The Just Security Podcast

A Year in Russia's War Against Ukraine: Forging a US Response

February 24, 2023 Just Security Episode 15
The Just Security Podcast
A Year in Russia's War Against Ukraine: Forging a US Response
Show Notes Transcript

Since Russia began its full-scale invasion of Ukraine a year ago, we’ve seen some surprising military, diplomatic, and legal developments in the war. Ukrainian forces have proven remarkably strong, and the Ukrainian people have demonstrated utter determination against a Russian leadership and military that have drastically underperformed. Meanwhile, in Washington, the U.S. has developed its own response to Russia’s illegal invasion, which includes assembling an alliance to support Ukraine and providing billions in humanitarian aid and weapons, issuing massive sanctions against Russian banks and individuals, and passing new laws to prosecute those who commit grave crimes in Ukraine through U.S. courts. 

For an expert view of how the U.S. has responded to the conflict and what comes next, Just Security and the Reiss Center on Law and Security at NYU Law have re-assembled a stellar panel. These legal and diplomatic all-stars first put their heads together a year ago during an NYU panel that happened to fall on the day of the invasion. Dan Baer is the Acting Director of the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace’s Europe Program and the former U.S. Ambassador to the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe. Tess Bridgeman is Just Security’s Co-Editor-in-Chief, a Senior Fellow & Visiting Scholar at the Reiss Center on Law and Security, and a former Deputy Legal Advisor at the National Security Council. And Rose Gottemoeller is a Lecturer at Stanford University and the former Deputy Secretary General of NATO. 

Co-hosting this special episode are Just Security Fellow Paras Shah and Senior Washington Editor Viola Gienger. 

Show Notes: 






Paras Shah: Since Russia began its full-scale invasion of Ukraine a year ago, we’ve seen some surprising diplomatic,legal, and military developments in the war. Ukrainian forces have proven remarkably strong, and the Ukrainian people have shown utter determination against a Russian leadership and military that have drastically underperformed. In Washington, the Biden administration has issued massive sanctions against Russian banks and those responsible for the illegal invasion, and it’s assembled a coalition of countries to supply a historic flow of weapons and aid to the Ukrainians. Meanwhile, Congress has passed new laws to prosecute grave crimes through US courts, and both President Biden and Vice President Kamala Harris recently said Russian actions in Ukraine rise to the level of crimes against humanity. All of this unfolds against a potential new offensive by the Kremlin.  

For an expert view of how the US has responded to the conflict and what comes next, Just Security and the Reiss Center on Law and Security at NYU Law have re-assembled a stellar panel. These legal and diplomatic all-stars first put their heads together a year ago during an NYU panel that happened to fall on the day of the invasion. Joining us are Dan Baer, Tess Bridgeman, and Rose Gottemoeller. Dan is the Senior Vice President for Policy Research at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace and the former US Ambassador to the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe. Tess is Just Security’s Co-Editor-in-Chief, a Senior Fellow & Visiting Scholar at the Reiss Center, and a former Deputy Legal Advisor at the National Security Council. And Rose is a Lecturer at Stanford University and the former Deputy Secretary General of NATO.  

Welcome to the Just Security podcast, I’m your host Paras Shah. Joining me to co-host this special episode is Just Security’s Senior Washington Editor, Viola Gienger. 

Viola Gienger: Hi Paras, it’s great to be on board for this. I moderated the Reiss Center and Just Security panel a year ago and I’m gratified to get these great minds together again. 

Paras: Okay, so let's start with a question for each of you. What has surprised you most in the past year about this war? Rose, why don't you go first?

Rose Gottemoeller: One of the things that has surprised me about this war in the last year, and it's no surprise to anybody, but the very firm, unbelievably strong resistance the Ukrainians have been able to put up since the very outset. And that has been a surprise, I think, to all of us. But first of all, it goes to show that the Ukrainians are very committed as an independent nation to their sovereignty and territorial integrity, and were and are are ready to defend their homeland in this onslaught from the Russian Federation, but it also, I think, is very much due – and I'm very proud of this – it's very much due to the support and the training that NATO allies gave to Ukraine, after the Russian original invasion of Crimea in 2014. And so I also think that NATO training has made a real difference, and shows that the Ukrainian army has really gone ahead in recent years, I think almost, you know, in a quiet way, to become a more modern and interoperable with the NATO army. And I think that too, is a very important development, but it did contribute, I think, that NATO training to the effectiveness of the Ukrainians in this life or death fight.

Viola: Dan, what do you think?

Dan Baer: You know, I mean, like Rose, I've been amazed and awed and inspired by the persistence and courage of Ukrainian people. But I guess one of the optimistic notes to take from the rest of the world and the way the rest of the world has responded in this moment – when so many of us wonder whether people still believe in anything at all, where truth seems to be contested every day and with where values that we hold dear seem to be under threat – one of the things that's been impressive to me as the number of people around the world with whom the Ukrainian cause has resonated, and the fact that a year later you still, when you walk through European capitals, see Ukrainian flags hanging from balconies. When you walk down the streets of Washington DC you see homes, when you walk down the streets of Denver, where I'm from my mom and and my brother have Ukrainian flags flying outside of their homes, because people see the story of the Ukrainian people suffering a vicious invasion that was unprovoked and unwarranted and they see in the Ukrainians’ fight, a fight that is on behalf of all of us and values that we believe in. And it's good to see people believing in things. 

