Beyond the Negotiation
Updated: Jun 20
The anticipated second phase counter-offensive by Ukraine in response to the Russian invasion, which began on 24th February 2022, officially kicked off after 473 days. Ukrainian President, Volodymyr Zelenskyy, announced readiness for the counter-offensive on 3rd June 2023. The following day, Ukrainian officials instituted an "operational silence" to preserve the integrity of the military operations.
"Operational Silence", Ukraine's Ministry of Defense published a video on June 4 saying that "plans love silence" and that "there will be no announcement about the beginning," presumably of the upcoming much-anticipated counter-offensive: source.
The counter-offensive was ushered in with the breaching of the Kakhovka Dam on the Dnipro River on 6th June. The event led to downstream flooding and disrupted water supplies to Crimea. Concurrently, Russian Armed Forces targeted Kherson with artillery, even as rescue operations for residents threatened by the flood were underway.
By 5th June, Russian military commentators reported heightened offensive activity by Ukraine in the eastern region, with the focus largely on the Novodonetsk area. This area is strategically located between Vuhledar, currently a battleground, and Velyka Novosilka in southern Donetsk Oblast. In a statement, Ukrainian Deputy Defence Minister Hanna Maliar highlighted that Ukrainian forces had advanced by approximately one mile in the Bakhmut area.
Although Ukrainian officials have remained largely reticent, the surge in offensive operations is speculated to signal the onset of the much-awaited counter-offensive. A Russian-appointed official in Zaporizhzhia Oblast suggested that Ukraine's strategy is to penetrate Russian defenses and gain access to the Azov Sea.
The Recent Progress
The evolving conflict between Ukraine and Russia is marked by a rapidly fluctuating environment. The Ukrainian strategic outlook seems geared towards severing the territorial link that Russia has forged between its occupied territories of Donetsk/Luhansk and Crimea. This approach has catalysed a series of counter-offensive manoeuvres yielding territorial advancements for Ukraine in at least three distinct regions of the front, notably in the western parts of the Donetsk and Zaporizhia oblasts.
Nonetheless, the situation remains intricate with the persistent presence of Russian troops and continued land offensives, notably south of Kreminna, around Bakhmut, and on the Avdiivka-Donetsk City line. Limited drone strikes on eastern Ukrainian border areas indicate the employment of sophisticated warfare technology by Russian forces.
Speculations of strategic redeployment of Russian troops are abound, with their most battle-ready units allegedly moving from the Kherson direction to Bakhmut and Zaporizhia, potentially in reaction to Ukrainian counterattacks.
An intriguing development has been the prisoner of war swap between the two sides, which appears to be a near equivalent exchange, hinting at operational dialogue between the combatants.
The forecasted weather conditions, as pointed out by Russian military commentators, raise concerns about potential disruptions to Ukrainian operations. Additionally, non-traditional warfare tactics have been deployed, with reports of sabotage activities, possibly by Ukrainian partisans, including improvised explosive device attacks on railways in the Russian-held Kherson region and Crimea.
New formations are reportedly surfacing on the Russian front, with two regiments formed by the Republic of Chechnya, equipped with commercially available Chinese armoured equipment.
While Ukraine seems to be making modest advancements, the situation is highly unpredictable. The conflict continues to unfold with diverse tactical manoeuvres and strategies in play, moulded by on-ground realities and geopolitical considerations. Regular briefings and vigilant monitoring of the situation are advisable for an all-encompassing risk assessment.
The Worth for Read Piece
In the context of the unfolding Ukrainian counteroffensive, a piece by Dalibor Rohac, a senior fellow at the American Enterprise Institute, published in Foreign Policy, is of particular interest. Rohac grapples with a critical question that underpins the recent War in Ukraine: the role of NATO in post-Cold War Europe-Russia relations.
With the impending NATO summit in Vilnius, a debate is simmering over whether Ukraine should be extended a clear pathway to alliance membership. Though there is significant pressure from countries on NATO's eastern periphery, cautionary signals from Washington and Berlin suggest that this prospect may be remote.
John R. Deni's contribution to Foreign Policy advocates for deferring discussions on Ukraine's NATO membership, arguing such discourse is premature and diverts focus from expanding the Western aid crucial for Ukraine's security. Contrarily, the Rohac piece challenges this viewpoint, presenting three categories of arguments against Ukraine's membership:
Ukraine's unsettled border disputes with Russia and perceived political unreadiness for membership.
The potential to exacerbate Putin's misinformation campaign, solidifying his control over Russian politics.
The risk of perpetuating Europe’s deadliest conflict since WWII by bolstering Russia's will to fight.
