absurd questions

Image: Francesco Paggiaro


How is Europe with the new configurations triggered by the war in Ukraine

When the information war reaches the proportions it has today, the public is conditioned to reject anything that deviates from the narrative that is intended to be imposed. This is never wholly false nor wholly true. What characterizes it is not wanting to be questioned in order to mobilize the emotions of a captive audience to the maximum. Many questions, which in another context would seem obvious, are not suppressed because they are not even asked. These are absurd questions. Let's imagine some.


Is it possible to win a war against a nuclear power?

For the last seventy years the doctrine of nuclear deterrence has been based on the negative answer to this question. If the current war in Ukraine leads to a different response, it will constitute a total subversion of military and geostrategic theories. If this is the case, another question emerges: what situation does the winner end up in? And who loses? Are the ruins of the victors different from the ruins of the vanquished?

These questions lead to an even more crucial one: whatever the provocations, can a nuclear power start a war, given that wars are only known when they start and never when they end or how they end? If it is understood that the conventional responses of nuclear deterrence still prevail, then negotiation is immediately imposed, and in it everyone must participate and everyone must concede something, as happened in the Treaty of Westphalia in 1648. negotiation, in which everyone must participate and everyone must give something, as happened in the Treaty of Westphalia in 1648.


Why is information warfare more effective in Europe than in the rest of the world?

When I intervene in public debates outside Europe, the one-sided character of the Euro-American narrative is often questioned. Pope Francis' position on NATO provocations has attracted more attention in Latin America than in Europe or the US (even though Joe Biden is known to be Catholic). The easy answer to this question is that the war in Ukraine takes place in Europe and it is, therefore, natural that Europe aligns itself more uncritically with the US narrative, both in terms of the causes of the war and in terms of the characterization of the political regime. from Russia.

The most illuminating answer seems to me to be that Europe has a historical experience of relations with the US characterized by benevolence. After all, the USA helped in the fight against Nazism, promoted the Marshall Plan (“European Recovery Program”) between 1948 and 1951 and assumed responsibility for the security of western Europe. On the contrary, in other regions of the world, the history of relations with the US is much more complicated and includes interference, invasions, impositions, promotion of anti-democratic coups, double standards in the defense of human rights, etc. All this, combined with the possible direct or indirect repercussions of economic sanctions against Russia in their countries and with the extreme intensity of the anti-Russia narrative (where it is easy to foresee the next anti-China narrative), constitutes a vast field for questions and doubts.


What is the future of the left in Europe after the war in Ukraine?

With few exceptions, the European left has condemned the invasion of Russia, but has so far renounced any critical thinking about the causes of the war, NATO expansion (which is surprising because in the past they have been anti-NATO), the social consequences and policies of the rearmament of Europe, the hypocrisy of the right when talking about the need for sacrifices and the loss of comfort because it knows that it is always the same people who suffer them, the urgency of negotiation and peace, the racism and sexism that are victims and some of the refugees from Ukraine, the inability of the hegemonic version of European values ​​to be truly universal and to condemn the human rights violations currently taking place against Palestinians, Syrians, Afghans, Sahrawis, and so many others.

Furthermore, the right has been assuming an absurd triumphalism, as if defending the values ​​of democracy and the self-determination of peoples were its patrimony, when the history of Europe prays the opposite. For all these reasons, it is possible that the left will come out of the current crisis unarmed and that the more than likely losses in wages and pensions, previously imposed by the “crisis”, will in the future be imposed by equally “patriotic” imperatives. Hence, the next question.


In the near future, will the relative well-being and the social rule of law that characterized western Europe in the last seventy years be sustainable?

In addition to many other reasons, Europe's relative prosperity rested on three pillars: progressive taxation, combined with the nationalization of strategic assets; absence of military spending; exploitation of natural resources outside Europe. Progressive taxation meant that those with more income or wealth would pay more taxes. Tax rates could reach 70%. This was the way to finance the abundant social policies that were at the base of the well-being of citizens.

With the emergence of neoliberalism and the Washington Consensus of 1985, which consecrated it, this pillar collapsed. The idea was generated that taxes were an obstacle to economic development, and the same was true of nationalized strategic assets. Multilateral agencies (IMF and World Bank) began to impose tax cuts and the privatization of strategic resources. Deprived of tax resources and confronted with the possible political costs arising from drastically reducing social policies, the State resorted to indebtedness. And that's how the external public debt of the States exploded. Dependent on the oscillation and speculation of interest rates, the States found themselves in the contingency of lowering their social spending (investments).

The second pillar of European prosperity was not having to incur military expenses, that is, spending large sums on war material. After all, European security was guaranteed by the US through NATO. This pillar has just collapsed with the war in Ukraine. All European countries are revising their budgets in order to increase military spending and their contributions to the strengthening of NATO. This, however, is preparing for new expansions in countries bordering Russia. If Germany fulfills what it promises (spending 2% of GDP on armaments) it will be the fourth most powerful army in the world within years. Now, it is known that, as the budget is not infinitely elastic, the money that abounds for the purchase of weapons will certainly be lacking to improve schools, public health, etc., in short, to sustain social well-being.

At the moment, Europe is left with the third pillar of its well-being, its companies' investments in natural resources existing in other continents and the huge profits they generate. This pillar is also threatened, not only by competition from other countries, but also by the resistance of countries where these resources exist, not to mention the paramilitary violence that increasingly surrounds mining enterprises.

Faced with this, the right and the extreme right are ready to prosper with the new status quo. And what about the left, who were largely responsible for the consolidation of social democracy? What will your positions be? What new kinds of convergence will be needed? As far as I know, the only ongoing discussion in Europe at the moment concerns the projected left-wing unity around Jean-Luc Melénchon's Insubmissive France with a view to the next legislative elections.

*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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