We need a real debate on the Ukraine war and Double standards
by Katrina vanden Heuvel and Peter Vonnahme, 5/26
The longer the war in Ukraine continues, the greater the risk of a nuclear accident or incident. The U.S. & NATO are in a proxy war with Russia.
U.S. military with Ukrainian soldiers during a training exercise near Yavoriv in western Ukraine in late 2019. photo: U.S. Army
It’s time to challenge the established view of the war in Ukraine. A commentary
As Russia’s illegal and brutal assault continues into its fourth month, Europe, the Global South, and the rest of the world are witnessing its far-reaching consequences.
At the same time, we are witnessing the emergence of a new politico-military world order. Climate change is getting sidelined, while dependence on fossil fuels is increasing; food shortages and demand for certain resources are driving up prices, leading to a growing problem of hunger in the world.
And the global migration crisis – with more international refugees and internally displaced people than at any time since the end of World War II – is becoming an increasing challenge.
Katrina vanden Heuvel is editor-in-chief of the U.S. weekly newspaper The Nation.
The longer the war in Ukraine continues, the greater the risk of a nuclear accident or incident. And given the strategy of U.S. President Joe Biden’s administration to “weaken” Russia through large-scale arms shipments – including anti-ship missiles – and revelations of U.S. intelligence support for Ukraine, it is clear that the United States and NATO are in a proxy war with Russia.
Shouldn’t the implications, dangers, and multiple costs of this proxy war be a central theme of media coverage – as well as informed analysis, discussion, and debate?
Yet what we are witnessing in the media and the political establishment is largely a one-sided, even non-existent, public discussion and debate. It is as if we are living in what journalist Matt Taibbi has called an “intellectual no-fly zone.”
Those who dissent from the established line on Ukraine are routinely excluded or marginalized by the major media corporations – in any case, they are rarely noticed.
The result is that alternative and opposing views and voices do not seem to exist. Wouldn’t it be good if there was more diversity in views, history, and context, rather than a compulsion to further validate established attitudes in a biased way?
Those who talk about history and explain the West’s role in the Ukrainian tragedy are not excusing Russia’s criminal attack.
Ukraine war: consequences of the “intellectual no-fly zone”.
It is a measure of such thinking and the rhetorical or intellectual no-fly zone that prominent figures such as Noam Chomsky, University of Chicago professor John Mearsheimer, and former U.S. Ambassador Chas Freeman have been demonized or vilified for making cogent arguments and providing much needed context and history to explain the background of this war.
In our fragile democracy, the price for dissent is comparatively small. Why, then, aren’t more people in think tanks, academia, the media, or politics challenging the orthodox narrative of U.S. policy and media?
Isn’t it worth asking whether sending more and more weapons to the Ukrainians is the wisest course? Is it too much to ask more questions and discuss the best way to reduce the risk of nuclear conflict?
Conflict with Russia: US Army in Ukraine
Ukrainian soldiers conduct airstrike training. Image: U.S. Army Europe, 2016.
Why are dissenters vilified when they mention the role of nationalist, far-right, and, yes, neo-Nazi forces in Ukraine, even when based on serious facts and history?
The revival of fascism or neo-Nazism poisons many countries today – from European nations to the United States. Why is Ukraine’s history too often ignored or even denied?
As one former Marine Corps general noted, “War is a business.” And indeed, U.S. defense contractors are lining up to draw from the full pots.
By the time the war ends, many Ukrainians and Russians will die while Raytheon, Lockheed Martin and Northrop Grumman make fortunes.
At the same time, network and cable news is teeming with “experts” – or rather, military men who have mutated into consultants – while their jobs, board positions and clients remain unknown to viewers.
Here in the U.S., alternative views rarely come up on television or Internet screens or in Congress; voices of restraint that resist the urge to treat compromise in negotiations as appeasement, that seek persistent and tough diplomacy to achieve an effective cease-fire and a negotiated settlement to ensure that Ukraine emerges from this war a sovereign, independent, rebuilt, and prosperous country.
“Tell me how this ends,” General David Petraeus had asked Washington Post writer Rick Atkinson a few months after the nearly decade-long Iraq war began. Ending this war will require new thinking and challenge the entrenched opinions of the time.
As the venerable U.S. journalist Walter Lippmann once noted, “When everybody thinks alike, nobody thinks right anymore.”
This commentary first appeared in the U.S. daily Washington Post, where it is published by Katrina vanden Heuvel as part of a regular column.
