Why are there no peace negotiations?
This is the seventh, and final, section of the essay International Relations in the Twenty-First Century: the Russian Snake'. It is in draft and all comments are welcome. The first six sections are posted at www.the-paladins.com/blog
Russia and Ukraine are in the midst of a war, and Ukraine has several proxies contributing funds and military equipment to assist her. Why are there no substantial peace negotiations underway between the parties, or the parties and their proxies? Virtually all communications have been severed between Russia and the West. That is what makes this a Second Cold War scenario: everyone has stopped communicating and is just assuming the worst about each other. After a civil conflict has been underway for a while, opportunities for peace negotiations typically arise because the outcome of the war starts to become predictable and therefore it makes sense to settle the matter amongst lines of common predictability without each side continuing to suffer ever further heavy losses. Why is settlement of the Russia-Ukraine conflict proving so elusive?
One possible hypothesis is that the Russian side is simply refusing to settle because she knows she is going to win unconditionally: she knows she is going to get everything she wants. However it is far from obvious that this is right. The supply of finance and weaponry by the West to Ukraine, at the very least, is substantially slowing Russia's advances. Simple tasks, such as the taking of small towns in the Donbas, are requiring far more time, loss of life and expenditure of armaments and money than one would ordinarily expect of an army of the size of that of the Russian Federation. In other words, the West is adopting a policy, if Russia's domination of Ukraine cannot be prevented, of at least making it as difficult as possible.
In the face of the West's commitment to cause Russia maximum aggravation and punishment for her invasion of Ukraine, it would be logical for Russia to reach a territorial agreement with Ukraine that anticipates what Russia can achieve in advance of her achieving it; and if the parties sue for peace.on that basis without loss of life. Neverthelesss this will not happen. The reason why is not because Russia's domination is inevitable but precisely because it is not. Because Russia's ambitions potentially lie beyond Ukraine's borders and elsewhere in Europe, as they always have in the past, Russia's military capacity must be gently ground down so that by the time she reaches her final line in Ukraine - which might well consist of creating a land bridge to Pridnestrovia via Nikolaev and Odessa, and capture of the Budzhak - and the conclusion of her conquest of Donbass, which includes the city of Kharkiv so close to the border. It is in Ukraine's interest that Russia pays the maximum price to achieve these primary goals; otherwise no peace agreement is worth a dime, because Russia will ignore its terms and use the remainder of her spare capacity to occupy the balance of free Ukraine including Kyiv and the western regions of which L'viv is the de facto capital.
Hence, unlike in a piece of litigation, in which a peace agreement may be enforced by a third party, in a war fought amongst the Slavs of Eastern Europe, peace agreements must be self-enforcing and this means that peace arises only when the aggressor party's military capacity is ground down to a halt. Even then she may rebuild her forces, and renew her efforts some months or years after the final line of demarcation is drawn, only to attempt to keep going. Hence a legal document, which has only an instant when it is applicable, cannot maintain the balance of power that will prevent Russia from further marching westwards. Instead that balance of power must be fought for every day, month and year into the future, after the Russian Armed Forces have come to a halt. If the balance of power significantly swings one way or the other, then the line between the Great Powers will be redrawn as more war comes to reflect the change in the balance. Hence the skill involved in maintaining Cold War is not in the drafting of agreements but in anticipating what de facto state of affairs, preserved with what buildup of military and economic power, will keep the de facto line in place into the indefinite future. And there it will stay, if those in the West fight the Second Cold War wisely, until some future moment at which the Russian Federation once again collapses as she did in 1990.
This is the logic of Cold War. It is irrational. It is not a species of realism; realism is far too optimistic a theory, grounded in states acting rationally, to explain the foolishness with which the parties are now progressing. Liberal institutions have no tools to explain what is going on either. The United Nations and the other various international institutions have virtually nothing to say about the Russian invasion of Ukraine or the massive arms build-ups that are already beginning and will inevitably following the end of this war. There is nothing rational in fighting out a war to its bitter end when you could agree tomorrow to conclude the war on much the same terms but with credible guarantees that the armistice will be held. No international organisation can act as a neutral arbiter to achieve such a result either. So we see the lies in both realism and liberal institutionalism as explanations of the actions of states as the Second Cold War builds up.
It is not rational not to speak to one's opponent during war. In conflicts the rational imperative requires constant communications between all parties, so that they might better understand one-another's intentions. Instead each side works within its own schema of internal political psychology, spitting venom at its opponents or counterparts who do not not think about international relations in quite the same way. It is the interaction between these irrational counterparts, and their contrasting and different dialogues that have no point of meeting because they refuse each to speak to the other given the guilt in political language that they each exhibit; this is the driving force in contemporary international relations. Russia is thinking from a "zones of influence" point of view; but the problem with this perspective - which has infected the United States at times as well (for example the Domino Theory in the 1960's, that mandated intervening in every Communist revolution worldwide solely by reason of the fact that it was a communist, as opposed to another, form, of revolution) is that it mandates eternal war. Because zones of influence are susceptible to perpetual variation as one country invests more or less in its military and foreign-dominating economic policies, the balance of power must endlessly be struck between different armed camps who think in different ways.
This theory may seem currently attractive to China, who sees Russia's playing of the Zones of Influence card potentially as being in her favour as well. After all, China wants the South China Sea as her Zone of Influence, and seeks to extend her influence through means of the Belt and Road approach to foreign investment. The problem with supporting Russia's current approach to foreign policy is that it is economically deleterious to the entire world. Hydrocarbon prices go up, food is in short supply as Ukraine's breadbasket is closed because her ports are mined and serve as garrisons for the Russian navy; this will result in an indefinite stand-off over control of merchant shipping in the Black Sea; there will be continued inflation and standards of living will fall globally as an ever greater proportion of the global economy is diverted into military investments. In the meantime, China's zones of influence, like so many of them, are not making her money. They are investments now without prospect of substantial return, because every Great Power's zones of influence will hereafter be subject to challenge by other Great Powers.
The problem with this entire approach is that it encourages a series of regional autarkies, doing business within the regions' own borders and engaging in constant military build-up and confrontation with other regional autarkies, much as George Orwell predicted in his prophetic novel 1984. He saw three autarkies constantly fighting to maintain their zones of influence, and these corresponded to what we now call Europe and the Americas; Russia and Central Asia; and China and her proxies. This is the logic of the Second Cold War, and it is foolish in the extreme but this is where we have manoeuvred ourselves to.
There are some obvious consequences of this. Ukrainian grain from Free Ukraine will be transported over land to other European ports, to avoid the permanent confrontation. in the Black Sea. China, who has her own internal pressures, may revert to trade with the United States as the best way of pursuing a national profit so as to keep her restive population satiated. Naval power will become increasingly important in order to place pressure upon the zones of influence of the other regional parties. Proxy wars will become commonplace, fought with mobile naval power. We will all suffer, but those with the most efficient economies, capable both of investing in military development and continued consumer growth, will do the best out this new world order just as was the case in the First Cold War. The Second Cold War's logic will be virtually identical to that of the First Cold War, and as a working assumption we might assume that it will last for the next 40 to 50 years. That is what the Russian invasion of Ukraine has achieved. It seems difficult to describe this as a good outcome for humanity, reversing some thirty years of ever-greater common understanding and mutually beneficial trade. Nevertheless human beings have an undeniable propensity to fight meaningless struggles, and this will be one more. Let us hope that the common acquisition of nuclear technology by ever more states renders conventional war ever more ludicrous, and helps we humans escape this ceaseless cycle of war and struggle without managing to destroy ourselves. We should wish ourselves luck.