Ukrainian crisis isn’t worth a new Cold War

By Jonathan Power

Both the West and Russia have a responsibility to make sure they don’t throw the baby out with the bath water as their quarrel over Ukraine continues. So much has been achieved since the end of the Cold War. Why throw it away because of Ukraine?

Ukraine is a marginal country. The tail should never be allowed to wag the dog. Ukraine has never really counted in world affairs in the 200 years of its existence. Only unthought through politics can inflate a misdemeanor into a capital offence.

Instead, front and centre of their minds, Russia and the Nato countries should think over what they achieved in the years immediately following the Cold War – nothing less than laying the bedrock of a global security system.

There were major agreements concluded to ensure control over nuclear and conventional weapons and to guarantee non-proliferation and liquidation of weapons of mass destruction. The UN began to play a much greater role in peacekeeping operations – of 49 deployments carried out before 2000 36 were carried out in the post Cold War 1990s. The number of international conflicts decreased quite significantly. Russia and China and other former socialist countries, despite differences in their political systems, were integrated into one global and financial economic system.

Several attempts were made to legally formalize the new balance of power – by concluding in 1990 a treaty on the reunification of Germany between West and East Germany, the Soviet Union, the US, UK and France. There was the Paris Charter of 1990 and the Nato-Russia Founding Act in 1997, that gave Russia important representation at the Nato table. In addition, the Adapted Conventional Armed Forces Europe Treaty was signed in 1999 and negotiations were held on the joint development of missile defence systems.

The young people of today, not least those that triggered the upheavals in Ukraine with their demonstrations in the Maidan in Kiev over a legal document whose essence few people understood – an association agreement with the EU – were of an average age of approximately 25. That means when the Cold War ended and the above efforts to create a new world order were put in place they were in junior school. What did they know? And today’s politicians don’t remind them. Instead they seem to support a new Cold War by other means.

In the Russian foreign policy magazine, Russia in Global Affairs, Alexei Arbatov of Moscow’s Institute of World Economy and International Relations, observes that “in the early 1990s the US had a unique historical chance to lead the creation of a new, multilateral world order. However, it unwisely lost this chance. The US suddenly saw itself as ‘the only superpower in the world’. Gripped by euphoria, it began to substitute international law with the law of force, legitimate decisions of the UN Security Council with the directives of the US, and OSCE prerogatives with Nato actions”.

“This policy laid time bombs under the new world order: Nato’s eastward enlargement (begun by President Bill Clinton against all the advice of the US’s academic foreign policy elite, I should add), the forceful partitioning of Yugoslavia and Serbia, the illegal invasion of Iraq, the US withdrawal from the Anti-Ballistic Missile Treaty, and the failure to ratify the Comprehensive Nuclear Test Ban Treaty. The US treated Russia as if it were a loser country, although it was Russia that put an end to the Soviet Empire and the Cold War”.

Russia, under Boris Yeltsin and then Vladimir Putin took many of these blows on the chin. They decided not to make a fuss. But then as the blows accumulated and appeared to be hitting harder Putin decided to go on the offensive and step by step create a bloody-minded Russia. Now, as Arbatov explains, “What ‘world imperialism’ was formerly blamed for – the policy of building up weapons, muscle-flexing, the establishment of military bases abroad and rivalry in arms trade – is now lauded in Russia. Nuclear weapons have acquired an exceptionally positive meaning.”

Russia may have only 3% of the world’s GDP – as against the US’s 19%, the EU’s 19%, Japan’s 6% (to give a Western per centage total approaching 50)- but it has nuclear weapons.

It is time for the older people of the West and Russia – and, most importantly, young people who can barely remember the Cold War – to read their history and demand a stop to the present dangerous confrontation. “Patriotism”, wrote Samuel Johnson in 1775, “Is the last refuge of a scoundrel.” And, as Trotsky wrote, “You may not be interested in war, but war is interested in you.”

In the recent UK election foreign policy was hardly discussed. In the US, presidential front-runners show no awareness of the good side of the history of the last quarter century. Are we going to throw the baby out with the bath water?

Copyright: Jonathan Power

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