Europe sleepwalks into another world war
More than 100 years after the First World War, European leaders are sleepwalking towards a new all-out war.
In 1914, European governments believed the war would last three weeks; it lasted four years and claimed over 20 million lives. The same nonchalance is visible with the war in Ukraine.
The prevailing opinion is that the abuser should be left broken and humiliated. At the time, the defeated power was Germany. Some dissenting voices, such as John Maynard Keynes, felt that Germany’s humiliation would be a disaster.
Their warnings went unheeded. Twenty-one years later, Europe was back at war, which lasted six years and killed 70 million people.
History does not repeat itself and does not seem to teach us anything, but it does illustrate similarities and differences.
The hundred years before 1914 offered Europe relative peace. The wars that took place were short-lived.
The reason for this was the Congress of Vienna (1814-15), which brought together the winners and losers of the Napoleonic Wars to create a lasting peace. The chairman of the conference was Klemens von Metternich, who ensured that the defeated power (France) paid for its actions with territorial losses but signed the treaty with Austria, England, Prussia and Russia. Russia to ensure peace with dignity.
Negotiation or total defeat
While the Napoleonic Wars were fought between European powers, the current war is between a European power (Russia) and a non-European power (the United States). It is a proxy war, with both sides using a third country (Ukraine) to achieve geostrategic goals that go far beyond the country in question and the continent to which it belongs.
Russia is at war with Ukraine because it is a war with the North Atlantic Treaty Organization, which is commanded by the United States.
NATO has served US geostrategic interests.
Once an unwavering champion of peoples’ self-determination, Russia now illegally sacrifices these same principles to assert its own security concerns, after failing to have them recognized by peaceful means, and out of undisguised imperial nostalgia.
For its part, since the end of the first cold war, the United States has endeavored to deepen the defeat of Russia, a defeat probably more self-inflicted than caused by any superiority on the part of its adversary.
From NATO’s perspective, the purpose of the war in Ukraine is to inflict an unconditional defeat on Russia, preferably a defeat that will lead to regime change in Moscow. The duration of the war depends on this objective.
Where is Russia’s motivation to end the war when British Prime Minister Boris Johnson ventures to say that sanctions against Russia will continue regardless of Russia’s current position? Would it be enough for Russian President Vladimir Putin to be ousted (as was the case for Napoleon in 1815), or would the NATO countries insist that Russia itself be ousted so that the expansion of China can be stopped?
There was also a regime change in the humiliation of Germany in 1918, but it all ended up leading to Adolf Hitler and an even more devastating war.
The political greatness of Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky could be interpreted either as a recognition of the courageous patriot who defends his country against the invader to the last drop of blood, or as a recognition of the courageous patriot who, faced with the imminence of so many innocent deaths and the asymmetry of military force, successfully obtains the support of its allies to negotiate fiercely in order to secure a dignified peace.
The fact that the old construction is now the most widespread probably has nothing to do with the personal preferences of President Zelensky.
Where is Europe?
During the two world wars of the 20th century, Europe proclaimed itself the center of the world. That’s why we call the two wars world wars. About 4 million Europehis troops were in fact African and Asian. Several thousand non-European deaths were the price paid by the inhabitants of the remote colonies of the countries involved, sacrificed in a war which did not concern them.
Today, Europe is only a small corner of the world, which the war in Ukraine will make even smaller.
For centuries, Europe was just the western tip of Eurasia, the huge landmass that stretched from China to the Iberian Peninsula and witnessed the exchange of knowledge, products, scientific innovations and cultures.
Much of what has subsequently been attributed to European exceptionalism (from the Scientific Revolution of the 16th century to the Industrial Revolution of the 19th century) cannot be understood, nor would it have been possible, without these centuries-old exchanges.
The war in Ukraine – especially if it lasts too long – risks not only amputating one of Europe’s historic powers (Russia), but also isolating it 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. Seeing through these lenses, Europeans have never felt so strong, so close to their greatest partner, so sure of standing on the right side of history, with the entire planet ruled by the rules of “the liberal order”, a world finally feeling strong enough to soon move forward and conquer – or at least neutralize – China, having destroyed China’s main partner, Russia.
Looking through non-European lenses, on the other hand, Europe and the United States stand proud, but alone, probably able to win a battle, but on the way to certain defeat in the war of the story.
Many United Nations member states that voted (correctly) against the illegal invasion of Ukraine did so based on their historical experience of being invaded, not by Russia, but rather by the United States, England, France or Israel.
But more than half of the world’s population lives in countries that have decided not to join sanctions against Russia. Their decision was not dictated by ignorance, but by precaution.
How can they trust the countries that created SWIFT – a financial transfer system to protect economic transactions from political interference – to end up removing a country from that system for political reasons?
Countries that arrogate to themselves the power to confiscate the financial and gold reserves of sovereign nations like Afghanistan, Venezuela and now Russia?
Countries that trumpet free speech as a sacrosanct universal value, but resort to censorship whenever exposed?
Countries that are supposed to cherish democracy and yet don’t hesitate to stage a coup whenever an election goes against their interests?
Countries in whose eyes the “dictator” Nicolás Maduro becomes a trading partner overnight because circumstances have changed?
The world is no longer a place of innocence – if it ever was.
This article was produced by Globetrotter, who provided it to Asia Times.
Boaventura de Sousa Santos is Emeritus Professor of Sociology at the University of Coimbra in Portugal. His most recent book is Decolonizing the university: the challenge of deep cognitive justice.