By Bryn Jones
Winston Churchill once said: “Those who fail to learn from history are doomed to repeat it”. With both Russian and NATO forces increasing their presence along the Ukrainian border, we are beginning to see a regression, into the depths of the Cold War.
Vladimir Putin and Joe Biden are facing decreasing approval ratings at home, a common strategy to combat this is to undertake a show of national military strength to increase popularity. This escalation in military activity can be seen in Ukraine and along its borders, the current frontier of US and Russian influence. Many former Communist nations rushed into the arms of NATO after the fall of the Soviet Union, now Ukraine wants in as well. For Putin this is a step too far, he has begun to demand restrictions in NATO’s powers across many former Communist nations.
From a Russian point of view, Putin’s desire for a ‘buffer zone’, similar to that established by Stalin 80 years ago, is justified as NATO troops and US hypersonic missiles are deployed in Eastern Ukraine. This plays on the inherent Russian fear of invasion through its Western border. Yet this is paired with NATO fears of further invasion into Ukrainian territory by the estimated 100,000 Russian troops on its amassing on its Eastern border. A miscalculation on either side could lead to heightened tensions, international involvement, and possibly war.
The UK must play a key role in this unfolding crisis, as a nation we face two options. First, to stand by the USA unequivocally both militarily and diplomatically as we have done for the most part over the last century. Equally, we can break with tradition and move away from military action and push for more peaceful negotiations if supported by our European neighbours in NATO, a task that is made ever more difficult due to the deterioration in our relationship with Europe post-Brexit. Yet a policy such as this must be pursued as we find ourselves on the brink of conflict – a swift and logical solution is needed.
The UK must pursue a policy that doesn’t weaken NATO’s global position. One option that could be pursued is the introduction of a quasi-demilitarized zone. Minimal military presences in the borderlands of the Ukraine and Russia would reduce pressure on Putin, decreasing the chance of an irrational show of military strength on his part. While demilitarisation in this area would maintain NATO as a defensive alliance created to sustain peace, rather than an aggressive dominant force knocking on the door of its enemies. However, this option relies on a great level of trust that can only be achieved if a European block pushes for peace in this instance rather than following and supporting US military policy. Russian fears lie in being outnumbered and if this is changed a reduction in tensions is achievable.
This heightened tension is replicated around the globe as China’s increased interest in invading Taiwan and Iran is on the brink of becoming a nuclear power. The UK needs to maintain a strong peaceful presence on an ever-confusing world stage. We must work towards a coalition of global democratic nations with its European neighbours, Japan, Australia, and others to pursue peaceful diplomatic solutions rather than military action.
In addition, the Commonwealth nations hold a strong geopolitical position in Sub-Saharan Africa, the South China Sea, and the Indian sub-continent. Utilizing these connections to maintain peace across all areas of the globe is crucial if the UK wants to maintain peace, this is not a shift away from military alliance and support with the USA but an additional line of negotiation and strength at our nation’s disposal. To help maintain the global balance of power and to stop Russian as well as Chinese and Iranian anticipation of victory in their respective pursuits.
The UK along with NATO must remain militarily defensive and use our military strength as a deterrence to other states rather than a threat. We cannot denounce Russia and others for their military action while we persist with growing our military strength on their borders.
On 12th January Russia and NATO plan to hold talks in Geneva, the UK must hold a strong opinion that nothing more than peace will do, we must learn from history as the world once again seems to be slipping into another Cold War and military action must be a final resort.
Image: Ivan Shliov via Unsplash