The West can win over skeptics of its efforts to combat Mr. Putin only if it succeeds in showing those outside Europe that what is at stake in Kyiv is not the fate of a pro-Western regime but the sovereignty of a newly born postimperial state. Some already understand that idea: Kenya’s ambassador to the United Nations captured what is happening in Ukraine when he said, “The situation echoes our history. Kenya and almost every African country was birthed by the ending of the empire.”
What does the end of peace mean to Europe? The consequences will be dire. War in Ukraine has the frightening potential to heat up frozen conflicts on the continent’s periphery, including elsewhere in the post-Soviet space and the western Balkans. The leaders of the Republika Srpska may read a victory by Mr. Putin in Ukraine as a signal to dismantle Bosnia. Russia-friendly leaders in the European Union, too, will feel emboldened by Mr. Putin’s victory. The invasion of Ukraine has united Europe, but it will also hurt its self-confidence.
But more fundamentally, the events of the past week will necessitate a radical rethinking of the European project. For the past 30 years, Europeans have convinced themselves that military strength was not worth the cost and that American military pre-eminence was enough to dissuade other countries from pursuing war. Spending on defense fell. What mattered, the received wisdom intoned, was economic power and soft power.
Now we know that sanctions can’t stop tanks. Europe’s cherished conviction that economic interdependence is the best guarantee for peace has turned out to be wrong. Europeans made a mistake by universalizing their post-World War II experience to countries like Russia. Capitalism is not enough to temper authoritarianism. Trade with dictators does not make your country more secure, and keeping the money of corrupt leaders in your banks does not civilize them; it corrupts you. And Europe’s embrace of Russian hydrocarbons only made the continent more insecure and vulnerable. [Continue reading…]