The war in Ukraine is only the emerged tip of an iceberg obfuscating a conflict with global implications.
While public opinion is inflamed by debates over the use of nuclear weapons (expanded to include civil nuclear power), energy shortages, climate change, a global financial system burdened by excessive debt, unreliable supply chains or unbridled inflation, politicians appear unable to devise a coherent hierarchy among these problems whose causes and therefore solutions are intimately intertwined. This list, however incomplete, shows that there is not a single inhabitant of our planet who will not be affected by the choices made to resolve these challenges.
The unfolding of the war in Ukraine has created a situation where the use of nuclear weapons – held in check since 1945 through reciprocal dissuasion – can no longer be excluded, creating an existential danger for humanity. It is therefore a waste of time to elaborate scenarios based on suppositions over which the actors have no control and whose purpose is to provide unsupported reassurance to an anxious population.
This world order which, since the end of the Second World War has presided over a period of unprecedented wealth accumulation, accelerated scientific progress and a galloping demographic expansion, has changed man’s relationship with Nature: from a relatively passive actor, he has gradually acquired the knowledge and necessary capabilities to significantly influence its evolution.
Unfortunately, the mastery of these instruments of power has been very unevenly distributed. It has lead today to a confrontation between two value systems represented schematically by democracies on the one hand and autocracies on the other; the remaining majority of non-aligned countries are subject to one form or another of internal or external domination. Moreover, power within each camp is dominated by the two main economic and nuclear superpowers (United States – China), which are joined by the nuclear-armed countries who have the ability to exert independently an existential threat to aggress or repulse their opponents.
It is safe to assume that there is a consensus that the survival of humanity is preferable to its annihilation. However, this is not enough to guarantee the non-use of nuclear weapons (or the sanctuary of civilian nuclear facilities), as demonstrated by Vladimir Putin’s repeated recent warnings. One might therefor assume that the difficulties he faces on the military front could encourage him to carry out his threat. This seems all the more credible given that the use of these weapons is explicitly provided for in published Russian military doctrine and that the effectiveness/safety of the activation protocols remain unknown.
Moreover, Putin’s conduct of the war, whether it be explicit violations of international conventions in targeting private citizens or civilian infrastructures, the treatment of prisoners or exactions against the population, the deportation of children and civilians, etc., continues largely under the cover of his nuclear umbrella, the ultimate protection of his impunity. Under these circumstances, it is no longer acceptable for the international community, whatever consequences might result from their unanimous condemnation, to tolerate Putin’s continued actions against the Ukraine that, additionally, threaten the world as a whole.
That is why, as a first step, the United States, the European Union and their partners must continue their unconditional support for the Ukrainian war effort, as Ursula von der Leyen so aptly pointed out in her State of the Union address. It is irrelevant to oppose the suffering of the Ukrainian people to our own cozy comforts unless such an attitude serves as a decoy for its promoters to hide their support or at least sympathy for Putin’s autocratic regime.
If war plays undoubtedly an important role in the problems that confront us, it is no excuse to delay the additional pooling of sovereignty urgently required to achieve the further and deeper integration of the European Union; as the current situation has amply demonstrated, it provides the only valid answer to the preservation of EU Member’s military security (alongside NATO), to the protection of their supplies, to the access to the financial resources required for their economic development and social welfare as well as – above all – the survival of its citizen’s freedoms.
Secondly, if the Ukrainian conflict has revealed the existential threat hanging over the planet, the resolution of the conflict will not close the Pandora’s Box that has brought about the new geopolitical reality. It makes it a priority to organize the control of nuclear weapons (they cannot be dis-invented), probably by extending the role of the IAEA to include weapons control which has become irreversibly tied to their current activity; should follow, the extension at global level of measures to control the climate (already underway), the cyber and digital worlds, the rules of the economic and financial markets, an effective “sanctions” regime, etc. All these urgently required reforms imply the redesign of the system of global governance (UN) which aims at achieving a world in which greater justice, equity and security prevail.
It is up to the democracies to steer the necessary changes, which will require their own profound adaptations. It is only at this price that the West, confronted with the hatred of those whose only aim is to replace it, will be able to create prospects for a dignified and rewarding life for the majority of the world’s population.