Russia’s invasion of Ukraine is distracting the US from the Chinese threat and erodes the nuclear taboo.
The United States’ support for Ukraine and growing tensions with Russia pushed Moscow closer to Beijing. Moreover, the war also impacted the main feature of the international system, American-Sino competition. The growing American involvement in the European theater diverts American attention and resources from dealing with its rival – China.
The US is seen in many quarters, with some justice, as at least partly responsible for the war because of the American-led eastward expansion of NATO, harming its international status. Furthermore, the weak presidency of US President Joe Biden appears unlikely to enable the US to compete successfully with China.
In addition, Russia’s war in Ukraine has set in motion an array of significant events making a lasting impact on the international order. The perception that the war has no end in sight only strengthens its long-term implications.
The war has precipitated an international economic crisis, adding additional problems to a world economy already suffering from the effects of COVID-19. Energy and food shortages, primarily grain, have hit most countries. The economic repercussion of the war has led to inflationary pressures, even affecting the American economy. In many parts of the world, we are witnessing an economic slow-down and recession fears.
Globally, the risks of nuclear proliferation and the use of nuclear weapons have increased. Moscow’s nuclear threats were intended to deter western military intervention following the invasion of Ukraine in February 2020, but they have unsettled the fragile nuclear order. They caused many countries to reconsider the use of nuclear weapons. China could use nuclear threats to deter a conventional military intervention in order to conquer Taiwan. The possibility of nuclear threats for coercive purposes, in contrast to deterrence, cannot be ruled out.
Many argue that while Ukraine was willing to dismantle its nuclear arsenal in exchange for international guarantees of its territorial integrity at the end of the Cold War, it remained vulnerable to its nuclear-armed neighbor. The guarantees were insufficient to prevent the conquest of Ukrainian territory. In contrast, North Korea, a rogue state armed with nuclear weapons, appears impervious to invasion.
This provides a compelling reason for threatened states to go nuclear. Will Japan or South Korea believe America’s promises? Recent Iranian statements emphasize the defensive utility of nuclear weapons. Turkey and Saudi Arabia are likely to follow Iran’s nuclear progress.
Russian threats could also erode the moral outrage that prevents the use of nuclear weapons. The sights of Hiroshima and Nagasaki’s destruction are being forgotten, and some nuclear-armed dictators may exhibit moral indifference to mass destruction. Religious fanatics, such as those in the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps, will not hesitate to fire nuclear-tipped missiles at Israel if a counter-revolution deposes the Islamist regime in Tehran.
The war served as a wake-up call in Europe, reminding Europeans that war is still a policy tool in the hands of political leaders. The sense of inadequacy and willingness to spend on defense has replaced complacency in the face of national security challenges. However, the duration of such sentiments is currently unknown. The war triggered a new wave of enlargement for Euro-Atlantic institutions.
NATO has decided to accept Finland and Sweden into its ranks, and talks of future enlargement to include Ukraine no longer appear unrealistic. Furthermore, the European Union has granted candidate status to Moldova and Ukraine, both of which Russia considers to be in its security orbit. Western actions will undoubtedly raise international tensions in Europe until the dust of the war settles.
Following the Ukraine conflict, Russia will likely become less tolerant of uncertainty along its borders. It may prevent its neighbors from flirting with the idea of independence in foreign policy orientation. States near Russia, in the Caucasus and in Central Asia are likely to face greater pressure to limit cooperation with the West than in the past. Energy producers, such as Azerbaijan and Kazakhstan, may be of interest to Moscow in order to increase Russian leverage in the global energy market.
Implications on Israel, Middle East
In Russia’s backyard, the Middle East, new international circumstances have brought Moscow closer to Iran and have strengthened tense Turkish-Russian relations. The July summit in Tehran, attended by the leaders of these states, foreshadows future cooperation against American interests in the region, particularly in Syria and Iraq.
The Abraham Accords are strengthened by mistrust of the US and its proclivity to capitulate to capricious Iranian behavior. However, food shortages hurt Egypt’s stability, a pivotal state in a region already having a plethora of failed states.The war in Ukraine has mixed implications for Israel. During an energy crisis, Israel’s gas resources appeal more to prospective buyers. The new status as an energy exporter also benefits Israel’s international standing.
The evolving global strategic landscape will most likely benefit Israeli defense companies. They anticipate a significant increase in sales due to the security crisis caused by Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, as more funds become available for military procurement. NATO members, particularly Eastern European countries directly threatened by Russian aggression or Western European states seeking to rebuild deterrent capabilities against Moscow are expected to increase military procurement programs.
Currently, Israel is welcoming a greater number of Jews from Russia and Ukraine to their homeland. This is a positive demographic trend. On the negative side, Iran is internationally more acceptable because of the dire desire to see its oil on the global market. Furthermore, the Iranian-Russian détente may make the S-400 SAM system available to Tehran.
Finally, all states should remember that they live in a self-help system. As a result, a self-reliant military doctrine must be nurtured with no illusions about foreign assistance in times of crisis.
A version of this article was published in The Jerusalem Post.
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Photo: IMAGO / SNA