The first quarter of 2022 has passed which allows us to determine key characteristics and dynamics of the current political phase. A proper understanding of political developments in their historical context is central for democratic forces to defend societies from being captured by capitalist modernity and to develop an independent agenda. After the global state of emergency triggered by the Corona pandemic, the far-reaching social consequences of which are not yet foreseeable, the war in Ukraine is now attracting the attention of the world public. War and peace have (again) become the central issues of Western discourse. After the collapse of the Soviet Union and the end of the Cold War, neoliberal thinkers had spoken of the “end of history” and the “victory of democracy.” Yet, today, headlines such as “It’s war again” or “War has returned to Europe” dominate the state and mainstream discourse in the Western hemisphere.
Underpinning this dominant discourse is a basic Eurocentric assumption: the myth that the world has lived in peace since 1945 and that the world order established under the hegemony of the United States has largely kept the bellicose tendencies of competing capitalist states in check. Consequently, interstate competition in Europe, which had led to two world wars, had been largely contained according to this narrative, and West Germany and Japan had been peacefully reintegrated into the world capitalist system after 1945. Moreover, institutions of cooperation had been created at the international, including European, level (the common market, the European Union, NATO, the euro, etc.). This dominant reading ignores the other side of the story. For in the meantime, numerous “hot” wars (both civil wars and interstate wars) have been fought since 1945. Beginning with the Korean and Vietnam Wars, followed by the Yugoslav Wars and NATO’s bombing of Serbia, two wars against Iraq (one of which was justified by obvious U.S. lies about Iraq’s possession of weapons of mass destruction), the wars in Yemen, Libya, Syria, and elsewhere in the world. It is no surprise, then, that especially for societies in Asia, Africa, and Latin America, the Ukraine crisis once again reveals the hypocrisy and double standards of the West when it comes to the value of human life, migration, or the sovereignty of nation-states.
The Third World War
For a proper assessment of the current developments around the war in Ukraine, but also of the other (interstate) disputes, the conceptual and theoretical framework of the “Third World War” offers a central orientation. This term, which has been used by the Kurdistan Freedom Movement for over two decades, describes the global reordering process that has been taking place since the collapse of the Soviet Union. The global power struggle, which the Kurdistan Freedom Movement defines as the Third World War and which has now been increasingly used in the mainstream debates in recent months, began with the end of the bipolar world order in 1989/90 and the associated breakup of former equilibria. Societies have since witnessed a brutal power struggle between nation states, but also the resistance of non-state actors. A brief look at the developments of the past three decades confirms this analysis and shows impressively that there can be no talk of an “end of history.”
However, this phase of the new order – the Third World War – has a different character and characteristics compared to the world wars before. First, in today´s multipolar world order, the political and economic power struggles cannot be described as a struggle between different ideologies or social systems. On the contrary, all nation-state actors and rising power centers, such as China, India, and even Russia, are part of the capitalist logic and the capitalist world system. Second, in the face of crumbling U.S. hegemony, we are confronted with all nation-states or regional and international forces taking advantage of the moment to expand their respective hegemonies. Each actor legitimizes these claims and policies in a variety of ways. Here, history often plays a central role, as we can see in the example of the Turkish state’s neo-Ottoman expansionist ambitions. Third, there are no absolute front lines in this conflict; there is a simultaneity of cooperation in one place and confrontation in another. Fourth, the methods of warfare in World War III are not comparable to those of the wars in the 20th century. Whereas World War I and World War II were still characterized by material battles, international powers today rarely clash directly, but instead conduct their conflicts through proxy wars. The first years of the war in Syria or the Ukrainian civil war after the developments on the Maidan in 2013/14 are examples of such a proxy war. In addition, media warfare, biological warfare, and trade wars are also important methods of World War III. The escalating trade war that began between the United States and China in 2018, or the recent trade war between the U.S./UK/EU and Russia, can also be seen in this context.
