Cold War Espionage in the Modern World

By Kathryn Chaney
Staff Writer

Since the suspicious death of former KGB officer Alexander Litvinenko, Great Britain has reported an increasing number of Russian spies within the United Kingdom. Espionage has been an international norm throughout history. The frequency of its occurrence in the United Kingdom reflects the backhanded characteristics of the Cold War. The brand of espionage utilized now still makes use of poison, threats, dark alleys, and double agents. While it may have been tolerated during the Cold War, such practices are now being questioned: Is this the way today’s world is going to allow Russia to operate?

According to the New York Post, Russia has more spies in Great Britain than it did during the Cold War. Historically, the global community and international law have been tolerant of some degree of espionage–nations have always spied on one another. It is simply an assumption that became an international norm. The most commonly accepted type of espionage is characterized as a gentlemen’s game – and Russia’s current style is anything but.

The New York Post went on to explain the types of operations Russian spies are conducting in the United Kingdom, including the surveillance of British military actions, and “checking in” on former Russian citizens residing in the United Kingdom. As we have seen following the death of Litvinenko, these check-ins cannot always be categorized as friendly.

With its operations in the United Kingdom, Russia has showcased the manner in which it intends to conduct itself within the international community. During the Cold War, the world was darker and more experimental forms of espionage were acceptable–or at least, not expressly forbidden. Yet since the end of the era, such sentiments have changed. Nations within the international community do not like to be threatened, especially within their own borders. If a foreigner were to murder someone in the United Kingdom, they would face prosecution under British law as well as international law. Why should an action by a whole nation be treated any differently?

Nations have gone to court with other nations as seen in 2007’s Bosnia-Herzegovina vs. Serbia and Montenegro. While the case was about genocide rather than a single murder, it proves that nations as a whole are not above international law and can be punished by the international community for their actions. Furthermore, international law assumes the norm of the right to life (Filartiga v. Pena-Irala), which Russia’s espionage operations seem to dismiss.

How far will the international community allow Russia to go without a word? Citizens of the world are constrained by domestic and international law, and nations should set an example for their citizens. No example is accomplished by covering up state-sponsored murders. Perhaps it is the responsibility of the members of the international community to enforce the standards of international law and ensure their actions reflect it.

Kathryn Chaney

Contact Katy at kathryn.chaney@student.shu.edu.

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