For over twelve months humanity and the world economy are paying the price in lives, a higher cost of living and livelihoods.
The phrase ‘war’ owes its origins to a journey through linguistic versions – werre or wyrre in old English, guerre in French, werra or werza in Germanic, or guerra in Spanish, Italian and Portuguese. Its evolution has been informed and influenced by the many battles fought by regimes across ages in Europe. Cognates suggest the original sense of the word war was “to bring into confusion”. The etymology of the war in Ukraine has similarly evolved from conflicting claims and contested concerns, between Russia and Ukraine over two decades. A year after the first Russian artillery rounds were fired confusion confounds what constitutes right and the composition of rights!
For over twelve months humanity and the world economy are paying the price in lives, a higher cost of living and livelihoods. Nearly 300,000 lives are estimated to have been lost in the war and millions have been displaced. Coming in the wake of the pandemic the war has imposed costs on people and economies, a food crisis, disruption of energy supplies and billions of dollars, pounds and euros expended to tackle the cost of living crisis.
A world burdened by post-pandemic co-morbidities is buckling under inflationary pressures. The lock-step march of central banks – led by the US Federal Reserve – has resulted in the embedding of the belief of “higher for longer” interest rates across the world. Rising cost of capital has eroded investor wealth, slowed down portfolio flows and affected trade. Unsurprisingly growth forecasts are trending lower.
The worst affected are low and middle income countries. The challenging circumstance was summed up by IMF Managing Director Kristalina Georgieva in a blog in the run up to the G20 meet in Bengaluru. “About 15 percent of low-income countries are in debt distress and an additional 45 percent are at high risk of debt distress. And among emerging economies, about 25 percent are at high risk and facing “default-like” borrowing spreads.”
The stark irony is that Russia – which imposed the war on Ukraine and is deemed the aggressor – seems to have weathered the sanctions storm. Indeed, this column had highlighted the inefficacy of sanctions and the spectre of deglobalisation. As per IMF’s World Economic Outlook Russia is expected to grow this year and is forecast to grow at a pace faster than large G7 economies in 2024. Exports were up by 15.6 per cent in 2022 (mainly to China) and the Russian Ruble, despite sanctions, is holding up where it was before the war in 2022. Meanwhile, the consequences of war are hurting the prospects of people and nations who have little or no say or role in the conflict.
Margaret Atwood wrote in The Robber Bride, “War is what happens when language fails”. The much-feared collapse of the rule-based world order is the result of what is called rational inattention. Those who championed the doctrine of a rule-based world order failed to preserve the sanctity and efficacy of critical multilateral institutions essential to sustain the idea.
The Preamble of the United Nations states its determination “to save succeeding generations from the scourge of war” and “to reaffirm faith in fundamental human rights”. The incapacity of the United Nations – manifest in the persistence of wars and human rights crises — is rooted in its archaic structure. The veto wielding Security Council is scarcely representative of the new economic, geopolitical and demographic realities. The failure of language found eloquent expression this week at the UN Security Council when the “one minute silence” in the memory of war victims was interrupted.
The notion of the ‘end of history’, evangelised following the fall of the Berlin wall, is now amidst the rubble of war. In less than three decades the promised potential for peace and prosperity stands squandered – thanks to the strategy of wishful thinking hyper marketed by transactional interpretations. The West believed that inducting China into the WTO would make it more democratic and that Russia would eventually assimilate into the European way. The innate fragility of the notions was exposed in Crimea, in Hong Kong, in Ukraine. The obituary is being scripted as China goes about drafting a coalition of the agreeable to back its move on Taiwan.
Weeks before the invasion of Ukraine, Russian President Vladimir Putin and Xi Jinping pointedly criticised NATO and the United States and declared the sealing of a “no limits” friendship between the two nations – this included support to China’s declared right to annex Taiwan. The hope brigade before and after the G20 meet in Bali naively suggested there were limits. Earlier this week, on the eve of the anniversary of the war, Russia and China declared the ties had reached “new frontiers” when China’s top diplomat Wang Yi called on Putin at the Kremlin.
While the current crisis between Russia and Ukraine may haunt the headlines, the real issue confronting the world is the rise of muscular China. The price of failures being paid by people and nations illuminates the context of a tense present and the uncertain future. Far from the notion of the end of history the world is witnessing the return of history – the remaking of history, the emergence of a second cold war and attendant blocs.
(The writer is the Author of The Gated Republic, Aadhaar: A Biometric History of India’s 12 Digit Revolution, and Accidental India)