The geographic framework of this global reordering process was summarized by U.S. strategist Zbigniew Brzeziński as the “great chessboard.” He had “Eurasia” in mind as the main arena of future power struggles – the huge land complex that Europe and Asia form together. In 1997, the former National Security Advisor to U.S. President Jimmy Carter wrote that the battle for global supremacy would be waged on this chessboard, because the greatest danger for the United States from a geostrategic perspective would arise if a foreign power succeeded in combining Europe and Asia (“Eurasia”) into a cohesive power bloc. After the withdrawal of the Soviet Union, this intra-imperialist power struggle initially focused on the Middle East and was fought in parallel elsewhere in the world. In this context, the war in Ukraine constitutes a continuation of the Third World War in Europe.
Strengthening the transatlantic alliance
Let us take a closer look at the current policies and strategic goals of the various actors, which have once again become very evident in the wake of the Ukraine crisis.
Since the collapse of the Soviet Union, the central questions of U.S. foreign policy have been: How can the imperialist qualities of Russia and China be crushed? How can Europe (especially Germany and France) be brought under U.S. hegemony and how can regional powers be eliminiated if they are anti-Western (like Iran)? How can control be gained over forces that might leave the Western alliance (Turkey)? This policy is applied against targeted states using a mixture of ‘soft power’ methods (diplomatic, economic, cultural, media, and ideological) and ‘hard power’ (overt and covert military force). It includes the war option as its most important feature, especially with respect to target countries (such as Russia, China, and Iran). This is because the developmental dynamics of some states cannot be broken by ‘soft power’ alone, so a hot war against these powers backed by ‘soft power’ is seen as necessary to achieve results. The United States and Great Britain have thus developed a strategy in which different phases are intertwined, build on each other, and gradually develop into the dimension of a world war.
With the war in Ukraine, the U.S. has above all significantly strengthened its hegemony in the European region and thus the transatlantic alliance. By doing so, it has set back the policy of “strategic autonomy” advanced by the EU in recent years. NATO, which France’s President Macron accused of being “brain dead” three years ago, has clearly demonstrated its raison d’être for “the West” in the face of the “Russian threat.” Thus, joining NATO is now being seriously considered by Sweden and Finland. NATO membership had still been rejected by the majority of both Finns and Swedes before the war in Ukraine. The increase in military spending that the U.S. and NATO have been demanding for years has now also been met. And economically, too, Europe’s dependence on U.S. natural gas will inevitably increase indefinitely with the halt of the gas pipeline North Stream 2. With the war in Ukraine, Europe is now, in a sense, doomed to buy expensive natural gas from the United States.
“An end to military restraint”
In light of the war in Ukraine, the cards are being reshuffled in Europe. How far-reaching these changes are can also be seen in Germany’s latest decisions, discourses and policies. The political rulers are heralding the increasing militarization of the Federal Republic with words such as “turning point in time,” “paradigm shift,” and “strategic revolution in security and defense policy.” The messages of Chancellor Olaf Scholz’s key Bundestag speech and statements by the Green Party’s foreign minister are clear and unequivocal: an end to military restraint. “Our goal is to develop one of the most capable, powerful armies in Europe in the course of this decade,” German government officials declare. The NATO two-percent target is now to be exceeded, and the Bundeswehr is to be provided with a 100-billion-euro special fund this year. Berlin is expressly committed to a claim to global leadership and to enforcing it, including by military means. These discourses have already been prepared in the media and political think tanks in recent years, thus reinforcing the political line prepared in the 2013 strategy paper “New Power – New Responsibility” by the German Institute for International and Security Affairs (SWP). In this paper, the claim is formulated to take a more offensive stance in world politics. The Federal Republic still sees itself as “a power in waiting”. This must now change: “Germany will have to lead more often and more decisively in the future.” The German leading power has come leaps and bounds closer to this goal with 100 billion euros and more than two percent of economic output for the army, as well as substantial arms deliveries to Kiev. Until now, Germany´s population stood in the way. But with the mood created by the war in Ukraine, the social atmosphere and militarization of society, the German government can count on high approval ratings.
