[News] This Geopolitical War is a 'Geopolitical Crime'

Anti-Imperialist News news at freedomarchives.org
Sun Apr 10 11:26:24 EDT 2022

This Geopolitical War is a 'Geopolitical Crime'
April 10, 2022
Emergency Security Council meeting on Ukraine. (Photo: Evan Schneider, via
United Nations website)

*By Richard Falk <https://www.palestinechronicle.com/writers/richard-falk>*

There is no doubt that atrocities have been committed in Ukraine, seemingly
yet not exclusively by Russian attacking forces, and in a perfect world,
those who so acted would be held responsible. But the world is highly
imperfect when it comes to accountability for international crimes.

When the International Criminal Court in 2020 found it had the authority to
investigate alleged crimes committed by Israel in Occupied Palestine after
painstaking delays to make sure that their inquiry would meet the highest
standard of legal professionalism, the decision was called ‘pure
anti-Semitism’ by the Israeli prime minister, and defiantly rejected by
Israeli leaders across the whole political spectrum.

Similarly, when authorization was given by the ICC to investigate crimes by
the United States in Afghanistan, the decision was denounced as void and
unwarranted because the US was not a party to the Rome Statute governing
the operations of the ICC. The Trump presidency went so far as to express
its outrage by imposing personal sanctions on the ICC prosecutor,
presumably for daring to challenge the US in such a manner even though her
behavior was entirely respectful of her professional role and consistent
with relevant canons of judicial practice.

Against such a background, there is a typical liberal quandary when faced
with clear criminality on one side and pure geopolitical hypocrisy on the
other side. Was it desirable after World War II to prosecute surviving
German and Japanese political leaders and military commanders at the
‘legal’ cost of overlooking the criminality of the victors because there
was no disposition to investigate the dropping of atom bombs on Japanese
cities or the strategic bombing of civilian habitats in Germany and Japan?

I am far from sure about what is better from the perspective of either
developing a global rule of law or inducing respect for the restraints of
law. The essence of law is treating equals equally, but world order is not
so constituted. As suggested, there is ‘victors’ justice’ imposing
accountability on the defeated leadership in major wars but complete
non-accountability for the crimes of the geopolitical winners.

Beyond this, the UN Charter was drafted in ways that gave constitutional
status to geopolitical impunity by granting these victors in World War II
an unconditional right of veto, and this of course includes Russia. In
these respects, liberalism defers to geopolitical realism, and celebrates
the one-sided imposition of legality, with the naïve hope things will be
different in the future, and the next group of victors will themselves
accept the same legal standards of accountability that are imposed upon the

Yet the post-Nuremberg record shows that geopolitical actors go on treating
restraints on recourse to war as a matter of discretion (what American
liberals called ‘wars of choice’ in the course of the debate about
embarking upon a regime-changing attack on and occupation of Iraq in 2003)
rather than an obligation. When it comes to accountability, double
standards are still operative, illustrated by the ironic execution of
Saddam Hussein for war crimes in the wake of a war of aggression against

Another lingering question is ‘why Ukraine’? There have been other horrific
events in the period since the end of the Cold War in the early 1990s,
including Syria, Yemen, Afghanistan, Myanmar, and Palestine, yet no
comparable clamor in the West for criminal justice and punitive action.
Certainly, a part of the explanation is that the Ukrainian victims of abuse
are white, European and Christian, which made it easy for the West to
mobilize the mainstream global media, and the related international
prominence accorded to Volodimir Zelensky, the embattled, energetic
Ukrainian leader given unprecedented access to the most influential venues
on the global stages of world opinion.

It is not that the empathy for Ukraine or support for Zelensky’s national
resistance is misplaced, but that it has the appearance of being
geopolitically orchestrated and manipulated in ways that other desperate
national situations were not, and thus gives rise to suspicions about
other, darker motives.

This is worrisome because these magnified concerns have acted as a
principal way that the NATO West has gone out of its way to make the
Ukrainian War about more than Ukraine. The wider war is best understood as
occurring on two levels: a traditional war between the invading forces of
Russia and the resisting forces of Ukraine as intertwined with an
encompassing geopolitical war between the US and Russia. It is the
prosecution of this latter war that presents the more profound danger to
world peace, a danger that has been largely obscured or assessed as a mere
extension of the Russia/Ukraine confrontation.

