War in Europe: What Does It Mean For The Future?

After the dissolution of the Soviet Union, Francis Fukuyama said history ended. However, the conflict in Yugoslavia was shocking in its brutality and acts of genocide. It was part of the dissolution of a country in Europe. Other nations were involved only through aid and peacekeeping. Ideology is flexible and can take many shapes to radicalise people.

The invasion of Ukraine by Russia is a war between two sovereign countries. And the most concerning part is that it is not a territorial dispute. While Putin claims it is about Donbas and Luhansk, it is also about Russian imperialism. Hence, nationalism is clearly not dead. The Kremlin invokes imaginary historical rights to justify its act of aggression. But this shock we are still reeling from, what does it mean for Europe?

Europe’s diversity is both its blessing and its curse. Niall Ferguson says that the rivalries between states encouraged innovation and exploration. His argument in Civilization is a solid one. But, this also led to two world wars and numerous other devastating conflicts. Kings and emperors, presidents and popes, all vied for more power and control, ever since the fall of the Roman Empire. In a sense, one can see a pattern here.

The destruction brought by the First World War was a shock for the world. They created the League of Nations and hoped it would be capable to solve international disputes. They also punished Germany although some warned it could lead to further bloodshed (J.M. Keynes).

The Second World War was a complete shock in terms of loss of life. It also gave the world its endgame device, the nuclear bomb. In its aftermath a competition between the two superpowers started. Peace did not seem like a true option. However, they never came to blows and those arsenals were never used. Also, in Europe a new sentiment was born, that of more unity. The European Union became more than a symbol for peace, it gradually turned into a community of states.

Francis Fukuyama hoped that with the fall of communism there would be no more ideological conflicts. Steven Pinker tried illustrating that The Better Angels of Our Nature were at play and that violence was reducing. However, they were clearly too optimistic about humanity. As Margaret Macmillan argues, conflict seems to call to us and shape us.

The ideological battle is not over. Liberal democracy did not win, although it did grow complacent. In the past decade nationalism is making a comeback on the political scene. As people forget the horrors of war they become easier to radicalise. For some leaders the Cold War did not end properly.

For Vladimir Putin the humiliation of Soviet dissolution was a hard blow. While still consolidating his regime he played the role of a progressive leader. However, you can take the man out of the KGB, but not the KGB out of the man. With the West conciliatory towards his ambitions, he built his own ideology, rooted in illiberalism. The war in Ukraine is both an act of imperialism and an ideological confrontation with liberal democracy. Putin sought to highlight its weakness, yet he might have miscalculated.

It is difficult to predict how the conflict will end. There are as many scenarios as there are experts writing about them. What is certain is that the world will not be quite the same. If Ukraine wins its war it will leave Russia as a weakened power. However, this could either make it more dangerous or it could mean the end of Putin’s regime.

If Russia wins its war it will change the security landscape of Europe. It would allow Putin to play the part of the conquerer. It could also make his discourse stronger in an isolated Russia. Also, he will be able to more directly challenge NATO. However, if one judges from the perspective of the ongoing campaign, this will be more facade than reality.

For its part, Europe is showing signs of waking up from a long slumber. The past three decades weakened its resolve and unity. Leaders would often disagree and countries had a tendency to pursue national interest. NATO also seemed somewhat lacking. However, this crisis offered the chance to prove loyalty between members states, both EU and NATO. So far, they seem to have answered this call. New policies on energy and technology could help Europe regain its international status and independence. It certainly has the resources to achieve this.

The war was not averted and millions are suffering. Europe’s security is at play in a brutal fashion. But, it is also a chance at some form of renewal if the actors choose so. Europe could become the powerhouse that projects new technologies and liberal ideals with more efficiency. I would also hope that this war would be the end of Putin’s regime. One which has grown increasingly totalitarian, to a level we underestimated. Even if things are as far as possible from positive I strive to look towards the future of a glimmer of hope that good will eventually triumph.

Check more of our content on the ongoing crisis here.

  1. Steven Pinker, The Better Angels of Our Nature, London — 2011.
  2. Francis Fukuyama, The End of History and the Last Man, 1992.
  3. Niall Ferguson, Civilization: The West and the Rest, London — 2011.
  4. Margaret MacMillan, War: How Conflict Shaped Us, London — 2021.
  5. Yuval Noah Harari, Yuval Noah Harari argues that what’s at stake in Ukraine is the direction of human history, The Economist, February 9, 2022.
  6. Liana Felix, Michael Kimmage, What If Russia Loses?, Foreign Affairs, March 4, 2022.
  7. Europe reconsiders its energy future, The Economist, March 5, 2022.

Originally published at https://www.theworldbriefly.com on March 7, 2022.

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