Democracies vs Authoritarians: Ukraine War Accelerates 21st Century Global Conflict

The attack on Ukraine strengthens ties in NATO and with US allies in Asia

Japan debates hosting nuclear missiles and increases in defense investment are announced

China seals an alliance with Russia and for the moment maintains it firm despite its economic cost

The first shot in Ukraine has erased the great lesson recently learned in the pandemic: interdependence and the need for global collaboration to avoid disaster. “If the West knocks out Russia, China could be next.” This conclusion of the popular Chinese television analyst Sima Nan is mirrored by those who say that if Vladimir Putin takes Ukraine, he will continue to advance in Europe. Symmetric perceptions for a train crash.
The symmetry of the words, among which the Russian nuclear threat has not been lacking, has its counterpart in the announcements about defense budgets and in the strategic steps that various countries are taking. Germany stands for first time since World War II have a strong army Japan, deploy American nuclear missiles. Australia, develop atomic-powered submarines. South Korea, bend to the line drawn by Washington on North Korea.

Democracies, tsars and emperors

If NATO and America’s allies in the Far East huddle together on one side, on the other China and Russia seal a strategic union. They staged it just before the invasion of Ukraine. Is it possible that Xi Jinping did not know anything about what was going to happen? What is known is that today he continues to support Putin —even in the verbal escalation over chemical weapons— despite the damage that the rise in oil prices can do to his country, the world’s leading importer . The Russian invasion of Ukraine has accelerated a process that was believed dead after the implosion of the USSR at the end of the Cold War, but which has been reactivated since the beginning of the 21st century: the growing conflict between liberal democracies and authoritarian regimes that compete for global hegemony.

The pulse between the US and China

In October 2021 it came to light that China had carried out a military test in August with a nuclear-capable supersonic missile. That alerted the espionage of the United States, misplaced because they did not think that China had this technology so advanced that the main powers are pursuing. Twenty years earlier, China was not trying to compete head-to-head in the military field with the United States, it was focusing on alternative paths such as the development of satellites. But in the end, the last guarantor of an economic power is its military force. And China feels threatened by its expansion by the United States, the tariffs imposed by Trump and maintained by Biden, and the alliance that Washington weaves with India, Japan and Australia, in what Beijing describes as a “Pacific NATO”.


This division of the blocs is not perfect, as the good relationship between the Indian nationalist Narendra Modi and Putin shows. However, the list that Russia issued in the midst of the war in Ukraine of the countries that it considers hostile was revealing. They were basically the developed democracies on the planet. And the key to Taiwan was not missing, a kind of Ukraine for China.
Josep Borell explained this idea from Brussels. “Ukraine is a mirror in which Putin does not want the Russians to look”, said. Having freedoms and democracy across the border is a source of instability for an authoritarian state. Ukraine. Taiwan. Hong Kong. West Berlin. Are mirrors dangerous?

The fate of pessimism

The alliances become closer, two blocks crystallize and one settles. dangerous idea of ​​fatality, of inevitable conflict in the more or less near future. A dangerous situation and pessimism. If the clash is inevitable, why not now? This is how the powers walked like ‘sleepwalkers’ towards the First World War. It was another case of cheating by Thucydices, to use Graham T. Allison’s term to describe the tensions generated by an emerging power —as China is today and as Germany was after its unification in the 19th century—in the status quo. In such tense situations, a murder in Sarajevo or “a sneaky and deceitful raid against a smaller neighbor”, as Donald Kagan recounts in The Peloponnesian War, can start a conflict. That night assault by the Thebans on Plataea was aided by traitors within. It should not be forgotten that the struggle between democracy and oligarchy was a great struggle between the polis of the Greek world, but also a civil war within many cities, including Athens itself.

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