With double standards into the next world war
by Peter Vonnahme
[This article published on May 27, 2022 is translated from the German on the Internet, Mit Doppelstandards in den nächsten Weltkrieg.]
Debate on Ukraine war is subject to significant constraints and is morally constrained. The real issues do not come up. A commentary
Who is to blame for the war in Ukraine?
The answer is not as simple as we are often led to believe. The question of who caused a dispute is with us from the sandbox to the retirement home. Experienced dispute mediators know that the real aggressor is not necessarily the one who first resorted to violence. The person whose behavior provoked the other person to commit an act of violence can also be (partly) to blame. Unfortunately, this knowledge does not help to clearly clarify the question of guilt in the current dispute.
What is helpful is a set of rules that both parties to the conflict recognize as a guideline, for example because they agreed on them before the dispute began. Such a binding set of rules exists between states. It was drawn up and adopted by the community of nations in 1945 in the face of the civilizing catastrophes of two world wars:
Charter of the United Nations (UN Charter).
This treaty formulates fundamental rules that apply between the peoples of the world. As long as there is nothing better, we would do well to abide by it.
The fundamental principle of international law is found in Article 2(4) of the Charter:
“All Members shall refrain in their international relations from the […] threat or use of force against the territorial integrity or political independence of any State.” This prohibition of the use of force is the fundamental norm of law between states (“international law”) agreed upon by all member states of the UN.
Another fundamental principle is enshrined in Article 2(7) of the Charter:
According to this, there is no right “to intervene in matters which by their nature belong to the internal competence of a State.” This means that no state is entitled to intervene in internal conflicts of another state by means of force.
There are two exceptions to the prohibition of force:
According to Art. 42 of the Charter, the Security Council may authorize “robust measures” in the event of a threat to or breach of the peace or an act of aggression.
Under Article 51 of the Charter, a state under attack has “the natural right of individual or collective self-defense until the Security Council has taken such measures as are necessary for the maintenance of international peace and security.”
What does this mean for the Ukraine war?
Measures under Article 42 are out of the question, if only because the Security Council has not authorized Russia to use force.
Russia’s right of self-defense under Art. 51 does not apply because Ukraine has not attacked Russia and there is no evidence that Ukraine has planned an armed attack on Russian territory.
Ukrainian military attacks on the territories of Donetsk and Luhansk (Donbass) cannot trigger Russia’s right of self-defense either, because these territories are not part of Russian territory.
Interim conclusion: since the Russian invasion is not justified by either of the two exceptions, the war is illegal under international law. Anyone claiming credibility should not question this finding. Objections to this are of no use to Russia or to international law. It does not matter legally that the Russian government avoids the word “war” but speaks of a “special military action.” International law is not guided by words, but by facts.
Violation of Russian interests
Russia’s breach of international law, however, does not preclude Ukraine from violating Russia’s legitimate interests in the run-up to the war. In particular, Russia makes the following allegations:
Intensified efforts by the Ukrainian leadership to gain admission to NATO without regard to Russian security interests.
Staging the 2014 Maidan coup with political and military support from the West
Toleration of extreme nationalism in Ukraine
Discrimination against the Russian-speaking population in Donbass
Use of “Nazi battalions”
Civil war in the Donbass with 14,000 dead so far; refused implementation of the Minsk II- Agreement; planned offensive against the Donetsk and Lugansk People’s Republics.
It would go beyond the scope of this article to investigate whether and to what extent the accusations against Ukraine, the U.S. and the EU are well-founded. Nor is clarification necessary. For even if the accusations were true, no right of Russia to attack Ukraine militarily could be derived from this.
Political provocations do not justify a war of aggression. This result may be unsatisfactory from Russia’s point of view, but that does not change the assessment under international law.
We do not live in an ideal – just – world. Recent decades have repeatedly shown that even massive breaches of international law (for example, Yugoslavia, Iraq, Syria, Libya, Palestine) have gone unpunished. The reason for this is obvious: law is one thing, power is another.
The strength of the law does not always triumph; sometimes, unfortunately, the power of the strongest triumphs. Nevertheless, the world must not tire of calling for justice time and again. All states of the world are called upon to react to state misconduct with political, economic, social and cultural measures and to bring the perpetrators to justice under (international) criminal law.
Leading media and dumbing down of the people
German leading media – with few exceptions – are limited to a one-sided view of the world determined by U.S., NATO and EU interests, as is the case here. The Russian perspective is either completely ignored or dismissed from the outset as untrustworthy.
