In the midst of a modern world war
From the traditional viewpoint, the ongoing Russia-Ukraine war is a bilateral conflict that only involves two countries engaged in military combat. It is an open secret, however, that multiple nations from at least four continents (Europe, North America, Asia, and Australia) are participants in this war, playing various roles that make us pause and think if, from the point of view of the modern world, we are already in the midst of another world war.
On the side of Russia, Iran is accused of supplying the former with drones that drop explosives on Ukrainian territory. North Korea is also accused of supplying Russia with a “significant number” of artillery ammunition. And there are countries like China that are indirectly helping Russia finance its war, by buying the latter’s oil, coal, and other export commodities, in circumvention of the economic embargo imposed by western countries.
On the side of Ukraine, it is receiving aid from the multiple countries, which are members of the European Union (EU) and the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (Nato), in addition to Australia and Canada. These aids are in the form of military equipment and ammunition, technological support, military intelligence, and financial assistance. On its own, the United States has been providing tens of billions of dollars in military and other forms of aid to Ukraine. The EU and Nato countries, including other countries aligned with them, have also imposed various forms of economic and financial sanctions aimed at debilitating Russia.
One reason why the world still views the Russia-Ukraine war as a limited two-country conflict is because we remain stuck in the mindset that world wars are measured by the conventional standards of physical destruction and human casualties. By these metrics, the deaths are confined to Russians and Ukrainians lives, and the resulting destruction are limited to the territories, properties, and equipment either located in or belonging to those two countries.
The means and capacity of countries to wage war—especially a world war—has evolved and expanded in the modern era, however. Countries go to war, waging not just military battles, but employing a slew of modern arsenals of war such as economic embargoes, financial sanctions, cyber warfare, even tourism bans, and other nonmilitary capabilities that can be wielded to incapacitate or weaken an enemy-country. Countries also camouflage their participation in wars by confining their involvement to these nonmilitary and modern arsenals of war.
One consequence of the availability of and resort to these modern arsenals of war is that it has dissipated the need for and limited the expanse of military warfare among nations. It’s debatable, however, if the human suffering and damage caused by these modern arsenals of war are any less destructive, considering the malnutrition, poverty, shattered livelihoods, and ruined businesses they bring about.
No side of the current war, inclusive of the other nations supporting the two warring countries, has clear military advantage because of the threat of nuclear war that each side wields. But the western countries supportive of Ukraine have the edge on the nonmilitary arsenals of war. Proof of this is that countries militarily supportive of Russia are constrained to deny that they’re extending such support, while countries lending economic support to Russia do so in tiptoeing steps, because they all fear the repercussions of economic sanctions by western countries. The Russians are not without economic weapons, however, because their control of the world’s biggest oil reserves, and their touch-and-go blockade of Ukrainian supply of grains, steel, and pesticide materials, have been causing serious economic dislocation around the world.
The military aspect of the current war has only affected so far the two countries directly engaged in armed conflict. But the nonmilitary aspect of the war has been causing very serious economic devastation to all countries. It indiscriminately affects the targeted countries, countries that impose the sanctions and their allies, and even countries that stay neutral.
The world sits teetering in fear of a conventional world war, while suffocating in the heavy soot and thick smoke of a modern world war that’s already raging in its midst.
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