Opinion

Russia’s invasion of Ukraine and the making of a new world order, By Sony Ogulewe

The Russian invasion of Ukraine on 24th February, 2022 and the sustained bombardment of human population and infrastructure of Ukraine has presented new vista to the understanding of the emergence of new world order characterized by impunity and audacious violation of Article 2 (4) of the UN Charter.
Again, the threat by Russia to deploy nuclear warheads to advance its interest in the war is another dimension to the emerging scenario in international relations, global peace and security. This war should therefore not be interpreted in isolation of its immediate and latent consequences both for nuclear management and global peace. The signals are disturbing both for global peace and security but also for democracy across the world.
A brief history of Russia/Ukraine relations could be helpful here in understanding the roots of the war. The former Union of Soviet Socialist Republic came in being in 1922 under its first leader and Marxist revolutionist, Vladimir Lenin. It was a union of Russia and 15 republics namely Ukraine, Georgia, Belarus, Armenia, Azerbaijan, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Moldova, Turkmenistan, Tajikistan, Uzbekistan, Latvia, Lithuania and Estonia. USSR was administered strictly on iron-fist communist ideology and was indisputably a critical actor at the global scene and essentially expanded its economic model beyond the Soviet Union.
The Soviet Union collapsed on December 25th, 1991after the decision of the republics to go separate ways under the regime of President Mikhail Gorbachev. Several complex factors accounted for the collapse of the Soviet Union which could be categorized as economic, political and security among others. The introduction of glasnost (“openness”) and perestroika (“restructuring”) by the Gorbachev regime to address both the social-political and economic problems of the union hastened the collapse of Union principally because the union was not tailored for such reforms. There was the bourgeoning of black market businesses which drove prices of essential commodities beyond the reach of the ordinary citizens and this was not helped by the defense spending to catch up with the United States in the arms race of the cold war era.
An alternative view on reasons for the collapse has posited that “even more than the launch of perestroika, [Chernobyl] was perhaps the real cause of the collapse of the Soviet Union five years later.” In essence the Chernobyl nuclear accident one of the consequences of the inexplicable arms race pushed the Soviets to the limits of rationalization of the arms race and the conclusion was that they could not undertake adventures that impoverished the Soviets and yet put them at risk of extermination. The eventual collapse was therefore inevitable and foretold. Ukraine is therefore one of the breakaway republics from the defunct Soviet Union with very rich potentials.
Expectedly, since the collapse of the Soviet Union, Russia has not hidden its regrets over the loss of power and relevance in the global perking order and has equally not hidden its determination to revert the status quo.
According to Mohit Oberoi, an Indian analyst, “Russia sees the former Soviet constituents, which include Ukraine, as its circle of influence and doesn’t want them to pivot towards NATO”. Russian President Vladimir Putin has once decried NATO’s eastward expansion. Several countries that were once under the influence of the erstwhile Soviet Union are now NATO allies. Putin said “1990s were the decade of humiliation for his country, which is something that he has been trying to undo.”
At the Munich Security Conference in 2007, Putin again complained viciously that “It is obvious that NATO expansion does not have any relation with the modernization of the alliance itself or with ensuring security in Europe” noting that “On the contrary, it represents a serious provocation that reduces the level of mutual trust.” Therefore to Putin, stopping Ukraine from joining NATO was a prudential obligation and a national interest project that must be accomplished at any cost and this affected its bilateral relationship with Ukraine for several years. “The situation deteriorated in 2014 after Russia annexed Crimea from Ukraine.”
One significant issue in the global political hemisphere is the fact that it a very dynamic global system that has particularly seen the emergence of other power centers from the ashes of the Second World War and this inevitably has made Russia a marginal player in the global power calculus.
The worst that happened to Russia was the gradual demise of the Warsaw Pact whereby some of the member states have either withdrawn or have shown little efforts to be identified with the pact. This development has in no small measure raised Russia apprehension regarding its own security taking into consideration the expansion of the NATO within its contiguous sphere.
The perceived hostile expansion NATO in Eastern Europe has made Russia vulnerable in its security interpretation. Ukraine is one of the remaining countries in the former Soviet Union yet to join NATO but has made its interest known. This has not gone well with Russia who interprets it as an audacious constriction of security latitude.
