https://www.polity.org.za
Deepening Democracy through Access to Information
Home / Opinion / Latest Opinions RSS ← Back
Africa|Charter|Energy|Environment|Export|Financial|Industrial|Infrastructure|Innovation|Nuclear|Power|PROJECT|SECURITY|Services|Sustainable|System|Systems|Technology|Terminals|transport|Equipment|Infrastructure|Operations
Africa|Charter|Energy|Environment|Export|Financial|Industrial|Infrastructure|Innovation|Nuclear|Power|PROJECT|SECURITY|Services|Sustainable|System|Systems|Technology|Terminals|transport|Equipment|Infrastructure|Operations
africa|charter|energy|environment|export|financial|industrial|infrastructure|innovation|nuclear|power|project|security|services|sustainable|system|systems|technology|terminals|transport|equipment|infrastructure|operations
Close

Email this article

separate emails by commas, maximum limit of 4 addresses

Sponsored by

Close

Article Enquiry

The invasion that shook the world

Close

Embed Video

The invasion that shook the world

South African Institute of International Affairs

ARTICLE ENQUIRY      SAVE THIS ARTICLE      EMAIL THIS ARTICLE

Font size: -+

The Russian invasion of Ukraine shaken global governance. Fuel, fertilizer, and food price hikes in Africa have escalated costs of living and exacerbated food insecurity, poverty, and social instability.

As Russian forces assemble in the eastern Donbas region in anticipation of an expected offensive to mark the one year anniversary of the war, what will the future hold? In this Council of Councils global perspective series, twenty-two experts from nineteen countries reflect on what they think are the most important impacts of the war and what they see as a way forward in managing or ending the conflict.

Advertisement

It is clear that the invasion’s disruptions have reverberated around the world, sending shockwaves in the supply of energy and food, causing humanitarian, social, and economic crises, and threatening to fundamentally transform the international order. 

Why African leaders have a blind spot for Russia

Advertisement

The Russian invasion of Ukraine has had profound effects far beyond Europe. Africa has seen sharp price increases in fuel, fertilizer, and food that have raised the cost of living and worsened food insecurity, poverty, and social instability. According to UN Conference on Trade and Development, some fifty-eight million people living just above the poverty line in Africa are at risk of sliding into poverty due to the combined effects of the pandemic and the war. Millions cannot pay for electricity.

Beyond economics, however, the conflict has shaken global governance. It has hastened efforts among non-Western major powers to create alternative systems, for example, in currencies and electronic payments. It has posed diplomatic challenges and opportunities for Africa’s leaders.

Animosity toward the West, partly rooted in its perceived double standards in its invasions of Afghanistan, Iraq, and Libya has sometimes led to blind support for Russia. Russia’s arguments blaming NATO for this conflict, anticolonial credentials, and rhetoric supporting a multipolar, more equitable world, have resonated among African elites. Russian disinformation campaigns have exacerbated societal fissures.

African countries have not reacted well to Western pressure to condemn Russia. Their voting records in the UN General Assembly show the continent’s deep divisions. South Africa has declared a nonalignment position yet plans to conduct naval exercises with China and Russia later this month, bringing this neutrality into serious question. The irony of a continent established on the sanctity of borders supporting the violation of Ukraine’s boundaries is sharp.

Africa, however, has taken action. A senior African Union delegation traveled to Russia in June 2022 to seek safe passage for Ukrainian grain shipments. These talks paved the way for the Black Sea Grain Initiative between Russia and Ukraine, brokered by Turkey and the United Nations. Africa gets too little credit for this rare diplomatic win. Generally, the West is not especially interested in hearing the views of the developing world on this war.

The conflict does not appear ripe for resolution; both sides still believe they can win on the battlefield. Neither wants to appear weak. The fighting is expected to rise in intensity as winter recedes. But every conflict ends in some sort of negotiated settlement based on sincere dialogue. Even though South Africa and Global South states are pushing this principle, they could be naïve in thinking that talks at this point can resolve this brutal war. – Steven Gruzd, Head of the Africa-Russia Project, South African Institute of International Affairs (South Africa)

A transformative moment for world order

The history of world politics leaves no doubt that conflicts are a transformative force. Every time, a new order emerges from a war: the winners dictate peace terms and mechanisms for a lasting peace are put in place.

The Russian war of aggression against Ukraine is no different. The conflict is a transformative time for the world order, at least as understood since the end of the Cold War.

First, the invasion disproved the founding assumption of the post–Cold War order, namely, that Russia—unlike the Soviet Union—would be no longer a threat but instead a partner in common security challenges. Whatever shape the next European security architecture takes, however, it will clearly be built not with but against Russia. Nothing suggests that Russia would cease to be the main challenge for peace in Europe. Consequently, the grand strategy of the West toward Russia will be based on containment, deterrence, and defense.

Second, Europe will no longer benefit from the peace dividend that followed the collapse of the Soviet Union. Since 1991, seeing no direct or existential threats, European governments have underinvested in defense. The invasion of Ukraine has proved a brutal wake-up call: the sheer scale of operations there made European militaries look dangerously irrelevant. Geared up for crisis management missions, European forces largely lack both man- and firepower. Acute capability gaps require a huge effort to be addressed; the stake is Europe’s global stance.

Third, the United States will now need to face not only a rising China, but also a Sino-Russian axis, tacitly supported by many countries in the Global South. In its strategic reorientation, Washington assumed that it would focus on China as the only power that could effectively challenge its global position. Deterring Russia from escalating, it was thought, would not require much effort Yet, for better or worse, the United States will need to remain committed to both Europe and the Indo-Pacific if Russia and China are to be kept at bay.

