Lessons from Russia’s Ukraine war | 11th January 2023 | UPSC Daily Editorial Analysis

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What's the article about?

  • It talks about the lessons that can be drawn from Russia's war with Ukraine.


  • GS2: Effect of Policies and Politics of Developed and Developing Countries on India’s interests, Indian Diaspora.


  • The world order (global politics) keeps changing from unipolar to multipolar. Since the fall of the USSR in 1991, the world order was unilateral led by the mighty USA.
  • In recent years, however, there have been signs of the passing of American unilateralism.  America’s wars in the Muslim world did not proceed as Washington had expected.
  • As the U.S. got stuck in Afghanistan and Iraq, Russia became more aggressive, Iran more defiant, and China more powerful.
  • The Ukraine war, Europe's largest land war since World War II, is the most visible manifestation of America's declining unilateralism.
  • Thus the war itself offers some key lessons to understand contemporary geopolitics.

Lessons from the war:

  • America's declining unilateralism:
    • After a brief period of unilateral hierarchy, the world is returning to, what Realists call, its essential anarchy in which great powers compete for maximising their powers. But it is not clear what kind of an order, if an order emerges at all, will replace American unilateralism.

India's Views:

  • In International relation, the global politics can be of three types: Unipolar, Bipolar and Multipolar.
  • Unipolar means there is only one dominant superpower in the world. e.g., USA between 1991-2009
  • Bipolar means there are two superpowers in the world. e.g., USSR and USA between 1945-1991.
    • In such a bipolar world, other countries are generally forced to take the side of either superpower.
    • But India chose to remain non-aligned throughout the bipolar phase.
    • Note that “non-aligned” is not the same as “staying neutral”. Non-alignment is not neutrality, but the ability to take a position on a given issue on a case-by-case basis.
  • Multipolar means there are more than two superpowers in the world. e.g., the present world.
  • India is an advocate of the multipolar world. India believes in the ideals of “Vasudhaiva Kutumbakam.”
  • Limitations of great powers:
    • war also tells us about the limitations of great powers in shaping the outcome of conflicts with smaller ones.
    • The U.S. intervention in Vietnam, its invasion of Afghanistan, and the Soviet intervention in Afghanistan are some of the best examples of great powers getting stuck in smaller theatres.
  • Messages for China:
    • China's Taiwan adventure: If Russia successfully takes control of Ukraine, this encourages China to do the same with Taiwan. Additionally, if Ukraine (together with the rest of the West, led by the USA), is successful in dealing with Russia, China will not be tempted to invade Taiwan.
    • Growing China-Russia friendship: during the Cold War, the U.S. exploited the divisions between the Soviet Union and China to prevent the formation of a strong Eurasian alliance. But now China and Russia are exploiting this Ukraine conflict to take their relationships to a new level. This is definitely a bad sign for the West and the USA.
    • Rising Chinese power: China would like to see the U.S. being distracted in Europe while it strengthens its ties with Russia and spreads its influence elsewhere. The question that could come back to bite the U.S. in the near term would be whether the time, resources and energy it is spending on Ukraine (to weaken Russia) is worth it in a changing world where China is its most powerful rival.

Way Forward:

  • These lessons will surely help India mould its foreign policy in order to achieve its motto of Vasudhaiva Kutumbakam.

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