King Edward VI School Sixth Form Journal, April 30th 2014
You’ve probably noticed that, in the last month, the news outlets have once again become fixated with the idea of Western powers going to war. It would seem that the rules of international politics are created in line with the 2002 remake of Spiderman – countries who are militarily superior tend to think that they have a remit to get involved in other nations’ disputes just because they have the ability to. In essence: “great power comes with great responsibility”. But does this responsibility actually exist? Is it right for us to intervene?
You could argue, like Uncle Ben, that having military force and significant global influence means that if you’ve got the potential to stop something like the persecution of Kurds in Iraq or the Rwandan genocide, then you should. The real issue, of course, is that Western nations are self- interested and hot-headed, and as a result, singular intervention is often unhelpful.
Iraq and Rwanda, for example, are two of the most severe humanitarian crises of recent years. But intervention in Iraq by the West was motivated by tenuous evidence of WMDs that could threaten us, and not by the obvious suffering of the Kurdish people. Rwanda was largely ignored by the people who could have helped, aside from some UN Peacekeepers that gave too little, too late.
The UN, incidentally, should be the body which regulates international conflict. There’s certainly a case to be made for the right of the sovereignty of a nation to fight its own battles, but most would concede that some form of international unity is needed. It’s then frustrating when nations on the Security Council ignore the the veto and wade in anyway.
With that in mind, you’ll excuse me for being skeptical about the West’s condemnation of Russia’s intervention in Crimea. Putin’s been accused, quite rightly, of putting his own interests before those of the citizens of Ukraine and Obama waded in with sanctions and embargoes that Westminster was initially reluctant to agree to (remember the secret papers that got ‘papped’ on the doorstep of No.10?).
In my view, any intervention from the West should be done through the UN and dealt with through summits that include Russia, not through shady strategy meetings that prove it’s a two-sided game.
Europe can’t afford to fall on the wrong side of Russia – Germany alone takes 36% of its gas from Russia and the continent as a whole took 185 million tonnes of oil from it last year.
Having said that, nor can Ukraine. Russia holds an enormous amount of their currency, giving it practically the power of a central bank, and it takes the majority of Ukrainian exports. Without Putin, Ukraine is stuck with no power, no money, and no trade links. The EU has already ostracised Ukraine with the introduction of a tariff that non-EU nations must pay to trade with us – so Ukraine is not in a position to burn any more bridges.
Crimea has been formally annexed and re-joined to Russia, following an illegal referendum not sanctioned by the government in Kiev – leaving no Ukrainian troops in the region and what seems to be official political secession.
The question, then, is whether or not we can allow this sort of manoeuvre in Putin’s ex-Soviet ‘sphere of influence’. If we can’t, then what can we do? Russia and the West both have power, and a clash of perceived responsibility has led to an international escalation. Uncle Ben would tell us to intervene – but I suspect the moral high ground that Spiderman has the liberty of taking was lost long ago.