One thing leads to another. The phrase is a cliche, but in 2022 it might well end up coming true as one war could lead to another. The pandora’s box of war was opened by the Russian invasion of Ukraine on February 24th. Once those demons were unleashed, much worse became possible and not only on the battlefields in Ukraine. Now the world is staring down the possibility that both the war in Ukraine and war in general could expand far beyond what anyone might have imagined. Putin’s war in Ukraine has showed autocrats around the world how to pave a path to destruction with malevolent intentions. Suddenly it has become possible for any nation nursing historical grievances to follow in the footsteps of Putin.
Everything being done in Ukraine by the European Union and NATO has been not only to help Ukraine defend itself, but also to contain the war. A large war – see World Wars I and II – can spread like wildfire, igniting conflicts that have been simmering just beneath the surface of geopolitical affairs. No one can say where the Ukraine-Russia war is leading, but one thing is for certain, the international geopolitical order will not be going back to the way it was prior to the invasion. That order may become stronger, irreparably weakened or completely collapse. The outcome is far from decided at this point. It is vital that the west show strength and resolve in the near, medium and long term to deter the spread of Putin’s war to a global conflagration.
Rekindling Conflict – Back To The Balkans
The invasion of Ukraine offered autocrats and dictators, as well as those leaders whose support relies on nursing pseudo-historical grievances, an alternative method of achieving their geopolitical objectives. Thankfully most of these countries do not have nuclear weapons, but some do. All of them have the capacity to make a bad situation worse through militaristic means. For instance, festering problems over identity cards and license tags in Kosovo for the Serbian minority has threatened to explode during the past week. The seemingly unsolvable problems in the western Balkans continue to be a sore spot for Europe. There is already an entire decade’s worth of precedent (Yugoslav wars of the 1990s) where military means was used to attempt an imposition of a nationalistic nightmare vision on Bosnia by Serbia and Croatia, then later Kosovo by Serbia.
Cooler heads finally prevailed, but only after thousands were killed and wounded. Many in the Balkans still nurse ancient grievances that threaten to undermine peace in the region. Serbia is the prominent actor in this regard. The fact that they have remained neutral – many would say pro-Russian – during the current crisis in Ukraine is telling. Putin would like nothing more than to see conflict in the Balkans rekindled to distract the west from Ukraine. The Serbs have not yet been complicit in restarting hostilities, but the threat is there. Submerged conflicts in the Balkans are a clear and present danger that call for constant vigilance, especially due to current conditions in Europe.
Stand Strong – China & Taiwan, Russia & Ukraine
The one nation largely silent, but most attentive to the outcome of Russia’s war in Ukraine is China, which has territorial designs on Taiwan. If for no other reason than power politics, the west cannot afford to let Russia win the war or the peace in Ukraine. If Russia emerges victorious. it would justify that violence can result in territorial aggrandizement. A conflict over Taiwan between the United States and China would dwarf the war in Ukraine. That is just what Vladimir Putin would like to see happen, since it would remove America and by extension, NATO’s focus on Ukraine. If the west can keep its alliance supporting Ukraine intact and help Ukraine defeat Russia it would send a strong message to the Chinese government that the western world will not allow the invasion of a sovereign nation’s territory to go unanswered.
The war in Ukraine is a test of the west’s strength and resolve. A show of weakness could prove fatal to the rules-based order. China is not Russia, but appeasement is tempting to autocrats. To see where weakness and mixed signals lead look no further than the current catastrophe in Ukraine which has been two decades in the making. Perhaps nothing could have stopped Vladimir Putin from invading Ukraine, but the fact that his regime was allowed to get away with taking Crimea in 2014 and suffered few consequences other than some toothless sanctions that served to embolden Putin.
China should not be tempted to chance a military incursion into Taiwan. It is a rising power, unlike Russia which is in perpetual decline. A war in Taiwan would likely prove fatal to peace in Asia, the same way Russia’s invasion of Ukraine has upset the delicate balance of peace that has allowed Europe to prosper. A war in Taiwan would also move the world one step closer to a world war. The west’s support for Ukrainian resistance to the Russian invasion, is more than a moral or ethical imperative. It is also done to limit the damage Russia can do to the rules-based international order that the post-World War II world has been predicated upon. American involvement in any military conflict over Taiwan would be necessary, but thankfully it is still not an inevitability.
Resistance & Containment – Stopping Russian Aggression
The existing rules-based order upon which the western world’s peace and continued prosperity is based, depends upon containment of the conflict in Ukraine to make it an aberration in geopolitical affairs. A sort of violent one-off war, albeit a very large and brutal one by a regime grasping for relevance under the misguided rule of Putin. Russia is a rogue actor that must be checked, to do otherwise would be to risk chaos and calamity on a global scale. Resistance and containment of the conflict is vital to keep it from becoming an example to autocratic regimes for what they can gain through military means. If the west truly believes in democratic values and a system of international norms that benefit all nations rather than just the strong, it must halt Russian aggression in Ukraine. Any other outcome could to lead to wars much worse than the current one.