On the Bürgenstock “Peace” Conference

The Geneva International Peace Research Institute (GIPRI, in consultative status with UN) believes that peace in Ukraine is possible and urgent not only for Ukraine and Russia, but more widely for the survival of mankind.  The danger of a nuclear confrontation between NATO and Russia is real and growing by the day.

Peace in Ukraine can only be achieved with good faith, if all parties accept their responsibility for errors and miscalculations, and if the root causes of the conflict are identified and debated rationally in an atmosphere of international solidarity.  GIPRI is convinced that mutually acceptable solutions can be crafted so as to enable a modus vivendi between Ukraine and Russia, and establish a viable security architecture under the United Nations Charter.

The Bürgenstock “Peace” Conference did not advance the cause of peace in Ukraine or world peace in general.  On the contrary, it painfully manifested the division of the world and the inability of NATO and EU countries to put forward practical proposals that would end the escalation spiral, lead to a ceasefire and ban the acute danger of a nuclear conflagration.

The Conference offered a platform for Ukraine and NATO states to repeat their narratives, which have been rejected by most in the Global South.  It is significant that less than half of the States of the world attended, and only 77 signed the final declaration. The failure to invite Russia condemned the Conference to failure.  The absence of major powers like China, which had formulated a very useful 12-point plan, weakened it fatally.

Among the participants who did not sign the final declaration were Brazil, India, Indonesia, Iraq, Jordan, Mexico, Rwanda, Saudi Arabia, South Africa, Thailand, and the United Arab Emirates.  UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres did not participate in the Conference, not even by video message, but USG for Political and Peacebuilding Affairs, Rosemary DiCarlo, attended as an observer. This indicates what little importance the UN accords to the Bürgenstock event.

Among the causes of the conflict, as explained by Professors John Mearsheimer (Chicago), Richard Falk (Princeton), Stephen Kinzer (Boston) and Jeffrey Sachs (Columbia) are the expansion of NATO in a manner that Russia perceives as an existential threat, and a grave breach of promises given by George H.W. Bush and James Baker to Soviet President Mikhail Gorbachev.  A more immediate cause was  the coup d’état of 22 February 2014, supported by the US and European States, that overthrew the democratically elected president of Ukraine, Victor Yanukovych and installed a government in Kiev that was militantly hostile to Russia.  The failure of Ukraine to implement in good faith the Minsk agreements, the continuous shelling by Ukraine of the Russian civilian population of Lugansk and Donets 2014-22 (as documented by OSCE) – surely a case for invoking the Responsibility to Protect (R2P) doctrine — and the intransigent refusal of Joe Biden and Jens Stoltenberg to even discuss the two treaties proposed by Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov in December 2021 all contributed to Vladimir Putin’s fateful decision to invade.

GIPRI condemns the Russian invasion as a breach of Article 2(4) of the UN Charter, but notes that this fundamental prohibition of the use of force without UN approval was flouted by the United Sates on countless occasions since 1945, through its illegal military interventions in Latin American countries, in Vietnam, Laos and Cambodia, in Yugoslavia, Afghanistan, Iraq, Libya and Syria, etc.  In other words, there were “precedents of permissibility.” The lesson is clear:  If the US can commit aggression with impunity, other States can follow the US example.

Article 2(3) of the United Nations Charter obliges all States to settle differences by peaceful means, and imposes an obligation to negotiate, even after hostilities have broken out.  Prolonging a war through constant escalation is contrary to the letter and spirit of the UN Charter and constitutes both a crime against peace and a crime against humanity.

It bears repeating that Article 2(4) of the United Nations Charter prohibits not only the use of force, but also the threat of the use of force. The Bürgenstock Conference should have considered the reality that Russia perceives NATO expansion as a threat to the Russian people.  Studies by Western thinktanks are explicit on the menace. Ukrainian neutrality and an end of provocations and unilateral coercive measures would have secured peace.

GIPRI considers that after the dissolution of the Warsaw Pact, there was no justification for NATO’s continued existence.  NATO should have been dismantled, so as to move toward a peaceful world in international solidarity. For a brief period In 1989-91 the world had the hope of disarmament for development.  GIPRI regrets that Bill Clinton destroyed this hope.  Indeed, NATO has morphed into a world bully that tries to usurp the functions of the United Nations in matters of international peace and security.  This constitutes a threat to the international order established by the UN Charter.

GIPRI regrets that the Bürgenstock final declaration does not call for a ceasefire, nor does it reflect a readiness to compromise on fundamental issues such as the self-determination of the Russian populations of Donbass and Crimea and the usefulness of conducting United Nations organized and monitored referenda. GIPRI formulated a blueprint for peace in Ukraine that was forwarded to many governments.  From all evidence, it was not considered at the Conference.

It appears that the Bürgenstock conference was little more than a public relations extravaganza that offered a platform to Volodymir Zelinsky and the NATO war mongers, and only reaffirmed old clichés and ideological mantras. Had it been a peace conference, it would have discussed peace.  Indeed, si vis pacem, para pacem – if you want peace, create the conditions for peace. It was not inspired by the spirit of the United Nations Charter, nor by the Peace of Westphalia, which ended the disastrous Thirty Years War (1618-48):  Pax optima rerum.  (peace is the highest good)

The Geneva International Peace Research Institute (www.gipri.ch) is a non-governmental organization with UN consultative status.  It was founded in 1980 by Professor Roy Adrien Preiswerk, Director of the Institut Universitaire d’Etude du Developpement and Professor at the Institut Universitaire des hautes Etudes Internationales in Geneva.