By Dr. J Scott Younger*
The war in Ukraine, Putin’s war, is now over 100 days old and reaching a point of stalemate. One day the Russians have made small gains in the Donbas, the eastern border lands of Ukraine, and in the next day or so we hear that they have been stopped and pushed back. In the meantime, the promised more powerful armaments, with a bigger range, from Britain, the US and from some European countries, are coming on stream, albeit late and slowly, and these may, should push the Russians back. One hopes so that it is more than just talk. Sergei Lavrov, the Russian Foreign Minister is not at all pleased at this development of the west’s support for what maybe in a short time a member of the EU, and warns of an escalation of activities. Perhaps that is a risk Ukraine has to take in order to take back the lands lost.
Will Vladimir Putin seek an accommodation if it becomes obvious that his troops are being pushed back? This will be likely encouraged rather sooner than later by some European countries who are hurting, since significantly dependent on Russian sources of oil and gas or who also espouse some Russian sympathies, such as Hungary and Serbia. However, Ukraine must endeavour to get all or most of its land back, since it has lost a significant portion of it and which must include Crimea, robbed in 2014, and all the south coast, Ukraine’s vital sea outlets, before it agrees to sit down with their so-called brothers.
It is said that Putin, who is reportedly ill, is more involved in directing the ‘special military operation’, as he calls it. That should be helpful to the Ukrainians since history shows that dictators running wars from a distance are seldom successful, viz. Phillip II of Spain, a monarch who wielded dictatorial powers, and the fearsome Spanish Armada unleashed on a relatively weak England in 1588, and more recently Hitler in the 1940s.
One unintended outcome of the war has been a strengthening of the West and its defence alliance against Russian aggression, NATO. Sweden and Finland have joined up and didn’t need much persuasion after what has been happening. Finland, in particular, has a long border with Russia and has good reason from WWII to fear the Russian bear’s intentions. For NATO, going forward, the EU has to take more responsibility for its operation, because the US is gradually going to find its attention being taken up by Chinese ambitions.
As a result of Brexit, however, although Britain is a strong supporter of NATO, it is a moot point that NATO is weakened because it has left the EU. The history of NATO shows it has been dominantly dependent on the US with Britain playing the second most important role. That must change although that probably would have been easier had Brexit not happened. Interestingly, by the way, the OECD has estimated that Brexit has cost Britain 35bn to date and next year the country will, in these difficult times, show zero growth. The country is struggling post Brexit and post pandemic.
In the long run, Europe with or without Britain, must take the lead in this defensive alliance. The US is going to be involved increasingly in the Pacific.
With more US or with less of it?
It is of some concern that the US has become a fairly divided country and is somewhat inward looking. Its attention on outside affairs has declined and until it grasps its gun ownership problem firmly this will continue. At the moment, it is the only country in the world having more guns than people and has an appalling record on gun violence and killings of innocent civilians. The 2nd Amendment of the Constitution allows any adult the right to own and bear arms, ostensibly to defend themselves and family. The Republican Party see this as sacrosanct and won’t tolerate any change or adjustment to this amendment. It may have been valid in the formative years of the 19th century but hardly necessary now where there is a large police force who are armed and the lawless, early days are over – although one wonders!
One may wonder how this is so. It becomes clear where the strength of the Republican Party vis-à-vis the Democrats lies. The latter gain the majority of their support from urban areas, which are found mostly on the coastline states, whereas the Republican hold is in the many states with large swathes of land with many rural communities. While the Senate, the upper house, is comprised of two members per state unlike Congress, the lower house which is more representative of population and much larger in terms of numbers of members. It becomes understandable how the Congress is frustrated in getting anything done since the senate is generally held by the Republicans.
George Friedman in his 2008 book, The next 100 years, conjectured that the US would gradually decline in the later part of this century. Europe take note. However, the disruptive nature of politics in America over the past few years, the extremes being more noticeable, makes one concerned that it may be sooner rather than later, unless the country gets its act together.
Meanwhile, China, while the world has been otherwise distracted by Putin’s war, has been stealthily and steadilyincreasing its influence in the Pacific region. It has signed an agreement of support with the Solomon Islands which has alarmed Australia and other Pacific Islands. It ‘buzzed’ an Australian aircraft in international air space to keep away, and quietly moved along with arming the defences of their ‘islands’. If they see that the west is otherwise still preoccupied with Russia then they may well make a move on Taiwan, which would be as good a reason as any for the US to pay particular attention to the Western Pacific from now on and expect Europe, with Britain, to attend to Putin’s war and the political fall out from that.
*Dr J Scott Younger, OBE, is a professional civil engineer; he spent 42 years in the Far East undertaking assignments in 10 countries for WB, ADB, UNDP. He published many papers; he was a columnist for Forbes Indonesia and Globe Asia. He served on British & European Chamber boards and was a Vice Chair of Int’l Business Chamber for 17 years. His expertise is infrastructure and sustainable development and he takes an interest in international affairs. He is an International Chancellor of the President University, Indonesia. He is a member of IFIMES Advisory Board. Lived and worked in Thailand from 1978 to 1983 and visited Burma, Bangladesh and Nepal for projects.