Rohac refutes these points, maintaining that Ukraine's borders are not in significant dispute, the need to counter Russian propaganda should not restrict foreign policy choices, and the prospect of Ukraine's NATO membership could curtail Russia's escalation options rather than fuelling its combat resolve. He argues that offering Ukraine the possibility of NATO membership may serve a strategic advantage, reducing the imperative of regaining all lost territories while offering security assurances.
The article underscores that while the augmentation of Western military assistance is essential, it should be twinned with a clear trajectory for Ukraine's NATO membership. Failure to do so may leave Ukraine feeling isolated, thereby diminishing its compliance with US and European interests.
Geopolitical Imperatives: The Hard Choices
Rohac is steadfast in his belief in the use of NATO as a credible deterrent to Russia's aggression towards Ukraine. Of course, this is not feasible during the ongoing conflict, but perhaps in the aftermath, with the outcome of the counteroffensive potentially becoming a crucial bargaining chip in negotiations between Ukraine and Russia. This could tie into a possible redrawing of the demarcation line between the two nations.
While Rohac posits that extending NATO membership to Ukraine could deter Russia, it raises the question: would this truly prevent Putin from launching another offensive once his forces have recuperated? Despite the protections of NATO's Article 5, the uncertainty of grey zone hybrid warfare remains. This brings to the fore the realist argument for the US: if Russia were to launch another full-scale military offensive against Ukraine, why should the US support Ukraine and, by extension, Europe?
Historically, during both World Wars, the US delayed intervention until the major European powers had sufficiently weakened each other, thus positioning the US as the sole superpower in the aftermath. This leads to the further question of who the real adversary of the US is: Russia or the rising power of China?
Such a conflict could stimulate debates within the U.S., reflecting diverse views on the approach to Russia and China. These discussions echo ongoing discourse within U.S. foreign policy circles. While some argue for the prioritisation of China due to its ascending economic stature and regional assertiveness, others underscore the need to sustain robust ties with Europe and uphold the rules-based international order.
Nevertheless, it is crucial to bear in mind that U.S. relationships with Europe, Russia, and China are intricate and deeply interwoven. U.S. policy towards one invariably influences its relations with the others. For instance, leaving Europe to confront a major conflict with Russia alone could tarnish the U.S.'s rapport with its European allies and potentially dent its global reputation. Likewise, pivoting U.S. focus towards China could bear implications for its relationships with Russia and Europe.
Engaging in a two-front war would indeed demand substantial resources, and it's unclear whether any nation, the United States included, could effectively manage such a scenario, especially given the intricacies of contemporary warfare.
Modern warfare frequently extends beyond the conventional battlefield, encompassing cyber warfare, economic warfare, and information warfare. These dimensions require considerable resources and expertise for effective management. Furthermore, the potential adversaries in this hypothetical scenario - Russia and China - are both nuclear-armed states, introducing an added layer of complexity and hazard to any conflict.
Moreover, the U.S., akin to many other nations, must consider domestic limitations such as the economic repercussions of a major war, the potential human toll, and the public's political willingness to support such a conflict. This is particularly pertinent in light of ongoing debates within the U.S. about its international role and the resources it should allocate to defence versus domestic needs.
Therefore, while the U.S. commands one of the world's most potent militaries and has significant resources at its disposal, it is unlikely that it would willingly or effectively engage in a two-front war without incurring considerable costs.
The challenging decisions US policymakers are confronted with invite reflection on the potential development of a metageopolitical framework with a mathematical approach. Navigating the complex and ever-changing maze of international relations is a formidable task. Traditional geopolitical theories have typically prioritised hard power and territorial concerns. However, the swiftly globalising world demands a more expansive, multi-faceted approach, one that takes into account a diverse array of influential factors. In response to this need, this essay delves into the concept of metageopolitics, integrating hard power, noopolitik, and geoeconomic dynamics into a comprehensive and pragmatic framework. This forward-thinking approach seeks to untangle the intricate web of global affairs with impartiality and precision.
Metageopolitics, as an analytical framework for international relations, remains intrinsically impartial. The equation does not inherently favour any specific ideology, viewpoint, or political agenda. Instead, it serves as a navigational tool for understanding and evaluating the complex interplay among nations.
However, interpretation and application of the metageopolitics equation can be subject to individual perspectives and biases. Analysts may give precedence to different elements based on their personal convictions and outlooks. Therefore, it is essential to approach the analysis with intellectual honesty, open-mindedness, and a commitment to considering a range of perspectives, thereby fostering a comprehensive and balanced understanding of international relations.
Comprehension of the metageopolitics equation is merely the initial step. The real merit resides in its practical application. By projecting real-world geopolitical scenarios onto this framework, decision-makers and analysts can anticipate shifts in power dynamics, predict geopolitical risks, and devise more effective strategies. Therefore, metageopolitics is more than a theoretical construct; it's a potent tool for manoeuvring through the complexities of international relations.
