A war for survival

It is not in the best interest of the world that Ukraine and Russia should continue to remain at odds for an extended period of time

A war for survival


he United States and the Soviet Union fought as allies against the Axis forces during World War II. The relationship between the two countries, however, was hostile. Americans were always suspicious of Soviet communism and worried about Joseph Stalin’s authoritarian leadership.

The Soviets, for their part, were enraged by the Americans’ decades-long unwillingness to recognise the USSR as a genuine member of the world community, as well as their delayed entry into World War II, which killed tens of millions of Russians. These complaints grew into abiding mutual suspicion and animosity after the war ended. After WWII, the wartime coordination between the Western Allies and the Soviet Union broke down.

The US and the Soviet Union then proceeded to divide the world into two main blocs. The alliances dominated by these super powers played a key role in the polarisation of the world.

At that time, the US was concerned not just about its physical frontiers, but also about the ideological bounds. It made it plain that it would resist any Soviet military expansion or pressure in Europe. In order to tackle the growing Soviet influence, the Western powers felt the need to create a military alliance. In 1949, the United States, Canada and several Western European nations formed the North Atlantic Treaty Organisation to guarantee collective security against the Soviet Union.

The NATO was considered a defensive alliance whose aim was to safeguard its members from potential Russian aggression. Its official stance is that “the Alliance does not want confrontation and poses no threat to Russiai1.” Historical evidence shows that the NATO was exploited by the Western allies and the United States to weaken the Soviet Union’s position.

The West Germany joined NATO in May 1955, prompting the Soviet Union to put together the Warsaw Pact in Central and Eastern Europe the following year. Following that, the West Germans supplied many army divisions and a large air force to the NATO alliance. The Warsaw Treaty Organisation (referred to as the Warsaw Pact) was a forum for political-strategic cooperation between the Soviet Union and other Eastern European countries.

The Soviets dreaded the ramifications of a reinforced NATO and a revived West Germany that had joined the NATO. They believed that the Warsaw Pact could both restrain West Germany and deal with the NATO.

International politics took a new turn after the dissolution of the Soviet Union in 1991 as the world became uni-polar. Several analysts suggested then that, absent the Societ Union and the Warsaw Pact, the NATO was no longer needed and that defence spending and military investment should be drastically reduced.

Russia can go to any extent to maintain its buffer zone. We have seen this in effect during the Georgia-Russia conflict. 

For nearly three decades since, the alliance has avoided defining its purpose, focusing instead on what immediate steps it should take to adapt to the post-Cold War security situation. New members have been welcomed into the NATO and invited to participate in its deliberations and councils. Former Warsaw Pact member countries have also benefitted from its military planning, defence budgeting and democratic control of armed forces expertise.

It has been argued that in an interdependent and interconnected world, divisive military alliances should not be fostered. Critics say the NATO has craved war to demonstrate its relevance in the post-Cold War era.

When Germany was being unified there appeared to be an understanding that the NATO would no longer be expanded, especially to the east. US Secretary of State James Baker had met Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev in February 1990 and proclaimed: “There will be no extension of NATO’s authority for NATO soldiers one inch to the east.”

To this day, scholars and officials continue to argue whether the West, particularly the US, guaranteed that NATO would not expand to include former Warsaw Pact countries. Some believe that NATO’s eastward expansion in the 1990s breached what Michael McGwire referred to as “top-level commitments” against NATO growth. Mary Sarotte, writing lately, claims that “contrary to Russian accusations, Gorbachev never got the West to pledge that it would freeze the NATO’s borders.” Mark Kramer too has claimed that the question of NATO expansion into Eastern Europe, “never came up during the negotiations.”

NATO has gone through five rounds of enlargement since 1990, including parts of the former Soviet Union. The alliance now has 30 members including Greece, Turkey, Germany, Spain, the Czech Republic, Hungary, Poland, Bulgaria, Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania, Romania, Slovakia, Slovenia, Albania, Croatia, Montenegro and North Macedonia. Bosnia and Herzegovina, Georgia, and Ukraine have all expressed interest in joining the alliance. At the 2008 Bucharest Summit, the Allies agreed that Georgia and Ukraine will join the NATO in “near future”.

This raised alarm in Russia and President Putin warned that NATO’s expansion towards Russia would be treated as a direct threat. Tensions are rising in the region as a result of these developments. Russia appears determined to maintain its buffer zone. We have seen this resolve during the Georgia-Russia conflict. Now a bloody conflict between Russia and Ukraine has started.

The war has resulted in hardships, shortages and inflation throughout the world. Russia is the world’s biggest wheat exporter, accounting for more than 18 percent of the total worldwide exports; Ukraine is the fifth largest exporter.

According to World Bank statistics Russia is also a key producer of oil and agricultural goods and a supplier of industrial raw materials and intermediate goods.

It is clearly not in the best interests of the world that Ukraine and Russia should continue at be odds for an extended period of time.

The writer is an assistant professor at the Suffa University DHA, Karachi

A war for survival