This kind of journalism sees itself as a sound amplifier of government policy; servility is its trademark. Karl Kraus called this type of press work “journaille. In the case of the war in Ukraine, they prefer to rely on Ukrainian government statements, Western intelligence information, hand-picked foreign correspondents and obscure research portals.
Even when it is obvious that reports are guided by the interests of a warring party and its supporters, many leading media neglect the most noble duty of journalists, namely to check their information for truthfulness.
They report without sufficient research, without serious legal classification, but with the expression of deep indignation about “Russia’s crimes”. On the evening talk shows, the indoctrination continues at an accelerated pace. Even in the introductory remarks, the hosts leave no doubt as to which side they are on.
In the next hour, the Ukrainian ambassador Andrij Melnyk, known for his verbal outbursts, and Bellizisten of the ilk of Marie-Agnes Strack-Zimmermann, Anton Hofreiter, Roderich Kiesewetter and Robin Alexander do the talking.
They outdo each other in demonizing Putin and demanding more and heavier weapons for Ukraine. Occasionally, an anti-weapons discussant is invited to the discussion round as a journalistic fig leaf.
When this lone warrior urges caution and points out the threatening expansion of the war, he is constantly interrupted in his contribution to the discussion by a handful of “orthodox believers” – with the connivance of the moderator – and, if necessary, shouted down with the combined forces of the Ukraine alliance. Such broadcasts do not want discussion, nor information, they want a ruckus and – even worse – they accept a creeping dulling of the people.
However little knowledge is gained from the Ukraine discussion rounds, they shape public opinion through the constant repetition of stereotypes. Russian commentators are withheld from German television viewers anyway, as they might pour water into the wine of Atlantic self-righteousness.
The same applies to Chinese, Indian, Arab, Latin American and African voices. People from these countries may starve, thirst and die for Ukraine, but they are not allowed to present their views. Result: With journalistic blinkers, the erroneous impression is created that the whole world shares the Western view. But this is a distorted image.
The method of deliberately smoothing out the world view has a tradition in the German media. The discussions about Skripal, and Nawalny are in bad memory. Some noble feathers of German journalism should actually blush with shame. Instead, these people prefer to hide under the cloak of a fighter for freedom and democracy.
Anyone who wants a better world must stop applying double standards. Because double standards not only lead to a loss of credibility, they are also ideal breeding grounds for new violence. If you look beyond your own nose, it is easy to see that large parts of the world accuse “the West” of using double standards.
Those criticized indignantly reject the accusation. For according to their self-image, they are the good guys who pursue only one goal, namely to lead the world to democracy and prosperity.
Even the simple remark that the accusation of a breach of international law applies not only to Putin’s war, but also to the wars of the USA and its war vassals (e.g. the wars in former Yugoslavia, Afghanistan, Iraq, Syria, Libya) is immediately wiped off the table. This is shabby whataboutism and only serves to trivialize the Russian war of aggression.
This accusation is dishonest. Also in this article it is stated several times that the Russian war in Ukraine is illegal. Why, then, should it be illegal to remind someone who deplores the murderous acts of Butscha of the atrocities of Abu Ghraib, Guantánamo, Dubrovnik, and the U.S. drone killings?
Even if these capital crimes were committed in the past, they remain in the historical memory and serve as a proper classification of the current war events. International law is universal. It applied then and it applies today.
Why should we not be allowed to mention that the US-led wars resulted in far more deaths, maimings and refugees than Russia’s war in Ukraine? Numbers do not lie.
And why should only Putin have to answer to the International Criminal Court and not his colleagues Clinton, Bush and Obama? They, too, have broken international law. It is an imperative of justice that either all of them be indicted or none. Probably none of them will stand before the court.
Putin would probably judge himself rather than appear before a court perceived as adversarial. The others mentioned are beacons of the Western community of values, thus they are the “good guys.” This impregnates them against judicial investigations.
It is also incomprehensible why – unlike in the case of Russia – sanctions against the USA and its vassals have never been demanded, let alone imposed. Large parts of the world would certainly not have objected.
This double standard has cost the West a lot of credibility in the rest of the world. That is why the reactions of many countries to the Western demand to support sanctions against Russia have been so muted.
It seems that Germany has lost its political compass. Punishing Russia is now more important than climate, environment and peace combined. The declared goal of German foreign policy is to “ruin” Russia (according to the olive-green foreign minister Annalena Baerbock). This is a statement between irresponsibility and sheer madness. What sense is there in destroying a country that will outlast Putin and remain our neighbor forever?
