Russia has invaded Ukraine and has given the US and Europe a run for its money - but was the war really needed?
A war crime is a violation of the laws of war that gives rise to individual criminal responsibility for actions by the combatants, such as civilians or intentionally killing prisoners of war, torture, taking hostages, unnecessarily destroying civilian property, deception by perfidy, wartime sexual violence, pillaging, conscription of children in the military, genocide or ethnic cleansing, the granting of no quarter despite surrender, and flouting the legal distinctions of proportionality and military necessity. War is war. The only good human being is a dead one. A rusted Russian Iron Curtain may be descending on a vulnerable corner of Eastern Europe, lowered by a ruthless dictator trying desperately to undermine Western democracies and restore a lost empire. Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky, a Jew whose parents and other relatives were swallowed in the Holocaust, begged the West to help his beleaguered country as the Russians swept in. He used tactics that are a throwback to the bloodiest century in history of powerful dictators like Stalin, Khrushchev, Brezhnev, Hitler, Mussolini, Franco, Tito, and Milosevic.
It’s heartrending and there’s little that can be done to combat the scourge of one tyrant and that person’s state of mind without going to war; months of diplomacy failed. What’s happening in Ukraine at the behest of one man who may be out of control should be a warning and a lesson to the Americans about whom they elect to lead them. The causes of this conflict are systemic, which means that others, in addition to Putin and his cohorts, must share responsibility for the current violence. The eruption of violence in this case should not have come as a surprise. Imperial systems produce violent conflict as a regular product of their operations.
Often, subject people rebel, inciting imperial leaders to repress the dissidents, and enticing competing empires to come to their support. Often, empires challenge each other’s right to rule, particularly in disputed boundary areas – a form of competition that has produced both proxy wars and world wars.
Ukraine is a prize in the competition between the American empire, assisted by its European junior partner, and Russia, morally supported by its Chinese ally. There are many historical analogies to this situation, some of them quite frightening. For example, the competition over independence-seeking Serbia between the Austro-Hungarian empire, supported by imperial Germany, and the Russian empire, supported by Great Britain and France, led directly to World War I. Of course, empires do not always assert their interests by going to war.
Negotiations can be used to settle disputes, at least temporarily, even if the system as a whole tends to generate mass violence.