Good morning, and happy International Day of Human Space Flight!
I’ve been writing about the war on Ukraine for almost 6 weeks now, exploring its devastation on the ground, its potential outcomes, its ripple effects in space and cyberspace, on the global economy and the energy sectorin particular, and of course higher education’s responses, from condemnations and statements of solidarityto academic sanctions on Russia and a wide range of assistance offered to Ukrainian students, scholars and institutions. (You’ll find all my Ukraine-related blogs here.)
This week, I’d like to look at some of the war’s longer-lasting repercussions, which may reshape geopolitics and the future of globalization and international cooperation. These ripple effects will unquestionably impact PSE research collaborations, transnational program partnerships, international student mobility and needs for support…
I’m the first to admit I am neither a historian nor a political scientist. (My father is the former, not me – and I confess I despised my freshman exposure to the latter.) But experts seem to be unanimous that the war on Ukraine has transformed the future for years to come, and obviously, that will affect the trajectory of higher education too…
Historical Turning Point
In late February, Vladimir Putin’s invasion of Ukraine overturned 75 years of established international law, and “almost instantly restructured global power dynamics.” Yale historian Arne Westad says “this is, first and foremost, a war of conquest that we haven’t seen in Europe since 1944.” Stanford fellow Steven Pifer points out that “in less than one week, you’ve seen 5 decades of German attitudes to Russia turned on their head,” the Swiss abandon their legendary neutrality, and US Republicans and Democrats rally for a common cause. Olaf Scholz, chancellor of Germany, called this a “Zeitenwende,” a turning point that begins a new historical era. William Wohlforth, a politics prof at Dartmouth, argues that “the fate of the global order hangs in the balance” as Putin strives to overturn the post-Cold War stability of Europe, in place since 1991. Beyond the fate of Ukraine, the world will face major economic repercussions, and even the risk of nuclear confrontation or cyberwarfare between 2 superpowers. “The freedom to travel, the sense of openness in the world, our sense of our collective economic prospects — that would all change.” Washington Post | Vox | Harvard Magazine
“We’re talking about the shadow of an extremely dangerous and unpredictable great power war hovering over the world.” – William Wohlforth, politics prof, Dartmouth
Inevitable Hinge of History?
Ben Rhodes, a former Obama national security advisor, argues that humanity is forgetting the lessons of history just as living memory of WW2 fades away, and that the backlash against globalization has empowered warmongering strongmen: “grievance-based ethno-nationalism and authoritarianism lead inexorably to conflict.” And it’s all occurring at a time when big data and social media have enabled propaganda and disinformation on an unprecedented scale, and polarized the world’s citizens in diametrically opposed echo chambers. Putin has masterfully leveraged these tools for years, engaging in low-stakes wars that rally patriotic pride in his fight against Western depravity. And yet, Ukrainian president Volodymyr Zelensky and Kremlin critic Alexey Navalny have stood up to this “bully,” to offer “a populism not of cynicism and grievance but of idealism and community,” which may just “shake democracies from complacency” and usher in a better world. The Atlantic
“We have reached a hinge of history. At issue is not just the future of Ukraine but that of the world that will emerge on the other side of this war.” – Ben Rhodes, former Obama deputy national security advisor
Cold War 2 or WW3?
