During the Cold War, the world’s population was divided into good guys and bad guys. The Cold War was fuelled by political ideologies, and democracy made us the good guys. With the end of the Cold War political ideology was replaced by the economic ideology of capitalism. One of capitalism’s more addictive qualities is greed. Greed inspires oligarchs, and oligarchs thrive under any political ideology. Prof. Francis Fukuyana saw the end of the Cold War as the End of History.
From Afghanistan to Yugoslavia, the end of the Cold War did not bring about the end of destructive wars. Russia must therefore have been surprised by the response by much of the world to its most recent military adventure in Ukraine, particularly in view of the world’s token response to its earlier incursions into Ukraine. Russia did not realize that, while capitalist democracies will tolerate a democratic government being dismantled from within, be that by a military coup (Egypt) or by corruption (Russia), and democracies overpowering autocracies (Afghanistan, Iraq), it will not tolerate an autocracy, even a capitalist one, overpowering a democracy.
The question today is what comes next? Ukraine’s defence capabilities may have exceeded what Russia had expected to face, but Russia’s military will prevail. Then what? Will Russia follow the U.S./Afghanistan example and occupy Ukraine for a couple of decades, only to walk away and see the regime it deposed restored to power? Will Russia annex the entire country as it did Crimea? Seeing as Russia does not recognize Ukraine’s sovereignty, will it administer the territory under military control as Israel administers Palestinian territory?
The more troubling question concerns our exit strategy. Under what conditions will we end our embargo of everything that is Russian? Would a Russia withdrawal of its military after having imposed a Belarus-style regime on Ukraine be enough to bring about an end to our sanctions? Would Mr. Putin being deposed by a military or political coup do it? How likely is it that the removal of Mr. Putin might bring about Glasnost 2.0, a second attempt by Russians to bring about democratic governance? What is the likelihood that, after the dust has settled, we will simply accept facts on the ground and resume doing business with Russia’s oligarchs as we are doing business with China’s oligarchs? Philosopher Joseph Heath warned in Enlightenment 2.0 that “to the extent that rationality is squeezed out of democratic political discourse, we may find that a gradual slide into barbarism is the inevitable outcome.” Has the power of our economic ideology of greed weakened our will and ability to reason?
Looming over such questions is the reality of a rapidly changing climate. Evidence of human caused change in the world’s climate, with disastrous consequences for life was we know it, was already documented when we discarded reason-based politics in the pursuit of greed-serving politics. The evidence is in the world’s dismal failure to limit, much less reduce polluting emissions even as we steadfastly promise to do so.
For the past 40 years, tempted by greed-driven promises of economic growth, we have relegated environmental considerations to the back of the agenda. As we find ourselves in the grips of Cold War 2.0, what are the chances that the world’s nations will coalesce in a united effort to arrest the climate’s rapid degradation? What hope is there for future generations?