Martin Sieff is a columnist for the Post-Examiner newspapers and a senior fellow of the American University in Moscow
U.S. troops and air combat forces are now deploying on Poland, a NATO member nation. On Wednesday, April 23 Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov responded by claiming the United States had stirred up the chaos in neighboring Ukraine. And he warned ominously that Russia would react forcefully if its interests or national came under threat.
How serious is this escalating crisis? More serious than you have ever dreamed.
Does this mean we are going back to the Cold War?
If only we were that lucky.
The Cold War was a period of remarkable stability. The *Untied States and the Soviet Union both madly built enormous arsenals of genocidal-capable thermonuclear weapons beyond the imagination of any previous military powers. But after the 1962 Cuban Missile Crisis successive leaders of both powers rapidly sobered up. Even during the last spasm of serious tension under Soviet Leader Yury Andropov from 1982 to 1984, the Soviets were driven by fear rather than hate, and U.S. President Ronald Reagan belied his public hardline rhetoric and proved far more wise and cautious than even his own senior colleagues.
Reagan saw the danger of all out nuclear war as a real possibility. It was this that motivated his ultimately totally futile "Star Wars” initiative to develop a ballistic missile defense shield against incoming intercontinental ballistic missiles (ICBMs). We still have not been able to develop one today, despite the George W. Bush administration’s all-out efforts to build it with a totally inadequate technology.
That failure of the Bush II-Donald Rumsfeld-Dick Cheney-Paul Wolfowitz team make any significant progress on strategic nuclear defenses has dire consequences today.
Wouldn’t things be much better if we just stood up to the Russians and talked tough? Wouldn’t things be far better if George W. Bush, John McCain or Mitt Romney were president now?
Not a chance. If any of those three guys were president today, especially the latter two, the cities of North America could easily be radioactive dust and we wouldn’t be singing with the angels, our souls would be screaming through eternity from the lasting trauma of thermonuclear annihilation.
Donald Rumsfeld should rate alongside the vile Robert McNamara as the worst secretary of defense in our history. But even he got at least one idea right. "Stuff happens.” Indeed it does. The most frightful consequences flow from casual, sloppy, reckless decision-making and no major power is ever fully immune from that.
We are coming up to the 100th anniversary of the start of World War I, the global catastrophe where the nations of Christian Europe insanely tore each to bits. Only a handful of outstanding figures ranging from Pope Benedict XV in Rome to the atheist philosopher Lord Bertrand Russell in Britain spoke out against the appalling nature of the madness.
At first, the United States had the good sense to stay out of the fight. When German attacks on our shipping and bizarre efforts by Berlin to turn Mexico into a U.S. enemy finally brought us into that war in April 1917, it cost 200,000 American lives.
If Theodore Roosevelt had had his way, and if America had childishly plunged into the war "for manly honor” at the very beginning in 1914, or 1915, that death toll could easily have been 2 million. The U.S. Army did not have the weapons, the training, the experience, the leaders or the tactical military doctrine to make a dent against the German Army on the Western Front until it was exhausted in 1918. Our casualties would have been enormous even by British and French standards.
Today, the weapons of mass destruction are infinitely worse than any of the protagonists in 1914 ever imagined could exist. And the possibility that we could use them seems as inconceivable as the likelihood of world war did in the blissful early summer of 1914.
Yet within two months of the assassination of the Archduke Franz Ferdinand of Austria Hungary on June 28, 1914, the five great powers of Europe were locked in an infernal bloodbath and two other major nations joined them before the end of the year. Let us pray our leaders and Russia’s are better and wiser today.