Ukraine and Russia – reconciling freedom with security

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putin and zelensky

The current Ukrainian crisis has various perspectives.  It is a thorny concern with several viewpoints all of which have seemingly conflicting and irreconcilable principles.

First, the fundamental and universal concept of freedom upheld by a sovereign state is an undeniable and inalienable right of Ukraine.  The massive and global solidarity that has rallied behind this concept of freedom in democracy is overwhelming.

Secondly, the fear of a policy of containment of a nuclear power is an alarming factor in the equation.  The Russian fear, or perhaps unease, of being closed off and having a backyard of an array of potential nuclear sites is a real or perceived fear for survival – perhaps a “nuclearphobia”.  It becomes a concept of securing the survival of a future existence and continuity of a state and a status quo.

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It is not a simple equation of democracy versus dictatorship. If anything, it is the frightening equation of two systems in a conflict and armed to the teeth with nuclear weapons.  Desperation by one of the actors is the genuine element of fright.

How can the principle freedom be reconciled with that of security (this is also a global question applicable to the perpetual Middle East Crisis)? 

That brings to mind the story of a battleship that was coming in from maneuvers in heavy weather.  Soon after the sun went down, the lookout reported a light in the distance.  So the captain asked the signalman to send a message: “We are in collision course you’re advised to change your course 20 degrees”.  Minutes later a signal came back: “Advisable for you to change your course”.  The captain angrily ordered another signal be sent: “I am a captain change your course 20 degrees”.  Again came a reply: “I am a Seaman Second Class, you better change your course”. Furious, the captain sent a final threat: “I am a battleship, change your course”.  The signal came back: “I am a lighthouse”.  The captain changed his course.

It is from this story that it is often said that principles are like lighthouses.  They do not change.  However, they are a beacon that warns us of impending danger.  From this story, it may be learnt that no matter how powerful one may become, it will be reckless to ignore the warning signs of looming danger. 

In the current crisis, there is no winner but all losers – a huge and unimaginable loss on the gains of global progress and prosperity, a loss or severe weakening of the guardrails of international relations that have been built since the First World War and an erosion of the concept of mutual coexistence and tolerance.  It is a world on the brink of losing its sanity and the demolition of a world order and an attempt at crafting an unfamiliar new order of unchartered territory in international relations.  It is a shattering of peace that has been so diligently built around global institutions of trade, politics and finance. It is a devastation of hopes of mankind built on never again to the concepts of a global threat of war.  It is, nonetheless, a reminder of the weakness and propensity of mankind to succumb to greed and power. It is time to start thinking why things are not working or fail to work as anticipated or a world order seems to be falling apart. 

History has taught mankind that all wars are negotiated to end in peace but after untold suffering and destruction.  History is a major influence in politics and international relations. An understanding of the past helps to address new and complex challenges of today.  In major international upheavals, history should be and often is part of the considerations in searching for solutions. It provides a good analytical leverage on the issue at hand.  Yes, interpretations of the past could be a challenging factor but there is always a common ground of consideration.  The history of the two major wars and the subsequent perennial encounters of conflict around the world need some deliberate concerted thinking and analysis.  There are lessons to be drawn from these conflicts.  Whatever the outcome of analysis, all the lessons have a common basis – there are no winners, only losers and in the end peace emerges from the laps of commonsense talk and decision making.

The Ukraine-Russia crisis is a foolhardy battle of principles.  In order to reconcile the two, it must not be seen as matters of principle but matters of commonsense.   The captain used common sense to recognise the beacon of warning and changed course.  Common sense should prevail on all sides in order to change course that would avoid a collision course.  Settlements of peace are always achieved through compromises not through the exaltation of principles.  Stop the war and start talking now rather than the inevitable later.   Just Thinking Aloud.