January 3, 2024
The West’s enemies understand that disparate conflicts in Ukraine, Israel, Yemen and Taiwan are just different theatres of a new Cold War. Yet some western policy-makers have failed to see this bigger picture and, as a result, are allowing themselves to be outmanoeuvred to their own detriment.
Nowhere is this more apparent than with the United States’ recent weakness on Ukraine.
When Russia first invaded Ukraine almost two years ago, U.S. lawmakers initially understood that allowing Kyiv to fall would have portended the end of American power. As the Taliban had reconquered Afghanistan just months before, it was widely accepted that a Russian victory would have been humiliating and that the perception of American impotence would have had cascading harms on the West’s prestige, alliances and global influence.
And so, at first, there was bipartisan support for Ukraine. Under American leadership, a coalition of allies provided Kyiv with enough arms to successfully repel the Russians and liberate large swathes of occupied land. By the autumn of 2022, after a succession of Ukrainian victories, the West seemed reinvigorated and confident — there was more optimism than anxiety.
But Russia responded by strengthening its own alliances — primarily with Iran, China and North Korea — and gambled that this fellowship of autocracies could outcompete the West by showing greater focus, long-term planning and discipline.
It is becoming increasingly apparent that their strategy is working.
To some degree, this is because the Ukrainians have been victims of their own success. By freezing the Russians in a stalemate, Kyiv inadvertently created the impression that this is just a regional conflict where the stakes are only a few obscure towns and provinces that matter little to the world.
Over time, the possibility that Russia might dismember Ukraine became an abstract fear, as did the risk of escalation and of a victorious Russia eventually attacking NATO directly. Faced with a war of attrition, the democracies of the West grew bored, restless and muddled. As the howls of death in Ukraine became ambient noise, western voters and policy-makers turned their minds to other things.
Earlier this year, some Republican lawmakers argued that China is the United States’ greatest threat and that funding for Ukraine should be cut so that more money can be diverted toward Taiwan’s defence.
These conversations abruptly ended on Oct. 7 when Hamas stormed into southern Israel and slaughtered 1,200 civilians. Since then, the war between Israel and Hamas (and, by extension,
Hezbollah) has dominated the news and created a hyper-fixation with the Middle East, which has only deepened since the Houthis (an armed insurgency in Yemen) began attacking western ships traversing the Red Sea.
As a result, Ukraine is now being neglected and western aid is drying up, leading some to worry that Kyiv will either be defeated, which would mean mass slaughter and occupation, or that it will be forced into a bad peace that will merely set the stage for future Russian invasions. As missiles and drones explode upon Ukrainian cities, blotting them with blood and smoke, other parts of the world seem to barely notice — or worse, they shrug.
But it is perilous to ignore Ukraine for the sake of other global conflicts, because they are generally just different heads of the same hydra. Russia, China, Iran and North Korea, along with their proxies, form a coherent and interdependent anti-western bloc — you cannot defeat one of them without fighting the others.
Iran, for example, is one of Russia’s main weapons partners and the source of Moscow’s innumerable kamikaze drones. At the same time, Tehran is the primary backer of Hamas, Hezbollah and the Houthis, which it uses to attack Israel and sow instability in the Middle East at the West’s expense.
Meanwhile, North Korea has provided over a million artillery rounds to Russia, leading some to worry that Moscow will eventually pay back the favour by providing nuclear technology to Pyongyang.
China is using loopholes to bypass sanctions and sell sensitive technology and “dual use” military gear to Russia, which has made Beijing one of Moscow’s foremost supporters and allies. The trade makes sense for both, because should the West suffer a defeat in eastern Europe and create a precedent for land concessions, invading Taiwan would be much easier.
China also appears to be manipulating TikTok’s algorithms to promote anti-western views among American youth, including pro-Russian and pro-Hamas content.
Given the co-ordination between the West’s enemies, many U.S. allies have predictably been taking a strategic approach to security.
South Korea, for example, indirectly supplied large amounts of munitions to Ukraine this year and is in the process of exporting weapons and tanks to Poland. Japan, which fears both China and Russia, is ramping up donations to Ukraine while elevating its security ties with Taiwan.
And yet some American policy-makers still treat global conflicts as if they were siloed.
Worse yet, some Republicans, including presidential candidate Vivek Ramaswamy, are arguing that the United States should abandon Ukraine and somehow convince Russia to ally against China. This is hopelessly naive. We know these kinds of strategies don’t work because Israel already tried to woo Russia, only to be stabbed in the back immediately after Oct. 7.
The new Cold War is here and lines have been drawn in the sand. To ignore this reality and flit from conflict to conflict, with no greater plan or strategic commitments, is an inexcusable security liability.
Adam Zivo is a freelance writer and weekly columnist at National Post. He is best known for his coverage of the war in Ukraine, as well as for founding and directing LoveisLoveisLove, a Canadian LGBTQ advocacy campaign. Zivo’s work has appeared in the Washington Examiner, Jerusalem Post, Ottawa Citizen, The Diplomat, Xtra Magazine, LGBTQ Nation, IN Magazine, Quillette, and the Daily Hive, among other publications.