Hans Blix: A waning of wars on a warming planet

At Uppsala university building, Hall X

Chairman Fredrik Eliasson,

·        A pleasure to be back in this hall where as a student I listened to many professors and politicians nearly 70 years ago. It is also a joy to come to your club. I joined when it was founded in the late 1940s by – I think –Torsten Örn, later one of Sweden’s most prominent ambassadors.

·        I was told that you might wish to hear not only about wars and global warming, but also what may happen after studies here.

·        So I start here in UPPSALA. And will get to the Crimea in due course…


·        From 1946 to 1950 I studied law here in Uppsala.  Well…   I spent much time with the student theatre and loved it. I learnt to chair meetings and extract joint conclusions. I enjoyed the fun, including songs like

·        Ulf Olrog’s ‘att segla uppå Fyrisån i undervattensbåt’ …

·        I joined the first student foreign policy association – set up, I think, by Torsten Örn, later one of Sweden’s best ambassadors.  I also joined the first student Liberal Club and helped to write a Liberal international manifesto.


·        In 1946, the world had just come out of World War II and, like others I asked how can the world avoid such disasters?

·        Was world federalism a viable way?– An international government according to Montesqieu’s recipe? Three separate branches –an executive, a legislature and a judiciary?

·        I found it was a beautiful but hopelessly distant model and turned to study the structure and role of the newly born United Nations.

·        In 1950 I wrote an essay about the veto rule in the Security Council and was lucky to get a prize that consisted in a one month spell at the UN in in New York. With the encouragement of a Swede in the Secretariat — a former legal adviser to the foreign ministry —  I decided to specialize in public  international law.


·        The law studies in Uppsala law provides some very important lessons.

·        The development of a vast fabric of rules is, indeed, a central part of an organized community. Another vital part is a government’s monopoly on the possession and use of weapons.

·        The primary function of legal rules is not to be the basis for judgments but to be conflict preventing.  Take the simple rule that we keep to the right on the road. We follow it millions of times and it saves lives and arguments. Similarly, the international rule about the breadth of the territorial sea, whether 3 miles – as in the past or 12 miles as now – is a practical rule that is routinely respected and prevents conflict.


·        After Uppsala I spent two years at Cambridge, England and two years at Columbia University Law School in N.Y. to prepare my Ph D and an LlD.

·        In the 1950s and 60s there were not many students taking a doctorate in I.L. but there were also not many jobs open in the field.  I aimed for an academic career.

·        The field of I.L. has grown tremendously. When I was a student a professor could write a treatise on the whole subject. You now have  Large new branches, like space law, nuclear law, human rights law, European Union law, environmental law, disarmament law.

·        Today not so few students do postgraduate studies in public international law and there are more jobs in international organizations and government. However, they are not abundant. I was lucky to come out at a good moment.

·        What did I do? First, much research on the law of treaties.

·        TREATIES – are today the biggest source of rules for the international community. They are used for a variety of purposes: to create straightforward contracts between two or more states. To provide   constitutions for international organizations and legal rules intended for all states, for instance on human rights, aviation, the conduct of war etc.

·        The world does not have a legislature of the kind our federalists wanted to see. And we are not going to get one for a good long time.

·        Legislatures adopt rules by majority decisions. It sounds like a simple procedural rule, but is an arrangement of fundamental political significance. It means that those who are in potential minority declare in advance that they will accept and abide by decisions they may oppose.

·        The willingness to do so may depend a good deal upon what the  constituency is in which the majority is a decision maker.. 


·        In Ukraine today a constituency formed by people in the Crimea will have a majority favouring the peninsula’s accession to Russia. A constituency comprising all the people in present day Ukraine would evidently not take a majority vote for such accession.

·        Stalin, I might add, is reputed to have said that ‘it is not the people who vote that count. It is the people who count the vote that count.’ Yes, evidently, general suffrage and honest elections are other aspects when you contemplate the value of adopting laws by majority vote.

·        In the international community there is no way we could today create a legislature in which world law was adopted by majority. We see how even within the more homogenous European Union there is difficulty to allow majority decisions,.

·         So, at the global level we must make do with the creation of rules through the adoption of agreements to which a state becomes bound only upon giving is express consent. Creating rules in this way is often a time consuming process and getting the whole community on board is often impossible.


