Control by superpowers through use of force unacceptable / Strengthen unity to protect freedom, cooperation

Russia’s invasion of Ukraine has changed the world drastically. Invasion of another country by a nuclear superpower for the purpose of territorial expansion destroys the post-World War II order based on international cooperation.

It is necessary to maintain a world in which the sovereignty and territory of all nations, including small countries, are respected. Failure to do so will see the world return to an age in which strong nations overwhelm weak ones, where military power is the key to success. The international community is at a critical juncture.

Lead Ukraine to victory

Ukrainians have entered the New Year in fear of armed attacks by Russia. It is tragic to see residents shivering in the bitter cold after power plants and heating facilities were destroyed. In a country with a population of 40 million, one in every six people fled the country and are still unable to return.

Late February will mark one year since the invasion. There is no sign of a ceasefire. A back-and-forth battle with Russian forces continues in eastern and southern Ukraine, and the number of deaths on both sides is increasing day by day.

The blame lies squarely with Russian President Vladimir Putin, who dared to invade Ukraine in violation of international law. His aim to control Ukraine and expand a sphere of influence is now clear for all to see.

If things go the way Putin wants, the three Baltic states and Poland could be his next targets. The U.N. Charter, which calls for sovereign equality and prohibits the use of force to seize territory, would likely become a dead letter.

Conversely, if the Russian military withdraws completely, Ukraine regains its territory and Russia is made to pay for its invasion, the international order based on law will be restored. It would also have the effect of deterring any fresh aggression.

Fragility of authoritarian regimes

Many countries, including the United States, European nations and Japan, are supporting Ukraine because the future security of their countries and the world will depend on not allowing the status quo to be changed by force. It is unacceptable to see the situation as someone else’s business and leave it unaddressed.

An early ceasefire and peace are obviously desirable, but a temporary ceasefire while Russian soldiers remain in areas that Russia has unilaterally declared “annexed” could only lead to the recurrence of a situation like last year’s massacre of civilians in Bucha.

It is essential to make Putin realize that he has no chance of winning and to establish a permanent peace framework in a way that guarantees Ukraine’s sovereignty and territorial integrity. The international community must enhance its unity and promote this path.

Behind Russia’s outrageous acts lies the structural problem of an authoritarian regime in which power is concentrated in the hands of an individual leader, from whom unfavorable information is withheld.

Putin has misjudged the scale of Ukrainian resistance and the determination of the West.

Is there any possibility that Chinese President Xi Jinping will make the same mistake? The current situation is extremely dangerous, as he has openly expressed the possibility of forcible unification with Taiwan, and the Chinese military continues to conduct provocative military exercises around Taiwan. Xi does not seem to have been made aware of the harsh view the international community takes of China.

A system in which an authoritarian leader makes policy decisions quickly and forces the people to comply may be advantageous in dealing with crises, but it also has a fragility.

In Russia, a number of demonstrations were staged to protest a partial mobilization order for military reservists, and the order led to a mass exodus. In China, too, protests against the zero-COVID policy emerged in such a public way that the Xi administration was forced to abolish the policy.

When people realize that their lives and livelihoods are threatened by tyrannical rule, similar situations will occur again. Even when there is repression, it is not easy to suppress such a situation completely. The social and economic turmoil could lead to a medium- to long-term decline in national strength.

A close watch needs to be kept on how the domestic situations of authoritarian nations, including Iran and North Korea, evolve.

Dialogue to prevent conflict vital

During the Cold War, when the United States and the Soviet Union were at odds with each other, stability was maintained — albeit precariously — on the balance of military power between the two countries. The 1962 Cuban Missile Crisis nearly led to nuclear war, but a major clash was avoided after the U.S. and Soviet leaders came to understand each other’s intentions.

The absence of such a crisis management framework between the United States, Russia and China today is a serious problem.

Putin has repeatedly hinted at the use of nuclear weapons to keep the United States in check. China is rapidly increasing the number of nuclear warheads with the goal of catching up with U.S. military power within 30 years.

In the near future, China will match the United States and Russia in the number of nuclear warheads deployed. Nevertheless, it has refused to join the arms control framework between the United States and Russia, and has refused to participate in nuclear disarmament talks.

There can be no victor in a nuclear war that destroys the world. The United States, Russia and China have a responsibility to avoid a conflict and to reduce the threat of nuclear weapons.

Based on the lessons from the Cuban Missile Crisis, the United States and China should move to establish a hotline between the leaders and facilitate communication mechanisms among military officials.

(From The Yomiuri Shimbun, Jan. 3, 2023)