By Makoto Iokibe, Chancellor, University of Hyogo
For most of the long history of mankind, the reality was that if differences could not be resolved through negotiation, the final decision would be made by force through “power politics” where the strong would win. Humanity has long lived in a world where the law of the jungle reigned.
This changed after the two world wars of the 20th century. Why? Ironically, it is because of the remarkable development of science, technology and military means that mankind has acquired. The machine gun, which became the main weapon of the First World War, had a much higher destructive power, and it was a terrible death trap for the young men who were to be the future of the world. Tanks and planes, which appeared as new weapons at the time, became the mainstay of World War II, targeting not only combatants, but all civilians as well. Even nuclear weapons have appeared.
The extreme progress of these means of warfare made war irrational. Rationality is the balance between ends and means. The normal goals of war are limited to territory, resources and interests, and it is the height of irrationality to kill large numbers of people to achieve them. Is there a war aim that should be launched at the risk of destroying the people?
In May 1919, the Paris Peace Conference draws to a close. At the Majestic Hotel in the French capital, like-minded scholars and scholars from the United Kingdom and the United States gathered, lamenting that contrary to the cause of “peace through justice and wisdom” , the conference ended in a violent outburst of retaliation against Germany. They agreed that there was nothing they could do about it except prepare for the next peace conference so as not to repeat the mistake, and decided to promote the study of international affairs. They were later created the Royal Institute of International Affairs in London and the Council on Foreign Relations in New York. This was the starting point for post-war planning during World War II.
During World War II, the United States created two new ways of managing the post-war order: the United Nations system and the free trade system.
Within the framework of the United Nations system, the use of force other than in self-defence was prohibited. Even powerful nations had no right to invade other nations. The existence of small and medium-sized countries was also guaranteed. Five “policemen” – the five permanent members of the Security Council – have been appointed to manage global security. As long as they could cooperate, the UN system was not bad. Human history has moved away from the law of the jungle.
The free trade system, on the other hand, is a product of wisdom. Germany and Japan raised their swords for resources. Even if the two countries were crushed, the next status quo breaker would emerge if there was no system to share resources and markets. Representatives from the United States, United Kingdom and other countries gathered in the Bretton Woods Mountains to discuss such devices for global free trade as the General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade (GATT ), the International Monetary Fund (IMF) and the World Bank. . Supported by this system, the global market economy developed long after the war, enabling the post-war reconstruction of Western Europe and Japan, and later, the economic breakthrough of China.
The post-war order after World War II not only limited war but also provided the apparatus that allowed countries to develop peacefully through their economies. It was an admirable change rarely seen in the history of mankind.
What about the United Nations system? During the Cold War, when the United States and the Soviet Union were at odds, it was difficult for the five “policemen” to cooperate, but they recognized the threat of “mutually assured destruction” of the nuclear age and succeeded in avoiding a -war between the two camps. Attempts by North Korea, Iraq and other countries to seek regional hegemony have been checked and order maintained by UN forces or coalition forces from volunteer countries on the basis of UN resolutions.
Now comes the Russian invasion of Ukraine. It’s the first time in 77 years since the end of World War II that a “policeman” supposedly in charge of global security has invaded a neighboring country, and it’s a stunning event that seems to have upended the joints of the time. Will the story return to the Jungle Age?
When the invasion of Ukraine began, three startling things became apparent: First, the military forces of Russia, a military power, were not well trained. Second, the Ukrainian side was very motivated to fight. Third, the United States and Europe, which had been at odds for so long under former US President Donald Trump, grew closer, and Japan joined them in imposing tough sanctions on Russia.
As a result, two fronts are currently being pursued simultaneously. One is the battlefield in Ukraine and the other is the economic front between Russia and the United States, Europe and Japan.
Russia failed to capture the Ukrainian capital of Kyiv and establish a puppet state, but it still occupies about 20% of Ukrainian territory. Both sides realize that their achievements on the battlefield will define their post-war frontier and thus they are unable to end the war.
The other front that economic sanctions are fighting is no less important. The Russian people, as an imperial giant, want a strong government. President Putin is a strong leader, but how far will he go under international sanctions? Countries sanctioning Russia are also suffering from rising energy and food prices. Europe can cry foul and ease sanctions before Russia. If that happens, Russia’s aggression will be rewarded and the joints of the times will be truly dislocated.
The impact of this on China is worrying. China, sympathetic to Russia, has managed to distance itself from Russia in view of the severe sanctions against Russia by developed countries, so China is exempt from similar sanctions. In the past, the road to World War II became unstoppable as Japan and Germany advanced in unison. If China were to force the unification of Taiwan and seize the Senkaku Islands, the post-WWII order would collapse in its entirety, and perhaps World War III would become inevitable.
Russia, North Korea and China are countries that want to change the status quo through the use of force, and they are sharpening their swords, waiting for the chance to use them. The opportunity is when their adversaries are less powerful and there is no international intervention. China has already established its superiority over the United States and Japan in East Asian waters thanks to its massive military buildup over the past 30 years since the end of the Cold War. However, in terms of overall military power, including intercontinental ballistic missiles and submarine-launched missiles, the United States still has an advantage over China. It is essential that China does not harbor the illusion that it can win a war now because of its regional superiority over the United States and Japan. It is imperative that Japan and the United States make urgent efforts to neutralize China’s unilateral dominance in the field of intermediate-range missiles.
As China’s economic and military power grows, will Japan be able to rebuild a relationship with China without an invasion? It is essential to accelerate the preparation of the force, to strengthen international solidarity and to dialogue with China. Ultimately, the challenge is to create a new world order that surpasses that of the World War II era.
Profile: Makoto Iokibe
Born in 1943, Iokibe graduated from Kyoto University, specializing in Japanese political and diplomatic history. After serving as a visiting scholar at Harvard University, a professor at Kobe University, and president of the National Defense Academy, he has served as chancellor of Hyogo University since 2018. Iokibe also sits on the design board of rebuilding the government as president after the Great East Japan Earthquake. He is Chairman of the Asia-Pacific Prize Selection Committee.)