Ukraine: In Response to “Ukraine Isn’t As Bad as X Crisis”

Gabriel Coffey, Managing Forum Editor

At the beginning of Russia’s invasion in Ukraine, I saw people posting about how the crisis pales in comparison to other crises — Yemen, China, Sudan, etc. These kinds of posts purport that the only reason Ukraine is getting attention is due to its status as a relatively rich, white, European country. I believe this is misguided.

Such a sentiment fails to recognize a certain, very European value, that has maintained peace for nearly 80 years: that economic integration, and a set of regional norms, can stymie large scale war. Up until now that has been the case on the continent. Russia’s invasion of Ukraine threatens it all.

Of course, one can talk about how Europe and the United States have invaded countries, deposed leaders and constrained governments with neocolonial tactics. You can argue that Europe and the United States have watched as genocide unfolded in Darfur, Rawanda and China while acting in Ukraine. In this sense “the West,” which we will use for the sake of the inherently East-West nature of the conflict, prioritizes its interests alongside human suffering. 

This isn’t a new realization, but something leaders ought to grapple with when considering action in Ukraine. Despite this, I argue that a response should not merely be predicated on degrees of suffering, but on what occurs beyond the conflict zone. One ought to consider the waves that such a conflict between the 11th largest economy and the breadbasket of Europe can have on global markets — Europe, Turkey and Egypt buy their wheat from Ukraine. On matters of nuclear war, the rhetoric might be overplayed, but the fact that it is there, saturated in a way we haven’t seen since the end of the Cold War, is worrying. Such rhetoric and hyperbolic claims are the kind of stuff that leads to increases in defense spending and less global trust. Thus, Russia’s invasion threatens the world order.

While this world order undoubtedly benefits Europe and the United States, it is the same world order that has prevented nuclear war, promoted free trade and lifted many out of poverty. More importantly, this system isn’t Orwellian.

I understand that isn’t a high bar, but one which will certainly be lowered if the world allows for basic principles of sovereignty to be threatened. Germany has increased its military budget, and neutral Switzerland has gone on the offensive, cutting off banking to Russians. These actions, while bold and advantageous for the present crisis, are worrying because they point to a recent trend in geopolitics: a less integrated and more heavily armed world. For when has military escalation served the interests of the world? 

Now, would I like it if the International Monetary Fund stopped structural adjustment programs, didn’t allow for private pillage of state coffers in poor countries and the United States didn’t manufacture war abroad? YES! But what you do when you say that Ukraine is not “as bad” as Yemen, is that you fail to recognize what can be done at the moment and dig yourself a hole filled with a wholly unrecognizable world. 

The cooperation and military interoperability currently enjoyed by the West would not exist without the fusionary forces of world war. Russia’s invasion of Ukraine threatens it. You can call the attempt to save this system selfish, call out the contradictory foreign policy, and I will be the first to stand with you. But if you can’t recognize the existential hue of the present crisis, which is the very system that allows you to travel the world, to be educated wherever you please, then perhaps privilege is its own kind of naivety.