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A New World… Weapons and Rubble

A New World… Weapons and Rubble

Monday, 16 January, 2023 - 11:00
Ghassan Charbel
Ghassan Charbel is the editor-in-chief of Asharq Al-Awsat newspaper

Don’t bemoan your sorrows at the doors of the United Nations. The building is gloomy and its prestige is rubble. It can no longer offer guarantees or solutions. In the current century, the UN suffered two severe blows. Here we are in the jungle. If you are not a wolf, the wolves will eat you.

The first blow came two decades ago. In wake of the September 11 attacks, the administration of George W. Bush decided to uproot Saddam Hussein’s regime.

The justifications poured in, but later turned out to be invalid. Saddam’s regime did not have a good reputation, but its corruption did not justify the American invasion.

Saddam’s regime fell, but the invasion disturbed historical balances in the Iraqi-Turkish-Iranian triangle, and beyond. Iran seized the opportunity, exporting the embers of its revolution and its militias to four Arab maps. The Middle East was shaken.

It soon became clear that America - with its intelligence services, universities and research institutes - had no understanding of Iraq and its people. It imagined that the Iraqis would shower its tanks with flowers and hasten to embrace a Western model, ignoring the country’s social, cultural and religious composition, as well as geographical destinies.

The US invasion changed some features of the Middle East, but did not alter the structures of the world. The United Nations tried to heal its wounds. But nearly two decades later, it incurred a more powerful blow.

On February 24, 2022, the Russian army invaded Ukraine, bringing the war back to the European continent and dashing the sanctity of international borders, suggesting that maps can be modified by the sound of missiles, tanks and drones.

Moscow justified the invasion by claiming it wants to uproot Nazis and liberate Russians in Ukraine who suffer from marginalization and abuse.

It soon became clear that Russia, which boasted of its experience and wisdom, knew little of the current Ukraine, with whom it shared its Slavic and Orthodox affiliation, as well as the Soviet cradle.

The American miscalculation in Iraq was outweighed by the Russian mistake in Ukraine. Kyiv did not fall and the white flag was not raised. Zelensky did not seek refuge in an embassy, nor did he flee abroad. The West rushed to pump weapons and billions into Ukraine. The long months of war proved the invalidity of the Kremlin’s claim that Ukraine was never an independent country, and merely a Soviet invention.

But the war that failed to topple the Ukrainian regime succeeded in changing the world by unleashing the biggest storm of fear since World War II. In the second strike, as in the first, the Security Council stood idle, because the party that dealt the blow was a permanent member-state, and had the veto at its disposal.

It is obvious that the “sole superpower” mistreated Russia, which was emerging from the Soviet rubble. It ignored the rage in the Russian spirit and its historic siege mentality. It is also clear that Ukraine did not respect the imperatives of geographical destiny when it embraced the model of color revolutions and had Atlantic dreams.

But all this does not give legitimacy to the Russian invasion and the forced elimination of the Ukrainian map. We should not forget that Putin once compared attracting old “comrades” to NATO to stealing organs from the Soviet-Russian body.

It is not the first time that Russia leaves its mark on the features of the planet. In the second decade of the last century, Vladimir Lenin shook the world when his party took control of the snowy continent and launched a major project to change the world.

Five decades later, the empire of Lenin’s heirs was much larger than that of Peter the Great, before it collapsed during the reign of Mikhail Gorbachev.

Russia left its mark when it paid a river of blood in the “Great Patriotic War” waged by Joseph Stalin and shocked the world with the Stalingrad epic. A junior KGB officer was stationed in East Germany when the great downfall occurred. He felt orphaned, and later emerged from the Kremlin harboring a project for revenge, with the war in Ukraine as its backbone. It’s a project for revenge against the Western model and against America, its hegemony and its dollar.

Before the Ukrainian war blows out its first candle next month, talks have emerged about the possibilities of a prolonged conflict due to mutual miscalculation. The Kremlin misjudged its army’s ability to achieve a quick victory, and is relying now on the Wagner group. The West miscalculated the power of its sanctions on the Russian economy, which is financing the war.

The truth is that the Russian attack has changed the world more than it succeeded in reversing the equations in the Ukrainian arena.

The Ukrainian war raised difficult and sensitive questions about the future of Ukraine and the fragility of the European continent, which is addicted to Russian energy. The war brought the file of nuclear weapons back to the table. It also shed light on the rise of China, and put forward a thorny question. If the West concedes Russia’s “right” to annex Ukrainian provinces, how will it stand up to China’s right to return Taiwan to the bosom of the motherland?

Moreover, the war raised complex issues related to globalization, supply chains, and the arms race, which will deplete a significant part of the capabilities of what was once known as the “global village.”

The world has changed, and no one is seriously betting on international law and Guterres’ office. Worried countries look to their neighbors and see the guarantee in developing their arsenals. Countries are looking for deadlier weapons and protective umbrellas.

It is not easy for Germany to turn the page on its previous defense policy and announce the allocation of a 100 billion euros to strengthen its arsenal.

Japan’s fears have also doubled. Russian-Chinese shows of force off Taiwan increased Tokyo’s anxiety, especially when it coincided with the North Korean leader’s missile games.

Russia is also not far away, and the dispute over the islands lingers. Japan felt it needed an arsenal to deal with surprises, and stronger coordination with the US.

Thus, Japan has doubled its defense spending to become third in the world after America and China. The visit by the Japanese prime minister to Washington is an explicit message announcing the birth of a Japan that is preparing for the Chinese, North Korean and Russian plans.

Germany and Japan have joined the arms race in an uncertain, fearful and tense world, where the bet on soft power has receded. We now live in a different era. The world that was born out of the Soviet ashes is gone, but the new world portends much more rubble.

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