After Ukraine War, Europe is Europeans’ Business

Independent of the issues involved and the destruction caused by a war that was avoidable, Russian President Putin has exposed NATO’s limitations and also Western Europe’s overdependence on the US

Published: 14th March 2022 12:01 AM  |   Last Updated: 14th March 2022 12:01 AM   |  A+A-

A man walks with a bicycle in a street damaged by shelling in Mariupol, Ukraine, Thursday, March 10, 2022.

A man walks with a bicycle in a street damaged by shelling in Mariupol, Ukraine. (Photo | AP)

Barring further Russian attacks on Ukraine more devastating than what has already occurred, which may or may not trigger an equally nasty response from the latter’s cheerleaders, the medium and long-term outcomes of the conflict is this: Europe, cutting across the ideological divide, has taken back Europe for Europeans, from the guardianship of the US. It has vowed in silence to sort out its differences or create a new detente that could hold without NATO. With this, Europe may have also taken back the world to itself as before the end of the Second World War and the commencement of the Cold War, whose end in turn saw geostrategic fulcrum shift towards Asia, centred on China, after lazing around Afghanistan and Iraq, but not as much on Syria.

Thus far at least, no one is talking seriously about a nuclear war in Europe. The West European restraint in not following up American words with their deeds in a Europe and a world that can do without even a large-scale conventional war helped. It is their unwillingness to have war on their ground nearly 75 years after guns went silent on the Continent—and by extension, the rest of the world—that may have saved both from graded destruction, a third time in a hundred years. In the post-colonial world, however, it is difficult for countries to get destroyed in other nations’ wars unless sovereigns foolishly decide to join a war that may not be theirs, though they too cannot escape the humanitarian and economic fallouts.

The Ukraine war has exposed the limitations of NATO in real-war situations unlike the nuclear detente of the Cold War era. Independent of the issues involved and the destruction caused by a war that was avoidable, Russian President Vladimir Putin has exposed NATO’s limitations and also Western Europe’s overdependence on the 20th century American ally.

Indications are that the Ukraine war would end sooner than was anticipated at commencement, especially after President Volodymyr Zelenskyy publicly met with Putin’s demand not to seek or obtain NATO membership and also recognise his nation’s eastern provinces as ‘independent’ as Moscow had done before shooting off the first missile. But post-war readjustments in Europe are going to be time-consuming and complicated. Russia is going to dictate certain terms going beyond Ukraine, but how much of it would be political and military in content compared to the lifting of economic sanctions to pre-Georgia, pre-Crimea levels remains to be seen.

A greater problem will be for Western Europe. What will the European countries do with NATO and its bases after the current exposure of their inherent political limitations? There is then the larger question of Europe tackling and/or working with the US on a new format of their liking. That is not going to be easy, what with the UK continuing to back the US, whatever it is worth, and many erstwhile East European nations now feeling more threatened by Russia than before the commencement of the Ukraine war. How the US uses their predicament will be a contributing factor to NATO’s continuance, if not relevance, but that may not bother Europe as much when it comes to reframing the outlook for the EU.

While the readjustment is going to happen, it is going to be a long-drawn-out process. It can be messy, and messier than the UK’s Brexit. The chances are that Europe would not want Russia and Putin to feel more emboldened than already, but that would not hide ground realities that have been exposed since. The question is if the trust deficit that the US and Europe now face from Ukraine would spread to other smaller allies, both on the Continent and elsewhere—and how much of it would rub on each other, in terms of mutual consultations and confidence building, as much of the trust was lost when the US waged a non-productive war on Saddam Hussein’s Iraq based on bogus claims of his possessing ‘weapons of mass destruction’ (WMD).

It will take time for India to assess the seriousness with which China has revived talks over the border, going beyond the military disengagement post-Galwan. That may have been borne out of Beijing’s perception that an US ally stands exposed as much in Indian eyes as elsewhere and that New Delhi would stop competitive muscle-flexing, especially since the formation of the America-led Quad.

This also exposes inherent Indian weaknesses on the geopolitical and geostrategic fronts, where the world fears only the demonstrable strong and respects a traditional peacenik. Post-Independence, India started off as the latter through the Non-Aligned Movement (NAM) for the global toothless, but lost its way in the Cold War maze. Unlike China, which sat through that unsettling period in global politics to expose its fangs only when ready, India assumed a post-Cold War presence first past the Indian Ocean and more recently in the Pacific as a part of the US-initiated Indo-Pacific, but has gone nowhere.

India is not yet in the position where its citizens want to see it. Only some believe it is already there, without justification. The country has the potential, capacities and capabilities to be there, all the same. Self-belief is one thing but believing in the unbelievable is another, where the world at least knows the truth. It was like this on a simple issue called ‘Operation Ganga’, where the government woke up late to evacuate the 18,000 Indian students who had been trapped in what was destined to be the Ukraine warzone—and yet made a song and dance of it, with Prime Minister Narendra Modi declaring that it was evidence of the nation’s increasing global clout.

In worse times for political and economic stability, as in 1990, the government of the day evacuated 1,70,000 Indians stranded in what was to become the US bombing fields in the Kuwait-Iraq region after the latter had occupied the former—by fearing what needed fearing, and early. It was even more so when a lone woman envoy with her small team evacuated 15,000 Indians from a chaotic Libya (2011), where the sudden civil war ended in Gaddafi being lynched and his body being dragged through the streets—but with not many back home knowing about it in an era in which social media did not have this much reach, and also did not have motives beyond telling the truth and nothing but the truth.

Distinguished Fellow & Head-Chennai Initiative, Observer Research Foundation


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