The annexation of Ukrainian territory by Russia might trigger other territorial interstate conflicts: What preventative measures could be taken by other nations?
Von Dogukan Cansin Karakus
Since Russia's military invasion of Ukraine, there has been a lingering risk that the conflict may spread beyond Ukrainian borders. It does not only mean that Russia may initiate a second wave of interstate conflict; it also means that other states, especially those with unresolved territorial disputes, might do so. In an October 2022 interview with the German state television (ZDF), President Zelenskyy forecast a new trend. He said, if the international community fails to stop the annexation of Ukraine, it will set off a worldwide wave of new territorial changes. One of the most terrifying aspects of his prediction is not just that territorial occupation might become the new benchmark in the international system, but also that conflicting parties with unresolved territorial disputes possess nuclear weapons.
During the previous two decades, both nuclear and non-nuclear nations have violated Article 2.4 of the United Nations Charter by employing force against the territorial integrity of other UN member states. Let us identify briefly which states across the world have engaged in this endeavor in the recent past and which ones are likely to do so in the future. Based on my research conducted in the Uppsala Conflict Data Program, the archives of the Working Group on the Causes of War at the University of Hamburg and the Armed Conflict Location & Event Data Project (ACLED), I compiled the following two non-exhaustive lists.
Table I: Interstate territorial conflicts over the last two decades
Note: Although the list includes interstate armed conflicts from the previous two decades, their origins and underlying causes stretch far further back in time.
*Russia's armed forces left Kherson City on November 11th, 2022.
Moreover, I think the following nuclear-free and nuclear-capable nations might be engaged in future interstate war.
Table II: Potential future interstate armed conflicts
* Iran has not officially revealed possessing nuclear weapons. Existence of nuclear weapons is estimated by experts.
* Israel has not officially revealed possessing nuclear weapons. The existence of nuclear weapons is estimated by experts.
* As Palestine is only partly recognized as a state, classifying intrastate vs international disputes is equally difficult.
* Taiwan is treated as a de facto state.
According to both non-exhaustive lists, Russia, India, Pakistan, China, the United States, and the United Kingdom all possess nuclear weapons, while Israel, Iran, and North Korea may also be in possession of such weapons. As a possible participant in a future territorial conflict, they represent a substantial risk of igniting a nuclear danger. The most recent example of a threat is Russian President Putin's warning that he may use nuclear weapons if Russia is blackmailed by the West with nuclear weapons. Thus, as long as a global abolition of nuclear weapons is not achieved and international nuclear disarmament accords are not properly implemented, nuclear weapon nations might continue to present a possible threat and engage in such rhetoric. Since the Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons (TPNW) entered into force in January 2021, the nuclear weapon states have not joined the agreement. In light of previous armed conflicts, the present situation in Ukraine, and the possibility of future occurrences, other states and civilians might well be concerned about their national security. Given this persistent danger, the question of how non-nuclear armed states can successfully defend themselves resurfaces (Bunn and Timerbaev 1993: 11). As far as I can ascertain, there are four different preventative measures that may be taken, each with their own set of benefits and drawbacks.
1. Membership in a regional security organization
A membership in a regional security organization, such as NATO, may provide a guarantee of protection against external threats, which is not the case for all security organizations. The last example is Sweden and Finland's decision to request NATO membership. Both nations were able to maintain neutrality during the Cold War between NATO and the Warsaw Pact. There has been a dramatic shift in the Baltic region's security environment and perception of threat as a result of Russia's invasion of Ukraine. The benefit of membership is that both states would join in collective defense in accordance with Article 5 of the NATO Charter. This says that "an attack on one ally is considered an attack against all allies." It seems to be a rational choice for both countries. However, there are also disadvantages to consider, most notably the increasing military expenditure, the new paradigm in foreign security policy, the increasing threat posed by Russia, and the disparity between the doctrines of membership and the principles that used to be central to international politics.
After the membership, the international security and strategic plan regularly developed by NATO should be taken into account before any unilateral decision is made on foreign security policy. In this sense, the Swedish government's former resistance to U.S. foreign policy may weaken. For instance, this might not have been the same resistance in the case of the Vietnam War in the 1960s and 1970s or the invasion of Iraq by the United States in 2003. In an attempt to safeguard international human rights, international freedom, and international law, the Swedish and Finnish governments may become less vocal in their criticism of other NATO members or the imposition of an embargo. Associated with membership may also be a growing reliance on U.S. international security policies. This raises the question, to what degree, for instance, would the "Stockholm initiative" of Sweden's disarmament effort be consistent with the nuclear sharing concept and nuclear deterrent strategy of NATO. The upcoming summit of the "Stockholm Initiative" for Nuclear Disarmament may provide answers to this question.
