In Other News – The Will to Resist – 2/23/2023

February 23, 2023

History will look back at the Russian invasion of Ukraine — that took place a year ago today — and say that this was a defining inflection point in global realignment. What is most striking is how very disruptive the invasion has been and how the downstream effects have prompted strategic pivots from nearly all parties. A flailing NATO was reinvigorated and a resonant counter narrative to the global rise in autocracy began to crystallize in the zeitgeist. What’s more the undergirding tenants of economic cooperation stood strong with countries and private corporations largely complying at their own initiative to the international sanctions regime. Europe weened itself from Russian energy incurring a cost no one expected it to bear and prompted an accelerated shift to clean energies, concurrently depriving Russia of its biggest leverage with Europe. Supply chain disruptions from Covid were exacerbated, catalyzing an enduring effort to diversity supply chains away from China. China’s role as an essential partner for Russia is undeniable but Russia’s role for China is less that of a strategic partner and more that of a useful pawn who can distract Western attention away from the South China Sea and China’s own regional expansion ambitions. Still China’s support for Russia will remain circumscribed by the importance of its trade relationships with the West. Perhaps most stark is this diminishment of Russia’s strategic agency as an energy exporter and viable strategic threat to Europe;: if Russia cannot win against Ukraine, then it doesn’t hold a chance against Europe. This reality has prompted a heightened risk of domestic political trouble within Russia coming from its Far Right flank.

As the war is likely to drag on for some time, this global realignment will continue and in step with it will be a battle for predominance in the 21st century between China and the West. Already, traditional alliances and partnerships in the Middle East are shifting, whether it be Turkey’s irksome role holding up NATO expansion, the ambiguous positioning of Israel, UAE, and Saudi as traditional U.S. allies, or Iran and Russia’s newfound brotherhood of de facto rogue states who are more and more likely to engage in active measures and asymmetrical mischief. The assertive neutrality of India, South Africa, and nearly the whole of Latin America underscores the critical role that the Global South will now play in matters of international diplomacy and geopolitical problem-solving including war, energy, food, resources, and addressing climate change. What is at stake is whether the international system of governance and its institutions will ultimately hold. The war has brought to the fore a realization that the past several decades have brought unprecedented peace and prosperity to the world (with the glaring exceptions of the Middle East and Afghanistan) and this entire system is currently under strain from Russia’s abrogation of the tenant of territorial sovereignty and its willingness to breach international norms of war and commit human rights abuses. There is an opportunity here for the West to try and turn the page for its own wars of choice and make a case for a reassertion of Western democratic values with its trademark rule of law, and investment to fill the emergent vacuums being left by China’s faltering Belt and Road initiative. China will continue to press the case for multipolarity and alternative centers of influence away from the West. The greatest threat to the West may be its own resolve threatened by internal political dynamics, whereas Xi and Putin have demonstrated time and time again how they will not countenance even a modicum of domestic dissent.

And yet perhaps the most enduring observation to take away from this last year is the indomitable strength of the Ukrainian people’s desire for self-determination. Only history will tell how the fault lines will eventually settle but there is enormous resilience, innovation, and brilliance to be found in the will to resist. And that is something to never be underestimated.