Friday, October 28, 2022

Musings on the Irrelevance of the Law of War Against Nuclear Despots

        By Rudy Barnes, Jr.

As a retired military lawyer I once taught soldiers that they could rely on the laws of war and American military strength to prevent despots like Vladimir Putin from committing war crimes.   Putin has proved me wrong.  He has demonstrated the irrelevance of the laws of war and international human rights in preventing war crimes of rogue nuclear despots like himself. 

Despots like Putin of Russia and Xi Jinping of China can use a nuclear option to prevent any military intervention used to defend against their aggression.  In this way they can make America’s strategy of mutually assured destruction (MAD) a deterrent against any intervention in Ukraine or Taiwan to defend against the aggression of either Putin or Jinping.

For nuclear powers, might makes right.  Strategies beyond international law are needed to prevent aggression by nuclear hooligans like Putin.  If their aggression can’t be prevented by laws, then military strategies that aren’t intimidated by nuclear threats must be developed and used, even if they risk using weapons of mass destruction.

For war crimes to be enforced, the perpetrators must be the losers in a war, as were the Nazis in World  War II.  Winners tend to ignore their own violations--as did the U.S. when it ignored Sherman’s intentional destruction of civilian property in the Civil War, and when it bombed enemy cities in World War II.  When laws are not enforced they are irrelevant.

Russia is a signatory to the 1949 Geneva Conventions, yet it targets civilian property and infrastructure and kills civilians in Ukraine with impunity.  Like Hitler, Putin conducts unmitigated aggression.  By his own admission, Putin’s purpose is not to defend Russia from Ukraine, but to restore the ancient Russian empire of Peter the Great.

There is ample evidence of Putin’s war crimes targeting civilians in Ukraine since his war of unprovoked aggression began in February.  If Putin cannot be apprehended and tried for his crimes, he and any other leaders of nuclear powers who have committed war crimes must be held accountable for their aggression through severe sanctions.

Alexander Motyl has predicted that “Internal Russian weakness and continued systemic decay mean that Russia will impose strategic defeat upon itself;” but Ukraine cannot rely on speculative internal weaknesses to protect it from Russian aggression.  Additional sanctions and military capabilities are needed to end Russian aggression and counter its nuclear powers.  

Until recently the world mistakenly assumed that the laws of war and the superior military strength of America and its allies would protect it from nuclear despots.  Now that Putin has demonstrated the vulnerability of the world to the aggression and nuclear intimidation of nuclear despots, the world must look beyond the laws of war to protect freedom and democracy.



On Why Russia’s strategic defeat is in the cards, Alexander J.Motyl cites evidence that “The reality is that Russia — as a state and as a regime — is profoundly weak. The economy, one of the world’s least impressive performers, is in a tailspin. The much-vaunted army has proven to be a paper tiger. The society is increasingly dissatisfied with declining living conditions, growing numbers of body bags, and the regime’s indifference to the fact that at least 65,000 Russian soldiers reportedly have died and at least as many are out of commission. Up to a million men have fled mobilization and certain death in Ukraine. Generals and secret policemen are at each other’s throats, hoping to shift the blame for the disastrous war from themselves. Internal Russian weakness and continued systemic decay mean that Russia will impose a strategic defeat on itself. There is no need for the West to invade or actively promote strategic defeat. All that’s needed is a continuation of the status quo: Ukrainian military success, Western support of Ukraine, and Russia’s internal decay. Putin is destroying the Russia he created.”  See

The world should be skeptical of Motyl’s assessment that Russia “will impose a strategic defeat on itself.” The Washington Post Editorial Board has warned, This is no time to go wobbly on resisting Russian aggressionThe GOP has sent mixed signals on aid to Ukraine.  Also unhelpful…was Monday’s letter from a group of 30 progressive House Democrats to Mr. Biden, urging the president to open direct cease-fire negotiations with Moscow. The Democrats said they want to “pair” this new diplomatic push with continued aid; which includes the suggestion that ending the war would help ease high gas prices. The White House politely but firmly rebuffed the idea.  This is no time to go wobbly — and that goes for lawmakers in both parties.”

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