Share This Article
Yesterday President Putin ordered Russian reservists to mobilize and hinted at using weapons of mass destruction in Ukraine. President Aliyev stepped up his military operations to force Armenia to cede land in the Syunik Province. He aims to connect the isolated Nakhichevan to Azerbaijan and Turkey. These authoritarians are violating international law because they can. As for the rest of us, we learned nothing from history.
Throughout the 1930s, Nazi Germany pursued an aggressive foreign policy. In early March of 1938, Nazi Germany annexed the neighboring country of Austria. The Nazi government violated the Treaties of Versailles and Saint Germain by annexing Austria. These treaties expressly forbade Nazi Germany’s unification with Austria. This act of territorial aggression and violation of international law (treaties) was the first step in atrocities to come. The European powers and the United States accepted this “connection-Anschluss” as a significant step to appease Hitler. Consistent with all other historic authoritarians, Adolf Hitler continued his expansion in Europe by repeatedly violating the sovereignty of his neighbors.
We know the rest of this painful and shameful story.
After the slaughter of millions of people on June 6, 1944, some six years after the appeasement, concentration camps, and unspeakable brutalities, the air and sea forces of the allied armies restored order by liberating Europe starting from the beaches of Normandy. The Allies held the Nuremberg trials against representatives of defeated Nazi Germany for plotting and carrying out invasions of other sovereign nations, war crimes, and crimes against humanity. The International Military Tribunal at Nuremberg labeled these crimes of aggression as the “supreme international crime.”
World War II ended with most European nations in ruins. Representatives of 50 countries gathered in San Francisco to create what became the United Nations (UN). The first charter, oriented toward seeking peace after years of war, was ratified by China, France, The Soviet Union, the United Kingdom, the United States, and others.
The Harsh Reality Today
Despite the UN efforts after the harsh lessons of WWII, this story of authoritarians violating their neighbors’ sovereignty sounds all too real in 2022. Accordingly, the escalation of violence and hatred is remarkable. The self interest of nations exposes their hypocrisy as they remain on the sidelines.
Russia’s invasion of Ukraine and Azerbaijan’s incursion into Armenian territory violate, among other agreements, Article 2(3) of the U.N. Charter, where all members are required “to settle their international disputes by peaceful means.” Also, Article 2(4), a central tenet of the charter, requires UN member states to refrain from the “use of force against the territorial integrity or political independence of any state.”
My country of the United States is preoccupied with mid-term elections. We are also busy calling each other names based on political party affiliation. The EU is concerned about its immigration crisis and energy shortfalls due to its dependence on Russian and Azerbaijani natural gas. The UN is preoccupied with its climate action plans. In the meantime, the graves are piling up in these two nations. Climate change is an existential threat. However, how will we explain our inaction today against human suffering, unashamed violation of international law, and these crimes of aggression to our future generations? Who will say enough is enough and reclaim the world order? Who will prosecute these new “supreme international crimes?”
Frank Vram Zerunyan, JD is a Professor of the Practice of Governance at the Sol Price School of Public Policy and Director of Executive Education at USC Price Bedrosian Center on Governance and The Neely Center for Ethical Leadership and Decision Making, an Interdisciplinary Center USC Marshall USC Viterbi and USC Price (DECIDE), as well as Director of ROTC Programs. His key areas of expertise include Local Governments, Public Private Partnerships, Civic and Ethical Leadership, Land Use, Regulation, Negotiation and Executive Education.
He teaches graduate courses on Intersectoral Leadership (Collaborative Governance), Business and Public Policy, International Issues in Public Policy, Negotiation, Place Institutions and Governance as well as International Laboratory. Frank also lectures locally and globally to build capacity and foster leadership among public executives worldwide. In his capacity as an honorary instructor colonel in the Armenian Army and Air Force, he lectures, coaches and advises on academic affairs at the Vazgen Sargsyan Military University in Armenia. For his influential work over the past five years in Armenia, he was awarded LL.D. Doctor of Laws – Honoris Causa by the Public Administration Academy of the Republic of Armenia.