One year into the invasion, it is still not clear what the outcome of Russia’s criminal quest to subjugate Ukraine will be. Although the free world stands firmly by the goal of restoring Ukrainian’s sovereignty within its internationally recognized borders, the task will be neither easy nor quick. One thing is certain: when the fighting stops, the old world order will belong in the history books. Only the persistence of the free world to defend the premise that all states are free to self-determination can guarantee the new order will continue to be democratic. – Marcin Terlikowski, Deputy Head of Research, Polish Institute of International Affairs (Poland)

A divided and deglobalized world

Russia’s invasion of Ukraine has two primary consequences for the international system. First, the world is headed back to a militarized, two-bloc system reminiscent of the Cold War. On one side are liberal democracies, knitted together by the U.S.-led alliance system. On the other are Russia and China—an autocratic bloc stretching from Eastern Europe to the Western Pacific.

Even if the emerging world is divided into two competing camps, it will not resemble the bipolar Cold War, when great-power rivalry extended around the globe. Today, as tension builds between the two main blocs, much of the world is refusing to take sides. Effective nonalignment is likely to be the policy of choice for many nations, ensuring that the world is multipolar rather than bipolar in both character and practice. A multipolar landscape will make the world more unpredictable and more difficult to manage. The gap is widening between the demand for and the supply of global governance.

Second, the world has entered an era of deglobalization. The transatlantic community has virtually severed economic ties with Russia. The United States and its allies are backing away from economic interdependence with China and seeking to slow China’s technological progress. Global supply chains are being reconfigured. In the United States, bipartisan support for trade liberalization has dwindled in favor of protectionism and industrial policy. The days of expanding free trade and deepening global interdependence are, for the foreseeable future, over. 

In the coming months, the war is poised to intensify as both Russia and Ukraine launch new offensives. A military stalemate could well emerge over the course of 2023. Given its military setbacks so far, Russia, even with new recruits, probably lacks the capability to defeat a NATO-backed Ukraine. Indeed, Russia has already suffered a grievous strategic defeat. Its effort to subjugate Ukraine has irreversibly alienated and angered the vast majority of Ukrainians. Russia, of its own doing, has lost Ukraine for good. At the same time, Ukraine, even with NATO-supplied arms, probably lacks the combat power to fully expel Russian forces from its territory.

The prospect of a military stalemate could open the door to a diplomatic endgame. That endgame needs to come sooner rather than later given the death and destruction resulting from the war, the continuing risk of escalation, and the global economic dislocation caused by the conflict. Accordingly, the United States and its allies need to be ready, at the appropriate time, to broker a ceasefire and seek to move Russia and Ukraine from the battlefield to the negotiating table. – Charles A. Kupchan, Senior Fellow, Council on Foreign Relations (United States)

Pursuing an exit from the crisis—with global partners

Russia’s radical foreign policy strategy is based on the assumption that the previous world order is dead. Indeed, if collapse—rather than reshaping—is ahead, “to be the crisis” that buries the old order and sets forth the new one could seem to be a reasonable choice. To stand above the rubble of the old rather than be buried under its wreckage would be an advantageous position.

Resolving the crisis, and preventing future crises, would then depend on the willingness and ability to recognize that revolutionary and catastrophic events are still few—and local. Further, even major players who want major changes do not want upheavals. Choosing “to be the crisis” is therefore a dead end. A significant and independent role in international affairs requires being part of the exit from crisis.

The Eastern European military and political environment’s influence on Russia’s foreign policy is secondary to the international system’s—the viability, effectiveness, and relevance of which is critical, as is its ability to adapt to and affect events. The evolution of Russia’s strategy is set not in the plains of Ukraine, but on the banks of the East River in New York and in Geneva, Brussels, and other centers of international coordination.

The past two decades of world history, culminating in the Covid-19 pandemic, saw the eroding effectiveness of global governance institutions; the vulnerability of the global economic system; the declining ability of the West and, in particular, of the United States to bear the burden of unipolarity; the emergence of new power centers; and increasing disunity.

The events of 2022 brought about a new consolidation of the West. US and EU leaders appear intent on rebalancing the world order in the spirit of the 1990s, the West playing a central role and the non-Western periphery remaining disparate and disunited. Yet this intent is facing pushback from world powers whose political and economic potential has advanced qualitatively and whose ambitions are growing accordingly. The new players would like to reset the outdated system to fit their needs.

Further, returning to the 1990s would mean repealing the sustainable development agenda as it has unfolded over the past few decades, based on diversity, inclusiveness, equality, justice, and the priority of the common good. To succeed, a reshaped world order needs to be grounded in these principles.

Reshaping Russia’s foreign policy strategy with a view to breaking the country’s isolation and its becoming part of the peaceful transformation of the current global governance architecture will of course depend on the country’s domestic evolution. However, the external factor—the solidity as well as flexibility of existing international institutions—is also paramount. – Igor Yurgens, Chair, Institute for Contemporary Development (Russia)

Europe’s new Atlantic Order

The war in Ukraine has no foregone conclusion, but the future of Europe’s security order is not hard to fathom. The NATO-Russia border will be more militarized; US-Russian relations more confrontational; and the EU will continue to apply financial pressure and diplomatic isolation on Russia while reducing energy ties to the bare minimum. Whatever peace Europe will have will not be the result of a collective effort at conflict resolution, but instead the default outcome of a military balance, once again underpinned by nuclear deterrence.

