“The American-led system of internationalism needs to get itself back into gear, for the war at hand and for the struggle against authoritarianism to come,” declared the New York Times within days of Vladimir Putin’s invasion of Ukraine on 24th February. “We will save democracy,” Joe Biden said in his 1st March State of the Union address, in its “battle” with autocracy. With revivalist enthusiasm, our leaders preach a new age of struggle for the salvation of freedom itself. Yet the “saving democracy” slogan masks a plan to stick with the same policies that have made war the way of the world—and democracy’s challenges and disturbances endemic.
In the space of a few weeks, Putin’s despicable act has thrown a lifeline to dying ideas. Luxuriating in Cold War certainties is in fashion again. The Russian president leads a second-rate power with no path back to the top. His archaic 19th-century bid for regional influence is undoubtedly grotesque; yet its most damaging legacy may be the self-righteous return to the nostrums of a failed western-style internationalism—one that seeks to defend our flawed democracies as they are, rather than trying to improve them.
Worse still, in retreating into the binary Cold War mindset, we risk setting up a misbegotten struggle with a far more significant country than Russia: China. Why, rather than building democracies that deserve the name—for their own citizens, and as a universal model—have we chosen to stoke confrontation?
With his “special military operation,” Putin has not introduced war to a peaceful world. He has added insult to injury. This goes beyond his annexation of Crimea in 2014. For western countries—including the United Kingdom and the United States—have their own record of interventions, the number of which has increased since the end of the Cold War in 1989.
Read the full article in Prospect Magazine UK.