The current threat to Ukraine and its territorial sovereignty is indeed a threat to more than just Ukraine

The current threat to Ukraine and its territorial sovereignty is indeed a threat to more than just Ukraine

By Ahmed Rehab

“What is happening now is we are witnessing the end of the post-WWII order. International security and cooperation was based on the core principles of territorial integrity,” Russian dissident and grand chess-master Gary Kasparov said.

Whether the current military action ordered by Putin ends up being a limited incursion or a full on invasion, Kasparov is right. The current threat - any threat - to Ukraine and its territorial sovereignty is indeed a threat to more than just Ukraine. It is a threat to a world order one that though was admittedly imperfect wherein nations could meddle in the affairs of others and often did, had at least retired outright military invasions to a relic of the past.  

Ukraine is in an unenviable position. Neither the US nor the West will intervene to defend its borders; and they signaled as much weeks ago effectively green-lighting Putin. There will be much condemnation from politicians, sympathy from social media, more symbolic shipments of shambolic equipment - and of course sanctions - but beyond that, Ukraine will be abandoned to fend for its fate before a super power. God help them.

This marks another key realization: complacent with its cold war victory, the US looked away prefering to devote much of its time and effort running around the world fighting ragtag militants in deserts and mountains on pick up trucks, the result was turning a dopey eye to the emergence and resurgence of real powers with real militaries. (China is watching).

The plot was lost years ago. In Syria. For Putin, Syria was a training ground, a dry run, a testing of the West’s appetite for his foray into the far away. The US and the West didn’t see it that way. “But but terrorists.” Come on in Putin, why it’s just another civilized nation doing what we do best: chasing rag tag militias in pick up trucks around the world. We get it. No major concern there. “Let’s coordinate!” The human toll was inexcusable in Syria. Putin callously dismissed it as the natural cost of war. US apathy was not far behind.

Should a full war break out in Ukraine, another unacceptable human toll will take fold. It will be less acceptable for the US and the West this time around, but more acceptable than if elsewhere in Europe. Until suddenly, it is the EU. 

Treading carefully to avert a world war is of course understandable. No one in their right mind argues for a nuclear confrontation. But poising ourselves to best deter willy-nilly invasions by others will require more than warnings, condemnations, Facebook filters, and sanctions. It will require moral coherence and courage. It will require winning wars before they are fought. It will require proper assessment of threat and priority way in advance, and less time embellishing windmills. Time will tell if that ship has sailed.

My heart goes out to Ukraine.