The war’s implications extend beyond Russia-West relations. For most EU countries, the US security guarantees extended through NATO and bilaterally have once again acquired existential relevance. The need for the EU to seek alternatives to Russian energy will increase European demand from other countries, including US partners such as Egypt, Qatar, and Saudi Arabia, and even Israel and the United States itself. More broadly, because the war has widened existing gaps between US allies and rivals, the costs of nonalignment with the United States will increase for EU countries, and the return of a separate policy toward the likes of China or Iran will diminish. 

Within the EU, a coalition between pro-US Central and Eastern European member states and a Nordic group—destined to be more strategically homogeneous after Finland and Sweden’s accession to NATO—has formed around the imperative of deterring Russia. This North-East axis will resist an evolution in EU foreign policy, which could jeopardize the overly important US relationship.

EU strategic autonomy is therefore unlikely to materialize. Yet the need to sustain the costs of an antagonistic order could well result in EU integration moving forward on energy, migration, greater fiscal solidarity, even a rationalization of defense spending. The EU could actually become the main instrument for intracontinental relations through new platforms such as the European Political Community, which includes Turkey and the United Kingdom. But a stronger EU will be less a sign of greater European autonomy and more one of a consolidation of an Atlantic community centered on the United States.

This future is not a given. A domestic change in Moscow cannot be ruled out. The EU could fail to generate the necessary cohesion to sustain antagonism with Russia. And the United States could decrease its commitment to Europe under a different president than the staunchly transatlanticist Biden. – Riccardo Alcaro, Research Coordinator and Head of Global Actors Program, Institute of International Affairs (Italy)

Finding a new equilibrium in a militarized world

As reports emerge of Russia’s preparing to launch another offensive against Ukraine a year after invading it, the world seems to be entering a dangerous phase. Russia and Ukraine are unrelenting in trying to secure their battlefield objectives even as the wider West further entrenches itself in the war. This crisis in Eurasia has further cemented the centrality of geopolitics in shaping the global order, something that many in Europe had believed to be a thing of the past. With conflict in Eurasia and a shifting balance of power in the Indo-Pacific, the world is at an inflection point.

The Russia-Ukraine war has accentuated the polarization in the international system and its long-term consequences for global alliances. The China-Russia axis grows stronger by the day and the West is waking up to the challenge of managing this partnership. The United States and its European partners no longer have the luxury of looking at Eurasia and the Indo-Pacific through two distinct prisms. As a consequence, even with a tactical focus on Russia, the strategic focus on China has not disappeared. How effective the West would be in crafting a policy response to this Beijing-Moscow partnership, however, remains to be seen.

This major power polarization is drowning out the voices and concerns of the rest of the world. The energy, food, and concomitant economic crises engendered by the Russia-Ukraine war have wreaked havoc in many countries, but a distracted world has little time to find resolutions. Global governance is in crisis as multilateral institutions and frameworks flounder across the board. This has given a country, such as India, that believes in championing the Global South a new space to showcase its leadership credentials. New Delhi intends to use its G20 presidency this year to advance the cause of the weakest and poorest countries in an attempt to craft a new global role for itself as a responsible global stakeholder.

Finally, the use of force has returned with a vengeance as the last resort in international relations. Russia’s naked aggression against a sovereign nation and China’s repeated aggression in trying to change the territorial status quo along its maritime and land borders is forcing nations large and small to relook at their defense postures. The future of warfare is being shaped by new technologies as well as a new recognition of the diminishing effectiveness of nonmilitary coercive measures. – Harsh V. Pant, Vice President of Studies and Foreign Policy, Observer Research Foundation (India)

A test for democracy and global norms

Russia’s invasion of Ukraine is a watershed moment. The aggression has already changed many aspects of international relations. It is a wake-up call that gives new purpose to NATO. Finland and Sweden, long-time neutral countries, have applied for NATO membership. President Putin’s invasion and dream of establishing a new Russian empire is ironically causing the expansion of NATO.

Additionally, the EU has shaken off its stupor and gained a new perspective to its enlargement, which has long been on hold, although ongoing efforts to expand in the Balkans have continued. A European Political Community that includes EU members and non-EU countries but excludes Belarus and Russia was created in response to the war.

The invasion also took the veil off Russia’s so-called military might. Further, it demonstrated the divide between the West and what is called the rest. Many countries did not support Russia, but they also did not condemn its invasion. For several African, Asian, and Middle Eastern countries the situation in Ukraine is not a priority. This is unfortunate because Russia acts in defiance of established norms and is a throwback to earlier centuries when might made right. The resolute defiance of Ukraine, however, should make China think twice on how to approach Taiwan.

Although the significance of the United Nations and similar organizations established after 1945 has been questioned, especially of late, a war launched once again by a Security Council member reveals how ineffective international institutions are. Because of this inertia, ad hoc groupings such as I2U2—India, Israel, the United Arab Emirates, and the United States—have been established and give new meaning to others, such as the trilateral security agreement of Australia, the United Kingdom, and the United States and the informal quadrilateral security dialogue involving Australia, India, Japan, and the United States. 

The future of the global order will depend on the outcome of this war. If a Western-supported Ukraine can not only stop but also push back and regain its lost territory, it will demonstrate that democracies are strong when united. If, however, the war continues and allies waver in their assistance, giving Russia the opportunity to claim victory, it will send the opposite message.

How and when the war will end continues to rest on President Putin or his removal from power. Whatever the outcome, what is at stake is whether impunity or abiding to rules will be the future norm. – Selim Yenel, President, Global Relations Forum (Turkey)

How the war bolstered NATO and the EU but weakened food security

Three important consequences of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine are a strengthened NATO, further development of the EU as an international actor, and increased global food insecurity, which will have deleterious long-term effects.