Paras: And Tess, let’s go to you.

Tess Bridgeman: Maybe not what's particularly surprising, but quite striking. One is the NATO response that Rose was speaking to, is not something I would necessarily have taken for granted, given how rocky some of these relationships were during the prior US administration. So the way that transatlantic unity was really able to rebound and become, you know, the rock solid response that it has been, I think, is something that has been striking in the first year of Russia's full scale invasion.

Likewise, I think the strength of the coalition of states that had been willing to condemn Russia's actions is very much worth noting, and the way in which Russia's attempts to kind of fuzz up what it was doing as somehow self defense, somehow a reaction to fabricated crimes on the Ukrainians’ part really backfired. And the world was able to see Russia's playbook and Putin's playbook for what it is, which was a deck of falsehoods. And I think that's been something that's been striking. And the ability of the US and partner intelligence agencies in other states to expose those falsehoods has been particularly striking, I think.

Somewhat on the negative side, unfortunately, I do want to add, one thing that is striking in the first year, has been the ability of Russia to keep a number of countries, including large populous countries at least neutral in the fight, which is I think one of the things that the international community really has to double down and work on in the coming months. There should be no room for neutrality when there is a clear aggressor in the way that Dan just laid out. That's something that's clear under international law, and it should be clear as a matter of morality. So that's something that I think has been, you know, an issue that has been floating a little bit under the surface and really needs to be something that the international community turns its attention to going forward.

Rose: I just wanted to underscore the point that Tess just made that many countries have stayed on the fence during this war. And that's why, Dan, I wanted to comment on what you said a moment ago, absolutely, yes, in Europe, in Washington, DC. out here in my neighborhood in Mountain View, California, there are many Ukrainian flags flying. But my opinion is that Russia has won the information war in the southern hemisphere. And today, Russia, South Africa and China are launching, to great fanfare, naval exercises off the coast of South Africa. A lot of this is street theater, I understand that this is not going to be a major strategic partnership among the three of them. But to me, it just shows the way in which Russia has twisted the story coming out of this war in a way that is appealing to the post colonial states in the southern hemisphere and Africa and Latin America and elsewhere. They're winning the information war there and given your experience, Dan, I wondered if you wanted to comment on that, and Tess please jump in as well. 

Dan: I mean, I think you're absolutely right that we have not succeeded in conveying successfully to enough people in the Global South the stakes that attach to all of us in terms of the principle that borders shouldn't be redrawn by force. And obviously, that's something that frankly smaller countries should care more about than bigger countries in many respects. And so one of the ironies of this is that some of the countries that should care most about preserving that principle have been the ones who have sat on the fence.  

You know, over time, I guess one of the things that the entire world is reckoning with right now is a kind of post-American hegemony moment. And people don't know how to – states don't know how to process that. And so I think there's, as American hegemony wanes, there's a lot of hedging by others. People don't want to make choices, but life is about making choices. And I think, over time, the choice to stand on the side of an international system, where there are rules about how borders are made, and unmade, and that those rules include not being able to change them by violently aggressing your neighbors, that's a rule that benefits everyone. And I think over time, history will show that those who have not seen this situation for what it is will regret it. And I don't wish that upon any of them. But I think international law becomes more important in a world in which American hegemony can't be relied upon in every situation, in every corner of the world, to regulate. And I think actually, the stakes are higher now for supporting an international system for everyone, for supporting an international system that is governed by the rule of law.

Viola: That's really interesting. Yeah, thank you very much, all of you. Let's talk about the Biden administration's response specifically to the war. What has the Biden administration done? And has that been enough? And I'd love to hear from all of you on that as well. Dan, do you want to start us off on that one? 

Dan: I think we'd be remiss to not to not point out the fact that the President visiting Kyiv was a historic moment, and a moment of the kind of statespersonship that we have become less familiar with perhaps in the last generation. Even though that was a visit that will reassure the Ukrainian people, I think it also demonstrates to the American people what American leadership looks like out in the world at a time when actually there's a generation of Americans, who because of the Iraq War and other demonstrations of American power that weren't quite as unambiguously to the good, maybe need the inspiration of a moment like that where we are clearly supporting the victim of an aggressor. 

Tess: I think one of the things that is striking is the clear messaging, picking up exactly what you just said, Dan, that there are bedrock rules of the international system that Russia is violating here, and up to President Biden and all the way on down, they had been clear saying you cannot steal your neighbor's land by force. You cannot invade a neighboring country to solve a dispute. This is fundamental. And it's something that, you know, when transgressed, the international community does need to rally around and have a unified response. I think that's, though, as well, what's been so striking about the fact that there are a number of countries that have been able to sit on the sidelines or, you know, abstain in these UN General Assembly votes. But I think not for lack of the Biden administration trying to whip those votes. So I think, you know, one of the things that they have done well is keep that messaging clear, and keep the focus on the fact that we do have such, you know, an important international rule being violated here on Russia's part. 

