Bertrand Bady, professor emeritus at the Institute of Political Science in Paris and author of dozens of essays, including The Possibilities of the World: Rethinking International Security (2021), believes that we are witnessing “the first major war in the field of globalization” in Ukraine. This political scientist and specialist in international relations is more inclined to talk about “global war” than about “world war”, as the two great conflicts of 1914-1918 and 1939-1945 were called.
Why is this difference?
There is a difference in context. If we talk about the two world wars, they took place in the context of an international system that was significantly polarized in Europe, with expansion into East Asia through Japan, in the case of the second. Today everything is different. Never before has energy and economic interdependence carried so much weight in a conflict. This does not save any country in the world, including the southern countries. Africa, for example, is aware that it will have to pay part of the bill for this war.
What other characteristics does this conflict have?
First, a much more important role is assigned to societies than to states. As economic interdependence is of great importance and communication technologies are increasingly advanced, societies are much more reactive than we knew during the two world wars or the Cold War. Putin’s main mistake, like all dictators, is that he ignores the place of society in war. He believes that war is an army, the use of force. His mistake was that he thought he could enter Kyiv in the same way that Brezhnev entered Prague in 1968. The difference is that societies have acquired a dynamism that has caused the Russian army, seemingly second in the world, to fail.
“The West fueled the humiliation of Russia, but this does not justify Vladimir Putin”
You are talking about the “war of exclusion” from the West. What does it consist of?
Putin waged a classic war, I would say, a war of a different era. The Westerners are trying to restrain him not so much by military means as by the threat of exclusion from the world. This is something completely new in the history of international relations. This is an economic and commercial, media, cultural, tourism and sports exception. For a dictator, being excluded from sports is a very painful thing. So we moved away from the model of Karl von Clausewitz, in which everything was decided by weapons. In this strange war, weapons are not decisive, as they were not in Afghanistan, nor in Vietnam, nor in the decolonization wars. There are none in the Sahel.
Have you seen the military parade in Moscow? Didn’t this seem like an anachronism to you compared to the modern messages and style of Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky?
Absolutely. That is why I consider Putin’s war in Ukraine a reactionary war in the literal sense of the word, an attempt to revive a modus operandi that has not worked for eighty years. Have you noticed that after 1945 no more wars are won? This is a sign of something. There are no more victories. This is a very significant change. I have a photo of Velazquez’s Surrender of Breda in my office. This is the end.
Macron told the European Parliament that he does not want to humiliate Russia. But at the same time, he talked about prosecutions for war crimes. How are the two things reconciled?
Yes, it’s a paradox. Today, wars on earth are not won. So, you are forced to negotiate. Think of the Paris talks on Vietnam, the Evian Accords on Algiers, even the Doha Accords on Afghanistan. Today negotiations have become the only way out. But all negotiation theorists will tell you that you negotiate when you feel like you’re not losing face. This was the problem of the Americans in Paris and the French in Evian. Not to lose face means not to be humiliated. Macron and everyone knows perfectly well that the main thing is that Putin agrees to negotiations, because without this there is no way out, neither military nor political. The problem is not so much in today’s humiliation, but in all the humiliations that have accumulated since 1989. Fixing this will be very difficult.
Do you really believe that the West is fomenting Russian revenge? Or is it just propaganda that Moscow is spreading?
There is no doubt that Russia was humiliated. The West feeds on this humiliation. But that doesn’t mean he has the right to do what Bucha did. Humiliation is a feeling. It is criminal and unacceptable to turn the feeling of humiliation into a political commodity and an instrument of violence. The humiliation of Versailles in 1919 produced Hitler, but that does not excuse him at all. He was an absolute criminal, just like Putin is an absolute criminal. The problem is that the West has fed the monster. A solution must be found to break out of this vicious cycle.
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