The bellicist Baerbock also demands an import stop for Russian energy “to zero – and forever”. To compensate for the loss of “evil” Russian gas, Baerbock’s congenial party colleague Habeck is bending over backwards in front of Arab sheiks to close the expected energy gap with “good” gas from notorious democracy despisers. Simply ingenious!
In addition, our environmental experts are working on long-term supply contracts for more climate-damaging LNG gas from the USA. The terminals required for this are being rammed into the Wadden Sea National Park in a rush job without any environmental assessment.
Disturbing, but true: The “survival issue of climate protection” is being sacrificed to the goal of ruining Russia – under Green responsibility.
The hysteria accompanying the war has meanwhile taken on absurd features. Current examples:
The German president recently apologized for his Russia-friendly policies as foreign minister. Since when is diplomacy and friendliness an offense for which one must ask forgiveness?
Ex-Chancellor Schröder is to be kicked out of the SPD because he worked for the Russian company Gazprom. It has been forgotten how happy everyone (!) was at the time that Chancellor Schröder succeeded in securing cheap and crisis-proof gas from Russia thanks to his good relations with Putin. Now even his ex-chancellor’s office is to be cancelled for it. How hypocritical!
Mirroring Russophobia, Ukraine hysteria has developed. At the recent European Song Contest of 40 countries, the Ukrainian musical entry landed on the winner’s podium. The media had predicted the result. Experts agree that the victory was not due to the quality of the entry, but solely to the Ukraine hype. If this sets a precedent, the next soccer world champion will already be determined.
Such antics are rather amusing. But they have a serious background. They feed the suspicion that Selensky’s arms delivery barrage has damaged the thinking of large parts of European civil society.
Danger of a world war
The dramatic nature of today’s situation is illustrated by two extremely impressive spoken contributions by World War II witnesses Klaus von Dohnanyi and Oskar Lafontaine. The thoughts of these two humanists should be a compulsory program for all those who assume responsibility in our country today.
For it is obvious that in Germany politicians who felt the horrors of war and the hardship of the post-war period first hand have made room for a generation that only knows war from television.
To Ukrainians like Marie Agnes Strack-Zimmerman (FDP), Anton Hofreiter (Green Party) and Michael Roth (SPD), the word war has degenerated into a formula describing an event far removed from Germany. The feeling that the inferno of a world war can engulf our country in a flash is obviously alien to them.
Under the fatal leadership of the USA, the countries of the Western alliance system are outbidding each other with money and weapons deliveries to Ukraine. Experience teaches that more weapons do not end bloodshed, but prolong it, on both sides.
But there is one good thing about this remarkable spending spree: it provides an unmistakable answer to the question of whose interests the war in Ukraine is really serving. The U.S. wants to get one step closer to its declared goal of world domination (Presidential Advisor Brzezinski, “The Only World Power”).
It is not about Ukraine at the moment, but what we see is a proxy war being fought on Ukrainian soil. President Biden has asked Congress for $33 billion for this, and has been granted as much as $40 billion – for peace, of course. Germany marches along with the alliance. Overnight, 100 billion was made available for rearmament – in addition to the “two percent target” enforced by the USA.
Of course, Ukraine, which is under attack, is entitled to defend itself vehemently and to demand “heavy weapons” from other states for this purpose. However, this does not mean that these states are legally and politically obliged to comply with the demands, especially if there is a danger of nuclear war. The latter cannot be disputed here. Obviously, the consensus that world peace is above all has been lost.
Highly controversial under international law is the question of when support for a belligerent exceeds the threshold at which a supporter itself becomes a belligerent. There is no convincing legal answer to this question. And even if there were, it would not help much. After all, the Ukraine war has also shown that aggressors are not guided by legal norms, but exclusively by feelings of threat.
Surprisingly, these issues have played only a minor role in public discourse. This negligence is life-threatening. It is especially surprising among politicians who never tire of emphasizing Putin’s irritability and high aggressiveness. It certainly does not help to reassure him that Finland and Sweden are now pushing with all their might to join NATO.
Last question: Are we Europeans slipping like “sleepwalkers” into a world war again? (Prof. Christopher Clark, 2010, “The Sleepwalkers – How Europe Moved into the First World War”). Never since 1945 has the danger of a third – and probably last – world war been as great as it is today. Measured against this, political leaders in Europe and in America show an astonishing composure.
We should wake up.
And take our fate into our own hands!
Peter Vonnahme was a judge at the Bavarian Administrative Court in Munich until his retirement. He is a member of the German section of the International Association of Lawyers Against Nuclear Arms (IALANA). From 1995 to 2001, he was a member of the Federal Executive Board of the New Judges Association (NRV).