Pending approval of all current NATO members, the military alliance will gain two strong new members and more than double NATO’s land border with Russia. Russia’s invasion of Ukraine prompted Finland and Sweden to fundamentally recalculate their strategic postures, relinquishing military neutrality. Both are already members of the EU and have close relations with NATO members. Further, existing NATO members have increased their commitment to the alliance and aim to improve their ability to operate together.

Along with NATO, the EU has also deepened its strategic capacities. EU member states have provided or coordinated more than $40-billion in financial and humanitarian support as well as almost $13-billion in military assistance. The EU also established an integrated set of targeted sanctions against people and entities. The United States has welcomed the EU’s expansion as a strategic actor. Ironically, the complementarity of NATO and the EU has been demonstrated by an existential crisis in a country that is a member of neither institution. The international response manifests the capacity of the coalitions; more than fifty countries are part of the US-chaired Ukraine Defense Contact Group.

Russia’s invasion of Ukraine has caused not only devastation in Ukraine, but also disaster in other parts of the world. According to the World Food Program (WFP), before the war, food exports from Ukraine fed four hundred million people globally. The war has also disrupted the production and export of fertilizer needed to grow food. Combined with climate crises and the COVID-19 pandemic, the war in Ukraine further undermines efforts to fulfill the Sustainable Development Goals. Although the agreement opening a humanitarian channel to export Ukrainian grain across the Black Sea has relieved the situation in some recipient countries, food insecurity remains. The WFP asserts that the war in Ukraine is “creating the biggest global food crisis” since World War II.

After decades of rising incomes and hopes, the fate of the world’s people again diverges. More work will need to be done to rally the forces of cooperation to overcome the undercurrents of discord. – Esther Brimmer, James H. Binger Senior Fellow in Global Governance, Council on Foreign Relations (United States)

The view from the Global South: the bridge to cross

The war in Ukraine has arguably posed the greatest threat to world peace since the Cold War. Indeed, at various points, the resurrection of old geopolitical polarities and hostilities made it appear likely that a third world war or nuclear holocaust could occur. But even if not, the conflict has had similar effects.

The war has called into doubt the effectiveness of and confidence in UN-centered multilateralism as the anchor of global governance and world order. This is evident in the major powers and allies’ new arms race and increased military expenditures, the recourse to self-defense, and the increased vulnerabilities of small and weak countries to the bullish unilateralism of big powers.

The other—more existentially—devastating effects of the war are accentuated by the highly integrated nature of the global system, including energy shortages, humanitarian crises, food shortages and insecurity, decelerating world trade, and rising inflation. Coming immediately after the Covid-19 pandemic, from which many economies and livelihoods are struggling to recover, the human security costs of the war are significant.

However, as always tends to be the case with global emergencies and turmoil, the costs and consequences across regions are not equal, in that the poor and impoverished nations of the Global South have borne the brunt of it, even though they are not directly involved in the war. Their fragile states have faced more serious problems of energy and food insecurity, costs of living, and risks of protests and conflicts, even as ongoing civil wars and other conflicts in Africa have been overshadowed and forgotten, further diminishing hopes for recovery. Yet, at the same time, the major actors in the war in Ukraine—China, the EU, NATO, Russia, and the United States—have intensified Cold War–type rivalries for allies in the Global South, thereby reducing their space for self-determination.

One year on, it is clear that the world cannot afford the huge costs and devastating effects of the war for much longer. The shared, even if unequal, disruptions suggest that multilateralism offers the best way to bring the war to a peaceful end. The United Nations should be supported in this task, especially given that the sanctions against Russia have not been effective, and the probability of one side winning the war is low. – Eghosa E. Osaghae, Director-General, Nigerian Institute of International Affairs (Nigeria)

In war’s shadow, risk and opportunity for Africa

African states continue to grapple with the implications of the Russian invasion of Ukraine—particularly in terms of food and energy security. Effects vary across Africa’s fifty-five states, but the acute economic fallout has disproportionately affected those that depend on imports of grain, fuel, and fertilizers. Additionally, the inflationary effects have further undermined the continent’s post–Covid-19 economic recovery. Although replete with opportunities, these immediate risks narrow maneuverability in an increasingly polarized world, pushing African states toward a new nonalignment.

The positions African countries adopted at the UN General Assembly’s eleventh emergency special session on Ukraine highlight considerable divisions across the continent. Africa has consistently been the least supportive regional bloc in condemning Moscow, with fewer than half of African member states voting in favor of the session’s first four resolutions – unlike other UN General Assembly regional voting blocs. These divisions further underscore the lack of political will that influential African countries display when purporting to champion consensus on or a collective regional approach to Ukraine.

This situation could be a missed opportunity given that one of the clearest impacts of the invasion is Africa’s rising strategic potential in the international system. Since early 2022, the continent has attracted numerous high-level diplomatic visits across prevailing global geopolitical divides.

As Africa’s leaders are more aggressively courted by international actors on different sides of these divides, a common approach is vital in leveraging the continent’s strategic value. A common approach could not only help negate the detrimental economic fallout of the Russian invasion but also set the continent on a more secure trajectory toward its common developmental and security goals—as outlined, for example, in the African Union’s Agenda 2063 framework.

As the invasion of Ukraine continues, African states will be constrained in their attempts to diversify their international partnerships, as a pathway toward stable governance and economic development. Such constraints, however, could present an opportunity for Africa to renew its investment in its conflict prevention capabilities, particularly those related to exogenous shocks. African states can achieve this goal by firmly pivoting their foreign policies toward the principles enshrined in the African Union Constitutive Act to safeguard the continent’s development trajectory against the backdrop of increasingly volatile and fractious international order. – Priyal Singh, Senior Researcher, Africa in the World, Institute for Security Studies (South Africa)

For Latin America, it is a European war

After the first year of the Russia-Ukraine war, Latin America has remained outside the conflict, avoiding being captured by its good versus evil logic. It continues to focus on its intrinsic political dilemmas, even though it shares in the global disturbances in food and energy supplies.

