There used to be a time, not too long ago, when I was a self-proclaimed ‘IR Realist’. I thought of myself to be one of those cold and sharp analysts of global affairs, one whose only Guiding Star was the national interest of states, one who would never even throw a look at principles and morality as interpretative lenses. How very wrong was I…
I used to be a Putin-Versteher. There, I said it. I used to justify his actions based on the theoretical framework of ‘Defensive Realism’. I used to think it was only right for him to have such an anti-NATO rhetoric, as NATO has been the actual expansionist during the 90s and the 2000s. Poor Kremlin was only taking the necessary measures to defend itself against the American encroachment. Sometimes you have to play tough and dirty to be able to survive in this Hobbesian world. If everyone would just leave Mr. Putin and his country alone, then Russia would simply feel secure within its own borders, and tensions would fade away. How very wrong was I…
Not only did I have a false understanding of the situation, I was also incapable of understanding how come don’t the others see it?! It was so clear to me who the victim and who aggressor was. However, I was totally on the wrong side of history. That’s why it is finally time to set my record straight. Regardless of the friends I might lose, this needs to put out there.
The first reason why Vladimir Putin and his ‘administration’ gets me disgusted is their lack of manhood. This leader portray himself on a daily basis as a tough, macho strongman. So many look up to him, but so many fail to realise that being a bully and a pain in the back does not make you a dignified person. Dignity comes from being confident enough to admit your mistakes, and to state clearly your goals. Vladimir Putin has still not admitted that the Russian athletes have indeed cheated on a massive scale at the Olympics. This is not about politics or geopolitics. This is about fairness and respect towards regular people who work extremely hard to gain world recognition for their effort. This is not about America and the West. It is about humanity. And if you get caught cheating, at least have the decency to admit it and to apologize!
The same goes for the downing of MH17. Now I am not saying that Vladimir Putin directly ordered the strike that put down an entire plane full of innocent lives. His ‘team’ in the Donbass most probably did it, by accident. It was a failure, a ridiculous mistake that should have never taken place, and one that would not have taken place if President Putin were not involved in the Ukrainian civil war. People died for no reason, proof has been brought to the surface, and an apology would have been well-deserved! The Kremlin did not even admit to it, let alone make amends. And this is sick…
I used to get news from the internationally-oriented Russian media, for the sake of balanced and informed opinion. That until the news turned into sheer propaganda. How do you recognize it? Simple. When one watches these channels or reads these website, one never comes across a single line of criticism aimed at the Russian government. Now I agree, maybe the BBC, the CNN, or whatever other news outlet out there are not perfect. But at least they have the sense of self-criticism that distinguishes journalism from propaganda. When everything Putin does is great, and when everything Obama does is awful, allow me to turn you off forever. You are bullshitting me, my friend! No political leader has ever been perfect, not even Vladimirovich and his buddies.
Another lie was the narrative about the European Missile Defence System, which has been constantly and blatantly falsely presented as ‘American rockets’ against Russia. This system is defensive, and incapable of neutralizing the Russian nuclear capability, let alone destroy Russia. Regardless of the trillion attempts at demystifying this ‘dark man’, the Russian side would simply not hear it. It was obviously the best opportunity for the Kremlin to paint Europe and the US once more in the colours of the eternal enemy, for own domestic political gains, and for other strategic plans, such as placing Iskander nukes in the Kaliningrad. This recent disregard of the Kremlin for international nuclear arrangements has been actually planned long ago, and it has nothing to do with the BMD in Europe. It was just the right moment.
Another fake narrative of Vladimir Putin is his alleged crusade against fascism. This man alone is supporting more fascistoid, radical political movements and parties in Europe than anyone else. All this while claiming to be a true friend and partner of the EU. How can this be the case, when it is him who is constantly making friends with those whose openly declared goals are that of bringing back nationalism in Europe and destroying the European Union? Are you taking us for fools Mr. Putin? You are day in day out criticising the Americans for being hypocritical. But the greatest hypocrite of them all are you. Do you really want chaos in Europe? Do you really understand what that means for the security of your own country? You say you do in speech. But in practice, you behave as if you had no clue of the real dangers of the failure of the EU.
Vladimir Putin wants all the power domestically and wants to be ‘taken seriously’ abroad. That’s why he decided to crack down on all foreign-sponsored NGOs in Russia. They are all ‘foreign agents’. Why? Cause they were promoting a view that did not coincide to that of the ruler? They were critical. Is that why he also closed LinkedIn? Too many hot and eye-opening debates around his failures in those groups? Couldn't trolls handle the situation anymore? When will the Kremlin learn that the truth will eventually come out? You cannot close and isolate a country anymore, in the 21st century.
And Syria…I don’t even know where to start on this one. How can one claim to support the legitimate leader of the Syrian people, when Assad has been killing his own people for 5 years now? Is the stake in the future of the Syrian political configuration so important for Putin, that he is willing to let Aleppo become another bloody story of genocide? I get it, you want to show the world that you can decide global political events, that if you want you can veto UNSC resolutions, that your military bases remain stable in Syria, and that you show the West who the man is. But people are dying today just as they have died yesterday, and just as they have died over the last years. Do you understand that this is a war crime, and that neither you or Assad will eventually escape the Hague? Sooner or later, both of you will be declared war criminals for the suffering of the people of Syria. Geopolitics will not block justice, because no man can evade his karma.
