Nonheroic Peace and Heroic Resistance
There is one thing we can say for certain about the consequence of this war—owing to the experience of united resistance, the Ukrainians will survive as a nation.
As of this writing in March 2022, Russia’s invasion of Ukraine has continued for over three weeks. Although the outlook is unclear, several things seem certain, even at this point.
First, this is a strategic failure for Russia. When Russia seized Crimea in 2014, it promptly changed the status quo with almost no resistance from Ukraine. Fighting had continued in the eastern region of Donbas, but Russia also wrested effective control of the region from Ukraine.
The Western world strongly opposed to Russia and imposed various sanctions, but once a fait accompli is established by military force, a peaceful reversal is almost impossible, especially with a country like Russia. Japan has already experienced this with the Kuril Islands (“Northern Territories” seized by the Soviet after Japan surrendered in August 1945).
As symptoms of the military invasion were widely felt before it took place on February 24, leaders of major Western countries directly negotiated with Putin to prevent this. Yet, Russia launched the almost anachronistic invasion by advancing into another territory with tanks. Yet, after three weeks, it has only occupied a small part of Ukraine.
Meanwhile, the invasion came at a very high price for Russia. NATO, which weakened during the Trump administration, and the EU with disintegrated unity from Brexit, took this chance to boost solidarity by countering against Russia.
Even Germany, which had been appeasing Russia, decided to suspend the gas pipeline and drastically increase its defense spending. This could be a historic turn for postwar Germany.
Regardless of the war situation in Ukraine, there will be no reversal of this trend. The impact of economic sanctions is uncertain, and the Western countries and Japan that imposed the sanctions will probably bear the burden in the form of surging energy prices. But the Russian economy, with a size one third of that of Japan, is sure to receive a heavy blow.
We shall see how far China, which has continued a honeymoon relationship, will support Russia in the future, but Russia cannot avoid evermore depending on China.
One reason Putin launched a military invasion despite this situation may be that he underestimated the resistance by Ukraine. As the Russian invasion became imminent, I recalled how Poland was in the early 1980s.
During the Cold War, the so-called Brezhnev Doctrine restricted the sovereignty of the Eastern European countries, and they had to be constantly aware of possible invasions. The Soviet Union actually invaded Hungary in 1956 and Czechoslovakia in 1968, effectively conducting violent interventions, removing the local leaders to replace with pro-Soviet regimes.
In the early 1980s, General Wojciech Jaruzelski became Poland’s prime minister amid a growing Solidarity movement by independent trade unions. He struggled between domestic forces seeking liberalization and pressure from the Soviet, ready to intervene.
When summoned by the Kremlin, General Jaruzelski boarded a Soviet flight stripped of identifying insignia. Accompanied by an aide carrying a pistol and a cylinder of nerve gas, he arrived at night at a dark airport, uninformed of the location.
As a KGB personnel shuffled him into a car, it occurred to him this may be a one-way trip. The “meeting” with the Soviet side lasted six hours, and at 3:00 a.m., the Polish prime minister was finally allowed to return to Warsaw alive.
In the end, Jaruzelski imposed the martial law in Poland, and suppressed the trade unions. The governments of the Western world criticized the martial law and the union crackdown. Yet, neither the U.S. nor NATO were willing to join in defense of Poland from the Soviet military invasion.
How could people in a safety zone answer which is the lesser evil between Soviet military invasion and loss of freedom?
Jaruzelski, who made the agonizing decision to evade Soviet invasion, was a soldier with aristocratic roots and a Catholic. There is no doubt his allegiance was to his homeland, Poland, and not to the Soviet Communist Party in Moscow. That is why he took pains to keep the delicate ties with the Catholic church and dissident groups, and somehow maintained a nonheroic peace in Poland.
However, we must not forget the Poles stood up for independence again and again by making considerable sacrifices. Because of the shared tragedy of resistance, the Poles must have kept their solidarity despite their agonizing decision.
As the Soviet Union itself began the improbable liberalization under Mikhail Gorbachev, Poland attained democratic transition without going through bloodshed. The shared experience of enduring the heroic resistance and nonheroic peace must have played some part in this.
