Has the international order reached a tipping point?

10/14/2022 7:45 AM

As the world watches in horror, Ukraine and its people demonstrate that a society defending its homeland will not capitulate without heroic efforts. Putin and his cronies have used the false narrative that Russia had to prevent a “genocide of Russian-speaking people” and the “nazi-fication” by the government. Most people dismissed these outrageous claims about this country where a sizable majority of the people speak Russian alongside their official Ukrainian language, and the government is populated with Jewish leaders, including President Zelensky. Yet this is the message being fed to the people of Russia, and access to any actual news about the events in Ukraine are strictly censored with punishment of prison terms to violators. The truth is that Putin has stated numerous that Ukraine belongs to Russia. He seized Crimea in 2014, and now has taken military action to reclaim the rest. The people of Ukraine stand strong in their fight to hold onto their independence. Where will this war lead?

The international system created as a result of the destruction of World War II established a global framework for preventing war and promoting diplomacy. Commonly referred to as the liberal world order, this system was founded on the principles of self-determination, sovereign borders, and respect for human rights. The developed countries used economic incentives to encourage global economic growth and stability. Although development has been uneven and there has been armed conflict, the world has not experienced the kind of destructive wars of the past. The liberal world order that has been in place for over 75 years has succeeded because the states of the world have agreed to abide by the rules. Now, one of the major powers of the world is throwing out the rules. 

The Un General Assembly has voted four times to condemn Russia's actions. The latest vote condemned Russia's illegal referenda in four provinces of Ukraine as sham elections at gunpoint, a clear violation of the UN Charter. Even China and India joined this condemnation. Only Syria, North Korea, Belarus and Nicaragua voted to support Russia. Previous votes demanded a cessation of the unjustified attack and Russia's immediate withdrawal. So what? Only the UN Security Council could vote to take more significant action, and Russia's veto there has prevented that step.

Some may hope for a popular uprising in Russia. However, heavy censorship of the "special military operation" has kept the people in the dark. Or has it? Although they are allowed only pro-government news about the war to build national support, hundreds of thousands fled when Putin announced his moblization. The people know, but they fear reprisals for any objection to the war. The reality is many of them have relatives and friends in Ukraine, and they do not support Putin's war. But the system is too fragile to support a more vocal debate on the justification and future of the war in Ukarine. 

It seems as though Putin has reached a point of no return for his plans to reclaim Ukraine for Russia. Since the Ukrainians are determined to not be reclaimed, there seems to be no solution. There is no will to sacrifice the men and women of the US armed forces or those of our NATO allies in Ukraine. However, the growing concern is that that decision may be take out of the hands of the West if Putin uses nuclear weapons or crosses into NATO territory. The very future of the peaceful, liberal international order is at stake.