A new world (dis)order – 1 year-mark of the war in Ukraine

, by Afonso Morango

A new world (dis)order – 1 year-mark of the war in Ukraine
Credits: Pixabay

I just hope the Russians love their children too

The lamps are going out all over Europe - Edward Grey, Foreign Secretary of Great Britain in 1914

The global stage was shaken exactly one year ago, when the trumpets of war sounded, once again, in the Old Continent, as a result of Russia’s full-scale invasion of Ukraine. Long-held beliefs about the stability of Europe, post-Cold War ties with Russia, and the decline of NATO all fell apart suddenly. The war has transformed German defence strategy, strengthened EU cohesion, and reignited U.S. commitment to the Transatlantic Alliance. A year later, Ukraine’s fate is still being decided in the streets of a country struggling to repel the delirium of an East German relic gambling for resurrection.

There is no monopoly on common sense

On either side of the political fence

We share the same biology, regardless of ideology…

The sense of impending doom from those odd days in February 2022 introduced the world to doubts about the length and nature of this conflict. But after a year of defying the odds in their battle against the invader, the Ukrainians are convinced about their triumph.

The crisis in Ukraine has already taught us a myriad of critical lessons about the role of contemporaneous armed forces conflicts, but it has also given us equally significant lessons about the future of the civic side of conflicts. This crisis in Ukraine serves as a warning that the civil side of war is becoming increasingly hazardous. Furthermore, it serves as yet another illustration of how civil conflicts and crises similar to those that followed the civil war in Syria, and the conflicts the United States and its allies fought in Iraq and Afghanistan against extremists, have become the norm rather than the exception. However, it is obvious that even if the Ukrainian conflict can be terminated by a compromise, settlement, or cease-fire, it would certainly serve as a significant stimulant for the development of a protracted civil conflict between Russia and NATO, the EU, and the United States.

There’s no such thing as a winnable war

It’s a lie we don’t believe anymore…

On the other hand, the war will very probably assure that Russia is as much of the United States’ strategic priority as China, and U.S. and European competitiveness with Russia will continue to be considerably more likely to result in a clash than it was before the Russian invasion of Ukraine. The conflict may also encourage Russia to find political and economic ways to take advantage of any unrest in Latin America, Asia, or Africa as well as push it to align itself more closely and openly with China.

The whole military impact, though, is yet unknown. In response to Finland and Sweden’s applications to join NATO, the Alliance has planned significant investments in its military power, but no specific plans have yet been made that showcase what the Alliance’s 30 countries, soon to be 32 (maybe), will actually do over time, and how they will redefine their deterrence policy. The EU, on the other hand, has already demonstrated that while it may not be the best venue for coordinated military action, it can be an undeniably useful setting for economic and political conflict, which can ratchet up at a political and economic level with substantially less risk than the one resulting from using military force against Russia directly.

However, none of these events can be separated from the attention that the United States, the EU, and its Asian strategic allies paid to China before Russia’s “special operation” in Ukrainian territory. At a time when U.S. strategy continues to place more emphasis on China than it does on Russia’s resurgence, it is all too plausible that one result of the Ukrainian War may be to gradually bring Moscow closer to Beijing, as great power competition is evolving into confrontation. Furthermore, China has the economic and military capacity to directly compete with the United States, as well as to militarily threaten other Asian nations and the ability of the United States and Europe to project their influence in Asia.

China is already posing a threat to the United States and Europe, as well as its vital allies Australia, Japan, South Korea, and Taiwan. It will respond to the Ukrainian War by acquiring all the tools necessary to thwart any U.S. attempts to wage the same kind of political and economic warfare against China that it is doing now against Russia. Moreover, China, a fortiori, views Russia as a possible partner whose ailing economy, dwindling technological foundation, and estrangement from Europe make it far more reliant on Beijing.

More broadly, the war in Ukraine and the longer-term responses from the United States, NATO, the European Union, and Russia will have an impact on the policies and strategies of Turkey, Iran, North Korea, Pakistan, India, the Arab states, and other significant regional military powers like Egypt and Israel. It is almost certain that the de facto conflict between Russia, the U.S., and Europe will affect the developing world just as much as it does Europe, in terms of security assistance, economic investment, trade agreements, and diplomatic and political support. This will be especially true if combined or coordinated action between Russia and China burgeons in any way.

However, although confrontation offered the Kremlin the occasion to divide NATO and exploit its weaknesses, it turned out that Jens Stoltenberg, Josep Borrel and other Western leaders in Europe had stiffer spines than Putin expected them to have. Instead of undermining the Atlantic Alliance, the Russian president ended up unifying and revitalising it with a new mission of containment.

How can I save my little boy

From Oppenheimer’s deadly toy?...

Believe me when I say to you

I hope the Russians love their children too.

Most recently, in the wake of Putin’s nuclear warning and Russia’s withdrawal from the START treaty, a bilateral treaty between the USSR and the U.S. on the limitation and reduction of strategic offensive arms, NATO’s Secretary General, Jens Stoltenberg, and President Biden clearly stated that Moscow is the aggressor in this story of destruction. As Ukraine keeps defending itself against the Russian onslaught, there will continue to be strenuous and very bitter days, victories and tragedies. Contrastingly, compared to traditional Russian-U.S. exchanges in regards to nuclear arsenals, China is a black box - but one getting bigger every year. Thus, Russia’s most recent move could imperil the delicate calculus that buttresses mutual deterrence between the U.S and China and precipitate an arms race amongst other nuclear powers.

From Peter the Great to Vladimir Putin, circumstances have changed, but the rhythm has remained extraordinarily consistent. Russia is a uniquely “Eurasian” power, sprawling across two continents but never entirely at home in either… It has learned its geopolitics from the hard school of the steppe, where an array of nomadic hordes contended for resources on an open terrain with few fixed borders. Putin is a character out of Dostoevsky, and he is a man with a great sense of inward connection to Russian history as he sees it…for him, the question of Russian identity is very crucial because as a result of the collapse of communism, Russia has lost about 300 years of its history, and so that the question of “What is Russia” looms very large in his mind. - Henry Kissinger

The West considers President Putin’s paranoia irrational and preposterous, but there is no reason to assume that Putin failed to believe his boastfulness, as he articulated his view in his essay “On the Historical Unity of Russians and Ukrainians”. There he argued that Ukrainians, Belarusians and Russians are all descendants of Ancient Rus, bound together by the Orthodox Faith, one language and the rule of Princes, while faulting the Ukrainian political leadership for rewriting history and editing out the link between Russia and Ukraine. He reviled “radicals and neo-nazis” dismissing, at the same time, the 1930s Josef Stalin genocide in Ukraine.

A year later, it is clear that Biden and Putin’s visions of History and of the international stage are beyond incompatible. Francis Fukuyama’s “End of History” theory, which stated that all countries, in the post-Cold War era, would eventually move towards Democracy, that Liberal Democracy would be the last stage of evolution of a nation, is increasingly closer to a utopia. And this war in Ukraine has been highly disruptive for Europe as a focal point in the balance of global power.

The European Union, trapped, once again, in between giants, must, now more than ever, resolve its internal disputes and show political and economic agility in the face of an increasingly dangerous global (dis)order.

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