At the same time, I think, you know, the struggle to bring the rest of the world, and particularly parts of the Global South along, exposes maybe some underlying weaknesses in US foreign policy, and, in fact, in the international institutions that were designed in the wake of World War Two. So it, you know, it may not be simply a matter of can the Biden administration do more or  better diplomacy, but it may speak to, you know, underlying fissures in our international system that we need to pay more attention to, notwithstanding this particular conflict. 

One other thing I would just add on what the Biden administration is doing really well, is keeping Congress on sides. It has been impressive, the bipartisan support on the Hill so far, for you know, appropriating to help Ukraine and its defense and for the humanitarian effort. That is not going to change anytime soon, in terms of those needs, so I hope that that can continue despite, you know, the new makeup of the House. But it is, I think, thus far a success story in the first year of the Biden administration's response to Russia's full scale invasion.

Viola: Can I follow up a little bit on the points that you were making about the Global South being more on Russia's side in this case? I wonder, I would like to hear your thoughts about how much of that is due to Russia winning some kind of information war, versus the makeup of the governments in many of those countries who are authoritarian themselves, who align and feel self-justified? And perhaps don't see that danger that you talk about to, you know, the danger of these systems, because they think they're just fine. And they may not see something coming over the border. How much of a factor does that play? 

Dan: I think it's really great that you raised that because it's a pet peeve of mine, when people say look, you know, 120 countries disagree with the position of the Biden administration, that this is a wrongful invasion. How many of those countries have democratic, legitimately elected democratic governments? Those governments don't speak for the people that they claim to speak for, not in any legitimate fashion, not in a way that we would recognize as legitimate. And so the fact that they are on the wrong side is not surprising, because they're on the wrong side at home as well. And so I think it's really important to call that out. 

And so really, what you're getting at there is that actually, we talk about the Global South, because it's convenient. And in many cases, there are issues that cut across what we call the Global South, but the Global south is not an entity, there's no, there's no government of the Global South, there's no association of the Global South, the Global South is a shorthand that we use. And there are different parts of the Global South. And some of the, you know, in the early days of the war, the most inspiring speech that everybody was passing around was the speech by a permanent representative from a member of the Global South talking at the UN about why there were sacred principles at stake, and that even though this was a hard vote for his country to take that they were taking the vote on principle, because they understood that once you opened up redrawing borders, you were opening up the door to chaos, and that that was in nobody's interest. And so, you know, there are different voices from the Global South.  

I think the other piece here is that there are a large number of people for whom the war feels remote. And in the same way that that's also true of people in the United States of America, you know, and certainly for many millions of people in Europe who have seen their energy prices increase as a secondary effect of this war and a secondary effect of Putin's invasion. And it is understandable that when people feel the pinch at their kitchen table, they just want it to be over. They don't actually care that much. The primary question for them isn't who's to blame, it's how do we make this go away? And I think we can have sympathy for the fact that that's how millions, billions of people organize their ordinary lives. They're trying to get by, and we can have sympathy for that and still recognize that in the long run, it's in the interest of those people, and billions of others worldwide, that we have an international system that doesn't dissolve into chaos. And that includes some fundamental rules. And so I totally agree with you that we can't, we can't say that just because an authoritarian regime took the wrong vote in the UN that means all the people living under that authoritarian regime also agree with their government. They probably don't. Many of them don't. 

Viola: Yeah, and I think the UN representative that you were talking about who gave that inspiring speech was from Kenya, Right? Rose, did you have any thoughts on that question? 

Rose: I think there's a myriad of factors at work here, too. There is a certain, I would say, comfort level among many leaders. And Dan, I take your point about labeling it just the Global South with a big stamp that says “Global South” south of the equator, I get that, I understand that. But looking at how the UN votes have been clustered so far, it does tend to be countries in the southern hemisphere, their representatives. 

But another factor here is that there's a comfort level. For many of the leaders still in Africa, for example, some of them will have trained in the Soviet Union in the day. On my trips as Under Secretary of State, it always made my staff really nervous when I ran into some defense minister somewhere who had trained in Moscow, and I could speak to him not in his native language, but in Russian. And we'd have a little, little chat and my staff never knew what I was talking about. But that just goes to show it's a way of saying that for many of those governments, for many of the leaders there, the political class, they have a familiarity of, I suppose, a certain comfort level with Moscow, perhaps out of their time there being educated, perhaps because of the aid and assistance the Russians and Soviets rendered them in their civil wars several decades ago. 

The general point is that the United States is not the favorite superpower to turn to in that part of the world. And that's partially our fault because we don't spend enough time and attention, I think. We've had a rush of senior figures running off to Africa recently. I welcome it very much, but I think it's a little bit too little, too late.

