Deadlocked Ukraine War
Kak-Soo Shin, Senior Advisor of Shin&Kim, Former vice foreign minister
It has been four months since Russia invaded Ukraine. The deadlocked war was morphed into a war of attrition, in which neither side won a decisive victory. Ukraine believes that its national survival and identity are at stake in the victory of the war and that it can withstand it if Western support continues. Russia is also in a difficult situation to expect a compromise because it cannot retreat without results from the elimination of the Volodymyr Zelensky regime, abandonment of its aspiration for NATO membership, demilitarization and neutralization, and acquisition of territory in Crimea and Donbas. For now, it is likely to be a long-dragged war in which local clashes persist or a "frozen conflict" in which a virtual ceasefire is brought about by a stalemate on the front line.
The war in Ukraine, which broke out amid the ongoing transformation of the world order precipitated by the COVID-19 pandemic, increased the volatility and uncertainty of the world order. A pseudo-cold war situation of the divided international society has enervated the UN collective security system and brought back geopolitics and the pitfalls of great power rivalry. By preventing the success of the invasion of Russia, the international community is confronting the task of restoring rules-based international order and preventing illegal armed intervention in vulnerable states on the geopolitical fault line.
While the U.S. withdrawal from Afghanistan in August 2021 symbolized the end of the post-Cold War era, the Ukrainian war marks the opening of the post-post-Cold War era. The U.S. has made it clear that its strategic priority lies in East Asia, the core of the strategic competition with China. U.S.’s clarification from the beginning of the war not to intervene directly may have the intention of avoiding the risk of a nuclear war, but its intention lies more in leaving European security to NATO and European-centered responses to prioritize its strategic competition with China.
The UN collective security system has been seriously undermined and the great power-driven system has accelerated
As economic security emerged, energy and food supply chains collapsed one after another.
Political leadership and a robust security posture in preparation for a prolonged war are urgently needed
Russia may use nuclear weapons … The capability to deter North Korea's nuclear weapons reinforced
A turning point event in European History
On June 14, the village of Priviliya in Luhansk Province in eastern Ukraine was devastated by Russian artillery fire. Russian troops are attacking to seize control of Donbas (Donetsk and Luhansk provinces).
In a speech on China at George Washington University held in May, U.S. Secretary of State Tony Blinkon said, "We will remain focused on the most serious long-term challenge to the international order – and that’s posed by the People’s Republic of China. China is the only country with both the intent to reshape the international order and, increasingly, the economic, diplomatic, military, and technological power to do it." This US strategic choice will lead to a restructuring of the security landscape in the Middle East. In this context, Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates (UAE), which are traditional U.S. allies took a neutral stance between the U.S. and Russia in the Ukraine crisis, and did not cooperate with requests for increased oil production to curb inflation caused by rising oil prices. Korea, which is heavily dependent on energy in the Middle East, should pay keen attention to changes in its strategic landscape.
The war in Ukraine is ’a September 11 of the 2020s’ that awakened Europe. Philippe Etienne, the Ambassador of France to the United States, diagnosed it as ‘a game changer that will change European history’. Sweden and Finland who had adhered to neutrality for long time declared to join NATO, while Denmark decided to join the EU Common Security and Defense Policy (CSDP). Germany has also increased its defense spending by 100 billion euros this year weapons to meet the NATO standard of spending more than 2 percent of its GDP, while providing Ukraine with weapons. These measures unimaginable in the past are bringing about a rapid shift in European security.
It is unconventional that EU countries, with roughly 25% of their energy supply from Russia, have agreed to strong sanctions such as oil imports. This development is quite contrary to Russian President Vladimir Putin's intention to divide Europe. French President Emmanuel Macron's proposal to create a European community that includes non-EU countries, Italian Prime Minister Mario Draghi's proposal to revise the EU treaty to allow for EU decision-making based on a limited majority, and the EU parliament's proposal to hold the conference to discuss this proposal are attempts to enhance EU’s strategic position and will affect Europe's future.
Europe Responds to China as a Challenger
Close cooperation between the U.S. and Europe on the Ukrainian war is accelerating the restoration of the transatlantic relationship, damaged during the Trump administration. The participation of four US allies in East Asia such as South Korea, Japan, Australia, and New Zealand in the NATO summit in Madrid, Spain, from June 29th to the 30th to seek Western coordination and cooperation on China shows that the Biden administration's efforts to restore the alliance are making progress in Europe and East Asia. It is likely that the US intends to secure the strategic stability in the post-post-Cold War era by means of triangular cooperation between East Asia, North America, and Europe.
