In the latest example of efforts by western partners to support Ukraine’s need for military supplies, the US is trying to buy supplies of the explosive TNT. It would then use this to fill 155mm artillery ammunition destined for Kyiv, from Japan.

Japan has observed a war-renouncing policy since 1945. It also currently has export rules prohibiting the sale of lethal items overseas. However, it seems that the US and Japan are seeking a work-around that would allow the sale to go ahead. The “hack” is based on the fact that TNT could be viewed as a dual-use product and, as such, would be subject to less stringent export restrictions than for items with a purely military purpose.

TNT (tri-nitro toluene), as well as being a primary explosive can be easily converted and used as an intermediate chemical in a number of industries such as in the production of dyestuffs and photographic chemicals.

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Japan’s state pacifism has already been pushed to, some would say beyond, its limits as a result of Russia’s attack on Ukraine and the growing fear of China’s intentions towards Taiwan. While a relaxation of Japan’s traditional stance has not yet been applied to the provision of weapons or ammunition, its provision of body armor, helmets and food rations had already pushed the boundaries further than it should have, in some Japanese commentators’ eyes.

They were pushed even further when Prime Minister Fumio Kishida agreed to provide military vehicles to Ukraine following President Volodymyr Zelensky's attendance at the Hiroshima G7 leaders’ summit on May 19-21. While there is still a reluctance to provide lethal aid, there now seems to be a growing acceptance that it is in Japan’s best interests to support Ukraine’s military effort.

A New Phase in Arms Production: from American Warehouses to Ukrainian Factories
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A New Phase in Arms Production: from American Warehouses to Ukrainian Factories

In response to Russia's armed aggression Ukraine, once the world's breadbasket, has had to focus more on reinforcing it military arsenal along with most countries in the West.

Swiss dilemma

A similar quandary is facing the Swiss. Switzerland's lower house of parliament voted against a proposal that would allow third party users to transfer Swiss-made arms to Ukraine on June 1. The Swiss argue that their constitutionally required neutrality bars them from not just sending weaponry to combatants in active war zones like Ukraine, but also prevents authorizing other countries from providing Swiss-made war materiel to either side in the war. 

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Yet, in April, Switzerland agreed the provision of $2 billion in humanitarian and development assistance to help Ukraine. Then in May, Switzerland agreed to Germany’s request to buy back 25 Leopard 2 tanks. While not explicitly identifying that the purpose of the purchase was to support Ukraine, there was an implicit understanding that was the case. Even though it is unlikely this equipment will be transferred before the year’s end, many saw this as the first crack in Switzerland’s neutrality armor. This made the June 1 decision perhaps even more disappointing.

South Korea work-around

A similar situation exists in South Korea where, having agreed to provide Ukraine with 155mm artillery ammunition in November 2022, Seoul later changed its mind and only committed to the transfer of non-lethal aid.

The US then came up with a familiar work around. South Korea agreed to the sale of a substantial amount of 155mm ammunition – figures of between 50,000 and 100,000 rounds were mooted – to the US in May. While this is ostensibly to allow the US to make up for its own stocks that have been sent to Ukraine, it is assumed that these stocks will be transferred directly to Ukraine through the US.

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The arrangement would allow South Korea to abide by its public assurances that it would not send lethal aid to Ukraine. The South Korean Defense Ministry, when challenged, claimed it had not changed its position on shipping weapons to Ukraine, and that it believed the “end user” of the ammunition would be the US.

“Negotiations are ongoing between the US and Korean companies to export ammunition, in order to make up for the shortage of 155mm ammunition inventories in the US,” the ministry said. The Pentagon said in a statement it has been “in discussion” about “potential sales” of ammunition by the US from South Korea.

It’s not only neutral countries that, with a little push, might potentially gravitate to helping Ukraine, but also those that one might expect to side with Russia. Such a list would not include nations that have already thrown their lot in with the Kremlin, such as Iran, Syria, Belarus and North Korea, but might include those, India being a prime example, which claim total neutrality.

