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Ukraine: democracy or imperialist anxieties?

| Monday, March 28, 2022

The war in Ukraine has brought the subject of an imminent new, multipolar world order back to the center of the discussion in international politics. The United States, an actor in this conflict, has cast the war as a battle of a democracy and a rules-based world over against autocracy. Such language is intended to mobilize domestic and international public support in favor of the US and its allies. In essence, however, this conflict, and the West’s reading of it, has little to do with a struggle between democracy and autocracy: it is about a shifting world order and a frantic response by a fading empire.

Russia’s case against Ukraine is premised on the principle of indivisible security. This is a concept in international security which crudely means that a state should not increase its security at the expense of the security of another state. This principle is enshrined in the documents of the Organization of Security and Cooperation (OSEC) in Europe which include the European Security Charter of 1990 and the and the Astana Declaration of 2010. The United States is a signatory to both documents. It is critical to note that while the European Security Charter recognizes the right of countries to choose their own security arrangements and alliances, it adds that states “will not strengthen their security at the expense of the security of other states.” Does Ukraine pose a legitimate threat to Russia? Furthermore, does Ukraine joining NATO pose a threat to Russia?

Since 2014, Ukraine has ramped up its defense capabilities, building what is considered a next-generation missile, Neptune, that would put Moscow in striking distance of Kyiv. The threat posed by Ukraine’s defense program to Moscow has been acknowledged by defense analysts in Russia, Ukraine and the United States itself. Furthermore, Russia and Ukraine share a 1,300-mile land border and a nearly 350 mile land border which creates strategic defense challenges for both countries. While Ukraine has every right to bolster its defense, it must do so within the context of the principle of indivisible security as set out in the European Security Charter of 1990 referred to above. Thus, any impartial on-looker needs no further persuasion of how legitimate Russia’s concerns are. For the skeptical American, one only needs to think back to the Cuban missile crisis to understand Russia’s position.

On several occasions, Russia made these concerns clear both to Ukraine and the United States. Speaking in Warsaw last week, President Biden claimed that the United States engaged Russia to avert the war. What the USA and the West did, however, was to arrogantly disregard Russia’s legitimate concerns arguing that Ukraine had the right to choose its own security arrangements and alliances, conveniently leaving out the principle of indivisible security enshrined in the European Security Charter to which the US itself is a signatory. Instead, the US and the West decided to pump Ukraine’s ego by promising it guarantees of security and armaments in case of a Russian invasion. This attitude made Ukraine aloof, and the uncritical Ukrainian president was tempted to dig in and become averse to any constructive engagement with legitimate Russian concerns thereby imperiling the lives of millions of his people.

While speaking in Warsaw last week, President Biden claimed that NATO is not an imperialist project but simply a defensive alliance. Is it a defensive or aggressive move for NATO to expand eastwards to the Russian doorsteps? Even if it were defensive, why can’t it be done with consideration of the indivisible security principle? Why does the US blatantly disregard this principle? What interests does it serve for NATO to expand eastwards while disregarding the principle of indivisible security that they willingly have committed themselves to? If America could not let the USSR station its missiles in Cuba, why does it expect Russia to look on as NATO expands to its doorsteps? Of what strategic value to the US and the West is pumping the Ukrainian ego relative to a negotiated settlement with Russia? Perhaps America is too afraid to cede ground because then it would appear weak and further catalyze the inevitable dimming of the star of its empire. These could very well be the anxieties of a waning empire.

See in that light, the conflict has little to do with defense of democracy or freedom as President Biden’s tirade in Warsaw portrayed it to be. It is simply defense of a decadent world order whose demise is imminent and irreversible. President Biden talked of defending a rules-based world order. But what does this really mean? It means a world order where America sets the rules, supported by its ever so willing mistress, Europe. It means a world order where America is free to do as it pleases as it did in the many countries it has invaded acting unilaterally. It means a world order where the US President has the right to refer to any one as a war criminal while the world is littered with millions of victims of American aggression. Biden talked of defending freedom and democracy, yet he presides over a country where ethnic minorities live under precarious conditions and have done so for centuries on end. There can be no freedom in impoverishment and subjugation of entire peoples. Biden also said that “every generation has had to defeat democracy’s mortal foes…[whose] appetites and ambitions…forever seek to dominate the lives and liberty of many”. What he means is a duty to fight anyone intending to break the West’s monopoly of power. Since the fifteenth century, the West has sought to dominate and succeeded in dominating the lives and liberty of the many.

So, we have the anxiety of a fading empire. An anxious emperor of a fading empire is using an unsuspecting and naïve leader to fight a proxy war for the empire’s survival. With imperial interests on the line, Ukraine is being used as a proxy in a conflict with Russia. They claim to want to be working for peace, but they continue to supply Ukraine with lethal weaponry that is only intensifying the conflict and imperiling the lives of millions. In Zelensky, they found a confounded and willing partner whose carelessness and lack of independent mindedness has imperiled the lives of his people. He refused to engage constructively with Russia’s legitimate concerns premised on the principles of indivisible security because he was given verbal guarantees of security by the West. He blindly bought into Western guarantees of Ukrainian security which have not come, and which will never come. He is not fighting in defense of democracy; he is fighting in defense of a decadent and fading empire.

Trevor Lwere is a senior from Kampala, Uganda, studying Economics and Global Affairs with a minor in Philosophy, Politics and Economics (PPE). He is a dee-jay in his free time and can be reached at [email protected] or @LwereTrevor on Twitter.

The views expressed in this column are those of the author and not necessarily those of The Observer.

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