the current Russian war of aggression. NATO war propaganda showed itself very creative in downplaying its war against Yugoslavia in its facets. Thus, human casualties were definitively reified or dehumanized as “collateral damage” and the bombing of civilian infrastructure – including hospitals, trains, electricity plants, etc. – was categorized as a “legitimate” military objective. Breach of international humanitarian law? Missing.
The extent to which U.S.-led NATO had the remaining Yugoslav civilian infrastructure in mind as an object of destruction was made clear not least by the statements of its chief propagandist for domestic living rooms, Jamie Shea. In an overzealous flow of words, Shea also spoke of “bombing Yugoslavia back to the Stone Age”. CNN and the New York Times reported that the massive destruction of Yugoslav infrastructure, including the power supply, was intended to stir up discontent among the population and thus “encourage” them to revolt against the Yugoslav government.
Just as a reminder, if today we are outraged by Russia’s unlawful attacks on Ukrainian infrastructure as well. Unfortunately, I don’t recall any media or social outrage in Germany or other European NATO countries. No “stand with Yugoslavia” or showing of the Yugoslav flag in the windows of the do-gooders was heard – on the contrary. There were also no international demands for sanctions against NATO member states or demands for exclusion from international governmental organizations, such as the Council of Europe, the OSCE or the UN, with which Russia is currently confronted. The war of aggression against Iraq in 2003 by the so-called “coalition of the willing” under the leadership of the United States, which violated international law, has not been a violation of international law to this day, according to Western interpretation. The federal governments, starting with the red-green coalition, have not declared this war of aggression to be illegal under international law. There is a lot of prevarication up to the point of ridiculousness.
The attacks of the NATO member state Turkey on Syrian territory against the Kurdish YPG militias supported by the USA and against the declared will of the Syrian government under the pretext of self-defense are no different. In addition, there is the permanent occupation of Syrian territory in the north and west of the country, which is directly directed against the Syrian state or Syrian sovereignty and jurisdiction, up to and including open and massive support for Islamist terrorist organizations (especially in Idlib province). All of these violations of law are still not recognized by the federal governments as illegal under international law. One is in the phase of examining international law, so the argumentation goes, for which the federal government apparently needs several years. In 2018, it took the Scientific Service of the German Bundestag a few weeks to respond to my request to prepare a corresponding expert opinion on international law.
This expert opinion, entitled “International Law Assessment of Turkey’s ‘Operation Olive Branch’ against the Kurdish YPG in Northern Syria,” undoubtedly identified Turkey’s breach of international law. Critical reporting by our mainstream media on this factual cover-up of Turkey’s actions by the German government? Missing! In contrast, the media are proving very eager to scandalize Russia’s war in violation of international law.
If our mainstream media also showed such a sensitivity to international law when it came to Western breaches of law, their massive criticism of breaches of law by non-Western states would also be more credible. But in all cases mentioned, the war of aggression of the US-led NATO against the rest of Yugoslavia, the US war of aggression against the Iraq war, the also de facto Turkish war of aggression against Syria as well as Russia’s war of aggression against Ukraine, breaches of international humanitarian law took place/are taking place. And in all cases, without exception, it is also a clear violation of the mandatory prohibition of the use of force of the UN Charter (Art. 2 para. 4).
In not a single case can/could the right to self-defense be credibly argued: Neither was Russia attacked by Ukraine in February 2022, nor was the NATO treaty area attacked by the rest of Yugoslavia in 1999, by Iraq in 2003, or by Syria since 2011, which definitely renders an appeal to self-defense under Article 51 of the UN Charter invalid. Also, there was/is no legitimizing UN Security Council resolution for any of these wars of aggression.
It is interesting that Russia’s president, V. Putin, brought the genocide accusation into play with regard to the inhabitants of the two “people’s republics” in eastern Ukraine to Chancellor O. Scholz during his visit shortly before the Russian arms race. In this way, the Russian president obviously tried to fall back on the Western legitimation figure of humanitarian intervention (central argument of NATO in 1999) for the envisaged war against Ukraine.
Humanitarian intervention, as well as its modernized variant, the responsibility-to-protect doctrine (R2P doctrine), are intervention constructs with an ostensibly humanitarian motive by Western strategists. Neither of these legitimation figures is established in customary international law, and they are certainly not codified in the UN Charter, since there is as yet no conclusive agreement on which authority may order such a military intervention against a sovereign state. The global South in particular is highly sensitive to this issue – memories of Western colonialism and imperialism run too deep – and therefore fears the abuse of this doctrine for Western power politics. And indeed, the abusive “application” of the R2P doctrine was not long in coming: In the case of Libya in 2011, the UN Security Council arbitrarily adopted an R2P-based mandate for intervention, but not for regime change.
