Evolving Meanings of the War for Ukraine  – Winning, Losing, Fearing, Needing #2  

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June 12, 2022

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Introduction

The war for Ukraine continues making the transition to the next global ‘normal’ more complicated, more chronologically unpredictable, and more costly. Indeed, in only the five weeks since the first chapter of this essay, a number of significant changes call for a rethink of what the future may hold. “stalemate,  Ukraine wins, Putin wins, and compromise peace” may, now, all be too simplistic.

Changes include 1) a major refocusing of Russian military command and operations on the more realistic objective of occupying  only part, not the whole, of Ukraine, which is proving effective, 2) the delays between Western/NATO commitments of crucial major armaments and their deployment to Ukraine field forces facing the artillery superiority of larger Russian forces, 3) increasing diversity of both intent and action among Ukraine’s supporters and suppliers, even as the rosters of Russia’s supporters, and of those not taking a stand on the war, remain fundamentally unchanged, 4) a growing concern about an imminent global food crisis, and 5) a realization that cyber weapons are increasingly weapons of war and capable of threatening control of nuclear operations.

The war for Ukraine now enters its 17th week with no end in sight that is free of violence. Second and higher-order consequences are becoming more obvious and deserving of   acknowledgement enough to promote tangible response. As a ‘compromise peace’ becomes increasingly unlikely; the rising toll in blood and treasure strengthening the resolve of both Ukraine and Russia to ‘win’, it still remains an exercise of little utility to try to designate final winners and losers, even in relative terms. The only certainty remains the fear of “being on the wrong side of the ledger, tomorrow and beyond”.

Winning

All members of the military INDUSTRIAL complexes of the major arms producers and mercenary providers, for the foreseeable future.

Hungary’s energy security.

Inequality, everywhere, particularly in terms of health and wealth, and increasingly food.

Vulnerability to Pandemics, including COVID -19 and its siblings.

Climate Change. The war for Ukraine and other conflicts highlight the costs to progress in arresting global warming of the continuing failure of the COP – latest; COP 26 – to include the huge GGE due to military operations and security related activities when calculating national commitments to mitigating it.

Racism and white supremacy and selfish nationalism, in the absence of effective opposition to them.

Small-states’ global geopolitical influence; e.g. Qatar and Abu Dhabi.

Force ‘multiplication’ from both simultaneous and consecutive crises in the absence of an international community willing and able to collaborate effectively and durably, even on only one wicked problem for which there was ample warning.

Russia’s finances as high and rising oil and gas prices are paid by energy-stressed countries, including those formally against Russia’s war for Ukraine.

Winning <> Losing

Taiwan. It faces the uncertain durability of a confused US commitment to its security in the face of China’s commitment to achieving national ‘wholeness’, with both the US and China hostage to massive internal stresses, and as Russia’s war for Ukraine differently complicates their geopolitics. The meeting of the US Sec Def and China’s senior military official at the just-ended Shangri-La Dialogue did not lower tensions.

Ukraine. Holding on, as ever more of the country is destroyed and disrupted.

  1. Committed to ‘helping’ Ukraine, while struggling under intensifying political and social polarization at home; polarization that the prime-time TV ‘drama’ on the 6 Jan 2021 invasion of the US Capitol watched by ~ 20 million americans will only intensify.

NATO. Re-focused and re-attractive, but embarrassed by Turkey’s major objection to membership of new applicants; Sweden and Finland, and the delay to almost certain acceptance.

  1. More internally compatible ‘about’ state security, but continuing to disagree on how to finesse energy security. Sanctions on Russian energy are rife with loopholes and gaps.

Africa. Notwithstanding the pervasive, mixed attention of Russia and China and the US, continental unevenness and disunity continue intensifying due to 1) health and food crises, 2) terrible governance including three unresolved coups and farcical elections, and 3) corrosive, unconstrained corruption.

International Justice; more needed and verbally supported than ever, but no more likely to be up to the task of providing timely justice for even the most egregious sins.

