The inconvenient complexity

Azov Still Plant in Mariupol after the expulsion of German troops in World War II
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By BOAVENTURA DE SOUSA SANTOS*

The war in Ukraine brought almost total erosion between facts and the manipulation of emotions and perceptions, between hypotheses or conjectures and unassailable truths.

In the communicational axis of the North Atlantic we live an unprecedented information war. I met her in the US during two periods. In the first, during the Vietnam War, which I experienced in its moment of final crisis (1969-1971); would culminate in the publication of Pentagon Papers in 1971. The second moment was the war in Iraq, starting in 2003, and the saga of weapons of mass destruction, a political hoax that would result in many war crimes. But Europe had never witnessed this type of information war, at least with the current magnitude. It is characterized by the almost total erosion between facts and the manipulation of emotions and perceptions, between hypotheses or conjectures and unassailable truths.

In the specific case of the war in Ukraine, the manipulation aims to prevent public opinion and political decision-makers from thinking and deciding without excessive stress on the only measure that is now required: the search for a lasting peace in Ukraine and in the region in order to put an end to to the suffering of the Ukrainian people, a people who these days share the tragic fate of the Palestinian, Yemeni, Syrian, Sahrawi and Afghan peoples, even though the latter bear the deepest silence. The information war aims to continue the war of weapons as long as it suits those who promote it. In these conditions, it is not easy to fight with facts and historical experience because, from the point of view of information warfare, explaining is justifying, understanding is forgiving, contextualizing is relativizing. Still, let's try.

 

Causes

To demonize the enemy it is crucial to dehumanize him, that is, to imagine him as having acted criminally and without provocation. However, the firm and unconditional condemnation of the illegal invasion of Ukraine (which I have insisted on since my first chronicle on the subject) does not imply having to ignore how it came about. In this case, I advise you to read the book published in 2019, War with Russia?, by Princeton University professor emeritus Stephen Cohen, recently deceased.

After analyzing in unsurpassed detail the relations between the USA and Russia since the end of the Soviet Union and, in the case of Ukraine, especially since 2013, Stephen Cohen concludes in this way: “proxy wars [wars in which adversaries use third countries to pursue their objectives of warlike confrontation] are a feature of the old Cold War, they are small wars in the so-called 'Third World'…They rarely involved Soviet or American military, almost always just money and weapons. Today at proxy wars between the US and Russia are different, they are located at the center of geopolitics, they are accompanied by too many American and Russian instructors and possibly fighters. Two have already erupted: in Georgia in 2008, where Russian forces clashed with Georgia's army financed and trained with American funds and personnel; and in Syria, where many Russians have been killed by US-backed anti-Assad forces. Moscow did not retaliate but promised to do so when there was 'a next time'. If that happens, it will involve a war between Russia and America. The risk of such a direct conflict continues to grow in Ukraine.” This is how the war that is currently tormenting the Ukrainian people was predicted in 2019.

 

Democracies and autocracies

In US parlance the world is divided in two: democracies (us) and autocracies (them). Just a few years ago, the division was between democracies and dictatorships. Autocracy is a much more vague term that, therefore, can be used to consider a democratic government perceived as hostile as an autocrat, even if the hostility does not derive from the characteristics of the regime. For example, at the Democracy Summit held in December 2021, at the initiative of President Joe Biden, countries such as Argentina and Bolivia were not invited, which had recently undergone vibrant democratic processes, but are less receptive to the economic and geostrategic interests of the USA.

In contrast, three countries were invited that the White House recognized as problematic democracies (the term used was flawed democracies), with endemic corruption and human rights abuses, but with strategic interest for the USA: the Philippines, for opposing the influence of China; Pakistan, for its relevance in the fight against terrorism; and Ukraine, for its resistance to the Russian incursion. The reservations in the case of Ukraine were understandable, since a few months before the pandora papers give details about the companies offshore of President Volodymyr Zelenskii, his wife and their associates.

Now, Ukraine represents the struggle of democracy against Russia's autocracy (which, domestically, must be on par with Ukraine in terms of corruption and human rights abuses). The concept of democracy thus loses much of its political content and becomes a throwing weapon to promote changes in government that favor the global interests of the US.

 

Threats

According to Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) experts, in 2020, 40% of Ukraine's military forces (a total of 102.000 members) were far-right paramilitary militias, armed, financed and trained by the US, England, Canada, France and Switzerland, with members from 19 nationalities. Since the war began, more elements have joined them, some from the Middle East, and more weapons have been received from all NATO countries. Europe is thus at risk of having a nurturing Nazi-Jihadism in its midst, and nothing guarantees that its scope of action will be limited to Ukraine.

In 1998, former security adviser to President Jimmy Carter, Zbigniew Brzezinski, stated in an interview with the magazine Nouvel Observateur: "In 1979, we increased the likelihood that the USSR would invade Afghanistan... and create the opportunity to give them their Vietnam." It wouldn't surprise me if this playbook of the CIA were not now being applied in Ukraine. The recent statements by the Secretary General of NATO, according to which “the war in Ukraine could last for months or even years” – combined with news from the agency Reuters (April 12) that the Pentagon was going to meet with the eight largest US arms producers to discuss the industry's ability to meet Ukraine's needs "if the war with Russia lasts for years" - should have caused alarm among leaders European politicians, but apparently just motivated them to an arms race.

The consequences of a second Russian Vietnam would be fatal for Ukraine and Europe. Russia (which is part of Europe) will only be a threat to Europe if Europe turns into a huge US military base. NATO expansion is therefore the real threat to Europe, as the unsuspecting Henry Kissinger warned twenty years ago”.

 

double standards

The European Union, transformed into a sounding board for the US's strategic choices, defends as a true expression of universal values ​​(European, but no less universalizable for that reason) Ukraine's right to join NATO, while the US intensifies integration (see if the US-Ukraine Strategic Defense Partnership, signed on August 31, 2021), while denying that it is imminent. Certainly European leaders do not know that the recognized right of Ukraine to join a military pact is denied to other countries by the USA and, if they did, it would not make any difference, such is the state of militaristic torpor in which they find themselves. For example, the small Solomon Islands in the Pacific Ocean approved a draft security pact with China in 2021. The US reacted immediately and with alarm to this project and sent top security officials to the region to stop “intensified security competition in the Pacific”.

 

The truth comes too late

The information war is always based on a mixture of selective truths, half-truths and outright lies (the so-called false flags) organized in such a way as to justify the military action of those who promote it. I am sure that at the moment there is an information war going on both on the Russian side and on the US/Ukrainian side, even though, due to the censorship imposed on us, we know less about what is happening on the Russian side. Sooner or later the truth will come out. The tragedy is that it always comes too late.

In this troubled beginning of the century we have an advantage: the world has lost its innocence. Julian Assange, for example, is paying a very high price for helping us through this process. To those who still haven't given up thinking with some autonomy, I recommend reading the chapter by Hannah Arendt, entitled “Lying in politics”, in the book Crisis of the Republic, published in 1971. It is a brilliant reflection on the Pentagon Papers, an exhaustive collection of data (among them, many war crimes and many lies) about the Vietnam War, a collection carried out on the initiative of one of the most responsible for that war, Robert McNamara.

 

The question no one asks

When armed conflicts are in Africa or the Middle East, European leaders are the first to call for a cessation of hostilities and the urgency of peace negotiations. Why is it that when war is in Europe the drums of war play incessantly and no leader calls for silence and the voice of peace to be heard?

*Boaventura de Sousa Santos is full professor at the Faculty of Economics at the University of Coimbra. Author, among other books, of The end of the cognitive empire (authentic).

Originally published in the newspaper Public

 

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