Regime Change: Trigger Warning
Lot’s of people I know are (justifiably?) upset that the Ukraine conflict is getting so much more attention than the vicious war in Yemen. Ethiopia is also falling apart as we speak. There’s - as always - a racial subtext to attention and some peoples and nations are considered more worthy of comfort than others.
The Poles who are opening their borders to Ukrainian refugees were the ones who set armed guards against refugees from Syria. A revealing quote from a very good interview with Anatol Lieven (which I will analyze in detail another day):
And, to be blunt, it’s one thing to have your soldiers killing people in Muslim countries, but this would be asking Russian conscripts to suppress revolts not just in Western Ukraine, but in other parts of Ukraine which are very closely ethnically tied to Russia. Over time, that could have a terrible effect on Russian public opinion.
But that’s not the whole story.
It’s a bluff, but also a veiled threat, and that’s why there’s a difference between a hot war (or even a Cold War) between the great powers and violence at the periphery of the global system. Russia has nuclear weapons and Putin has threatened their use and to be honest, it’s not clear what will trigger his intention to use them. He had said this in his now infamous speech already:
That Russia has nuclear weapons and Ukraine doesn’t is surely one of the reasons why this war is happening. And of course, why Iraq was invaded and Iran is being stopped from acquiring them. We thought that nuclear conflict was a thing of the past between the great powers (though of importance in the conflict between India and Pakistan) but with US hegemony being challenged, great power conflict is restarting and that will cascade down to the next rung of powers and so on. The nuclear genie is out of the bottle again. Consider the German Chancellor’s response after days of dithering:
A rearming Germany must make Russia feel really good. Assuming, of course, that they are serious about their ‘strong modern Bundeswehr.’ Will German youth fight? Here’s Anatol Lieven again:
I’m not sure if John Mearsheimer has ever completely forgiven me for this, but I reviewed his book that came out in the ’90s, and he wrote that Germany was inevitably going to come back as a great military power dominating Europe, and I wrote in my review that the man who wrote this has never been in a German disco. That he really doesn’t understand contemporary German youth, and I think that still applies.
The fog of war is disorienting and I have no idea whether we are heading straight towards doomsday or this is a flash in the pan. Whom to trust? Whom to believe? Everyone is shitposting for their team. Nevertheless, the precautionary principle suggests we should be prepared for a world in which many states will possess nuclear weapons AND/OR wars that prevent those states from getting them AND/OR wars that take advantage of one side possessing them.
Incidentally, when the Soviet Union fell, Ukraine was briefly the third largest bearer of nuclear weapons. James Baker, G.W. Bush’s friend and Secretary of State thought it was crucial that the Soviet Union’s nuclear weapons remained under one centralized entity, a policy that was supported by Clinton after he defeated Bush. It will be truly ironic if non-proliferation concerns from the 90s of Bush and Clinton (also impacting India in a big way) came to define the future of nuclear conflict.