July 14, 2022

How will Russia’s invasion of Ukraine and 'Cold War II' affect international development?

As the conflict in Ukraine rages on, it becomes increasingly evident that despite the tyranny of distance between Australia and Ukraine, the impacts of the conflict will be felt globally. From the breakdown of international norms of security, to real and rising risk of famine – what does the future of international development look like as the conflict continues? And how should Australia’s development footprint respond? 

Dr Helen Szoke AO
Human Rights and International Development Expert

The stories and images coming out of Ukraine continue to horrify. Sadly, we know how this play book runs. Humanitarian relief dollars are flowing to Ukraine, this time openly accompanied by military hardware and intelligence. For the time being our attention is diverted from other parts of the world dealing with tragedies – many protracted. The knock-on impact from the invasion of Ukraine is being felt globally – from a geo-politically nervous Europe all the way to the consumer at the petrol bowser in urban Australia. Some like Australia will feel short term benefits from a strengthening of commodity prices. Others will be far more concerned at food growing insecurity from the loss of the "European breadbasket".

For the international development sector there is a bigger issue. What does this mean for multilateralism and the mechanisms that were set up post World War II? How will global advocacy around issues already impacting humanity such as climate change and growing inequality be addressed if the world once again divides into global warring factions? Where now for a global commitment to human rights and the pursuit of crimes against humanity?

The changed political leadership in Australia is faced with an already depleted overseas aid budget and challenges around resourcing defence. It will rely on the broad non-government sector to call for a global view on how the instruments must be reviewed and reformed and this new context addressed.

Helen is a top Australian leader on issues of social justice, public policy and development. At the Lab, our paths have crossed with Helen’s for over 15 years during which time Helen was Victorian Human Rights Commissioner, CEO of Oxfam and a founding attendee of the Asia Pacific Development, Diplomacy and Defence Dialogue. Helen is famous for her kindness, fairness and uncanny ability to respond to every email in her inbox.  

John Langmore AM
Professorial Fellow in Political Science, University of Melbourne

There are now more wars in the globe than at any time since 1945, most in poor countries, and at the same time, total global military expenditure is climbing.

The Russian invasion of Ukraine has obliterated security and demolished law and order, as did the US, British and Australian invasion of Iraq in March 1993. Thousands of Ukrainian civilians and soldiers as well as Russian soldiers are being killed and injured. The destruction of buildings and infrastructure is catastrophic and many millions of Ukrainian women, children and the ageing have become refugees in order to escape slaughter. 

But in addition to the human horror of conflict, we see sacred foundations of security throughout the world shattered by the destruction of taboos on violent invasion and Putin and his henchmen’s repeated threats of nuclear weapons. 

Mass hunger and famine is a real possibility for many vulnerable regions of the world given Ukraine’s food exports have been throttled. Nearly 50 countries depend on Russia and Ukraine for more than 30% of their wheat imports. The World Food Program on which 115M people depend, got half its wheat from Ukraine, so another 47M people are becoming food insecure. Prices are rising sharply; fertiliser and energy costs are exploding, meaning that it is simply becoming harder and more expensive to feed people in the world. The World Bank estimates that the war will reduce real national incomes of low-income countries by 1.0%, focused on countries where incomes and food is scarcest. 

Therefore, war combined with extreme weather and untreated COVID-19 are driving tens of millions into potentially deadly hunger. How should Australia respond? Australian food production should be maximised, as many farmers with favourable weather are doing; and the Commonwealth Government should swiftly increase aid especially to the UN World Food Program which is a particularly efficient distributor of food to countries where starvation is multiplying.

John has been a mainstay of the Australian peacebuilding community for over 30 years. A former member of the Australian House of Representatives and now an academic at the University of Melbourne, John is not shy of making a point in public debate and is an advocate for Australia to lift its game on conflict prevention and peace. We look forward to watching the work of John and his team on security through peace in the coming years. 

Misha Zelinsky
National Security Expert

What happens in Ukraine matters everywhere — our fates are intertwined. So, how to reverse the long democratic recession?

Know the contest – Winning means understanding the rules. Putin and Xi’s ‘no limits’ partnership authorising the invasion shows their hand. Helpfully, it drags autocratic political warfare out of the ‘grey zone’ and into the open. So yes, we’re in a new kind of Cold War. Let’s win it.

Results matter – Democracies won the Cold War through superior outcomes not theories. Eastern Europeans didn’t read Jefferson and give him the debating points over Marx. They tore down the Berlin Wall because free democracy was providing a better life. Today, the CCP is severing the link between economic prosperity and personal liberty with a system it says lifted 850 million non-voting Chinese out of poverty. Democracies have stopped delivering at home. And the world is noticing.

Live up to values – Unfortunately, bribery is effective. It’s also short-term. Linking aid to universal goods like transparency, anti-corruption, press freedom and governance can mean losing ‘access’. Long-term, it pays dividends once citizens reject captured elites. But the power of example is key. Democratic hypocrisy breeds cynicism and a world safe for autocrats.

Values require defending – Autocrats prey on weakness. Shamefully, it took days of Ukrainian bravery and dying for appropriate sanctions and weapons delivery. Arm early and effectively; have a clear sanctions menu; make autocrats think twice.

Winning this contest isn’t about asking others to choose sides. It means being our best selves. 

Misha is a Fulbright Scholar, a national security expert, a journalist, an author, and National Assistant Secretary of the Australian Workers’ Union - Australia’s oldest blue-collar trade union. At the Lab, Misha is one of the most unique characters we’ve come across for quite some time. We enjoy reading his Ukraine coverage for the AFR and being challenged by Misha’s no-nonsense sense-making of foreign policy. 

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