The current conflict in Ukraine has been one of the main topics addressed at the 2022 NATO Summit. The organization’s conclusions on how to approach the conflict left unresolved questions regarding the nature of international conflict management strategies. This article aims to relate NATO strategies toward Russia’s aggression with the “Security Dilemma”, and to explain how conflict management measures applied by the international community may only result in a stalemate of tensions rather than help disputants approach one another onto a peaceful and lasting settlement.
Ukraine, NATO, Conflict Management, Conflict Resolution, International Security, Russia, Security Dilemma, Sanctions, EU.
That the world is a much more unpredictable and confrontational place than 12 years ago with a “more contested security order” has been one of the main conclusions reached at the 2022 NATO Summit. According to the organization, the current unstable character of international security, especially considering the crisis in Ukraine and the recognition of Russia as a direct threat could be lowered by increasing member-states defense expenditure. As for the handling of Russia’s aggression on its neighboring country, keeping up with international sanctions, in cooperation with other international actors (such as the EU), seems to be the main course of action. It remains unclear, however, if these measures may be counterproductive and exacerbate the tensions instead of stopping conflict escalation, as they are needed to do.
The Problem with the Measures
The common decision of NATO members to increase their defense expenditure as a way of reducing the challenges of the current security order could be easily related to the “Security Dilemma”; an explanation of how policies increasing state security tend to decrease the security of other states, which may find said security difference as provocative. This would lead to a sort of “defense race”, making the international arena prone to greater tension and conflict outbreak. Thus, increasing defense expenditure, rather than reducing it, may raise the instability of the global security order as well as the risks of wars, and seems counterproductive in the light of the conflict between Russia and Ukraine, where the efforts should be put into building measures that prevent the conflict from escalating to higher hostility levels while approaching the disputants towards non-armed understandings.
As for international sanctions, particularly those of economic character, they have been established by several states, especially among NATO and EU members, as an attempt to force Russia to stop its aggression and seek a peaceful settlement instead. Although sanctions are sometimes useful in holding states accountable for their actions in the international arena, it seems like they won’t be entirely successful in the case of stopping Russia’s aggression on Ukraine, even though they will make war expenditures higher for Moscow. The efforts to block Russia from the global economy could lead Russia to strengthen relations with China and India, shifting the current geopolitical reality without ceasing the aggression. Even if sanctions did persuade Russia to work towards a peaceful settlement, it is not likely that such settlement would be a lasting one, given that it would be based on coercion.
Moreover, the measures agreed by NATO appear to attempt to force Russia into a settlement without addressing the background of its conflict with Ukraine, which goes way back to the advent of NATO and EU integration processes in eastern European countries that used to belong to the former Soviet Bloc, which Russia still had some control over, and that had been read by the latter as a provocative move by western organizations. The response of Russia seems to have unleashed old geopolitical quarrels based on Cold War dynamics that have led international actors to the point where they find themselves today.
Conclusions and Outlook
The main strategies agreed by NATO at its 2022 Summit regarding the conflict in Ukraine appear to be counterproductive and rather ineffective in approaching the disputants to a peaceful settlement. The main issue seems to be their coercive character, which fails to unveil the real background of the conflict, increases the security order’s instability, and facilitates conflict escalation. This conflict is particularly delicate because of its deep roots; unsolved cold war dynamics and quarrels would have to be addressed. The parties and interests involved contribute to its fragility; one of the main questions that arise here is that of Ukraine’s sovereignty as a State and its willingness to join organizations such as the EU and NATO, which seems to collide with the aims of Russia to keep control of that former Soviet Bloc area.
The establishment of a peaceful process to solve the dispute appears hard to reach not because of its problematic background, but because of the lack of willingness to build and use strategies that unveil the real power issues behind it. This is not new; coercive and threatening strategies to force states into settlements have been built inside the dynamics of international relations for a long time and appear to be making conflict resolution strategies to move back instead of forward. Real peaceful conflict management based on mutual understanding is not likely to be possible unless the “defense race” ceases to be fueled.
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