World War Wired
This title comes from the great Thomas L. Friedman’s op-ed in The New York Times on February 27. This piece is titled “We Have Never Been Here Before” and Friedman describes why the current Russian aggression in the Ukraine is unique in world history. In short—it’s on the Internet. Friedman makes a compelling case suggesting that if we had had smart phones and the Internet in Vietnam, that war might have ended with the burning of the first Vietnamese village by American troops or the first use of napalm. The horrors of war are being beamed around the world in real time for the first time in history.
It is also an irrevocable fact that the Ukraine is now closely tied economically to western Europe and China. Friedman notes that in 2012, a mere ten years ago, Russia took in 25.7 percent of Ukrainian exports and the EU 24.9%. Six years later those numbers were 7.7 % and 42.4% respectively. China’s economy brings in more from the Ukraine than Russia’s. In 2019, China was the Ukraine’s biggest trading partner. China may be silent on the Russian aggression, but it is not helpful to their economy to see fires in Kyiv.
Nonetheless, Russia has successfully employed military force in Georgia in 2008, Crimea in 2014 and Syria in 2015. Why stop now?
This is a bigger bite for Putin to swallow and perhaps his reach has exceeded his grasp this time thanks to the fighting spirit of the Ukrainian people and the power of the images coming in over TikTok and Instagram.
This all may seem to be a test of Russian power and Ukrainian resistance, but it’s really a test of the world’s willingness to have the post-Cold War order turned on its head by one man. So, here’s what we need to try to do.
First, kudos to Western media for having people on the ground in a war zone getting out the sights and sounds of reality.
Second, kudos to Google for making it clear on Google maps where the traffic jams caused by Russian truck convoys are on the ground in the Ukraine.
Third, kudos to every amateur iPhone user in the Ukraine for getting the images of destroyed Russian armor personnel carriers to the West.
Finally, the highest laurels to Volodymyr Zelenskyy, President of Ukraine, for standing his ground and leading his people in resistance to the Russian invasion. Like he said, “he needs ammunition, not a ride.” If, by a miracle, he survives the invasion, he must be awarded the highest of medals from the United States and be given the opportunity to address the Congress of the US. He has shown the world what real courage looks like. He is a modern Judah Maccabee and Israel should also award him its highest honors when the time comes.
Whether or not Putin has come unhinged is being widely debated, but who cares? What he has done harkens back to a world of the 17th and 18th centuries when kings could cross borders and seize ground for the heck of it. That cannot be allowed to stand. The United Nation must condemn Russia in the strongest terms even as Russia vetoes such measures in the Security Council because it can.
Finally, if this is not a wake-up call to President Biden to increase his military spending, especially on the navy he will need to defend Taiwan when the time comes in the near future, I don’t know what it will take. There’s no Build Back Better if the United States ceases to be the essential nation in a world that depends on us for its freedom. Mr. Biden talks a good game. Now is the time to go before Congress and ask for a huge military build- up to show the Russians and the Chinese, let alone the Iranians, that we mean business.
This may be a post-Cold War world and one that is highly interconnected, but it is still a very dangerous one.
Friedman thinks this is an inflection point in history; Russia using three- hundred-year-old tactics in a world that is wired together like never before. As Friedman notes, Selena Gomez has more media followers (298 million) than Russia has citizens and Russia has a GDP that is less than that of South Korea. Russia is just a dying country with nuclear capabilities. But, it’s still a dying country.
This invasion could spell the end of Russia if the world steps up and makes sure the Ukraine lives and lives free. There is not enough aid that can go to the Ukraine for there to be enough to deter Russia unless the Russians blink. We’ll see, but Freidman is right about one thing. We have never been here before.