Ukraine Peace Summit: A Watershed Moment for Global Peace, or Business as Usual? Features
ELG21 / Pixabay
Ukraine Peace Summit: A Watershed Moment for Global Peace, or Business as Usual?

World leaders gathered in Switzerland for a two-day summit over the weekend in an attempt to create a peace plan to end the conflict in Ukraine.  The peace summit on Ukraine brought together representatives from 101 countries and international organizations with a shared goal of resolving the conflict through dialogue, global cooperation, and adherence to international law. This culminated in the issuing of a Joint Communique signed by many countries present, which called for a recommitment to UN General Assembly resolutions A/RES/ES-11/1 and A/RES/ES-11/6.

The communique calls for three steps to be taken towards peace:

  1. The safe and secure operation of Ukrainian nuclear power plants, including the Zaporizhzhia Nuclear Power Plant;
  2. Uninterrupted commercial navigation and access to sea ports in the Black and Azov Seas; and
  3. The release of all prisoners of war through a complete exchange and the return of unlawfully deported or displaced Ukrainian children and civilians.

The summit highlighted the importance of inclusive mechanisms for Russia’s participation in finding solutions that respect international law and involve all relevant parties.  In condemning Russian actions, countries expressed support for negotiation as a means to address the conflict but stressed that Russia, as the aggressor state, needed to be at the table for meaningful steps to be taken. Viola Amherd, President of the Swiss Confederation, said: “Finding a path to peace requires perseverance and will. It requires effort on all sides”, with Amherd saying Putin’s presence at the next Ukraine peace conference is possible without his arrest on the current ICC warrant.

“If a statesman’s presence is essential for the conference, an exception can be made,” Amherd stated. She noted that negotiations for peace in Ukraine with Russia would qualify as such an exception, but emphasized that this would require a governmental decision.

Ignazio Cassis, the head of the Swiss Federal Department of Foreign Affairs, supported this position. He mentioned that the arrangement could be made in accordance with the country’s laws, and that the procedure should be coordinated with the ICC

Putin himself wasn’t invited to the summit, but a Kremlin spokesperson said President Putin isn’t ruling out talks with Ukraine; however these seem to be on terms of Ukraine relinquishing 20% of her territory. Alongside this, many BRICS countries also distanced themselves from the Swiss summit’s outcome on peace in Ukraine, largely due to lack of belief in the international system, or reliance on Russia.

The summit also highlighted the deep irreconcilability many states see between the geopolitical needs and interests of Western powers and Russia in this conflict. From the West’s perspective, Ukraine’s sovereignty and territorial integrity within its internationally recognised borders must be respected. Allowing Russian annexation of Ukrainian lands would undermine the post-Cold War security order in Europe. It would set a dangerous precedent if an aggressive war of conquest succeeds as other aggressor states look on to see how this conflict plays out for their own imperialistic aims. However, from Russia’s point of view, the continued eastward expansion of NATO threatens its strategic interests on its western border. It sees Ukraine’s growing ties with the West as unacceptable, and maintaining a buffer zone and sphere of influence in Ukraine is viewed as vital for Russian security.

How did we get here?

The inaugural peace summit for Ukraine builds upon significant groundwork laid through preparatory meetings over the past months. Events like the G7 summit in Hiroshima, the Copenhagen meeting of national security advisors, and subsequent gatherings in Davos in January and Jeddah have cultivated consensus, expanded representation, and demonstrated a shared determination to facilitate dialogue and conflict resolution. While all conflicts deserve to be addressed, geopolitical priorities will always exist, and this conference was specifically to tackle the war in Ukraine but will no doubt have its applicability to other aggressive actions.

Reconciling Russia and Ukraine’s opposing security imperatives seems nearly impossible. Even if fighting ends, the underlying geopolitical competition remains unresolved. As long as each side views the other’s core needs as an existential threat, compromise will remain elusive. Strong domestic political incentives on both sides to project strength further entrench these irreconcilable positions. Unless political will emerges for genuine concessions, the prospects of a sustainable peace agreement remain bleak. Some countries, namely Kenya, Ghana Timor-Leste and others asked about protracted wars afflicting Africa that also demand solutions and if nations will apply the principles espoused to long-running disputes in their own backyards.

Ending War and Promoting Peace through UN Charter Principles

Leaders reiterated the need to resolve the conflict in Ukraine based on principles of territorial integrity, sovereignty, and peaceful dispute resolution enshrined in the UN Charter. Ukraine’s president emphasized the importance of international law and the charter in achieving a just peace. Strong condemnation of Russia’s aggression and a reaffirmation of support for defending Ukraine and upholding the rules-based order were reiterated by the US and other nations.

The summit’s focus on establishing working groups to address critical issues such as nuclear safety, food security, and humanitarian concerns sets a precedent for tackling security and human rights challenges in other conflict zones. The emphasis on inclusive dialogue mechanisms demonstrates a commitment to solutions that respect international law and involve all relevant parties, including in complex contexts like Palestine, which were also raised.

A Critical Look at the ‘Peace Summit’ for Ukraine

As stated above, the glaring absence of Russia itself calls into question how any agreements could be implemented without Moscow’s participation. Dialogue is preferable to escalation, yet the summit did little to lay the groundwork for their inclusion based on international law. Relatedly, an overemphasis on sovereignty and territorial integrity risks entrenching positions on all sides rather than compromise. If security interests like those of Finland are to be assuaged, creative solutions acknowledging multiple perspectives are needed.