Since the end of the cold war in 1991, the February 24th, 2022 invasion of Ukraine by Russia has presented a situation where a new world order characterized by impunity and audacious violation of Article 2(4) of the UN Charter.
Article 2 (4) inter alia states “All members shall refrain in their international relations from the threat or use of force against the territorial integrity of political independence of any state, or in any other manner inconsistent with the purposes of the United Nations”. In order words the United Nations completely recognizes the sovereignty of member nations and the inviolability of their territories.
Russia by its actions on the 24th February has flagrantly violated Article 2(4) which has put the world in a verge of a new world order where might is right and by extension puts global peace and security at a huge risk.
With the war’s outcome in doubt, so too is Putin’s wider goal of overturning the security order that has existed in Europe since the end of the Cold War and the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991. This was the view expressed by the Associated Press on 26th March, 2022.
The warning from Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov that a third world war would be “nuclear” and “destructive,” is instructive that Russia is prepared to the alter the delicate balance of power in Europe and globally, even as it is clear Russia’s threat of nuclear is a mere threat. This view was reinforced by Brian Toon during a CNN interview with Christiane Amanpour, where he had argued that “I don’t think we should be very worried. Putin is fully aware that if he actually starts a nuclear war, he would end up with Russia being a burning pile of rubble. There are only 200 cities in Russia with more than 100,000 people. The U.S. could attack every Boulder-sized and bigger city in Russia with 10 nuclear weapons. Putin is certainly aware of that, and I don’t think he would want that. What he’s trying to do is bully the West into not helping Ukraine.”
Even as this argument is valid to some extent, it presents a worrisome picture that the extent dictators could go to prove their worth may be difficult to be determined. Rather the argument of Bulgarian Prime Minister Kiril Petkov that within the violation of sovereignty of Ukraine by Russia “there is now not a single country that can live with the illusion that they are safe and secure,” should be taken more seriously.
Even the joint statement from NATO after its meeting in Brussels on Thursday. 24th March, 2022 that stated unequivocally that “we are united in our resolve to counter Russia’s attempts to destroy the foundations of international security and stability,” is a clear signal that the present world order has been altered and a new one is beginning to take shape.
The new world that is envisaged is where nuclear arms proliferation negotiation will become increasingly problematic and nuclear arms race visibly attractive even to small nations. This places the world at the edge of nuclear catastrophe. Countries drawing experience from Ukraine may be unwilling to give up their nuclear weapons or suspend their nuclear programme fully as the preservation of their sovereignty clearly rests on their nuclear capability
The inability of NATO and in fact the UN to help Ukraine despite the clear violation of Article 2(4) of the UN Charter is though certainly a precautionary measure to avert what could be a nuclear war, could in fact be interpreted as an impetus for the nuclear have-nots to contemplate a nuclear adventure away from the weaknesses of the UN to protect them in the event of an aggression from a nuclear power. To what extent this precautionary measure subsists amidst human and material carnage in Ukraine is a difficult question to answer and no nation would like to be caught in this kind dilemma.
The threat of nuclear catastrophe is real considering the claim by Brain Toon that “right now, there are about 13,000 on the planet… and added that “if you take the smallest nuclear weapon on an American submarine, the zone of death around ground zero is about 3 miles in radius, so drop just one of those in the middle of Denver and it would eliminate a large fraction of the city. An American submarine carries about 96 nuclear warheads, and they’re each about 10 times more powerful than the Hiroshima bomb that killed 100,000 people in 1945. That means an American submarine could potentially kill 100 million people if it launched all of its bombs toward cities. And the Russians could do the same”
He further opined that ”If there was a war between India and Pakistan, which are not very big nuclear weapons countries, and they used half of their arsenals, it would kill somewhere between 50 and 150 million people from the direct explosions in cities. But we think about 1 to 3 billion people would die globally because the smoke from the burning cities would get into the stratosphere and block sunlight. Ground temperatures would fall to Ice Age conditions within weeks and destroy agriculture. People would starve to death because they couldn’t grow food.”
