Session 1 of the Tokyo Conference 2023 Open Forum was held on March 24, the second day of the conference. Representatives from ten thinktanks spent an hour and a half in intense discussion on the session's theme, "One year of war in Ukraine ? Can world peace be restored?"
Former Japanese ambassador to the US Ichiro Fujisaki served as moderator, and he launched the debate by calling for participants to stop analyzing "the Ukrainian war. Let's not predict what will happen...let's concentrate on who should do what when."
future of Ukraine is hanging in the balance
First to speak was Fabrice Pothier, CEO of Rasmussen Global (Denmark) and former NATO Director of Policy Planning, who prefaced his remark by explaining that he does not hold a neutral stance in this discussion due to his work advising Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy and his team regarding security guarantees and other issues. With that in mind, he attempted to present an argument from the Ukrainian perspective.
"President Zelenskyy's magic, his political genius, is that he understands his audience. He's an actor, meaning he's not necessarily the one telling Ukrainian people what they should know, he's actually more the one who reflects what he thinks the majority of Ukrainians think and want," he said.
Pothier explained that Zelenskyy's thinking on security is not based in military funding but rather in demographic and economic policy.
"Only with credible security guarantees, a large portion of his population will return to Ukraine and work in Ukraine," he continued. "Unless they have a guarantee that this isn't going to happen again ? that the investment isn't going to be destroyed by the next Iranian drones launched by the Russian forces."
Another important point to Pothier is accountability and reparation.
"More than 15,000 Ukrainian children have been literally kidnapped, and are now in some kind of black hole of Hell being held by the Russians. Those acts are not just war crimes, they are crimes of aggression and genocide. After those acts, without justice, there will not be peace."
James M. Lindsay is Senior Vice President at the Council on Foreign Relations (US), and he explained his view of the current situation.
"For the "West," if I can use that term, the challenge right now is sustaining ample military support for Ukraine in the face of President Putin's clear commitment to wage the war."
Fujisaki broke in to ask Lindsay to clarify his opinion on the peace plan proposed during the recent China-Russia summit, and he responded bluntly, saying "I do not think the Chinese proposal is a proposal, it's a list of platitudes."
Continuing on the previous subject, Lindsay expressed optimism for the moment, but warned that it may not last.
"The United States has been...pivotal...in being able to mobilize countries in the West to act. There's been a lot of questions raised as to whether the United States will sustain its commitment to Ukraine in the coming years," he explained. "I think for the remainder of the Biden administration, you will have that support. Obviously, if President Trump were to return, based on his public statements, US policy toward Ukraine would change dramatically.
Lindsay also criticized the response of China, and expressed his belief that the UN is unable to play a bigger role in the effort.
"For the simple reason that the UN Security Council has to operate by unanimity. My sense is that the Russians can be counted on to veto any resolution not in their interest. The Secretary-General is in a difficult position. Going back to the issue of China, China has had multiple opportunities to get off the highway of geo-political competition and has refused to take every exit. I think that basically means it's perpetuating the fighting in Ukraine," he concluded.
Fujisaki took this chance to change the course of the discussion slightly by pointing out that, as Lindsay stated, Russia seems to be trying to exhaust the West's desire to aid Ukraine. However, he noted that although Germany may have seemed to be a "weak link" due to its former reliance on Russian energy, it has taken a strong stance against the war. He then asked Stefan Mair of the German Institute for International and Security Affairs (SWP) to talk about Germany's position.
Mair began by reporting on his country's success in reducing its energy dependence on Russia.
"We have reduced it drastically in a very short time. We got close to 60% of our gas from Russia before the war started, and now we're almost down to zero," Mair said, and then described Germany's supplying of Leopard 2 tanks to Ukraine as a "sea change" in Germany's "more or less pacifist" policy.
He also expressed his view about the relationship between the Russian government and the Russian people, and Pothier's point about separating the regime from the Russian people.
"I think that this is not that easy. There is significant support for imperialistic policies and sentiments in the Russian population. There are still strong imperialistic attitudes. So we have to think about, if we have a "New Russia," how to deal with this," Mair said.
