More than 500 people attended UC Berkeley School of Law’s hybrid panel Monday, which addressed concerns regarding how the United Nations and the United States can support Ukraine in its ongoing war with Russia.
Since Russian President Vladimir Putin’s order to invade Ukraine on Feb. 24, the Russian army has been bombing the Ukrainian capital Kyiv and cities such as Kharkiv. More than a thousand civilians have died from the war, while more than half of a million refugees have fled the country, according to the U.N. Refugee Agency.
“President Biden has made clear repeatedly that he has no intention of deploying U.S. forces to directly fight Russia,” said Berkeley Law lecturer Tess Bridgeman, who was also deputy legal adviser to the National Security Council during former president Barack Obama’s administration, at the event. “No one wants a shooting war between two major nuclear powers.”
Berkeley Law Miller Fellow Elena Chachko shared similar concerns that military intervention is unlikely.
Chachko said people should view the U.S. response to the Ukraine crisis as the culmination of the gradual yearslong U.S. retreat from large-scale military interventions. She added that after the United States completed its withdrawal from Afghanistan, there has been very little appetite for another large-scale military intervention with unanticipated consequences.
Instead, the U.S.’ military response is focused on supporting NATO and international efforts to provide Ukraine with weapons, Chachko said.
“If a NATO member is attacked, … the U.S. would certainly be able to use force in response to that kind of situation,” Bridgeman said at the event. “But, in fact, it is not required to do so.”
According to Bridgeman, the North Atlantic Treaty requires NATO member states to consult and provide assistance to each other in the event of an armed attack, but the processes may be carried out in accordance with the parties’ respective constitutional processes.
This means NATO members will follow their own domestic law processes, implying that Biden would go to Congress to ask for authorization in case of any military operation, Bridgeman noted.
“Instead of large-scale military intervention, we have seen the gradual return to more targeted tailored tools like economic sanctions, cyber operations and targeted use of military force that does not involve large-scale military operations, but rather relies heavily on aerial warfare and special operations,” Chachko said during the event.
It is notable that the justifications Russia has put forth for this invasion are grounded in the language of international law, according to Berkeley Law professor Saira Mohamed. Putin claimed Russia is invading Ukraine because it is permitted to do so under international law — and perhaps even obligated to do so under the law, Mohamed added.
However, the overwhelming consensus in the international community is that the use of force is not permissible under international law unless it has been authorized by the U.N. Security Council, Mohamed said.
“This is a very clear violation of the prohibition of the use of force,” Mohamed said. “The responses that are coming out in individual states, and also the United Nations, are very important for maintaining the integrity of that.”
Meanwhile, there are a number of things the United States has already done that European countries are starting to do as well, which include selling defensive weapons to Ukraine, logistical support and certain types of intelligence support that don’t amount to using force against Russia, Bridgeman added.
Naming and shaming actions, as well as diplomatic isolation, will be more effective if they are accompanied by asset freezes and implemented as broadly as possible across jurisdictions where the targeted individuals want to travel or reside, according to Bridgeman.
“We’ve seen a fairly incredible ramp-up of economic sanctions and export controls just over the past several days. These measures are the ones … that are hopefully going to be highly impactful over time,” Bridgeman said at the event. “These are not silver bullets that are going to work overnight.”
It is also important to recognize that these actions have a high likelihood of impacting Russian people, Bridgeman noted.
Keeping humanitarian consequences in mind while engaging in effective diplomacy and rising material costs will be necessary when designing economic sanctions, according to Bridgeman.
“Providing massive humanitarian support to Ukraine is going to be critical,” Bridgeman said at the event. “It’s going to be crucial not only within Ukraine’s borders but also with respect to the refugee flows that we’ll see across Ukraine’s borders.”
Bridgeman also noted the fact that the European Union’s ban of RT and Sputnik, two Russian news channels notorious for disinformation and propaganda, could be highly effective to ensure that information from the free press or international community can reach Russian citizens, so they do not rely on Russian disinformation and misinformation campaigns for information.
“The point with all these actions is to make clear that Russia’s invasion is not restoring its former glory, but to the contrary, these are the actions that make (it) a pariah state,” Bridgeman said at the event. “But the point is not to cut off all communication.”