War and Peace in these Times

By José R. Cabañas Rodríguez on November 2, 2022

The VII Conference of Strategic Studies organized by the Center for International Policy Research in Havana, with the co-sponsorship of the Latin American Council of Social Sciences (CLACSO), has concluded. The results of its debates are available to the public on the CIPICuba Youtube Channel. We are working on the digital edition of the texts that were sent to the Organizing Committee.

There is an obvious first conclusion and it is that, with the exchange, all participants have acquired new knowledge, which could allow us a better understanding of international events and, consequently, a superior ability to think about future scenarios.

The conference panels addressed a variety of topics, but in one way or another they were connected by the common concern of trying to understand the changes that the international community is going through today. A number of processes force us to wonder about the eventuality of a military conflagration affecting us all. Some have asked themselves the question in the present: are we at war?

The events that have taken place in Ukraine since last February have been presented as a singular event, they have tried to erase its antecedents, they have led to forget other recent similar events and it is described as the only one of the conflicts with the capacity to escalate.

The answer to the question that appears in the third paragraph has as many answers as there are recognized countries in the world today, or as many communities and ethnic groups within them. What answer do you think the Palestinians, the Saharawis, the Syrians, the Yemenis, the Iraqis, the Afghans, the Libyans can give to this question? What considerations can certain aboriginal communities, populations of African descent residing in the so-called first world, or immigrants of Arab or sub-Saharan origin in Europe offer?

Many of them will undoubtedly be able to affirm that “we are at war”, even if they do not receive artillery or aviation impacts every day. These are thousands, perhaps millions, of people who certainly do not live in peace. It could be said that in this case we are referring to a level of “accepted” violence, with which we “live”, despite the declarations of solidarity and rhetoric-laden speeches at multilateral events.

However, the question asked by certain experts at the conference was directed in another dimension, thinking of the scope and magnitude of the two previous “world” wars. Such a consideration had not arisen with such force in the last 30 years, after the demise of the USSR and the socialist camp. No such danger was thought of when the former Yugoslavia was dismembered in the heart of Europe, nor when Washington announced the so-called fight against terrorism that rocked the Middle East for 20 years, or when NATO reneged on repeated commitments not to expand eastward. So what has changed now?

When recalling past “world” wars, we immediately think of the number of men at arms, the multitude of casualties and means of combat, the natural areas totally destroyed by gunpowder or chemical agents. But in pondering this danger that we consider “future”, we forget recent and daily data. Current military budgets, taken as a whole, are much higher than those of those conflagrations (including inflation); the amount of military means on the border and in bases abroad is significant and growing; the areas destroyed by oil spills, deforestation, or pollution are immense; curable diseases and uncontrolled pandemics claim millions of human lives annually; violence and the uncontrolled use of weapons by the civilian population is increasing; the number of animal species that reproduce healthily is decreasing sharply.

So, what is missing to declare ourselves “at war”? What is the “peace” we are enjoying?

In the case of Cuba, for example, we have lived a siege of more than 60 years for committing the crime of aspiring to be sovereign. The “war-war” has been imposed on us from Playa Giron to the bands of rebels in the 60’s, the repeated terrorist actions, the coercive measures. The list is endless. We Cubans have invented a “peace” to see our families grow, to educate ourselves, to enjoy art and nature. But the truth is that we have lived through repeated extreme situations generated by others, with cycles of rise and fall in our GDP, which always make us doubt about the sustainability or development of any project.

Something similar can be narrated by Venezuelans and Nicaraguans, for known reasons. Have Bolivians had a life in “peace” between a coup d’état and the threat of the next one? But the absence of peace is a reality in Latin American countries where the national “government” only decides the state of affairs in the capital city and a little beyond, because in the rural regions the cartels, irregular groups, narcos and other illegals rule. Is there total peace in those countries where drug trafficking dominates ports, supply routes and markets?

So, if all this is true, what is really new when we think about the eventuality of a “war”, we would say “another war”.

