To invade or not to invade, that is the question!

Russia-Ukraine feud is not a binary problem

Though Shakespeare undoubtedly is amongst the best playwrights and poets (who generally see the unseen within the seen), yet he too was at instances caught up in what the author of an enlightening book “Black Swam: The Impact of Highly Improbable” terms as “tunneling”. How? I’ll convey it quickly before several English literature enthusiasts locate me. “To be or not to be that is the question” is the most famed phrase of his, which given the context of Prince Hamlet is indeed impactful but limited in its approach. Why are there solely two alternates? The human proximity to simplify life leads him to ignore other possibilities that may be and are expressed by Rumi when he aims to be at a place “between right and wrong!” This unconventional place is what bests miss out on too. Rumi’s idea was indeed spiritual but a similar approach of finding grounds midst binaries and simplifications of one way, or the other is required in academic and social disciplines too. In the aforementioned book the Wharton graduate himself, Nassim Taleb, who played around with probabilities for a living, highlights this by noting how professionals miss out on the “silence evidence” under the noise of the louder ones (which are usually inconsequential compared to the silent). The rationale behind such ignorance is usually the attachment of ideas/methods to their identities by these know-it-all professionals who take pride in their fancy pattern-based graphs and statistics that have failed to predict even the most significant events of recent history i.e. 9/11, COVID-19, Trump’s Victory, 2008 Financial Crisis amongst others. Such IVY leaguers with branded suits do not according to Taleb comprehend that the future is not derived from past patterns; when was the last 9/11 or COVID-19? Thus, one needs to be on the lookout for the unknowns!

Ironically while scrolling through Nassim’s thought provoker, I was following the Russia-Ukraine developments and I was amazed at how most journalists, analysts, and politicians were again falling for their simplified biases. There are simply two or three fixed narratives built on the issue, outside of which no one seems to be comfortable walking in pursuit of preserving their intellectual repute to secure more screentime. Will Putin would invade Kyiv or some portions of Ukraine? Is he just putting pressure on the US and Europe to place Russia as a player in the European security dynamic to regain Russia’s lost glory? These are the nailed queries around which most debate is conducted each day on countless forums, and consequently, the solutions to them range from backing NATO’s missions in Europe to relying more on diplomatic means to hand few security guarantees to Russia on common grounds i.e. non-placement of missiles around its borders to avert an invasion.

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The dilemma here is that these static debates are guided usually by certain beliefs about Russia being the long-term enemy (for those who side by the US and NATO) that makes such believers assertive to the country; while others who profess for diplomatic space consider otherwise and both restrict our sights. Worse, both these schools are guided by history. Those skeptical of Russia see a revisionist Russia that invaded Ukraine in 2014, or Georgia in 2008, while the other sees how Europeans threatened Russian security post-1991 with the breakdown of the Warsaw Pact and gradual enhancement of NATO. It is possible both these schools might not get the future right since none predicted 2014’s Russian invasion (else Europe would not have been off guarded), they tend to usually satisfy their appetite for explanations over abstractness which Nassim sees as general human nature. Even when the world was not able to predict COVID-19, how rapidly it came up with stories as if it did is an exemplification of the concept. Thus, turning back to Ukraine, there is a need to break such boxes to foresee the unknown unknowns here which the well-suited analysts with mini British libraries behind them in video links dismiss as their mini British library’s knowledge is their impediment that falsely makes them believe that they know when actually they do not.

Those skeptical of Russia see a revisionist Russia that invaded Ukraine in 2014, or Georgia in 2008, while the other sees how Europeans threatened Russian security post-1991 with the breakdown of the Warsaw Pact and gradual enhancement of NATO.

If we walk out of the confirmation biases or the narratives flowing around the impasse, we can open ourselves to different possibilities. What if the whole episode was orchestrated by China and not Putin alone; China has been off the US’s radar for months now and doing freely what it plans to. Or it was actually not Putin’s but his military’s idea to showcase its might for Central Asian states since causing inconvenience to Ukraine was possible through other hybrid means (the ex KGG’s officer; Putin’s specialty) within the already influenced Donbas region? Or what if there is an accidental fire midst this standoff from either side and not one initiated officially by the states US? Or what if Putin’s aim is to secure European markets for its gas exports by cutting the US’s influence out of Europe this way? Germany and France are already flouting the US and holding one-to-one talks with the Russians and as I am writing this, I am hearing that after Scholz’s meeting with Putin, some Russian troops are withdrawing. I do not certainly second the scenarios I have presented, but these are merely some hypotheses that are unseen within the discourses around this conflict, further limiting our predictabilities of what’s next. Thus, to invade or not to invade (as the popular media is portraying currently) is not the question! Inculcating these two, there could be many other questions that if missed would make us proximate to another black swan event we shall then explain retrospectively.

Faiz interestingly walked Nassim’s path prior to him, and the following words of his do cap the essence of what Nassim Talib in his book and I in this space aim to instill.

Aab apna ikhteyar hai chahey jahan chalein

Rehbar say apne raah judaa kar chuke hain hum.

(Now it is our authority, we can move wherever

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For we have changed our path our guides).

Syed Sarim Fatmi
Syed Sarim Fatmi
The writer can be reached at [email protected]

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