War in Ukraine: No dogmatic attitude politics
Despite growing uncertainty: The global challenges require peaceful coexistence and cooperation across differences.
The war in Ukraine is known to be in a particularly dangerous phase. So surprised how carefree the risks of escalation are often ignored in the German debate. The use of tactical nuclear weapons by Russia, which cannot be completely ruled out, also seems to be almost “priced in” in many cases. The issue of the delivery of heavy weapons is still central.
The morally heated debate gives the impression that good and evil are confronting each other in the form of Vladimir Putin and Russia. The need to support Ukraine is ultimately justified by the fact that Ukraine is waging a proxy war, that it is defending values such as democracy, freedom and human rights for and ultimately in the name of NATO and the West.
Interestingly, the Russian regime is also talking about a proxy war that Ukraine is waging for the West. The aim of this propaganda is to shift the blame for the war, to put Russia’s military setbacks in Ukraine into perspective and at the same time to create a threatening backdrop to deter Western states from further military support for Ukraine.
The term proxy war is wrong and misleading. NATO or the West are not involved in a military conflict with Russia that is taking place in a third country, Ukraine. Nor are the Ukrainian armed forces fighting on behalf of the West.
No proxy war
The inflated expectation, often linked to the misinterpretation of proxy wars, that Russia would take action against the Baltic states and other NATO members in the event of victory is also nonsense. There is no evidence of such an intention in the history leading up to the war. In addition, after the Ukraine debacle, Russia is unlikely to be capable of a conventional attack on NATO for many years.
Nevertheless, support for Ukraine is necessary in the current situation, because ultimately it is about maintaining central principles for the rules-based world order that are not only in the interests of Western democracies: the ban on aggressive wars and the guarantee of territorial integrity. Russia blatantly violates these principles and even goes so far as to deny Ukraine’s right to exist as an independent state.
Should Putin be successful with his illegal military attack, it would set a precedent with serious consequences. A relapse into the sole right of the stronger would lead to chaotic conditions. Support for Ukraine is designed to ensure that Ukraine can assert itself as an independent and viable state within secure borders. It is deliberately limited militarily in order to avoid additional escalations, including nuclear strikes.
Subjugating Moscow is not the goal
This is also a signal to Moscow that it is not – as Russian propaganda claims – about subjugating Russia. The West is by no means at war with Russia. In this respect, too, the myth of a proxy war is misleading. When it comes to the topic of proxy wars, it is ultimately about the classification of the war in Ukraine, the attitude towards the dynamically developing world order, a de-ideologization and objectification of the debate.
And it’s about realpolitik: Despite all the understandable outrage about the war of aggression and war crimes that violate international law, NATO cannot be concerned with an ideological fight against an autocratic-fascistoid Russia or its defeat. Rather, in view of the increasing risk of escalation, but also the enormous human casualties and damage, efforts must focus on ending the war as quickly as possible.
Despite the recent impressive achievements of the Ukrainian armed forces, the outcome of the war remains uncertain; that decreed by Putin Mobilization of several 100,000 reservists rather indicates that Putin has by no means given up. The United States has a special responsibility to promote a diplomatic solution and a speedy end to hostilities.
problem of crisis communication
The problem is that – unlike in the Cuban Missile Crisis 60 years ago – there seems to be no functioning crisis communication between the two nuclear powers. The Cuban Missile Crisis showed how crucial effective crisis communication is in order to avoid miscalculations and, ultimately, nuclear war. Once again, it is important not to be guided by moral outrage and disgust and contempt for Putin, but strictly by interests.
In practice, the USA can, citing Article IV of the 1973 agreement with Moscow Agreement to prevent nuclear war calling for immediate entry into urgent consultations. Both then have an obligation to do everything possible to avert the risk of a nuclear conflict.
A diplomatic (interim) solution that is to be striven for must, of course, be careful not to set a false precedent in the interest of preserving the central principles of the international order mentioned at the beginning. Nevertheless, bitter and difficult compromise solutions must not be ruled out from the outset.
The current situation is certainly not optimistic that such an approach could succeed. Still, there is too much at stake. Nothing must be left untried to explore the possibilities of ending the war. Understanding that you are not involved in a proxy war can make it easier to find real-political solutions. Of course, Ukraine would also have to be involved in such a process in an appropriate manner.
Mixed world order
A changed understanding of one’s own role in the war should also sharpen one’s awareness of the risks of the development of the world order. It’s not about a war between democracies and autocracies. Nor should the emerging new world order be reduced to such a bipolarity.
Even the kowtow that western states pose in front of unsavory authoritarian regimes like Saudi Arabia in the interest of their own energy security were willing to do, signals that the insistence on such a political front position does not seem very realistic to the political actors, even if the “value-based” foreign policy is repeatedly invoked.
There is no solid bloc of authoritarian states. The efforts of Russia and China to deepen relations with autocratic regimes cannot hide this either. And the West should by no means encourage the formation of blocs through a clumsy policy of confrontation and demarcation without a sense of proportion.
Fewer and fewer democracies worldwide
Particular attention should be paid to central, democratic Third World states. Russia and China are courting these states in order to win them over to their side, or at least to neutralize them. It is by no means to be assumed that time works for democracy. After a continuous increase in the number of democratic states in recent decades, their number has been declining in recent years.
After this Democracy Index of the Journal economist only 21 states were classified as “full democracies” in 2021. Not only are there worrying autocratic and autocratic-populist tendencies in some EU states. Also – and this is particularly relevant for the development of international relations – the USA, with the prospect of a republican president taking power again, is also one of the states that are threatening to abandon democracy.
The confrontation between democracies and autocracies must not be the constitutive element of a new world order. Rather, it is important to vigorously promote the expansion of rule-based regulatory frameworks in a heterogeneous global community. Cooperation among the P5 states (USA, China, Russia, France, Great Britain), which are privileged by the United Nations system, must also be promoted in the interest of containing their rivalry.
This five after Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty recognized nuclear weapon states have common interests. In the short term, it will also be about reviving the nuclear deal with Iran, from which the US withdrew in 2018. Outrage at the current events in Iran is more than understandable, but no reason to back away from this goal.
It will be important for the EU to move closer together in the interest of defending its freedom and values and to decisively stop the autocratic-populist tendencies in its own ranks. Resolutely and quickly, it should strengthen the forces of self-assertion in a more insecure world and achieve strategic autonomy (also in military terms). Although it will have to prepare for a Cold War 2.0 with Russia, it should do everything in its power to maintain peaceful coexistence.
Not agitating and confrontational proselytizing for democracy, but clear and resolute advocacy of principles such as the ban on violence, territorial integrity and minimum human rights standards should be the guiding principle. This requires leadership and joint action. And leadership requires not only a compass of values, but also an alert and clear sense of realpolitik without ideological blinkers.