The “Russian world“
Russia’s position and role in the multipolar world has also changed significantly within the last three decades. After the fall of the Soviet Union, the consolidation of the Russian state in the face of multiple crises was initially on the agenda. Above all, however, the United States – and increasingly Germany and the EU alongside it – put Moscow under ever greater political pressure. One means was the “color revolutions”: pro-Western overthrows, massively promoted by Washington and later by Berlin and Brussels, first in Yugoslavia (2000), then in Georgia (2003), in Ukraine (2004) and in Kyrgyzstan (2005). In each case, the “color revolutions” were about replacing governments that cooperated with Russia, or at least pursued some kind of balance policy between Moscow and the West, with pro-Western forces. In addition, the expansion of NATO to the Russian border was pushed forward. In the course of this eastward expansion, NATO has now grown from 16 (1990) to 30 (2020) countries.
However, despite the continuous increase in Western aggression, Russia has managed to consolidate itself to some extent and gain influence in foreign policy. The Russian presence in Syria since 2015 and Russian-Turkish cooperation are examples of this. Russia wants to be not only a central player in Europe, but a global player on the same level as the United States and China. Thus, in the negotiations before Russia’s war of aggression against Ukraine, Putin did not perceive the European states as interlocutors, but repeatedly stated that this issue had to be settled between the U.S. and Russia.
A central element shaping Putin’s policies and language, and very prevalent among the Russian public, is the perception that Russia was disadvantaged and deceived in post-Cold War negotiations. This sense of humiliation has been cemented by Russia’s economic treatment and the West’s attitude toward Russia’s place in the global order. Putin’s statement “I want Russia’s lost status back” can also be interpreted in this sense as a call for a new Yalta Conference. After World War II, the Yalta Conference shaped the map of Europe and the bipolar world order, in which Russia was one of the main players along with the United States and England. After the Cold War, Russia lost this position and the European geopolitical map was reshaped despite Russia’s opposition. We know from history that humiliation is a pernicious tool in foreign policy, often with lasting and disastrous effects. The humiliation of Germany at Versailles played an important role in the preparation for World War II. After 1945, political elites prevented a repetition of this humiliation of West Germany and Japan with the Marshall Plan, only to repeat the disaster of humiliating Russia (sometimes actively, sometimes unintentionally) after the end of the Cold War.
Thus, Russian state representatives justify their imperialist policies in the Third World War in general and today in Ukraine in particular with central elements of the concept of the “Russian World” (Russkij Mir1). Thus, not only domestic and foreign policy causes underlie the war in Ukraine, but also longer-term motivations as well as ideological and geopolitical concepts. The concept of the “Russkij Mir” speaks of Russians as a “divided people” and emphasizes the “striving of the Russian world, of historical Russia for the restoration of unity.” It emphasizes the existence of a “great Russian civilization” that must be protected from the outside world (especially from the West) and that is defined as Russia’s sphere of interest. In this respect, this conception (similar to Turkey’s neo-Ottomanism) is a conglomeration of various currents of anti-Western, anti-liberal and neo-imperial Russian nationalism.
Resistance against international isolation
Exemplary of the West’s false (Eurocentric) self-image, but also of the new political balance of power within the multipolar world order, are the efforts of the transatlantic powers to isolate Russia internationally. For while European states are for the most part united in their opposition to Russia’s attack on Ukraine, the picture outside Europe looks very different. To date, for example, the number of countries participating in Western sanctions against Russia does not exceed 48 – most of the states of Europe and North America, as well as six of their closest partners in the Asia-Pacific region. These are not even a quarter of the total of 193 UN member states; three-quarters of UN member states refuse to join the Western Russia sanctions despite considerable pressure in some cases. The reasons for this are, on the one hand, economic or geostrategic considerations arising from the crumbling U.S. hegemony. India, for example, is expanding its economic relations with Russia and working on a payment system independent of the U.S. dollar and SWIFT. In South Africa, Gazprom is in talks for a billion-dollar natural gas deal. Turkey is acting as a transfer point for passenger traffic or trade with Russia. Israel is refraining from taking a firm stance on Russia. The Emirates and Saudi Arabia also continue to refuse to yield to Western pressure to increase oil production more than planned in order to make a global oil embargo against Russia possible. Syrian strongman Assad’s visit to the United Arab Emirates in late March, Assad’s first trip to an Arab country since the start of the Syrian war, also exemplifies the potential balance-of-power politics. In addition to these economic and geostrategic reasons, however, another reason for the widespread opposition to Western sanctions is the West’s colonial legacy, particularly in the Middle East, Asia, and Latin America. For these countries, the “breach of international law” has no great significance, and no great difference is recognized between the wars against Iraq (U.S., 2003) and Ukraine (Russia, 2022). The “double standards” for refugees have also not escaped the critical public.
