It is with a sad heart that I address you today. I wish we were all brought together under more pleasant circumstances, but at least this gathering gives us the opportunity to commemorate one we all loved, and lost.
As the final remaining European studies major at Canisius College, I feel it is not only my duty but also my honor to memorialize the beautiful life of the European Studies Department.
Unfortunately, the major reached an untimely death on Sept. 30, 2020 after almost three decades of existence.
It suffered from chronic disregard across the student population, and the subsequent lack of enthusiasm is what eventually delivered its final blow. With so few students, European studies fell easily victim to the infamous “budget cut plague” of 2020, following the COVID-19 pandemic, and it perished quietly in its sleep.
Yet its death appears increasingly premature as global politics develop into the third decade of the 21st century. In fact, one might even argue that international relations is entering another era of escalated conflict between geopolitical superpowers.
Reminiscent of the Cold War tensions not yet forgotten by Baby Boomers and those of Generation X, disputes between Russia and the United States have recently ignited over gray-zone tactics in eastern Europe. This kind of behavior can actually prove equally as dangerous as outright attacks — especially when occurring amongst nuclear armed actors.
In the specific example currently developing across the Atlantic, Russian authorities have repeatedly alluded to an invasion of Ukraine. Russian military forces have been stationed on the border shared by the two countries, and threats of hacking the smaller nation’s technical infrastructure have been made. This would debilitate the nation's utilities, leaving innumerable Ukranians without water, electricity and heat this winter.
The situation becomes increasingly complicated, and potentially explosive, when one takes into consideration the alliance between Ukraine and the United States, and how uncomfortable this makes Russian President Vladimir Putin. The size of the Ukrainian military does not just pale in comparison to that of Russia’s — it may as well keel over and drop into a coffin. Russia boasts the world’s largest nuclear arsenal, at nearly 7,000 nuclear weapons.
In stark contrast, Ukraine has no nuclear arsenals. After gaining independence from the Soviet Union in 1991, the country found itself with the third-largest nuclear arsenal in the world. However, Ukraine was also left with a demolished economy and international isolation, leading to the 1994 signature of the Budapest Memorandum. For sacrificing all of their privileges to weapons of mass destruction, Ukraine was promised financial support and integration into the international political order by Washington and London as a reward for furthering the cause of global denuclearization.
Though wise at the time given the economic need and generous incentives offered by Western superpowers, this currently leaves Ukraine in an extremely vulnerable position to the impending invasion of Russian troops. As a bilateral investment partner and military ally, the United States is responsible to uphold the less-developed country’s security.
Should Russia truly decide to invade Ukraine, the U.S. will need to intervene — both for the safety of Ukrainians as well as to demonstrate a balance of power between the two largest nuclear global superpowers. As the backbone of the rules-based Western international order, a situation such as the invasion of a relatively defenseless Ukraine would force the United States to flex its nuclear muscles and indicate its equal military capability to Russia.
This kind of “show of power” intimidation is generally a less harmful warfare technique when remaining between only a few involved states. Yet in the contemporary world, technology and arms have advanced to the point of becoming catastrophic.
The permanent members of the United Nations Security Council (ie. France, the U.K., the U.S., Russia and China) have agreed that nuclear war is impossible to win and must never be fought. Accordingly, the prospect of nuclear scuffle between Russia and the United States should frighten us all to the soles of our boots.
If only the European Studies department had not been taken from us so young and full of life: perhaps there would be students gleaning valuable education on the intricate wartime maneuvers of Europe, staying up-to-date on current events and prescribing knowledgeable advice to resolve the intertwined conflicts of overseas politics.
But, alas. The European Studies major would not have wanted us to fret and cry over the heartwrenching circumstances we find ourselves in. It would have told all of us listening to go out into the world with optimism and determination in our eyes, seeking out knowledge of the foreign and distant. It is only after thorough education that practical solutions can be found.