Opinion
The Ukraine Conflict -
Why States Must Feel Threatened

Ulrike Reisner & Lothar Stix
Ulrike Reisner
Political scientist, Vienna, Austria
A state that becomes an organ or tool of economic interests represents an incalculable risk in the community of states. And one of the international dilemmas in this state-political aberration is that the economic actors of a Technostructure are at the same time globally active economic actors who have no subjectivity under international law. They are not suitable negotiating partners in geopolitical conflict situations because they are not capable of entering into pacts.

Lothar Stix, lawyer, and Ulrike Reisner, political scientist, present their political analysis on the current Ukraine conflict and its consequences, for PICREADI.
An ostensible geopolitical case

The Ukraine conflict has gone from a "frozen conflict" to a hot warlike conflict, with characteristics of a state secession that could be left at that. The ostensible, declared cause is a geostrategic threat perceived by Russia, which has its point of origin in the territory of Ukraine. There is no need to go into all the possible geostrategic considerations at this point, as many of these considerations were openly set out in the official address of the President of the Russian Federation.

Core statements by President Putin allude, with different wording, to the "Wolfowitz Doctrine", which does not officially determine the political guiding principle of US foreign policy action. However, observation of the American economy and foreign policy indicates that this doctrine is still being pursued.

For the Europeans, the European states that belong to NATO, but also those states that do not belong to NATO, this continued development poses a serious problem for the future. The European choice between a US hegemonic claim and a major armed conflict with Russia corresponds to the choice between "Scylla and Charybdis".
Source: BBC.com
A state that becomes an organ or tool of economic interests represents an incalculable risk in the community of states.
What is Ukraine's contribution to this development?

Many things could be mentioned at this point, but here, too, we should refer to President Putin's speech, which pointed out the main reasons for the undesirable development in Ukraine according to the Russian understanding of the state. One does not have to agree with the Russian President on everything, but also from a European point of view, the critical picture of Ukraine is that of a "failed state" that has placed itself in the hands of dominant economic interests at the expense of state sovereignty in all its characteristics. It is an open secret in Europe that politics and the economy in Ukraine are determined by oligarchs.

A state that becomes an organ or tool of economic interests represents an incalculable risk in the community of states. Such a state does not act with the usual means of a state in the community of international law.

It is almost superfluous to recall that oligarchies cannot have any democratic legitimacy, because it is not pseudo-democratic institutions such as parliaments that determine the classical state powers, but exclusively economic interests of the oligarchs.
Source: Guillaume Périgois/Unsplash
The international dilemma of undesirable developments in state policy

It is hardly surprising that in the already long-running conflict surrounding Ukraine, all actors invoke international law. It is often overlooked that the basis of international law is international treaties in the sense of agreements between states or with international organisations on rights and obligations under international law and on the regulation of international relations and cooperation. International treaties, even priority to the law of international organisations, are the most important source in international law.

The basic principles of the Convention on the Law of Treaties under International Law are those of free agreement, good faith and the principle of "pacta sunt servanda". It goes without saying, according to the rules of international law, that subjectivity under international law is a prerequisite for the conclusion of international contracts.

There are a large number of globally active actors who are not subject to international law, but who nevertheless intervene internationally in political events with considerable consequences. If such international actors take power over one or more states, they can, to a certain extent, act in a legal vacuum of international law, since they themselves are not responsible under international law, but only the states they control.

The fact that such a development is an aberration can be summarised by the following. States can be defined, even according to today's understanding, by the characteristics of a state people, state territory and state power.

The state power comprises the ruling power of a state over its territory and over the persons on it, as well as over its own nationals. It should be noted that state organs are all those persons, corporations and authorities that participate in the exercise of state power in the name of and under the authority of the state by virtue of their own competence.

Of course, all states in the world participate in global economic life and have economic enterprises of their own; functionally, this can be separated from the exercise of classical state powers, and international law takes this into account in many ways.

With regard to Europe and the EU, this current system of international law raises considerable questions that very quickly become an international dilemma in the case of conflicts on European soil. The Balkan wars have shown this, and now the dilemma is once again apparent in the conflict over Ukraine.

The EU is not a state, but it tries to act like one. The lack of state authority of an EU security and defence policy, specifically the lack of an EU army, leads to justified mistrust of third states confronted with the EU and/or NATO due to the entanglement of the security and defence policy with NATO.

It is again an open secret that the central basis of the EU is economic interest. The internal market continues to be its central task. The dominant influence of lobbyists on the Brussels bureaucracy is proverbial. If they determine the decisive political action of the EU and the EU member states bound by its enforcement, then a parallel emerges in the assessment of the EU by third states compared to an oligarchic system like that of Ukraine.

The connection of an economic to a state complex on a national territory can - due to the global unboundedness of non-state actors - trigger justified concern in neighbouring states, especially when such a complex can also make use of a military alliance.
One of the international dilemmas in this state-political aberration is that the economic actors of a Technostructure are at the same time globally active economic actors who have no subjectivity under international law. They are not suitable negotiating partners in geopolitical conflict situations because they are not capable of entering into pacts.
Different understandings of state

Another circumstance concerning the development of the USA has already been pointed out much earlier. In the USA, a process is taking place that is making the corporations there more and more a part of the state structure. As early as the second half of the 20th century, J. K. Galbraith pointed out in "The New Industrial State" that these giant companies, whose turnover accounts for more than half of the total economic turnover in the USA, form the backbone that actually exercises control. He called this Technostructure.

