Russian-American strategic relations are entering uncharted waters with the demise of the arms control regime; rapid technological revolution; the rise of nuclear multipolarity; the asymmetry of the two countries’ positions amid their growing confrontation and an increasing likelihood of military conflict among major powers; and the complete lack of trust and a glaring deficit of decency in relations between Moscow and Washington. Preventing a nuclear war between the two powers will be as hard a task as it ever was, and the environment for that immensely more complex and fluid than ever.
Deterrence as the only pillar of stability
Russia’s nuclear doctrine, like the U.S. one, is based on the strategy of nuclear deterrence. Nuclear deterrence, in turn, is rooted in the concept of mutually assured destruction. To make deterrence credible, one has to have a realistic capability of absorbing the enemy’s first massive nuclear attack, and still of destroying him as a functioning entity in the second strike. This is assured by launching one’s missiles once a certified warning is received that the enemy has launched a massive attack. Thus, the party that fired first would assuredly die second. Knowing that, neither party would initiate an attack, and peace would be preserved. As the U.S. and Soviet presidents agreed in a 1990 joint statement, “Nuclear war cannot be won, and should not be fought”.
A credible strategy of deterrence needs to deal with a range of challenges.
Ballistic missile defenses, offering a promise of intercepting a certain proportion of incoming missiles, by definition, undermine deterrence. For three decades, ballistic missile defenses (BMD) were constrained by the ABM Treaty, which Moscow considered to be a cornerstone of strategic stability. After the U.S. withdrawal from the treaty in 2002, Russia embarked on a program designed to nullify any advantages the United States would get through implementing its missile defense programs. Thus, the BMD challenge to deterrence was – and still is being – met by improving the capacity of one’s missile fleet to penetrate enemy defenses and deliver their payloads to targets.
At this moment, the Russian leadership feels assured that its strategic arsenal will be capable of overwhelming any missile defenses the United States would be able to deploy for several more decades.
The enemy’s decapitating strikes from close range, whether from advantageous geographical positions or outer space, carry the risk of eliminating one’s national command and control centers before they can issue orders to activate a nuclear response. To meet this challenge, command and control centers are hardened to withstand any conceivable attack. Other potential counter-measures, both laden with heightened risk, include placing the adversary in a similarly vulnerable geographical position by moving one’s attack assets within close range of his key centers and bases, or by adopting a first strike deterrence posture which sends the message to the adversary that, in a crisis, one would have to launch a nuclear attack first, in order not to be annihilated by the enemy. As President Vladimir Putin put it in an interview with a U.S. TV station, “We don’t need as world without Russia”.
Other technological challenges include the use of artificial intelligence and particularly of cyberattacks to paralyze nuclear command and control systems. The importance of cyber defenses has risen sharply in the last decades. Efforts are being made to make sure that nuclear communications remain immune from cyber penetration.
Political challenges look more serious. A massive nuclear attack which was the basis of strategic thinking in the second half of the 20th century is growing less and less likely. This undermines the stabilizing function of nuclear deterrence because the threat it once sought to prevent is moving. Indeed, Russia itself, in the hour of its military weakness and domestic political disarray in the 1990s announced that it would use nuclear weapons in response to a conventional attack if such an attack would put the existence of the Russian state in jeopardy.
Prior to that, Russia rejected the idea of limited nuclear war and did not engage in thinking too much about the ladder of nuclear escalation. Under conditions of the mid-to-late 20th century, such a war would have been likely fought in Europe, including the European portion of the Soviet Union, and would spare the United States. Moscow was never going to give Washington such an advantage and said that, once the nuclear Pandora’s box was opened, limiting war would be impossible. This was certainly part of the deterrence strategy.
Now, with the specter of a nuclear holocaust receding very far, and the confrontation between the United States and Russia rising to the point when their military platforms or units can actually collide in various parts of the world; and when the United States and Russia are involved in armed conflicts on different sides and are operating in close proximity to each other, like in Syria; when frozen conflicts can unfreeze and escalate (think Donbas), preventing war between Russia and America has become perhaps the only real issue on the otherwise de fact barren U.S.-Russian agenda. It is thus vitally important to understand what Moscow and Washington are up to.
