Fukuyama’s ‘The End of History and the Last Man’ was aspiringly revelatory from a historical standpoint. Among scholars of International Relations and the practitioners of politics, it intrigued those who reasoned in the favor of democracy, or those who were at least averse to the political manifestation of the communist ideology. As to why it is regarded as a revelation here, the answer is simple: the aspirations set forth by it were no less than a beacon of hope.
For all practical purposes, it was informed by empirical data as well. Democracy was a sweeping phenomenon at the dusk of the twentieth century. However, empiricism cannot be absolute in its dictates with regards to the practice of International Relations. Perhaps, therefore, no theory can affirmatively be definite in its predictions about any outcome of political decision-making. In its ideological underpinnings, Fukuyama’s work contended that the marathon of freedom had been championed by democracy, implying that authoritarianism had or would falter and be defeated.
Despite this, authoritarian states have continued to exist; tyranny as an instrument of forced rule marches along in the progression of world politics. The understanding of such predictive theories based on empirical evidence becomes historicallyrelevant. If what was predicted in ‘The End of History and the Last Man’ had stood the challenge of time, then authoritarianism should have virtually been non-existent in the twenty-first century. Therefore, an inquiry for such an intellectual discourse should neither be too affirmative in its stance nor be too shallow to offer any direction. The purpose should be to develop a deeper understanding of the discourses that have dictated political actions that divided the world into ideological poles in the past, as was the case of the United States and the Soviet Union in the twentieth century.
Developing this understanding can answer one of the fundamental questions which constitute the theoretical discourse of International Relations: the question of why states indulge in conflict. If the state is a rational actor, then why does an ideology dominate its foreign policy discourse? Perhaps Fukuyama was too eager to term the fall of one ideological pole as ‘the End of History’. The defeat of Nazism was celebrated in similar spirit in the mid-twentieth century, but the propensity to form authoritative governments still seduced human ambition even though the horrors of its haunting past were well known.
The paradoxes of International Relations remain the same. The proliferation of authoritarianism consolidates the belief that the ordering principles of the international order are dictated by force. Authoritarian regimes have conspicuously prevailed in challenging the liberal dream by rising steadily. In this purview, Russia’s attack on Ukraine provides a sufficient premise, alerting the conscious reader of history to the fact that the shadows of the Iron Curtain still loom in Europe. In fact, President Putin’s blatant invasion of Ukraine has led to Europe’s largest Post-World War II conflict.
Perhaps it would not be far-fetched to believe that the liberal world’s reservations in calculating the appropriate response to Russia’s aggression had been isolated to what constitutes the unity of European Union on technical grounds. On part of the United States, especially, the challenge is continuous and stronger than from any other western state. This is because of two reasons. Firstly, because it is the strongest country in the world by the measures of military capabilities and economic might, which position it at the top of the hierarchy of states in an anarchic world order; and secondly, because it favors a rules-based international order. The US cannot afford to lose the trust of its allies, nor can it allow authoritarian states to proliferate in its backyard. A rules-based order will only be relevant when the rule-maker holds the power to influence decisions at the international level. Thus, as a rule-maker, the US is forced to intervene wherever it feels that the established order is being challenged by irritant states with authoritarian affinities. The world order of the twenty-first century does not allow a direct military intervention by the United States due to the prevailing distribution of capabilities among and between states. That makes the challenge for the liberal world much tougher.
The Russia-Ukraine war is a conflict that is not merely fought for any geographical victory; rather, it is a war that is calibrated by the security dilemma. The offensive launched by Russia is to guard its neighborhood from the West’s ideological expansionism. For Ukraine, it is a war fought to attain freedom from an authoritarian neighbor that desires to dictate Ukrainian foreign policy to suit its own interests. The dilemma from Russia’s standpoint has translated into atrocious actions against the Ukrainian population; for example rape has been used as an instrument of torture. Moreover, it has also been accused of mass murdering Ukrainian prisoners of war. Fears have given rise to speculation that Russia’s true intention is to dismantle Ukraine as a geopolitical entity. Both the warring sides and the European region itself have started to face strong economic and financial losses. This is not the Europe that the post-Cold War scholars would have imagined.
This year, the Ukrainian economy is expected to contract by 45.1 percent while the Russian economy has already nosedived into recession and outputs are projected to decrease by 11.2 percent. Also, Europe’s economy, which was estimated to grow by 3 percent, is anticipated to shrink by 4.1 percent solely because of the conflict. The US, in order to control Russian aggression, has slashed the Russian economy with sanctions potent enough to cripple the latter’s economy. On 8th March this year, President Biden banned the import of natural gas, coal and oil from Russia. Entities sanctioned by the US also include Russia’s Sberbank, Alfa Bank, Alrosa, and United Shipbuilding Corporation; while the EU banned RT and Sputnik, froze assets and imposed travel bans on Russian officials. Besides the US and the EU, other allies including the UK, Australia, Canada, Singapore, Japan, South Korea and Taiwan have also limited relations with Russia.
Such united efforts may have had an impact on the Russian economy. However, it appears that it is not enough to curtail Russian ambitions as the country continues to tighten its grip on Ukraine’s neck. Despite the fact that the distribution of capabilities might not allow for a full-blown military intervention by the West and particularly, by the United States, it is still unclear whether the liberal world has a lifeline for its aspiring ally as it battles for its survival.
Such gains, if achieved, may, in turn, motivate authoritarian regimes across the globe to initiate ruthless endeavors, instigating a new wave of authoritarianism. Hence, the Russian offensive in Ukraine is a test case for the liberal world order and carries the potential to seriously hamper the latter in future.
The invasion of Ukraine elucidates that history has not ended and the future is more complex than what political doctrines usually anticipate. The fact of the matter is that those who considered the fall of the Soviet Union to be the defeat of authoritarianism, and, in turn, the triumph of liberalism, are the ones who also are the victims of its setbacks; implying that theoretical interpretations, when considered absolute, end up being mere doctrinal illusions.
The views expressed in this article belong to the authors, and do not necessarily reflect Strafasia’s position.