Six Nuclear takeaways from Ukraine
Brief opinions on the Russian invasion and the threat of Nuclear war
Ever since tanks rolled into eastern Ukraine, a range of opinions have been formed about a US response, ranging from full scale defense of Ukraine, to “letting Russia have at it because NATO is really to blame and there’s no hope for Ukraine,” (I’m looking at you Noam Chomsky.) Here are some of my thoughts regarding the conflict, and the possibility of nuclear confrontation.
We should not just liberate Ukraine. This is a pretty obvious one to most people, but I’ll explain why. While watching Ukrainian cities get bombed to pieces is horrifying, the US should not send in troops to protect Ukraine. This would genuinely cause World War 3, with a NATO vs Russia war that would elevate this war to a whole new level. You’d have fighting not just in Ukraine, but in Belarus, Poland, and the Baltic states, and the death toll would likely creep into the millions even if the war stayed conventional.
We shouldn’t worry about a “domino theory” Some responses to the first opinion say something along the lines of, “If we let Putin get away with this, won’t he just attack another small country? And another?” To that I say, “Which ones?” This is a map of NATO:
Obviously, Ukraine is not in NATO. Belarus is a Russian ally. Sweden and Finland aren’t part of NATO yet, but they just announced they will join. Moldova is genuinely the only other European country Russia could move into. If Russia attacked any other country in Europe we would defend them because they’re in NATO. And crucially, because they’re in NATO Russia probably won’t attack them because Putin and Russia know that the US will come to their aid.
Russia is afraid to fight NATO. The fact that Russia hasn’t invaded the Baltic states by taking NATO military support as an attack is telling. Despite Europe and America pouring arms into Ukraine, Russia hasn’t mobilized or attacked NATO positions, thus not taking military support as an act of war. The fact that Russia has turned to nuclear saber-rattling is also telling, because it shows that its best hope is to make NATO fear a war for fear of nuclear confrontation. This indicates Russia knows its capabilities in conventional war are highly limited. The invasion of Ukraine was clearly not part of a larger attack to provoke NATO.
The End of History was…right? When a global event hits breaking news, it is routine to see self-aggrandizing “intellectuals” mock Francis Fukuyama’s theory of “The End of History.” Most critics though have never even read The End of History’s thesis. Many think it means that nothing will happen ever again, and that banal events are all the world will come to know. The actual meaning however, is that while historical events will still happen—wars, coups, elections—the ideological struggle between capitalism and socialism has ended, and liberal democracy had triumphed as the final form of sustainable “good” government. In essence, ideological evolution was largely over. 9/11 and the election of Donald Trump were, despite histrionic accusations on Twitter, not disproving of The End of History. The war in Ukraine has revived the strength of the thesis by showing that the true struggle between powers will not be an axis of cultural or ideological struggle, but a struggle in creating capable states and preserving liberty and democracy. Ukraine is siding with NATO because Ukranians want to be rich and free, as have most former-Soviet nations. State capability is an issue on display during the war, and in general, Western governments have looked competent, accurate, and strong in the face of Russian aggression. This cuts against the anti-Western rhetoric in response to the West’s poor handling of the COVID-19 pandemic, and reaffirms the importance of the freedoms granted by liberal democracy. The war also highlights the importance of a strong and capable state in the survival of liberal democracy.
Poor countries will be some of the worst victims. Like I wrote in an earlier piece, the supply shortages created by the war and sanctions have caused food prices to rise. Because poorer people spend a higher percentage of their income on food compared to the median, rising food prices increase the inflation burden on the world’s poorer people, people so poor that many can barely afford enough calories to sustain their lives. Food shortages can very quickly cause riots and government collapse. Across Africa, where many governments are on precarious footing, this is likely to harm political and economic development.
The welcoming of Ukrainian migrants is good—but also telling. One fantastic part of European response to the invasion of Ukraine is the welcoming of Ukraine’s refugees. It is both the humanitarian thing to do and an economically strong play given Europe’s aging population—more workers can help pay for bloated European pensions. Hopefully many of the Ukrainians stay in Europe and hopefully the Europeans let them stay. However, the welcoming of Ukrainian refugees does reveal what many already knew about anti-migrant politicians. Namely, it’s mainly about race. Let me step back for a second to explain what I mean. During the 2015 migrant crisis, Syrian refugees were storming the Greek (and thus EU) border through Turkey to flee conflict in Syria. Angela Merkel declared, “Wir Schaffen Das,” basically saying “We can take this.” Germany let in over one million migrants, showing a great desire to improve the lives if people as well as an awareness to the impending demographic problems facing the continent. In the face of this, Hungary’s president Viktor Orban—the model leader of modern conservatives—shut Hungarian borders and wouldn’t let in Syrians. The purpose of closed borders to conservatives was to preserve Hungarian “culture” and “sovereignty” in the face of cosmopolitan neoliberals who seek to integrate all people. And yet, Hungary has (rightly) let in roughly 150,000 refugees from the war. Despite both being European, Hungarians and Ukrainians still speak a different language and are culturally different groups. Ultimately, one cannot deny that the race of the migrants plays an integral role in the border policies of nationalist leaders. This plays out across Europe—it’s telling that Italy is paying people to move to small towns bereft of people when there are hundreds of thousands of Africans who would move there for free.