After a year of war in Ukraine, there are about as many Russian soldiers dead or injured as reported for the “special military operation” a year ago. What for? President Putin explains why, again and again. There are even two reasons: to restore an intact Russian homeland; and to protect the security of the nation as a strategic power that NATO is existentially threatening. The West rejects both as absurd; not with arguments, but from the firm standpoint that these — not exactly frivolous — reasons are nothing but mere justifications not deserving any serious consideration whatsoever.
Oh, if only they were! Taken seriously, by what they say, these reasons are actually revelations about what monstrous imperatives “homeland” and “strategic power” are.
After the first year of war, Ukraine is devastated; the government has sacrificed a significant portion of the population to its fight against the Russian invasion. What for? President Zelensky explains it daily in the most drastic terms: if people were not steadfastly killing and dying on all fronts, Ukraine would no longer exist as an independent state. That is supposed to justify all sacrifices in a way no one can possibly disagree with, it is supposed to be the ultimate good reason for war.
And there is some truth in this. The champion of defending one’s country reveals what a monstrously murderous affair it is to create, preserve, and save a veritable nation. When he accuses the Russians of “genocide,” he is also specially emphasizing that what the inhabitants of his territory live for is to be a people, i.e., completely subsumed under the “national identity” that is defined and practiced by their rulers.
A year after Chancellor Scholz’s “historical turning point,” the West is surveying the costs of its anti-Russian intervention in Ukraine. There is the damage it has organized to the global economy and to its own economic growth as well. There is its presumably long-term expenditure on weapons and the fiction of a Ukrainian national budget. There is the influx of refugees it is managing. The damage and casualties on the Ukrainian side are also taken into account. What is it all for? Those in charge cannot explain it often enough: they are mobilizing all this force to save the European peace order, in fact global peace. What a noble cause! What proof of a selfless sense of responsibility!
Also: what an admission! The West insists on ensuring order in the world of states. This requires a monopoly on the use of military force, a monopoly that cannot be had without heedlessly deploying superior military force. Or rather, heeding one thing: that the costs, the attrition, the inevitable fatalities should be the problem mainly, if not only, of others.
And finally: for a year now, the makers of the war in Ukraine have all been constantly declaring that it is absolutely necessary for them to wage or take part in this war. Why? Because the other side is maliciously assaulting the sacred good that one is going to war for oneself. Each party is only re-acting to an unacceptable threat, to a brutal aggression.
And if this is actually the case? If each party’s vital state interests are incompatible with the other side’s? If each party sees its vital interests as giving it inalienable rights that do not merely justify using force to the extreme, but in fact demand it? All the adversaries claim to have to go to war and to be absolutely entitled to do so. And this reveals one thing: the incompatibility of the rationale they are pursuing as military powers. That is to say, the substance and purpose of what constitutes one side’s nation, global power and corresponding world order, is incompatible with the same thing on the enemy’s side.
So the war in Ukraine is necessary, and those who invoke this necessity and accordingly make war take it as a good reason to get down to killing and destroying. What else?! They wouldn’t be what they are — the responsible executors of their state’s existential interests — if they didn’t take their function for granted, which without any question includes affirming these interests unconditionally. Their office is based on the premise of professionally saying yes to their nation’s legal claim to assert its reason for existence against any obstacle ruthlessly using all available force. This affirmation is also the principle of the “false consciousness,” the wrong thinking, that this office requires, that is, of the patriotic sense of responsibility they exercise their official duties with. Conversely, the good reasons that rulers and commanders cite for their militancy indicate the real necessity of the war, its being grounded in the imperialistic nature of the powers involved. All one has to do is cross the affirmation out from the justifications that are propagated, cross the good out from the good reasons constantly being reeled off. Then it will also be easier to understand the overwhelmingly cynical calculations of the political leaders and their strategists which are being implemented in the course of the war. So that one saves oneself the mistake of empathizing with the decision-makers, as well as an equally wrong incomprehension of how they could make such decisions.
This is what the journal GegenStandpunkt has been aiming at in the four issues of war year 2022. The current issue continues with an article on the West’s response to the phase of warfare that the Russian side opened up last fall.
© GegenStandpunkt 2023