NATO leaders will meet this week in Lithuania, a nation that suffered both the Nazi jackboot and the hammer of Soviet communism. Their main subject, of course, will be Ukraine, which suffered the same fate as Lithuania and now suffers at the hands of the Putin dictatorship.
As those leaders meet, they should reflect upon the words of Robert Jackson delivered during the opening the prosecution at the Nuremberg trial in 1945:
“The . . . dream of a peace-and-plenty economy . . . can never be fulfilled if those nations are involved in a war every generation so vast and devastating as to crush the generation that fights and burden the generation that follows. . . .“Wars are started only on the theory and in the confidence that they can be won. Personal punishment, to be suffered only in the event the war is lost, will probably not be a sufficient deterrent to prevent a war where the warmakers feel the chances of defeat to be negligible. But the ultimate step in avoiding periodic wars, which are inevitable in a system of international lawlessness, is to make statesmen responsible to law. “
[We must] take joint political action to prevent war if possible, and joint military action to ensure that any nation which starts a war will lose it . . . and that those who start a war will pay for it personally.”
This is why NATO must ensure that Russia loses this war and that Vladimir Putin is tried for the crimes of waging an aggressive war; crimes against humanity; murder; and kidnapping.
And so must his associates. Fortunately, like the Nazis, Putin has helped the prosecutors. Remember when he gathered his top echelon and asked each in turn whether they agreed with the invasion of Ukraine. When each nodded assent, they committed a war crime. And each must be bought to account for it.
Of course, the trouble with international law is not lack of law or legal clarity, but the difficulty of enforcement. The International Criminal Court has issued an arrest warrant against Putin and others. But he visited China with impunity and must have flown over other countries’ airspace in doing so.
Those NATO countries who like Ukraine and Lithuania have been victims of Nazi and Soviet domination are the most militarily hardline against Russia now – Poland, Latvia, Estonia, Bulgaria, Hungary, Romania, the Czech Republic, Slovakia and Lithuania. They are calling for a mechanism like the Nuremberg trials to deal with Russian leaders.
“We support the establishment of an appropriate legal mechanism to ensure accountability for the crime of aggression against Ukraine. . . ,” they said. “We will continue helping Ukraine to reach a peaceful solution on its own terms for as long as necessary, including by military, financial and humanitarian support.”
They know from bitter experience that you cannot deal with people like Hitler, Stalin and Putin. Putin’s crimes, of course, have not been on the same scale as those of Hitler or Stalin, but they are of a type that makes negotiation impossible.
Europe’s history is one of war after war after war. Tragically, after World War I, the victors did not set up an international court, as they did after World War II. The Kaiser and the German leadership got away with aggression.But at least in 1928, Germany, France and US signed the Kellogg-Briand Pact – officially the General Treaty for Renunciation of War. Most other states signed soon after. Half a dozen nations, including Germany had also signed the Locarno treaty in 1925 that banned the use of aggressive force.
These two treaties formed the basis of the assertion at Nuremberg that aggressive war is unlawful and therefore those who engage it in are criminal. After World War II, that was reinforced by the UN Charter.Again, the trouble is not an absence of law, but an absence of enforcement.
This is why it is imperative that NATO this week rules out any “peace” agreement that permits any Russian territorial gain or permits Putin to stay in power and avoid the arrest warrant by the International Criminal Court.
An agreement like that would be like all pacts signed by dictators – ultimately honoured in their breach. Do not cast your pearls before swine lest the trample them underfoot and turn again to rend you.
NATO should not countenance anything less than the return of all occupied territory to Ukraine and the confiscation of all Russian money and property held outside Russia and its transfer to Ukraine.
It should be wary of allowing the economic interests of its larger members to seek an illusory “peace for our time” so trade as usual can resume.
Of course, NATO’s position against Russian aggression would carry greater moral force if some of its members had not themselves joined the waging of an aggressive war against Iraq in 2003.
True, Saddam Hussein was a dictator who abused his people, but that is no excuse for an invasion. The international rules-based permits defence, but defence against attack, for which there was no evidence before the US invasion.
NATO’s position again would be stronger is the US’s promotion of the rules-based order was not compromised by its failure to join the International Criminal Court or the Convention on the Law of the Sea.Nonetheless, the position of the nine NATO members geographically closest to Russia carries great practical and moral force.
The one thing we know about dictators is that they can only be relied upon to seek and retain power no matter what the cost to their own people and the people in the nations they invade. Only death or capture will stop them.
This is why NATO should not worry too much about escalation. Putin knows that if he escalates he will be finished. He fears NATO more than NATO should fear him.
Moreover, Russia’s military ineptitude has been so exposed by its Ukrainian invasion that Russian victory – with escalation or not – is out of reach.
This article first appeared in The Canberra Times and other Australian media on 4 July 2023.
Crispin Hull is a former editor of The Canberra Times and regular columnist.
Image Credit / [[File:Владимир Путин (18-06-2023).jpg|ВладимирПутин(18-06-2023)]]