Daniela Montalvo Tinajero
On February 24th, 2022, the world awoke to the news of Russia invading Ukraine in a plight to take over the country. This horrific development shocked the world, yet it was not unexpected. This attack is the culmination of weeks, if not months, of Russia preparing this onslaught and of the world being continuously warned of the inescapability of this event. This article posits that with Russia’s latest deadly invasion of Ukraine, the very foundations of the international system have been shaken, and whether it is on the verge of collapse or reemergence remains to be seen.
Historically, Russia purports the claim that the Soviet-era territories, sovereign countries in the present day, belong to Russia. This perceived ownership on Russia’s end has caused regional tensions and threats to be a constant reality. For instance, to the East of Russia, countries such as Estonia, Latvia, and Lithuania have sought ways to protect themselves under the imminence of possible invasion. This has led to a strengthening of democratic institutions, with Lithuania becoming one of the latest members of the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) in 2018 (OECD 2018) and all three countries adhering to membership of the European Union (EU) in the early 2000s (Paulaskas 2006). Most importantly, the source of the greatest protection for these countries has been through the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO).
NATO membership is equally as restrictive as the aforementioned international organizations, however, the Baltic States that have access to it gain guaranteed protection in the event of a Russian invasion, as Article V states. A historical legacy of the alliance system, Article V establishes that any breach of sovereignty by a member warrants a military response from all NATO countries. In the past, the fact that the United States is a part of NATO was one of the biggest deterrents in and of itself. Nonetheless, the deterrent effect of American membership in NATO as a threat against invasion has waned as the US has lost its unilateral stronghold as emerging powers such as China and Russia have gained traction. In the case of Ukraine, following the blatant annexation of Crimea in 2014, becoming a part of NATO was a deeply held desire- one that has not come into fruition despite internal efforts (Pifer 2016).
Furthermore, it must be highlighted that Ukraine is a founding member of the United Nations, whose Charter grounds several principles of international law and the peaceful resolution of conflict. Despite this, no immediate measures have been made to counter Russia’s invasion and aid the people. Thus far, sanctions have been unilaterally and multilaterally imposed (Nakashima and Sonmez 2022), but the implementation of these are in the long term, and oftentimes, those who suffer the most are civilians as the nation’s economy takes the brunt of the sanctions down the line.
From an international relations perspective, in such conflict situations, one big question emerges: is the world reverting to realism? After decades of progress and theoretical expansion, the prospect of a reversal to power-grabbing politics and coercive intimidation as a fundamental tool of foreign policy is bleak. As the images of the invasion of Ukraine emerge, the deployment of the Russian military arsenal are images to behold, and the horrific scenes give the world a snippet of what Russia has under its sleeve. The horrors of war bring unimaginable devastation and destruction, and this conflict will be no different. As people try to flee and supplies dwindle, there is an ongoing humanitarian crisis, with the UNHCR reporting 500,000 refugees as of February 28th, 2022 (Spike 2022). The international community, which cannot be limited to a state-centric approach but must rather include a myriad of actors, has the responsibility and the capability to seek reconciliation, provide immediate assistance to those fleeing, and be prepared to do everything in its power to prevent widespread conflict, thus preventing realist predictions from prevailing.
Until then, as of today, the world is once again embroiled in war.
Nakashima, Ellen, and Felicia Sonmez. 2022. “U.S. Targets Major Russian Banks and Tech Sector with Sweeping Sanctions and Export Controls Following Ukraine Invasion.” The Washington Post, February 24, 2022. https://www.washingtonpost.com/politics/2022/02/24/russia-sanctions-ukraine-biden/.
OECD. 2018. “Lithuania’s accession to the OECD”. https://www.oecd.org/countries/lithuania/lithuania-accession-to-the-oecd.htm
Paulaskas, Kestutis. “The Baltics: from Nation States to Member States.” European Union Institute for Security Studies, February 1, 2006. https://www.iss.europa.eu/content/baltics-nation-states-member-states
Pifer, Steven. 2016. “Ukraine Overturns Its Non-Bloc Status. What next with NATO?” The Brookings Institute, July 28, 2016. https://www.brookings.edu/opinions/ukraine-overturns-its-non-bloc-status-what-next-with-nato/.
Spike, Justin. 2022. “500,000+ Refugees Have Fled Ukraine since Russia Waged War.” ABC News Network, February 28, 2022. https://abcnews.go.com/Business/wireStory/500000-people-fled-ukraine-russia-invaded-83154007.