Finally, the last and maybe the most crucial reason why I am disgusted by the most powerful man in the world is that he allows and strengthens the anti-Western sentiment in his own country, and of his own people. These people, the Russian people are peace-loving people, friendly people, who want to live great lives both at home, and abroad. They want to be respected and appreciated, just like any other nationality on this planet. But they are manipulated by their own President and by his machinery of propaganda. Nobody has anything against the people of Russia. We only strongly disagree with how your leaders are behaving on the international scene. And how do your leaders respond to our accusations? By using you as puppets. They tell you we hate you, and they ask you to be patriotic and to fight back for the motherland! Do that. But not by fighting us, who try to show you that you are being tricked. Try instead to turn off your defensive mechanism, and take a look at your own government. Just as we are criticizing our own elites with a strong sense of patriotism (in the news, on blogs, on the streets), you should also try to criticize your own leaders with the same sense of patriotism. See what happens when you do that. See how they will fight back. And then you will understand that your leaders do not take no for an answer. Then you will feel disgusted too.
The topic of today’s brief contemplation is inspired by a series of references to the idea that today’s dramas around the world in terms of international security might not be isolated cases, rather elements of a larger and broader picture: the unfolding of WWIII in front of our eyes.
Causes of War
First of all, just as with anything, the beginning is the place to start. How has this WWIII been put in motion? Difficult to say. Has it to do with the Arab Spring, the revolts, the successful or unsuccessful attempt to oust existing powers, the actual or potential change in the regional balance of power around the Arab world, the spread of extremism there where a vacuum has been created? This might be one of the causes. But the events around the world go beyond this geographical scope, doesn’t it?
One could include the crisis in Ukraine in this portrait of a war. Trying to come up with an explanation for what has been going on there is also not an easy task. Is it Putin’s imperialist dreams or his KGB-inspired behaviour? Or maybe it is indeed NATO’s enlargement at the expense of Russia’s perceived security. What about the economic aspect of it all, namely a possible integration of Ukraine in the European block, as opposed to the Eurasian market? Answering all these questions would still not be satisfactory because we would still not have exhausted the analysis of this global World War.
The tensions in the Asia-Pacific remain to be clarified. Are we witnessing the resurgence of China as an empire, and the American response in the form of containment for the well-being of all of us (freedom of the seas and open global markets)? Or was Mearsheimer right when he suggested that America does not tolerate peer competitors on the basis of its selfish national interest?
And finally, terrorism. Simply listing the existing explanations for this phenomena would constitute a book in itself. Not our task for now.
What is to be understood at this point? That only history will be able to define the most probable one-liner cause for this WWIII, if there even truly exists one underlying cause for all these tense and conflictual episodes. Just to throw a dice, I might go with globalization as the one thing linking everything and everybody together.
Configuration of War
When thinking of a World War, we might have in mind a global conflict, meaning the involvement of most if not all the states on this planet, a conflict actually taking place on the whole planet. Some disagree with this view, and argue that a war happening in a remote geographical area could still be understood as global if the participants involved represent the main powers of the day. Some examples would be the Seven Years’ War or the Napoleonic Wars. Another example could have been a war between the US and the Soviet Union.
How about today? Well, as mentioned above, we have Asia, Africa, and Eastern Europe as stages for the tragedy. As for protagonists, we have the US, China, Japan, Russia, Iran, Saudi Arabia and other Gulf States, Israel, Egypt, Turkey + the other NATO countries, and let’s not forget North Korea. The list is of course not exhausted. I would personally consider the scope of whatever is happening at the moment as global.
If this were World War III, how would the goal differ from the previous ones? The first remark would be that this is surely not a total war. The complete destruction of the enemy, and the conquest of its territory is not the main driver of any of these conflicts. Why is that? I would go for the nuclear deterrent as the main explanation. All the nuclear powers taking part in this sad play are aware of the primacy of their own survival as opposed to that of the total annihilation of the enemy. As a consequence, the goals of each of these conflicts vary. For instance, they might have to do with maintaining influence on parts of regions or sectarian groups, with maintaining favourable alliances, with containing emerging powers, with balancing threats, with prestige and making a statement, with perceived insecurity, with access to resources or the blockage of alternative energy routes, and so on. One could hint at either bringing about multipolarity as opposed to unipolarity, or to revisionism as opposed to the maintenance of the status-quo. But I think the variety of objectives and interests make it difficult to point out just one overarching goal.
What conclusion can be drawn at the end of this discussion? I would say that we cannot yet say if this is indeed the unfolding of a war, its prelude, or simply a state of affairs that we will have to get used to from now on.
If this were indeed the actual war, it would be interesting to notice how war has changed! The fact that we are not even sure if this is a World War shows the way strategy is being conducted. There has been no clear declaration of war from one government to another. There are treaties that could be seen as the foundations for alliances, but more often than not we see ad-hoc constellations of interests.
We see leaders trying to hide any proof that might make their public opinions think that they are actually engaged in wars. Military conflict is being officially repudiated around the globe as an instrument for peace or for the pursuit of self-interest. Humanitarian intervention and peace enforcement are the names of the game, with a solid basis in international law and principles. And there is of course the concept of hybrid warfare, which blurs the line between peace and conflict.
If this is only the prelude to an upcoming WWIII, I am scared of what is around the corner.
Finally, if this were simply the new state of affairs, maybe it would not be so new after all. Political realism would remain a useful tool for understanding the international relations of most areas of the world. An exception would still have to be made for the EU, hopefully for a long time to come. As for the other regions, let’s hope that at least a stable balance of powers will be found soon, while the transformative power of ideas brings about the democratic peace.