The first thing is that the great hegemon that decided, planned, sold and articulated most of the above conflicts is no more. Over and above the problems of all kinds that American society is experiencing at home, the once called “beacon of liberty” is no longer able to offer a model that others would be interested in copying, not even a “neoliberal globalization”-style economic recipe.

In fact, Made in China is much more frequent than Made in USA and in the manuals of high-tech products, Mandarin appears more often than English. In indicators of efficiency, productivity and innovation, Asian companies dominate.

Washington can no longer resort to traditional “competition” to consolidate its place in the world and, therefore, is increasingly making use of political actions, sanctions and foul play, in order not to lose its capacity as “decision-maker”.

The other novelty is that at least one multinational country, Russia, is no longer idly waiting for the military encirclement around its territory to be completed. Having repeatedly warned of the danger of a conflagration, Moscow decided to launch a military operation to pre-empt the danger of being attacked with lightning speed and to protect Russian national communities living outside its borders, according to its official statements.

Whether or not one shares the essence of what the Americans themselves called at the time “preventive war”, or “going to the source”, the reality is that a reordered Russia, strengthened and already renouncing the aspiration of ever being accepted as “Western”, has drawn a red line on the ground.

Despite the fact that the “enemy” is visibly located in the Ukrainian geography, in fact behind Kiev all material, intelligence and political resources of NATO are lined up. Until today, they have not decided on the participation (beyond mercenaries) of human forces, which could lead us to consider that, formally, there would be a confrontation of other proportions.

Several of the actors involved are in possession of nuclear weapons, so the possibility of an error, or its conscious use, also raises alarms.

The game in which the United States is involved is risky, with the aim of expanding the European armaments market and to stimulate multi-million dollar expenditures in the technological renewal of military equipment, in the face of the “Russian threat”.

Although most of the public information consumed tends to indicate that the Atlantic alliance is functioning coherently and monolithically in this “war”, we see daily news to the contrary. Since the announcement of “unrestricted” support for Ukraine in early 2022, several government leaders have exited the scene and there are others about to do so. Despite the will not to give it press coverage, every day there are massive demonstrations in European capitals against NATO’s involvement. The first “casualty” of the Russian-NATO conflict was paradoxically the Euro and not the Ruble. In an upcoming winter with high prices and no heating it is difficult to think of a “call to arms” from the European side. The advancement of technologies must be taken into account, where supersonic artillery, massive use of drones and cyber-attacks push away those traditional images of infantry crossing borders on foot.

Also new is the way in which so-called “third parties” have reacted in today’s more media-driven warfare. Voting in multilateral bodies clearly indicates that there is no unrestricted support for NATO positions and denunciations. In fact, the United States has not been able to impose its will even in the OAS, or the Summits of the Americas, on this and other issues.

The strengthening of Sino-Soviet relations, the new non-alignment, the enlargement of the BRICS and the attitude of countries such as India, Saudi Arabia and Turkey clearly indicate that the geopolitical map has changed and will continue to do so.

The actions of third parties include those who have made statements, or taken actions, on what are considered to be their most immediate conflicts. This can be related to what has been said and done in recent months by the People’s Republic of Korea, the State of Israel, or the Islamic Republic of Iran.

In the event that the possibility of a more international conflagration than the current one is greater, we could not be talking about a single “combat front”, nor about two “parties” or groups of countries in dispute.

What happens today in the world will have a direct impact on the mid-term elections in the United States and vice versa. The United States still maintains its capacity to “lead from behind” and to impose “wars” and instability within “enemy” countries without transferring troops. Washington is betting on the breakdown of leadership and social systems within countries that do not share its “rules of the game”. For an empire in decline, it will always be much more tempting to destroy and cause damage to the environment in the face of the impossibility of surviving, as the Romans, Ottomans and European colonial powers did before.

Living with “wars” today seems a more common phenomenon than we are willing to acknowledge. Building sustainable peace will require new alliances, new knowledge, new thinking, new leadership and definitely a new multilateralism, based on the principle of the cessation of “the philosophy of dispossession”.

José Ramón Cabañas Rodríguez is the former Cuban Ambassador to the United States

Source: La Pupila Insomne, translation Resumen Latinoamericano – US