For ten days, a sovereign, independent, democratic and peaceful country has been attacked, and continues to be attacked, while the world watches the action in real-time. Here is cruelty and violence being committed in front of us, but we all have our reasons to mostly watch, with only some partial help coming to the aid of beleaguered Ukraine.
For the West, the rule book of “all help except military help” is being followed. What motivates this rule book? Some cite the need to avoid a direct military confrontation between NATO and Russia. Others fault a war-weariness, especially in the case of the USA. What seems more likely is a calculated cost-benefit analysis which major countries have conducted for themselves, reaching the conclusion that rounding up their own horses, and strengthening their own stables is the best thing they can do for themselves. They are wrong.
How the world is crumbling into chaos and tribulations?
This is the same thinking that was prevalent in Europe in the inter-war years, between the first and second world wars. At that time, countries protected themselves, offered up a few sacrificial lambs as a necessity and tolerated a tyrant. They thought they could get away with it. Their glorious economies were too bustling to shake them up with a horrible war. Had they acted sooner, and more decisively, the Second World War may have been avoided. And the same is the case today.
Nuclear weapons are supposed to be deterrents, but are they expensive golden handcuffs instead that freeze a countries into inaction? Are the strongest countries of the world helpless to prevent a massacre? If they are, then they do not deserve to be leaders. And nuclear weapons should be decommissioned and trashed.
The unthinkability of nuclear-armed countries engaging in direct conflict is an excuse, for there are many ways that the powerful countries can help if they wish to. Troops in plain clothes could be introduced. Attack drones could be provided to destroy 40km columns, with trainers sent secretly to enable Ukrainians to use them. Oil and gas import embargoes could be imposed and the pain borne.
It is true that the calculus being used by the West, intolerable economic sanctions and diplomatic isolation in the world, is likely to eventually work. Like an unfortunate tragi-comedy, remnants of the same cold war thinking that obliterated the Soviet Union last century may irreversibly weaken Russia. But the cost in terms of human lives lost, and a country destroyed, is simply too high. Perhaps the collective guilt that global conscience will bear for allowing this to happen will be the biggest cost.
When terrible cruelty is committed, the response cannot be based on utilitarian computations. A wrong is being committed, and it must be stopped. A people are in trouble, and they must be helped with full force, no holds barred. If the world doesn’t do that, then the usefulness of centuries of evolution in law, philosophy and ethics is a waste. If a highly-evolved alien civilization were to visit us, they would be appalled at our cruelty and tribalism, and be inclined to shut us down.
Sure, in hindsight, mistakes were committed by the West
When the cold war ended, and the USA woke up in a unipolar world, it should have used this opportunity to transform the global power structure, rather than shoring up its own position. When the Soviet Union collapsed, there was no need for NATO as it previously existed. It should have been transformed into an organization guaranteeing peace for all, and Russia and China should have been invited to join. There was so much goodwill at that time that they would have gladly done so. Apparently, there was some attempt to do this at that time, but it failed. But the bottom line is that these matters are now all academic. The only relevant facts are that a massacre is being committed to a sovereign, independent country, and it must be stopped.
While the verbal support and sanctions packages introduced by Europe, EU and the USA are helpful, there must be a limit to grandstanding when actual action and concrete help is scarce. And the more NATO briefs the world about the measures it’s taking to protect its members, implicitly it reminds Ukraine of all the things it is not doing to help it. Only some decades ago, unjustified actions against non-allied countries, such as the invasion of Kuwait by Iraq, were not tolerated and were militarily reversed. The world may have changed, but has it changed that much, or was that particular action driven by other motives, and the move window-dressed with ethical undertones? Oil may be scarce, but cynicism is abundant these days.
Sanctions are like responding to a violent crime with a financial penalty
The penalty may change behavior over time, but surely such a response does not exemplify justice, and the world in which it happens is not a just world. Another activity that is anachronistic and absurd is the UN and its functioning. The victors of the Second World War, which ended mid-last century, maintain veto powers over its Security Council, and if the party that has violated the peace happens to head the council at this time, like a helpless bureaucracy, the proceedings just continue.
Speeches and votes are dearly observed. It is important to know who openly supports, who opposes and who abstains regarding the invasion, but is this all that humanity can collectively do? Do we have to set the bar so low? As the UN has failed to reform, it is time to build an alternate world body and get some work done.
And what of the Muslim countries? A lack of protest from most of them is sometimes justified with the reasoning that the countries that are seeking the support of Muslim countries are nowhere to be seen when their support is solicited to protest and take action against cruelty and atrocities being committed against Muslims in places like Kashmir and Palestine. This line of reasoning does not hold because protest and action against cruelty, massacre and the violation of a country’s sovereignty is not a transactional matter. It does not depend on sharing tribe, religion, or membership in a particular political bloc. If the conscience of humanity is alive, the response must be triggered by any human suffering, in fact, by the pain of any living thing. Is the conscience alive?
What about the future? Is it possible for the world to rise above its tribalism and religious divisions, and stand and act in support of the right, and against what’s wrong? Can the world unite, organized on the basis of people willing to proclaim and work for justice, and not on the basis of ethnicity and shared histories? For the first time, the world is digitally linked up and connected and aware of affairs in real-time. So the potential exists. Will the citizens of the world seize it?
Mueen Batlay is Director of the Faculty of Management Sciences at Hamdard University, CEO of Think Build Scale (Pvt) Ltd and member of the independent Economic Advisory Group. The views expressed in the article are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of Global Village Space.