The militarism problem of society
With the war in Ukraine, the militarism problem of society has once again come to the fore. Here, a statement by the Kurdish thought leader Abdullah Öcalan is insightful: “Although militarism is a force that has penetrated, controlled and ruled over society throughout history and in all states, its growth has reached its peak in the age of the middle class (bourgeoisie).” (2) We are currently in a phase in which the international regime for disarmament, which was built up in the last decade before the end of the Cold War, is suffering the most severe blow. The withdrawal from historic disarmament treaties by the United States and Russia in recent years reflects this global trend. Europe, which has been rearming against Russia for years, has recorded the highest rates of increase in arms imports in the world.
It is no coincidence that the historic rearmament of the Bundeswehr (Germany´s armed forces) is being promoted by a German government coalition of Social Democrats and Greens. When Germany entered the war in Yugoslavia with NATO in 1999, Jürgen Rüttgers, one of the leading conservative politicians of the time, said, to paraphrase: “If we had sent Tornado jets, the world would undoubtedly have stood up. But when the SPD and the Greens do it, neither the unions and the churches nor the peace movement and international public object.” In this sense, the largest rearmament program since World War II has so far not faced any serious opposition from unions, churches or the public. At their spring meeting, Germany´s Catholic bishops even declared that arms deliveries were “fundamentally legitimate” and that the German government’s announcement to invest an additional 100 billion euros in the Bundeswehr was also “fundamentally plausible.” This is accompanied by praise from conservative commentators for the “Green sense of reality” that has led to a relativization of environmental protection in the Green party leadership in view of the Ukraine war. The Green Party leadership openly declared that “in case of doubt” security policy had a higher priority than climate policy and that “pragmatism must beat any political determination.” In the course of just a few weeks, the Greens have started to defend many things that they actually declared they would fundamentally reject: gas deals with autocrats, fracking gas, the extraction of which harms the environment, coal-fired power plants as reserves for electricity production, or arms deliveries to crisis areas. When one considers that the global military spending of $1.93 trillion in 2020 would have been enough to finance half of the total energy transition investments needed to be emission-free in 2050, it becomes clear which interests have absolute priority for the forces of capitalist modernity.
The need for a “Third Way” in Europe
The developments in recent months, be it the warmongering fomented primarily by the media or the strengthening of nationalism and militarism, have once again made clear how great the need for an alternative policy is that distances itself from the agenda of capitalist modernity, nation states and capital interests. Not only in the context of the Ukraine war, but also in the Third World War, it is necessary to strengthen a third position based on the principle “the main enemy is in one’s own country” and supported by democratic forces and societies. This includes a consistent position against the war of the rulers. In countries such as Italy and Greece, there have already been the first signs of such a political capacity for action. There, transport workers blocked arms exports to Ukraine. On March 31, there was even a day-long port strike in the Italian city of Genoa against the transport of weapons and ammunition to Ukraine. It is the strategic task of democratic forces in Europe to defend anti-militarism without any concessions. They have to defend themselves against the various strategies of states to undermine anti-war attitudes in large parts of the population by means of “social discourses”. A new peace movement must be ignited for this purpose, in the framework of which democratic forces, as an alternative pole, take their position in the Third World War and promote their agenda.
