In a conference on the moral and ethical aspects of nuclear deterrence convened at the Hoover Institution in 2018 by George Shultz, I heard Fr. Christiansen speak of “integral disarmament.” In later writings he defined this as “both the elimination of weapons ... and the disarmament of hearts, in the interest of peace as the common good of the one human family.”
He attributed this idea to Pope John XXlll and, in a more recent papal statement, to Pope Francis. It was a concept that resonated with me; I had already been thinking along these lines when, as Payne Lecturer at Stanford University, I organized a panel discussion called, “Can Strategic Partners Be Nuclear Rivals?” Our report was published by Stanford in February 1997, and we argued that Russia and the United States would find it difficult to work together as strategic partners while still competing with nuclear weapons arsenals.
This way of thinking, of course, was not new even then, and it is widely accepted when framed in a negative way: Nations don’t have tensions between them because they have nuclear weapons: they have nuclear weapons because they have tensions between them. If framed from the perspective of integral disarmament, the idea could be turned on its head and become an argument in favor of major efforts to improve relations between nation-states so that we may avoid nuclear catastrophe. This reasoning seemed to motivate Reagan and Gorbachev as they worked together to end the Cold War.
So how should we apply this idea of integral disarmament to today’s major conflict, Russia’s invasion of Ukraine? This November, the Washington Post covered the Group of Seven (G7) ministerial meeting in Muenster, Germany. Diplomats at the G7 noted that Putin’s decision to invade Ukraine with the intention of changing its international borders had challenged the fundamental right of sovereign states, which had been recognized in international treaties as far back as 1648 in the Peace of Westphalia, partly negotiated at Muenster. The Post quoted U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken: “If we let that be challenged with impunity, then the foundations of the international order will start to erode and eventually crumble…”
So shouldn’t an end to the unprovoked war in Ukraine become a watershed moment in relations among nations? At the least, shouldn’t there be a dramatic reaffirmation of the values and norms of behavior that had been codified in Muenster centuries ago? I think the answer is that Putin’s rejection of those norms and values cannot be allowed to stand as the final verdict on their status as a guide to relations among states.
The United Nations Charter is well known for its principles governing relations among states. There is also a lesser-known set of documents that in modern times has defined the norms of the Euro-Atlantic international order and the value system on which those norms are based. One of the most important of these documents was the Helsinki Final Act, signed in 1975 by 35 heads of states and governments, including U.S. President Gerald Ford and Soviet General Secretary Leonid Brezhnev. Many people credit this document, especially its human rights provisions, with helping to create the conditions in Europe that brought an end to the Cold War.
The most recent set of documents defining the international order in the Euro-Atlantic/Eurasian region is known as the Charter of Paris for a New Europe (Paris Charter). Building on the Helsinki Final Act, the Paris Charter added several organizational innovations designed to address international issues in real time. The charter was signed in late 1990. One year later, the Soviet Union collapsed. The states that emerged from the dissolution of the USSR became adherents to the Paris Charter in their own right, including the Russian Federation and Ukraine. Several Central Asian nations now adhere to the Paris Charter as well, an important geopolitical change from the original Helsinki Final Act.
The operational arm of the Paris Charter is called “The Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe” (OSCE). Currently, 57 states are members of the OSCE, including the now independent states of Central Asia and the Caucasus as well as those of Eastern Europe. The OSCE continues to conduct business despite the war, though its members have condemned Moscow’s behavior, which has blatantly violated the obligations of the Paris Charter. A recent analysis in Foreign Policy examines some of this behavior that threatens the future of the OSCE, including derailing peacekeeping missions and disrupting budget processes.
The question before us now is whether an international order, and a management organization to help sustain it, can be restored and hopefully prevent future conflict in this region. However, before the war, the OSCE already had monitoring teams in Ukraine, and they had also been assigned a central role in implementing the Minsk agreement, originally sponsored by major European nations and intended to help resolve autonomy issues for Russian speakers in parts of Ukraine. As the Russian invasion became a serious possibility in the winter of 2021 and into 2022, the Polish foreign minister, chairman in office of OSCE, launched a new OSCE consultative mechanism designed to address crises of the sort that had arisen. These mechanisms were actively working to head off the Russian invasion, but none of this activity stopped Putin. Perhaps he had made the decision to invade much earlier.
A group of us at the Hoover Institution and the American Academy of Arts and Sciences have started to explore diplomatic processes to ensure that at the end of the war there will be an opportunity to strengthen international order in the Euro-Atlantic and Eurasian region. One conclusion I have reached already is that involvement in this task from organizations—like the EU, UN, and NATO—that have already played major roles in the current crisis is absolutely necessary. They must be invited to any relevant inter-governmental meetings.
Normally, one might think of injecting ideas into negotiations regarding a settlement that brings lasting peace to Ukraine. Under present conditions, however, it is not at all clear that there ever will be a negotiated peace settlement or who the parties might be if there is one. Nonetheless, no matter what happens in Russia-Ukraine negotiations, policies of the Western nations should be aimed at ensuring that Ukraine would benefit from a widely accepted agreement designed to underwrite peace and stability in Europe.
To initiate such changes, it has been suggested interested persons or private organizations might be invited to a conference at the headquarters of the OSCE in Vienna. The agenda might include a review of the documents in the Charter of Paris for a New Europe. It is very likely that the mechanisms for monitoring and strengthening compliance with agreed international norms could be improved. For example, changes in decision-making procedures in the OSCE might be considered to eliminate veto situations in emergency conditions. Disputes over fundamental issues like borders could be elevated to a special status among the members of OSCE. Some “frozen conflicts”—issues like those in Georgia and Moldova—might be prioritized in accordance with criteria identified in the OSCE procedures.
Moreover, a finite number of fixes to current procedures may serve to strengthen the ability of the OSCE to resolve conflicts and diffuse tensions. There already are potentially effective mechanisms set up in the Paris Charter to solve problems, if the member governments would empower them to do so.
The United States, and the West generally, can neglect such “over-the-horizon” issues only at their peril. A way to end the war in Ukraine while avoiding the use of nuclear weapons, and a potential World War lll, may yet be found, but the risks inherent in the current situation cannot be allowed to happen again.
To any who say the job is too difficult, I say remember Fr. Drew.