But that is precisely what the U.S.-led coalition pursued against the Gadhafi government and interpreted the UN Security Council resolution accordingly. Gaddafi was overthrown and brutally killed. This blatant abuse of the R2P-based Security Council resolution by the West for the purpose of power-political self-interest certainly did not allay the fears of the Global South and ultimately led to the doctrine’s failure to gain majority support in the world of states for a long time to come.
In short, there are two exceptions to the mandatory prohibition of the use of force in the UN Charter, which is binding on all UN member states: individual and collective self-defense (Art. 51) in the event of a previous attack on a state’s own territory. And the authorization by the UN Security Council of military coercive measures (Art. 42) for the purpose of “maintaining or restoring international peace and security” (Art. 42).
The UN Charter is clear, and that makes sense. The consequences of arbitrary interpretations of the UN Charter by various parties to the conflict (including, incidentally, the understanding by sympathizers of one side or the other), on the other hand, are fatal to the stability of the international system. There are always some excusable motives for a breach of law. If, however, the excusing motives why military action had to be taken here and there against a state in circumvention of international law are in the foreground, the direct consequence is the end of modern international law and, along with it, the anarchization of the world of states – in short, a return to the laws of the jungle.
For in the emerging multipolar world order, the precedent set by the breach of international law has an immediate imitative effect. During the unipolar era and the hubris that unfortunately – not inevitably – went hand in hand with it, did the West really believe that its idiosyncratic interpretations of the law, even to the point of openly breaking the law, would remain permanently without consequences?
The breach of international law in Crimea is the answer to the breach of international law in Kosovo, strictly speaking even the answer to the recognition policies of the secessionist Yugoslav republics of Slovenia, Croatia and Bosnia-Herzegovina practiced by the West in violation of international law, and thus the dismantling of Yugoslavia as a subject of international law. Did the Western capitals really assume that these precedents, which they set without coercion, would not be taken up by other great powers at some point? Do Western desk strategists really believe that centuries of Western global dominance would last forever? Do they really believe in the West that the East and the Global South will accept without resistance the new boondoggle with the term “rules-based international order” instead of the UN Charter and the new project of “democracies versus autocracies” for the purpose of de facto securing Western dominance?
If this is really believed in the political and media West, it would be downright naive. The outcome of the recent G-20 summit in Bali should be a wake-up call. The outcome of Bali fell short of the West’s expectations (isolation of Russia). Russia even co-sponsored the final declaration, which means that there was no 19:1 final declaration – i.e. without Russia – and thus the attempt to isolate Russia before the world public was not really successful. The continued naivety of the eternally dominant and “highly civilized” West is likely to cost Europe and Germany dearly.
Realpolitik, i.e. understanding the new, consolidating global constellations of forces, dealing with them constructively, i.e. not in a bloc-bound manner, but in peaceful coexistence and on the basis of the UN Charter, is the only viable way out if European and German interests are to be given any validity in the multipolar world of the 21st century.
More on the topic:
War in Ukraine: why the West is so reluctant to compromise – part 1
War in Ukraine: Why the West is so reluctant to compromise – Part 2
War in Ukraine: Why the West is so reluctant to compromise – Part 1
by Alexander Neu
[This article posted on 10/17/2022 is translated from the German on the Internet, Krieg in der Ukraine: Warum sich der Westen so schwertut, Kompromisse einzugehen – Teil 1
With Russia’s war of aggression on Ukraine and the Western response, the world may be headed in leaps and bounds toward the nuclear abyss: The escalation dynamic is gaining speed. More and more conventional weapons with better and better effect are being moved by the West to Ukraine, while at the same time asserting to the domestic public and Russia that they are not a party to the war. The Russian side, meanwhile, no longer regards these measures as mere provocation, but assesses the arms deliveries, training and the provision of satellite- and drone-based reconnaissance data to Ukraine in real time as participation in the war by NATO member states. But anyone who calls for diplomatic solutions against this backdrop is given a media and political pass. By Dr. Alexander S. Neu.
Obviously, in the face of embarrassing operational defeats of the Russian armed forces, the protagonists of massive support for Ukraine feel virtually vindicated and encouraged to defeat Russia, or at least to prevent a Russian victory. Whatever that might mean in concrete terms, there are certainly different interpretations of it.
The problem, however, is that Russia is not just any state like Iraq or Libya that can be completely dismantled without taking any risks themselves. Russia is the leading nuclear power, along with the United States. And the obvious weakness of Russia’s conventional forces is more than compensated for by its possession of nuclear weapons. In 2020, Russia updated and published its nuclear doctrine under the title: “Basic Principles of the State Policy of the Russian Federation in the Field of Nuclear Deterrence.” On the conditions of the use of nuclear weapons, it states:
“17. The Russian Federation reserves the right to use nuclear weapons in response to the use of nuclear weapons or other types of weapons of mass destruction against any actor and/or its confederates, as well as in response to an attack against the Russian Federation with the help of conventional weapons, if the existence of the state is threatened as a result.”
