The world sits at possibly the most dangerous juncture since the end of World War II. As conflict rages in Ukraine, the ramifications are being felt worldwide, and given that nuclear powers are involved, the conflict could escalate into one that poses a danger to the entire globe.
Considering the current loss of life, it is time to suspend debates and work towards lasting peace in the region. South Africa has repeatedly called for the international community to de-escalate tensions and bring the sides closer to dialogue and not further apart. The door of diplomacy should never be closed even after a conflict has broken out.
We are deeply concerned about the humanitarian impact, the loss of life, injury, and the displacement of people as a result of this conflict. The conflict is also having a devastating impact on the global economy, and higher fuel and food prices are something that none of us can afford.
In keeping with our independent foreign policy, we have adopted a non-aligned position and sought to discourage a war in which the chief protagonists are essentially the big powers, with the people of Ukraine being on the receiving end of post-cold war disagreements on what would constitute a safer Europe and Russia. We called for dialogue based on honouring long-standing agreements. We are firmly aligned to peace, security and justice, and not to the key protagonists.
We call on all sides to uphold international law, humanitarian law, human rights, and the principles of the UN Charter, and to respect each other’s sovereignty and territorial integrity. We urge all to increase their diplomatic efforts to seek a solution and avert further armed escalation. An immediate ceasefire would give the parties space to resolve issues through negotiation.
South Africa attained democracy through a negotiated settlement, and we remain steadfast in our conviction that achieving peace through negotiation, and not force of arms, is attainable.
Actions taken by members of the international community that are likely to harden the stance of the protagonists should be avoided. The continued imposition of sanctions could shut the door to resolution of the conflict.
Despite extensive commentary on this situation, very little is said about the causes of the conflict. Any diplomatic process must address the security concerns of all parties. Had Nato given Russia the security assurances they required and were promised since the dissolution of the Warsaw Pact, the region would not likely find itself in the situation it is currently in. Russia has been asking Nato for legally binding guarantees that Nato membership would be denied to Ukraine and Georgia, and that Nato’s eastern expansion would end.
Russia also wants assurances that no missiles will be deployed near its borders that could be used to strike its territory, and that Nato military drills not take place in the vicinity. Just as Russia will not tolerate Nato positioning missiles near its territory, the US would never tolerate Russia deploying missiles in its neighbourhood. This was the very issue that brought the world to the brink of nuclear war during the Cuban Missile Crisis in 1962 — when Russia constructed sites for nuclear missiles in Cuba, and the US threatened a nuclear response if the sites were not dismantled.
As stated recently by US Senator Bernie Sanders, the US continues to adhere to the tenets of the Monroe doctrine, whereby the US believes that as the dominant power, it has the right to intervene in any country in the region that threatens US interests. Russia has stated that its concern has been for its own national security interests as Nato has expanded eastwards towards its borders over the past two decades, despite promises that this would never happen.
Documents at the National Security Archive at George Washington University indicate that in his meeting with Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev on 9 February 1990, then US Secretary of State James Baker assured the Soviets that Nato would not expand “not one inch eastward”. On 31 January 1990, West German Foreign Minister Hans-Dietrich Genscher said that Nato should rule out “an expansion of its territory towards the east”. He advocated for Nato and the Warsaw Pact to be eventually dissolved into a model for a common approach to European security.
Instead of honouring these commitments, Nato has admitted 14 eastern European countries to join as members since 1999, despite Russia’s statements that Nato expansion is a serious provocation. In direct breach of these commitments, Nato actively sought to admit Ukraine and Georgia as active members. These moves have been accompanied by declarations that name Russia and China as adversaries in need of containment. This has proved to be needlessly provocative, especially as many politicians in leading Nato countries have warned against this given that they are known redlines for Russia.
In 2007, William Burns, the current Director of the CIA, wrote to Condoleezza Rice warning of the dangers associated with Nato’s Membership Action Plans (MAP) for Ukraine and Georgia. Burn’s warnings have been echoed by analysts such as Henry Kissinger. This issue remains one of the root causes of the current conflict and needs to be urgently addressed as part of the de-escalation and peaceful resolution of the current conflict.
South Africa is willing to work with all interested parties towards a ceasefire and lasting peace. As a middle-power, we depend on responsive institutions of global governance to assist in working towards security. We call on the big powers who use their militaries disproportionately more than they do diplomacy, to work with us within the United Nations to settle this and other conflicts that have been raging for many years. We also call on them to consistently respect international law. We repeat our call for a peaceful resolution of this crisis. DM/MC