The consequences of a nuclear war irrespective of the volume was further made clearer by Fred Kaplan an American scholar who argued that even as “low-yield weapon, it explodes with the power of 8,000 tons of dynamite plus radiation, radioactive fallout and all the rest. It is still, by the standards of any explosion that anyone alive today has ever seen, it’s extraordinarily large. Is this where the world is headed? The threat has become real making the nuclear have-nots begin to contemplate a nuclear programme as the only assurances against the violation of their territorial integrity.
The consequences of this action are considered far reaching beyond the immediate human catastrophe, infrastructural devastation and associated economic problems. One foresees a new world order of arms race that would put the world community on edge of possible nuclear accidents, since it has become obvious that Russia has almost escaped western direct involvement in the its war with Ukraine because of the threat of nuclear war. Therefore, other countries yet to develop nuclear capability may consider the possibility going nuclear for its protection in a world of nuclear might.
The argument that Russia many not have contemplated the invasion of a nuclear Ukraine has proven that nuclear capability is very valid when placed within the context of the incapacity of the west to stop Russia from invading Ukraine because such action was considered a high risk.
Some scholars like Bruno Tertrais not only acquiesce with this line of thought but have further argued that “while the risk of Russia using nuclear weapons, even absent NATO’s involvement in Ukraine, does exist, it is in all likelihood minimal. Nevertheless, the war in Ukraine underscores the role that nuclear deterrence plays in conventional engagements, as well as the need for Western policymakers and strategists to think seriously about the dynamics that it creates.”
On May 8th 1998, India had its first romance with nuclear weapon and justified it by the argument that “they felt they were not being listened to because they don’t have bombs” an argument reinforced by Bill Clinton when he stated that “ that India was underappreciated as a world power”. The action of Russia in Ukraine today has made the pursuit of nuclear capability explainable and urgent, which according Bruno Tertrais also puts the UN in a difficult position to regulate or stop new nuclear programme noting that “the war in Ukraine is in many ways already a conflict taking place in a nuclear atmosphere and Russia enjoys a liberty of action to conduct major offensive operations in Ukraine in large part due to the fact that it is sheltered behind its nuclear capability.”
Some scholars have argued that “Putin demands that NATO refuse membership to Ukraine and other former Soviet states like Georgia, and that the alliance roll back its military presence to positions held prior to expanding into Eastern Europe”. This is not only out rightly provocative and self-serving and in fact a denial of Article 2(4) of the UN Charter in this instance. “Putin has played the nuclear card since before the invasion even began, including multiple explicit and implicit references to Russia’s nuclear deterrent as well as his televised decision on Feb. 27 to change the readiness level of Russia’s strategic forces” It again explains in no uncertain terms the determination of Russia to play more than a fair share of role in Europe and in the world and which explains the raison d’etre of her aggression in Ukraine.
Russia seeks a new world order by reconfiguring the balance of terror to its advantage. But sadly for Russia in the global space no country has the monopoly of terror as several others with nuclear capability could still posse similar danger to global pace as Russian presently seeks to alter. It is therefore not a win-win situation for Russia. What we see in the coming years is arms race that essentially will be devoted to seeking a nuclear shield against nuclear attack since Russia has threatened that use of nuclear is a convenient possibility.
Another angle of this argument is the notion that “Western nuclear doctrines believe in a form of “defensive sanctuarization” by which, in a confrontation with a nuclear-armed state, the West’s nuclear deterrence will neutralize that of the adversary, limiting any conflict to the conventional realm.
But if Russia’s nuclear capability turns out to be the main obstacle to direct intervention by Western countries in support of Ukraine, as now seems to be the case, it would call into question this principle’s validity. In more practical terms, it would also have significant implications for the lessons China might draw when it comes to the U.S. commitment to the defense of Taiwan”. This is dilemma and another worrisome consequence of this war.
Tertrais concluded that “while the threat of nuclear escalation remains low, the conflict has already demonstrated the complex role nuclear deterrence plays in conventional conflicts, with implications for security in Europe—and beyond. The United Nations (UN) should therefore devise a strategy beyond sanctions to put this war to an immediate end.
Dr. Sonny Ogulewe, an analyst, lives in Abuja. He first contributed this piece to TheNiche.
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