Paras: I want to turn to the question of nuclear weapons and the sort of fever pitch that we saw earlier in the year about potential tactical use of nuclear weapons has died down. But just this week, President Putin announced that he was suspending Russian participation in the New START Treaty. That's the last remaining arms control treaty with the U.S. And although he's not fully withdrawing, what should we make of that?

Dan: Right, can I jump in here, because I know that I know that Rose won't brag, but so I have to jump in and give a little historical footnote before we jump into answering that question, which is that the person who negotiated the New START agreement is Rose Gottemoeller, and she did it over several years at the beginning of the Obama administration. And I remember the first time I met her, which was in a meeting at the NSC. She won't remember this, because I was, I was not on her level. And I can remember sitting in the back bench of this NSC meeting where she was reporting out on the latest negotiations – we were reaching the end state of the negotiations – and she gave a 20 minute long presentation, without saying “um” a single time. It was exceptionally detailed, perfectly clear. And I thought to myself, if you can ever give a presentation as good as that presentation that was just given, you should just quit your job and, like, retire and call it a day because that will have to reach professional excellence.  

So the person who knows the New START Treaty better than anybody is Rose Gottemoeller, and I am very curious to hear what she thinks about the implications of the suspension this week. 

Rose: Thank you, Dan. I am stunned, thanks very much for that. I do “um,” you just heard me say, but as you know, if you say “um” in a National Security Council meeting, you're dead. So you got to make sure you don't. 

Dan: You lose the mic! 

Rose: Exactly. I want to stress the fact that this treaty, the New START treaty, is in the mutual interests of the United States and Russian Federation because it keeps the levels and the readiness of the strategic nuclear forces predictable to both countries. It's the greatest value of the treaty, that there is a predictability that comes from understanding that neither of us will build above the 700 limit on delivery vehicles as missiles and bomber weapons in the treaty, neither of us will build and deploy above 1,550 warheads. And so it is for me, puzzling, to be honest with you, that Vladimir Putin has, it seems, decided that this treaty is no longer in the national security interest of the Russian Federation. he's ready to try to link it to his grievances over Ukraine and gain some satisfaction or leverage, with regard to the point you brought up about the other conventional weapons that the United States plus its NATO allies are providing to Ukraine. So he's trying to force the United States and the NATO allies to stop their military support to Ukraine by trying to lever the New START treaty. 

And these two things are completely different. We have always historically emphasized that nuclear weapons are an existential threat. They could pose an extinction threat for the human race. Therefore, we have to treat them as a special threat that we keep walled off from other issues. And that's always been the case since the Cuban Missile Crisis. It's always been the case that the USSR and US, now Russia, have continued to work on strategic arms control, limitations and reductions despite everything that is going on in the world. 

I like to recollect that during the 1968 to 71 period, Soviet air defense guys in Hanoi, were helping the North Vietnamese shoot down American pilots. Former Senator John McCain, who has now left us, knew that story very, very well. And so I think that we have been in many hot situations in the past where we've continued to work on negotiating constraints and limits on nuclear weapons, and Putin has suddenly decided to break that historical precedent and try to link the New START treaty to his disgruntlement over NATO's assistance to Ukraine. And I think this is not in the Russian national security interest. It's of course not in the US interest either, nor in the interest of the global community. 

So we'll see what can happen next, but I'm very struck. We've all been talking about Putin's isolation over the past year, how he is mono-maniacally focused on the recreation of a Slavic heartland with Ukraine, Russia and Belarus all joined together, under Russia's leadership, of course. But it seems to me that his tether to Russian national security interests has been lost.

Dan: Can I jump in and ask me? 

Viola: Sure. 

Dan: Some follow up on that. I wonder, you know, one of the things that people might worry about, and you know, these treaties aren't magical things that you sign and then kind of forget about, but they require ongoing communication between the two countries. And the suspension of the treaties reduces those channels of communication. And there's been some hand wringing over the loss of those channels. Putin has said that he's gonna suspend implementation of the treaty. Is there something constructive we could do to demonstrate our concern for making sure that some of the stability that is gained by those open channels of communication is preserved?

Rose: I think Secretary of State Tony Blinken set the right tone in his remarks when he said that we are ready to go back to discussing the New START treaty and a full return to implementation at any time. By the way, the Russians had some concerns about US implementation of the treaty that we've been discussing for the last couple of years. And we wanted to resume on-site inspections, in order to be able to show the Russians that we were trying to fix their problem. And we were trying to satisfy their concerns about the way that the United States has been converting its strategic submarines and removing some missiles from its strategic submarines. 

So I think that the United States is basically leaving an open channel of communication. And we're all hoping that the Russians will continue to take advantage of that at the present time. You are right, Dan, that on-site inspection is very important. And I do believe we need to get back to that after the hiatus during the COVID pandemic. That's how this all got started, that we wanted to resume on-site inspection on the Russians really threw their first fit over the US insistence on resuming inspections. But the other interesting and important part of treaty implementation is the constant exchange of notifications about the status of individual weapon systems. Anytime the United States would move a bomber to a maintenance facility, they would have to inform the Russians of that fact. Anytime the Russians moved a missile from a maintenance facility back up to operational status, they would have to inform the United States of that. So in that way, we maintained a good 24/7 picture of the status of each of our nuclear forces completely reciprocally. 

