By Patrick Barasa
Seven days ago, today, a war that could trigger a seismic activity that could, in turn, shift the tectonic plates on which the incumbent global political order rests, was levied by Russia on Ukraine on 24th February 2022.
Putin has Christened it “a special military operation”, in lieu of a war or an invasion. Given the Goliathesque stature of the Russian military, the Russian president might have reasoned that the invasion would be a sting operation that would, at supersonic speed, decapitate the “criminal”, “neo-Nazi” Ukrainian government.
Yet, Putin’s calculus has so far stalled. The Ukrainian military, although outgunned and outmanned, has shown immense resilience against the military colossus, and has technically shoved the Russian army into a full-scale war, in spite of what Putin might call it.
Except, it is not a war between Russia and Ukraine in a geostrategic sense but one between Russia and NATO and the USA, to be exact.
Ukraine is only Russia’s foe to the extent that Ukraine enjoys the consortium of the US. Not long ago, before the ascendency of President Volodymyr Zelensky and Petro Poroshenko before him, both of whom have fealty to the US and its Western client states, there was a pro-Russian regime in charge of Ukraine.
The two neighbours were in a “bromantic” relationship until Russia was jilted in the 2014 “Euromaiden revolution” that brought pro-West Poroshenko and later Zelensky into Ukraine’s wheelhouse.
Thus, the current belligerence between Russia and Ukraine is associated with, even caused by Zelensky’s affinity with the US, and his stated desire to join the EU and NATO, which Putin considers an existential threat for Russia.
The US, as Russia’s principal geostrategic foe, has its tentacles spread all around Russia through the NATO alliance that has established more or less a “ring of fire” around Russia. Several Western European states are NATO members and by fact hostile to Russia.
And, NATO, since the end of the cold war, has been stretching Eastward admitting several former Soviet States, thereby almost entirely encircling Russia with American weapons.
Moreover, Ukraine also desires NATO’s membership. That would complete the dangerous circuit and totally cripple Russia’s security wiggle room; hence this war. From Putin’s prism, the attack on Ukraine is justified and necessary for Russia’s existence.
This war, however, could have wide-ranging implications. (1) It could spiral into a world war three, and (2) if that happened, it could mark the end of Pax Americana and a takeover of the world by China, which is lurking in the wings to replace America and the incumbent world order that was imposed by the US in the wake of the Second World.
Historical data of imperial rise and collapse suggests that empires rise and fall with wars. The Roman empire collapsed after a wearisome war with the “Vandals”, so did the Ottoman and British empires after the First and Second World Wars respectively.
After the Second World War, the British Empire on which “the sun will never set”, was supplanted by the US which had been waiting in the wings for its turn to take over the world.
The US didn’t become the preponderant world player serendipitously or by happenstance, but through a conscious strategy similar to what China is employing.
The US stayed out of wars and focused on production and commerce, wealth accumulation, and building its military power—while Britain and other European powers warred.
When Britain had been worn out and impoverished by the costly war, it was the US that changed the course of the Second World War, thanks to the large scale of its war chest and a powerful military it had built and preserved through its long-standing isolationism from military conflicts.
By the end of the Second World War, the US was the undisputed leader of the world. It had the most capable military and the strongest economy.
China is currently the second-biggest economy after the US and has the third most powerful military after that of the US and Russia.
While Russia and the US have shown a penchant for international military conflicts, China has been shy to fight wars as a matter of policy. It’s busy building its economy and military, while the US is expending a lot of its money on wars.
In the current Russo-Ukrainian war, Ukraine has requested the US and its NATO allies to come to its rescue. It has asked for the imposition of a no-fly zone against the Russian air force over the Ukrainian airspace.
The US has so far been wise. Biden has made it abundantly clear that he will not commit the US military to face the Russian army in the conflict.
The US and NATO will therefore not be granting Ukraine’s request, as that would mean the US and NATO shoot down Russian jets that violate the no-fly zone if imposed.
It would mean that the US and NATO have joined the war against Russia. Russia which as a matter of military doctrine maintains the nuclear first-use policy, according to which Russia can use nuclear weapons before they are used against it.
With that in mind, Russia could launch nuclear strikes against the US and its Western allies if it’s overwhelmed it in a conventional war. That would trigger a nuclear war between the West and Russia and the end of their civilizations as we know them.
And, China, which has distanced itself from the conflict, only offering Russia moral sympathy without pledging to come to Russia’s rescue if Russia were to be militarily confronted by the US and NATO—would be left with no competitor on the world stage.
At the end of a hypothetical war between the US/NATO and Russia, China would emerge as the strongest state standing and would embark on remaking the world in its likeness. That would mark the end of democracy, human rights, and constitutionalism as we know them.
The writer is a researcher at Security Studies and Analysis Centre (SESAC) at Nkumba University