Why to Avoid Military Conflict over Ukraine
The simple reason, at the risk of seeming inflammatory or fear-mongering, is to avoid World War 3. This is a provocative statement and only one of many possible outcomes of the current crisis in Ukraine even if military measures are resorted too. Fortunately, it is a possibility that both sides seem aware of and inclined to avoid if possible. Correlations between modern Russia and Germany prior to WW 1 and WW 2 have already been made by various media outlets. Putin is undoubtedly courting a dangerous and unpredictable mistress; Nationalism. However, the focus of this article will be how the Ukraine-Russia conflict could influence the geopolitical environment across globe should it devolve into an open conflict of arms.
As defined by the Merriam-Webster dictionary, a world war is “a war engaged in by all or most of the principal nations of the world.” So then how could the Ukraine crisis potentially expand into a conflict involving the majority of the world’s powerful nations? The simple answer is that if the United States became involved in a large-scale conflict with Russia over Ukraine or any of its NATO allies in Eastern Europe, the U.S. military, already fatigued from the prolonged wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, would be hard pressed to protect its allies in other regions. This could open up space for a Chinese-led effort to attempt to resolve long-standing territorial disputes in Eastern Asia. Similarly, the Middle East is rife with the potential for conflict. Iran and Syria could likely be persuaded to realize this potential at the behest of Russia. Iran and its sponsored group, Hezbollah, are already doing their best at this.
Whether or not an armed conflict over Ukraine ultimately matured into a war world would depend largely upon the role China chooses. As a country, it is insulated enough from any conflict in Ukraine to avoid being unwittingly sucked or forced into participation. With the United States distracted in Eastern Europe, it may be difficult for China to avoid the temptation to resolve its longstanding territorial and historic disputes with Japan, South Korea, and Taiwan. Prior to the outbreak of the Ukrainian crisis, it was the escalating tension in East Asian due to these crises that dominated international headlines. U.S. military and economic might have long been the counterweight to Chinese coercion of its neighbors. Let’s not forget to mention how persuasive Russian oil could be to the energy hungry country. Russia has already shown it interest in expanding into the Asian energy market.  If China did invade its eastern neighbors, India may feel obligated to react in fear of its own territorial disputes with China and where Beijing’s sights may next be fixed. It wouldn’t take much effort on China’s behalf to convince Pakistan to join in against India.
The Middle East would suffer equally if not more. The shift in focus of the U.S. would allow for the resurgence of terrorist organizations across the region and Africa. The on-going U.S.-Iran negotiations would certainly falter. If Iran escalated its programs of clandestine influence in the region or development of a nuclear weapon, Israel would feel obligated to pursue unilateral action to protect itself. The situation in Syria would undoubtedly devolve even further, even further increasing the chances of the conflict spilling over into neighboring countries as already seen on several occasions on the Turkey-Syrian border.
The Americas would likely be mostly spared. Venezuela the most adamant anti-U.S. country is too overwhelmed with its own internal conflict to cause much trouble. Unless the U.S. policy towards Cuba changed, a modern version of the Cuban missile crisis is plausible, but without foreign intervention Cuba is too weak to do much independently. However, the world has changed since WW2. It is exponentially smaller. The range of missiles, airplanes, terrorists, and the other mechanisms of war mean that it would be unlikely that the U.S. would be as relatively unscathed as it was in WW2.
No one would benefit from the Ukrainian crisis escalating to full-scale war. It would only set the stage for further escalation. This sort of escalation would cripple the globalized economy and hurt every citizen of every country in some way. Strong action now is the best response. However, strength needs to be tempered to avoid provoking the very acts it seeks to stop. Strong sanctions and actions demonstrating NATO’s support of its members in Eastern Europe are essential. Hopefully the EU and United States can ultimately agree upon a strong enough battery of sanctions against Russia and aid to Ukraine that prevents further aggression and destabilization without provoking the same. A fine line to walk indeed.