In the nuclear area, both Russians and Americans are concerned that their adversary will use nuclear weapons first at the tactical level, to seal one’s conventional success and make the other side accept defeat. Underlying this is a belief (which appears to be a fateful illusion, more present among American scholars and experts) that war and achieving victory in it have again become possible, with the stakes much lower than during the Cold War, and the prospect of total annihilation itself is enough to deter the weaker party, Russia, from using its nuclear weapons on a massive scale. This is the principal danger these days.
Misperceptions – or lack of clear understanding – between the two exist not so much regarding their nuclear doctrines but with respect to their broader foreign policy strategies. Absolute lack of trust and high levels of mutual suspicion complicate strategic assessment.
Strategic stability in a multipolar nuclear environment
Strategic stability as defined in the decades of the Cold War was narrowly focused on relations between the United States and the Soviet Union. The countries with the largest nuclear arsenals and military establishments were also the two principal antagonists in the competition not so much for state primacy but for world ideological and socio-political hegemony. With the end of the Cold War, this is all over. Russia and the United States still possess the world’s largest by far nuclear weapons arsenals, but their relationship is no longer the main axis of world politics. The United States continues to be a superpower, but Russia is now a power of a different caliber with no ambition to prevail in the world.
America’s main challenger now is China, which has surpassed it in terms of GDP in PPP terms and is expected to surpass it in nominal USD terms soon. China is also challenging America’s technological primacy and offers a model of governance that has been able to deal with the COVID-19 pandemic much more effectively than the United States. Yet, China’s nuclear arsenal is small compared to American and has a very different structure. Unlike the Soviet Union in the 1970s, China has no desire to engage in arms control at this stage, believing (correctly) this to be to America’s unilateral advantage. Such a situation creates a mismatch: U.S.’s strategic relations are better developed with Russia, which is no longer America’s principal strategic rival, and are very thin with China, which is.
Besides the geopolitical downgrading of Russia which is not reflected in a comparable decrease in its nuclear capabilities, and the steep economic/technological rise of China, not accompanied on the same scale by the growth of its nuclear forces, there are other powers who have joined the nuclear weapons states club as independent players. The United Kingdom and France, which developed their weapons in the 1950s and 1960s, have always been U.S. allies within NATO, and their weapons were always considered by Moscow to be part of the Western bloc’s combined nuclear arsenal. Cold War-era nuclear bipolarity that coincided with a similar ideological and geopolitical division (China remained largely introverted during that period) transformed into multipolarity. Strategic stability ceased being an issue for Moscow and Washington exclusively to tackle.
When India and Pakistan both acquired nuclear weapons at the turn of the 21st century, this materially changed the previous situation. Delhi and Islamabad are in no need to coordinate their policies and strategies with others. Ever since independence and partition, the two countries have maintained tense relations, leading to full-scale wars and border conflicts. Armed with nuclear weapons and delivery means and sharing a long border, they now got the ability to start the world’s first nuclear war. What is also important to note here is the strategic asymmetry: while Pakistan trains its weapons on India, India sees China as its main strategic rival, and Pakistan, China’s friend, as an adversary. Maintaining strategic stability between India and Pakistan through arms control on the U.S.-Soviet model was impossible due to geographical proximity and territorial issues, the general power imbalance between the two countries, and the asymmetrical strategic position of India and Pakistan.
North Korea, which developed its nuclear weapons and long-range missiles in the 21st century, presented another problem. Its arrival as a nuclear-armed state sent the message that any country whose leadership was determined to go nuclear and was prepared to withstand serious international pressure was able to achieve its goal, provided it stayed the course. The North Korean regime learned one thing about nuclear deterrence: all you need to do to deter the world’s most powerful country from attacking you and toppling your regime is to make it unsure about wiping out completely your nuclear arsenal or intercepting every nuclear-tipped missile that you launch against it. Pyongyang’s example essentially demonstrates that any country anywhere can effectively deter any conceivable opponent with relatively crude weapons and missiles.
During the Cold War, strategic stability used to be essentially about high-yield nuclear weapons and long-range missiles. In the 21st century, strategic non-nuclear systems have achieved a degree of precision that allows them to do the job that in the earlier era could only be assigned to nuclear systems.