Before the war broke out, I had anticipated that Ukraine would also be obliged to choose a similar nonheroic peace.
Of course, Ukraine is an entirely independent country and a member of the United Nations. It is Ukraine’s sovereignty, guaranteed by the UN Charter, to conclude an alliance with another country for its own defense.
Threatening Ukraine by military force to prevent it from joining NATO, just because it is inconvenient for Russia’s own security, violates the basic principle of international law. In addition, although it has not been perfectly observed, it is still an important norm fostered by the postwar world not to change the territorial status quo by force.
Yet, Russia went so far as a military invasion to prevent Ukraine from joining NATO. Russia must have this underlying notion it is a superpower deserving recognition for its sphere of influence.
Although few in the West or Japan voice understanding for Russia’s point of view, prominent political scientists, such as John Mearsheimer, claim that NATO’s eastward expansion is primarily to blame, and Japan Innovation Party Diet member Muneo Suzuki is saying the U.S. and Ukraine provoked Russia. China and India may be defending Russia at the UN because of such sphere of influence thinking by superpowers.
Many in Japan may take the stance that “peace” presides over everything else. If so, we could say that like General Jaruzelski, it would have been down-to-earth for President Zelensky to choose peace by sacrificing independence.
Yet, real international politics is nothing like a chess game played by major powers that can treat smaller countries as pawns for their spheres of influence. For better or worse, realpolitik is run by flesh-and-blood people willing to pay a high price for what they most value.
If asked, “Which is better, war or peace?” the answer is obvious. But how about independence or peace, submission or resistance? There is no right answer which everyone can agree on.
It is common knowledge that, at times, there is no way but to accept the reality of power. But I believe countries like Poland and Finland, which were forced to choose a nonheroic peace under the Soviet empire, also survived because of their history of heroic resistance.
Besides peace and prosperity, if the people cannot share burdens and sacrifice, how can a country remain independent in a world where Putin and Xi act like they own the place? A country consisting of people unwilling to accept any burden or sacrifice need not wait for enemy invasion; it would likely to perish with corruption from within.
There must have been a serious divide within the Ukrainian society, with a considerable number of people having affinity towards Russia. Prevalence of corruption has been pointed out, and President Zelensky has been viewed as an amateur politician and a populist with no definite principle.
However, seeing the persistent holdout by the Ukrainian army and President Zelensky’s masterful communication of heroic resistance, we cannot help contrasting with the Afghan army that collapsed against the Taliban despite superior military equipment by foreign aid, and President Ghani, who fled the capital early “to avoid bloodshed.”
Kyiv (Kiev) may fall, and President Zelensky’s fate is uncertain. Realizing it cannot depend on NATO, Ukraine may accept Russia’s demand for “neutralization” or “demilitarization.” Conversely, Putin’s regime could even collapse.
However, through the experience of resisting together under fire, the Ukrainians will survive as a nation—this seems to be the more certain consequence of the war than anything else.
In the end, negotiation and deterrence efforts failed to stop Putin from his strategic act of folly. Faced with this tragedy, the Ukrainian people chose to take up arms and resist. For the Japanese people of today, remote from the sense of tragedy, the war in Ukraine is not someone else’s affair. Crimea is the Northern Territory of Ukraine, and Taiwan and Japan may become the Ukraine of Asia.
This is a translation of the Japanese article published in the vol. 96 (May 2022) of the Asteion magazine.
Masayuki Tadokoro is the Specially Appointed Professor at the International University of Japan and Professor Emeritus at Keio University. Born in 1956, he graduated from the Faculty of Law, Kyoto University, and attended the London School of Economics. He earned a Ph.D. in law from the Graduate School of Kyoto University. His previous careers include a professor at the Faculty of Law, Himeji Dokkyo University, the National Defense Academy, and the Faculty of Law, Keio University. He specializes in international politics. He is the author of books including “The Dollar Goes Beyond America” (in Japanese, from Chuokouron-shinsha, Suntory Prize for Social Sciences and Humanities), “International Politics of Immigration” (in Japanese, from Yuhikaku Publishing), “The Commons within Society” (in Japanese, co-author, from Hakusuisha), and “New Geopolitics” (in Japanese, co-author, from Toyo Keizai).