Ukraine War, August 19, 2022: Eight great illusions about the war in Ukraine: An update

On July 14, 2022, we wrote about “Eight great illusions about the war in Ukraine” and ‘Cognitive occlusion.’” Those illusions are:

(1) The war is a skirmish, not an existential struggle for the survival of our civilization, including the U.N. Charter, international law and human rights.

(2) Economic sanctions will persuade Russia to end the war.

(3) NATO and the West can avoid becoming directly engaged militarily.

(4) Settlement on Putin’s terms with terrirorial “concessions”—appeasement—is a viable possibility.

(5) The war can continue in the Ukraine without massive global upheavals, and in a few years the world will continue much as it was before.

(6) A nuclear showdown can be avoided.

(7) The West can win the war against Putin without the support of “the South”.

(8) The war can continue, in the Ukraine, without posing an extraordinary risk of a widespread conflagration short of nuclear war.

It is fitting and timely to ask, what is the status and strength of those illusions today? Has any progress been made in facing reality?

The first illusion

(1) The war is a skirmish, not an existential struggle for the survival of our civilization, including the U.N. Charter, international law and human rights.

Not much if any progress has been made in overcoming this illusion. Secretary of State Antony Blinken has told the the fence-sitting countries in Africa they dob’t have to choose sides, and can stay comfortably sitting on the fence.

This message has been heard clearly by all the other fence-sitting nations in “the South”.

For example, India, a much-touted member of “the Quad” (India, the U.S., Japan, and Australia), will participate in joint military exercises with China and Russia in the next few weeks.

Western nations have still not taken any decisive action regarding participation in the G-20 so long as Russia participates. Xi Jinping and Vladimir Putin are reported today to be planning to attend the upcoming G-20 summit in Bali, Indonesia in person.

Western nations are dithering, and talking about not attending the meeting. What they should do, instead, is withdraw from the G-20 and set up a new organization of civilized countries who are committed to opposing Russia and defending the U.N. Charter.

The second illusion

(2) Economic sanctions will persuade Russia to end the war.

Economic sanctions are having a devastating effect on the Russian economy, but there is no sign that they are likely to persuade Putin to end the war, at least not in the foreseeable future.

In order to maximize their impact, secondary sanctions should be adopted, along the lines of the Iranian and the North Korean sanctions. Fence-sitting countries in “the South” should be forced to get on board or pay the price.

The third illusion

3) NATO and the West can avoid becoming directly engaged militarily.

This illusion is holding strong.

There are some signs the U.S. and NATO are becoming more receptive to the idea of Ukraine striking targets in the Crimea and Russia proper, as evidenced by recent Ukrainian attacks on both fronts, but this is not certain. Any policy changes and corresponding decisions are clouded in mystery, as one would expect them to be.

Politico reports the following;

A senior administration official told NatSec Daily the U.S. supports strikes on Crimea if Kyiv deems them necessary.

“We don’t select targets, of course, and everything we’ve provided is for self-defense purposes. Any target they choose to pursue on sovereign Ukrainian soil is by definition self defense,” this person said.

The fourth illusion

(4) Settlement on Putin’s terms with terrirorial “concessions”—appeasement—is a viable possibility.

There has been progress on this front.

Ukrainian president Volodymyr Zelenksy has emphatically declared that he will not negotiate with the Russians until they have withdrawn their troops from all Ukrainian territories.

While this statement may not be the final word on the subject, it does reveal a hardening of positions ruling out any territorial “concessions”.

The fifth illusion

(5) The war can continue in the Ukraine without massive global upheavals, and in a few years the world will continue much as it was before.

This illusion remains strong.

The successful brokering by President Teyeb Recep Erdogan of Turkey and the United Nations of a deal allowing shipment of grains from Ukrainian ports has been a great breakthrough which should help avoid famine in various countries.

Yet it also bolsters the illusion that the war can continue without massive global upheavals. Nonetheless, there is little evidence to suggest that within a few years the world will continue much as it was before.

The sixth illusion

(6) A nuclear showdown can be avoided.

This illusion appears to be intact, but is weakening.

The perilous situation at the Zaporizhzhia nuclear power plant, where Putin seems to be playing with our nuclear fears and perhaps rehearsing for a nuclear showdown may be weakening this illusion.

Experts have been warning that the extraordinary risk of nuclear annihilation is greater now than at any time since the Cuban Missile Crisis in 1962.

This illusion could collapse, particularly if Putin resorts to the use of a tactical nuclear weapon to avoid defeat.

The seventh illusion

(7) The West can win the war against Putin without the support of “the South”.

As suggested above, the adoption of secondary sanctions and a strengthening of all economic, political, and diplomatic sanctions will be necessary if the U.S. and Ukraine’s allies hope to prevail in opposing Russian aggression in Ukraine.

These steps may not be sufficient by themselves to persuade Russia to withdraw its forces from Ukraine. However, they would appear to be necessary in order to achieve any kind of outcome that is acceptable to the West and to the civilized countries of the world.

The U.N. Charter, international law, and our civilization cannot be successfully defended without the support of the countries in “the South”.

Anything short of such support will be a formula for continuing wars and anarchy in international relations in the truest sense of the term.

The eighth illusion

(8) The war can continue, in the Ukraine, without posing an extraordinary risk of a widespread conflagration short of nuclear war.

The risk of a widespread conflagration short of nuclear war comes in two forms.

The first would be an expansion of the war to include other countries. This could occur, for example, if NATO forces were to intervene directly against Russian forces following Russian use of a tactical nuclear weapon in Ukraine.

Or such an expansion of the war could be started by accident, such as the shooting down of a NATO jet by a Russian air defense system. At the very height of the Cuban Missile Crisis, it may be recalled, an American U-2 spy plane was shot down over Cuba.

The second form this risk could take would be military action undertaken by a country in a different geographic regiom against another country or political entity, such as a Chinese invasion of Taiwan. Having just witnessed China’s large-scale military maneuvers near Taiwan, amounting to a threat of the use of force, this possibility does not seem far-fetched.

All it would take would be one big miscalculation.

The illusion that the war can continue without posing an extraordinary risk of a widespread conflagration short of nuclear war persists, but may be weakening following the recent experience of China threatening military action against Taiwan.

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