As the crisis in Ukraine gets deepened with signs of growing rift between Russia and the west, analysts are alleging that even those countries clamoring for established norms in external relations, are excusing Russia’s violation of international law. Perhaps they are doing this with the belief that economic compulsion is a crucial factor to determining whether norms of international law can be respected at all times.
Respect for a nation’s territorial integrity and independence is always an issue of high political significance and more so viewed from the perspective of international law. The role of international law in guiding the inter-state relations can never be undermined and the world community has duly emphasized it in the aftermath of World War II. The new world order that emerged in the wake of the above war is fundamentally based on the rule of law and non-adherence to this principle is not excusable.
A new world order was orchestrated and practiced as well after the birth of an international organization like the United Nations, whose Charter is considered by all the members to be the pillar on which inter-state relations are managed. This Charter envisions a world order under the framework of which all states recognize the inviolability of each other’s sovereignty, political independence and territorial integrity.
For more than six decades since the UN was born in 1945 all its member states have abided by the norms of international relations as enshrined in the Principles and Purposes of the Charter though with some exceptions. There are some cases of violations of a member state’s territorial integrity by its neighbor. The UN Security Council authorizes enforcement action to restore a member state’s sovereignty if the same has been found infringed upon by an aggressor state. The Ukraine crisis has been a unique case in which the global community has been found hesitant in enforcing the rule of law.
The 2003 invasion of Iraq by the U.S. is perhaps one of the despicable evidences of naked aggression, which the UN could not halt, increasing number of nations criticizing the move nevertheless. Among them were U.S. allies France and Germany, in particular. The U.S. allies then justified their action on the basis of international law, which does not permit any military action against any nation unless being authorized by the UN.
Quite paradoxically, Germany is seemingly supporting Russia’s annexation of Crimea, which is a peninsula under the jurisdiction of Ukraine. Some of the former German Chancellors like Helmut Schmidt and Gerhard Schroder have argued (as quoted by Clemens Wergin in his Project-Analysis article “Why Germans Love Russia”) that NATO and the EU were the real aggressors, because they dared to expand into territory that belonged to Moscow’s legitimate sphere of interest.
Jeffrey Mankoff, Deputy Director of and a fellow in the Russia and Eurasian Program at the Center for Strategic and International Studies, in his Foreign Affairs (May-June 2014) essay “How Putin Won Crimea and Lost Ukraine” argues that each time Russia has undermined the territorial integrity of a neighboring state in an attempt to maintain its influence there, the result has been the opposite.
To illustrate the above contention Jeffrey Mankoff provides the examples of a few former Soviet republics like Azerbaijan, Georgia and Moldova, in whose separatist movements Russia provided support and consequently pushed all three into the fold of the west implying no dependence on Russia. He believes that current behavior of Russia vis-à-vis Ukraine will only bolster Ukrainian nationalism and push Kiev closer to Europe.
It needs to be borne in mind that a majority of Ukrainians favored association agreement with the European Union and had started protests only after then president Victor Yanukovych refused to sign the agreement. Anyway, the interim government of Ukraine has signed the association agreement with the EU.
Indeed Russia’s occupation and annexation of Crimea has plunged Europe into one of its gravest crises since the end of Cold War in the opinion of Jeffrey Mankoff. Germany has been in a dilemma whether to oppose Russia’s flouting of international norms in view of its greater stakes in economic relationship with Russia. Available statistics reveal that about a quarter of EU’s gas supplies come from Russia. EU’s trade with Russia amounted to almost $370 billion in 2012, compared with U.S.-Russia trade $ 26 billion.
The above economic consideration notwithstanding, the voting pattern observed while adopting the recent UN General Assembly resolution on Ukraine crisis demonstrates a painful picture in which regional powers like India have hesitated to favor the vote. This is why a former foreign minister of India, Jaswant Singh in his project-analysis essay “India’s Next Foreign Policy” has blamed the NAM diplomacy pursued by Manmohan Singh government, which according to him, impacted India to partially endorse Russia’s annexation of Crimea.
In the same vein one really wonders why Nepal could not support the UN move that criticized the Russian annexation of a neighbor’s territory. That resolution adopted by the General Assembly despite some abstentions including Nepal’s has emphasized the essence of UNGA resolution XXV (2625) of October 24 1970, which approved the Declaration on Principles of International Law concerning Friendly Relations and Cooperation among States in accordance with the Charter of the UN. It is beyond any doubt that Nepal’s failure to disprove the accusation of a small nation’s territory by a bullying neighbor ,which is against any norm of international law, may have serious policy implications on her in the days to come.
While the international community remains effortful in finding out a diplomatic solution to the crisis in Ukraine, no civilized member of the United Nations can just overlook an event involving state sovereignty, when a powerful nation thumbs its nose at international law and seizes part of a neighboring country only because that grabbed piece of land carries high strategic value to the aggressor. No rule-based system can permit this behavior.