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International Law, Libertarian Principles, and the Russia-Ukraine War

International Law, Libertarian Principles, and the Russia-Ukraine War

by Stephan Kinsella

Free Life, 19 April 2022

In a discussion with some fellow libertarians about the current Russia-Ukraine war, I noticed some of them kept avoiding condemning Russia’s invasion, criticizing pro-Ukraine western media and state propaganda, and kept changing the subject to the baleful role the US and NATO have played. NATO should have disbanded after the Cold War ended; NATO is “provoking” Russia, and so on. “Of course Russia doesn’t want NATO on its doorstep and perceives it as a threat; how would the US feel if Russia were to position missiles in Canada?” And so on. They didn’t come right out and take Russia’s side, but I have seen some people literally defend Russia and claim it is simply defending itself from aggression from the US/NATO and Ukraine or via Ukraine, and, moreover, that Russia is exercising heroic restraint in an attempt to minimize civilian casualties and collateral damages. Read more>>

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[Update: See also Murray Rothbard, “Just War,” in John Denson, ed., The Costs of War:

Much of “classical international law” theory, developed by the Catholic Scholastics, notably the 16th-century Spanish Scholastics such as Vitoria and Suarez, and then the Dutch Protestant Scholastic Grotius and by 18th- and 19th-century jurists, was an explanation of the criteria for a just war. For war, as a grave act of killing, needs to be justified.

… Classical international law … should be brought back as quickly as possible.

And see:

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{ 6 comments… add one }
  • Jan Masek April 19, 2022, 6:14 am

    This is fantastic – finally someone who is pro-Ukrainian (to simplify things) whom I respect. I normally always agree with Dr. Kinsella, and I mean always. Where I initially didn’t, he has won me over. Nobody does careful, step-by-step logical reasoning like Dr. Kinsella.
    I am one of those libertarians avoiding to condemn Russia and I’d like to challenge Dr. Kinsella and be challenged back (and possibly persuaded, like I have been so many times before).
    1) Re the argument “the role of NATO” – I agree that NATO being an aggressor (which is “our” argument) doesn’t mean Russia isn’t but the complete lack of recognizing its role in this and other conflicts by all media, all Western governments and most Western multinationals reveals hypocrisy. It doesn’t mean Russia is the good guy but it does mean that the position of the Five eyes, the EU and Japan (and nobody else’s, interestingly) that invading another country is always pure evil and we have to sanction the heck out of them is a lie. If that was a standard, Nike, Facebook and all the rest of them would have pulled out of the US decades ago.
    2) Still, I agree Russia could be another evil aggressor in the same way as the US has been since the 1950s. They could both be the bad guys worthy of condemnation. I see two problems with that:
    a) Imminent threat against Donbas: Donetsk and Luhansk republics declared independence which I think is legal and certainly is consistent with libertarian law. The USA did it in 1776. Then they asked Russia for help because they had been under attack for 8 years with the shelling dramatically increasing just before the war and with half of the Ukrainian army positioned in the East, presumably about to annihilate the separatists, with the notoriously barbaric Azov battalion playing a major role. Now we can debate the facts, they may be wrong. But for the sake of argument, let’s assume they are not. Wouldn’t that constitute an imminent threat and wouldn’t violence against such a threat be legitimate and defensive? Even if done by Russia, because Russia was asked for help?
    b) The threat against Russia itself: I’m not so sure NATO would never attack Russia. Firstly, they have been attacking using soft power, toppling one regime after another around Russia, most famously Ukraine itself, bringing military bases closer and closer to Russia. I think an attempt to regime change was all but certain. And with it the 1990s-style plundering and the woke cultural marxism that Putin so despises. I know it’s soft but wouldn’t that constitute aggression? Secondly, bio labs. Again, the facts may be wrong but for the sake of argument, assume Russia is right and the USA is developing WMD right on Russia’s borders. Still no aggression? Thirdly, apparently if you have nuke sites 5 minutes from Russian nuke sites, it’s no longer mutually assured destruction, apparently they could take out Russia’s so fast that Russia wouldn’t have time to send theirs. So sometimes what looks like pure defense may actually be offensive.

    My main argument is 2. With the other two I’m more thinking outloud and curious about your reaction. You have always guided me well.

