faculty & experts
07 March 2022

Town Hall: War in Ukraine

On 3 March 2022, the Geneva Graduate Institute convened a town hall to provide context and understanding of the unfolding developments in Ukraine and to situate what is happening within the broader trends in international relations and governance.

In these dark moments, the Institute has the responsibility to stay true to its vision, which is to open creative spaces for diverse communities and fosters the understanding and engagement essential to a peaceful, equitable and sustainable world.

“We need cool heads and sober judgement”. These were the words of the late Kofi Annan, former UN Secretary-General, reflecting on the escalating tensions between Russia and the United States on Syria during an event at the Graduate Institute in 2018. His words could not be more topical as the world is looking at the war in Ukraine. 

This town hall featured different perspectives that draw on the academic foundations of the Institute across disciplines and fields of thematic expertise.

“Russia has been a revisionist power since the 1990s. Its invasion of Ukraine could be a signal that it is now embarking on a dangerously revanchist project”, explained Professor Gopalan Balachandran, Co-Director of the Albert Hirschman Centre on Democracy. In his opinion, the danger of revanchism is the strongest argument against the status-quo; it cannot and should not be its alibi or justification.

Professor of International Law Marcelo Kohen said, “we are assisting in the development of a culture of force and […] of the programming, in fact, of war as an instrument of national policy”. In light of the complete violation of the rules of international law, he stressed that, while international law alone cannot prevent the outbreak of violence, it must remain the compass by which States are guided. 

Erica Moret, Senior Researcher at the Global Governance Centre, explained that the sanctions imposed on Russia in the past week alone are absolutely unprecedented. However, she underlined that sanctions need to be considered strategically and in concert with other policy tools such as deterrence, diplomacy, mediation, trade, referral to legal tribunes, etc., in order to have a lasting impact. 

“We are shocked because we took peace in Europe for granted”, said Sara Hellmüller, Senior Researcher at the Centre on Conflict, Development and Peacebuilding. According to her, the real question to ask now is “how can we adapt current conflict resolution instruments to this new world order that is being shaped actually as we speak?”

Delidji Eric Degila, Professor of Practice of International Relations, Interdisciplinary Programmes and International Relations/Political Science, provided some perspectives on the position of African countries towards the European security crisis. He also reminded that humanitarian crises reveal asymmetries in power relations and their impact on people. The discrimination witnessed at the border of Ukraine towards refugees from African countries is a worrying example.

The moderator, Achim Wennmann, underlined that the Graduate Institute supports the call of swissuniversities to European governments "to take immediate action to protect the lives and careers of Ukrainian university staff, students, researchers and civil society actors, as well as the entire Ukrainian population.”

The event concluded with a minute of silence to honour the victims on all sides of the war in Ukraine and in other wars worldwide.

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