By Bogdan Sucilă
With so many recent upheavals that one might easily lose count, we can safely affirm that the past three years have been like none other in post-Cold War history. And while uprisings and coups have been the meal of the day for most of 2012 and 2013, the year in progress does seem to hint us that an escalation is inevitably due. The wars that my generation grew up with share nothing of the chaos and brutal grandeur of humanity’s great conflicts, nor the Damocles’ sword feeling that the threat of a nuclear Holocaust inflicted. What 21st century people have witnessed so far looks more like a series of police actions rather than bona fide open war, with humanity’s omnipotent peacekeeper, the United States, and their good-willing-but-not-always-able-to-commit western allies distributing swift judgment and clockwork punishment upon the so-called enemies of democracy. In our own CNN-induced reality, we have witnessed Belgrade being bombed, the War on Terror running two of its episodes in Afghanistan and Iraq, and one of the oldest active dictatorial regimes, Gaddafi’s Libya, being brutally ousted in a manner of weeks.
Almost all of these events featured the United States as a central actor, the conductor of the symphony. Now, another giant threatens to overstretch its reach, reviving dormant imperialistic trends and placing the Western world in a state of unrest. The threat of a global scale conflict is debatable, but one thing has become certain: with an increasingly ambitious China and Russia, the United States’ relative passivity and refusal to acknowledge the existence of a geopolitical power play in the 21st century might lead to the latter’s loss of superpower status.
Realistically speaking, there is an almost null chance that Russia might actually undertake offensive action against any NATO member, and anyone buying this revamped Cold War-era propaganda is simply doing his part in serving the interests of weapons manufacturers who can’t wait to see an increase in military spending. On the other hand, an eventual shift in the balance of power is a realistic scenario, and something an observer of history might expect, taking into account its cyclic nature, and the tendency of empires to crumble before the test of time. But before inducing an Ozymandias theme to this article and rushing to sing Uncle Sam’s requiem, we must consider that by the time that shift occurs, Obama, Putin, or anyone of us might very well be long dead.
The chances that the state of global peace that we have been living in for the past decades is to come to an end in an abrupt manner are slim at best. A worldwide conflagration erupting overnight is a scenario that, realistically speaking, is only suited for the silver screen. World leaders realize the implications of decisive action in the 21st century, and although Russia and China have shown a better understanding of power play and of the geopolitical context that we live in, they are far from being reckless or primitive in their approach, as Western media might describe them. Even more so, I believe that the Kremlin has re-invented the foreign policy approach in a manner much better suited for the current decade.
Manipulating international financial connections, old grudges, and reconfiguring alliances are all part of the Kremlin’s new “non-linear war”, as it is now referred to by the niche press. They are currently in the avant-garde of diplomacy, sporting a refreshing mix of cockiness and tact that inevitably led the contenders left behind (mostly the North Atlantic states) to argue that their approach is brutal and 19th century-ish, just like with the criticism received by any avant-garde movement.
Still, speculation is quite irrelevant to the matter at hand, considering that regardless of the scale that this conflict will reach, Ukraine will still have its fair share of death and devastation, effectively breaking the myth that a modern armed conflict is no longer possible on the European continent, or that its borders are permanently set. While there probably won’t be a WW3 soon, the Ukrainian conflict might still be referred to as a Year Zero by our descendants.