The decline of the nation-state model in the Middle East
The Middle East is also in the throes of upheaval and the focus of World War III. This is no coincidence, but is related to the crisis of capitalist modernity. For crises make themselves felt less at their own center than on the periphery. The Sykes-Picot order in the region, implemented by Great Britain and France over 100 years ago, has become increasingly obsolete in recent decades. The various actors – international powers, regional nation-states, and local forces – are increasingly operating outside the nation-state model imported from Europe. Abdullah Öcalan analyzed the region’s current phase of nation-state decline as follows: “For the nation-states in the Middle East, the execution of Saddam Hussein in Iraq is comparable to the end of the monarchist regimes that was ushered in by the execution of Louis XVI. Just as the monarchist regimes could not recover from the execution of Louis XVI and entered the epoch of their decline, the fascist regimes of the nation-states have not recovered since the execution of Saddam Hussein and entered the epoch of their departure. Just as the hegemonic system in Europe used all its power in vain to restore the monarchist regimes in the period from 1815 to 1830, the effort to preserve the nation-states in Iraq and Afghanistan will also be in vain. It is not only these two countries that are experiencing the disintegration of the nation-state. All nation-states, from Kyrgyzstan on the border with China to Morocco on the Atlantic Ocean, from the nation-states of Yemen and Sudan to nation-states in the Balkans and the South Caucasus, are experiencing similar crises. There is already no clear division left between Pakistan and Afghanistan. Lebanon, Yemen and Sudan are constantly seething. At the slightest democratic stir, the regime in Egypt faces its possible collapse. Algeria has not yet fully emerged from civil war. Turkey, which calls itself an island of stability, is only able to stay on its feet with the help of NATO special operations. It seems that there is no state in the Middle East that is not experiencing problems.” (3)
Ongoing revolutionary process in Kurdistan
In this chaotic state, the Arab Spring was a brief awakening of the Arab peoples to take a place in this struggle for new political balances in the region. However, due to interventions by regional and international powers, as well as the weakness of the democratic forces in the countries concerned, a long-term democratic transformation process in these countries failed to materialize. In contrast to this short-lived democratic revolt in the context of the Arab Spring, current political developments in Kurdistan continue to be co-determined by the Kurdistan Freedom Movement under the leadership of the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK). Contrary to the hijacking by the forces of capitalist modernity, the existence of this freedom movement, which has an alternative social paradigm and political program, has guaranteed the ongoing revolutionary process in Kurdistan. The struggle for a free and democratic Kurdistan is thereby also seen as a struggle for a Democratic Middle East Federation. Today, the Kurdistan Freedom Movement interprets the slogan “Freedom for Kurdistan” in the sense of democratizing the respective state (Turkey, Syria, Iraq and Iran) while allowing democratic developments in Kurdistan.
The demonstrations and events around the Women’s Struggle Day on March 8 as well as the mass participation in this year’s Kurdish New Year’s festival Newroz have manifested the central role of the PKK and its mastermind Abdullah Öcalan. The social anchoring of the Kurdistan Freedom Movement in Kurdistan and worldwide was clearly displayed, contrary to all anti-propaganda. The demand for Abdullah Öcalan’s freedom and an end to his isolation in İmralı was once again reinforced as a central national and international demand.
Turkey’s dismantlement plan persists
While Kurdish society clearly demonstrated on Newroz that it will continue its resistance, the Turkish government’s adherence to further massacres and invasions of Kurdistan is also evident. With its aggressive and genocidal war policy against the Kurdish society and the Kurdistan Freedom Movement, Turkey poses a danger not only within its own borders, but also to the people in the Autonomous Administration of North and East Syria (Rojava), in South Kurdistan – and here especially to the Mexmûr refugee camp and the Şengal (Sinjar) region. In the shadow of the Ukraine war, Rojava in particular is affected by constant attacks by drones, which have again resulted in several deaths and many injuries in recent months. Artillery and drone attacks on residential areas and civilian and military infrastructure occur daily as part of a “low-intensity war” conducted completely in line with NATO counterinsurgency textbooks. The attacks are designed to wear down and displace civilians and also aim to expand the Turkish jihadist zone of occupation. Ankara’s water war against the region also continues. Since the beginning of Russia’s war against Ukraine, relatively active diplomatic activity on the part of Ankara in the international arena has taken place in parallel with intensified air and ground attacks by Turkey and its allies in Rojava. Behind this stands the Turkish leadership’s effort to get the green light for another invasion of Rojava in order to further advance its course of imperialist expansion.
