about the war



The fundamental argument used by the Russian government in defense of its military invasion of Ukraine has been presented very clearly since at least 2007.

"The disequilibrium in the international system is due to increasing disjuncture between the existing governance of the system and the redistribution of power in the system [and] throughout history the primary means of resolving the disequilibrium between the structure of the international system and the redistribution of power has been war, more particularly what we shall call a “hegemonic war” (Gilpin, R. War & Change in World Politics).

The issue of “criteria” and “narratives”

Who first formulated the thesis that there would be wars that would be "just" or "legitimate", and others that would be "unjust" or "illegitimate", was Cicero, the Roman jurist and consul, who lived between the years 106 and 43 BC It was also he who defined as the first “criterion” of distinction that all wars fought in “legitimate defense” would be “just”.[I]

But since the times of Cicero, until today, it has always been very difficult to distinguish and arbitrate who is actually right when dealing with a concrete and specific conflict between states or empires that claim in their favor the same right to “self-defense” . Many centuries after the end of the Roman Empire, at the beginning of European modernity, in the middle of the 1583th century, Hugo Grotius (1645-1588) and Tomas Hobbes (1679-XNUMX) diagnosed this same problem in the functioning of the “interstate system” that was being born in Europe. Europe at that time.

The Dutch jurist and theologian, Hugo Grotius, was the first to realize that in the new system of power, in the case of accusations, conflicts or wars, there would always be “multiple innocence”, and there would be no way to decide which side would be right. The reason that led the English philosopher, Thomas Hobbes, his contemporary, to conclude that in this new system of territorial power, the States would be eternal rivals permanently preparing for war,[ii] because there was no “superior power” within the system that could “objectively” arbitrate “good” and “evil”, “fair” and “unfair”, in a dispute between the nation states that were being born.[iii]

After that, for more than four hundred years, the discussion of philosophers and jurists continued to revolve around these two congenital problems of the interstate system: the right of states to their “legitimate defense” in case of aggression or threat to their territory, and the difficulty to establish a consensual and universal criterion above any suspicion of partiality.

Today, after 500 years of successive wars, one thing seems definitely certain: all the “criteria” known and used until today to judge wars have always been committed to the values, objectives and narratives of the parties involved in the conflict, and in particularly with the values ​​and narrative of the victors, after the wars ended. Exactly as is happening in the case of this new European war, which today is already a global, or “hegemonic” war, the Ukraine War.


Strategies and “narratives”

The fundamental argument used by the Russian government in defense of its military invasion of Ukraine has been presented, defended and reiterated, in a very clear way, since at least 2007,[iv] in various international forums: his demand that NATO suspend its expansion towards Eastern Europe, and, in particular, that it refrain from incorporating the territories of Georgia and Ukraine into its structure. And that, in addition, NATO interrupts its process of militarization of the former Warsaw Pact countries and the new countries that were separated from Russian territory after 1991 and that have already been incorporated by NATO.

The Russian claim against “Western” expansionism finds support in a long history of invasions of its western frontier: by the Poles in the early seventeenth century; by the Swedes, in the early 1941th century; by the French, in the early 1944th century; by the English, French and North Americans, in the beginning of the 1996th century, right after the end of the First World War; and finally, by the Germans, between XNUMX and XNUMX. A threat that was repeated after the end of the Cold War, and after the decomposition of the Soviet Union, when the Russians lost part of their territory and soon after witnessed the advance of troops from the NATO, despite US Secretary of State James Baker's promise to Russian Prime Minister Mikhail Gorbachev in XNUMX that this would not happen.

This was the main message of the Russian president, Vladimir Putin, in his speech given at the Munich Security Conference, in 2007, where he said, with all the letters, that it was a “red line” for Russia for NATO to try to incorporate the Georgia and Ukraine. But the “western powers” ​​solemnly ignored the Russian claim and that was why Russia intervened in the territory of Georgia, in 2008, to prevent its inclusion in NATO. After that, in 2014 the USA and the Europeans had a direct participation in the coup d'état that overthrew the democratic government of Ukraine, which was supported by Russia.

In response, Russia incorporated the territory of Crimea in 2015, the same year that Germany, France and Ukraine signed, together with Russia, the Minsk Accords, which were later sanctioned by the United Nations, but were not respected. by Germany and France, nor were they accepted by Ukraine. Finally, in December 2021, Russia presented the United States, NATO, and European governments with a formal proposal to negotiate Ukraine, and to renegotiate the “strategic balance” imposed by the United States after the end of the Cold War. This proposal was rejected, and it was at this moment that Russian troops invaded the territory of Ukraine, with the argument of “legitimate defense” of its territory, threatened by the advance of militarization and nuclearization of its borders, and by the imminent incorporation of Ukraine into NATO. .