But I'll tell you, it's been hugely valuable during this war in Ukraine, because the Russians have continued to provide day in day out notification, sometimes multiple times a day, of the status of their nuclear forces. And this, I think, has been not only a predictability measure, but has conveyed their continuing commitment to nuclear stability and mutual confidence. So yeah, there's no question that this suspension has been also affecting the lines of communication. From the US perspective, those lines of communication will remain open.

Paras: Okay Tess, following up on that point, there has been a lot of discussion about the US and its allies providing arms to Ukraine. And there's been discussion about offensive versus defensive use weapons, and trying to limit provision of weapons to those that can be used on Ukrainian territory, and that might not be able to reach Russia. So is there a legal distinction between offensive and defensive use weapons? Or is this more of a policy preference?

Tess: It's a policy distinction and a policy preference and even I would say, in the policy realm, the line can be quite blurry when you're looking at a country taking its own territory back from an occupying power. You know, is that troop movement, is that advance, offensive or defensive in nature? From an operational point of view, it might be considered an offensive, of course. But in a legal sense, it is squarely within Ukraine's exercise of its right of self defense against Russia's aggression. So there should be no confusion that legally Ukraine is well within its right to take offensive, you know, do offensive maneuvers to regain its own territory. 

But I would even go one step further. I think sometimes what gets lost in this discussion is that Ukraine would be well within its inherent right of self defense to undertake operations on the Russian side of the border if they're necessary and proportionate, in its self defense. And I think we'd be hard pressed to come up with a legal argument that those kinds of operations, you know, are unlawful for any reason. So the idea that we should be limiting the types of weapons that are provided that we should be, you know, talking about them as defensive in nature, I think that has sort of two purposes. One is to avoid a perception that what Ukraine is doing is trying to be retaliatory, or somehow, you know, as Dan alluded to in the beginning, you know, do the kinds of things to the Russian people that the Russian military has been doing to Ukraine. 

But I think the bigger point is avoiding a risk of escalation. And Putin has, has clearly indicated his views about certain weapons systems and what their provision would mean from his perspective. And I think the United States and key allies have no desire to escalate unnecessarily, and have no desire also to get ahead of the military tempo of what's actually going on on the ground. I would leave it to Dan and to Rose to talk more about that, and whether those fears of escalation are well placed and, you know, whether we've we've drawn the appropriate lines, but I do think it's important to be clear that there is certainly no legal bar to Ukraine, and whoever wants to aid Ukraine in its collective self defense, undertaking actions, not only that could appear to be, “offensive” in nature, such that they're regaining territory, but even engaging in actions on the Russian side of the border, so long as they're necessary and proportionate in its self defense.

Viola: We'll just move on to a question that's been interesting to me, and I'd like to hear any of you on this. Perhaps, Dan, if you could start us off. How should the US and its European partners square what seemed to be conflicting ideas, one is that at some point, there have to be negotiations to end this war. But on the other hand, the reality seems to be that any resolution that leaves Putin in place, and Russia not militarily defeated, raises the potential of Putin simply regrouping or Russia simply regrouping and starting another conflict, whether in Ukraine or somewhere else? How do we think about that, and are there any historical parallels that could be helpful?

Dan: You're right, wars end and in negotiations, because there has to be a cessation of the war. And those negotiations can be a ceasefire that doesn't actually resolve the political issues at the heart of the war, or they can be a genuine peace. There's nothing in theory in conflict with the idea that Russia needs to be defeated, and that there will be a negotiated solution. But there aren't any really inspiring historical examples in the European context from the last century, the one that might be most apropos, actually, would be the one that Rose referenced, which is Vietnam, where the United States was not successful in achieving its war aims and left, and there was a negotiated peace. That was a case where the United States was obviously not defeated. So you can bet that Finland and Sweden would be concerned about what Russia's next moves might be under Putin if he left undefeated, but I think at this point, it's important for us to be clear about what our goals are, what we would see as success and success would be the restoration of a free, independent, sovereign Ukraine. 

And, yes, we would have to deal with the endurance of Putin's Russia if that meant that Putin was still in charge of Russia and and that Russia remained a threat to its neighbors, which obviously in its current form, it has proved time and time again, that it is, but the goal is the the restoration of a free independent and sovereign Ukraine and I think we have to keep that as the focus of what a satisfying end to any negotiation would be. And obviously negotiations will not be satisfying. They rarely are fully satisfying, but that should be how we define what the outcome is that we seek.

Viola: Rose, do you have some thoughts on that? It's that sort of the end game? How should the US approach this? And what sort of time frame are we looking at here.  