Biden has consistently struck a militarist, demonizing, and confrontational
note in the geopolitical war, deliberately antagonizing Putin while quite
pointedly neglecting diplomacy as the obvious way to stop the killing, and
atrocities, in effect, encouraging the war on the ground to be prolonged
because its continuation is indispensable in relation to the implicitly
higher stakes of grand strategy, which is the core preoccupation of a
geopolitical war. When Biden repeatedly calls Putin a war criminal who
should face prosecution, and even more so, when he proposes regime change
in Russia, he is cheerleading for the Ukrainian War to continue as long as
it takes to produce a victory, and not to be content with a ceasefire.

If this two-level perception is correctly analyzed in its appreciation of
the different actors with contradictory priorities, then it becomes crucial
to understand that in the geopolitical war the US is the aggressor as much
as in the traditional war on the ground Russia is the aggressor. In these
respects, despite his understandable anger and grief, one must wonder
whether even Zelensky, with Russo-phobic echoing of war crimes allegations
and calls for the expulsion of Russia from the UN, has not had his arm
twisted so as to support the geopolitical war despite its premises being
contrary to the interests of the Ukrainian people.

Could the delivery of weapons and financial assistance to Ukraine come with
a large price tag?

So far, the geopolitical war has been waged as a war of ideological
aggression backed up by weapons supplies and enveloping sanctions designed
to have a great and crippling effect on Russia. This tactic has led Putin
to make counter-threats, including warnings about Russia’s willingness
under certain conditions to have recourse to nuclear weapons. This
normalizing of the nuclear danger is itself a menacing development in a
context of an autocratic leader backed into a corner.

The US approach, while mindful of escalation dangers and taking steps so
far to avoid direct military involvement on behalf of Ukraine, shows no
rush to end the fighting, apparently believing that Russia is already
suffering the consequences of greatly underestimating Ukrainian will and
capability to resist, and will be forced to acknowledge a humiliating
defeat if the war goes on, which would have the strategic benefit,
additional to other incentives, of discouraging China from aligning with
Russia in the future.

Additionally, the Western architects of this geopolitical war with Russia
seem to assess gains and losses through a militarist optic, being grossly
insensitive to its disastrous economic spillover effects, especially
pronounced in relation to food and energy security in the already extremely
stress conditions of the Middle East, Africa, and Central Asia, and even
Europe. As Fred Bergsten argues, the overall stability of the world economy
is also being put at great risk unless the US and China overcome their own
tense relationship, and come to understand that their cooperation is the
only check on a deep, costly, and prolonged world economic collapse.

The geopolitical war also distracts attention from the urgent agenda of
climate change, especially in light of recent indicators of global warming
causing climate experts to be further alarmed. Other matter of global
concern including migration, biodiversity, poverty and apartheid are being
again relegated to the back burners of global policy challenge, while the
sociopathic game of Armageddon Roulette is being played without taking
species wellbeing and survival into account, continuing the lethal
recklessness that began the day the bomb was dropped on Hiroshima more than
75 years ago.

In concluding, the question ‘why Ukraine?’ calls for answers. The standard
answer of reverse racism, moral hypocrisy, and Western narrative control is
not wrong but significantly incomplete if it does not include the
geopolitical war that, while not now directly responsible for Ukrainian
suffering, is from other perspectives more dangerous and destructive than
that awful traditional war. This geopolitical war of ‘poor’ choice is now
being waged mainly by means of hostile propaganda, but also weapons and
supplies while not killing directly outside of Ukraine.

This second war, so rarely identified much less assessed, is irresponsibly
menacing the wellbeing of tens of millions of civilians around the world
while arms dealers, post-conflict construction companies, and civilian and
uniformed militarists exult. To be provocative, I would say that it is time
for the peace movement to make sure that the US loses this geopolitical
war! To win it, even persisting with it, would constitute a grave
‘geopolitical crime.’

*– Richard Falk is Albert G Milbank Professor Emeritus of International Law
at Princeton University and Research Fellow, Orfalea Center of Global
Studies. He was also the United Nations Special Rapporteur on Palestinian
human rights. This article originally appeared on **his blog*
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