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[DJ: Excerpt from long article. If you want the full article please contact me.]
From: "Anatol Lieven" <alieven@ceip.org>
Subject: Laws of War
Date: Thu, 6 Dec 2001

Dear David,

This essay on Chechnya and the laws of war was published in the Spring/Summer issue of the East European Constitutional Review - in other words long before September 11th - but for some reason I forgot to send it to the List. It is of relevance to the war against terrorism, should US troops become involved in serious fighting on the ground in Afghanistan or elsewhere.

Since there has been a remarkable change of position on the part of so many observers concerning Chechnya since September 11th - despite the fact that the well-known facts there have not changed at all - I should say that my own views remain unchanged from those expressed in this essay. I still regard the decision to launch a full-scale occupation of Chechnya in October 1999 as a very serious moral as well as political error, and believe that the Putin administration should have tried other alternatives first, and embarked on this course only if all other means of destroying or expelling the international Mujahedin and their Chechen allies had failed.

On that score, however, I would like to ask Edward Lucas and others who before September 11th attempted to deny the existence of important links between the Chechen fighters and international Muslim terrorist networks, what their position is today? And given the mass of now universally-acknowledged evidence for these links, why they denied them in the first place?

The West has done pretty well out of this Chechen war. A potential haven for international terrorism has been largely eliminated, and the casualties, political damage and moral shame involved have fallen exclusively on Russia (and of course on Chechnya).

This brings me to a war crimes issue not touched on in this essay, the question of proxy ground wars. In Croatia, Kosovo and now Afghanistan, the US and NATO have avoided casualties among their own troops by not employing them in major combat. Instead, they have used their enormously sophisticated airpower - possessed by no other country in the world, including Russia - in support of local forces on the ground. These have suffered the casualties and also committed numerous atrocities. As in Chechnya, some of these atrocities have been inevitable, others wholly gratuitous. Where exactly does this leave our own moral complicity in and/or responsibility for these outrages by our allies? On this, I have no clear answer, except that this history should leave little room for the odious smugness and arrogance characteristic of so many of our colleagues.

Anatol Lieven


Morality and Reality in Approaches to War Crimes: The Case of Chechnya
Anatol Lieven

Since the onset of thinking about the laws of war, such laws have been divided into the jus ad bellum (the right, or lack of it, to make war) and the jus in bello (the rules governing the conduct of war). To begin with the jus ad bellum in the case of Chechnya. According to any traditional or universally accepted approach, Russia's legal right to prosecute this war is incontestable. Chechnya is an internationally recognized part of Russia's territory, in rebellion against its sovereign. Throughout history and all over the world today, states have reacted to armed secession with armed repression. By contrast, the number of cases where a territory has been allowed to separate peacefully from its sovereign state is extremely small. In the great majority of cases (and invariably where its own territory or its own allies are concerned), the United States has backed the existing internationally recognized sovereign: the Kurdish revolt against Turkey being only one example.

Moreover, when Russia yielded to de facto self-rule in Chechnya in 1996, the government there proved incapable of controlling its own territory. The result was a great wave of kidnapping and other forms of criminality directed at Russian citizens in the North Caucasus and the establishment on Chechen soil of forces publicly dedicated to the prosecution of a religious war against Russia and to carving away further pieces of Russian territory. Leaving aside the unproven issue of Chechen-based terrorism, it is uncontested that this movement led to a large-scale armed incursion, in August 1999, from Chechnya into the Russian autonomous republic of Dagestan, and that in the subsequent fighting 270 Russian soldiers and several hundred Dagestani policemen and civilians lost their lives.

Legally, therefore, Russia certainly had the right to retaliate. Furthermore, when it comes to actual international practice, the United States, in the course of the twentieth century, has intervened repeatedly with armed forces in independent states in Central America, when it has seen itself as threatened, in some way, by domestic developments and especially by criminal behavior in these countries (Panama being only the most recent example). On the only occasion when US territory was directly attacked as a result of civil war in a neighboring state (Pancho Villa's raid on Columbus in March 1916), the immediate US response was counter-invasion, on a vastly larger scale.

But of course, legality and morality are not the same, nor is morality and past US international practice. Morally, the issue of Russia's latest intervention in Chechnya is not so clear. Much of the pathological behavior emanating from Chechnya between 1996 and 1999, can be seen as a direct result of the unnecessary and even criminal Russian armed intervention of December 1994, and the bloody and destructive war that followed.

Not only was that intervention a great deal less justifiable than that of 1999 but the memory of the futile bloodshed of 1994**96, and the ferocity of the Chechen resistance, should have given the Russian leadership pause before embarking again on a war in Chechnya. Warfare, and especially antipartisan warfare, is inherently savage. Before you engage in it, you have a moral obligation to be very sure indeed that all other policies have been exhausted, and that there is no better alternative.

Hence the force of the criticism, for example, concerning the US use of atomic bombs against Japanese cities in August 1945, when Japan was, in effect, already defeated. The use of these weapons must always have caused grave moral qualms. But these would have been far fewer if the bombs had existed and been dropped on Germany or Japan in 1942, when victory was still in the balance and when tens of millions of other lives would have been saved by an Axis surrender. The gravest doubts concerning the morality of the obliteration of Hiroshima and Nagasaki relate to the fact that it was probably unnecessary, or at least wholly incommensurate with the result to be gained.

As Thomas Aquinas laid down, there must be a reasonable hope of achieving the actual goal of the war concerned. In the case of Russia in Chechnya, as with the US in Vietnam, the leadership clearly failed to think adequately about whether this goal was, in fact, achievable by the strategies adopted. In the case of Chechnya, the results of the war so far have been, at best, highly inadequate from the point of view of Russian national interests and goals. The radical Islamic threat has been curbed, Chechen-based kidnapping and banditry greatly reduced, and Russia's military prestige, to some extent, restored from its nadir in 1996. However, thanks in part to atrocities committed by Russian troops against the Chechen population, Russia has become bogged down in a brutal partisan struggle with no end remotely in sight; the threat of terrorism remains very active; and the Russian-backed Chechen authorities are failing to consolidate their authority or, in many cases, even to save their own lives.

All this was entirely predictable, given the experience not only of 1994**96 but of so many other similar conflicts around the world. So the Putin administration should have made a much more determined and sincere attempt to pursue other strategies before deciding on full-scale armed intervention (for example, some combination of an occupation of Chechnya, north of the Terek River, with extra carrots and sticks directed at the Maskhadov regime in Chechnya to persuade him to crack down on the extremists).

But this said, if Moscow had pursued such policies and after a reasonable time they clearly had failed to work--if major Chechen-based armed attacks on Russia had continued--then it must also be recognized that Russia would have had the full moral as well as legal right to go to war in Chechnya, as would any organized state in Russia's position. And it must also be recognized that, unfortunately, even a legally and morally justified war of this kind is inevitably going to involve massive civilian suffering and numerous human-rights abuses....

[DJ: For the rest of the article please contact me.]

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