Remember when war was Cold and we were all MAD? – Mutually Assured Destruction. On one side the Russians, on the other the ‘West’ – each sure of its own position, each sure that given how many nukes there were we’d be MAD to mutually destroy each other.
Now we’re back to the future – but its changed.
Russia is acting strongly but from a position of weakness – and the West seems no longer so sure of its position.
From its low point in the 1990s Russia is back on the world stage throwing cruise missiles and soft power about, all the more dangerous because its all the more weaker. No matter the drop in oil price has almost bankrupted it, or that it can’t even spell innovation – it still calls a bluff that the West isn’t even pretending to make anymore. In the 90s Yeltsin was on his knees from too much vodka, and Russia was on its knees with no money, no leadership, and no sense of purpose. Now Putin is on his knees praying with his Orthodox priest confessor, asking God to help him return Mother Russia to what many who live there believe is its rightful place – the successor to Rome, the saviour of Christianity, and a super power with parity to the Americans. The military budget has increased every year since 2000, and paid dividends with the wars in Georgia, Ukraine, and Syria, and the annexation of Crimea.
And on this side of the divide? Despite, or perhaps because of, Iraq and Afghanistan, war is soooo 20th century. There’s a concurrent crisis of confidence in liberal capitalists democracy since the crash of 2008, and the Americans are absent, not absent without leave – absent with leave from a western intelligentsia busy writing Yankee Go Home in intellectual language. The lack of leadership, the economic crisis, Brexit, migration etc have all contributed to a drift to the extremes, left and right, and for the first time since WWII we are beginning to ask if the centre can hold.
And now we are finally waking up and seeing the danger – we have the two worst US Presidential candidates ….ever?
When we were MAD there was a belief that the USA would stand by NATO – that has been massively undermined by one of the candidates effectively saying – We will fight for any NATO state which is attacked, except for those we won’t. The other will remain under FBI investigation for months to come. Whatever the Presidents name – the US election may give Vladimir Putin another trump card to play while we concentrate on Brexit, migration and the election. Putin has a 12 week window in which he has carte blanche to do what he wants in Aleppo. In the event that America even notices, every time they say ‘Aleppo’, he will say ‘Mosul’ and we will not have the confidence to say much more.
(Adapted from a script for the BBC’s This Week programme broadcast on 3/11/16)