Losing

Cooperative, inclusive and peaceful Globalization.

Food security globally. Now an acknowledged crisis, not only for those where it was never strong and durable, but increasingly so also where, until recently, food was taken for granted. The world needs Russian and Ukrainian grains more than ever.

Durable progress on all 17 Sustainable Development Goals, with no one having the clear urgency of any of the globe’s worst wicked problems.

Afghanistan. Out of sight and now almost out of mind notwithstanding (fading) promises made by retreated/departed NATO, US, UK, and UN actors. Women are already again totally disenfranchised.

International scientific research. Global networks are being broken up, scientists displaced, and funding falling for all but arms research. The consequences of the shut-down of the Arctic Council until 2023, when Russia’s term as Chair ends, are unknown.

Russia. The country’s future is ever more certainly unhappy.

Democracy. The ‘messiness’ of democracy results in too little action, invariably too late, and loophole-filled on security, on energy, on health, and now on food.

The UN. Reduced to a ZOOM centre from which alarms are regularly issued on the problem of the day, with no means to follow-up.

Nuclear disarmament and non-Proliferation, both now being re-contextualized, mostly negatively, as activists await, with little hope, the long-delayed NPT Review Conference. SIPRI suggested the number of nuclear weapons will now increase.

Progress on Human Security in its own right. The reality now being forced out of the geopolitical fog is that the security of humanity will depend on a coherent interface and substantive overlap among human security, state security and biodiversity security.

Energy Security. A Janus issue: It is a heavily used platform for sanctions, but the consequences include rising income that empowers those sanctioned. Russia has enjoyed a massive economic windfall.

Fearing

The unpleasant, inconvenient, and uneven arrival of second and greater order direct and indirect consequences of the war for Ukraine are intensifying the fears of the consequences of established events and conditions: Weaponization of geopolitics; Loophole-filled sanctions; Ukraine-support fatigue; globally uneven fragility of Energy supply; the perseverance of coal and oil; slow to non-existent HR-justice; unending competing distractions to work on wicked problem; the implausibility of legally enforceable compromises to conflicts; Trump 2, in person or as persuasive cameo; the dying of truth and veracity, an un-able UN, regional famines, Putin’s morality-free consistency and refusal to ‘lose’; and the EU’s fraying patchwork of politics and security.

As if things were not frightening enough, new events and circumstances are provoking additional fears. Their context is a dynamic combination of an absence of common or collective understanding of what they may mean going forward, and little reason to expect that sufficient, coherent, appropriate and sustained resources will be deployed proactively enough to make a difference.

Eight new fears seem especially deserving of attention.

– End of the Putin Russia. Putin is probably seriously and possibly fatally ill. His passing will convulse Russia. Even if he outlasts the war for Ukraine, succession of Russia’s leadership will be messy. It is likely to include people of whom Putin would approve, and therefore would include a close colleague who is the sponsor of what is now the globe’s most widely deployed mercenary force; the Wagner Group.

-Wars within wars. Fighting between non-state and state-sponsored military forces; ‘foreign legions’ that not only support different sides in a conflict but have begun to exercise their own forms of government and justice. As of this writing there may be as many as eight such organized fighting groups that are participating in the war for Ukraine.

– Cyber war. Technology has provided a WMD to everyone from the lone wolf to the ruler of a superpower to at least Disrupt and very imaginably Destroy mental and material circumstances of any/any enemy, with impunity, and remarkably little cost. Most of concern, cyber war is inherently escalatory because full and sustained defence against attacks is impossible.

– A now almost universally acknowledged ‘global food crisis’. Climate change may have been the match, but other political, economic and financial factors are stoking the flames. Tens of millions of humanity of almost every personal circumstance are disadvantaged, many to the point of desperately fearing for their survival.