With the exception of Nicaragua and Venezuela, every country in the region has followed the United States and the West in condemning Russia’s aggression in international institutions such as the United Nations and the Organization of American States. Latin America accepts that wars of aggression are wrong under the UN Charter but has gone no further. For instance, the region has avoided applying economic sanctions against Russia.

Some countries, such as Argentina and Brazil, have maintained a calculated ambiguity, not for strategic reasons, but to avoid clashes with highly ideological parts of domestic ruling coalitions or for other various internal reasons. .

A recent Ipsos survey of twenty-eight countries shows that people pay less attention to the war than they did, highlighting greater concern for inflation and climate change. The Latin American results speak for themselves. The region condemns the invasion but does not firmly support Ukraine. It is worrying that many Latin Americans say that the war was just a European issue, that involvement in the war should be avoided, that relations should not be broken off with Russia, and that troops and equipment should not be sent to Ukraine.

That is why US Southern Command chief General Laura Richardson’s request to unnamed Latin American countries to provide Russian-made equipment to Ukraine has been denied, even with the proposal to replace old Russian equipment with the newer and better equipment from the United States. 

Samuel Huntington was right. In his classic book The Clash of Civilizations and the Remaking of World Order, he said that Latin American is not part of Western civilization. It is a different civilization, the product of a complex relationship with Europe and the United States, a mixture of necessity, mistrust, and a mosaic of contradictory feelings. As the Ipsos survey demonstrates, one year into the conflict, Latin Americans are saying that it is not their war. – Juan Battaleme, Academic Director, Argentinean Council of Foreign Relations (Argentina)

The effect on the Gulf Region

Several factors come into play in any analysis of the Gulf’s position on the Russia-Ukraine war. First, the Gulf states foresee both substantial changes in Europe’s security order and the potential for changes in the global balance of power. Second, although the Ukraine conflict does not directly threaten regional stability, various indirect effects could be significant for Gulf states’ interests. Energy market disruptions, economic dislocation induced by international sanctions against Russia, and new areas of friction in some political relationships with the Joe Biden administration are among them.

The position of the Gulf countries on the war in Ukraine should therefore be seen within the context of their relations with external powers, primarily the United States, and their interest in shifting their relations toward greater parity. Overall, the long-standing bond between the Gulf and the United States is undergoing significant changes over the war in Yemen, US policy toward Iran, conditions on arms sales, and fundamental doubts about the reliability of the US security position toward the region and its allies. Simultaneously, overall development and progress are being made in individual Gulf countries, necessitating a focus on securing their national interests.

The Russian invasion of Ukraine can therefore be viewed as a significant test of the ability of Gulf nations to navigate a multipolar world. Regional countries, including traditional US allies, are hedging their bets between Russia and the US-led Western camp, assessing the effects of the conflict and seeking to relieve its constraints on the region’s economy and social fabric. Although the Gulf states seek to avoid being embroiled in a confrontation between Russia and the West, it is still too soon to argue that a fundamental break with the West is inevitable or that the Gulf’s positions have permanently shifted to the East. As the situation in Ukraine evolves, the main factor determining Gulf regional security remains uncertain.

This situation necessitates a renewed effort by the wider world to end the Ukraine conflict. For the moment, most of the consequences of the conflict are defined within the framework of its effects on the European and Western security order. But the crisis affects political and economic structures and institutions worldwide. In that context, perspectives from other parts outside the West should be explored and examined in what a potential resolution could look like. – Abdulaziz Sager, Chair, Gulf Research Center (Saudi Arabia)

The role of nuclear deterrence

The first year of the Russia-Ukraine war was marked by persistent fears that the conflict would escalate toward the use of nuclear weapons. But while no nuclear warhead has been detonated, these awesome weapons are certainly being used.

Nuclear weapons are largely containing the fighting to Ukraine’s territory because Russia and NATO understand the consequences if fighting spreads. Fear of nuclear war stops the Western powers from selling long-range weapons to Ukraine that could allow strikes deep into Russian territory. Fear of nuclear war explains their hesitancy to support any Ukrainian effort to retake Crimea. It stops Russia from striking NATO arms shipments before they cross into Ukraine and from trying to shoot down NATO reconnaissance planes that feed intelligence to Ukrainian forces.

Nuclear weapons also limit the objectives the West can pursue in the war. NATO and the Biden administration want Russia to lose, but not by too much. If the Russian army is at risk of collapsing entirely, or if economic sanctions bite so deeply as to risk state failure, Putin could use nuclear weapons to force a release of pressure before his regime is toppled.

Finally, nuclear weapons have a clarifying power. They reveal which interests the great powers consider vital and which merely important. For all the rhetoric from Western leaders about how critical it is to stop Russia, Ukraine’s sovereignty is clearly not quite essential enough to risk a nuclear war. If its security really were a vital US interest, Ukraine would have been granted NATO membership long ago.

For US friends and allies in Asia, this raises an uncomfortable question: is their security truly vital to the United States or just nice to have? To protect South Korea, would the United States be prepared to risk a North Korean nuclear weapon hitting a US city? Would it risk a nuclear war with China to save Taiwan? Successive US presidents—with one notable exception—have declared that America cannot be secure if Asia is not also secure. Washington’s allies in the region ought to be asking themselves whether this is really true. – Sam Roggeveen, Director, International Security Program, Lowy Institute (Australia)

The future of modern warfare on display in Ukraine

Legions of low-Earth orbit (LEO) satellites providing speedy data and information within the theater of war have so far bolstered Ukraine’s defense and counteroffensives and will significantly shape the future of conflict worldwide.

