It was not only an airliner that was shut down in Ukraine, but the last vestige of the post-Cold War global order, and the popular myth regarding the containability of “local” conflicts. In today’s hyper-connected world, conflict anywhere is a conflict everywhere, for spillovers are unavoidable and containability a myth.
Yes, there are conflicts in certain parts of Africa and Asia that seem not to have much of an impact on the world, at least not as far as we know, but that is largely due to the fact that these parts are not as connected to the rest of the world as Syria or Ukraine – a situation that is bound to change over the next couple of decades. For the current trajectory of our collective march is towards greater connectivity not less. That certain countries and regions around the world seem to be fracturing and imploding will further consolidate rather hinder this trend, as the survival of the various enclaves that are emerging will depend largely on their ability to integrate themselves back into the world, especially in economic terms.
Even the enclave currently being carved out of Syria and Iraq by the Islamic State (formerly ISIS) is not seeking to isolate itself from the world. Even before the battle is over, IS has already entered into informal deals with the Syrian regime to supply it with oil. The Islamic State also relies on smuggling activities to sell oil and various agricultural products taken from areas under its control in Syria and Iraq in local Turkish markets.
When even such actors seek to be connected, very few conflicts can stay containable. The need for connectivity does not trump ideology, it simply runs parallel to it, and groups like IS will seek to conduct both war and business with some of its same avowed enemies. Such complex arrangements might help give an illusion of containability, but, in reality, they only allow for a more gradual and methodological approach to spreading the conflict. A few months ago, IS not only seemed contained but on the retreat s well. Now we know better, and the conflict has spread. Similarly, developments in the Ukraine have long dropped from regular media coverage, until a civilian plan was shut down, and now everybody is talking about a game changing development. The change may not come. The Obama Doctrine has previously proven impervious to such pressures. But regardless of what the Obama Administration chooses to do or not do, few would argue that Ukraine’s crisis is still “contained.”