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Digital Nomads in a Time of War: A Critique on Diplomacy

Russia has invaded Ukraine. What can the United Nations do?

By Arya Kukreja ’23

I worked diligently on my papers for the first few hours from Rome to La Spezia.

The ride was breathtaking. I typed my papers for classes I took as a student studying abroad in London. As we passed the rolling hills of the Chianti region and the Ligurian sea, I would occasionally check my phone to see messages from friends and family. Sometimes I would see notifications on social media and the war.

During this particular trip, the most recent headline from B.B.C. on the Ukraine War was: Rockets hit Kyiv as U.N. chief admits failings. The United Nations Secretary General, António Guterres, acknowledged that the United Nations Security Council (U.N.S.C.) "failed to do everything in its power to prevent and end this war.”

This was unsettling. Here I was in a world, far away from home, surrounded by modern technology and yet, international institutions such as the U.N. could do little to ensure my safety and preserve international peace.

In today's era of military power, the U.N. Secretary General admits that in the context of war, the current structure of the United Nations Security Council is not up to the test. The U.N. has been too reliant on nations utilizing soft power and diplomacy to address threats to peace or aggression.

If the war teaches us anything, we can confirm that military or hard power will remain a part of the reality of international relations.

Countries like Germany, Sweden and Japan are realizing the need to spend more on their militaries. Following the invasion of Ukraine, Olaf Scholz announced that Germany will spend 100 billion euros on its military. Many do not believe this is enough. Sweden has also announced that the country will increase its defense spending to 2% of GDP by 2026.

The outbreak of the war in Ukraine is only the tip of the iceberg for what lies ahead.

This trip encouraged me to take the opportunity to finally visit Eastern Europe, which had been on my bucket list for years. On Feb 22, 2022, I purchased my EUrail Pass which provides unlimited rail access in and around Europe and began planning my two month trip for April. 

Even though I would be in school, the magic of remote work made it possible to complete my work whilst traveling to gain perspective of a different part of the world.

Two days later, Russia invaded Ukraine and a war began in Europe. Thousands of refugees fled the country. The United States and many other nations began to provide aid and financial support, but solutions to the conflict were nowhere to be seen.

I emailed EUrail with my proposed itinerary and they responded by saying that this route was no longer safe due to current events.

In recent years, globalization has made the world more interconnected than ever through international trade, work, tourism, etc. But this has not meant that hard power is less important. Hard power remains a tool for nations to use and current international institutions like the U.N. are ineffective in dealing with conflicts like the invasion of Ukraine. The use of hard power is still a very real thing in international relations.

In 2020 there were over 80,000 international students in Ukraine. When the war began, thousands of students were forced to evacuate the country and change their academic plans to instead become refugees.

As I was traveling, I thought about the thousands of digital nomads and students who have been affected by the war. People in Ukraine were being forced to become real nomads. But, I was choosing to live a nomadic lifestyle.

The U.N.S.C. ’s “primary responsibility is to maintain the peace and stability in the world.” It consists of fifteen members who have a crucial role to vote and be a part of global

decision-making processes. Of these fifteen, the United States, United Kingdom, France, Russia, and China - are permanent members who can veto any decision made in the UNSC.

Putin took advantage of Russia’s veto authority to undermine the U.N.’s effectiveness in resolving the war in Ukraine.

As countries continue to strengthen their militaries, both hard and soft power should be seen as crucial elements to how countries operate internationally. Countries are preparing to engage with each other more aggressively and the U.N. has gotten far too comfortable with resolving conflicts through diplomacy.

We cannot keep our increasingly globalized community safe from war and conflicts without a reformed international approach. The U.N. was founded over 70 years ago when the world was drastically different than it is today. It is time the international community revises the structure of the United Nations to make it relevant to the present world.

We need a game plan to address hard power; the U.N. can no longer watch from the sidelines.

Arya Kukreja ’23 is a Whitman College Economics major with a minor in Astronomy. She wrote this Op-Ed in the fall of 2022 as a student in Professor Shampa Biswas’s course, Global Politics of the War in Ukraine.

Published on May 19, 2023
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