With the U.S.-Soviet confrontation no longer the only major military concern, the so-called tactical weapons – both nuclear and non-nuclear – have acquired salience. These are certainly the ones that are pointed in opposite directions on the Indian Sub-Continent; they also form the bulk of the Chinese nuclear arsenal and missile fleet. Assuring stability within that class of weapons is exceedingly more difficult than with strategic weapons and intercontinental ballistic missiles. The United States and the Soviet Union never managed to control their tactical weapons – which, it was true, was less important then.
Guardrails and communications instead of treaties
Formal arms control treaties are becoming a thing of the past. Developing a new U.S.-Russian treaty to succeed New START will be extremely difficult, given the complexity of the issues involved, and the poisonous climate prevailing in the United States attitudes toward Russia. Negotiating agreements in a multipolar nuclear environment appears next to impossible. Even a trilateral U.S.-Russian-Chinese understanding – realistic in principle, given that they are currently the world’s top three military and geopolitical players by far – appears very long in coming.
Given this situation, strengthening strategic stability requires strengthening deterrence in the sense of eliminating all hopes of a victory in a nuclear war.
No new technological developments should be allowed to create an illusion of achieving victory in a war between nuclear powers. There should also be no illusion of a nuclear power defeating a nuclear opponent using only conventional means of warfare.
A military collision between the United States and Russia in the 21st century can be the result of incidents between military units or platforms – such as aircraft, ships – operating in close proximity to one another; local or regional conflicts escalating and drawing in Moscow and Washington on opposite sides; misperceptions about the actions of the other side, such as surprise exercises, and the like. In all these and similar cases, preventing military conflict between Russia and America requires the flawless operation of communications channels between the military and security authorities of the two countries. Such communication, on the model of the deconfliction mechanism that has been in place in Syria since 2015, would help clarify the situation, prevent escalation and avoid misperception or misunderstanding.
However, a complete lack of trust between the U.S. and Russian governments makes mutual suspicion irreducible. In a serious crisis, communication per se will not fully satisfy either party. Messages passed along communications channels can be perceived as disinformation. Much more value will be placed on one’s own intelligence assets, from the national technical means of reconnaissance and intelligence gathering to human sources. Interpretation of that information will be of crucial, even vital importance. Technical or human error and political and other considerations leading to misrepresentation can lead to disaster.
There can be various confidence-building measures. Under the START I Treaty, Moscow and Washington agreed to establish Nuclear Risk Reduction Centers. Such centers were ready to become operational in the early 2000s. However, the project fell through due to technical problems. A variation of that idea could be useful under the present circumstances of new hostility between the two countries. Yet, before this happens, a modicum of decency needs to be restored in the U.S.-Russian relations. Decency will not bring trust, but it can instill an element of mutual respect and self-respect to the relationship which is painfully lacking now. Without this, the only basis for strategic stability between Russia and the United States will remain fear of nuclear war.
Mutual fear may be as good a deterrent as any. It worked, after all, during the Cold War. The problem is that, in a relationship as highly asymmetrical as the present U.S.-Russian one, the two countries can stumble into a nuclear first use, and then a nuclear exchange, through the thick fog of mutual misperceptions borne out of U.S. arrogance, Russian resentment, reciprocal hostility, and utter disrespect.
Avoiding collision in uncharted waters
Even if New START is extended, the United States and Russia will have bought only a short reprieve. Five years – if this is the timeframe of the extension – will hardly be enough for negotiating a new treaty. So, extension or no extension, the 50-year-long era of arms control between Moscow and Washington is drawing to a close. From now on, deterrence will not only be the principal basis of strategic stability but its only basis.
True to its core philosophical assumptions, political goals, and doctrinal objectives, the United States will continue to strive for strategic superiority over Russia and China. For its part, Russia will seek to protect its nuclear deterrence capability vis-à-vis America. The nuclear arms race is already on. This is not a game of numbers of weapons but rather of their capabilities. President Putin, in his 2018 annual address to the Federal Assembly, laid out what measures had been taken by Russia in response to the 2002 U.S. withdrawal from the ABM Treaty. Further modernization efforts will continue on both sides.