·        Let me turn to an important field in which I have been involved and which vitally needed universally valid rules are hard to create: the   ENVIRONMENT.

·        I was a Swedish delegate at the first UN conference on the environment in  1972 and I wrote large parts of the so called Stockholm Declaration,

·        A declaration is not a treaty legally binding upon states but only providing policy guidance and political commitment. It may not be easy to get unanimity for a declaration but it is normally much less difficult than getting unanimity for a treaty text.  Often we find that international declarations are the modest first step toward binding rules, e.g. human rights declarations, outer space etc.

·        In 1972 we were not much aware of the global warming that had started . We worried about the transfrontier pollution – acid rains falling on our forests and lakes. Just as Korea and Japan today worry about SO2 and NOx coming from China.

·        Today, however, we are aware that GLOBAL WARMING is an overwhelming threat to human civilization. There are sceptics, which is good. We need critical thinking.  But if 98 % of the professors are agreed it would seem prudent to take their advice rather than the advice of the dissenting 2 %.

·        We can already see how difficult it will be to get forceful concerted international action. Even though President Obama and China’s and India’s leadership and the EU take the threat seriously, it is hard to be optimistic.

·        Precautionary action is not strong line in political communities. The chance to move forward is when disaster has occurred — after a war, a plane crash, or a Chernobyl or Fukushima.  

·        We know that the gigantic emissions of CO2 from humanity’s burning of fossil fuels is a key factor but agreement on what to do is too limited.

·        Improving the effectiveness of the generation and use of energy, like getting more miles out of the gallon gasoline and more light with new light bulbs.

·        Above all, we agree that we must reduce the reliance on coal, oil and gas and use energy sources that emit low or no CO2. We are not doing well.

·        I despair when I find that those who claim they are the most concerned about the environment, claim that renewable sources – mainly wind and solar power – suffice to satisfy the world’s energy needs.

·        They strenuously oppose a bigger role for nuclear power that now gives the world about 4 % of its commercial energy or 15% of its electricity.  The argument is often simply that uranium is not renewable. It is true that uranium and thorium are not renewable but if the resources will last for a thousand years, as they do, is this not enough? Energy sources should be sustainable. To demand ‘renewable’ is only to stop nuclear!

·        I welcome that wind and solar improve in effectiveness but I note that so long as there are not batteries that can store huge amounts of electricity (as dams do for hydropower) the intermittence of solar and wind power is a fatal handicap. We cannot stop our trains and wait for wind!





·        Today may not be the best day to persuade anyone that wars may be on the way out.  Ukraine is being truncated through armed subversion,  perhaps 150.000 are dead in Syria,  huge numbers killed in conflicts in the Congo, Central African Republic, Sudan, and anarchy in Somalia etc

·        Yet, fewer wars is what the peace researchers see as a historical trend and I think  looking at the issue broadly and over time may support their view. Let us look back in time-


·        In olden times we used to have lots of wars between Nordic states, especially between Denmark and Sweden, but for 200 years Sweden has now been at peace.

·        The soil of Europe has been blood drenched over the centuries. With the creation of the EU – as a peace project — we think war is out of question in the union. And even though the relations with Russia are now at the point of freezing, no one really thinks there is a risk of war between EU or a NATO and Russia.

·        There used to wars between the US and Mexico and between states in South America. No more! Civil wars, yes, but not between states.

·        Africa has seen many civil wars but few interstate conflicts. In the Middle East there have been interstate war and the risk of more is not  insignificant but most conflicts there are within states.

·        I’ll come back to Asia  in a moment.


·        WWI  started in 1914 and there were only 20 years between the end of that war and the outbreak of WWI. The first world organization, the League of Nations, lasted only 20 years!

·        The United Nations has now existed for nearly 70 years and while there have been a few interstate wars, notably involving Korea, Viet Nam, India, Pakistan, Iraq and the Middle East, there has been  no shooting war—only Cold War — between the major powers.

·        Asia is the area where we have reason to feel least confidence. Very big states – like China, India and Indonesia – are rising. China assures us that it is in a peaceful rise and the many controversies that we see in Asia about territorial waters and small islands should be susceptible of solutions by negotiation or judgments by international arbitration.

·        However, we have to note that with fast economic growth states in Asia mark their new power with larger military budgets, and many states in the region seek links with the US which is undertaking what is called a pivot from Europe to Asia.  