Many analysts recognize that Russia’s invasion of Ukraine is far more than a regional conflict in Eastern Europe; Carleton U prof Randy Boswell warns this could be “an inevitably expanding conflict, perhaps even a world war.” Of course, “this time with multiple nuclear-armed states,” points out Uri Friedman, a “nightmare scenario… as Russia’s horrific war on Ukraine metastasizes.” Echoes of the Cold War are certainly everywhere – “Rivalry with Russia. A proxy battleground. Nuclear brinksmanship.” – but UN secretary-general Antonio Guterres says “the threat to global security now is more complex and probably higher.” This is “a second Cuban Missile Crisis,” observes Georgetown U historian James Hershberg, “in terms of the danger of escalation.” But Harvard historian Fredrik Logevall says this is not “Cold War II” so much as “a titanic struggle that involves all aspects of national power waged between two incompatible systems – but short of outright military conflict.” Yale historian Arne Westad agrees, because the geopolitical situation offers even less stability now. The current moment, he says, has much more in common with WW1. Global | Harvard Magazine | AP | The Atlantic
“There are moments in history when the great struggle between freedom and tyranny comes down to one fight in one place, which is waged for all of humanity.” – Chrystia Freeland, deputy prime minister of Canada
Putin has repeatedly (and falsely) claimed that his invasion of Ukraine was in response to the threat of NATO expansion. Ironically, by attacking a sovereign European nation in a war over territory, Putin has reinvigorated NATO’s whole reason for being…
Russia has lost its military superiority in conventional forces by land, air and sea to NATO – but it has an exponential advantage when it comes to tactical nuclear weapons. (Russia has ~2,000, more than enough to incinerate every NATO base across Europe.) Russian military strategists have long been openly calculating the benefits of “tailored damaged” from low-yield nuclear weapons in the field, and Putin’s struggles to achieve victory on the ground in Ukraine “may very well make Russia more likely to pull the nuclear trigger.” Putin is “less politically constrained” than Khrushchev by the politburo, but presides over a “far weaker” country than the USSR in its heyday, “producing a uniquely destabilizing dynamic.” I’ve written before about Putin’s nuclear “sabre-rattling” and the threat he might deploy tactical nuclear weapons on the battlefield in Ukraine (or even more likely, turn nuclear power plants into radioactive “dirty bombs”). NATO might regard the nuclear option as crossing a “red line,” which would draw the world’s superpowers into direct conflict for the first time – but the outcome of the war in Ukraine “simply matters more to Russia than it does to NATO.” Russia may just believe it could “win” this war using tactical nukes. The Atlantic | The Atlantic
Prior to Putin’s invasion of Ukraine, NATO had been fading into near-irrelevance, a “lethargic dinosaur of an organization.” French president Emmanuel Macron called NATO “brain dead” in 2019, and Donald Trumpthreatened to pull the US out entirely. Diplomats and scholars around the world questioned NATO’s purpose in a post-Cold War era. But “Putin has reinvigorated NATO in a fundamental way.” In peacetime, the alliance appeared costly and unnecessary to some, says National Defense U prof John Manza, “like a fire truck that’s sitting in the local fire station… until there’s a fire and you need it.” Last month, NATO doubled its active forcesin eastern Europe, announced new battle groups would be deployed to its eastern flank, provided “unprecedented support to Ukraine,” and drew a line in the sand over chemical weapons. NATO is serving a crucial function, protecting Europe, at a time when the UN has been paralyzed. Vox
“In the battle between democracy and autocracies, democracies are rising to the moment, and the world is clearly choosing the side of peace and security.” – Joe Biden, US president, State of the Union address
Germany Arms Itself
Germany, with the largest economy in the EU, has been a military “sleeping giant” since the fall of the Berlin Wall, cooperating economically with the EU, Russia and China. The reunified Germany was “an industrial powerhouse, sucking up Russian gas and selling its world-leading machine tools to a rising China, all while relying on a security umbrella provided by the United States.” Just last year, Germany was migrating from domestic coal and nuclear power to Russian gas for electricity generation, and as part of its “ostpolitik” to solidify peace with its superpower neighbour. So most were shocked when chancellor Olaf Scholz announced he would suspend the Nord Stream 2 pipeline, spend 100B euros on defense, and ship anti-tank weapons to Ukraine: “in many ways, Germany has rethought its place in the world – all in 2 weeks.” The Atlantic | ProPublica
“We are entering a new era, and that means that the world we now live in is not the one we knew before.” – Olaf Scholz, chancellor of Germany
Election in France