Strategic decisions by either party that change force postures can lead to changes to the other party’s doctrines. The U.S. withdrawal in 2019 from the INF Treaty has opened the way to the development and deployment of a new generation of INF systems in both Asia and Europe. If such U.S. systems are deployed in Japan and South Korea, this would put China’s key centers of decision-making and strategic assets at high risk, as well as cover much of the Russian Far East and Siberia. Russia would certainly respond with its own deployments, modifying its force posture accordingly. If, by contrast, U.S. INF missiles are deployed to Europe (e.g., Poland) from where they can quickly reach Moscow and all targets in European Russia, this would place Russia in ultimate danger. There will certainly be changes to Russia’s own force posture. However, Russia might logically have to go farther and adopt a first-strike deterrence strategy in order to pre-empt a decapitating U.S. attack against itself. Having escaped nuclear war when U.S.-Soviet antagonism was absolute, the two countries might thus put the world’s existence at risk out of sheer contempt for each other.
This dangerous outcome needs to be prevented. Deconflicting and communications are vitally important, confidence building, such as the resurrection of nuclear risk reduction centers might help, but without a meaningful improvement in Russian-U.S. political relations to the level of serious dialogue on security issues between the two governments, the situation will continue to deteriorate. Right now, U.S.-Russia relations are clouded in a toxic fog, which makes avoiding kinetic collision between them much more difficult. It looks that the Biden Administration, while supporting New START extension and arms control in general, is going to take a hard line toward the Kremlin, aiming to squeeze Russia even more than its predecessor. Moscow is bracing for a new round of confrontation. Tough times are lying ahead.
From our partner RIAC
Upholding Dharma by Mob lynching?
Label any Muslim a cow smuggler, accuse him of carrying beef and then lynch in the name of protecting religion. These premeditated barbaric acts seem to have become the order of the day. According to “Hate Crime Watch”, around 90% of religious hate crimes have occurred after the change of Central government in India in 2014. Although Muslims are victims in 60% of incidents, people from all religious faiths have suffered hate crimes.
India’s constitution promises its citizens justice, liberty and equality, but the shattering of social life through mob violence triggers an inescapable sense of powerlessness among its citizens. After the 2015 gruesome Dadri lynching, Mohammad Azam was lynched in July 2018 by a mob in Karnataka after a series of WhatsApp messages had warned locals that child kidnappers were on the loose. The mob assumed that Azam, who worked for Google, and his friends were co-conspirators and lynched him. In 2019, Tabrej Ansari became the first victim of the gruesome hate crime in the second term of the current regime led by proponents of Hindutva. He was lynched by a mob that forced him to chant Hindu religious slogans. In June this year, three people were lynched on suspicion of cattle smuggling in Tripura.
It needs to be recalled that lynching was used to terrorize black community for generations in the United States; blacks were lynched on dubious and false criminal accusations but this was put to an end through NAACP (National Association for the Advancement of Coloured People). In a similar fashion today, there is a growing perception that mob lynching happens with disturbing regularity in India to terrorize not only minorities but also dissenters in the name of religion and culture.
Violence against those who dissent is sought to be rationalized as nationalistic. The killings of Mohammad Akhlaq, Govind Pansare, M M Kalburgi, Narendra Dabolkar and Gauri Lankesh were masterminded by religious bigots masquerading as nationalists. In fact, the recent murder of George Floyd at the hand of a racially bigoted policeman in the United States, and custodial torture and death of a father-son duo in Tamil Nadu are hate crimes which are blots on the conscience of democratic societies.
Contemporary India has witnessed a surge in right-wing Hindu extremism, and crimes committed in the name of Love Jihad, beef eating, child kidnapping, cow slaughter and anti-Muslim fake news are aimed at normalizing this disturbing phenomenon. This right-wing propaganda usually spreads like a wildfire on the internet, particularly on the so-called Whatsapp University where it has become quite common to see pictures and videos of dead cows lying in a puddle of blood. It has been noticed that such videos and images on social media platforms are always of questionable veracity whose primary purpose is to incite fear, anger and violence. Very often, the text accompanying the videos appeals that everyone should spread it as much as possible in order for it to reach at the highest political executives. When this damaging and dangerous content is continuously circulated, the resulting fear in the minds of majority community gets converted into hatred toward the minority community.
