Ukraine and the failure of normative power

11175799645_02ae363b8a_oWe all see the moral imperative behind the motto “put some flowers in your cannons”: dreams about a world without military are alluring and – to the contrary – wars, deaths, tanks and guns are despicable things. Nobody wants to kill, nobody wants to make war, and everybody loves peace and peaceful times.

Now, go and say that to the Ukrainians. The problem with this baby-boomers’rationale is that it is only working when you are the one who’s sitting on the fence of “the right side” of history, or when you are living in a Western country in which war and guerrilla are not an option anymore.

It is true: guns and tanks have killed plenty of people, but very few consider the fact that guns and tanks have also saved a lot of people. Putin’s take-over of the Crimean peninsula and of Ukraine might sound surprising, but it isn’t if you think about it. This wasn’t some “Risk!” time for him, it was a logical foreign policy choice which made perfect sense in Putin’s eyes. Ukraine has been a Russian country for ages, after all.

What was really surprising was, instead, U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry’s condemnation of Putin’s move: “You just don’t in the 21st century behave in 19th century fashion by invading another country on completely trumped up pre-text”. Actually, you do if you want to. A Secretary of State should be far less idealistic in his declarations. If anything, it sounds like Kerry is coming from another planet, where has the U.S. Secretary of State been during the last two decades?

Same thing goes for President Obama: like Charles Krauthammer correctly puts it, one cannot exaggerate the naivety of Obama’s statement according to which the take-over of Crimea was not in Russia’s interest: the Crimean peninsula having been in Russian hands from 1792 to 1992.

A Modern-day dreamer might be convinced that weapons are to be blamed for what is happening in Ukraine nowadays. But in reality, we are all witnessing to the failure of normative power and progressive ideas. Or, if you wish, we are witnessing the colossal failure of Obamaland: the imaginary place in which, if you reduce you arsenal, other people will follow you.

When Obama called for a reduction of tactical nuclear warheads from Berlin’s Brandenburg Gate back in 2013, the answer he got from Russian strategists wasn’t positive in fact. Yuri Ushakov, Vladimir Putin’s foreign policy advisor, noticed at that time that nowadays’ global strategic scenario is different from the one that we had fifty years ago, when only Russia and America possessed nuclear weapons and the potential for mutual annihilation rested solely in the hands of their respective leaders.

“The current situation is far from what it was in 60s and 70s, when only the United States and the Soviet Union discussed nuclear arms reduction,” said Ushakov, “it is necessary to look at this broader issue now and, naturally, to expand the circle of possible participants of possible contacts regarding this.”

Ushakov reasoning is realistic, in stark contrast with Obama’s idealistic rationale. Say what you want about Russians, but they aren’t stupid. They know the world we are living in today is not a bipolar world, it is a multi-polar one. In other terms: the balance of power has shifted, it isn’t about USSR vs. USA anymore. In nowadays world one must also take into account China’s growing military forces, Iran’s anti-Semitic drive, terrorism and the likes.

In a world like this anything can happen. The illusion according to which, with the passing of time, human beings become more peaceful pertains to Platonic idealism. Far from being a safer place, our planet is nowadays a much more dangerous place than ever before.

In this interview with CNN, Marco Vicenzino talks about the danger of “una nueva Guerra Frìa”, a new Cold War. One couldn’t agree more with him.

Vicenzino also stresses the fact that Russians indulge in a certain feeling of nostalgia towards former communist countries and that is understood too. What one must also take into consideration though, is the fact that Putin’s Risk-move might establish a dangerous precedent insofar as he hasn’t encountered any serious opposition for what he has done, apart from the usual “threat” of retaliation coming from the EU and the USA and regarding possible sanctions.

However, imposing sanction on Moscow might not be the answer for various reasons. The first one being: Ukraine, as well as the Crimean peninsula, is well worth a couple of economic sanctions: let’s not forget that Ukraine was one of the richest satellites of the USSR. Ukraine represented an important economic argument for communist ideals and Ukraine’s fertile soil was an extremely important factor also in agricultural terms. Finally, Ukraine was also relevant to Moscow because of its industries as well as for its precious raw materials and mining sites.

International law is only as resilient and durable as the international ability to impose it is dependable. Putin’s move might have been swift and precipitate, but its implications will change the way that we as Westerners think and act in the long run and for a long time.

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Andrea Loquenzi Holzer

The truth will set you free

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