Gongol.com Archives: August 2023

Brian Gongol

August 31, 2023

News War-scarred but stronger

There are a million uncertainties about how Russia's awful war against Ukraine will end, but a level-headed view of the situation points toward one increasingly likely outcome: That of the two, Ukraine will emerge, battle-scarred, as the demonstrably better state and society. ■ Everything that drives Ukraine's effort toward victory also drives it to behave aspirationally. It is the smaller of the two belligerents, so it must be more nimble. It lacks a titanic endowment of natural-resource wealth comparable to Russia's oil, so it must act with greater economic efficiency. It wants to bind closer to the protections of the European Union and NATO, so it must behave in ways that please the decision-makers of liberal democracies. ■ These factors sustain the hope that Ukraine will win the war. But they also share a great deal in common with what has shaped the success of other post-war states: If post-war Ukraine ends up looking in half a century a lot like post-war South Korea looked 50 years after its hot war came down to a simmer, then it will be a lovely place indeed. (And if they can steer clear of some of South Korea's post-war economic and political errors, then so much the better.) Already, their institutions are off to a better start. ■ Yet something else about the Korean experience may foreshadow an unpleasant post-war factor. Russia and Ukraine share a land border some 1,200 miles long. That is an enormous distance; as the crow flies, 1,200 miles would take you from O'Hare Airport in Chicago to Salt Lake City. Korea's DMZ is 160 miles long; will Ukraine and Russia end up with one more than seven times as long? ■ Or, returning to its past habits, will Russia erect a new Iron Curtain on its side, nominally to repel invasion but really to keep people in? It seems absurdly anachronistic to think so, but a million people are thought to have left Russia just since 2022, and its conscription regime has grown even more brutal. Depending on just how much pain the Russian state ultimately endures in recompense for its crimes, it may decide the loss of talent and wealth is too great, and that walls both legal and physical must be erected. ■ Whenever hostilities cease, Ukraine will have an epic task ahead of it to secure that vast border for the good of its own security. Nobody can envy the authorities tasked with that undertaking. But none of us should be surprised if Russia reprises the playbook from its Soviet past and once again builds a wall.

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