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There Will Be No World War III

March 1, 2022 at 4:28 pm

A demonstration in support of Ukraine, following Russia’s military intervention, on February 24, 2022, Ankara, Turkiye [Berke Bayur/Anadolu Agency]

During the past few days, the Russian attack against its neighbour, Ukraine, has started. For many decades, Ukraine has been one of the most important parts in the Soviet Union, before it collapsed in 1991. It was a big and catastrophic loss for the Soviets to be collapsed, after being the first and sole power in a unipolar system. The Russians suffered a lot after the collapse of the Soviet Union, especially with the rise of US hegemony around the world, and the transformation of the United States into the sole and only power worldwide. With the increase in Ukrainian calls to join the European Union and NATO and to remain within the western embrace, Russian fears are also increasing about losing one of the most important former Soviet powers to the West and the United States and its transformation into a new US base in the European East.

The Concept of Power: Political Point of View

With regard to international relations, Realism is regarded as one of the oldest theories concerning international relations and representing a distinct world view (Pease 2018). According to the Realists, the intrinsic state goal is survival in the environment of international anarchy, thus it is the state interest that constitutes the overriding matter of concern of any given government. It follows that, for the state to increase its power, constitutes its only way to ensure its survival. States are protected by power, and less powerful states fear the more powerful states and thus become much less likely to attack them. This particular view of the world rests on four assumptions, as stated by the eminent Realist, Mearsheimer (1994). Firstly, survival constitutes the primary goal of any state. The most dangerous threat a state can face is foreign invasion. Even if it prioritises the national interest and a strategic culture or commitment to a set of ideals for the nation, it will dictate more goals considering international cooperation. The international system of anarchy requires states to constantly ensure they have power sufficient enough to defend themselves, and also gain material interests in the process. Secondly, states are held to be rational actors. Thirdly, Realists assume that a certain military capacity is possessed by all states and that no state is completely aware of its neighbour’s precise intentions. This situation renders the conditions prevalent in the world as dangerous and uncertain. Fourthly, international relations involve great power politics.

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In the troubled global situation, power balance and the dilemma of security concepts have become the principal tools of analysis of Realists (Buzan 1997). The different perspectives of all Realist viewpoints increasingly converge on the viewpoint that the states should be the principal international occurrence actors. Great powers afford special status, as more leverage is contained within them in the global scenario (Mearsheimer 2001). If given the chance, states will attack other states to use their advantage. This unrelenting power pursuit means that there is an inclination of great powers to look for opportunities to change the world power distribution in their favour. If they have the necessary capability, they will seize these opportunities. Thus, naturally, offensive Realism focuses essentially on great powers in its analysis, as only great powers are positioned to move first in the international power struggle. When applied to the current situation at the global level, in which China is increasingly becoming a global power, offensive Realism suggests that the US should counter the growing Chinese strength immediately with a pre-emptive strike, while it still can. Another part of application for the theory of Realism is the continuous seeking for maximising the US power in all fields.

Russian President Vladimir Putin's recognised two breakaway territories in Eastern Ukraine - Cartoon [Sabaaneh/Middle East Monitor]

Russian President Vladimir Putin’s recognised two breakaway territories in Eastern Ukraine – Cartoon [Sabaaneh/Middle East Monitor]

The lack of a strong world government leads to the states pursuing their interests through power struggle. Bellamy (2006) highlights the strongest features of the current situations with the world’s strongest powers showing immense might. Also, the strongest countries use the politics of gain, while the other countries fail to implement the measures necessary to control the power of the major world players. Despite the claims made by British theorists, such as Morris (2005), that even the strongest nations have to comply with international rules, countries are not kept in check through international law (2005). The views of Waltz (2000) deserve to be considered here, who states that anarchy present in the world causes international powers to pursue their own interests. In his view, the major international powers only regard international law with importance at those times when the laws have been set by themselves to serve their own interests. Thus, the great world powers only engage in international law when they are the ones that have been responsible for framing them and are essentially serving their specific interests.

The New Hegemony Power of US

A 20th century example could be found in the US emerging as a major world power after the Second World War. With the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991, its major rival, the US became the unrivalled global superpower (Broersma and Graham 2015). The power of military might and strong international relations could be clearly seen in the US invasion of Iraq in 2003. Despite the opposition of China, Russia, France and Germany, the US executed its privilege of being a superior military power and proceeded with the invasion. The role of the US, specifically in the Middle East, constitutes one of the controversial issues. The concerned US foreign policies are being determined almost completely by the protection and pursuit of primary interest factors, which are: accessing powers to the resources that are reliable and consistent, challenging the hegemonic powers like Iran and maintaining a close relationship with Israel. It has been observed that, more recently, the US has shown interest in combating terrorism and its operational movements. Securing these approaches in the past were easily accomplished by developing close relationships with separate Arab nations, often even at the expense of the public interest.

