International crises constitute an important chapter in the study of relations between nations. As a rule, relations between countries aren’t generally divided between peace and war, but rather swing between cooperation and rivalry, affability and tensions. When superpowers are involved in crises, the threats extend to affect the whole world rather than specific countries.
The nuclear weapon is a case in point. It marked a defining moment in the history of world wars in general and wars between superpowers in particular. Since the end of World War II, several global crises arose, including the Berlin Blockade of 1948 and the 1958 berlin Crisis, both originated because of the aberrant conditions World War II gave rise to when the German capital, Berlin, located in the East German state, became divided between the victorious allies.
Russia, then, considered Berlin a captive whose blockade could be capitalized on to pressure Western allies. However, an air bridge between West Germany and countries of the Western alliance was sufficient to break the blockade and enable Berlin to restore communication with the West.
The Cuban Missile Crisis of 1961 was perhaps the riskiest because Russian nuclear missiles were installed on Cuban soil, 90 miles from Florida. This put the two superpowers, i.e. Russia and the United States, on the brink of a nuclear war. Cuba was blockaded and a state of nuclear mobilization was declared. The result? Russia accepted halting missile sites in Cuba while the United States, in return, agreed to withdraw its nuclear-armed missiles stationed in Turkey.
At large, international crises go through three major phases. The first phase starts when a dispute develops into a standoff and the standoff into confrontation. At this point, speeches about the “vital” interests of each country abound, with each party trying to cultivate allies, identify opponents, and show justice of their cause.
In the case of the Ukraine crisis, the first phase began when the West, led by Washington, spoke of the right of nations to choose their allies, in reference to Ukraine’s sacred right to join NATO. In return, there have been several statements and speeches from Russia’s leadership about the direct threat posed to Russia’s national security in case NATO puts forces in Ukraine. For Russia, the deployment of NATO forces in Ukraine would be a continuation of a series of the Western threats that Russia has been facing since the end of the Cold War.
The second phase of any crisis is “escalation”. It starts upon the explicit use of the military tool by parties. When it comes to the crisis in question, Russia carried out military mobilization operations in the form of maneuvers near the Ukrainian border, to which the West responded by providing Ukraine with military aid and the United States sending forces to Europe and declaring its readiness to impose economic sanctions on Russia in the event of invading Ukraine.
Escalation continued with Russia launching military exercises with Belarus on the northern border of Ukraine and the Duma announcing its support for the Ukrainian separatist movements. Against this, the United States declared the war was imminent and set Wednesday, 16 February, as a date for its outbreak. Indeed, this declaration targeted the Russian economy and it actually brought about a significant drop in the ruble.
The West’s unity in confronting Russia manifested itself in statements, military moves, and direct visits to Moscow confirming that the invasion of Ukraine will mean a direct confrontation in which Russia will bleed for a long time to come.
These two phases lead to the third phase, which may take one of two directions, war or pacification, military confrontation or diplomacy. In the Ukraine crisis case, pacification seems to have started as news –whether true or untrue– leaked about a drawdown of Russian troops engaged in the Russian maneuvers. In the West, there have been calls for crisis resolution for the good of all. Additionally, news was leaked from the Vienna meetings that the nuclear agreement with Iran is on the verge of being signed, thanks to Russian and Chinese efforts.
The question that arises here is: if an agreement between the US and Iran is close at hand, why not a similar one be reached between Washington and Moscow? In a purposeful address, President Biden said that the American people are brothers to the Russian people, seeing that it isn’t not Russia that threatens Ukraine, but Vladimir Putin, with whom the United States will reason that Ukraine be another Finland. Why Finland? That is another story.
This article was originally published in Al-Masry Al-Youm on Sunday, 20 February 2022.