In short, Russia rejects a nuclear first strike unless a conventional attack would have a destructive effect close to a nuclear strike, thus calling into question Russian statehood. And it is the Kremlin that decides when such a dimension of its own damage has been reached. Would a complete recapture of the four territories annexed by Russia and also of Crimea by Ukrainian forces be such a case? Well, if Russia integrates these territories into its territory as equal regions, i.e. no two-class integration, Russia would have to use nuclear weapons in case of doubt, following this logic.
And sometimes the political decision-makers in the West act as if it were completely out of the question that the war would ultimately take on a nuclear dimension, that it was a bluff on Putin’s part and that he only needed to be shown the hard edge and then he would withdraw from Ukraine in remorse. And those in the West who point out that Russia’s threats should not be misunderstood as a bluff are not taken seriously or even defamed. This was also the case with former German Chancellor Angela Merkel. In several public appearances, she warned against taking Russian President Putin seriously. Instead, she called for a negotiated solution and cooperation with Russia precisely to prevent further escalation toward World War 3.
The problem, however, is that such voices do not want to and should not be heard. In the ever tighter socio-political discourse about what one is still allowed to say and what one is no longer allowed to say, if one does not want to expose oneself to the danger of ostracism and media execution, statements and demands that point in the direction of diplomatic solutions, empathy, trust-building, etc. have also disappeared from the political vocabulary of Western politics. Whoever uses them nevertheless is at least a “Putin-understanding”, i.e. is being hunted down by the media and politically.
In this way, Angela Merkel’s statements are also reduced to base motives. To this end, a few political scientists and Merkel “experts” have their say, explaining that Merkel is more concerned with justifying her Russia policy in retrospect and thus saving her political legacy and reputation. At least as far as the foreign and security policy statements of these “experts” are concerned, it must be said that they are not particularly pronounced.
A multidimensional war
However, the real motive for the continuation of the war wanted by the West seems to be another one besides the legitimate territorial restoration of Ukraine: The U.S. and the U.K., in particular, put pressure on Ukraine to end the negotiations between Ukraine and Russia, which had been ongoing in March, without results, and to focus instead on a victorious peace for Ukraine, as well as to push through Ukraine’s NATO membership after all.
Michael von der Schulenburg recently published an extraordinarily good article on this topic under the title “Ukraine must be about winning the peace and not the war” on the NachDenkSeiten. In the article, Schulenburg states that the sole purpose of the special NATO summit held in March was to end the Russian-Ukrainian negotiations, in order to withdraw the ground from Russia’s core demand of a neutral Ukraine, which Ukraine was quite prepared to meet at that time, according to reports. Ukraine is to become a NATO member come hell or high water. So exactly the point that Russia has defined as an absolute red line.
And with this it becomes clear that this war, which in principle started at the latest with the Western-backed pro-Western coup in Kiev in 2014, is not a pure Russian-Ukrainian war, but a multidimensional war: It is a war between Russia and the West, perhaps even a war between the West on the one hand and the East and Global South on the other hand on Ukrainian soil. It is about global hegemony, it is about whether the West can once again secure its global hegemony or whether the world of states will be structured in a multipolar way.
In favor of the global dimension is the refusal of many states of the global South to join the West’s sanctions against Russia. Of course, one can also argue against the global dimension by pointing to the UN General Assembly resolutions in which over 140 states condemn Russia for its war and annexation of Ukrainian territory. But the point is also that Russia’s demand for a secret vote in the U.N. General Assembly was rejected, so some states felt compelled to vote along Western lines to avoid fearing Western sanctions on their part. A secret ballot might have produced a different result, in which the new geopolitical shifts in power would have been more apparent. But this is speculation.
If one shares the thesis that this is a comprehensive, multidimensional war involving nothing less than the potential end of centuries of Western global hegemony, then one also understands the West’s determination to sustainably secure Ukraine in the Western sphere of influence, rather than to bring about pacification through a neutral status and seek mutual concessions. After all, continued Western control over Ukraine would be to its detriment not only with regard to Russia, but beyond that in the Euro-Asian region. So it’s all about the big picture.
It is against this background that NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg’s recent statement that “Russia’s victory is NATO’s defeat” should be assessed. The fatal aspect of the statement is that NATO is thus tying its fate to Ukraine. “If NATO loses the war, disintegration tendencies for the Western military alliance are not unlikely – in any case, the geopolitical power shift toward Eurasia would gain sustainability.