These are nothing but politically motivated polarizing tactics and diatribes which only feed off pre-existing demeaning stereotypes of minorities. Technology has become an enabler of violence for various political and cultural reasons. There are many parties and stakeholders involved in these hate crimes but victims are only innocent people and invariably from vulnerable socio-economic groups. But the most shameful is the attitude of India’s politicians and police officials who justify these crimes, garland the lynchers, deny it ever happened or shrug off their responsibility by preferring to watch as mute spectators. Even delayed or muted condemnation of communal violence, by those in positions of power, only signal tolerance of such activity. Unfortunately, both the mob violence and the official response to it are symbolic of the Indian state’s rising incompetence in countering religious intolerance.
In recent years, the alarming idea that the ‘nation’ belongs only to the majoritarian community has made global strides as many countries like Poland, Hungary, Brazil and Turkey have come under its sway. Even many long-established democracies, including the United States, are feeling the pressure of this authoritarian tendency. The emergence of Hindu nationalist ideology in India, which is seen as replacing Indian civic nationalism, promotes the notion of a unique national culture grounded in Hindu cultural supremacy. The proponents of Hindu right-wing extremism are trying to radicalize their children and youth with ultra-conservative and fictional thoughts which often re-assert historical prejudices and ungrounded hatred toward Muslims.
One may be wrong, but cynical indifference shown by the middle class citizens tends to breed servitude and perpetuate complacency. When the victim of mob violence dies a death, shockingly there is no remorse from the crowd. Only the victim’s family remembers the event even as the societal silence is spine chilling. Actually, one should not ignore the performance aspect to mob lynching. Those indulging in mob lynching or public beatings ensure that their acts are recorded and then the potential circulation of such videos is targeted to send a strong message of the majoritarian men terrorizing minority men into humiliation and subjugation.
The dominant mainstream assumptions that cattle slaughter and beef trade directly concerns only Muslims, Dalits, Adivasis and Christians is also far from reality. Unfortunately, framing of the debates around bovine trade along communal lines has been sustained by provincial media which acts as an echo chamber to propagate Islamophobia. It has also been observed that the messages of hate get intensified after any terror attack, and instigate people to act against specific communities, primarily Muslims.
In July 2018, a landmark judgment given by the Supreme Court had condemned the incidents of mob lynching and cow vigilantism as ‘horrendous act of mobocracy’, asking the government to enact strict law to counter them. Nevertheless, in spite of comprehensive guidelines and anti-lynching laws in some states such as Rajasthan, Manipur and West Bengal, the mob violence continues unabated. In many states where the right-wings groups feel emboldened such as Assam, Uttar Pradesh and Karnataka, there is widespread feeling that the enactment of stringent cattle preservation legislation has further exacerbated such crimes. Those who think that the lynch squad is a thing of the past are wrong.
Indian Penal Code (IPC) and Criminal Procedure Code (CrPC) do not have specific provision dealing with the mob lynching because this was never seen as a crime in India. It is similar to terrorism for which we have the most stringent laws. But mob lynching causes more than just a death; it kills the spirit and substance of democracy. We are told that Hindus and Muslims share the same DNA in India. How can the cold-blooded lynching of one’s brethren make one a hero rather than a murderer? How can a policeman’s lynching and alleged cattle lifter’s lynching possess different form of bestiality? In fact, the time has come to brand mob lynching as ‘domestic terrorism’ and a serious threat to India’s internal security.
Does glory to Lord Rama be restored through unruly mob justice? Does the path to righteousness come through killing innocent people in the name of Cow? Does circulation of derogatory and hateful projection of Muslims bring glory to Hindus? Are those calling publicly for violence against Muslims and Christians are real friends of the Indian State and government? Is not hate crime the prelude to genocide? These uncomfortable questions shake the core of India’s multi-religious and pluralist democracy. India’s timeless civilization has unflinchingly celebrated the foundational principles of humanity such as non-violence, tolerance, peaceful-coexistence and ‘Vasudhaiva Kutumbakam’ which is one of the most important moral values engraved in the heart of every Indian. These eternal principles come under violent assault whenever a mob kills an innocent Indian.
International Criminal Court and thousands of ignored complaints
The civil war in Donbass has been going on for more than seven years now. It broke out in 2014, following Kiev’s decision to launch a military operation against the local militia in Donbass, who did not accept the Maidan coup that had happened in February of that same year. More than 10,000 civilians were killed in the conflict.
