All good things come to an end, goes the adage. But then, it can be hoped, so do all bad things; and armed conflict would certainly be high on that list for most. The Ukraine war too will eventually end ~ the how and when of it is best left to crystal ball gazers. When hostilities do cease, however, there will be a massive task confronting the world ~ the reconstruction of a war-ravaged country. How the comity of nations responds to this challenge will be the decisive factor in shaping the global political and economic order in the decade ahead. According to Kemal Dervis, a leading strategic thinker, the West’s actions, narratives, and planning regarding both Russia and the role of the Global South in Ukraine’s postwar reconstruction will indicate what its long-term strategic goals are.
He writes: “Does the West simply want to see Russia defeated and the North Atlantic Treaty Organisation enlarged and strengthened, or can it envisage a ‘victory’ in Ukraine that lays the foundations for a world in which democracy is more secure and global governance more inclusive and effective?” It needs underlining that this is not about experts getting ahead of themselves but preparing for what lies ahead. There is certainly no denying that the outcome of the fighting remains uncertain. But the question needs to be asked: What will be the contours of the West-Russia relationship when the dust has settled and the guns stop booming? Two factors need to be accorded primacy as the situation unfolds. First, the West and its allies need to rein in the rhetoric of punishing Russia with severe reparations or insisting on a regime change in Moscow.
For those with a sense of history, the harsh terms imposed by the Allies on Germany in the Treaty of Versailles and its consequences which sowed the seeds for the rise of Hitler should be warning enough to desist from going down this path. Especially, because unlike a century ago, there is now a powerful counter-balance to the West ~ China is waiting with open arms to bring Russia into an even tighter embrace. Such talk, therefore, is counter-productive, and does the additional damage of setting ordinary Russians against those who would gang-up against them as it is they who bear the biggest burden of punitive measures. Secondly, the Western allies have already made a strategic error in not consulting in any substantive manner the Global South in their decision-making.
They need to ensure they do not compound that error by keeping regional powers and blocs out of the post-war planning process. In Western capitals, the realisation needs to sink in that many developing nations which have stayed neutral in the West-Russia face-off over Ukraine owe their post-colonial development as modern nation-states emerging from centuries of suffering under a rapacious Europe to Russia’s predecessor state, the Soviet Union. The billions of dollars which will have to be pumped into the reconstruction of Ukraine will have to come from the West. But involving countries like India and South Africa which can act as a bridge.
A version of this story appears in the print edition of the September 5, 2022, issue.