Fujisaki continued by asking Sunjoy Joshi, Chairman and CEO of the Observer Research Foundation (ORF), to provide a perspective from India, which has had strong military and technologies ties to Russia since the time of the Soviet Union, and which also shares an often tense border with China.
Joshi began by explaining that his opinion was not that of the Indian government, but rather based on what he feels, and what many in the Global South seem to think about the war.
"They do not see this as one war being fought in Ukraine. What is being fought in Ukraine is multiple wars. The first war is ...the violation of the UN Charter. As far as the Indian position is concerned, every violation of the UN Charter is a problem. We do not support Russia in this violation. India has persistently made this stand."
Joshi continued by explaining how the war in Ukraine is much more multi-faceted than has been accepted in many circles, and decried the loss of Ukrainian lives and cities in the name of a "proxy war."
"At least another two wars are being fought. And the consequences of those wars are being borne not only by Ukraine but by many other countries across the world. This has become a kind of total war where everything has become an instrument of war. The banking system, energy flows, food and fertilizer flows, there is nothing that is off-limits. This war is about larger things. The second war is about the future of the international order or where it should be headed. And you cannot frame the contest between Russia and the West in terms of this war. When this becomes a proxy war, it becomes a problem."
Fujisaki asked Joshi to clarify whether he sees the Ukraine War as a proxy war and Joshi empathically agreed, adding that he and many others in the Global South strongly disagree that the military response is the only route forward.
"Countries in the South are worried about this war," he said. "In many ways, it has created a world in which globalization is at an end. The Chinese peace plan will not succeed because the world does not trust China...so that plan becomes an instrument to prolong the war, not to shorten it. Some third, trusted party has to come in or this war is going to continue. Japan. India. Indonesia. Multilateralism will not succeed until the big players in the multilateral order agree to a course of action."
Thomas Gomart, Director of the French Institute of International Relations (IFRI), began by expressing his disagreement with the title of the session, "One year of war in Ukraine."
"In fact, it's nine years of war in Ukraine. This war started in February 2014," he said. "President Putin was able to wait for eight years before deciding to take another level of intensity with his 'special military operation' which was supposed to produce regime change in 62 hours. But now the Russian military is completely deadlocked."
Gomart then explained that the current scenario at the moment can be nothing but a military one, but tempered that with a prediction about how it may turn out.
"We have three basic scenarios. The first one is a complete Ukrainian military victory, which seems to me unlikely. The second one is a complete Russian military victory, which seems to me more unlikely. And the third one is a partial Ukrainian victory, which seems to me the most likely," he said.
The third scenario may need security guarantees, Gomart believes, and a ceasefire, but more importantly, there needs to be preparation for a new phase in the conflict. He pointed out that this scenario also unfortunately leaves Russia as a danger for Europe for at least ten to twenty years and, "We should be prepared to face that."
Regarding the Russian people, he agreed with the previous point about distinguishing between the Russian people and their government.
"That's something that will be much more sophisticated. We have to explain that the sanctions can be lifted. So the more we sanction without explaining why, and without explaining that the sanctions can be lifted, the more we push the Russian people into a corner."
The private sector should put in greater effort to help Japan, Germany and China work to achieve a ceasefire
This, the seventh Tokyo Conference, was hosted by The Genron NPO, and Genron President Yasushi Kudo continued the discussion by speaking about how much of the problem lies in the fact that the UN "is not functioning as it should."
Kudo suggested that one possibility would be to launch a peacekeeping operation modelled after the United Nations Emergency Force dispatched during the 1956 Suez Crisis, then offered a more concrete example on how to move forward.
"Would be able to reproduce the same sort of peacekeeping operation that Japan dispatched to Cambodia?" he asked. "According to a joint Japan-China public opinion survey conducted last year, half of the Chinese public opposes the Ukraine war, and 60% approve of the idea of cooperating in launching a peacekeeping operation. Whatever we do to try and restore peace, without countries like China, Germany and Japan coming together for a major discussion, I don't think we will find a resolution. That is where the private sector can focus a major effort."