The summit also lacked representation from China and the Global South, whose cooperation is vital in resolving global crises exacerbated by the war like food insecurity. But without addressing complaints of unequal treatment in global affairs, winning their full support may remain elusive.

Countries like Chile, Moldova, Argentina, and Timor-Leste emphasized respecting territorial sovereignty, human rights, and international law as key elements in achieving lasting solutions to conflicts but also explained that this summit was about more than Ukraine, with a path forward needed to reinvigorate international conflict resolution across the world. The importance of inclusive negotiations involving all relevant parties, addressing root causes through dialogue, and consistent application of international law in all disputes were underscored as vital steps toward resolving conflicts. The need for principled, cooperative multilateralism to establish equitable and sustainable peace based on shared legal frameworks was a recurring theme among summit participants.

Lofty declarations of defending international norms also ring hollow without commitments to long-ignored disputes. If conflicts in places like Palestine receive no commensurate attention, talk of impartial justice will continue to lack credibility. Overall, participants struck the right notes but the test will be enforcing principles impartially, including investigating war crimes in Ukraine and demanding political solutions over violence in Israel-Palestine and the Taiwan Strait. If global powers work to resolve long-festering disputes with today’s unity of purpose, this could prove a watershed. But if might continues to guide international action, we risk losing promising new momentum for the rules we all claim to share. Justice and stability demand consistent norms applied in good faith across every region. The summit lit hope that cooperation may prevail over conflict. But to fully realize this vision, the entire community must now walk the walk, not just talk the talk, of a world where sovereignty and human rights are never bargaining chips in geopolitical games. Our future depends on it.

An Opportunity for Lasting Global Peace?

The summit was seen as a hopeful step towards advancing peace globally through united and principled action respecting international law. It was viewed as an opportunity to stabilize regions, prioritise political solutions, and foster cooperation based on mutual interests.

Balancing international support for Ukraine’s sovereignty with the need for inclusive negotiations involving Russia presents a significant challenge. Participants recognized the need for trust-building measures and dialogue to move towards a political resolution. Maintaining impartial application of international norms, strengthening accountability for atrocities, and involving regional organizations in peacemaking efforts were identified as critical steps moving forward.

Host country Switzerland stressed the importance of collective effort and compromise to achieve peace, aiming for an inclusive process involving all voices, with Ukraine condemning aggression as unjust and a violation of international law, welcoming diverse perspectives and advocating for inclusive cooperation. US Vice President Kamala Harris reaffirmed support for Ukraine, commitment to international rules, and condemned Russian aggression; amidst frustration that President Joe Biden snubbed the conference for campaigning in California. The European Union emphasized the importance of upholding UN Charter principles, particularly sovereignty, in achieving comprehensive peace for Ukraine. Germany underlined that success requires perseverance and cooperation from all sides, criticizing proposals that legitimize land grabs or frozen conflicts as a means of bringing the conflict to an end. The Japanese president signed a new cooperation agreement with Ukraine and highlighted the significance of standing together and fostering global cooperation in conflict resolution. The UK’s Prime Minister Rishi Sunak supported Ukraine, denounced Russian aggression and proposals, and stressed the importance of dialogue in line with international law. Qatar, a leading mediator in many conflicts renewed calls for a ceasefire and adherence to international law, facilitating talks between Ukraine and Russia on humanitarian issues. Saudi Arabia also emphasised a commitment to supporting peace efforts and dialogue between the conflicting parties.

The Way Forward

Moving forward, the international community’s priorities include upholding territorial integrity and sovereignty impartially, resolving conflicts diplomatically before they erupt, committing resources to resolving long-standing wars, and reinforcing multilateral cooperation to enforce international law and deter aggression. Through collective effort and adherence to shared principles, the summit participants aimed to foster a new era of peace characterized by cooperation, respect for sovereignty, and commitment to upholding international norms.

The summit on Peace in Ukraine has exemplified the dedication of the global community and third states toward establishing a just and lasting peace based on international law. It showcased a unified effort to apply these principles equally to address conflicts worldwide. The historic gathering brought to light the resolve of the international community to uphold the values of the UN Charter and international law in seeking sustainable peace for Ukraine.

President Zelensky’s call for a just peace that brings the world closer to ending the conflict echoed loud and clear, but with little action and only more words, the frustration with the international system can be felt by scholars, academics, and policymakers everywhere. With emphasis on the importance of adhering to the UN Charter principles in resolving the conflict, but so little done about a host of international conflicts, does all this just fall on deaf ears? Reaffirmation of support for Ukraine and condemnation of Russia’s aggression by all leaders, including President Biden and President Ruto of Kenya are paramount. Including calls for a ceasefire, but not on Russia’s imperialistic terms.

The ongoing discussions and efforts at the summit are instrumental in shaping the future of Ukraine and demonstrating the world’s dedication to upholding peace, justice, and international norms. As the summit ended, the call for concrete actions from all participating nations underscored the importance of collaboration and inclusivity in crafting a comprehensive peace plan. Leaders have emphasized the necessity of unity, perseverance, and cooperation from all sides to achieve meaningful progress in resolving conflicts and advancing peace globally.