Rose: I agree with Dan, that we haven't been clear enough in thinking ahead, at least publicly, and articulating what a strategy is to get to what we all want to accomplish, which is a free, independent, and secure Ukraine within its internationally recognized borders; at the same time, ensuring that Russia does not descend into anarchy. And that is, frankly, what worries me. There's an interesting vignette from my recent time on the East Coast when a colleague said, you know, we keep hitting this piñata, Russia, but if that breaks, do we know what's going to come out? And I said, Yeah, what could come out is nuclear weapons – I'm always worried about nuclear weapons. 

So I do think that we have to think ahead about Russia's stability to moving into some kind of peace process and some kind of settlement with Ukraine advantaged, of course, by that settlement. But nonetheless, I would like to avoid, if we possibly can, the emergence of Russia – I've written about this – the emergence of Russia as a giant pariah state, with nuclear weapons and a lot of nuclear weapons, a kind of giant DPRK. But with thousands of nuclear weapons instead of 100 or fewer. 

So this is a very serious matter. And to be honest with you, I don't have any clear view of how to articulate the path forward here. But I do think it does mean bearing in mind that Russia, too, has interests here. That's why in these last two days, as Putin has pulled back from the New START treaty, has ceased to implement the New START Treaty, I've been concerned that Russia itself doesn't seem to be caring for its national security interests, in that it appears to want the United States to have free rein going forward with its nuclear modernization and no limits on the US nuclear modernization. The US, of course, I think, will have natural limits in terms of the budget that can be allocated to nuclear modernization. But at the same time, it's good if there is a legal superstructure that enforces some legally binding limits as well on both nuclear states, on Russia as well as the United States. So I do think that we have to think carefully about how we go on from here. My, I would say, top line goal is to avoid the creation out of this conflict of Russia as a wrecker state, as a nuclear pariah state with a lot of weapons.

Dan: I think the suspension of New START, obviously – and Rose is right, she's written about this before that – but the suspension of New START implementation is one of the reasons why it's concerning, aside from one of many reasons why it's concerning, is that it could signal that dissatisfied by the performance of his conventional forces – which he must be if he has any sense of what's happening on the ground – that Putin has decided that he will rely more on the kind of power that comes from erratic and bullying behavior attached to nuclear weapons. And that is the kind of power that we've seen North Korea try to exercise. And it is deeply concerning that the government of a major world power would resort to effectively consigning itself to the behavior of rogue states.

And obviously, there's plenty to criticize, which is not to minimize the roguish behavior of invading your neighbors, which is already roguish. But to behave like a rogue state with respect to nuclear weapons is, is – every state in the world, every country in the world should be condemning the suspension, should be expressing concern and condemning the suspension of implementation of New START. It's a treaty between the United States and Russia, but it has implications for everyone and in the decrease in nuclear stability worldwide, and the risk that it poses.

Rose: If I could pile on there for a minute, Dan, you know the OSCE very well, having served as the US ambassador at the OSCE for the bulk of the Clinton administration – I'm sorry, the bulk of the Obama administration – but I'm really concerned about this wrecker role that we saw unfolding at the OSCE as Russia began to question the post-Cold War settlement and the notion of a Europe free and stable and secure from Vancouver to Vladivostok, as we used to say. Now we're looking at a situation where I fear that the misbehavior of Russia in this OSCE could extend to all international institutions, including and because of their leadership role on the UN Security Council, the United Nations itself, and I think we're already seeing signs of that in New York. 

So how does the world adjust to this? It's very difficult once again, to see, but in the past, I just want to put on the table the fact that Russia has been really a problem solver. In many cases, it's been a giant of the non-proliferation regime, for example, and very committed to ensuring that the Non-Proliferation Treaty regime moves forward with some momentum. So again, that's another reason to be concerned about this, this pullback from New START, suspension of new START, because it seems to convey that Russia is no longer committed to the Non-Proliferation Treaty and its disarmament pillar. So a lot of reasons to be worried here. But the larger point, the top level point is, will they now begin to play this wrecker role across the world in every major institution in which they have had a role in the past and a leadership role in the past? 

Paras: I want to make sure that we have time to touch on accountability. So, Tess, we've seen in the last year, diplomats, lawyers, human rights advocates, have written a lot and spoken a lot about accountability for Russia's actions in Ukraine. And that's both accountability for the illegal invasion – that's the crime of aggression – and for grave crimes that are committed in Ukraine itself during the conflict, so those can be war crimes, crimes against humanity, and potentially genocide. So what has been happening on those two different fronts for accountability? And ultimately, what do we need to have a stable peace?

Tess: Thanks, Paras. It's obviously been a subject of a lot of and a lot of attention among international lawyers and diplomats. And we have a number of efforts going on simultaneously. First and foremost, Ukraine's own courts have been incredibly active. So Ukraine has already secured I think around 25 convictions for war crimes in its own domestic criminal justice system. But the scale of the problem that they are facing in terms of investigating and prosecuting these crimes is truly astounding. I think it's something like 66,000 war crimes had been reported as of just a few weeks ago. And of course, the vast majority of the suspects will surely never be located, although they do have the ability to investigate some more fully who are being held as prisoners of war. So the challenges that are faced during, you know, doing more time investigations and prosecutions of those alleged to have committed breaches of the Geneva Conventions and other war crimes is truly astounding. 

