Confronting Putin’s humanitarian apocalypse.
Putin’s illegal and criminal War has unfurled a humanitarian disaster of apocalyptic proportions. The world is horrified at the scenes on news broadcasts of widespread devastation, the long lines of refugees fleeing to frontiers, the stories of starvation, the bombardments, the vicious fighting, and the deaths of many civilians, especially children. Since February, when the war started, there has been a feeling that the world is on the edge of armageddon. The information war, thus far controlled by Ukraine, has both uplifted ‘expert’ observers who revel in armchair militarism, but has caused deep apprehension and anxiety among those less warlike members of the population. A significant proportion of societies are bemused by the absence of any efforts at peacekeeping or attempts to stop the war. Indeed, when Putin claimed to redirect the war from a ‘second phase’ many of these experts claimed it was the end of the war, and that they had predicted it. Three days later the war continues and the experts have moved on with their hindsight and poor judgment.
War in Europe was transformed over the last hundred years, but its brutal intensity was diminishing from the extremes of Total War to the Cold War, to localised civil wars. Putin has unleashed Absolute War in Europe, but with the added brutality of genocidal violence firmly directed at the civilian population. The ‘shock and awe' of Putin’s illegal War is directed at civilians as much as the military, and supercharged by the calculated decision to ignore all war crimes precedents. In effect, by calling his war a special military operation, he was superficially skirting around the rules of war. The destruction of Mariupol was completed by mid-March, less than a month into the war. The deliberate citing of artillery in pre-planned sites, with pre-set grid coordinates, enabled his artillery to systematically reduce the city by the hectare. Artillery is the elite ‘God of War’ in the Russian way of war and has been the making of Russian military history since the Napoleonic Wars. In the age of modernity, the old conventional artillery should be almost extinct in the age of drones, but with long-term planning and preparation, it has been given a new lease for a chillingly brutal mission – the flattening of Ukraine’s cities. The annihilation bombardment, the signature methodology of Russian artillery doctrine, has been planned down to the finest detail to destroy upwards of ten cities. Thus far, the Russian artillery has smashed livelihoods and devastated communities. In addition to the artillery, the army assault troops, the air force and off-shore ships have added weight to the bombardments. At the time of finalising this paper, the BBC are reporting explosions in Lviv in western Ukraine. While bombardments are unleashed, attention should be given to the humanitarian case.
Knight’s in white armour – strategic humanitarianism reconsidered. In 1996, Christopher Bellamy published Knights in White Armour: The New Art of War and Peace). For a decade it was the classic study of modern peacekeeping from the years immediately following the end of the Cold War to 9-11. The tragedy of 9-11 galvanized American opposition to peacekeeping and within a few years, not only the concept of peacekeeping was dismissed from western security doctrine, but also the United Nations had been compromised through several attempts by USA/UK to present false evidence against Iraq, to secure a mandate for war. We need to go back to a period long before when peacekeeping was at the cutting edge of strategic thinking and solving future wars.
Bellamy had followed the classical approach of strategic analysis by first identifying war(s), presenting historical cases of intervention, and isolating the potential causes for future wars – new actors, WMDs, the clash of civilizations, global warming – all still relevant challenges to civilizations. He cited forms of peacekeeping or limiting war, through airpower, sea power, and wars of intervention. Bellamy was also concerned with the new or ‘future warriors’ with corporate agendas, rogue mercenaries and leaders, robots, and genetic engineering. Again, more pointers to the future.
In the final chapter of the book Legion Patria Nostra, the author proposed a permanent UN peacekeeping force. The motto of the French Foreign Legion (The Legion is Our Country) was perhaps an unusual starting point to present the case for the UN. Bellamy’s experience from reporting on peacekeeping had taught him time and speed were critical. In his Evolution of Land Warfare (1992) where he had explained the importance of time and speed in war. He advocated time's importance for the not insignificant reason that the ‘UN Rapid Reaction Force, in Bosnia in 1995, was not rapid. In researching the rapid deployment of the Foreign Legion he concluded it was a model to base a permanent UN force. He was very aware of the very critical issues arising from religions, cultures, and racism – and argued that all UN interventions had to be mindful of prejudices, etc. He then discussed the proposed sizes of UN forces and optimal levels of equipment. These are long rendered irrelevant since the ways of war have advanced and modern equipment, given its capability, would enhance peacekeeping. Bellamy’s book has long disappeared from memory and is not in print. As with so many ‘analog’ books from before the age of information//digitalization (2006 onwards), they have no links to the present. When discussed in forums, most people have expressed surprise and later searched for library copies. The Internet Archive holds a digitized copy under open access: https://archive.org/details/knightsinwhitear0000bell/page/224/mode/2up?q=Knights+in+white+armour The reason for raising this book, during Putin’s illegal war is the absence of any calls for UN intervention or restraint proposed for a peacekeeping third party. Regardless of Putin’s obvious determination to destroy much of Ukraine, such a force could have facilitated the safe relief or escape of many civilian refugees. As the brutal war unfolds, the UN has been reduced to an echo chamber for all sides to hurl accusations. If one lesson is to be learned from this war, the world needs a third force, a peacekeeping force.