Relying on satellite-based information is not new, but the latency, agility, and resilience of the emergent system primarily operated by Ukraine has been unprecedented relative to traditional satellites, which operate at much higher orbits and with slower data transmission speeds. The new Starlink receiver dishes and terminals used in Ukraine are portable and can be run off batteries in remote locations. In addition to being generally more robust to attacks on the electricity grid and other infrastructure, the new system runs off software that can be more rapidly updated to counter cyberattacks. At the beginning of the war, it is reported that Russia successfully attacked the network modems of a main Ukrainian satellite system, and that nimble Starlink software updates thwarted later attempted cyberattacks.

The demonstrated successes to date in Ukraine of applying this new satellite-based technology to, among other things, troop and equipment positions, will change the future of ground-based warfare operations. In addition, the new technology appears to have triggered urgency and competition among states for increased military applications using LEO satellites. Starlink has quietly floated the idea of developing a new system called Starshield, presumably consisting of LEO satellites for military use. Companies can also restrict the application of their technology, as SpaceX has curbed Ukraine’s use of Starlink for drones.

It should be assumed that the current conflict has prompted a number of states to develop countermeasures against new systems that have multiple, mobile pieces, as well as potentially against private-sector entities. Private-sector providers could become military targets, even potentially legitimate ones under international humanitarian law. If that were to come to pass, it would have economic consequences. Hopefully, the potential use of anti-satellite missiles will grow less, not more, likely in a system of multiple, relatively easily replaceable satellites. Hopefully also, incentives or new rules will be strong enough to avoid the Kessler Syndrome—the negative tipping point of space debris volume.

Use of new satellite technology systems in Ukraine have helped to even the battlefield by enabling Ukrainian forces with superior intelligence against superior numbers. The new technology could be contributing to a more drawn-out conflict, increasing the chance for both sides to agree on a negotiated settlement. – Paul Samson, President, Centre for International Governance Innovation (Canada)

The lasting economic damage of Russia’s invasion

In December 2021, Indonesia unveiled one of its Group of Twenty (G20) presidency’s top priorities: synchronizing a safe fiscal stimulus exit strategy to support global economic recovery from the Covid-19 crisis. With economic recoveries diverging across and within countries and varying levels of national fiscal and monetary support, uncoordinated monetary and fiscal policy is creating the risk of unintended pressure on inflation and exchange rates as global financial conditions tighten further.

Indonesia learned this lesson from the 2013 Taper Tantrum, when the Federal Reserve’s announcement to reverse its quantitative easing policy caused a surge in US Treasury yields. It triggered massive capital outflows in other economies, notably from emerging markets. Downward pressure on exchange rates across the world led to significant depreciation. Learning from this experience, G20 members in 2021 planned to better harmonize their exit strategies from expansionary policies during the pandemic to prevent another crisis.

This proposal, however, was never taken up due to the war in Ukraine. The war disrupted the global supply chain of energy, food, and various other goods, and increased prices at an unprecedented rate. This forced monetary authorities to tighten their policies and increase interest rates to fight inflationary pressure. The Federal Reserve increased its interest rate seven times in 2022, to the highest level in the last fifteen years. This provoked capital outflows and exchange rate depreciation in economies across the world. These spillover effects, together with domestic inflationary pressures, have forced other economies to also increase their interest rates, risking a premature reversal of fiscal and monetary support to their national economies.

Russia’s invasion of Ukraine not only disrupted economic growth and supply chains, but also shattered the plan for coordinated exit strategies. This uncoordinated and erratic normalization of macroeconomic policies has increased the risk of a financial crisis that could lead to a global economic recession. – Yose Rizal Damuri, Executive Director, Centre for Strategic and International Studies (Indonesia)

Western democracies need to ensure that Ukraine wins

The brutality of the full-scale Russian invasion has mobilized the Ukrainian nation. Ukrainians are mounting a valiant defense of their country. More than 80 percent are determined to fight until territorial integrity within the 1991 borders is restored. Kyiv is defending its choice to become a member of the EU and NATO. The prowess of its armed forces will bring real value to the military alliance. EU leaders acknowledge that Ukraine is defending the freedom of Europe.

Russia has already suffered several strategic losses. It is now clear that no constructive relationship with Moscow is possible while Putin remains in power. Enormous casualties, losses of materiel, and questionable strategy have undermined Russia’s military power. This in turn threatens its position in Central Asia and the South Caucasus, where China and Turkey are stepping up. The Kremlin has also lost the European energy market for the foreseeable future. A weakened Russia will depend increasingly on China. Most important, inside Russia, Putin has set in motion a turbulent process that will lead to decline and instability with as yet unknown consequences. Russian failure to achieve its military objectives in Ukraine is a warning to China. Western military support and sanctions, especially freezing of Russian state assets, could affect Beijing’s calculus vis-à-vis Taiwan.

Western democracies need to ensure that Ukraine wins. The most expedient way to end this war is to defeat Russian troops inside Ukraine. This means strategically arming Ukraine. Incremental military support is increasing casualties, leading to stalemate, and will eventually raise the overall cost of the war. Sanctions need to be strengthened to prevent Russia from rearming and deprive the Kremlin of finances. New measures could impose additional costs: confiscating seized Russian state assets, and expelling and blacklisting it from the Financial Action Task Force.