Correspondents of the French newspaper L’Humanité Vadim Kamenka and Jean-Baptiste Malet, French historian Vincent Boulet, as well as a MEP and a member of the Spanish Communist Party Willie Meyer took part in the international conference “Topical Issues of Human Rights Violations in Donbass.”
Moderating the conference, organized by the Society of Friends of L’Humanité in Russia (the French leftist newspaper’s Russian office), was the head of the interregional public organization “For Democracy and Human Rights” Maxim Vilkov.
The conference was also attended by the deputy foreign minister of the Lugansk People’s Republic Anna Soroka, human rights activist Yelena Shishkina, director of the Society of Friends of L’Humanité Olesya Orlenko, and head of Donetsk National University’s department of political science Artyom Bobrovsky.
The participants discussed numerous cases of human rights violations by the Ukrainian security forces and paramilitary units in the course of the civil war in Donbass. The left-minded European participants paid special attention to the fact that none of the 6,000 complaints about the actions of Ukrainian security officials and nationalists had actually been taken up by the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR).
Small wonder too, since the atrocities committed in Donbass immediately bring to mind the Spanish Civil War of the 1930s when leftwing antifascists from across the world fought supporters of fascists and Nazis. Let’s not forget that even DW (foreign agent) admits that the share of neo-fascists in Kiev’s Azov regiment is very significant.
The participants called upon the ECHR to pay attention to the non-investigation of crimes committed in Donbass.
Human rights activists and public figures from Russia, France and the unrecognized republics of Donbass called on European international human rights organizations to pay attention to the failure to investigate crimes committed during the armed conflict in Ukraine. This is stated in the statement, which was sent to European international organizations after the conference.
The statement also calls attention to obstacles created to prevent citizens from filing applications to investigate crimes, as well as to attempts to ignore pertinent complaints from international bodies.
The latter, according to the authors of the statement, is especially important since “10,650 applications have so far been submitted to the ECHR concerning violations of citizens’ rights during the civil armed conflict in Ukraine. Of these, 8,000 come from Crimea and Donbass, including 7,000 from Donbass alone. Moreover, 6,000 are complaints made against Ukraine proper. However, during the past seven years, not a single complaint pertaining to the conflict in Donbass has been considered.”
Human rights activists called on the ECHR and the International Criminal Court (ICC) “to ensure that the crimes committed in Donbass are investigated in full compliance with the ECHR and ICC charter, as well as to bring pressure to bear on the political leadership of Ukraine to fulfill its obligations to protect the rights of its citizens.”
Crime of Ecocide: Greening the International Criminal Law
In June 2021, an Independent Expert Panel under the aegis of Stop Ecocide Foundation presented a newly-drafted definition for the crime of ‘ecocide.’ The Panel consisting of 12 international lawyers proposed that the Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court (ICC) should be amended to include ecocide as the fifth international crime along with the crime of genocide, crimes against humanity, war crimes, and the crime of aggression. The inclusion of the crime of ecocide in the Statute will entitle ICC to investigate, prosecute, and try individuals accused of causing grave harm to the environment.
The term ecocide comprises the Greek word ‘oikos,’ meaning house or environment, and ‘cide,’ meaning an act of killing. Premised upon the term ‘genocide,’ ecocide means the significant destruction of the natural environment by human actions. In 1970, it was first used by Arthur Galston, an American biologist, at the Conference on War and National Responsibility in Washington DC. The term was further quoted by the Swedish Prime Minister Olof Palme in his opening speech at the 1972 United Nations Conference on the Human Environment (UNCHE) in Stockholm. Since then, multiple efforts were made to include ecocide within international law. Interestingly, it was adopted as an additional crime in the early drafts of the Rome Statute; however, later, it was dropped due to the lack of an adequate definition. If succeeded this time, it will be a significant victory for the environment since none of the existing international criminal laws secures it as an end-in-itself.
Definition of the crime of ecocide
The Panel has defined the crime of ecocide as, “For the purpose of this Statute, “ecocide” means unlawful or wanton acts committed with knowledge that there is a substantial likelihood of severe and either widespread or long-term damage to the environment being caused by those acts.”
