Lessons from the war in Ukraine

Lessons from the war in Ukraine

The crisis in Ukraine can teach us a few lessons. It is very important to successfully “read” your allies and opponents. Sometimes it is harder to do so with your partners.

The Ukrainian leadership, for example, was led by many to believe that membership in NATO and accession to the European Union were attainable goals. Encouragement is easy for someone who lives far away and has nothing at stake. When I hear President Volodymyr Zelenskyy desperately appealing to NATO to defend his country in the face of the Russian invasion, I see a young leader crashing against realpolitik. The West has done much to support him. However, it did not do so in a timely fashion and there was certainly no commitment that it will go to war with Russia to defend Ukraine’s territorial integrity.

Another conclusion is that beyond defensive capabilities, a state’s ability to effectively communicate is also crucial. It can create an international setting where it is identified with justice itself, the underdog defending itself against unjust revisionism. The power of social media is equivalent to an air-defense missile. Let us finally stop ignoring this. We are potentially a strong country when it comes to soft power. It will be an important weapon in a time of need.

Thirdly, Ukraine was able to secure vital, but not game-changing, support from the West because its struggle was placed within a wider geopolitical framework. When someone sees “your” problem as something on the fringes, an almost fanciful issue, a fight over some “rocks” no one else cares about, you are at a disadvantage. You must convincingly state that a) revisionism is a threat irrespective of its country of origin and b) that you belong to the core nucleus of an alliance built on mutual obligations. You give – sometimes a risky proposition – but you also take.

The fourth lesson is that patriotism is a valuable tool. Not blind patriotism that can easily lead to disaster. We mean the patriotism that is tested in action when the young, the middle-aged and the old give battle to defend their values and homes in difficult conditions. Do we possess this? I believe we do; that it has not been eroded over the years and by that damned habit of division that rears its ugly head in every great national crisis. Public discourse is so venomous and full of such indescribable stupidity you worry that when faced with a crisis we will be too busy tearing at each other.

For now, we have won some valuable time. The invasion of Ukraine has made border revisionism and threats of violence between neighbors become anathema. The tragedy in Ukraine has created an opportunity that does not permit for any sort of complacency.

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