Monthly Mind October 2014: "Why Ukraine Matters - Especially for Asia"

"It should be clear that the Ukraine conflict and its consequences reverberate far beyond Europe’s borders - and that therefore India and others in Asia need to pay close attention," writes Ambassador Wolfgang Ischinger in his latest column "Monthly Mind."

Wolfgang Ischinger, the Munich Security Conference chairman (Photo: Kuhlmann).

Thousands of miles away from Delhi, Russia has annexed one region of Ukraine, and is in the process of destabilizing another one. Should Indians really care?


Thousands of miles away from Berlin, in East Asia, China, Japan and others are involved in continuing disputes over uninhabited rocks, small islands, and remote borders. Why should Germans, why should Europeans be concerned?

And halfway between Berlin and Delhi, in the Middle East, chaos reigns. Why must we not look the other way?

India and Germany must in fact both care greatly about all these conflicts. But especially the importance of the crisis in Ukraine has been underestimated outside of Europe. This conflict is not just a challenge for Europe. It has enormous global implications.

First, if such a breakdown of order is possible in Europe, which has the highest density of agreements and institutions, other regions are not likely to be more immune to serious and deadly conflict. We believed that the combination of institutions such as the European Union, NATO, the OSCE, and numerous partnership agreements with Russia would ensure peace and stability, after centuries of war and conflict in Europe. But they did not. That should make us think twice about the quality of governance, stability, and security structures in other parts of the world.

Second, the conflict in Ukraine appears to send the terrible message that policies of aggression and annexation can turn out to be successful even in today’s world. This is not just bad news in terms of fundamental tenets of international law. It is especially dangerous for Asia. If it is so easy to annex a region that indisputably used to be part of a different country - Ukraine’s Crimea -,what might this mean in the Asia-Pacific where many borders are in dispute, particularly between China and its neighbors?

Third, the so-called Putin doctrine represents a challenge to the international order  - not just in Europe. The Russian president is reserving the right for Moscow to intervene abroad to protect Russian-speaking populations  - based on Moscow’s estimation whether, when, and how they need protection. Again, imagine a world in which that right would be demanded by all. It is a recipe for global disaster: so many states have minorities outside their own borders.

Fourth, the Russian military approach in Eastern Ukraine - the so-called “hybrid warfare", combining irregular forces, intense propaganda, and other means, while officially denying any military involvement at all - may well be the first rigorous application of undeclared war with 21st century technology. There is no reason to believe that others are not intensely studying and copying this new hybrid apporoach.

Fifth, the Ukraine conflict has further paralyzed the UN Security Council, whose authority is already much weakened. The degradation of our collective decision-making capacity is extremely worrisome. In fact, if this stalemate continues, Germany and India might one day become permanent members of a Security Council that risks becoming irrelevant.

Sixth, the Ukraine conflict is bad news for nuclear non-proliferation. In 1994, in the so-called Budapest Memorandum, Ukraine received security guarantees in exchange for giving up the nuclear arsenal on its territory. If states end up being punished for relinquishing their weapons of mass destruction, hardly any state will want to follow the Ukrainian example. Bad news for disarmament.

It should be clear, then, that the Ukraine conflict and its consequences reverberate far beyond Europe’s borders - and that therefore India and others in Asia need to pay close attention.

In a different way, the same is true for the crisis that is engulfing a big part of the Middle East. The hope triggered by the Arab revolutions has been reversed. Many states are too weak to control their own territory. Malicious and criminal non-state actors, most prominently the so-called Islamic State, are on the rise. And jihadist groups are looking to expand further, both to the U.S. and Europe and to India and Southeast Asia.

Clearly, this crisis is at least in part the West’s fault. The Iraq War did open a pandora’s box. In Syria, on the other hand, we are now paying for the inactivity of the international community in dealing with the civil war after 2011. At the time, many decision-makers advocating Western restraint warned of the dangers of a conflagration if we intervened. Now, the conflagration is here, and the intervention may well turn out to be too little, too late. The current bombing campaign alone will certainly not end this conflict .

Both major crises - Ukraine and Iraq/Syria - reveal the dysfunctional state of the international order. Global and regional structures are crumbling before our eyes. And the international community is unable to reverse or manage those crises. There is neither a global policeman nor an effective concert of great powers taking care of these problems. The international capacity to manage problems is shockingly low - right at a time when the world has become so complex and complicated that we need this capacity more than ever before.

In many ways, India and Germany share fundamental positions. Germany is confronted with growing expectations regarding its international role. German decision-makers have recently begun to emphasize that they are willing to assume more responsibility. India, as a large strategic player, a vibrant democracy, soon to be the most populous country in the world, is facing even greater expectations. And we all recognize that India has an ever increasing stake in a functioning international order.

Just as I hope my country will assume more international responsibility in the future to make global governance work for the 21st century, I know India will do so too. We both have a lot to contribute to turn the current disorder into a functioning global system for all.


Wolfgang Ischinger is chairman of the Munich Security Conference and Global Head of Government Relations at Allianz SE. In 2014, representing the OSCE Chairman-in-Office, he co-moderated a series of Round Table discussions in Ukraine in order to promote a broad national dialogue. On October 21/22, jointly with the Observer Research Foundation, the MSC will hold a “Core Group Meeting” in New Delhi. This essay is adapted from an article that has been published in the Daily Mail, UK, and the Mail Today, India, on October 21, 2014.


23 October 2014, by Wolfgang Ischinger