This development has continued unchecked to the present, and this Technostructure broke away from previous control and became a self-controlling oligarchy. The interests of this structure are no longer identical to those of the shareholders. Technological progress is promoted, the market is controlled, risks are being avoided.

It should be noted in this connection that the state itself is the most important and largest customer. Already in the seventies of the 20th century, 55-60 % of the gross national product in the USA was spent on the defense budget alone. The state regulates aggregate demand and the Technostructure identifies with its interests.

This process has led to the private sector structures becoming more and more components of the state structure. They become parts of the state bureaucracy at many levels of the state, which can be explained by the different understanding of the state in the United States.

If one takes Galbraith's research as a basis, that the Technostructure is gradually becoming organs of the state, then state maxims of action in the USA are inevitably derived from economic interests of the Technostructure. If parts of this Technostructure combine with another state, such as Ukraine, then there is justified mistrust on the part of third neighboring states regarding the political independence and sovereignty of Ukraine vis-à-vis the interests of the United States of America.

One of the international dilemmas in this state-political aberration is that the economic actors of a Technostructure are at the same time globally active economic actors who have no subjectivity under international law. They are not suitable negotiating partners in geopolitical conflict situations because they are not capable of entering into pacts.
"We the Technocrats" by Joe Kim
Wars are not only waged by states

History has ample examples of wars not being waged by states alone. Historically, one of the most significant examples was the East India Company with its specific position and function in the British Empire. Comparably similar structures and mechanisms were also used by other former colonial powers, such as the Portuguese or the Dutch.

The resurgence of religiously motivated war-like currents, politically summarised under the term "terrorism", has determined warfare in Afghanistan, Iraq, and on the Arabian Peninsula, among other places, not to mention the "warlords" on the African continent.

Typically, the phenomenon of warring non-state actors is linked to the lack of state sovereignty in the respective area of the war zone. The explosive nature of such developments regularly lies in the fact that it is not possible to negotiate meaningfully with the actors described without subjectivity under international law, nor is it regularly possible to conclude valid treaties under international law. States, communities of states alone or together with international organizations are then forced to use military means to get the conflict under control. It is difficult to hold the actors involved in the original warfare responsible if they are "organs" of states not involved in the war.

Under international law, it is customary and recognized to effectively counter warlike actions by non-state actors on the territory of another state that can no longer exercise its sovereignty. By contrast, the global drone war against terrorism with acts of killing on the territory of sovereign states is not recognized under international law.
What is certain, however, is that actors who are uncontrolled under international law and have no subjectivity under international law, such as technology corporations, are enabled by the new technologies to wage wars and also to destabilize large states without being readily held accountable.
Uncontrolled international actors who can wage wars

The image of classical warfare has changed technologically. The increasingly dense global networking of sensitive infrastructures (transport, energy, communication, digital data) makes new forms of hybrid warfare possible.

The US Cyber Command, for example, successfully used the computer virus "Stuxnet" in 2007 to render about 1000 Iranian centrifuges for the enrichment of nuclear explosives unusable. Another example is the hacking attack on 2 December 2015 in western Ukraine, which completely cut off three electricity suppliers. These supplied electricity to 235,000 households, and after telephone systems were sabotaged at the same time, support services were also blocked.

While the first incident can be attributed to state action, for which there are regulations under international law, the second cyber attack cannot be safely attributed to state action. Although Russian actors were suspected of this hacking attack, this has not been proven.

A separate problem area is the development of AI by corporations such as Google or IBM, which are not known to be subjects of international law. The director of the Future of Humanity Institute in Oxford, Nick Bostrom, has described this correspondingly: "When we push the development of artificial intelligence, we are like children playing with dynamite".

This topic is closely related to algorithms such as Skynet, which are used to identify people, but also to autonomous weapons systems, nanotechnology, and more. For some time now, many countries around the world have been taking precautionary measures against "blackout scenarios" that are capable of plunging entire countries into chaos.

What is certain, however, is that actors who are uncontrolled under international law and have no subjectivity under international law, such as technology corporations, are enabled by the new technologies to wage wars and also to destabilize large states without being readily held accountable. If corporations form part of a Technostructure or otherwise from an organ of large states, as in China, for example, then in terms of international law the states themselves cannot be held accountable and the non-state actors cannot in fact be prosecuted.

However, it also follows that belligerent non-state actors that establish themselves in a state with weak or non-existent sovereignty can pose an effective threat to neighboring states without this having to be apparent.
The race for technological dominance - 5 to 12 for new political control systems

The emergence of new key technologies such as quantum technology, nanotechnology, genetic engineering, AI, the Internet of Things, biosensors, etc. has led to a global race for technological supremacy. The history of the Industrial Revolution teaches that the decisive technological lead of one or more states can lead to centuries of power dominance. In this context, reference may be made above all to the history of the British Empire.

The situation has changed in that the technology race is no longer a race between predominantly state actors, but rather a race between non-state actors acting globally. Apart from the specter of the so-called "singularity", which by definition would be beyond any human control, the technological superiority of non-state actors would undermine or render obsolete the entire political control system currently in force, be it through state constitutional systems or through international law.

In such a development, it is irrelevant whether the technical accumulation of power by non-state organizations is a matter of state organs in the sense of a Technostructure, because it may be doubted that such a Technostructure would leave the state structure untouched.

The hybrid development in warfare can certainly be compared with the hybrid development of global action by non-state actors, with or without state actors, because both developments show that no suitable political international control systems currently exist.

It is 5 to 12 for the states, the communities of states, and international organizations to find a solution to the problems described, otherwise many new conflicts threaten worldwide - not only in Europe.
Cover: Valentin Ogirenko / Reuters

Source: RBC