– Humanity’s forced displacements. More than a UN-acknowledged 140 million have left ‘home’ for reasons as local as a small elite’s imposition of ‘NIMBY’ and as international as the conflict in Ukraine. Every one of the UNDP’s seven elements of Human Security are more or less under threat everywhere, invariably without recourse to mitigation. Displacement – ‘refugee’ – camps, a few approaching a million inhabitants, have sprung up where they are not wanted, a guarantee of future unrest.

– An inevitability of more uncivil conflict in the US among an increasingly obscenely armed and disunified population, one almost emotionally immune to reaction to mass shootings.

– A permanent Trumpist US, with or without Trump as President in 2025.

– The possible illegality – according to international treaty – of using the returns from selling seized Russians’ accounts and property for rebuilding Ukraine; an earlier suggested, and significant source of funds.

Needing

As needed as ever, as the war for Ukraine continues into summer are; less strident and inaccurate national revisionism, enough foresight to enable more truth to be heard and ‘seen’ by power, a thorough history of the war for Ukraine, reconstruction funds for Ukraine, a ‘new’ diplomacy that exploits the strengths and speeds of communications technology and ‘artificial intelligence’, and learning protocols that allow today’s youth and young adults to better prepared for their future as leaders than current leaders did for theirs.

But the number of needs is increasing. Addressing all the old and emerging crises in the same old ways; ways Einstein called ‘insanity’, will guarantee humanity will, at best, remain on the defensive, and more likely be overwhelmed. New thinking and new ways and means are urgently required.

On thinking. The globe is in a storm; a polycrisis of several crises and wicked problems. Human security, state security and biodiversity security are all failing, unevenly individually and collectively. It is said that every crisis holds opportunity; some claiming that the only real crisis is one that is wasted because the opportunity it offered was not seized.

On doing.

– other than in times of open, violent conflict, even enemies have things in common and therefore common interests on which collaboration might be built. Unfortunately even COVID-19 and climate change consequences have done little to provoke substantive cooperation among opposed or competing countries.

– demands for reform of the UN are legion, especially regarding the Security Council. But the demand never gains traction enough to overcome the stranglehold of the P5. It is time to switch from ‘frontal attack’ and try making progress from ‘a flank’. Begin reform of the UN with two restructures.

  1. Upgrade the WFP from an as-and-when-needed humanitarian program to the World Food Organization, recognizing the globally acknowledged underway food crisis. The mandate of a WFO would call on it to address all/all threats and challenges to sufficient, accessible, available, affordable and appropriate food, globally. A status similar to that of the WHO would be meaningful, if better performance was ensured.
  2. In recognition of the polycrsis and its impact on all of human security, state security and biodiversity security, establish a UN UnderSecretary General for the SDGs. Even eight years after the publication of the 2030 SDGs, far too few people, organizations, countries and regions pay any attention to them, if/if they even know of their existence. The current Director-level SDG secretariat at the UN is weak, communicates poorly and is far below the hierarchical level needed to impress even those who still believe the UN can be effective. A qualified USG for the SDGs, with a fit-for-purpose staff – which unfortunately will be the greatest institutional roadblock to its establishment – would, at least, provide the UN Secretary General with a senior officer to emphasize the former’s intermittent calls for action.

– The ‘money’ organizations created by and from Bretton Woods initiatives are overdue for a ‘refresh’. Indeed, in light of the costs now and to come of the polycrisis, it is long overdue. The IMF, the WB and the WTO not only need to get their individual houses in tune with the 21st century, they should do it together. A Global Financial Secretariat is an option. Its staffing can be ‘shared’ and its location rotated among the three elements, since it is next to impossible to imagine any one of them agreeing to have their ‘relative’ status lowered.

Concluding Comment

The differences between the 2 May version of this evolving think-piece and the narrative above demonstrates how complex and unpredictable is the underway polycrisis, and how uncertain is its future form. The next chapter will be attempted in early August by which time it can be confidently forecast that change will again have adjusted the rosters of the winning, the losing, the fearing and the needed.

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