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Over the last three decades, this approach created a negative economic impact for the US, caused by the frequent intervention and interference in the domestic political system of Arab countries. According to Prof. Mearsheimer, the US can be considered as the most secure power due to three main points as follows: first, the geography of its space. The US is separated by two giant oceans, the Atlantic Ocean and the Pacific Ocean, in addition to two neighbours, Canada and Mexico. Neither of the two countries can, nor will be able to attack the US. Second, the US has abundant power with two main things – its population and its wealth. That is why we can see a strong US economy that will not be affected by any impacts. Third, the US has its own thousands of nuclear missiles that could be a deterrence weapon against any possible attack.

The US grand strategy is based on containing and maintaining three areas in the world. The first area is Europe. The European Union is important to the US foreign policy as the NATO consisted of the main powers of the European countries. This is why the US should maintain the NATO and protect its allies in this international body. In addition, the European countries are strong enough to have more power to face and deter Russia. The second area is North East Asia, where most of the US opponents are located, such as Russia and China, in addition to US ally, Japan. The US considered that part as the source of threat and both Russia and China will work together to control over the Asian countries. The third area is the Middle East, where the source of one third of oil is located. That is why the US should take care of that part of Middle East.

From a Unipolarity System to a Multipolarity System

No one denies the magnitude of the change in the global system in the twenty-first century, where the world is multipolar rather than unipolar or bipolar. The United States, Russia and, now, China have become the most important global powers that govern with their strengths, including weapons, population and land. On the impact of the current Russian-Ukrainian crisis, the Russian intentions behind the attack on Ukraine, and the attempt to change the regime in it, are revealed day after day. With the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991, Ukraine became independent on its own, but its former dependency on the former Soviet Union, and now Russia, bored the Ukrainians who kept calling for complete independence from the Russian axis and a move to the American Western axis. The Ukrainian protests continued until the Ukrainians managed to change the pro-Russian regime in a revolution known as the Orange Revolution in 2004. The West and the United States strongly supported this revolution. But things did not last long, as the Russians returned with force and were able to return again to the Ukrainian scene, but from the gateway of a new pro-Russian Ukrainian leader, President Yanukovych, who won the Ukrainian presidential elections in 2010.

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Then things soon deteriorated at the beginning of 2014, when protests erupted – popularity against Russian interference in Ukrainian internal politics and the call for rejoining the Western European bloc, and Ukrainian calls for Ukraine’s joining NATO have developed. In the wake of the protests, Russia was taking a proactive step, which consisted in extending its control over the Ukrainian island of Crimea and holding a popular referendum on the population, through which it was able to annex the island to Russian influence. Crimea is strategically important to Russia, as the Russian naval base in the region, which is the Sevastopol base, is located there. If Ukraine joins NATO or the Western axis, Russia will lose its naval base in Crimea, which is why Russia took the initiative to control it and annex it to the Russian Federation. The Russian President reiterates in his speech that Russia will not allow Ukraine to join NATO, and that the military operation in Ukrainian lands is aimed at preserving Russia’s national security and disarming the Ukrainian army, and for the army to assume control without any loyalty to the United States or the West. On the other hand, neither the United States nor the Western powers showed any military reaction to the Russian forces penetrating into Ukrainian lands for fear of the situation developing into a third world war, and those forces contented themselves with rhetoric of condemnation and imposing sanctions on entities and individuals in Russia.

It is clear that Russia is prepared to prevent Ukraine from joining the Western axis, or being part of NATO, through the use of military force to break any Western guardianship over the capital, Kiev. On the other hand, the United States and the European Union believe that it is in their interest not to engage in a risky confrontation with Russia, the consequences of which would be catastrophic and herald a third world war. The United States sees Ukraine only as a friendly country that has no ties of alliance due to the former Ukrainian loyalty to the Soviet Union and Russia a few years ago. As for the United States, it will not have to go with its feet to the door of its arch-enemy for a war in which it will face a confrontation with a country that is, at least, nuclear superior, militarily equivalent to it and economically supported by a great power, China. Therefore, the Russian attacks on the Ukrainian capital, Kiev, will continue to subjugate it and force it to sign an agreement through which Russia guarantees the maintenance of its national and regional security requirements, most notably disarming Ukraine and not allowing it to join the Western camp or join NATO.

The views expressed in this article belong to the author and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of Middle East Monitor.