Human rights violations committed by mercenaries and private security companies create grave challenges for victims seeking justice and redress, UN-appointed independent human rights experts warned on Tuesday.
Presenting its new report to the Human Rights Council 51st session, the Working Group on the use of mercenaries said that this was due to the particularity of the perpetrators and the way they operate.
They also noted that the proliferation of mercenaries, contractors operating as soldiers for hire and private security companies in conflict, post-conflict and peacetime settings, has increased the number of violations of human rights and international humanitarian law.
“Deplorable gaps in accountability, access to justice, and remedies for victims of violations perpetrated by such actors are rampant,” said Sorcha MacLeod, Chair-Rapporteur of the Working Group, who presented the report to the Council.
The experts explained that, in the contexts in which they operate, the impacts of their actions are of grave concern.
Persons in vulnerable situations, women, children, migrants and refugees, people with disabilities, LGBTI+ persons, older persons, minorities, human rights defenders and journalists, are experiencing particularly negative impacts, the experts highlighted.
“Given this bleak situation, a holistic and victim-centred approach is imperative to ensure victims’ effective access to justice and remedy,” Ms. MacLeod said.
Investigate and punish offenders
The report highlights a lack of accountability and the common challenges faced by victims in accessing justice and effective remedies to overcome the damage mercenaries leave in their wake.
It drew specific attention to the secrecy and opacity surrounding the activities of mercenaries, military contractors hired to kill, and private security companies; their complex business and corporate structures, issues related to jurisdiction; and gaps in national and international regulation.
“States have obligations under international human rights law to prevent, investigate, and punish violations of human rights and international humanitarian law, and to provide effective remedies and reparation to victims of mercenaries, mercenary-related actors, and private military and security companies,” the experts said.
They concluded by urging States to adopt national legislation to “regulate the activities of these actors, punish perpetrators, and provide redress for victims are part of these implementation efforts”.
Mobilization Won’t Save Russia from the Quagmire
When Moscow waged war against Ukraine in February, few expected Russia to end up in a quagmire. The Russian military failed to achieve its goals, while the Ukrainians fought bravely to defend their nation. The recent pushback in the Kharkiv region further proved that Russia could not achieve its military goals under the current situation.
The Russian government takes a new procedure. President Putin has called for partial mobilization, commissioning the reserved forces and those previously served. Meanwhile, the Russian government has decided to launch referendums for the occupied areas to join Russia. Any attacks on those territories in the future could be considered total war and potentially trigger nuclear weapon use.
It is vital to notice this is only a partial mobilization, only recalling reservists. However, many Russian politicians and nationalists have called for total mobilization. Yet, a mobilization, whether partial or complete, is not a prescription to improve Moscow’s performance on the battlefield. The mobilization, in reality, could further drag Russia into a quagmire.
Russia does not have the political leverage it had before, home and abroad. Total mobilization will not change Russia’s diplomatic stalemate. The war united European countries quickly. While Russia accused Ukraine of attempting to join NATO, Finland and Sweden have applied to become NATO members, bringing NATO close to Saint Petersburg. A total mobilization is unlikely to threaten Europe and forces it to change its policy. Instead, it will further push the European countries to unite in facing Russian aggression.
Even the countries with which Russia has a closer relationship have different opinions. Indian prime minister Modi has told President Putin to take the path of peace and stop the war in a recent meeting. India has a close relationship with Russia, and Modi’s criticism is a significant blow to Putin. Even Central Asia countries have also expressed no interest in Putin’s aggression. Kazakhstan has clearly stated that it will neither send its military to fight in Ukraine nor recognize the independence of Donetsk and Luhansk. A total mobilization and an escalation of the war will further alienate Russia and its allies.
Domestically, a mobilization could further drag Putin down with his popularity. Chechnyan president Kadyrov, one of Putin’s close allies, has criticized the war’s progress, reflecting the contrary opinions among Russian elites. On the everyday citizen level, Putin has also become unpopular. Immediately after the mobilization was introduced, Russian anti-war groups called for national protests.
Militarily, the Russian war machine is not the Soviet Union military that the world trembles. The Russian army has needed a significant upgrade since the collapse of the Soviet Union. The chaos after the collapse of the Soviet Union and the economic crisis has dramatically weakened the Russian armed forces. The failure in the two Chechnyan Wars is the most obvious evidence. Putin managed to upgrade a portion of the military equipment and provided a better salary to the personnel. The Russian military still performed decently during its operation in Syria.