The expansion of NATO's border along the Russian border would result in a heightened Russian military presence in the Baltic Sea and border areas of both states. According to the security dilemma theory (Herz 1950) of international relations, the deployment of Russian military troops would accelerate the permanent arms race. This will have domestic political repercussions in both nations as a direct result of NATO foreign policy.
2. Bilateral security agreement with military-capable states and extended deterrence strategy
A bilateral strategic cooperation pact with a militarily capable nation may provide a guarantee of security due to extended deterrence. Examples include the United States' military backing for Israel, Kuwait, and anti-communist governments in Latin America in the past, Russia's military assistance for Syria and eastern Libya governed by Khalifa Haftar's troops, Turkey's support for Azerbaijan and western Libya run by the UN-backed Tripoli government led by Fayez Sarraj, China's support for Myanmar and Saudi Arabia’s military support in Yemen for former president Abdrabbuh Mansur Hadi. Recent dialogues on US extended deterrence have taken place among the United States, South Korea, and Japan. Such bilateral agreements might be an alternative or complementary to membership in a regional security organization. This bilateral support may simultaneously safeguard states from foreign military threats. However, the bilateral agreement may also lead to increased dependency of these nations as customers for their weaponry, or economic investments, etc. The guardian states may sometimes interfere in the internal affairs of these countries.
3. Increasing expenditure on military defense
If the first three steps are infeasible, countries may spend more money on self-defense to address their fundamental security concerns. Germany's choice is one such recent example. It has been determined to supply the German military, the Bundeswehr with more than 100 billion euros for defense. In a special session of the German Bundestag, Chancellor Olaf Scholz announced higher investments in the Bundeswehr: "We must invest significantly more in the security of our country in order to protect our freedom and our democracy in this way." He also added that, without ifs or buts, we abide by our obligation to help NATO. This will catapult Germany towards the top of the list of the world’s largest military spenders. Germany will rank third behind the United States and China and ahead of India and Russia (Marksteiner 2022). As nations become more concerned about their safety as a result of escalating and expanding levels of external military threats, they may decide to begin developing nuclear weapons. That might pose a significant threat to international security. Analysts believe that Iran, North Korea, and Israel may have initiated nuclear weapons programs, while Saudi Arabia and South Africa are also likely candidates. This breakthrough may lead to an out-of-control proliferation of candidates pursuing nuclear power.
4. Promoting international agreement on nuclear disarmament regimes and ensuring their successful implementation
From a peace research perspective, the membership of all states in the Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons (TPNW) and its effective implementation would be one of the most significant and sensible accomplishments for international peace. The previous Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT) was signed by the large majority of the world's states in the past; hence, this may also be feasible for the TPNW. The current version of the nuclear disarmament regime TPNW seems to be more effective than its predecessor for global nuclear disarmament. The NPT permitted the five nations that had previously produced nuclear weapons to maintain their monopoly on the technology, but the TPNW aims to ban nuclear weapons globally (Erästö 2019). Increased international pressure on all states to join TPNW is essential for reducing the threat of nuclear weapons. The only way to halt the viscous circle of global security threats is through a successful disarmament campaign. There are now 68 countries that have signed the accord since 2017. The number of signatories remains modest, and no nuclear-armed countries have signed the agreement. A nonlinear relationship exists between agreement signature and implementation, which is an additional concern. In general, fully implementing agreements is a far more complex task than just signing them, as seen by the peace accord implementation processes (See, Joshi et al. 2012, Karakus 2021). This should be coordinated with nuclear-capable states in particular. While international and non-governmental organizations may exert pressure on nuclear-armed states, the main pressure should come from inside the nuclear-armed state's own population (bottom-up), in the form of permanent protest and civil resistance. It takes a lot of courage to take on such a task in countries with repressive regimes, however, even under authoritarian regimes, there were many forms of civil resistance (See Chenoweth et al. 2011; Svensson et al. 2022).
The West German protest movement served as an excellent historical example. On April 5, 1957, Konrad Adenauer said in an interview that tactical nuclear weapons were just a continuation of artillery development, and the Federal Republic had to keep up with advances in conventional weaponry as well. The public trivialization of nuclear weapons at the highest governmental level alarms scientists and mobilizes the Göttingen 18. Within a week, West German nuclear scientists including Otto Hahn, Werner Heisenberg, and Carl Friedrich von Weizsäcker drafted a statement that became known as the April 12, 1957 "Göttinger Appeal." Domestic opposition to nuclear cooperation on German soil dates all the way back to this period. In a February 1958 representative opinion survey, 83 percent of Germans expressed opposition to the establishment of nuclear launch platforms in West Germany. Large-scale protests took place in Hamburg, Bremen, Kiel, Munich, Mannheim, Dortmund, and Essen on April 19, 1958. 120,000 demonstrators went to the streets of Hamburg, the largest such gathering since the Second World War (NDR 2021).
