There are as many domestic problems as ever facing our national leaders, and our profession, but it feels wrong to open this issue without addressing the situation in Ukraine.
The terrible suffering of the people, inflicted by what, as I write, is beginning to look like systematic destruction of urban areas by bombs and missiles, probably evokes in millions watching from abroad the combined feelings of shock, anger and helplessness.
Those who value the international legal order and the role of cooperation between states in helping keep the peace in most of Europe since 1945 are particularly appalled by the ruthless and cynical attitude of President Putin in what is now the naked pursuit of his aim to eliminate an independent neighbour.
One consequence, however, and one that he most likely did not foresee, has been an unprecedented show of unity among so many nations in imposing economic and other sanctions. Whether or not they affect the pursuit of Putin’s immediate military objectives, this opposition offers some hope that valuable longer term lessons can be learned about effective responses to illegal aggression by one state against another, other than escalating the use of force.
It has to be recognised that a resolution acceptable to the international community – whatever that means for pre-invasion Russian interference with Ukraine’s territorial integrity – is unlikely to be achieved as long as Putin remains in power; and that the prospects of his being removed are speculative at best. That only increases the importance of the international order being used in the most effective and collaborative way possible to contain his foreign adventures. As I believe is well recognised by other governments, any direct use of force by third countries against Russian forces is fraught with peril for all of us.
I realise that such a collaborative effort does not seem likely on its own, sadly, to alleviate the suffering of the Ukrainian people, who have set an example with their courage and dignity, and indeed their compassion and humanity towards surrendering Russian conscripts who are likely to have had little idea of what they were being sent into. They allow us to believe in the possibility that the better aspects of human nature can prevail over brute force, and they deserve every possible assistance in their struggle, short of action that would change the conflict into a wider European war.
But the same generosity and compassion – and united international assistance – must be extended without delay to the hundreds of thousands of refugees massing on Ukraine’s borders, to prevent further catastrophic suffering. Here the international community must insist on equal treatment, reports of racial discrimination by authorities and ordinary civilians being particularly disturbing; and it requires a reversal of the mean-spirited approach of the likes of our own Government, which once again has been shamed over its anti-refugee mentality.