Yet, the scale of upgrade it needs is far from what Kremlin has offered, and the war further dragged the Russian military capacity. Before the war, Russia chose not to produce and deploy the most advanced tanks because of the lack of money, and the T-14 tank ended up being a showpiece in the military parade. The corruption within the Russian military is still a problem, leading to the lack of resources directed for military upgrades.
That’s why Russia still uses the Soviet military legacy in combat. The Russian armored forces now have to use T-64 tanks from their storage because of the significant loss at the initial stage of the war. The recruits this summer were only trained for a month before being sent to the frontline. As for the newly mobilized forces, despite the previously served reservists, it still takes time and equipment to prepare them for operation. Russia has neither of those, let alone the conscripts are also a part of the reserved forces, making them even more ineffective on the battlefield.
Moscow’s financial situation to sustain a mobilization remains a big question. Despite the excellent performance of the Russian Ruble in the currency market, Russia’s economy will still face severe challenges. Teachers are now required to donate to the war effort, a sign that the war effort is far from successful. As the announcement of mobilization comes, Moscow’s stock index drops dramatically. While the sanctions did not work as expected, the Russian economy suffered from the effects. The banks also reported significant losses in the year’s first half.
The international price of natural gas and oil has also come down from its peak since European countries finished stacking up their supply earlier. Meanwhile, UAE and Kuwait are planning to expand their production capacity of natural gas and oil. Russia’s source of income is far from stable as prices drop and exports and production decline for Russia.
War is a costly activity. In previous operations in Syria, Russia’s daily cost is around 2.4 to 4 million US dollars. That was a minor operation with mainly air force participation. With all forces in action and the war dragging on for more than 200 days, the expenses mounted. It is believed that the first week of war alone cost Russia 7 billion dollars. The Kremlin’s decree says that the newly assembled forces will be paid corresponding to the existing personnel. With that high expense, how will Russia be able to pay for the new troops? How will Russia be able to replace the equipment and supply its forces?
Moscow believed that by sheer force and lightning warfare, Kyiv would bow down to Moscow. However, this dream ended with a valiant effort from the Ukrainians to defend the country. Further mobilization may provide the short-term manpower that Russia needs, but it will not save Russia from the predicament. The bleak reality in politics, the military, and the economy has made mobilization anything but a save.
A New Strategic Shifts and A New Strategic Concept of NATO
The North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) summit, in Madrid at the end of last June, was not just an ordinary summit resembling its predecessors. It looked so different that it might be thought that it might constitute an important turning point in the path of the Alliance.
This summit was held four months after the start of the war that Russia launched against Ukraine. And because it is a war that posed an unprecedented challenge to NATO, due to the exposure of one of the European states nominated for its membership to a direct Russian military invasion, for the first time since the end of World War II, and therefore in the history of the alliance, it is natural that any summit held after that will turn into something like a thermometer that does not only measure the degree of the alliance’s cohesion in facing a challenge of this magnitude, but also the extent of its readiness to respond to it, and to all similar and potential challenges in the future.
Its contract coincided with a time when the Alliance had to issue a new document outlining its strategic concept for the next ten years. Because the last document of this type was issued in 2010, it was assumed that 2020 would be the date of the issuance of the document covering the third era of the twenty-first century, which did not happen due to the outbreak of the Covid 19 pandemic, which disrupted the convening of the summit during 2020 and 2021. Thus, fate decided that the date of a summit with the task of formulating a new strategic vision for the alliance coincided with the outbreak of a major crisis, some of whom do not rule out that it would be the starting point in a third world war, which added to the ‘strategic concept’ document signed by NATO leaders on June 29 the past for the period up to 2030 is doubly important and exceptional.
The 2022 document, which is 11 pages in length, includes 49 items distributed on three axes: objectives and principles, the strategic environment, and the main tasks of the alliance (deterrence and defense, prevention and crisis management, cooperative security) a vision that clearly emphasizes that the strategic concept of NATO has undergone fundamental changes, especially if compared to the concept contained in the document issued in 2010. This is from multiple angles: it reflects, first, a clear change in the alliance’s vision of the sources of threats to its security, because the previous document issued in 2010, which reflected the strategic concept of the alliance for the period up to 2020, Terrorism was placed at the top of the list of sources of threat to peace and security at various levels, while this source took steps backward in the 2022 document, and is no longer seen as the main source of threat to the security and stability of the Alliance.
The Russian Federation advanced to occupy the top position on this list. This document spoke of the Russian Federation as ‘the biggest and most direct threat to the security of the Alliance and to peace and stability in the Euro-Atlantic region… because it aims to destabilize the countries of our east and south, in the far north.’
