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Territorial Integrity Concerning the Case of Ukraine

By Kevin Wang


Summary
What the West now needs is not only a change in how the argument is framed but a change in mindset and an understanding that it is incredibly naïve to believe that everyone would approach the Western notions of freedom and democracy the same way the Europeans and the Americans do.

It has been 156 days since February 24, 2022, but for many in the West, the events in Ukraine do not seem to be going anywhere. In international law, Ukraine has already won the war: in a ruling in March 2022, the International Court of Justice rejected Russia’s use of the Genocide Convention to justify its “special military operation” in Ukraine as a way to protect Russian speakers in Donbas from genocide, ordering Russia to “immediately suspend the military operations that it commenced on 24 February 2022”. As the conflict drags on anyways, the massive popular protests and street demonstrations that characterized the late February and March of 2022 are also dying down, and in the United Nations, 35 countries abstained in a vote condemning what for some may seem like an obvious violation of Article 2(4) of the UN Charter by the Russian Federation.

In international law, Ukraine has already won the war.

Perhaps the attitudes of many countries that abstained in the vote on UN General Assembly Resolution E-11/1, which formally condemned Russia’s actions in Ukraine, is exemplified by Imran Khan, former prime minister of Pakistan. When the envoys of 22 nations released a joint letter asking the Pakistani leader to support Resolution E-11/1, Khan launched an angry denunciation of the West, saying, “What do you think of us, are we your slaves… Did you write such a letter to India?” Khan is pointing to how these 22 nations seemed to be practicing double standards by not asking India (which also abstained on the UN vote) to condemn Russia’s actions, a persistent issue challenging Western diplomacy in the non-Western world today. We would get back to the issue of double standards later.

 

What could possibly be a better approach would be found in a speech made by Martin Kimani, the ambassador of Kenya at the UN, at a Security Council meeting on Russian recognition of Donetsk and Luhansk breakaway regions of Ukraine as independent states. Recalling the painful history of European colonialism and domination of almost all of Africa, Kimani explains that “Our borders are not of our own drawing. They were drawn in the distant metropoles of London, Paris, and Lisbon, with no regard for the ancient nations that they cleaved apart.” Kimani goes on to stress the importance of moving on: “we agreed that we would settle for the borders that we inherited… rather than form nations that looked ever backward into history with a dangerous nostalgia, we chose to look forward to a greatness none of our many nations and peoples had ever known.” He then concluded by reaffirming Kenya’s support for the territorial integrity of Ukraine.

We agreed that we would settle for the borders that we inherited… rather than form nations that looked ever backward into history with a dangerous nostalgia.

At first glance, this might seem like a powerfully emotional appeal to truth and reconciliation that would not (and, as it turns out, did not) change the course of Russia’s actions. Not that this conclusion is inaccurate in any way, but a closer reading yields something more profound.

 

From the perspective of Kenya and many other countries, the conflict in Ukraine is not, as President Joe Biden claims in his State of the Union speech, some sort of a war of liberation by a nation yearning for “freedom”, supported by the entire “free world”, against an aggressive authoritarian “dictator” with nuclear weapons. Even if these assertions might be true to some extent, it would be hard for many people living outside of the West to sympathize with the official U.S. narrative on Russia and Ukraine when the U.S. had invaded and plunged Iraq into years of lawlessness and anarchy, turned a blind eye on the humanitarian catastrophe in Yemen at the same time, and failed to hold Israel accountable for possible war crimes, even going as far as criminalizing the boycotting of Israeli businesses while applauding the boycotting of Russian firms at the same time.

The conflict in Ukraine is NOT... some sort of a war of liberation by a nation yearning for “freedom”, supported by the entire “free world”, against an aggressive authoritarian “dictator” with nuclear weapons.

What many smaller nations in the international community truly cares about is not the great power politics and the trading of accusations and condemnations that are going on between Russia, Ukraine, and the West. Especially for the smaller states, the principle of the territorial integrity of states, or the sanctity of all international borders and their immutability, is a more critical issue that essentially guarantees that these minor nations do not have to go to bed every night worrying if a great power neighbor would swallow them next morning. The same logic works for Ukraine as well: if territorial integrity means anything, that is that Ukraine does not have to worry every night if Russia will attack it tomorrow.

If territorial integrity means anything, that is that Ukraine does not have to worry every night if Russia would attack it tomorrow.

To get out of this persistent accusation of hypocrisy and double standards when it comes to dealing with foreign relations, the West could also emphasize the territorial integrity of Ukraine, as opposed to portraying the conflict as one between the forces of “freedom” and “darkness”. Such an argument would be easier for the West to establish and sustain; at least it would be hard to directly argue against such a seemingly noble cause. In fact, China did not openly back the Russian position due to the concern that it does not want to destroy its self-image as a defender of national sovereignty and territorial integrity, with its foreign minister merely saying that “China firmly advocates respecting and safeguarding the sovereignty and territorial integrity of all countries… This equally applies to the Ukrainian issue.”

