Israeli writer, historian and professor Yuval Noah Harari has repeatedly spoken out against President Vladimir Putin’s war in Ukraine, adding that it has had the unintended consequences of building greater unity between Europe and the United States.
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In the seven weeks since Russia’s war with Ukraine, Israeli historian and bestselling author Yuval Noah Harari says tensions are still rising in society over “the most dangerous moment in world history since the Cuban Missile Crisis.”
The author of “Sapiens” says that the growing risk that Russia could resort to nuclear weapons or other forms of chemical or biological warfare to advance its attack poses an existential threat to humanity.
Harari told CNBC’s Geoff Katmore on Wednesday that “since the Cuban Missile Crisis, we have probably been at the most dangerous moment in the history of the world when suddenly there is a possibility of a nuclear war.”
The Cuban Missile Crisis of 1962 refers to the period of direct confrontation between the United States and the then Soviet Union, which is often regarded as the closest to the world in nuclear war.
Although acknowledging the current threat of nuclear war, Harari acknowledged that everyone – the government and the individual – should be “very concerned”.
“This is a possibility, a real possibility that we need to consider. And this is terrible news for the entire human race,” he said.
Nevertheless, Harari warned that Western allies should not try to take such a step by trying to change the regime in Russia. Instead, they should focus on further empowering Ukraine so that Russian forces can be defeated on the ground and peace can be restored.
“Anyone who has these ideas about marching in Moscow, forget them as soon as possible,” he said, adding that such moves would further provoke the Kremlin.
“The goal of the war should be to protect Ukraine’s independence, not to change Moscow. It depends on the Russian people,” he added.
A historic turning point
Harari, a lecturer in the history department at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem, said the final outcome of the war could mark a turning point in how governments handle future threats.
If Russian President Vladimir Putin wins the war, he says, more countries will be inclined to increase their military spending at the expense of other public services – or will be forced to do so.
It is not clear how much Russia has invested in its defense spending, although Harari estimates it is about 20%. In the meantime, we have seen the government’s recent move or commitment to increase their defense spending. Just days after the conflict, Germany announced that it would significantly increase its defense spending by more than 2% of its economic output.
“If the global defense budget is 20% instead of 6%, it will come at the expense of our healthcare, our welfare and it will also come at the expense of fighting other threats like climate change,” he said.
“This would be a terrible catastrophe for all of humanity,” he said, adding that a peaceful solution would be in the interests not only of Ukraine and its immediate neighbors, but also of the wider society.
“It’s really about peace and defending the kind of world we’re used to,” he said. “We are so used to it that we accept it. But if we are not careful, we will return to the jungle of war and violence where countries are forced to spend more on tanks and missiles and less on teachers. Nurses and welfare systems.”
If Western allies succeed in bringing a peaceful end to the conflict, Harari sees some reason for cautious optimism.
“If Putin loses and is seen to lose, it will actually defend the previous order. When there is a norm and someone breaks the rules and gets punished for it, it actually strengthens the norm,” he said.