And more than that, Russia’s fate is also linked to the war against Ukraine: If Russia were to lose the war, it would lose its great power status, which is by now tarnished anyway; indeed, even a breakup of the Russian Federation could not be ruled out, as separatism could feel emboldened on Russia’s periphery to take advantage of the weakness of the Russian central state, as the Russian constituent republic of Chechnya once did in the context of the disintegration of the Soviet Union. We would not even have to speculate about the political survival of the Russian president.
It is therefore only secondarily about Ukraine and certainly not about the people in Ukraine. Thus, two completely self-inflicted questions of fate are diametrically opposed to each other, which does not bode well.
War in Ukraine: Why the West is so reluctant to compromise – Part 2
by Alexander Neu
[This article posted on 10/21/2022 is translated from the German on the Internet, https://www.nachdenkseiten.de/?p=89314.]
Given the self-inflicted fate issues on the Russian and NATO sides, an exit strategy is enormously difficult. But conceivable, remember the resolution of the Cuban Missile Crisis in 1962, which also threatened to plunge the world into a nuclear Armageddon. A balance was found that was both painful and face-saving for both sides. Unfortunately, in addition to the complicated geopolitical confrontation, there is another dimension that once again complicates the resolution of the conflict. By Dr. Alexander S. Neu.
The multidimensional war and its cultural-civilizational component
A rational person might ask what would be so wrong with a neutral Ukraine, if this Russian demand ensures world peace. What would be wrong with a complete or at least partial return of the territories annexed by Russia to the sovereignty of Ukraine, but with these territories given comprehensive autonomies? What could be so wrong with a multipolar world constituted on the basis of the UN Charter? And finally, what could be so wrong with the peaceful coexistence of different cultures, economies and forms of government – especially since humanity has quite different existential challenges to overcome. After all, the West has been calling for social and cultural plurality and diversity for decades. Why, then, does the West practice a foreign policy that amounts to an export of Western values without any alternative – and is sometimes even prepared to wage wars to achieve this?
The contradiction, however, is obvious: plurality and diversity are only desirable as long as they run in the “right” direction. A constant narrowing, as already noted, of the spectrum of opinion and debate within society, accompanied by social sanctions, can be observed in the various spheres of society, right up to academia. Those who do not behave in a politically correct manner must leave the playing field. And what is politically correct is determined by… well. The formulated values that are supposed to guide politically correct behavior are morally charged. Morality, however, prevents, even prohibits, rational debate, because the moral argument could be refuted in a rational debate. That is completely unacceptable to the moralizers. Our values are the good values, morally sound, and therefore we are naturally the good guys. In the undercomplex reverse conclusion, the other values must automatically be bad – or at least they are not equal. In their own value logic, Western values must therefore formulate a claim to universality. They must therefore apply to all people and all cultures – or almost all. In the case of our strategic allies, such as Saudi Arabia or Turkey, exceptions are sometimes made for strategic reasons – always with a stomachache, of course.
The claim to universality of Western values then leads to an explicit values-based foreign policy. Values, not interests and empathy, thus become the guiding principles of foreign and security policy. The protagonists of a value-based policy strive, consciously or unconsciously, for an absolute hegemony of Western civilization. Western civilization, because it embodies good values, is superior to all other civilizations and cultures, the unshakable belief goes. This culminates in the U.S. self-image of being an exceptional nation, “God’s own people,” and thus having rights that other states and peoples do not have. This ideology of exceptionalism has also spilled over to the Europeans, but less with religious than with moral zeal, whereby the entire West sees itself as something special, accompanied by special rights that lie beyond the UN Charter. The foreign policy topos for this is: “rule-based international order,” i.e., the Western order. This is not formally defined, but the political use of this topos clearly refers to the Western hegemonic order.
This Western self-image of civilizational superiority contains a (cultural) racism: It cannot be to have to speak and act on an equal footing with Chinese, Russians, Arabs or Africans, according to the subliminal thought, which, however, is never expressed publicly. And therefore, reasoned considerations of mutual balancing of interests, respect of state and political sovereignty towards non-Western states and cultures are still unthinkable for the West. Acceptance at eye level of the Other, of the non-Western, would call into question the Western way of life with its claim to universality, which is currently still absolutely unthinkable, but must be conceivable without alternative.
A concession to the Russian side to be found on a real-political and rational basis would be more than just a geopolitical defeat, it would also be a civilizational defeat in the eyes of its protagonists. And this civilizational superiority postulate sometimes weighs heavier than a nuclear Armageddon. In any case, it weighs demonstrably more heavily than the overdue common fight against the looming climate catastrophe. Coal-fired power plants are to run longer, fracking gas is in vogue, and Fridays for Future is calling for longer operating times for nuclear power plants.
The Russian is making it possible, one might be inclined to say.