Otherwise, if especially the nuclear disarmament treaties are not signed or signed but not properly implemented, a rise in the military occupation of other countries, a trend toward increasing arming, and the continual threat presented by nuclear-armed nations might be expected.
 See, https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=4WPDbGzBd-k between the minutes 43 and 46.
 Article 2.4 of the United Nations Charter stipulates that all Member States “refrain in their international relations from the threat or use of force against the territorial integrity or political independence of any State, or in any other manner inconsistent with the purposes of the United Nations.“
 See, https://ucdp.uu.se/ for more information.
 Die Arbeitsgemeinschaft Kriegsursachenforschung (AKUF) is the original name. Information about worldwide conflicts after World War II can be found in considerable detail on this website compiled by the Working Group for Research on the Causes of War.
 See, https://acleddata.com/ and https://ucdp.uu.se/ for more information.
 See, https://edition.cnn.com/2022/11/11/europe/russian-troops-leave-kherson-region-intl/index.html for more information.
 See, „I'm not bluffing': Putin warns the west over nuclear weapons“ in: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=e8gZUQMqDAI for more information.
 See,”Sweden favors arms embargo on Turkey„ https://nordicmonitor.com/2019/10/sweden-favors-arms-embargo-on-turkey/ for more information.
 See, https://multilateralism.org/actionareas/stockholm-initiative/ and https://www.auswaertiges-amt.de/en/newsroom/news/stockholm-initiative/2469262 for more information.
 See, https://libya.liveuamap.com/ for more information.
 See, https://www.state.gov/joint-statement-on-the-extended-deterrence-strategy-and-consultation-group-meeting/
and www.state.gov/japan-u-s-extended-deterrence-dialogue/ for more information.
 See, https://www.bmvg.de/de/aktuelles/mehr-als-100-milliarden-euro-bundeswehr-sicherheit-5362112 for more information.
 See, https://news.mit.edu/2022/how-countries-go-nuclear-and-why-some-do-not-0111 for more information.
 See, https://www.icanw.org/signature_and_ratification_status for more information.
 See„The Manifesto“ https://www.uni-goettingen.de/en/54320.html for more information.
https://www.ndr.de/geschichte/Goettinger-Appell-Forscher-protestieren-gegen-Adenauers-Atomplaene,kampfdematomtod2.html for more information.
Bunn, G., & Timerbaev, R. M. (1993). Security assurances to non‐nuclear‐weapon states. The Nonproliferation Review, 1(1), 11-20.
Chenoweth, E., Stephan, M. J., & Stephan, M. (2011). Why civil resistance works: The strategic logic of nonviolent conflict. New York: Columbia University Press.
Erästö, Tytti (2019) „The NPT and the TPNW: Compatible or conflicting nuclear weapons treaties?“ In: https://www.sipri.org/commentary/blog/2019/npt-and-tpnw-compatible-or-conflicting-nuclear-weapons-treaties (Access 14.11.2022).
Joshi, M., Quinn, J. M., & Regan, P. M. (2015). Annualized implementation data on comprehensive intrastate peace accords, 1989–2012. Journal of Peace Research, 52(4), 551-562.
Herz, J. H. (1950). Idealist internationalism and the security dilemma. World politics, 2(2), 157-180.
Karakus, D. C. (2021). Power Mediators and Pure Mediators: Exploring Their Impact on Implementing Internal Peace Agreements [Georg-August-Universität Göttingen]. http://dx.doi.org/10.53846/goediss-8658
Marksteiner, A (2022) „Explainer: The proposed hike in German military spending“ in: https://www.sipri.org/commentary/blog/2022/explainer-proposed-hike-german-military-spending (Access 14.11.2022).
Svensson, I., Finnbogason, D., Krause, D., Lorenzo, L. M., & Hawach, N. (2022). Confronting the Caliphate: Civil Resistance in Jihadist Proto-States. Oxford: Oxford University Press.
About the author
Dogukan Cansin Karakus ist zurzeit Postdoktorand an der European Centre for Minority Issues in Flensburg. Er war Postdoktorand an der Friedensakademie Rheinland-Pfalz zwischen 2021-22. Er ist außerdem Fellow des Uppsala Peace Lab, einem experimentellen Labor für Friedens- und Konfliktforschung, und der PRIO Research School on Peace and Conflict.