What if Ukraine Wins—Or Loses?

This is Part Four of Four; Part One can be read here, Part Two can be read here, and Part Three can be read here. This is a series of pieces talking about the implications of a Ukrainian victory or a Russian victory on situations around the world. Heads up—each Part will be a long-ish read.

Moral considerations

Emer de Vattel wrote[i]

Nations or states are bodies politic, societies of men united together for the purpose of promoting their mutual safety and advantage by the joint efforts of their combined strength.
Such a society has her affairs and her interests; she deliberates and takes resolutions in common; thus becoming a moral person, who possesses an understanding and a will peculiar to herself, and is susceptible of obligations and rights.

With this, he established the intrinsically moral nature of nation-states, bringing them into the framework of what is moral behavior and the requirement to behave so. Having established the moral core of a nation, de Vattel went on:

Those alone, to whom an injury is done or intended, have a right to make war.
From the same principle we shall likewise deduce the just and lawful object of every war, which is, to avenge or prevent injury. To avenge signifies here to prosecute the reparation of an injury, if it be of a nature to be repaired, — or, if the evil be irreparable, to obtain a just satisfaction, — and also to punish the offender, if requisite, with a view of providing for our future safety. The right to security authorizes us to do all this.

In the present case, between the two primary belligerents only Ukraine has the right to fight; it is fighting in self-defense. Russia has no right to fight, having attacked in the first place and without basis. Beyond that, Ukraine has the right to demand reparations—restitution—from Russia for the damage and killings done in Ukraine by the Russian barbarian. The last sentence of the cite applies presently, also: the right to security authorizes all of us to fight to defend Ukraine and to demand restitution for Ukraine. I say, not only authorizes us, but requires us at the least to go all in on supplying Ukraine with the weapons, ammunition, (re)supply, and training Zelenskyy’s generals say they need, and not only to do this for our own damage, but to assist Ukraine in its moves to gain compensation from Russia.

Hugo Grotius presaged this[ii]:

In speaking of belligerent powers, it was shown that the law of nature authorizes the assertion not only of our own rights, but those also belonging to others. The causes therefore, which justify the principals engaged in war, will justify those also, who afford assistance to others.

And here’s de Vattel on the matter, again:

For an injury gives us a right to provide for our future safety, by depriving the unjust aggressor of the means of injuring us; and it is lawful and even praiseworthy to assist those who are oppressed, or unjustly attacked.

These are not legally binding on today’s nations, but they are most assuredly morally binding, and the US, UK, NATO member nations, EU member nations, and on and on, are obliged to come to Ukraine’s aid. I assert further, that half measures, providing inadequate amounts or types of weapons, ammunitions, logistic support, and medical support are worse than a moral failure to aid Ukraine, they’re an entirely immoral (not merely amoral) betrayal of our obligation and a betrayal of Ukraine. Such shortfalls do not support final Ukrainian victory; they serve only to keep Ukraine in the fight, to keep Ukraine bleeding, to keep Ukraine dying, to keep Ukrainian civilians being murdered, to keep Ukrainian women being raped and murdered, to keep Ukrainian children being butchered.

The morality of the situation goes further. Nations consist of people, collections of individual persons acting in concert at a national level. I assert that, as individual persons, we have a Judeo-Christian obligation to help the least of those among us. The Christian Bible and the Jewish Torah are rife with such injunctions. The Biblical verses concerning Ruth and Boaz give one such example, and Rabbi Shlomo ben Yitzhak’s (with commentary by the Marasha) discussion of giving a coin and/or consolation to a poor man give another.

As individuals, Americans and Europeans—especially the Polish and Romanian peoples—are well and truly stepping up. The morality here goes beyond even that. We must push our nations, which are acting in our name, to behave as morally. That requires the nations, through our individual obligations aggregated to the nation, to fulfill the moral injunctions of Grotius and de Vattel.

[i] The Law of Nations

[ii] The Law of War and Peace, as cited by Robert W Hoag in his essay Violent Civil Disobedience: Defending Human Rights, Rethinking Just War in Brough, Lango, and van der Linden’s Rethinking the Just War Tradition

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *