Russia’s Invasion of Ukraine Tests the Rule of Law Commentary
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Russia’s Invasion of Ukraine Tests the Rule of Law

The United Nations was founded in 1945 on the premise that the use of force was to be used only as a last resort. Yet, several decades later a tyrant once again is using force to resolve a “dispute”. In 1945, the world had just finished a war where Europe had been devastated. Stung by the horrors of World War Two, the international community came together in the hopes of avoiding further conflicts. Starting at Nuremberg, today aggression is outlawed.

The ideal of the United Nations paradigm was and remains noteworthy. The reality of that paradigm is not. Since 1945, the world stumbled through four decades of a Cold War that saw the destruction of millions of human lives around the world. When the wall came down in the late 1980’s and early 1990’s, it seemed that Europe might enter a democratic peace where conflict was in the past. However, that peace did not last long when the Balkans exploded into mass killings, followed by a further genocide in Rwanda initially ignored by Europe.

Democratic peace was a hopeful ideal that fell flat. Despite the work of the international community in accounting for atrocity between 1993-2015, a so-called “Age of Accountability”, the stresses and strains of dirty little wars causing mass migrations of refugees saw a retrenchment by politicians away from the international order set up in 1945, to self-centered nationalism not seen since the 1920/30’s. Today, the world has slipped from accountability to the rule of strongmen across the globe.

One of those strongmen, a product of the Cold War, has tossed aside the rule of law and the settlement of disputes peacefully, and invaded the sovereign territory of another member state of the United Nations. Vladimir Putin, a tyrant and the absolute ruler of Russia, has used the same tactics against the Ukraine that another tyrant used in Europe over seven decades ago. Adolf Hitler also used the concept of “history” to justify invasion, as has Putin against the Ukraine. How ironic all this is, as Russia suffered greatly under the tyranny of German aggression to the tune of over 22 million Russian lives lost.

Appeasement never works against tyranny. The use of force may be the only real tool that will stop a tyrant. Yet it has been shown in the modern era that the rule of law, used carefully, is more powerful than the rule of the gun. The invasion of Ukraine by Russia is another test. Liberal democracies around the world, banding together, can lawfully counter Russian aggression through appropriate methods supported by the United Nations. This is a test of the UN paradigm and it must be used to beat back tyranny. If not, it could be the beginning of the end of a world bound together by peace and security under the rule of law. Tyrants, dictators, and thugs around the world are watching to see if the rule of law can counter aggression. If that fails, the Age of the Strongman will be the new world order. That is a situation we cannot let happen. Tyranny has plagued mankind for millennia. Sophocles stated in Oedipus Rex: “The tyrant is a child of pride who drinks from his sickening cup of recklessness and vanity, until from his high crest headlong he plummets to the dust of hope.” We cannot repeat the history of the 1930’s in Europe, and hope mankind has learned from that past.


Professor David M. Crane was the Founding Chief Prosecutor, UN Special Court for Sierra Leone. He is a Distinguished Scholar in Residence, Syracuse University College of Law; and Founder of the Global Accountability Network, which houses the Uyghur Accountability Project.


Suggested citation: David M. Crane, Russia’s Invasion of Ukraine Tests the Rule of Law, JURIST – Academic Commentary, February 24, 2022,

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