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Russia and the 'Responsibility to Protect'
Russia and the 'Responsibility to Protect'
The End of The Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces Treaty
The End of The Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces Treaty

Russia and the 'Responsibility to Protect'

Originally published in Los Angeles Times

The principle was intended to prevent another Cambodia or Rwanda; it cannot be used to justify Moscow's invasion of Georgia.

The Russian government has argued that its recent military operations in Georgia were justified by the principle of "responsibility to protect" (colloquially known as R2P). This is the approach to dealing with mass-atrocity crimes that was embraced by 150 member states at the 2005 U.N. World Summit.

Russian President Dmitry Medvedev, Prime Minister Vladimir Putin and U.N. Ambassador Vitaly Churkin have described Georgia's initial actions against the local population in the breakaway republic of South Ossetia as "genocide." Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov argued that Russia's use of force in response was an exercise of the "responsibility to protect," which applied not only "in the U.N. system when people see some trouble in Africa" but also under the Russian Constitution when its own citizens were at risk.

For those of us who have worked long and hard to create a consensus that the world should never again turn its back on another Cambodia or Rwanda, this and every misapplication of R2P -- genuine or cynical -- is an occasion for alarm. We are conscious of the fragility of that consensus should the impression gain hold that R2P is just another excuse for the major powers to throw their weight around. It needs to be made clear beyond a doubt that whatever other explanation Russia had for its military action in Georgia, the R2P principle was not among the valid ones.

The primary ground stated for intervention by Russian leaders was "to protect Russian citizens." But this is not an R2P rationale. R2P is about the responsibility of a sovereign state to protect populations within its own borders (and of other states to assist it), and the responsibility of other states to step in with appropriate action if that state is unable or unwilling to do so. It does not address the question of an individual country taking direct action to protect its nationals located outside its own borders. When such action has been taken in the past -- as it often has been -- the justification has been almost invariably advanced in terms of "self-defense" (since 1945, under Article 51 of the U.N. Charter). The second major reason for resisting the Russian characterization is that Russia has not made a compelling case that the threat posed by Georgia to the South Ossetian population was of a nature and scale to legitimate the use of military force. Five criteria are relevant here, and it is not clear that any of them were satisfied.

The seriousness of the threat. It is not at all clear whether any of the U.N.-specified crimes of "genocide, war crimes, ethnic cleansing or crimes against humanity" were being committed, or imminently about to be, by Georgia against South Ossetians. While Georgia's actions in attacking the South Ossetia capital, Tskhinvali, might well be thought to be an unjustified overreaction to the provocations it cites, the available evidence is not of the weight or clarity needed to justify the use of coercive military action by others in response.

The primary purpose of the response. While one purpose of the Russian military intervention may have been to protect South Ossetian civilians under attack, it is highly questionable whether that was the primary motive. Others appear to have been to establish full Russian control over both South Ossetia and Abkhazia, to dismantle Georgia's entire military capability, to scuttle Georgia's NATO ambitions and to send a clear signal to other former parts of the Soviet Union as to what would and would not be tolerated by Moscow.

Military action only as a last resort. A peaceful solution does not seem to have been out of reach here. An immediate U.N. Security Council call for Georgia to cease its military action would have placed Tbilisi under great pressure to comply. Russia did urge the Security Council on the evening of Aug. 7 to call for a cease-fire, but disagreement about whether the statement should refer to Georgia's territorial integrity led to council inaction. With a little more flexibility on all sides, this issue could probably have been finessed. Russia's position on the "last resort" issue is further weakened by its later attack on Georgian territory outside South Ossetia and Abkhazia, after Georgia signed a cease-fire agreement.

Proportionality of response. The introduction of about 20,000 Russian troops and 100 tanks into South Ossetia and Abkhazia and Georgia proper appears manifestly excessive. The Russian naval blockade in the Black Sea as well as aerial bombings of Gori, Poti, the Zugdidi region and an aviation plant in Tbilisi went well beyond the necessary minimum.

More good than harm from the intervention. That is a very difficult argument to make, based on the current evidence about refugee outflows and unrestrained reprisal actions by South Ossetian separatists against Georgians, not to mention concerns about wider implications for regional and global stability.

