The Cost of Wars
The assumptions conjured up by the parties to the conflict still remain just that: assumptions. Russian President Putin thought that the military action he ordered will be swift and will browbeat the Ukrainian government into submission. Nothing of the sort has happened. Ukraine, a no-match to the Russian military might, is putting up more resistance than imagined.
Meanwhile, Western countries led by the United States are bringing their collective diplomatic, and economic pressure to bear upon defiant Russia. They have imposed a series of punitive sanctions to teach Russia a lesson. The sum total of the unfolding tragedy is that no breakthrough in a negotiated settlement is expected at least in the foreseeable future.
The situation on the ground is getting terribly complicated, leading many analysts to warn of the conflict spiralling into an unmanageable conflagration. The longer the war continues, the greater the chances of this scenario becoming a dreadful reality.
Much as some analysts would like to dismiss the overblown emphasis on the Cold War analogy to explain the current state of the world, the fact remains that each development on the global political chessboard only confirms that the world has practically entered a second phase of the Cold War.
From the natural to the made-made disasters, the countries are increasingly allowing their reactions to be determined by how their policy choices will sit with the principal actors.
When considerations other than what a crisis should warrant shape your response, your decision-making is constrained by the factors that lie outside of your control and within the realm of the great game of which you are a part whether you like it or not.
How else do you explain the existence of Nato after it served its primary purpose? Why would those at the helm at Nato insist on expanding eastward when Russia has genuine security concerns about such outreach in its backyard? Why should the Western leaders resort to hard talk and sabre rattling and make things worse, knowing fully well the cost of the war for the Ukrainian people?
When the events such as the Covid-19 pandemic, the biggest public health disruption in recent times, and the Olympics get politicised and used to score a point or two, it signifies the return of the great game in its latest avatar. Another manifestation of realignment underway around the pivot of the Cold War is the gradual weakening of global institutions meant for conflict management and resolution. It is also marked by a stiff competition to bend and interpret the rules and norms that govern these institutions.
War is an admission of a failure of human endeavours to manage conflict. No matter how noble the objectives, it is still abominable as it leaves behind the unfathomable tales of human agony, chaos and physical disaster. The scars it leaves on the emotional health of its victims are hard to erase, even after active hostilities cease.
The developing Eurasian crisis points to a bigger tragedy that has come to define our world; the powerlessness and dehumanisation of common people, a fact that is becoming glaringly pronounced with every development. This ongoing conflict shows how the cold war mindset continues to drive the actions of the main players who are interested in extending their area of influence at any cost.
The games the global elites are wont to play may serve their narrow interests but will end up exploiting people and undermining the very branch they are sitting on. The whole superstructure of their power and wealth is erected on the foundation of mass-scale exploitation, a purpose achieved through a variety of ways.
A major challenge to the concept of liberal democracy that emerged as the only ‘panacea’ after the disintegration of the USSR comes from the Western elite themselves. When the mantra of democracy is used to pander to the interests of the industrial-military complex that privileges profit without giving a hoot to ensuing human suffering, it renders democracy hollow from inside.
When the corporate media is co-opted to sell a war by using the moralistic binaries, it hits at the root of the confidence people generally have in the media organizations to offer informed perspectives and hold the elites accountable through a candid critique.
The manipulation of people in the name of imaginary enemies and threats has led to the curtailment of fundamental freedoms that have formed the bedrock of Western democracy as a symbol of a historic agreement between the citizens and state.
Likewise, when the global financial crunch allows the ever-hungry capitalistic elite to manipulate the administrations into announcing bail-outs and largesse, it diminishes democracy as a worthy ideal and turns it into an instrument for the attainment of petty gains, while people are left to deal with the job losses, reduced social security benefits, higher taxation and increasing health and education expenses.
The first two decades of the current century represent the solidification of the tiny global elites at the cost of struggling teeming millions for whom every day has brought bad news in its wake.
The marginalised and persecuted people in Indian Illegally Occupied Jammu and Kashmir (IIOJK), Afghanistan, Palestine and elsewhere, who are suffering from the ravages of war, occupation and persecution, constantly remind us of the lopsidedness and moral hollowness of the prevailing world order. These people may belong to different geographical regions, speak different languages, and wear different clothes altogether, they are bound by a shared vulnerability to the games that are played in their name or on them.
The ill-effects of the elites’ unsatiated hunger for domination do not remain confined to the areas of their operations. Wars disrupt the global markets, already perched on weak foundations, throw commodity supply chains off-balance and result in increased suffering for people around the world. You may bash globalisation as an illusion but it is there as a hard fact.
Thanks to the shenanigans and the actions of the global power elites, the notion of liberal democracy has been hollowed out for all intents and purposes. The bouts of inequality, hunger, exploitation, and wars it has unleashed under various pretexts are a self-indictment.
The biggest crisis the present world order is facing relates to the absence of a moral purpose without which no system, however formidable and strong, can function for a long time. The socialising of losses and privatizing of profit is shorthand for everything that is wrong with the present order.
This moral crisis emanates from the shattered dreams of the people in whom democracy is operated as well as an inability to take principled positions on issues of wider public importance that involve their fundamental rights. Realpolitik is the order of the day in the nation-states that are supposed to actualise the aspirations of the people.
One way of understanding the scourge of rightwing nationalism, and populism is to contextualize it within the framework of the failures of liberal democracy. People are increasingly turning to the leaders who are unrestrained, and have the capability to process their anger and challenge the system.
As the events that happened on Capitol Hill on January 06, 2021, indicate, these people are not calling for incremental reform, they are for upsetting the status quo, holding it responsible for their hardships.
If the world leaders are still interested in working within the existing rules of the game and healing the wounds that are deepening by the day, they should start off by introspecting and relocating the moral purpose that has been lost.
At the same time, there is a need for collective realisation to reboot the global institutions meant for conflict management and resolution. Their increasing irrelevance has increased the risks and exposed the world to a host of potential disasters. There have long been complaints about their conduct from the Global South. Time has come for a fresh consensus to reimagine these institutions in the light of prevailing realities that are shaping our world order.
The writer, a Chevening scholar, studied International Journalism at the University of Sussex.