Here, it notes the extent of the direct impact of the war in Ukraine on changing the alliance’s vision to the sources of threats to its security and stability. It is also noted that the alliance no longer views Russia as a potential or indirect threat, but rather as a direct military threat. ‘The Russian Federation’s ability to disrupt Allied reinforcements and freedom of navigation across the North Atlantic is a strategic challenge to it, and Moscow’s military buildup, including in the Baltic, Black Sea, and Mediterranean regions, along with its military integration with Belarus, challenges our security and interests,’ the document says.
On the other hand, it is noted that the 2010 document avoided looking at China as a source of threat to the alliance, only referring to it as an ambitious competitor seeking to enhance its position at the regional and global levels by increasing its economic, scientific, and technological capabilities. As for the 2022 document, it is not only looking at China as an honorable competitor but as a source of threat no less dangerous than Russia. It is true that it does not see China as a direct military threat to the alliance, as is the case with Russia, but it sees, at the same time, that ‘the declared ambitions of the People’s Republic of China, and its adoption of a wide range of political, economic and military tools to increase its global presence and demonstrate strength, and its use of malicious methods it aims to control key technological and industrial sectors, critical infrastructure, strategic materials, and supply chains, and use its economic influence to create strategic dependencies and enhance its influence, etc., which constitute a direct threat to the interests, security, and values of the Alliance.
The most interesting point is that this document considers that ‘the deepening of the strategic partnership between the People’s Republic of China and the Russian Federation and their mutual attempts to undermine the rules-based international order is incompatible with our values and interests,’ and therefore should be confronted with due firmness.
Secondly, it reflects a clear change in the Alliance’s vision of how to confront sources of threats to its security and stability. After the Alliance, in its previous documents, focused on ‘cooperation, building partnerships, and networking with others,’ as effective means of confronting various sources of threat, we find it focusing on the current document focuses on ‘building our own capabilities, mobilizing resources, and increasing military expenditures.’ It is true that the document clearly stressed that the alliance ‘does not seek to confront Russia, and does not want to be a source of threat to it,’ but at the same time, it was keen to highlight ‘the alliance’s determination to strengthen the deterrent and defensive capabilities of all its members and that it will respond to threats in a unified and responsible manner.’ And it will keep it’s channels of communication open with the Russians to prevent escalation.
On the other hand, it is noted that the document did not recognize any role of the NATO states or the ruling regime in Ukraine in provoking Russia, and pushing it to use force in Ukraine, under the pretext of ensuring the protection of citizens of Russian origin, nor did it refer, from near or far, to feelings of concern. President Putin, after Ukraine, signed a strategic partnership agreement with the United States on November 10, nor to the demands contained in his message to NATO member states, in response to this agreement, which included: A pledge that Ukraine would not join the alliance NATO, not placing offensive weapons on Russia’s borders, and withdrawing NATO forces from Eastern Europe to Western Europe, demands that the United States refused to even discuss, which eventually led to the outbreak of war. Instead, the document proceeded to affirm the right of all countries in the region, especially Eastern European countries, to determine their fate and future, including joining NATO and the European Union and rejecting any interference by the Russian Federation in the internal affairs of these countries.
If we link what was stated in this document and the path taken by the ongoing war in the Ukrainian arena, we will reach a set of conclusions: The first, regarding how to slip into the currently raging military confrontation in the Ukrainian arena, it is not at all unlikely that the United States, through Its organs and institutions that express the thought and orientations of the deep state, have deliberately lured Russia into a confrontation on the Ukrainian arena, and it has been seriously preparing for this confrontation since Russia occupied the Crimea in 2014.
The second: Relates to the essence of the current conflict in this arena. All the parties involved in it realize that its main goal revolves around putting an end to the unilateral Western hegemony over the current world order and establishing a multi-polar world order or, at least, a tri-polar system in which Russia and China participate, which is rejected by the West led by the United States, and explains the return of NATO cohesion After he was threatened with collapse, he explains, at the same time, the West’s insistence on inflicting a military defeat on Russia in the Ukrainian arena, because its victory means, immediately, the collapse of the unipolar international system.
The third: Is related to the tools used in this conflict, as Western countries realize that Russia is the first nuclear power in the world, forcing it not to engage directly in the ongoing conflict with it in the Ukrainian arena, and then to limit itself to the weapon of comprehensive sanctions against Russia, on the one hand, and to submit The maximum possible military, political and economic support for Ukraine, to enable it to win the war, on the other hand.
