Eight years ago, when Russia annexed Crimea, Ukrainian lawmaker Pavlo Rizanenko told USA Today in an interview that Ukraine made a mistake by giving up the nuclear weapon it inherited from the Soviet Union.
The Budapest Memorandum, signed in 1994 by the United States, United Kingdom and Russia, assured that the three signatory powers would respect Ukraine's territorial integrity. It means Ukraine did not need the nukes to defend itself. But after the annexation of Crimea and the latest Russian invasion, it is clear the promise has been broken.
Today, plenty of people share Pavlo's thoughts who said, "We gave up nuclear weapons because of this (Budapest) agreement," and it was "a big mistake" because if Kyiv had nuclear deterrence, Russia would think twice before attacking Ukraine.
One big slap on the question of non-proliferation though.
And since the Ukraine war began, many countries around the world seem to have taken Pavlo's regrets seriously as they have been ramping up their defence budget.
Such as, guess what? Bangladesh.
"Given the geopolitical realities, changing tactics and the continued military build-up of neighbouring countries, the Bangladesh Air Force feels the need to further enhance its overall capabilities," read a Bonikbarta report recently.
As part of modernising its attack helicopter fleets, they have taken an initiative to buy eight MI-28 NE attack helicopters that would cost Tk4,100 crores. These helicopters are capable of attacking the enemy in all weather. With a strong night vision system, they are handy in finding the enemy positions. Besides, a request for additional Tk950 crores has been sent to the Finance Division for setting up maintenance, repair and overhaul (MRO) of various aircraft.
If the amount Bangladesh Air Force's asking sounds big, Germany – reversing its decades-long pacifist sentiment – has announced an increase in its defence budget by a whopping $113 billion in the backdrop of the Russian invasion of Ukraine.
Sweden used to spend 4 percent of its GDP on defence during the Cold War. After the disintegration of the USSR, it drastically reduced it to about 1 percent of the GDP. After the Russian attack, Stockholm announced to double their defence budget.
Belgium and Romania also increased the defence budget to 2.5 percent of their GDP; previously, they had 2 percent of the GDP for defence. Poland increased it to 3 percent, which was previously 2 percent per the Nato guideline. China also announced an increase in their defence budget (by 7.1 percent more in 2022), as did the UK and Canada.
So it is established that more countries will increase their military spending sooner or later in the aftermath of Europe's largest war since WWII.
It means the short-lived peace, or if you would like to call it the American-led world order, that we had since the Cold War settlement could come to an end. Keep in mind that the Middle East was full of terrors, Bosnia fought a war, and peace was elusive in some African countries, and yet, it was one of the most 'peaceful' times in human history.
As US President Joe Biden said, the Ukraine war threatens the "rules-based international order" that also locked Washington in growing competition with Beijing in the Asia-Pacific region.
The world order that emerged after the collapse of the Soviet Union was easy to define with multilateral institutions, a globalised economic system and an unchallenged role for the US as the most powerful player.
But in a world order where three or more key players dominate over a heavily armed world, chances and stakes are high that the number of 'revisionist nations' – as Walter Russell Mead, the James Clarke Chace Professor of Foreign Affairs and Humanities at Bard College coins it – could increase by many folds.
Professor Mead's famous, if not crazy, theory of 'return of geopolitics' was published in Foreign Affairs in 2014 that described Russia, China and Iran as 'revisionist' countries for their discontent with the US-led world order, and hence their interest in redrawing the geopolitical maps to establish what they believe their rightful place in the world.
For example, Russia is inherently discontented with their map in a post-Soviet world, which so far led to Russian adventures in Georgia, Crimea and now Ukraine. The Chinese do not seem to be content until their South China Sea ambitions come true. Similarly, Iran is driving to extend its clout all over the Middle East as a formidable force.
In a further militarised world, it could be a matter of time before many other nations in the future grow adventurous and revisionist, which would jeopardise US interests. In addition, smaller countries like Bangladesh could find themselves encircled in an ever-present rat race of geopolitical adventurism.
And what does this 'return of geopolitics' mean? Simply put, the dog-eat-dog law or the type of old Soviet vs American world order where the entire world is not a US playground, like it has been since the Cold War settlement.
Mead explained further in a TV show why coining a term like this was necessary.
"In the West, in particular, we spent a lot of time not thinking about it (geopolitics). We assumed that with the end of the cold war, it was not just that history was over… (that) the international competition of that old dog-eat-dog law, the jungle kind, was over. Everybody was going to live within the boundaries that were assigned in the 1990s… And when someone didn't, like Saddam Hossain invading Kuwait, the whole world would be united and push him back. But we were no longer going to face the same great powers trying to redraw the maps of the world," Mead said.
In 2014, when Russia annexed Crimea, the then US Secretary John Kerry said, "You just don't behave in the 21st century in a 19th-century fashion, by invading another country on a completely trumped-up pretext."
However, the 19th-century did return. This month-long Russian invasion that began on the question of disarming Ukraine and stopping Kyiv from joining Nato – and shifted to territorial gain in Ukraine to make a land passage from Russia to Crimea – has indeed got us back to the 19th century.
"I certainly don't want to be in a world of geopolitics, in a world of invasion and war, but there we are," Mead said eight years ago.
If the age of geopolitics was an infant at the time, today, it seems to be in its aggressive adulthood.
And this revisionism, or the return of geopolitics, multiplied with the world racing to arm itself with the most destructive weapons only place us in a dark, unknown territory that could lead the human civilisation to an apocalyptic end if just one person in power is idiotic enough to make an irrational move.
The nuke is just a button away.
Professor Mead said that "when you think about the weapons that are in the hands of the countries these days, and just how devastating all-out war could be in the 21st century, it is certainly a reasonable goal to try to keep great power war off the table."