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  • Writer's pictureBait Al-Amanah

The war in Ukraine: Why Malaysia's Assertive Position Matters

Updated: Jan 19, 2023

By Dr. Abdul Razak Ahmad, the Founding Director of Bait Al Amanah

Russia’s invasion of Ukraine is an act of war, not a mere escalation of conflict. Despite the remote distance between Malaysia and Russia, there are multiple reasons why this war should matter to all Malaysians.

First, an act of invasion by sovereign countries in itself is clearly prohibited under the UN Charter and international law. The Charter provides that “all members shall refrain in their international relations from threat or use of force against territorial integrity or political independence of any state, or in any other manner inconsistent with the Purposes of the United Nations”.

The only exception for the use of force provided under the Charter is “self-defense” in the event of “an armed attack”. This exception is unapplicable in context of Russia’s invasion as Ukraine had done no attack against Russia to this date. Even after extreme provocation by the Russian when Crimea, an integral part of Ukraine was annexed in 2013.

The thing we must note about international law is that compliance is primarily in the hands of member states. There is no supranational authority that could enforce international law. That is the very reason why as a member of the UN, a state that subscribed to its Charter and a member of the UN Human Rights Council, Malaysia must be committed to defend and uphold the sanctity of the Charter.

It is the collective sanction and condemnation by member states for serious breach or non-compliance that could best manifest their defense of the Charter.

Secondly, the Russian war is not only a direct threat to Europe Security Order. It is disruptive to global security and international order. A destabilized Europe is a destabilized world.

Kristina Spohr, the LSE Professor of International History at the LSE argues that the war is beyond challenging the territorial border of Europe. It is a war that “challenges the character and rules that governed the international system since 1945”.

For Russia especially, this war is also a manifestation of their hate towards the American presence in Europe and the post cold war order at large.

Fiona Hills, a foreign policy fellow at the Brookings Institute, during her testimony before the US Commission on Security and Cooperation in Europe argues that “Moscow also sees ample opportunity to take advantage of developments in western and eastern Europe. The reverberations from Brexit, Poland and Hungary’s disputes with the EU, the legacy of four years of rifts between the U.S. and its European allies during the tumult of the Trump presidency, the departure of long-serving German Chancellor Angela Merkel from the political scene, preparations for presidential elections in France and Washington’s precipitous withdrawal from Afghanistan, have exacerbated other frictions and fractures in NATO and the EU that Russia can exploit.”

What does this mean to a country like Malaysia? It means that the old Cold War rivalry never really went away. We are witnessing the ‘normalcy of war’ by a rogue regime and potentially more rampant armed conflicts and rivalries around the world. The future of liberal democracies are at stake and the world are up against regimes that are not only military superpowers, but economically powerful.

The rule-based international order is now debauched and ignored. A disrupted international order with a fractured UN system could cause an economic shock and unwarranted geopolitical realignment, affecting Malaysia’s economic recovery post COVID-19.

At a time when the world is faced with slow pace of recovery post pandemic and ravaged by the impact of climate crisis, a compromised international security is a threat to global economy that we must take seriously. Such use of force would instead make the world less secure, less prosperous and deprived many of opportunities.

Finally, Malaysia and Russia official diplomatic relationship have endured a fair share of strains after the downing of Malaysian flight MH17 in Ukraine in 2014. However, when Mahathir came to power again in 2018, there has been an increased focus in Russia Malaysia relations especially in the military-technical collaboration. Malaysia is a significant customer of Russian defence hardware.

However, the war over Ukraine should compel Malaysia to reconsider its response of the crisis. The lack of assertive condemnation of Russia is contrary to Malaysia position over crisis in Bosnia Herzegovina, the Kosovo and many other global conflicts. No countries would want to deal with Russian now or risk being isolated by the rest of the world.

As Russian is facing enormous economic sanctioned, even a country like China had hinted to a limit of partnership.

Thus it is crucial for Malaysia to have a clear position on Russian act of war against the Ukraine. It is now a global outcast and Putin is finding himself with fewer and fewer friends. The events unfolding over the last few days have shown how unified the world have been in making sanctions work in a globalised world.

Malaysia cannot be in the wrong side of history. Our rhetoric’s of non-interference as an excuse for a the lack of condemnation over the aggression of Russia in Ukraine has no place in a case of clear violation of the UN Charter and serious the breach of the international law.

We must not forget that Malaysia has and always been entrapped with big power rivalry since the inception of the Federation of Malaya and Malaysia. Today, the development of rivalries near and far between major powers, maritime disputes, and the new formation of security alliances must be carefully threaded by Malaysia. Thus, it is important for Malaysia to condemn all acts of war and urge all states to respect the international law and norms for perpetual and long peace.

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