Creon Butler is the director of the Global Economy and Finance Programme at the UK's Royal Institute of International Affairs (Chatham House), and he noted that having the understanding of the Ukrainian public will be paramount, regardless of what path is taken, and that sanctions remain important.
"As soon as Ukraine showed it could resist, sanctions became a crucial part of helping Ukraine win," Butler said.
Paul Samson is president of Canada's Centre for International Governance Innovation (CIGI), and he pointed to the importance of choosing the appropriate mediator when it comes to peace negotiations.
"It's difficult for Japan because of its history with Russia. The United States is ultimately not the right broker here, nor is China. That shifts quickly to other countries," he said, then hinted at his expectation that countries like India could play a more active role.
"I think there is an interesting opportunity for other large, G20 southern countries ? let me go no further in naming them ? to say, 'Is this a moment where we want to step forward and say it is a new multipolar world, and we're the right one to help broker this?'"
Representing Brazil's Getulio Vargas Foundation (FGV) was its president, Carlos Ivan Simonsen Leal, and responded by posing a question to the participants.
"Suppose that Russia wins the war and that Ukraine is absorbed by Russia again. Can anyone think reasonably that within ten years, the effect of 40 million people that have lived for thirty years under democracy will not be felt in Russia? By absorbing Ukraine, Russia...could even fragment," he said, then touched upon the other possibility, Russia losing the war.
"They may react with nuclear weapons. It's too dangerous to bet."
Finally, he talked about the two major coalitions in the world, with US and its allies on one side, and China and Russia on one side. He pointed to potential issues in both.
"China is cannibalizing Russia," he said. "It's buying energy and minerals at a lower price than it should be...China is making very good business. Does it have an interest in ending (the war) very fact? I don't believe so."
With the UN unable to function, we need knowledge from around the world
Fujisaki addressed the point about potential nuclear war by quoting from the Joint Soviet-US Statement of 1985, which asserted that "a nuclear war cannot be won and must never be fought." He encouraged more active discussion on restoring order and peace to the world.
From the Istituto Affari Internazionali (Italy) was Executive Vice President Ettore Greco, who argued that the conflict in Ukraine is not necessarily a proxy war.
"This is not a war for regime change, and strictly speaking, it is not a war for democracy. Although, of course the survival of a democratic state will be important for democracy around the world. I think it's a mistake to interpret and discuss this war in terms of a proxy war about the future of the world order."
Finally, in the case of a Russian defeat, he said it will be difficult "to think about Ukraine membership in NATO."
However, Greco did point to available options.
"We should rethink the security order in Europe and try to build a mix of new forms of deterrence, and also arms control and measures that can ensure cooperation and confidence."
Ong Keng Yong is Executive Deputy Chairman of the S. Rajaratnam School of International Studies (RSIS) in Singapore, and he began with a metaphor.
"Every coin has two sides," he said. "We are two different kinds of regimes. Two different ways of life. So as long as we have what we regard as one set of governance system, and then another set of governance system, we will be one side pitched against the other."
"Can we build some form of trust for two different systems, two different government regimes to co-exist? From what has happened so far in Ukraine, I don't think that this is a near prospect, so we will just have to manage the differences."
Ong also mentioned that while the UN may not be functioning properly, it was positive leadership from many countries in the past that brought states back to the UN to work through it and other organizations.
"Hopefully the next generation can figure out how to co-exist with the old ways, and absorb the challenges that we have inherited and maybe create some new arrangements where people can work towards some middle ground."
At this point in the session, the floor was opened to the audience, members of which posed questions about the role that universities and other institutes of higher education can play, and whether or not the war would end if President Putin were to be assassinated. Responses to the latter were varied: one speaker suggested that wishing for someone's death may not be the best solution; another pointed out that all people die eventually, and another theorized that preparation to find a successor for Putin may still be in the early stages. However, there was consensus that such an eventuality would result in the unavoidable destabilization of Russia, and it would make negotiations even more difficult.
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