Ukraine should not be pushed into a new Minsk deal. Such a settlement would only delay a larger war. Conceding territory to Putin that he has illegally annexed will only embolden those who want to use force and will open a global Pandora’s box of border revisions.

Europe needs to prepare to confront and deter an aggressive and unstable Russia. This means designing a new policy of that builds on solid Western unity, U.S. commitment, a strong NATO, a well-armed Ukraine, a new wave of EU enlargement, bolstered defenses of democracies against foreign interference, and a wider global coalition in support of the international order. – Orysia Lutsevych, Head of the Ukraine Forum and Research Fellow, Chatham House (United Kingdom)

How to make Russia pay for its war against Ukraine

Although Russia’s war on Ukraine did not necessarily start with clear genocidal intent, evidence of genocidal practices has mounted. According to its own figures, Russia has deported some two hundred thousand Ukrainian children in the first months of this war. Cities around the country have been indiscriminately destroyed by targeted Russian missiles.

Following discoveries of the massacre in Bucha and atrocities committed in other places under effective Russian control, a debate on how to prosecute the perpetrators of war crimes and crimes against humanity got under way in the West. Faced with jurisdictional obstacles and problems of legitimacy of a special tribunal, however, the European Union (EU) and Group of Seven (G7) countries have made greater strides in adopting sanctions aiminged at crippling the Russian economy. The effectiveness of such sanctions, however, remains debatable.

Because the scale of Russia’s destruction of Ukrainian civilian and critical infrastructures increases by the day, the issue of how reconstruction is going to be paid for rises ominously on the international agenda. The disproportion between the needs, to be counted in many hundreds of billions of dollars, and the plausible financial capacities of the EU and other G7 states, which seem to be counted only in the tens of billions, is huge.

In this situation, the Russian Central Bank assets of around $300-billion that are frozen in the hands of the EU and G7 states have become a glaringly obvious solution. Legally justifiable, multilateral executive action to confiscate state assets would follow the July 2022 Lugano Declaration and Principles. Inspired by precedents such as the Ethiopia-Eritrea Claims Commission, a register should be opened to enter individual claims and an international body should be established to examine the evidence and decide on the scope and size of reparations. A financial mechanism should be created to pay out the damages for narrowly defined purposes, proportional to the damages, that is, compensation for victims, reconstruction of infrastructure or the ongoing provision of essential services.

In the light of Russia’s ongoing weaponization of winter and the prospect of a new season of major offensives that includes the threat of tens of thousands more Ukrainian citizens being killed, deported, or displaced, this war has become Putin’s version of Stalin’s Holodomor and warrants outright confiscation of the $300-billion. – Steven Blockmans, Director of Research, Centre for European Policy Studies (Brussels)

Creating the conditions to end the war

After one year, the Russia-Ukraine war has not only accelerated the end of the so-called post–Cold War order and deepened global divisions, but also raised the risk of protracted war and deadlier escalation. Whether the world can work together to push the warring parties to start a real political negotiation process will determine the future of Russia and Ukraine, the security and stability of Europe, and the international system writ large.

At present, national governments and international institutions need to step up the regulation and mitigation of battlefield behavior, strengthen communication and diplomatic mediation, and reduce the risk of escalation.

First and foremost, diligent efforts to better regulate and mitigate the battlefield behavior of Russia and Ukraine are needed. These could include, but would not be limited to, joint efforts regarding the humane treatment of prisoners and reciprocal targeting restrictions. Both parties could commit to specific obligations under international law that do not target certain civilian facilities, such as schools, hospitals, or humanitarian agencies. For example, designating areas around nuclear power plants as demilitarized zones under special protection. In addition, efforts should be made to build on the UN-brokered Black Sea Grain Initiative by prohibiting attacks on specific industrial and agricultural installations and the transport of related goods on designated territories.

Second, diplomacy and communication should be strengthened. Such efforts include political coordination at the highest level, including the participation of critical actors such as China, the European Union, France, India, and the United States. They could also include back-channel diplomacy, involving trusted individuals in closed-door discussions. Their purpose is to provide risk assessments, reduce tension and hostile rhetoric, clarify the purpose and scope of military activities, and develop initiatives for risk reduction, among others.

Third, the risk of escalation on both sides of the war should be prevented. Even though ceasefire agreements seem unlikely in the next few months, it is important to recognize that a ceasefire does not necessarily prohibit all military activity, it could simply specify what activities are permitted within a given geographical area. At the same time, the warring parties should actively explore the possibility of a permanent or temporary ceasefire or cessation of hostilities on the entire or part of the battlefield. Successful de-escalation measures could serve as the basis for long-term, sustainable peace negotiations. – Chen Dongxiao, President, Shanghai Institutes for International Studies (China)

Finding a path to a neutral Ukraine

A year after Russian forces crossed the border, an end to the war is not in sight. This is a timely reminder that all states need to embrace the fundamental tenets enshrined in the UN Charter: respect sovereignty and territorial integrity; refrain from the threat or use of force; and settle disputes peacefully. Standing by these tenets is essential to avoiding another calamity like the war in Ukraine.

The conflict has reinforced the adage that ensuring peace entails preparing for war. As countries strive for progress and prosperity, they need to be prepared to defend themselves from larger, predatory neighbors. Operational military readiness better equips a country to hold off the enemy and buy time for friends and allies to provide support. Ukraine’s supporters continue to provide it with foreign and military aid. Russia’s supporters in the Shanghai Cooperation Organization and the Eurasian Economic Union have also helped keep the Russian economy afloat and circumvent sanctions.