The war in Ukraine has dominated the presidential elections in France. Incumbent Emmanuel Macron is widely perceived as the candidate most likely to be able to guide France through a major European war, and cope with the economic fallout. Macron met with Putin in Moscow in a fruitless last-ditch effort to dissuade him from invading Ukraine, and has fielded dozens of calls from Putin and Zelensky trying to broker a diplomatic resolution. His only remaining competitor, Marine Le Pen, is a far-right populist who has aligned herself repeatedly with Putin, and is strongly anti-NATO. (A photo of Le Pen with Putin is still featured in her campaign brochures.) Macron and Le Pen had a close race in Sunday’s first round election, and the outcome in the Apr 24 run-off vote is by no means certain. Many of the defeated candidates warn that “chaos would ensue” for France and the EU if Le Pen is elected. The Atlantic | Vox | TIME
Sweden and Finland, historically neutral democracies adjacent to Russia, have watched in alarm as Ukraine has suffered atrocities in very similar circumstances. Both Nordic countries have sent military arms to Ukraine, and both have started openly discussing the possibility of joining NATO before it is too late. (Public support has risen from 30% to more than 50% with the invasion of Ukraine.) At the same time as Putin’s blatant military aggression makes NATO membership appealing, the very act of discussing it escalates the threats from Russia: a Kremlin spokesperson warned that if Finland and Sweden were to join NATO, it “would require retaliatory steps” from Russia. And the Russian embassy in Finland is openly calling for reports of anti-Russian discrimination or hate speech – “exactly the same kind of invented incidents used to justify the invasion of Ukraine.” Sweden’s PM dismissed the idea as something that would “further destabilize the situation,” but former PM Carl Bildt insists “there is no way back to a past of illusionary neutrality.” In Finland, 2 major petitions have triggered parliamentary debate on NATO membership. TIME | CTV
“Putin himself has made a case for an expanded alliance that is more ironclad and convincing than even NATO’s most ardent advocates could have made decades ago.” – Tom Nichols, in The Atlantic
As we helplessly watch the atrocities unfold in Ukraine, we’re tempted to think that Putin’s wanton aggression is proving the importance of a peaceful world order, and that economic sanctions will prove Putin’s undoing. But we may also be deluding ourselves…
What if WW3 is Already Here?
As Ukrainians suffer relentless bombardment and obscene atrocities at the hands of the Russian forces, they have been pleading for NATO assistance – and particularly a no-fly zone. The response they are hearing, says one Kyiv journalist, is essentially “the war in Ukraine is not our war. We will come forward only if Russia attacks an alliance member or bombs our convoy to Ukraine.” It sounds similar to what Ukrainians themselves might have said to former Russian slaughters in Georgia, Chechnya, Libya and Syria –conflicts that only served to embolden Putin. We must avoid dangerous denial, she says: as NATO tries to avoid World War 3, it may have already begun. Perhaps it began in Crimea, Georgia, Moldova, and Syria. Future historians may not consider the Feb 24 invasion of Ukraine as the start of WW3, but as a key turning point. The Atlantic
“People in [NATO] countries are scared of World War III. I understand the fear—but don’t you understand that World War III may have already arrived?” – Veronika Melkozerova, journalist based in Kyiv, Ukraine
Worse May be Yet to Come
Western optimism that liberal democracy will ultimately defeat autocracy, that “light will win over darkness,” may be ill-founded, argues Tom McTague. Elsewhere in the world, China is committing genocide against the Uyghurs and dismantling freedoms in Hong Kong – “but the West continues to trade with it almost as if nothing is happening.” While we sanction Russian oligarchs, we “let Saudi oligarchs buy up [our] companies, sports teams, and homes.” In Syria, dictator Bashar al-Assad remains in power, supported by Putin, and the “Arab Spring” has petered out into dictatorships across the Middle East and North Africa. Russia’s assault on Ukraine might continue far longer than we can imagine, with an occupation lasting 30 years like the one in Hungary. And it is not at all clear that NATO could even survive another term of a US president like Donald Trump. The Atlantic
That was a quick overview of the geopolitical impacts of the war on Ukraine across Europe and throughout NATO – but its repercussions are also being felt elsewhere in the world, like in North America. Stay tuned for part 2…
I’ve spotted dozens of new CdnPSE commercials in the past week, so it’s tough to choose just one. Here’s a new campaign that highlights Toronto…
Find a Class of Your Own
George Brown College has “doubled its ad spend” and launched a new student recruitment campaign (with agency “No Fixed Address”) that highlights the attractions of real-world learning and the cultural vibrancy of Toronto, to “demonstrate its value beyond the classroom experience.” In this upbeat :30-sec spot, prospective students are invited to “do that thing you love with a class of your own” in marketing, tourism, ECE, architectural technology and more. The campaign will include online video, social media, digital ads, out of home and print ads in English, Mandarin, Portuguese and Vietnamese. YouTube | GBC Landing Page | Strategy
As always, thanks for reading!
I’m always on the lookout for innovative ideas about the future of higher ed, so please do drop me a line if you spot something you find thought-provoking, at your institution or anywhere else.
Stay safe and be well!
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