Fourth: Concerning the future of this conflict. The path taken indicates, on the one hand, that the economic sanctions have not yielded the desired results, and that Russia may be on its way to winning this round of conflict, but it indicates, on the other hand, that the support provided to Ukraine It not only enabled it to hold out and prevent Russia from achieving a quick and decisive victory, but also to recover the many lands it had lost, and to begin to liberate what remained of them, including Crimea. Because it is impossible to imagine that a nuclear Russia would accept a military defeat in Ukraine, escalation and the use of tactical nuclear weapons are no longer excluded, especially since the events of recent months have proven that the United States has harnessed all its technological and intelligence capabilities in the service of Ukraine, which Moscow may interpret as direct American involvement in the conflict.
So I think the whole world may be about to go into a dark tunnel in the next few months. Unless all of its leaders realize that all of humanity, not just Russia or NATO, faces many sources of threat, not the least of which are climatic changes and infectious diseases, and therefore is in dire need of a new world order that confronts all sources of threats to its common security, it will not be able to Anyone surviving the specter of nuclear war is slowly getting closer.
Getting North Korea Wrong
Recently, North Korea declared a first use nuclear policy, reserving the right to use its nuclear weapons preemptively “in case the command and control system over the state nuclear forces is placed under danger owing to an attack by hostile forces.”
This decision has led to widespread concerns in the International community regarding regional as well as global peace and security. The United Nations Secretary-General Antonio Gueterres has expressed deep concerns over the declaration, calling for Pyongyang to return to talks with key parties to achieve a peaceful resolution to the ensuing crisis on the Korean Peninsula. France has also condemned North Korea’s aggressive nuclear stance, calling it a “threat to peace”. The United States has also expressed concerns. White House press secretary Karine Jean-Pierre reflected on past statements while making it clear that the United States was committed to the path of diplomacy while North Korea’s lack of cooperation led to a deadlock.
Understanding North Korea’s nuclear policy
In order to understand the complexities and the possible way out of the nuclear crisis brewing on the Korean Peninsula, it is necessary to ascertain the reasons behind North Korea’s nuclear ambitions.
During the closing days of the Korean War, the Eisenhower administration stationed nuclear weapons on the Korean Peninsula as a deterrent against possible North Korean aggression. These nuclear weapons proved pivotal in getting the North Korean and Chinese forces to sign the Panmunjom armistice and restrict them to the north of the imposed border. Following the Korean War, the United States continued to provoke North Korea by declaring nuclear support to the South while maintaining its troops in the South Korean territory. By the 1980s, North Korea found itself surrounded in major conflicts and insecurities. The economic and military aid from the Communist bloc had waned, the rapid economic rise of South Korea presented a major problem for the regime, and the internal crises created a challenge of sustaining regime legitimacy. The aggressive nuclear policy followed by the United States in the past made the North Korean leadership realise the potential of nuclear weapons in extracting favourable leverages.
Various reasons contributed to this drive for nuclear proliferation. First, North Korea believed that a nuclear programme was important to counter the US nuclear umbrella over the South. Second, North Korea feared an emerging South Korean nuclear programme and wanted to pre-empt its superiority. It was also economically much more feasible to develop nuclear weapons than indulge in a conventional arms race, which it was destined to lose given the economic progress South Korea had achieved over the past few decades. Third, the North Korean leadership viewed possession of nuclear weapons as a means of gaining diplomatic leverage, perhaps to extract economic concessions from the international community amidst sluggish economic growth. Lastly, in line with the Juche ideology, the presence of nuclear weapons allowed North Korea to reduce its dependency on China and Russia, at least in security matters. Hence, a self-reliance tactic could be better employed.
It was in these circumstances that North Korea turned towards establishing a nuclear weapons programme.
While North Korea has indulged in an aggressive nuclear policy since its first nuclear test in 2006, it is highly unlikely for the nation to use its weapons preemptively. This is largely for two reasons, first, the raison d’etre of North Korean nuclear weapons programme is state survival. North Korea turned towards nuclear weapons to secure survival in the 1980s and while they have threatened adversaries with nuclear strikes since, these have largely remained only threats which were made to extract favourable outcomes to facilitate regime survival. Second, a preemptive nuclear strike will invite a potentially devastating retaliatory strike which will have catastrophic results. Possession of nuclear weapons acts as a deterrent for any country considering a preemptive strike on an adversary. Given North Korea’s nuclear capabilities, it is unlikely the country will come out on top in an exchange of nuclear strikes with the United States and its allies.