On the other side of this war, as was very clear from the start, a coalition of countries led by the United States was formed. And here the most important thing to consider is that after the Cold War, and throughout the last decade of the last century, the United States exercised a global military power absolutely unprecedented in human history. It was during this period, shortly after the fall of the Berlin Wall, that President George Bush created a working group led by his Secretary of State, Dick Cheney, and several other members of the State Department such as Paul Wolfowitz and Donald Rumsfeld, between others. Hence, the republican project of the “American ninth century” was born, proposing that the United States preemptively prevent the emergence of any power, in any region of the world, that could threaten the world supremacy of the United States throughout the 11st century. And it was this republican strategy that was behind the declaration of the “global war on terrorism” in response to the attacks of September 2001, XNUMX.

On the other hand, still in the 1990s, the two democratic governments of Bill Clinton bet on economic globalization and on “humanitarian interventions” in defense of democracy and “human rights”. There were 48 “interventions” during the entire decade, the most important ones in Bosnia in 1995 and in Kosovo in 1999. But still in the 1990s, the democratic geopolitician Zbieniew Brzezinski – who had been Security Adviser in the Jimmy Carter government, – published a book (The Grand Chessboard: American Primacy, 1997) that would become a kind of “bible” of the democratic foreign policy of the Barak Obama administrations, between 2009 and 2016, and now of the Joe Biden administration.

Zbieniew Brzezinski was the grand teacher of Madeleine Albraight (Barack Obama's Secretary of State), who in turn was the intellectual mentor of Anthony Blinken, Jack Sullivan, Victoria Nuland, among others, who worked together during the Obama administration, and they were all personally involved with the 2014 Maidan Square coup d'état in Ukraine, and with US and NATO military involvement and escalation since the early days of the Ukrainian War.

O maproad of the democratic foreign policy outlined by Zbieniew Brzenszinski revived the strategy conceived by George Kennan, in 1945, of containing Russia as the central objective of North American foreign policy. And he defended the expansion of NATO towards Eastern Europe, placing as a central and explicit objective the military occupation and the incorporation of Ukraine into NATO, which he proposed to take place no later than 2015. It was at this time that the democrats included, within of this same expansionist strategy, the defense of interventions aimed at changing governments and regimes unfavorable to the United States, and the “color revolutions” that followed after the “Arab Spring” of 2010, starting in the same year, 2013, in Brazil and also in Ukraine .

As can be seen, republicans and democrats formulated, after the end of the Cold War, somewhat different diagnoses, but with identical objectives: to maintain the world primacy of the United States during the XNUMXst century. The big difference between the two was the importance attributed by the Democrats to Ukraine, which Zbieniew Brzezinski considered to be the decisive geopolitical pivot for the military containment of Russia. As can be seen, therefore, the American military intervention in Ukraine was already on the strategic map of US foreign policy since the last decade of the last century, as a key element for the preservation of the “global primacy” of the United States.

In summary, when one looks at the Ukrainian War from the point of view of the criteria and strategic interests of the two great powers involved in this conflict, one understands better why Russia cannot and cannot retreat, because what is at stake for it is the survival of its territory, its identity and national unity; and on the other hand, the North Americans are blocking any peace initiative so far, because what is at stake for them is the future of their supremacy together with all the privileges associated with the global power that they conquered after their victory in the War of the Gulf in 1991.

For this reason, what seemed at the beginning to be just a localized and asymmetrical war, quickly became the most intense war waged since the end of the Second World War. Exactly, because it ceased to be a local war, to become a “hegemonic war”, that is, a dispute over who will have the “right” to define the criteria and rules of arbitration within the world system during the XNUMXst century.[v]

* Jose Luis Fiori Professor Emeritus at UFRJ. Author, among other books, of The Myth of Babel and the Struggle for Global Power (Vozes).


[I] Fiori, JL “Dialectic of War and Peace”, in Fiori, JL (Ed.), about the war, Editora Vozes, Petrópolis, 2018, p: 80

[ii] “There have always been kings or sovereign authorities who, to defend their independence, lived in eternal rivalry, like gladiators keeping their weapons pointed without losing sight of each other, that is, their forts and garrisons in a state of vigil, their cannons ready to guard the frontiers. of their kingdoms and still spying on neighboring territories” (HOBBES, 1983, p. 96).

[iii] “The nature of justice consists in the fulfillment of valid covenants, and this validity begins with the establishment of a civil power that obliges men to fulfill them” (HOBBES, 1983, p. 107).

[iv] Occasion in which the Russian president, Vladimir Putin, formulated for the first time, in a clear and synthetic way, Russia's position in relation to the expansion of NATO, and the European balance of power, at the annual meeting of the Munich Security Conference, held in 2007.

[v] Article written on the occasion of the launch of the new book by INEEP: Fiori, JL, (Org), “The War, the Energy and the New Map of World Power, Editora Vozes/Ineep, Petrópolis, 2023.

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