And a number of countries, of course, and international organizations are seeking to aid Ukraine in that effort. When we turn to international justice mechanisms, the International Criminal Court is the big one in this conflict. And of course, neither Russia nor Ukraine are parties to the Rome Statute, but Ukraine has accepted the jurisdiction of the court for crimes alleged on its territory actually going back to when Russia first invaded, and just prior to Russia's initial invasion, starting in the 2013 timeframe.

So the ICC already has an investigation underway, and when the full scale invasion commenced about a year ago. Very quickly, you saw 43 member states refer the situation, and Ukraine, of course, accepted the jurisdiction of the court to cover crimes leading up to this phase of the war. Now the ICC can try and can prosecute individuals for war crimes, crimes against humanity, but they won't be able to reach aggression. And that has to do with the unique system of jurisdiction over the crime of aggression at the ICC. So there is a debate about whether to stand up a new tribunal, whether to have an interim prosecutor's office that might be able to collect and preserve evidence and strategize about indictments that might come further down the road.

I do think this debate, though, rightly needs to focus on whether those types of efforts might take resources and focus away from existing accountability mechanisms that are already in place and doing their work, including both the Ukrainian courts and the ICC. And as all of our listeners will know, the US relationship with the ICC in particular has been rocky to put it mildly in the past. And we're just beginning to turn the page, and potentially only in the Ukraine specific way at the start, on being able to have a pro productive relationship with the court. And that's something that I would hate to see undermined by putting all of our focus into standing up a new tribunal, especially one where we might end up seeing empty chairs. So aggression, of course, is a leadership crime. Everyone wants to see Putin and the other top political officials in Russia who are responsible for this aggression tried for their absolutely heinous crimes that are, of course, you know, what all of the rest of the war crimes that we're talking about have stemmed from. At the same time, you know, we'll empty chairs in absentia trials really satisfy that desire for justice? And, you know, will there be a strategy to ensure that as well, that as we're thinking about concluding a piece, as far as and, Dan, were just reflecting on that, you know, we make sure we get the sequencing right of these endeavors. So I think that's something really important to talk about when we're thinking about international justice. 

And to just respond to the last point, last question you asked Paras, about what kinds of accountability we need. There is an effort underway, a very robust one in the Government of Ukraine is leading along with with a number of allies and partners, to set up a compensation commission, which is a different kind of accountability than than one a lot of international lawyers have been focused on, because criminal accountability tends to get most of the attention. But I think it's every bit as important to make sure that war victims in Ukraine get compensated and get able, you know, and are able to, to have some modicum of resources provided to get their feet back under them and continue with their ordinary lives. 

Ukraine is going to need massive help with reconstruction, obviously. But when it comes to reparations, I think we shouldn't forget individual Ukrainians who should be able to bring claims and have those claims heard, and adjudicated, and hopefully receive some compensation. They're really tricky international law issues lurking there that great minds are thinking about right now. But that's, that's a form of accountability that I think we ought to pay a lot more attention to in the coming year.

Viola: That's really great. Thank you very much. We do have just a few more minutes. So I wanted to see if we can wrap up with any final thoughts you had. And perhaps, if you can pick one thing that you think the United States should make a priority in the next coming weeks, months, for example, what would that be?

Dan: I'm going to cheat. I'll start, but I'm going to cheat because I'm going to pick up where Tess left off on the accountability point, and I appreciate what Tess laid out. And I just want to underscore I think sometimes when speaking to a general audience, the importance of accountability can be lost, because it feels, you know, kind of sad that these things have to be sequenced, there's kind of urgent tasks to deal with on the ground. But accountability is a really essential part of moral reconstruction. And we hear a lot of talk these days about the reconstruction of Ukraine, but without accountability, there cannot be a lasting peace. And I think that's true. We've seen that from history. That's true on the level of the people who have suffered tremendous violence on the ground or have lost loved ones, and also at the international level. And so there is a proper sequence to this. But you know, a bunch of us go around talking about the rules-based order. Well, if we really believe in that, and there's no accountability ever for the crime of aggression, then we got to stop talking about this rules-based order. Because if we really believe in it, we gotta make that real. And that doesn't mean that we need to focus on that now. But it does mean that we can't just give it lip service and for people on the ground, you know, watching Ukrainian civil society and the way that they have mustered hundreds of people to learn how to collect and document evidence to be ready to prosecute when the opportunities arise, it has been something that in the midst of war, there are people there are volunteers doing because they understand how important that's going to be to allowing them to move forward.

