By Boaventura de Sousa Santos/Globetrotter
More than 100 years after World war I, Europe‘s leaders are sleepwalking towards a new all-out war. In 1914, European governments believed that the war would take three weeks; it lasted four years and resulted in more than 20 million deaths. The same nonchalance is evident in the war in Ukraine. The prevailing view is that the attacker should be left broken and humiliated. At that time the defeated power was Germany. Some dissenting voices, such as John Maynard Keynes, felt that humiliating Germany would be catastrophic. Her warnings went unheeded. twenty one years later, Europe was at again war, which lasted six years and killed 70 million people. History does not repeat itself, nor does it seem to teach us anything, but it does illustrate similarities and differences.
The hundred years before 1914 offered Europe relative calm. What wars took place were short-lived. The reason for this was the Congress of Vienna (1814-15), which brought together the victors and vanquished of the Napoleonic wars in order to create a lasting peace. The conference was chaired by Klemens von Metternich, who made sure that the defeated power (France) paid for its actions with territorial losses, but signed the treaty along with Austria, England, Prussia and Austria Russia to secure peace with dignity.
negotiation or total defeat
While the Napoleonic Wars took place between European powers, today’s war is between a European (Russia) and a non-European power (USA). It’s a deputy warwhere both sides are a third country (Ukraine) to achieve geostrategic goals that go far beyond the particular country and continent to which it belongs. Russia is at war with Ukraine because it is a war with the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO), which is commanded by the United States. NATO has served US geostrategic interests. Once a staunch advocate of peoples’ self-determination, Russia now unlawfully sacrificing those same principles to advance its own security concerns, having failed to acknowledge them through peaceful means and out of undisguised imperial nostalgia. For his part, since the end of the first cold warthe US has endeavored to deepen RussiaDefeat likely to be self-inflicted rather than opponent superiority.
From NATO’s point of view, the goal is war in Ukraine is to inflict unconditional defeat Russia, preferably one that leads to regime change in Moscow. The duration of war depends on this goal. Where is Russia‘s incentive to end that war when British Prime Minister Boris Johnson allows himself to say that sanctions work against it Russia will continue no matter what Russia‘s position is now? Would it be enough to overthrow Russian President Vladimir Putin (as Napoleon did in 1815), or does the truth of the matter insist that the NATO countries insist on the overthrow? Russia himself so that China’s expansion can be halted? There was also regime change in the humiliation of Germany in 1918, but it all ended with Hitler and an even more devastating war. The political greatness of Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy could be interpreted either as a tribute to the brave patriot who defended his country to the last drop of blood against the invader, or as a tribute to the brave patriot who faced the imminent arrival of so many innocent deaths and the asymmetry in military strength, successfully enlists the support of its allies to negotiate fiercely to secure a dignified peace. The fact that the former construction is the dominant one today probably has little to do with President Zelenskyj’s personal preferences.
Where is Europe?
During the two world wars of the 20th century Europe was the self-proclaimed center of the world. That’s why we call the two wars world wars. About 4 million Europe‘s troops were in fact African and Asian. Many thousands of non-European deaths were the price that the inhabitants of remote colonies of the countries involved sacrificed in one war it was none of her business.
Now, Europe is just a small corner of the world that the war in Ukraine will make even smaller. Since centuries, Europe was merely the western tip of Eurasia, the vast landmass that stretched from China to the Iberian Peninsula and witnessed the exchange of knowledge, products, scientific innovations, and cultures. Much of what later came to be attributed to European exceptionalism (from the scientific revolution in the 16th century to the industrial revolution in the 19th century) cannot be understood and would not have been possible without this centuries-old exchange. the war in Ukraine– especially if it takes too long – there is not only a risk that one of them will be amputated Europe‘s historical power (Russia), but also the isolation from the rest of the world, especially from China.
The world is much bigger than what you can see through European or North American lenses. Seen through these lenses, Europeans have never felt so strong, so close to their larger partner, so sure of being on the right side of history, as the whole planet is ruled by the rules of the “liberal order,” one world , which finally feels strong enough to soon go out and conquer – or at least neutralize – China after destroying China’s main partner Russia.
The view through non-European glasses, on the other hand Europe and the US stands haughtily, almost alone, probably able to win a battle but heading towards certain defeat in the war history. More than half of the world’s population lives in countries that have chosen not to join the sanctions against Russia. Many of the member states of the United Nations voted (correctly) against the illegal invasion of Ukraine did so based on their historical experience of being mugged, not by Russia, but from the USA, England, France or Israel. Her decision was not dictated by ignorance, but by caution. How can they trust countries that created SWIFT – a money transfer system aimed at protecting economic transactions from political interference – only to end up removing a country from the system for political reasons? Countries that usurp the power to confiscate the financial and gold reserves of sovereign nations like Afghanistan, Venezuela and now Russia? Countries that promote freedom of expression as an inviolable universal value, but resort to censorship the moment it exposes them? Countries that are supposed to uphold democracy yet have no hesitation in staging a coup d’état if an election goes against their interests? Countries that see the “dictator” Nicolás Maduro as a trading partner overnight because circumstances have changed? The world is no longer a place of innocence – if it ever was.
Boaventura de Sousa Santos is Professor Emeritus of Sociology at the University of Coimbra in Portugal. His latest book is Decolonizing the University: The Challenge of Deep Cognitive Justice.
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