The definition comprises two thresholds that should be fulfilled to constitute a crime of ecocide. Firstly, there should exist a substantial likelihood that the ‘acts’ (including omissions) will cause severe and either widespread or long-term damage to the environment. In other words, along with the damages causing severe harm to the elements of the environment, such damages must have an impact on a wider geographical location or for an unreasonably longer duration.
It is appreciable that the Panel has widened the scope of the definition by incorporating spatial and temporal dimensions to its meaning. However, they have changed their position adopted in the previous legal instruments to employ a mix of conjunctive and disjunctive formulations in the definition. In addition to its severe nature, such harm could be either widespread or long-term to constitute a crime of ecocide. Thus, any severe and widespread activity, such as chopping down huge rainforests, could be attributed to ecocide. Similarly, any severe activity whose consequences prevail for a longer duration, for example, causing the extinction of a plant or animal species, could also amount to the crime of ecocide.
Instant reading of the first threshold indicates that the ecocide definition might include day-to-day human activities that contribute to greenhouse gas emissions and other environmental damages. It raises a question – Whether humans are environmental criminals? Though, it might be true that most human actions, directly or indirectly, are continuously degrading the ecosystem around us. However, the definition of ecocide is primarily concerned with the large polluters whose irresponsible activities at a massive level are a threat to the environment. Thus, to narrow down the ambit of the definition and identify criminal activities precisely, the Panel added a second threshold, that is, the ‘acts’ causing damage to the environment must be unlawful or wanton.
It means, only when the actions are either prohibited under national or international laws or indicate a reckless disregard for excessive destruction of the environment in achieving social and economic benefits will they amount to the crime of ecocide. The second threshold hints towards an anthropocentric approach of the definition and protects a range of human activities deemed necessary, desirable, and legitimate for human welfare. To determine the lawfulness of the acts, the actions should be seen with their potential social and economic values. The ecocide definition relies upon the principle of sustainable development to balance environmental destruction with human development and prohibits all destructive activities that outweigh their social and economic benefits. It also means that the definition places a ‘limited’ environmental harm outside the scope of the definition, which cannot be avoided for achieving social welfare that includes housing developments or establishing transport links.
The proposed definition is more concerned with the massive instances of environmental damages. It does not consider small ‘necessary’ ecological harms caused by day-to-day human activities. However, it is equally essential these negligible-looking destructive contributions of humans, made in their individual capacity, should not go unnoticed. These small contributions combined with each other also significantly impact the environment in the form of climate change, biodiversity loss, and other hazards. Thus, the reckless human lifestyle is a significant issue and needs to be regulated through some international code of conduct, if not as ecocide.
Undoubtedly, the proposed ecocide definition is a remarkable effort that should be appreciated for multiple reasons. First of all, the release of this definition indicates that the time has come to start penalizing environmental offenders and create deterrence so that such destructive activities can be minimized. It establishes the responsibility and accountability of big corporate houses and political leaders whose regular investments are causing substantial harm to the environment. Moreover, this definition founds its bases upon many core principles and concepts of public international law, international environmental law, international humanitarian law, and international criminal law. For instance, the principle of no transboundary harm, sustainable development, proportionality, and necessity are aptly referred to in the ecocide definition. Moreover, it also provides a sufficiently broad definition of the term ‘environment’ to primarily include any damage committed towards the earth, its biosphere, cryosphere, lithosphere, hydrosphere, atmosphere, and outer space.
Though the ecocide definition is a significant development, it still has to go a long way to be included in the list of international crimes. For this purpose, any of the 123 member states to the Rome Statute can officially submit the definition to the UN Secretary-General. The proposal has to be accepted for further consideration by the majority of the members through voting. Further, the text will be subjected to debates and deliberations and must be passed by a two-thirds majority of the members. Moreover, the member states need to ratify or accept the proposed text. Only after one year of such ratification or acceptance ICC may exercise its jurisdiction over the crimes of ecocide committed afterward. This entire process can take many years or even decades to get completed. It is also possible that the structure of the current definition might change in due course of its acceptance.
Today, it is unclear that whether this definition will succeed in amending the Rome Statute or not, but what can be said with certainty is that this definition will play a crucial role in building awareness and discourse around ecocide among the governments, corporate houses, professionals, and masses across the globe. With the pressing needs of humans and prevailing threats to the environment, it is the right time that the actions of the offenders should be regulated through the prism of international criminal law.
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