A New World Order: Might Is Right

The Russian incursion into Ukraine – whether you agree or disagree with it – marks a potential turning point in the global world order.

If Putin achieves his objective of a Ukraine under his direct or indirect control, then the mirage of a liberal world order where major powers respect international law, or can be coerced into doing so by threat of economic sanctions, damage to reputation, or the disapproval of other nations or the UN, will be shattered. A new world will emerge where might is right. A world led by those willing to use force to achieve their territorial, economic, and ideological aims.

This of course is not a new concept – for it has existed throughout history – but in a modern world where the major powers’ economies and societies are highly interdependent, not to mention each equipped with advanced nuclear, cyber, and biological weapons, it could leave them in a stalemate: unable or unwilling to directly intervene in the misadventures of their enemies. The cost after all of being cut off from vital energy sources or the raw materials needed to power our technological age, for e.g, to build microchips, would be too great to bear.

What this means is smaller nations like Ukraine and Taiwan may be swallowed up as the the world looks on disapprovingly, but impotently. However, a lot depends on what happens in Ukraine. There are several possible outcomes and each will create its own set of far reaching consequences.

The first outcome is that the sanctions work – both the rich and powerful in Russia and ordinary citizens feel the pain in a meaningful way. The pressure on Putin from within his country starts to build, and he decides the lesser of two evils is to give up his plans for Ukraine. He could also be forced to resign and take on the role of elder statesman, or in a more extreme scenario, be assassinated.

The arguments against this outcome are: a) Putin has already factored in sanctions and their impact on the Russian people, for e.g. he has forged an alliance with China that can help soften the blow; b) Putin will be seventy this year and this is about his legacy – he will never give up his dream for a reborn Russian empire; and c) He has such a tight grip on his country that, just like Stalin, many will be too afraid to act against him. But still, never say never, and if it were to unravel for Putin then it would be a clear and decisive victory for the international order, and any major power with less than noble intentions would be very hesitant to repeat the same mistake.

The second outcome of this conflict is that Ukraine fends off Russia in a guerrilla style war, or at least prolongs it enough to where again Putin feels the pressure to end it in some kind of compromise scenario. The arguments against this outcome however are similar to those for sanctions working, namely Putin will not give up, and those who could stop him will be afraid to plunge the metaphorical or physical knife into him. Moreover the Russian people get their news from pro-Putin sources, so their views and support will be shaped by that.

Putin needs to be careful though not to let Russia’s ruling class and ordinary citizens see that Ukraine is about fulfilling his own personal ambitions, rather than serving the interests of Russia. If that happens he could find himself in a precarious position, which doesn’t just put him at risk, but all of us if he decides to go down fighting.

The third outcome is that Putin wins. He gets exactly what he wants. He seizes control of Ukraine and installs a puppet government to do his bidding. This would usher in the might is right era. Taiwan, who is in China’s crosshairs, would most definitely be next.

The problem here is that if Putin is successful in seizing Ukraine, and China in invading Taiwan, why would they stop there? This is the compulsion that exists within the heart of every conqueror – it is never enough. And this could lead us on the path to large scale war.

Of course another possibility is that the supposedly liberal nations of the world, who in the past few years have shown a curious propensity for authoritarianism within their own borders, slowly adapt to the new global order and adopt the might is right mantra themselves – if not with other nations, then with their own peoples. At the more extreme end the global picture would then look like the infamous line uttered by O’Brien in Orwell’s 1984: ‘If you want a picture of the future, imagine a boot stamping on a human face – forever.’ Or at the less extreme end, we will be servants to our governments and not the other way around.

Either way a great deal depends on the outcome in Ukraine. The Ukrainians are not just fighting for their nation, but for a world in which nationhood is respected and might does not make right. If they lose, the current chapter in world history ends. A new world order begins.

Written by Arcadius Strauss.

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