War in Ukraine: what’s next?

Consequences of Russian Ukrainian war on the international security architecture

While negotiations and war continues between Russia and Ukraine, how far Russia will go is a question on everyone’s mind. Focused on what will happen for Ukraine in short term of time, the world is watch helplessly as the whole system of international security built since the Second World War is eroded. Whether this conflict is short or long, it is undeniable that nothing will ever be the same. Despite the uncertainty of the short and medium-term situation, the question of the long-term effect of this war must be asked. Among these questions, let’s see three aspects that will be important in the future.

Europe: difficulties linked with the subject of “strategic autonomy”

The NATO created during the Cold War increasingly seemed like a tool from the past. Criticised by many, especially since the Afghan debacle, the military organization was increasingly seen as “brain dead” to use the French President E. Macron word’s.

                On the Russian side, the authorities did not speak of NATO’s brain death but of direct threats to the security of the Russian Federation. It was the presence of the US missile defence shield in Europe that began to focus Russian attention against the Atlantic defence organisation as it dealt a blow to the Russian’s deterrence. The need for Russian security has not been heard by the West. For Russia, the tipping point is Ukraine, and Zbigniew Brzezinski already spoke of this in his book the great chessboard. However, by his mad enterprise, did not Vladimir Putin himself come to give the best guarantees of survival to NATO? How to imagine that now the defence of Europe does without the USA?

                The French idea of European strategic autonomy scares many countries. NATO allows many European countries, Germany in the lead, to save too much military spending. Other states preferring to rely purely and simply on American power, such as Poland. The current war will surely continue to unleash passions on this subject. On the one hand, those who believe that the advance of NATO in the east has been decisive in Russian action and that Europe must become autonomous to avoid this kind of conflict. On the other hand, those who think that without NATO, the EU will not be able to face the Russian threat. A threat that is no longer in doubt.

                Thus, European spending on the military budget should increase significantly in the years to come. Like France, preparing since some months for high-intensity symmetrical conflicts. However, European strategic empowerment and the purchase of weapons manufactured in Europe are very likely to be sacrificed for the benefit of American weapons in exchange for NATO guarantees. Vladmir Putin no longer wanted NATO? The gamble failed!

The UN “Between apathy and immobilism” [1]

After recognized the independence of the self-proclaimed Donbass republics, Vladimir Putin justifies his attack on Ukraine under Article 51 of the UN Charter. This article states that “nothing in the Charter shall impair the inherent right of self-defence […], in the event of armed aggression against a member of the United Nations, until the UNSC has taken necessary measures to maintain international peace and security.”

                According to Le Figaro a working group under Kofi Annan’s presidency in 2004 issued a report that seems to apply to the Ukrainian case: “Traditionally […] a threatened state may launch a military operation provided that aggression is imminent; that there is no other way to avert the threat and that military intervention is proportionate.” However, “the problem arises where the threat in question is not imminent but is presented as real, for example in the case of the acquisition, with allegedly hostile intent, of the means to produce nuclear weapons.” [2]. As the self-proclaimed republics are not part of the UN, the threat of creating a bomb may be used by Russia to appeal to this article of the UN Charter.

                Despite this adaptation of international law, Vladimir Putin is violating one of the most fundamental principles of the UN Charter. The Article 2.4 of the Charter provides that “members shall refrain in their international relations from the threat or use of force against the territorial integrity or political independence of any state, or in any other manner inconsistent with the purposes of the United Nations.” This principle, born after the tragic experience of the last World War and because of the nuclear weapons, has been a foundation of the world stability and peace in Europe for over 75 years. Russia, which paid such a heavy price in the last war, has just broken the fundamental principle born because of this bloody war.

The major issue linked with the violation of this principle is that Russia is a permanent member of the UN Security Council (UNSC). The UNSC, as it was during the Cold War, will therefore be neutralised, especially as Chine declares that it “understands” the Russian action. Could a second front with Taiwan be feared in the event of an armed Western reaction?

In this case, as in every moment where one of the permanent members has violated international law instead of leading by example, the UN and the UNSC are losing both effectiveness and legitimacy. Indeed, the permanent members have a greater duty than any other member state to respect the non-violation of state sovereignty. Otherwise who else could guarantee it?

The UN impossibility to act once again brings the limitations of this organisation to the fore. However, there is nothing more important than an institution that allows all countries of the world to talk to each other in order to avoid wars as much as possible. That’s why France for several years has posed itself as a herald of reflection on the multilateralism of the future thanks to the Paris Peace Forum. This is very important to continue to campaign to safeguard the need for a constant diplomatic dialogue at world level. Indeed, war or not, it’s very important to constantly leave a diplomatic channel open in order to avoid escalation of violence and violations of international law.

What about non-proliferation?

The current conflict could also have implication for nuclear non-proliferation issues. With the collapse of the Soviet Union, the question of non-proliferation of nuclear weapons arose. The states that emerged from the implosion of the USSR all had nuclear weapons on their soil. Three agreements were signed to return the weapons to Russia, designated as a “successor state” and thus prevent the spread of nuclear states.

  • Minsk agreements December 30th, 1991;
  • Lisbon Protocol May 23rd, 1992;
  • New-York agreements September 26th, 1997.

These various agreements enshrine the “denuclearisation of Belarus, Ukraine and Kazakhstan and Russia’s nuclear monopoly in the CIS” [3] [4]. This is a real victory for the nuclear non-proliferation policy. Russia is therefore recovering the nuclear warheads of the former Soviet Socialist Republics (SSR). At the same time, these states, deprived of deterrence to guarantee their security, receive guarantees from the weapon states. “In exchange for joining the Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT) as non-nuclear-weapon states, the three former SSRs obtained commitments from other states parties, including Russia, to recognize and respect their sovereignty, territorial integrity and borders.” [6].  How those countries not to wish to obtain the bomb to protect themselves and to be suspicious of the promises of the endowed states which claim to guarantee the respect of their borders?

These three questions were already being asked before the start of the war but are likely to gain momentum at the end of the conflict, especially if it lasts.



[1] Nicolas Sarkozy 25th february 2022 after a crisis meeting with E. Macron and F. Hollande

[2] Géopolitique de l’Eurasie ; David Cumin éd. L’Harmattan 2020.

[3] CIS : Commonwealth of Independent states.

[4] Géopolitique de l’Eurasie ; David Cumin éd. L’Harmattan 2020.

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