English version of "Soldat ohne Staat", published in Die ZEIT 39, 2014.
A shift in the focus of the major powers towards the control and monitoring of flows of capital, information and other goods is a tendency that has long been predicted for the 21st century. It was thought that this shift in global political emphasis would take place largely in the economic arena, however, with armed conflicts not expected to play more than a marginal role. That looks to have been far too optimistic a forecast.
Instead the conflict in eastern Ukraine could be seen to indicate war’s return to the struggle for world order; here territorial control is once more at stake. For this reason the war in Ukraine unsettles us Europeans more than all the other conflicts, including the advance of the IS militias in Syria and Iraq. The emphasis is the other way round in the United States, however, where the Greater Middle East plays a bigger role than Ukraine. This could possibly herald the end of the "West" as a bloc acting as one.
The war in Ukraine is so explosive for us not least because it involves an atomic power whose accountability is hard to pin down. That is due not only to Vladimir Putin’s inscrutability but also to a new strategy. During the war in Georgia, which at first glance has a lot in common with the war in Ukraine, the Russians relied on their superior armed forces to decide the passage at arms in their own favour within a matter of days, whereas now they are using the reverse strategy of assisting their supporters in eastern Ukraine covertly and meting out their support so that the Ukrainian armed forces are unable to gain the upper hand against the separatists.
Yet if one looks more closely, it becomes apparent that Russia’s attempt not to assume the role of the aggressor but to be able to act instead from a diplomatically more advantageous defensive position is common to the wars in Georgia and Ukraine. In the one instance the Georgian army offensive made this possible, while in Ukraine Russia alternates between defending the right to self-determination and administering humanitarian assistance – assistance which, according to the Russian side, had to be backed up by military force in the face of a merciless Ukrainian army.
The war in Ukraine thus threatens to become a precedent – the beginning of the end of the international order established after the Second World War, including the ban on wars of aggression enshrined in the UN Charter.
It is noticeable that the USA, hitherto the Globocop of the international order, has not played any prominent role in the war in Ukraine. Acting to restrict Russia’s options has been left largely to the Europeans, yet it is clearly too much for them to handle. They sense that the shift in US attention from the Atlantic to the Pacific means that in future they will have to deal with problems on their own periphery without the help of the USA, but they have no idea how they propose to go about it.
At the moment the Europeans are counting on economic power to block the use of military force. The problem, though, is that these two kinds of power operate within different timeframes: military force produces quick results, while the effects of economic power unfold over a longer timescale. Military force prevents more than it creates; economic power can shape developments but is unable to eliminate an opponent at short notice.
Meanwhile it is rumoured that the Russian President, Vladimir Putin, is following a plan to re-establish the old Soviet Empire step by step along the lines of a Eurasian power bloc. This would be a plan for the long term, which accounts for the European view that economic power should prove a more effective remedy in the long run than military force.