The final response to Russia's reliance on the R2P resolution is that there was no Security Council resolution giving it legal authority for military intervention -- an omission that Moscow complained about long and hard when the U.S. ignored this requirement in Kosovo in 1999 (not to mention Iraq in 2003). The 2005 General Assembly position was very clear that, when any country seeks to apply forceful means to address an R2P situation, it must do so through the Security Council. The Russia-Georgia case highlights the risks of states, whether individually or in a coalition, interpreting global norms unilaterally. The sense of moral outrage at reports of civilians being killed and ethnically cleansed can have the unintended effect of clouding judgment as to the best response, which is another reason to channel action collectively through the United Nations. That other major countries may have been indifferent to this constraint in the past doesn't justify Russian actions in Georgia. Vigilante justice is always dangerous.

Op-Ed / Europe & Central Asia

The End of The Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces Treaty

Originally published in Valdai Discussion Club

The Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces (INF) treaty is on its deathbed. Some celebrate its increasingly likely demise, dismissing the decades-old treaty as antiquated and irrelevant to today’s realities. However, the mode of the INF treaty’s death bodes ill for the future of arms control, U.S.-Russian relations, and global security. 

The treaty is out of date and somewhat militarily pointless. Signed by the United States and USSR in 1987, it prevents its signatories and their successors (Russia, the United States, Ukraine, Belarus, and Kazakhstan) from flight-testing, producing, or deploying ground-launched ballistic or cruise missiles between the ranges of 500 and 5500 kilometers. Despite its name, the treaty applies to both nuclear and conventional systems. 

It is pointless because there are no targets that require a ground-launched ballistic or cruise missile of that range. Although they may present more complications, including increased expense, air- and sea-launched missiles, allowed by the treaty, can do the job just fine. Meanwhile other states, most notably China, have built and deployed weapons that the countries bound by the treaty may not. 

Despite these strong arguments that the treaty should be put out of everyone’s misery, its demise will be dangerous, with substantial collateral damage. The reasons are tied to both the overall relationship between Moscow and Washington and to the post-Cold War experience with arms control as a whole. 

Starting around 2013, the United States raised concerns that Russia was developing, and, as of 2017, deploying, a ground-based system in violation of INF. Russia denied this and accused the United States of violating the treaty, most notably because its Aegis Ashore missile defense system could, potentially, be converted to launch offensive missiles. The impasse, while frustrating, left room for discussion and negotiation. However, in December of 2018, the United States announced that it would be withdrawing from INF unless Russia returned to full compliance within 60 days. 

The INF treaty is part of the Cold War’s broader arms control legacy of, in addition to INF, limitations on strategic forces, missile defenses, and conventional capabilities in Europe. This framework has been fraying for years. Constraints on missile defenses went away in 2002, when the United States abrogated the Anti-Ballistic Missile Treaty. In 2007, Russia suspended its implementation of the Conventional Forces in Europe Treaty. Strategic arms control is the one success story, with a New START Treaty signed in 2010. However, the Trump administration has rebuffed Russian overtures to extend the treaty past 2021, when it will otherwise expire. 

Saving INF would demonstrate that arms control is valued and open the door to strategic agreements that encompass new technologies and a much-needed relook at conventional limits in Europe.

This is happening at a time when U.S.-Russian relations are in a downward spiral of distrust and recrimination, driven by a combination of years of Russian frustration with US policy and more recent American anger at Russian actions in Ukraine and evidence of Russian efforts to interfere with America’s 2016 presidential election, among a wealth of other disagreements. 

All of this means that if INF dies, arms control may well die with it. Why would any state sign future treaties with either Russia or the United States when the one violates agreements and the other withdraws from them when they become inconvenient? Moreover, if INF dies, Russian and US antipathy will further escalate as the two countries deploy systems that the other, and allied countries, perceive as threatening, whatever their actual impact on the military balance. 

The best hope for stability is to save INF for now, so that it can be renegotiated later, whether that results in an agreement to call it off or a bilateral or multilateral arrangement more in keeping with today’s security requirements. Saving INF would demonstrate that arms control is valued and open the door to strategic agreements that encompass new technologies and a much-needed relook at conventional limits in Europe. The Trump administration is unlikely to take the lead here. But Russia could call America’s bluff and take steps to eliminate the offending system. While the United States has called for full compliance by February, any Russian moves in that direction would create pressure from Europe and within the US to restart dialogue. If that fails, Russia could reverse course. 

I do not expect this to happen. I expect INF to die. Future efforts to save arms control will likely take the form of arguments for mutual commitments not to deploy ground-based launchers for intermediate range missiles in Europe. Those, too, are likely to fail, leaving us to wait until mutual terror drives everyone back to the negotiating table.