9/4 – Boaventura de Sousa Santos: Is Europe Sleepwalking Into Another World War?

Mer än 100 år efter första världskriget går Europas ledare som sömngångare mot ett nytt storkrig. 1914 trodde de europeiska regeringarna att kriget skulle pågå i tre veckor; det varade i fyra år och resulterade i mer än 20 miljoner dödsfall. Samma nonchalans syns nu i fråga om kriget i Ukraina, skriver Boaventura de Sousa Santos när han jämför dagens konflikter med de konflikter som fanns under de första decennierna av 1900-talet.

Den dominerande uppfattningen är att angriparen ska lämnas trasig och förödmjukad. Då var den besegrade makten Tyskland. Vissa avvikande röster, som John Maynard Keynes, ansåg att förödmjukelsen av Tyskland skulle bli en katastrof. Deras varningar förbiseddes. Tjugoett år senare var det åter krig i Europa, ett krig som varade i sex år och dödade 70 miljoner människor. Historien varken upprepar sig helt eller tycks lära oss något, men den visar på likheterna – och skillnaderna.


The hundred years before 1914 offered Europe relative peace. What wars took place were of a short-lived nature. The reason for this was the Congress of Vienna (1814-15), which brought together the victors and the vanquished from the Napoleonic wars to create a lasting peace. The chair of the conference was Klemens von Metternich, who made sure that the defeated power (France) paid for its actions with territorial losses but that it signed the treaty along with Austria, England, Prussia, and Russia to secure peace with dignity.

Negotiation or Total Defeat

While the Napoleonic wars took place between European powers, today’s war is between a European (Russia) and a non-European (United States) power. It is a proxy war, with both sides using a third country (Ukraine) to achieve geostrategic goals that go well beyond the country in question and the continent to which it belongs. Russia is at war with Ukraine because it is a war with the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO), which is commanded by the United States. NATO has been at the service of U.S. geostrategic interests. Once a steadfast champion of the self-determination of peoples, Russia is now illegally sacrificing these same principles to assert its own security concerns, after failing to have them recognized through peaceful means, and out of an undisguised imperial nostalgia. For its part, since the end of the first cold war, the U.S. has striven to deepen Russia’s defeat, a defeat which in fact was probably more self-inflicted than brought about by any superiority on the part of its opponent.

From NATO’s perspective, the goal of the war in Ukraine is to inflict an unconditional defeat on Russia, preferably one that leads to regime change in Moscow. The duration of the war depends on that goal. Where is Russia’s incentive to end the war when British Prime Minister Boris Johnson permits himself to say that sanctions against Russia will continue, no matter what Russia’s position is now? Would it be sufficient for Russian President Vladimir Putin to be ousted (as was the case with Napoleon in 1815), or is the truth of the matter that the NATO countries insist on the ousting of Russia itself so that China’s expansion can be halted?

There was also regime change in the 1918 humbling of Germany, but it all ended up leading to Hitler and an even more devastating war. Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy’s political greatness could be construed as being either in recognition of the brave patriot who defends his country from the invader to the last drop of blood or in recognition of the brave patriot who, faced with the imminence of so many innocent deaths and the asymmetry in military strength, successfully enlists the support of his allies to negotiate fiercely to secure a dignified peace. The fact that the former construction is now the prevalent one probably has little to do with President Zelenskyy’s personal preferences.

Where Is Europe?

During the two world wars of the 20th century, Europe was the self-proclaimed center of the world. That is why we call the two wars worldwars. About 4 million of Europe’s troops were in fact African and Asian. Many thousands of non-European deaths were the price paid by the inhabitants of remote colonies of the countries involved, sacrificed in a war that did not concern them.

Now, Europe is but a small corner of the world, which the war in Ukraine will render even smaller. For centuries, Europe was merely the western tip of Eurasia, the huge landmass that stretched from China to the Iberian Peninsula and witnessed the exchange of knowledge, products, scientific innovations, and cultures. Much of what was later attributed to European exceptionalism (from the scientific revolution of the 16th century to the industrial revolution in the 19th century) cannot be understood, nor would it have been possible, without those centuries-old exchanges. The war in Ukraine—especially if it goes on for too long—runs the risk not only of amputating one of Europe’s historic powers (Russia), but also of isolating it from the rest of the world, notably from China.”

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