Reckoning with this terrible, terrible present and past is going to be essential to allowing them to move forward someday. And so this is not orthogonal to the question of how we reach peace. This is central to the question of how we reach peace. And as far as for what the Biden administration should do, I'm going to cheat there too, by saying, I actually think that when the history of this war, the first year of this war is written, US policy will really deserve an A minus in the theory that nobody gets an A. And that is a credit to the Biden administration and its partners, both in Asia and in Europe. And I think they deserve full credit for that. And the way that the one thing I think they should focus on going forward is making sure that whatever we're doing is aimed at giving Ukraine the most latitude, the most freedom to be able to choose when it wants to sit down and negotiate and to put it in the best position possible. And I think that is one of the principles that has governed their work so far. And I think they should continue to make that principle in the coming months. 

Obviously, the Russians have launched a new offensive in the last week. There will likely come another pause, I think, at the end of the summer, when Putin has to conscript a whole other round of folks, and there may be an opportunity for some sorts of sort of negotiations, then Biden administration is focused on making sure the Ukrainians are in as good a position as possible when a door might open. 

Tess: I'll just come back, Dan, and say I agree with you about accountability and its importance, but I think accountability is more than criminal justice. So my plea is to not forget about other forms of accountability, even as we're pressing ahead, both with domestic trials and international investigations and prosecutions, I think those other forms of accountability tend to get lost, especially because criminal justice is easier to understand and it's easier to grapple with, because we're all familiar with it and our domestic analogues. But those other forms of accountability, I think, will be just as important in terms of restoring what's been lost, and really grappling with the fact that people's material lives have been so greatly damaged by Russia's actions.

I would also just ditto everything you said about the A minus because no one gets an A. I think the Biden administration has done an incredible job on all of the fronts that you just mentioned. I think that the big challenges that remain are keeping the focus on these issues, both in terms of keeping the Hill appropriating when they need to and and not undermining any of the efforts that might be needed going forward, hopefully even expanding on some of the legislation that we've seen, that's going to allow our courts to be better at prosecuting war crimes. And that's going to enable greater cooperation with the ICC. And I think also dealing with the humanitarian response, and something that I'm sure we all want to hear Rose reflect on, but the future of what happens with the nukes. Those are big looming issues that they'll have to stay focused on.

Viola: Rose, would you like to sort of round us out today and give us your final thoughts on this and what you see coming next, or what you think is a big must do coming up next?

Rose; Clearly, and you would expect me to say this, but the administration needs to keep attention on this matter of trying to get back to full implementation of the New START treaty and doing everything it can to communicate with the Russian Federation, including at a high level. And I think it will be very important for President Biden to convey his commitment to the treaty and his commitment to the bilateral necessity of continuing to constrain and limit nuclear arms. He and President Putin aren't talking right now. There's some good reasons for that. But that's no reason why he can't make a speech here in the United States that would really get those messages out internationally, but also convey to the American people how important this set of nuclear constraint issues is, and restoration of full implementation of New START. So you'd expect me to say that, but here, I do think that there's a special role for the president and the top leadership of the country. They've been consumed by the war in Ukraine and what needs to be done to keep the allies together. But to my mind, an important facet of keeping the allies together going forward, will be to continue to show commitment at a high level to the world of nuclear arms control, and the world of the Non-Proliferation Treaty and all that goes with it.

The other area where I really think Biden administration should put its attention going forward, and it picks up on something Tess said a moment ago, is reaching out to the American public directly, again, from the White House at a high level, but across the board to make the case for why this effort, this war effort in supporting Ukraine is so important to the future of the United States of America. It's of course all about talking about our values and about the necessity of a continuation of that rules-based international order we all love to discuss. But I think we also need to make it real and tangible to those out in the hinterlands. I come from Ohio, so I know of which I speak. But one important issue that I hope the administration can get on top of a little bit better is the degree to which the assistance to Ukraine is not really a big ticket item by comparison with what the President is already doing to bolster infrastructure construction, the big infrastructure bill that was passed last year. These are the kinds of programs that are really benefiting the American people and will continue to do so. And by comparison, the amount of assistance we're providing to Ukraine is really quite small. So I think those are the kinds of practical points I'd like to see the President making to the American people and all of his top deputies.

Viola: Thank you all very much. Really appreciate it, and wonderful to have you here.  

Paras: Rose, Tess, Dan, that was a fantastic discussion. It was so fruitful and wide ranging as we mark this somber anniversary. Thanks again to each of you. 

Thanks for joining this special episode of the Just Security podcast, which was co-hosted by the Reiss Center on Law and Security at NYU Law. The Just Security podcast is produced in partnership with NYU’s American Journalism Online program. AJO trains students to become world class journalists, no matter where they live or work. Find out more about AJO, and how you can apply, in our show notes.  

This episode was hosted by me and Viola Gienger with co-production and editing by Tiffany Chang and Michelle Eigenheer. Our music is the song “The Parade” by Hey Pluto! Special thanks to Clara Apt, Leila Chang, Dan Baer, Tess Bridgeman, Dan Fried, Will Emmons, Rose Gottemoeller, and Rachel Goldbrenner. 

You can learn more about Just Security and the Reiss Center’s coverage of the war in Ukraine in our show notes. If you enjoyed this episode, please give us a five star rating on Apple Podcasts, or wherever you listen.