When World War 2 ended, the United Nations was formed, but the in-built dominance of the victors of the war, brandished through permanent membership in the Security Council, and the power of the veto remains till today. The rest of the world lobbied to restructure the UN but failed. Hence, the relevance and utility of the UN to truly address a global crisis diminished, expectations of it were lowered, and at some point, its importance reduced to that of a debating society and a sideshow.
Other groups such as the G-7, G-20, and the WTO emerged to weigh in and organize global matters. The European Union was born with the hope to seal the end of European wars. The end of the Cold War made the world look forward to a ‘Peace Dividend,’ through which defense spending could be diverted to health and education. A series of proxy wars during the Cold War and wars between unequal adversaries lulled the world into neglecting to ensure that the risk of an encounter between large military powers is kept minimal. And now that risk has ballooned. Given where the world stands today, what is the best strategy to prevent such an encounter?
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NATO thinks that limiting its security guarantee to its members and assisting Ukraine only through financial help, sanctions, and weapons supplies is the best way to avoid World War 3. NATO hence signals to Russia that all non-NATO members are ‘fair game’. It is therefore logical for Russia to gobble up all such countries, strengthening itself in the process. Does this not raise the chances of World War 3?
It is a harsh reality that the only language that a despotic, expansionist, autocratic ruler understands is power and the projection of power. Anything else is taken as a weakness and responded to accordingly.
A month ago, if NATO had warned that an attack on Ukraine will be militarily repulsed, would the Russian invasion have happened? We will never know, but there is a good chance that it would not have happened.
What could NATO do differently to project strength, rather than weakness, to increase the chances of ending Russian aggression, of rolling it back, and to help Ukraine defeat Russia?
For starters, it should stop saying that NATO will not act militarily to defend Ukraine. Let Russia continuously assess and lose sleep over that. It is not as if Russia would attack NATO for the reason that it did not forswear military engagement.
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Is it even possible for NATO to take that position given that it has stated that it will not engage militarily? Sure it is. All it has to say is that given the barbaric actions of Russia, targeting civilians and destroying cities, all options are now on the table. Let the Russians figure out what that means. NATO is the largest military power on Earth, and in its effort to come to the rescue of the Ukrainian people, it should act as one.
Secondly, is NATO doing all it can to assist Ukraine with military equipment? Apparently, it is not. The window of opportunity to get this equipment into Ukraine may close soon as Russian focus expands to Western Ukraine. Is the window being maximized to get equipment through? Visible signs indicate otherwise, but hopefully, this is happening at a covert level.
Third, there is no reason for issues between NATO members to be discussed threadbare in the media. If the spokesperson for a country responded that the matter was confidential due to its sensitive nature, this would be acceptable. After all, war is being waged with an extremely secretive, reclusive, and misleading adversary. Full transparency is not the way to deal with such an actor.
Fourth, there is a whole range of covert measures that can be adopted, and the hope is that they are being used. Ultimately, a conflict is a battle of wits. Democracies, with their broad participation, creativity, and diverse opinions and abilities, have a natural advantage. While official actions and engagements are one thing, covertly, many other things can be done. All possibilities must be exhausted.
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The Ukrainians are bravely confronting an army much bigger than theirs. They deserve to be given all the help that they ask for. If they need MIG-29s, a way should be found to get them those. Is a fighter jet different in essence from anti-tank missiles? Both are military equipment. If the Ukrainians had a fresh stock of planes, they could easily take out the tanks and artillery taking positions around Kyiv. Despite having a superior air force, the Russians are often not venturing into Ukraine, preferring to fire their cruise missiles from Russian territory. Additional fighter jets in the hands of Ukrainians could change the calculus of the war at this critical time.
If Ukraine needs a no-fly zone, a partial no-fly zone in western Ukraine, if not a full no-fly zone, should be set up. It can be enforced from the ground with appropriate military equipment, if not from the air. The important thing is to set it up, to declare it, to challenge the ability of Russia to openly massacre Ukraine from the air.
The embargo on Russian oil import into the USA is a good step. But the European measure to reduce the import of Russian gas by 2/3rd by the end of 2022 is feeble. A more rapid curtailment would exact an economic cost on Europe, but some cost will need to be borne if Russian aggression is to be reversed.
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Many European countries are welcoming and supporting Ukrainian refugees with open arms, with Poland leading the way, but the UK and the USA need to be called out for their actions regarding the refugees not matching their rhetoric. The UK has not eased its bureaucratic procedures to help refugees enter, and the USA is turning back Ukrainians at the USA-Mexico border. This needs to be fixed right away.
Hence, the way to prevent World War 3 is to face up to the aggression, not back away from it. Those in possession of military might must use its threat to deter aggressors and to assist countries under attack. If this military strength is not put to the service of maintaining peace and preventing aggression, then those who possess it risk losing this military strength.
Mueen Batlay is CEO of Think Build Scale (Pvt) Ltd and a member of the independent Economic Advisory Group (EAG).