After its unsuccessful military operations against the People’s Defense Forces (HPG) in the mountains of Kurdistan, Turkey has been relying on massive bombardments against the Medya Defense Zones in South Kurdistan since the beginning of the year and has meanwhile invaded the area again – a state of affairs that the people of Rojava know well enough. The Kurdistan Democratic Communities Union (KCK) released a statement on March 26, 2022, drawing attention to the danger of an occupation operation in the near future. According to the statement, the South Kurdish media has been debating a new invasion by the Turkish army and a corresponding agreement with the KDP (Kurdistan Democratic Party). According to these reports, a direct participation of the KDP peshmerga is also being concretely discussed. The KCK appealed once again that the KDP should not participate in the Turkish state’s war of occupation and should not be instrumentalized by AKP-MHP fascism. As we all know, this appeal has unfortunately been ignored.
Attacks on democratic-autonomous Şengal
That Turkey is pursuing a holistic Kurdistan plan to crush the Kurdistan Freedom Movement can also be seen in light of recent developments in the Şengal region. The Iraqi military, together with the South Kurdish KDP, has repeatedly attempted to bring the self-administered Şengal region under its control. In order to isolate the Ezidi community and divide the population groups in Şengal, the Iraqi government is putting huge pressure on Arab villages in the region. Construction has also begun on a 250-kilometer-long, three-meter-high border wall between Şengal in North Iraq and Rojava in North Syria. The encirclement and sealing off of Şengal will close the escape corridor that hundreds of thousands of people used to escape to Rojava when the Islamic State attacked the region in 2014. These latest attacks against the democratic-autonomous Şengal region are primarily aimed at weakening the political line there and are an expression of the danger of renewed genocide. For in Şengal, too, the construction of Democratic Autonomy with its concept of a free, multi-ethnic, multi-religious and grassroots democratic society is being pushed forward, and this constitutes a thorn in the side of a wide variety of reactionary forces.
Defending the revolution in Kurdistan
In addition to the foreign policy aspects of Turkey’s war policy, the Turkish government also continues to rely on repression and suppression in its domestic policy. The governing AKP/MHP alliance has massively lost support among the population. This is due to fundamental problems such as the economic crisis, the destruction of democratic politics and the complete disregard for justice. In response to dwindling popular support and legitimacy, and just one year before presidential and parliamentary elections, the AKP-MHP alliance in the Turkish parliament has now passed new electoral law amendments aimed at securing its own power. With the help of these electoral law changes, which were approved by the Turkish parliament on March 31, it will be possible to manipulate the elections in favor of the AKP/MHP. For example, the electoral threshold was lowered from ten to seven percent. The amendment is intended to enable the fascist MHP to enter parliament and allows President Erdoğan, in his capacity as prime minister, to campaign for the AKP with state funds. In parallel, the repression against activists of the Peoples’ Democratic Party (HDP) continues. Thousands of them are currently in prison. The ban proceedings against the HDP have been initiated and clearly show the attitude of the Turkish state towards a peaceful and democratic solution to the Kurdish question. Just as Turkey’s occupation operations in various regions of Kurdistan, which violate international law, are legitimized by the “PKK terror” discourse, so too does the banning procedure against the HDP. By legitimizing all these attacks as a fight against terror, the Turkish state and its international allies aim to make it impossible to protest in public. In order to effectively defend the revolution in Kurdistan against all these attacks this year as well, it is therefore even more important to break the terror discourse. The worldwide campaign of the “Justice for Kurds” initiative for the removal of the PKK from the “terror lists” with the goal of handing over more than 4 million signatures to the Council of Europe at the end of the year thus has concrete implications for the current developments in Kurdistan. For a break with this discourse of legitimacy would destroy the foundation of the Turkish war policy and give the society in Kurdistan air to breath. But the “terror discourse” is not only the basis with the help of which the war in Kurdistan has been continued for decades. It also serves to criminalize the best organized and most experienced democratic force in the Middle East. Strengthening the Kurdistan Freedom Movement, which promotes an agenda independent of capitalist modernity and also concretely advances the construction of democratic modernity through the example of Rojava, is tantamount to strengthening all alternative, democratic actors worldwide.