Tensions between Russia and NATO allies further increased today as President Vladimir Putin announced an intention to recognize the separatist regions of Donetsk and Luhansk in Ukraine.
Nicholas Rostow is a professor of law at Cornell Law School, and previously served as general counsel and senior policy adviser to the U.S. Permanent Representative to the United Nations, staff director on the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence and on the National Security Council for Presidents Ronald Reagan and George H.W. Bush.
“In the 1994 Memorandum signed on the occasion of Ukraine acceding to the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty of 1968 (NPT), Presidents Bill Clinton and Boris Yeltsin and Prime Minister John Major pledged their countries to respect the territorial integrity and political independence of Ukraine and not engage in the threat or use of force, not to engage in economic coercion and to consult in the event of a question arising about these commitments.
“The language of that treaty is identical to the language of the UN Charter: Article 2, paragraph 4, which is at the heart of the UN Charter and international law. The alternative is sauve qui peut – every state is on its own. That was how the world was in the 1930s. We know how that story ended.
“Putin’s claims that the USSR created Ukraine are belied by history and, in any event, do not alter the fact that Ukraine is an independent state and a member of the United Nations.
“It ought to be absurd that Putin can repeat the arguments Adolf Hitler made for invading Czechoslovakia. Russia has manufactured the separatism in Ukraine. Whatever real grievances Russian speakers may have against the government of Ukraine do not provide a legal justification for Russia to absorb an independent country into itself.
“Too many times, aggression unmet has been aggression rewarded. Too many times, aggression unmet has led to greater aggression and greater war. Nuclear weapons make that prospect horrific to contemplate. At the same time, we cannot allow possession of nuclear weapons to provide cover for aggression by conventional arms.”