'Bellum omnium contra omnes' - war of all against all - is a Hobbesian phrase which aptly reflects the current mindset of Belarus as they lay fearful of what Kyiv and the West intend to do. The Belarusian President Alexander Lukashenko said he has agreed to deploy a joint regional group of forces with Russia near the border with Ukraine. This strategic move serves to counter a growing threat he believes his nation is facing from Kyiv and the West.
"We were warned through unofficial channels yesterday about a trike to be delivered on Belarus from the territory of Ukraine" - President Alexander Lukashenko
The inclusion of Belarus in the war marks another uptick in tensions as the Russia-Ukraine war approaches its eighth month in force. Lukashenko has emphasised his country's preparation for the war by claiming he has "been preparing for a threat for decades" (WSJ, 2022). Remarks of this nature not only serve to highlight their readiness for the war but that the war will be more intense if Ukraine and the West continue to fight.
Even though Belarus have justified entering the war on the grounds of the threat posed by Kyiv and the West, their reasoning in taking these actions is questionable. Moreover, what justifies entrance into a war of this kind? Is it popular belief in the war, a gross threat of invasion, or ideological necessity? An often-cited criterion is the principles of 'Jus Ad Bellum', meaning 'right to war'. This lists factors such as having just cause, being a last resort, being declared by proper authority, possessing right intention, having reasonable chance of success, and the end being proportional to the means used.
While this criterion is quite comprehensive, there is generally a sense of popular support for the war by citizens. This is true for most of history, and usually it is when popular support turns, such as the Vietnam War, that withdrawal becomes a priority.
However, even though Belarus is becoming involved in the Russia-Ukraine war, it is paradoxically not backed by popular support. Let's consider the statistics:
74% of Belarusians, regardless of their political stances, had a negative attitude towards any Belarusian involvement in the war.
79% of Belarusians think that the death of Belarusian soldiers during the war between Russia and Ukraine is unacceptable.
50% of Belarusians believe that Belarus should remain neutral.
Whether this position will chance once Belarusian propaganda takes over public consciousness is yet to be seen. However, it is likely that the modern everyman will continue to hold a dovish stance on the war.
The implications in terms of international law for Belarus are vast. Firstly, a violation of the U.N. Charter, Chapter 1, Article 2(4) is likely as they were complicit in the invasion by violating the international prohibition against "the threat or use of force again the territorial integrity or political independence of any state." Also, Belarus is guilty of aggression according to the U.N.'s definition of "allowing its territory, which it has placed at the disposable of another State [Russia], to be used by that other state for perpetrating an aggression." There were violated even before Belarus decided to join the war.
Now, if they engage in the war, they will be liable for a host of other international crimes. However, the extent to which these can be enforced and whether Belarus/Russia will 'pay' for these crimes is an entirely different debate.
On the other hand, Article 51 of the U.N. Charter outlines that self-defence is an exception to the prohibition against the use of force. It is up for debate whether Belarus is in a situation where their involvement in the war could constitute 'self-defence'. However, it could very well justify their actions especially when considering the language they employ such as describing Kyiv and the West as a "threat".
As the world waits in suspense as to what the Belarus inclusion in this war exactly means, both sides will inevitably discuss strategies and tactics to maximise carnage. While popular support and international law hang in the air, their eventual fall is merely the subject of time.
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