The Case for First Use
A nuclear first strike is highly unlikely and potentially suicidal for North Korea which begs the question as to why would the country enshrine such a policy in its law. The answer to this can be found by analysing North Korea’s nuclear diplomacy and understanding the recent developments on the Korean Peninsula. North Korea has long followed the path of nuclear brinkmanship. By using the threat of nuclear weapons, the leadership seeks to extract favourable outcomes. In the past, the North Korean leadership has been successful in bringing the United States and the international community to the negotiating table and extracting desired results in the process. The Agreed Framework (1994), the Six Party Talks (2003), the Panmunjom Declaration (2018) and the Hanoi Summit (2019) are a testament to North Korea’s nuclear diplomacy. The threat of use of nuclear weapons is part of a signalling tactic that North Korea employs to achieve its desired ends. Signalling is a crucial aspect of North Korean nuclear diplomacy. Signalling refers to the ability of states to communicate their objectives, interests, and resolve to their adversaries. North Korea has used these tactics to convey its resolve to allies and adversaries alike in the past. Hence, codifying a nuclear first use policy into law seems to be an extension of this intimidation game.
While North Korea’s foreign policy has historically focused on using nuclear weapons to play the intimidation game, the first use policy has also been a result of the recent dramatic developments on the Korean Peninsula. The era of amicable relations under former South Korean President Moon Jae-in has been followed by a rather harsh outlook from the current South Korean President Yoon Suk-yeol.
During the run up to his eventual election as the President, Yoon Suk-yeol made several comments about North Korea, going as far as declaring the country Seoul’s ‘main enemy’. Yoon took an aggressive stance to the North Korean regime by advocating for the possibility of pre-emptive strikes in order to neutralise North Korean targets. Maintaining a credible deterrence against the North Korea’s missile tests has also been high on the priority list of the new President, who made his intentions clear in favour of redeployment of the US made Terminal High Altitude Area Defence (THAAD) system. Under his policy of countering North Korea with strength, Yoon has shown willingness of working more closely with the United States and its allies, even entertaining the idea of redeploying US strategic assets, such as nuclear bombers and submarines to the Korean Peninsula.
In August 2022, the United States and South Korea began their largest joint military drills in recent years as an attempt to tighten readiness over North Korea’s potential weapons tests. North Korea has criticised these joint military drills as a “rehearsal for invasion” and has reportedly fired two cruise missiles into the West Sea as a retaliatory measure.
It is highly likely that enshrining the nuclear first use policy in law is a measure the North Korean leadership has taken recognising the threats that have emerged due to the US-South Korea joint military exercises on the Korean Peninsula.
Time for Change
A general lack of cooperation looms large on the Korean Peninsula. While North Korea has been accused of it, the United States and the international community have themselves made little to no efforts to establish an era of cooperation. In the past, relations with North Korea were ladened with retaliatory policies as Seoul and Washington pundits predicted the end of the North Korean regime rather than seeking the path of constructively engaging with the nation. Recent years have seen an era of retaliation mixed with disengagement. While the United States participates in military drills with South Korea and shows verbal commitment to diplomacy in dealing with the North, it does little to bring any concrete diplomatic advances to resolve the ongoing crisis. A historical assessment of relations on the Korean Peninsula shows that retaliation and disengagement have failed so far and there seems to be no hope for this policy to succeed in the near future. On the other hand, it can be argued that disengagement and retaliation may lead to terrible consequences as the nuclear crisis continues to boil over. A viable alternative that must be actively sought is reconciliation. The highest points in relations with North Korea have all come under administrations that have favoured a policy of reconciliation as opposed to retaliation. The closest North Korea has reached to an agreement on dismantling its nuclear proliferation programme has been through the channels of diplomacy where cooperation and reconciliation was made the norm. The Sunshine Policy (1998) and the reconciliatory policies under the administration of former South Korean President Moon Jae-in are a testament that peaceful arrangements on the Korean Peninsula are possible if reconciliation and dialogue take precedence over mistrust and coercion.
North Korea’s actions are a result of its growing threat perceptions. The failure of punitive measures thus far demonstrates that continuing to entertain such predictions will not result in any breakthroughs and may very well encourage North Korea to advance its nuclear weapons programme. It is high time the international community recognises the urgency of the situation and comes together to resume dialogue. While just bringing North Korea to the high table will be an arduous task, efforts need to be made to resolve any long standing threat perceptions that North Korea currently faces.
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