Japan in Their Own Words (JITOW)/日本からの意見

World must prevent Ukraine, other wars from breaking int'l order
TANAKA Akihiko  / Professor Emeritus, University of Tokyo

March 4, 2024
Last year, with no end in sight to the war in Ukraine, yet another war broke out between Israel and militant forces involving the Islamic group Hamas in Gaza in October. Earlier in the year in Africa, a civil war broke out in Sudan and has shown no signs of abating.

On the same continent, the political systems of western African countries are reeling due to coups d’état amid the growing power of Islamic extremists. In the vicinity of Japan, North Korea's missile development is progressing further, and in China, political and economic uncertainty is increasing. New crises are occurring one after another, and the future of the world seems to be becoming more and more chaotic.

No one can draw an accurate outlook. But precisely because of the confusion, we need to identify developments of critical, structural importance -- factors that would help us definitively prevent negative structural changes from occurring.

From this point of view, the most important international conflict currently underway is the war in Ukraine. Global attention shifted from that war to conflicts in the Middle East, particularly the fighting in the Gaza Strip sparked by the Hamas attack on Israel. Yet Russia's aggression against Ukraine should be considered qualitatively separate from the long-running Israeli-Palestinian conflict or civil wars in Sudan and other countries, in terms of their impact on international order.

From a humanitarian point of view, it is desirable to prevent any war. In 2022, when Russia began its invasion of Ukraine, the Tigray conflict in Ethiopia was producing as many casualties as the Ukraine war was, although ascertaining exact numbers is not easy. The Uppsala Conflict Data Program of Sweden's Uppsala University, which maintains a reliable database of international conflicts, shows that in 2022, the best estimate of the death toll from the war in Ukraine was about 80,000, compared with about 100,000 for the death toll from the Tigray conflict.

Nonetheless, global news outlets, especially the Western media, focused their coverage on the war in Ukraine rather than the fighting in Tigray. And now the attention of the Western and Arab media is focused on Gaza. Regardless of the media's portrayals, however, Russia's invasion of Ukraine must continue to be regarded as the most important ongoing conflict in terms of its challenges to the current international order.

After World War II, a recognition became widespread that the norm of outlawing war, which prohibits the use of force as a means of settling international disputes, was at the core of international order. As such, more countries moved to entrust the resolution of international disputes to institutions such as the International Court of Justice. If Russia wins the war in Ukraine, the norm of outlawing war will be overwhelmingly weakened. In this sense, the war in Ukraine has the greatest potential of impacting international order among the ongoing armed conflicts.

On the other hand, in civil wars and long-running and complex wars, it is extremely difficult to determine who is responsible. While peacebuilding has always been important, individual civil wars have never significantly shaken the international order as a whole, at least not until now. Civil wars must be localized and brought to steady peace negotiations, but aggression for which responsibility is clearly identified must be resolutely foiled.

However, it is not only the actual armed conflicts that affect international order. Values about what constitutes a desirable order are also crucial. Of particular importance is the difference in values between the countries with great influence. To put it simply, it is a difference in values between the United States and China, which are the world's largest and second largest economic and military powers.

For much of the post-Cold War period, there was an expectation that the values of Washington and Beijing would gradually get closer. China's leaders have also said that their country's slow democratization is due to its low stage of development. However, since around 2017, they started saying that the Chinese-style development model was more useful for developing countries around the world. The U.S. continued its "policy of engagement" with the expectation that China may eventually democratize through its entry into the global economy. Washington abandoned this policy during the administration of President Donald Trump, and President Joe Biden's administration has come to regard China as its "only competitor."

The composition of this U.S.-China competition has not changed at all in today's seemingly chaotic world. And the specific point of contention in this U.S.-China confrontation is the Taiwan Strait. Political systems that embody different values are facing off over the strait. According to the U.S. NGO Freedom House, the democracy score for Taiwan is 94 and China is 9 on a scale of 100. By the way, Japan is 96 and the U.S. is 83. If an armed conflict were to break out over the Taiwan Strait, it would be a contest between one of the most oppressive and most democratic political systems, and it could lead to a war between the two superpowers. The Taiwan Strait, where peace is currently maintained, is the most important point of tension in our chaotic world.

So far, both the U.S. and China have wisely avoided making the war in Ukraine or the Israeli-Hamas war a major point of contention in their relationship. However, the outcome of the war in Ukraine could have a significant impact on U.S.-China relations. If Russia were to win in Ukraine, it could have a major impact on China's approach to Taiwan. Prime Minister Fumio Kishida's statement shortly after Russia's invasion that "today's Ukraine may be tomorrow's East Asia" remains an accurate evaluation of the conflict's potential consequence.

Of course, problems the world is facing are not limited to the geopolitical issues I have just described. Globally, close to 700 million people are said to be living in extreme poverty on less than $2.15 a day. The number of natural disasters caused by climate change is increasing, and many of the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) may not be achieved by the year 2030. In order to resolve these global issues, the international community must steer the geopolitical situations in the direction of easing tensions.

Akihiko Tanaka is Professor Emeritus of University of Tokyo. He was the president of the National Graduate Institute for Policy Studies from April 2017 through March 2022. He assumed his current position at the helm of JICA in April 2022. This is a reposting of the article that appeared in the morning edition of Mainichi Shimbun on January 4. 2024.
The English-Speaking Union of Japan

不透明な世界の重要事態 台湾海峡の緊張緩和を
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English Speaking Union of Japan > Japan in Their Own Words (JITOW) > World must prevent Ukraine, other wars from breaking int'l order