By José R. Cabañas Rodríguez – Nov 2, 2022
The 7th Conference on Strategic Studies organized by the Center for International Policy Research (CIPI) in Havana, with the co-sponsorship of the Latin American Council of Social Sciences (CLACSO), concluded on October 28, 2022. 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, which is that throughout the conference, all participants acquired new knowledge that 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 confrontation affecting us all. Some have asked themselves the present question: are we at war?
The events that have taken place in Ukraine since last February have been presented as a singular event. Its antecedents have been erased, other recent similar events have been forgotten, and it is described as the only one out of all 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 contribute 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 claim that “we are at war”, even if they are not hit by artillery or aircraft every day. These are the thousands, or 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 aimed at another perspective, considering the scope and magnitude of the two previous “world” wars. Such a possibility had not arisen with such force in the last 30 years, after the demise of the USSR and the socialist bloc. No such danger was considered 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 its repeated commitments not to expand eastward. So what has changed now?
When recalling past “world” wars, we immediately think of the number of soldiers, the multitude of casualties and means of combat, and the natural areas utterly destroyed by gunpowder or chemical agents. But in pondering this danger that we consider “in the future,” we forget recent and daily data. Current military budgets, taken as a whole, are much higher than those of those conflicts (accounting for inflation); the amount of military assets 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 declining 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 that has lasted more than 60 years for committing the crime of aspiring to be sovereign. The “war-war” has been imposed on us from Playa Girón to the bands of rebels in the 60’s, the repeated terrorist attacks, and 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 conditions created by outsiders, 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, paramilitary groups, narcos, and other criminals 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 could actually say “another war.”
The first thing is that the great hegemon that decided, planned, sold, and articulated most of the aforementioned 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 the US,” 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 measures, sanctions, and foul play, in order not to lose its position as “decision-maker.”
The other development 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 conflict, Moscow decided to launch a military operation in anticipation of the danger of being attacked at lightning speed and to protect Russian national communities living outside its borders, according to its official statements.
Whether or not one shares the idea of what the Americans themselves called at the time “preventive war,” or “going to the source,” the reality is that a reordered, strengthened Russia that no longer aspires to ever be accepted as “Western” has drawn a red line on the ground.
Despite the fact that the “enemy” is visibly located in the Ukrainian territory, the reality is that behind Kiev, all the 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 could be a confrontation of other proportions.
Several of the actors involved are in possession of nuclear weapons, so the possibility of their unintentional—or intentional—use, also raises alarms.
The game in which the United States is involved is risky, with the aim of expanding the European arms 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 that indicates otherwise. 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 desire 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 picture 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 allegations. 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 attitudes 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. We can relate here to what has been said and done in recent months by the People’s Republic of Korea (DPRK), the State of Israel, or the Islamic Republic of Iran.
In the event that the possibility of a more international conflict than the current one increases, we could not be talking about a single “front,” nor about two “sides” 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 deploying 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
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