    And again: “my” facts might be wrong, maybe western Ukraine hasn’t been massacring Donbas for 8 years, etc. But IF they were correct, would Russia be justified? Because if so, then it becomes a different debate. Not a debate of principle, but a debate about whose facts we can believe.

  • Jan Masek April 19, 2022, 6:21 am

    Correction: My main argument is 2a).

  • Dennis Nezic April 19, 2022, 8:11 am

    “Ukraine did not mount an armed attack against Russia”

    I think they did, a few years ago, around the time of their last election, which the US overthrew in some kind of coup (while pretending to go ape-shit about fake Russian influencing of Trump’s election), in order to install a US-friendly puppet – I think Ukraine violently attacked the Russians in the east (not exactly Russia, but basically the same thing), or something like that.

    Did you check out Scott Horton’s analysis of the situation? He obviously realizes that statism is immoral, and criticizes Putin squarely, but the US is arguably worse. Does anyone doubt that the US would have done exactly this (probably much worse) if Canada or Mexico joined a military pact with China or North Korea, and installed nuclear-capable warheads within strike distance of it’s major cities? Didn’t the US do precisely this with the French many generations ago?

    “this is as absurd as saying that there is no such nation as Irish—that they are just disgruntled Englishmen”

    Do Ukranians have a different language or religion than Russians, like the Irish did with the English? Obviously anyone should be allowed to secede for any reason whatsoever, but I’m not sure if Ukraine is really so differentiated? The current borders are clearly wrong – although I heard that the reason there are so many Russians in eastern Ukraine was due to a systematic “ethnic cleansing via demographics” campaign done by Russia a few decades ago?

    • Jan Masek April 19, 2022, 8:34 am

      “but the US is arguably worse”

      You’re repeating what Dr. Kinsella has already acknowledged and maybe even agrees with but then adds (I agree with him) that this, in and of itself, doesn’t mean Russia is blameless and in the right. Both the US and Russia can be the bad guys. So why are some libertarians only blaming the US?

      “Do Ukranians have a different language or religion than Russians”

      They do. In fact the Irish don’t, almost nobody in Ireland speaks Irish. That’s a little beside the point. The (western) Ukrainians want to go a separate way and that’s all anyone needs to know. It’s not subject to anyone’s second guessing or approval, definitely not Putin’s.

      But that’s where I disagree with Dr. Kinsella on the facts. My impression of what Putin wrote was not that they aren’t a nation and don’t deserve their own country. It’s that historically they have always been together with Russia (true) and are like-minded and it’s a tragedy foreign actors have set them up against each other. Which I think is also true. And that eastern Ukraine overwhelmingly align themselves with Russia. If that wasn’t true, why would they be fighting for the last 8 years? Isn’t Donbas a nation too? Doesn’t Donbas deserve independence too?

      • Dennis Nezic April 20, 2022, 7:12 am

        “this … doesn’t mean Russia is blameless”

        Nobody said it was. Strawman.

        “So why are some libertarians only blaming the US?”

        Who? Libertarians are by definition against every current gov. I’m pretty sure what you and Kinsella are referring to is simply pushback against the relentless Big Brother push for war, where none of Russia’s issues are even acknowledged. It’s very creepy how effective this gaslighting / information warfare is.

        “[Ukranians do have a different language-or-religion]. In fact the Irish don’t, almost nobody in Ireland speaks Irish.”

        Irish have a very distinct english accent. In addition to their other unique language. Do Ukranians have either? Do Ukranians have a different religion, like Irish Catholics have with Anglicans or whatever?

        ” Ukrainians want to go a separate way and that’s all anyone needs to know”

        That’s what I said. What every libertarian says.

        • Jan Masek April 20, 2022, 8:35 am

          “Nobody said it was. Strawman”

          I sort of did. On the grounds that this may be partly self-defense, partly outsourcing of the Donbas’ self-defense to Russia. I’m not sure, thinking through it. At the least it’s not immediately clear to me it’s not self-defense. Not all violence is aggression.
          Anyway, here I was referring to the fact that if Russia is blameless, it’s not because the US is guilty which seemed to me to be your position.

          “Do Ukranians have either?”

          They do. Russians in Russia don’t understand Ukrainian. It’s like Italian and Spanish. Russians in Ukraine often do but only because they’re exposed to it. Not sure about religion but also not sure about its relevance.

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