The war in Ukraine is a big dilemma for China, which confirmed ‘friendship without limits’ with Russia at the Beijing meeting between President Putin and Chinese President Xi Jinping in February. While cooperation with Russia is important in strategic competition with the U.S., China cannot but be conscious of the loss of legitimacy in the international community and secondary sanctions by the West in defending Russia’s invasion. It is also painful that Europe, which used to see China as both a challenge and an opportunity as well, is now starting to consider China as a challenging force.
For China, which searches for an opportunity for military unification with Taiwan in the late 2020s, Russia's poor performance in carrying out military operations will also have negative impacts on the Taiwan issue. Russia was able to avoid the imminent default crisis due to rising oil prices, but the effect of sanctions as well as the exodus of foreign companies and intellectuals over the mid-to-long term will speed up its economy's continuing downward slump. The longer the war drags on, the likelier the ‘second Afghan war’ nightmare will be repeated and Russia's national power and international standing will be declined. Japan, which is rushing to respond to China's rise, will be stimulated by the war in Ukraine to actively pursue Indo-Pacific policies, increase defense spending up to 2% of GDP, and hasten its move to possess offensive capabilities.
A possible global economic stagnation over the next two years
The U.S. and Europe-led unprecedentedly strong sanctions in terms of scope, speed, and scale against Russia whose economy ranks at the tenth in the world are causing serious repercussions on the global economy. Growing economic and security concerns will speed up the fragmentation of the global supply chain as well as markets on goods, services, and investment. In consideration of the aftermath of the war in Ukraine, the World Bank lowered its global economic growth forecast for this year from 4.1 percent to 2.9 percent, predicting a global economic slump over the next two years.
Western countries' refusal of Russia's participation in global economic organizations, including the G20, will lead to shattering of the global economic governance, and the huge demand for Ukraine's aid will also affect development aid and carbon-neutral financing. Just as many multinational companies voluntarily withdrew from the Russian market, the application of ESG standards to corporate activities is expected to be strengthened. Meanwhile, as the "slowbalization" phenomenon deepening due to the anti-globalization moves is casting a shadow on the growth of the global economy and trade.
The war in Ukraine is expected to accelerate energy transition responding to climate change and reshaping of energy geopolitics. Europe is rushing to convert to carbon-free energy such as renewable energy and nuclear power by implementing its plan to wean off Russian gas and oil by 2030. In a short term, sanctions on Russian oil, gas, and coal will disrupt the global energy market and inevitably increase energy prices, but it is expected to have a positive effect on addressing the climate change by speeding up energy conversion over the mid-to-long term.
The advent of complex crises in the Post-Post Cold War era
Russia’s outright threat of the use of nuclear weapons at the early stage of the war, together with military drills relating to its nuclear forces, has raised the risk of using tactical nuclear weapons fear if the war situations become unfavorable, and has shaken the existing premise that nuclear weapons will not be used due to the balance of fear. In the post-post-Cold War era's fluid strategic environment, the risk of nuclear weapons being actually used on battlefields increases, and the threat of using nuclear weapons can impose great constraints on the conduct of conventional warfare. In light of North Korea’s recent aggressive nuclear doctrine to abandon the no first use as well as attempts to develop and deploy tactical nuclear weapons, South Korea should step up efforts to deter and defend the North’s possible nuclear attack.
Given that Ukraine and Russia are major producers and exporters of grains and fertilizers, disruptions in production and transportation triggered by the war are causing food crises in Africa, Asia, and the Middle East. Just as the "Arab Spring" was sparked by food problems in the early 2010s, the food crisis imperils the economies of developing countries suffering from a triple whammy of high-interest rates, shortage of foreign currency reserve, and inflation. Like the recent Sri Lankan crisis, there is a growing danger that the deepening hardship of emerging and developing countries might pose a threat to international security.
The war in Ukraine is giving us a precious lesson about the life cycle of a nation-its creation, rise, fall and collapse. Ukraine, which had gone through the Orange Revolution and the Euromaidan Uprising, had been haunted by political turmoil, diplomatic blunders, social division, and rampant corruption during the thirty-one years after the independence. However, the audacious resistance against Russia’s invasion was made possible thanks to astute political leadership in times of crisis, searching for national identity, a robust security posture, citizens’ unyielding resolve for national survival, and strong support from the international community. It offers us many insights in responding to recurring complex crises in the post-post-Cold War era.
Original Article: https://www.joongang.co.kr/article/25082580