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India’s oil agreements

India espouses what some commentators refer to as “pro-active neutrality” in spite of sending some humanitarian aid to Ukraine. In the UN Security Council, it has generally abstained on any votes to do with the war or criticism of Russia. India has voted only twice against Moscow – in August and October 2022 – but did so on procedural rather than substantial war-related issues. 

New Delhi is further maintaining relations with Russia, through the purchase of deeply discounted oil. It was estimated in January that India was importing 33 times as much crude oil than in the previous year. There are also accusations that India was then selling oil products to European countries, hiding its origin and circumventing sanctions. While maintaining that it remains neutral, its indirect support of the Russian war effort in maintaining, what it insists is merely protecting own economic and energy security, lays it open to criticism and, potentially sanctions, from the West.

Upcoming test for South Africa

Several African countries position themselves as neutral in respect of the war – the most notable being South Africa. While maintaining a public stance of neutrality towards Russia’s war, it can’t, apparently, ignore its decades-long history with Moscow. In May and June there have been a number of high-profile visits to Russia by senior South African military and security personnel. Indeed, President Cyril Ramaphosa has been a leading advocate of the proposed African leaders’ peace mission to Russia and is expected to travel to Moscow.

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A real test for South Africa will be the August summit for Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa (BRICS). As a signatory of the International Criminal Court (ICC) South Africa is obliged to arrest anyone for whom a warrant has been issued. One such individual is Russia’s President Vladimir Putin, who is expected to attend in person. South Africa is frantically trying to avoid having to do this with measures such as persuading Putin to attend remotely, extending Diplomatic Immunity to all international attendees and, reluctantly, suggesting that the meeting be moved to another member country.

The main impediment to accepting South Africa as truly neutral is the hotly disputed accusation that it provided military equipment, weapons or ammunition to Russia in December 2022 which were loaded onto the “Lady R” cargo ship in the Simonstown naval yard.

Sweden and Finland join NATO

However, the biggest impact on a nation’s neutrality brought about by the Russian invasion of Ukraine was the decision by Sweden and Finland to abandon neutrality and apply to join apply to join NATO on May 18, 2022. This was a historic departure from policies of neutrality by both countries.

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Swedish neutrality, based more on tradition rather than treaty, was formally proclaimed by King Gustav XIV in 1834. Finland’s posture was based on the treaty of “Friendship, Cooperation and Mutual Assistance” signed with the Soviet Union in 1948, which forbade the signatories from joining a military alliance against the other. 

The treaty legally ceased to exist on the dissolution of the USSR but, nevertheless, Finland’s accession to NATO on April 4 was a clear sign that the invasion of Ukraine had redrawn the European security landscape.

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Comments (8)

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I support
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If they blow up a nuclear power plant you gonna stay neutral then.

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imokru2
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After this war, Russia will be an international pariah.
Due to the actions of Putin, NATO will have gained three new members and Belarus will be hanging on by a thread. It too will eventually fall.
All of the nations of Europe will have woken from their slumber and all will have increased their military defence budgets.

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David
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Neutrality transforms into complicit criminality in cases of genocide, ethnic cleansing, mass abduction of children, ecocide, and generalised use use of war methodologies that are already defined as war crimes or crimes against humanity.
In the case of Ukraine there are no ethical morally acceptable reasons to justify maintaining neutrality

Freddie
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@David, well said

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William Spillman
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Any country that claims to be 'neutral' concerning the unprovoked invasion of Ukraine by Russia is not neutral at all. It is strongly on the Russian side, the side of the murder of civilians, the destruction of infrastructure, the creation of Hell. That is what Putin offers, and those 'neutral states', no matter the reason, are complicit and cursed for their support of the greatest evil of our times.

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Cherie Yates
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Australia/ It is time all countries stopped sitting with folded arms. There are NO excuses/or 'rules' to let ruzzia's genocide in Ukraine to continue. THIS is another Holodomor.

Freddie
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Yes Terrible tragity

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Alex
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Any country that remains neutral deserves no help when they are in need in the future.

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I support
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Staying neutral after this really?

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I support
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I think todays events are a game changer. Let's hope all the civilians in that area are safe.

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