The west could also emphasize the territorial integrity of Ukraine, as opposed to portraying the conflict as one between the forces of “freedom” and “darkness”

While the anti-Western camp could claim that the West is sacrificing Ukraine to fight a proxy war against Russia, very few states would have the audacity to claim that Ukraine’s territorial integrity (without necessarily specifying what Ukraine’s territory actually should encompass) is not being violated by Russian troops in its country. This is among the few arguments for which the classic defense of double standards could not readily be used against the West. The closest the U.S. and Europe would come to violating another country’s territorial integrity would probably be over the whole Kosovo folly, but even then, the U.S. isn’t trying to grab land for itself, unlike what Russia might be intending to do in Ukraine in the future.

U.S. isn’t trying to grab land for itself, unlike what Russia might be intending to do in Ukraine in the future.

As neither Russia nor NATO had an interest in fighting a world war against each other in the short term, Ukraine ultimately becomes a war of rhetoric as well as an actual shooting war in Eastern Ukraine. As stated earlier, legally, the ICJ had already decided Ukraine is the victim of Russian aggression. Rhetorically, any arguments that seek to justify Russia’s actions based on how the Americans did very similar things at Kosovo or Iraq are straw man arguments, and in any case, one illegal act does not justify another.

Rhetorically, any arguments that seek to justify Russia’s actions based on how the Americans did very similar things at Kosovo or Iraq are straw man arguments, and in any case, one illegal act does not justify another.

However, real-life debates are rarely decided in terms of logic, and the West’s claim to the moral (and legal) high ground will not be winning the sympathy and support of the non-Western nations anytime soon. What the West now needs is not only a change in how the argument is framed, but a change in mindset and an understanding that it is incredibly naïve to believe that everyone would approach the Western notions of freedom and democracy the same way the Europeans and the Americans do. It is only by adapting to the situation and recognizing the most critical issues at stake that the West would finally be able to win over some sympathy for Ukraine (if not for itself) today.





Works Cited


"Aggression against Ukraine: Resolution / Adopted by the General Assembly." United Nations Digital Library, 2022, digitallibrary.un.org/record/3959039. Accessed 29 July 2022.


Chappell, Bill. "Kenyan U.N. Ambassador Compares Ukraine's Plight to Colonial Legacy in Africa." NPR, 22 Feb. 2022, www.npr.org/2022/02/22/1082334172/kenya-security-council-russia. Accessed 29 July 2022.


"Chapter 1: Purposes and Principles (Articles 1-2)." United Nations, www.un.org/en/about-us/un-charter/chapter-1. Accessed 29 July 2022.


"Full Transcript of Biden's State of the Union Address." The New York Times, 1 Mar. 2022, www.nytimes.com/2022/03/01/us/politics/biden-sotu-transcript.html. Accessed 29 July 2022.


International Court of Justice. "Allegations of Genocide under the Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide (Ukraine v. Russian Federation)." International Court of Justice, 16 Mar. 2022, www.icj-cij.org/public/files/case-related/182/182-20220316-PRE-01-00-EN.pdf. Accessed 29 July 2022.


Krauss, Joseph. "Many in Mideast See Hypocrisy in Western Embrace of Ukraine." AP News, Associated Press, 29 Mar. 2022, apnews.com/article/russia-ukraine-islamic-state-group-jerusalem-migration-europe-1ce41cc04aed6afc415e6ed83f83c984. Accessed 29 July 2022.


Martina, Michael. "China Says It Respects Ukraine's Sovereignty and Russia's Security Concerns." Edited by Chris Reese and Kevin Liffey. Reuters, 26 Feb. 2022, www.reuters.com/world/europe/china-says-it-respects-ukraines-sovereignty-russias-security-concerns-2022-02-25/. Accessed 29 July 2022.


Peshimam, Gibran. "Pakistani Premier Hits out at Western Envoys' Joint Letter on Russia." Edited by Kevin Liffey. Reuters, 7 Mar. 2022, www.reuters.com/world/asia-pacific/pakistani-premier-hits-out-western-envoys-joint-letter-russia-2022-03-06/. Accessed 29 July 2022.


Wuerth, Ingrid. "International Law and the Russian Invasion of Ukraine." Lawfare, Lawfare Institute, 25 Feb. 2022, www.lawfareblog.com/international-law-and-russian-invasion-ukraine. Accessed 29 July 2022.


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