In a defensible analysis, wars are surely full-fledged brands with a thankfully temporary lifespan, and the examples are truly many. In each case the players themselves bring in their unique brand values and that has an outcome on the conflict and the resulting consequences.
A fine illustration of the above is the Second World War, which lasted for six years and led to the formation of the present territorial equilibrium as we know it. It was perpetrated by a demonic brand called Nazi Germany, supported by the Fascist Italians and the imperialistic Japanese.
The game was surely brutal domination of foes and we saw sufficient evidence of this character trait in the horrifying Holocaust, as well as several events across this period. Eventually the Allied powers won handsomely and their subsequent footprint of conquest further reflected the core values as demonstrated over history.
The liberal Western democracies became the new mentors of Western Europe and Japan, reconstructing economies for the purpose of rebuilding the nations. While the dictatorial Stalinist worldview led to a tyrannical subjugation of the occupied nations (earlier Communist bloc), leading to appalling levels of economic and infrastructural development. The war itself was a humungous brand with many twists and turns and the players actually brought to the party their consistent virtues and vices.
Closer home, the conflicts between India and Pakistan had its notable share of brand traits, each time the motivation being territorial assertion. The usual candidate is certainly Kashmir or Kargil but in one significant deviation, the liberation of Bangladesh became the operating agenda. In each case, India came across as the benevolent higher power, as proven best in the 1971 fighting, as a new nation was happily nurtured and thousands of Pakistani prisoners of war (PoWs) were repatriated without even a token quid pro quo.
Kargil, far closer to memory, was closer to a shadow war, as the enemy seemed to be camouflaging its sovereign credentials without concealing its devious intent. This war, aided by media reportage, became a household brand, provoking scalable bursts of nationalism, resonating across the nation, rather different from the liberator largeness of 1971 or the victimisation felonies of the 1965 China War, from both the aggressor and the home state.
Most recently, the skirmishes with China led to cold economic outrage, as we reacted in a calculating new age fashion, sans overpowering emotion.
So, when Russia invades Ukraine, it is quite fascinating to view this from a lens of brands, as the conflict itself and the players themselves. Europeans still bear visible scars of the Second World War and so the primary narrative across the continent, including NATO, is that the peace of the continent is being threatened and also a fear of imminent scalability, a learning from previous brands of wars in the region.
Russia is smarting from the dissolution of the Soviet Union and the subsequent reduction in its stature and now under a sufficiently motivated leader, is set to undo the historical ‘wrongs’. History buffs will find a connection with how the booming narrative of First World War reparations (damages paid to victors) became the primary emotional arsenal of the Nazis, fully exploiting the beleaguered economy as a justification for nationalism.
CNN is focusing sharply on another potential theatre, China versus Taiwan, as the former may use this as an alibi for reclaiming what it considers its rightful own. Once again, like in every category, the lessons from the evocative past can be cause of worry or comfort, depending on how the leaders of the day choose to course correct. In the latest conflict, the consequences are way more likely to be more economic than demographic and the rising fuel prices will justify our anxieties, in a world struggling to recover from the socio-economic debacle of the coronavirus.
Like every other new brand in a familiar customer space, the leaders who matter must learn their lessons from previous such brands, and accordingly tailor their actions. Prima facie, economic sanctions send the accurate signals (the gunboats of the current era) to the aggressor as well as the universe, as that is a precursor for dialogue and course correction.
However, if Russia relentlessly pursues the course of annexation, then learnings from the 1939 occupation by the Germans must come to play – if the Allies had not intervened, civilisation would have slid to unfathomable depths and in this current turmoil, timing and approach would be critical in tandem. This time though, there is a momentous role of global citizenry, courtesy the internet and social media, and this is an advantage for every brand, including the brands of war.
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