The Total Assessment
Based on our metageopolitical framework outlined above, we project the possible following trajectories for US policy in relation to Europe and China (and Asia more broadly):
Fortify NATO: The US should persist in buttressing this alliance, given NATO's crucial role in sustaining European stability. Encouragement should be given to members to fulfil their defence spending commitments and to the development of strategies for addressing emergent threats.
Advocate for European Integration: Further integration within Europe should be endorsed to bolster regional economic and political stability. This may include backing EU expansion and deeper coordination in fields such as defence, digital policy, and public health.
Strategically Address Russia: The US should couple diplomatic engagement with Russia with a robust defence stance. Reducing tensions might involve arms control negotiations, confidence-building measures, and dialogues centred on shared interests like counter-terrorism and non-proliferation.
Uphold Democratic Institutions and Rule of Law: The US should aid European allies in fortifying democratic institutions and the rule of law, crucial for political stability. This can be realised through cooperation in areas such as cybersecurity, countering disinformation, and ensuring electoral integrity.
China and Asia
Craft a Comprehensive China Strategy: A strategy encompassing both competition and cooperation is required, focusing on contentious areas like trade and human rights, while identifying possible collaboration areas, such as climate change.
Enhance American Competitiveness: The US should strengthen its economy through investment in education, technology, infrastructure, and innovation, ensuring that it remains a formidable global competitor to China.
Collaborate with Allies and Partners: The US should coordinate with allies and partners in Europe, Asia, and elsewhere to forge a unified approach towards China. This collaboration can form a united front in areas such as trade policies, technology standards, and human rights.
Reinvigorate International Institutions: The US should reinforce and reform international institutions to ensure they can effectively manage challenges engendered by China's rise. This may entail reforming the World Trade Organization or efforts to establish new norms in areas like cyber or space.
Engage China Directly: Open channels of communication with China should be maintained to manage tensions, build mutual understanding, and negotiate contentious issues. Regular dialogues on military, economic, and diplomatic levels can help to circumvent misunderstandings and facilitate cooperation where feasible.
Is it worth considering, then, the possibility of the US adopting a realist stance and abandoning Europe? While there might be some allure in the notion of letting Europe and Russia deplete each other in conflict, this approach is laden with risk and could yield disastrous outcomes, both from a humanitarian and strategic viewpoint. Below are several reasons why such a policy would be ill-advised:
Humanitarian Ramifications: Conflicts precipitate enormous loss of life, forced migrations, and extensive suffering. The international community should be committed to conflict prevention and peace preservation wherever feasible.
Geopolitical Perils: Other global actors might exploit a situation where Europe and Russia are embroiled in conflict, to promote their own interests. For example, China might capitalise on such a moment to broaden its influence in Asia and elsewhere, potentially reshaping the global power balance in ways detrimental to the US.
Economic Repercussions: A large-scale war in Europe would have profound global economic implications. It would interfere with trade, induce energy shortages (particularly given Russia's status as a significant global energy supplier), and ignite financial crises. Such an event would likely detrimentally impact the US economy.
Instability and Uncertainty: The post-conflict environment would be rife with instability, creating power vacuums and uncertainty that might incite further conflicts, not just within Europe, but potentially on a broader scale.
Nuclear Menace: Russia, a nuclear-armed state, poses a risk of any conflict escalating into nuclear warfare, leading to catastrophic global outcomes.
Alliance Obligations: The US has treaty commitments to its NATO allies, many of which reside in Europe. Upholding these commitments is central to the credibility of the US as a global leader and power.
In sum, the metageopolitical equation offers a multidimensional, unbiased, and innovative framework for understanding the complex and evolving geopolitical landscape. It amalgamates hard power, economic power, and noopolitik, enabling nuanced interpretations of international relations, which prove pivotal in our globalised world. As we look at unfolding developments in the intricate relationship between the US, Europe, Russia, and China, the equation is instrumental in forecasting power shifts, predicting geopolitical risks, and strategising effective responses.
By underscoring the necessity of a well-rounded US foreign policy, the equation emphasizes the importance of alliance commitments, diplomatic engagement, and a balanced approach to hard power and geoeconomics. Moreover, it serves as a constant reminder of the devastating humanitarian and economic consequences of war, pushing for conflict prevention and stressing the importance of stability and cooperation. The metageopolitical equation therefore equips policymakers and analysts with a more sophisticated and pragmatic tool to navigate the labyrinth of international relations, ultimately working towards a more peaceful, stable, and cooperative global landscape.