How will Zelensky’s US visit affect the war in Ukraine?
Wearing olive green battlefield attire, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky addressed the US joint session of the Congress on December 21, 2022. It was a timely visit to muster military, economic, and political support for a long-term engagement. Apparently, the trip was organised to keep up the "war momentum," as the Republicans are poised to take over the House next year and to counter the waning support for war.
What we have observed is a fruitful "marketing of war." Zelensky got a USD 50 billion package, more ammunition, backing of the US lawmakers, media attention, and support for a protracted war. An unconditional backing from the US gave him the fuel to continue. The event has also brought the US and Nato closer to a larger engagement.
The event reminds me of another joint session address by President Ngo Dinh Diem (1957) of South Vietnam before a full-scale Vietnam war. The contents of the speeches of the two leaders resemble each other. Both sought support for a common cause – "democracy." After 65 years, Vietnam is still a communist country. In fact, arguments for democracy should be evaluated considering a nation's history, geography, and culture. Some cultures inherently favour centralism – Western-style democracy does not fit.
Take Russia as an example. The country has been the target of many conquerors because of its vast resources. Its geography has evoked centralised governance and totalitarian regimes. A strong centre has been "cardinal" to its survival. Its vulnerability has increased after the collapse of the Soviet Union. Protecting such a large territory with only 145 million people is a serious military challenge for Russia – any external provocation could instantly trigger their survival instinct. Nuclear umbrella is their built-in defence.
The Chinese experience of democracy is very similar. The Republic of China established after the Qing Dynasty by Dr Sun Yat-sen in 1912 lasted until 1927. In 1928, Kuomintang took over the republic under General Chiang Kai-shek. Then in 1949, the Communist Party of China (CPC) took over under Mao Zedong. Historically, a centralised "power sharing system" has managed China's large population and the integrity of the nation. CPC is upholding the culture. General Kai-shek ruled Taiwan under martial law.
Afghans decide through "loya jirga," a tribal council that conducts the executive, legislative, and judiciary function in their society. Military decisions of the tribe are also taken by the jirga. This is how they have defeated every invader. Now, they are Muslims, which they were not one thousand years ago. Similarly, the Arabian example of some form of pluralistic rule was the Rashidun Caliphate, 632-661 AD. Then dynasties took over.
I admire liberalism, freedom, and democratic values. Perhaps, we could not have come this far without democratic institutions and values. But to apply those in every country, culture, and situation goes against the principle of "cultural relativism."
Zelensky's trip has sustained the stalemate in Ukraine. We do not have an effective organisation (sorry, United Nations) that could put pressure on the warring parties to negotiate. Both the US and Russia are actively lobbying for support in different parts of the world for a long-term war. Sanctions are hurting Russia and the world. Lest we forget, a weakened Russia sensing an existential threat could unleash a nuclear war.
Funding a "stalemate" in Ukraine and calling it a "fight for democracy" is a debatable narrative in a multicultural world. Our goal should be immediate ceasefire and negotiation. Saving human lives precedes all other statements and strategies.
Previously, in another article in The Daily Star (August 3, 2022), I had appealed to the Organization of Islamic Countries (OIC) for peace. Muslim migrants did stop the infighting among the Arab/Jewish tribes through the Charter of Medina (622). This time I will include the Vatican to my appeal and cite the example of Peace of Westphalia (1648) that ended a 30-year war.
I hope all nations would come forward to establish peace in Ukraine. We should also refrain from any activity that supports the stalemate or the escalation. We should all continue to "de-market war."
Dr Abu NM Waheeduzzaman is a professor of marketing and international business at Texas A&M University-Corpus Christi.