·        Despite concerns about Asia, conflict in the Ukraine and despite the fact that disarmament is in coma and world military expenses amounting to 1.500 billion dollars a year, after the end of the Cold War we do we not worry much about global conflict! How come?

·        One reason is that the traditional causes of war seem to be largely gone.

·        Borders

·        Land grab. Colonies were taken by force. Then they fought themselves free by force. It is over..

·        Religion and ideology. But not after the fall of Communism.

·        Competition abut natural resources? Oil? More likely price wars.

·        A vital factor is greater interdependence. We used to talk about MAD. Now MED. Leads to some restrains. See today’s situation w Russia


·        Big interstate wars might be a thing of the past, but significant military  interventions — for regime change – have still been on the agenda. A question is whether this will remain so.

·        Afghanistan 2001 – a failure

·        Iraq 2003 — a failure. A turning point for the US.

·        War fatigue, costly in lives and money.

·        Is it possible for outsiders to create democracy?

·        R 2 P. After shame of Rwanda. SC allow use of force. But when?

·        Libya – a failure.

·        Syria 2013 – near  unilateral US armed force after chemical use-

·        Obama unwilling and given a way out by Russia.

·        Replacing action ignoring UN Charter by action according to the book: by the Security Council and OPCW.

·        IRAN. Threat of unilateral military intervention – all options are on the table —  but reluctance.

·        Faction in US want to remain world police, but public opinion tired.

·        Russia and China been  sceptic of mil. intervention. Power of veto in SC.

·        They went along in the case of Libya but regretted. Felt misused.

·        Interesting to see how they have tried to cooperate abt Syria & Iran.

·        UN security system was once based on the idea of big power JUNTA.

·        The 5 winners in WWII were to keep order in the world.

·        Military staff committee. Art 47  of UN Charter—

·        They had to watch each other. No UN Security. Peace keeping…

·        Now after US-Russian mini-reset in case of Syria and Iran JUNTA met in Geneva and Vienna. Then to move to the SC in NY?

·        With Ukrainian crisis we do not know whether coop will continue.

·        I think it might – if Russia does not go further than the Crimea…


·        That brings me at last to the CRIMEA.

·        Clear that the Russian not even very clandestine acts in the Crimea were in violation of the UN charter and the Budapest declaration 1994.

·        Old style intervention. Angela Merkel put it right: not permissible action in 21st century. Reactions inevitable and  hopefully useful.

·        Paradoxical. Putin has preached to the West against  intervention and for respect for international law, the UN charter. US disdainful and ready (reluctantly) to act unilaterally ignoring Charter  (esp. on Iran)

·        Now it is Putin who acts unilaterally and ignores the Charter, while US and the west is invoking the Charter…

·        It might make it harder for US to use force in Iran…


·        A last point re Rus sia in the Crimea. Some warn that this is the old Tsarist Russia that seeks to reconquer its empire. First Georgia, now Ukraine, next perhaps Moldavia, next…


·        I am less pessimistic.  Russians like Putin may mourn the greatness of the empire. The Crimea may offer a small consolation in the pride that has been hurt ever since the collapse of the USSR. What comes next? I see the Russian regime’s attitude as mainly defensive. They let the Eastern satellites go and contrary to promises they switched fast to NATO.  They have watched, resented and protested the US plans to move missiles close to Russia. The feel they are subjected to a second  military containment policy.

·        While the EU drive for the Eastern partnership at first was not opposed they come to fear that the economic association with EU was a prelude to NATO affiliation and the Western military apparatus coming all the way up to Russia’s s border.  One might imagine their feeling at the prospect that the proud Russian naval base Sevastopol might become an enclave in a Crimea that lay in a NATO country! Almost like the US Guantanamo base being an enclave in Cuba!

·        Moreover, a Western type of economic political system – even without NATO – might well be attractive also to many in the younger generations in Russia. Tired of a corrupt and stagnant economic and political system.

·        My conclusion: after a period of cooling we need patiently to help Russia reform itself.  Before that we need to seek a non-military solution in the Ukraine. The new Ukrainian government quickly and rightly cancelled the law that had very unwisely and provocatively done away with Russian as an official language. Perhaps the government might reaffirm the decision taken by Ukrainian parliament in 2010 that the country had no aspiration to become a member of NATO.  My guess is that within NATO the enthusiasm for welcoming Ukraine is as limited as it is for Georgia.