In Asia, possibly the most important lesson is that in today’s world no one wins a prolonged war. This lesson has led policymakers in China, the United States, and their respective allies to pull back from the brink. US-Chinese strategic competition and efforts to undermine each other’s economies will continue but all-out war is unlikely.

In the absence of confidence and trust, it is difficult to foresee an early end to hostilities or a long-lasting peace. A halt is possible but would be temporary. No strong Russian leader seems likely to accept an independent Ukraine tied firmly to the West. Conversely, the intensity and resilience of Ukrainian nationalism mean that even if the whole country were to fall, it would take a Russian army of occupation to maintain an uncertain peace.

Since Russia sees its security linked inexorably to the annexation of Ukraine, it makes no sense to weaken Kyiv by ceding Crimea or the Donbas. Instead, it might be prudent to carve out a demilitarized zone between the two countries patrolled by UN peacekeepers.

The idea is to preserve a neutral Ukraine, with security arrangements agreed upon between the protagonists and interested parties. Ukraine could pledge, for example, not to join NATO or to station foreign troops on its soil. In return, as a special case, NATO could consider stationing significant assets in nearby member states that could be utilized should Russia break the peace. – Janis Kluge, Senior Associate, Eastern Europe and Eurasia Division, German Institute for International and Security Affairs (Germany)

Can the United Nations end the war in Ukraine? China could help make it happen

National governments and international institutions have not put in enough effort over the past year to end the war or restore international peace and security. What is clear is that the world is unable to join forces to stop a nuclear superpower and permanent member of the UN Security Council from invading another country.

More of an effort needs to be made to restore global peace. What is being done to isolate Russia from the rest of the world and making the United Nations more effective is a great concern. China is vital to both.

This past December, immediately following the National Congress of the Chinese Communist Party, Genron NPO invited one hundred influential figures to a track 1.5 strategic dialogue between Japan and China to discuss the restoration of a peaceful global order. Even after all the acrimonious discussion, the event ended with participants from both countries agreeing that they “support efforts to prevent an escalation of the Ukraine crisis, and to find a peaceful resolution.” In addition, a recent joint Japan-China public opinion survey was the first to reveal that more than half of Chinese respondents disapproved of Russia’s behavior. Regardless, working with China is needed to strengthen international cooperation.

In addition, influential nations such as China, Germany, and Japan should join to launch a peacekeeping operation in Ukraine to provide humanitarian aid after hostilities cease. Although the UN Security Council is not functioning, the United Nations can still act. During the Suez Crisis, at the height of Cold War tensions in 1956, it was the UN General Assembly that approved the dispatch of UN forces. Additionally, China, Germany, and Japan all have experience with peacekeeping operations in Cambodia. Such a peacekeeping operation would allow the United Nations to play a more meaningful role, and Chinese participation would also be significant. – Yasushi Kudo, President, The Genron NPO (Japan)

A pressing need for diplomacy

Although it is too early to discern the most important effects of the Russia-Ukraine war, it is almost certainly the most significant single global event since the end of the Cold War.

As always, the war means different things for different people. Armed forces around the world pay close attention to the performance of the Russian and Ukrainian militaries and analyze the implications for the future patterns of war. Of note are Ukraine’s unexpected combat capabilities. For some, the varied noncombatant aspects of the war, including economic sanctions, intelligence failure, food and energy supply, and the humanitarian crisis, are more important. Others are deeply worried by the specter of nuclear weapons use.

Some unexpected but possibly long-lasting repercussions have also emerged. While Russia conducted the war to prevent Ukraine from joining NATO, it resulted in the long-standing neutral Sweden and Finland opting to join NATO. Germany and Japan, two previously quite dormant major countries in the security arena, owing to their defeat in World War II, have decided to double their defense budgets and are likely to be more proactive in geopolitics. This is contributing to a more multipolar world.

The war’s effect on China is also enormous given that China is a close strategic partner of Russia. Along with Brazil, India, and other countries, China has not condemned Russia’s “special operations” against Ukraine. But Beijing’s position is more neutral and cannot be said to support Moscow’s war efforts. Pledging to respect the independence, sovereignty, and territorial integrity of all countries, China has repeatedly reiterated that both Russia and Ukraine are friends of China and should not resolve their problems by force. China has made clear that it wants to see the war end through negotiation soon. Chinese President Xi Jinping made it clear in November 2022 that he opposed the use or threat of the use of nuclear weapons.

Considering the situation on the ground and the potential power of Russia and a Western-aided Ukraine, the war is likely to continue for quite a long time if nothing dramatic changes in both countries’ domestic politics. The year-long war of attrition has proved that it benefits no one, and that it cannot stop without external intervention. Further attempts at international mediation are therefore sorely needed. The cost, trauma, and hatred brought about by the war have made mediation extremely difficult, but cannot justify standing idly by without an attempt. – Yu Tiejun, President, Institute of International and Strategic Studies, Peking University (China)

Research by Steven Gruzd, the South African Institute of International Affairs

EMAIL THIS ARTICLE      SAVE THIS ARTICLE ARTICLE ENQUIRY

To subscribe email subscriptions@creamermedia.co.za or click here
To advertise email advertising@creamermedia.co.za or click here

Comment Guidelines

About

Polity.org.za is a product of Creamer Media.
www.creamermedia.co.za

Other Creamer Media Products include:
Engineering News
Mining Weekly
Research Channel Africa

Read more

Subscriptions

We offer a variety of subscriptions to our Magazine, Website, PDF Reports and our photo library.

Subscriptions are available via the Creamer Media Store.

View store

Advertise

Advertising on Polity.org.za is an effective way to build and consolidate a company's profile among clients and prospective clients. Email advertising@creamermedia.co.za

View options
Free daily email newsletter Register Now