Thursday, December 10, 2015
Lines in the Sand
It seems that the world is in unprecedented turmoil in every corner. From the relatively minor consternation of corruption at the highest levels in Brazil to the vastly more serious unending slaughter by drug cartels in Mexico (using weapons smuggled from the United States to feed drug demand north of their border), tribal and religious warfare all across Africa, religious war in Myanmar (militantBuddhists killing Muslims?), mass shootings in the United States (the most gun crazy nation on earth) and of course the ultra-violent massive upheavals in the Middle East.
Is this horrific trend part nature’s reaction to our own Malthusian over-peopling of the earth? Amplified by the dearth of places for persecuted and ultra-impoverished to escape? Spurred by the loss of viable farmland through desertification driven by man-accelerated global climate change? All of the above? Why is this happening on this scale? Given the capacity of total annihilation by means of nuclear weapons, is this series global eruptions – replete with the new drone strikes, cyberattacks, asymmetrical warfare, economic sanctions and proxy wars – the earth’s new version of a world war? Didn’t we have a brief moment of hope just a bit over two decades ago?
When the Berlin Wall fell, when the Soviet Union imploded and a new election process arose within the CIS nations, the world was filled with hope. The Cold War was over. The world was going to get along. Wrong… so very, very wrong. Not only did the bulk of the CIS nations lapse into de jure or de facto dictatorships and personality cults… leaders who have lined their pockets and adopted a form of machismo-laced bravado that seems to thrive on confrontation… but confrontations with the West was resurrected on steroids.
Vladimir Putin has become a caricature of a demon dictator out of control. Just as North Korea’s Kim Jong-un is credited with extraordinary feats – like scoring numerous “holes-in-one” when he plays golf – Putin plays hockey with some of the best players on earth who are simply unable to stop Putin from scoring numerous goals. He thrives on confrontation, is a global contrarian dedicated to opposing the United States wherever and whenever he can. He has found his niche in embracing totalitarian regimes – often those with the greatest proclivity to torture, imprison and kill is own citizens who strive for a voice.
The confrontation between Russia and Turkey over the downing of a Russian military jet ignited an already festering wound in the global response against the Islamic State. As Turkey entered the anti-ISIS fray, she instantly used her forces to attack her Kurdish opponents. As Russia agreed to join in the war on ISIS, she too used this as an excuse intead to support Syrian brut-dictator, Bashir Assad by bombing non-ISIS civilians opposed to their callous leader. Turkey, committed to the removal of the Assad regime, was now in a serious conflict with Russia, as both nations continued to mouth their anti-ISIS goals.
Turkey remains a reluctant partner with the West in NATO, an organization born of a need for a coordinated opposition against the Soviet Union and its Eastern Bloc allies. After the Cold War died, NATO’s raison d’etre needed to change… it struggled to find a reason to be. Optimistic NATO nations even looked upon Russia as a “strategic partner” against global conflict. But that raison d’etre soon returned to its “containment” of Russia, the vestige of the Soviet empire, now slowly (not-so-slow) returning to its anti-Western roots. Much of Europe was conflicted by the new hostilities, desperately needing the massive oil and gas exports from Russia. Still, the war of words, implemented into shooting proxy wars in the Middle East, escalated.
And NATO reverted to becoming the exemplar of neighborhood gangs, picking sides over a growing turf war. “After years in which Russia and NATO coexisted with relatively little overt rancor, diplomatic, economic and military strains have been building steadily. Russia and NATO have been at odds over Moscow’s annexation of Crimea and military involvement in eastern Ukraine, and over Russian fighter jets entering NATO airspace, especially in the Balkans and most recently over Turkey, a NATO member. [In late November], the Turks shot down a Russian fighter entering Turkish airspace to bomb Turkmen tribesmen in Syria, raising questions about whether NATO could be drawn directly into a military conflict with Moscow in defense of Turkey.” New York Times, December 2nd. NATO has become the latest expansion-ground in the conflict between Russia and the West.
While there has been talk of letting Ukraine join NATO, which would invoke mutual defense treaties, that reality could draw NATO into a direct shooting war with Russia. Ukraine still sits on the outside of NATO looking in. But NATO was still anxious to make a statement that Russia would hear, loud and clear. And so, NATO was ready to embrace a new member nation, once part of that Eastern Bloc.
“For the first time in six years, NATO on Wednesday invited a new member to join the military alliance, prompting a heated response from Russia and further underscoring escalating tensions between the Cold War adversaries.
“The invitation, to tiny Montenegro [that tiny red dot in the map above], came nine years after the Balkan nation began the process of accession. But the timing of the offer came at a particularly delicate moment as the West is trying to persuade Russia to link forces to help defeat the Islamic State and end the civil war in Syria.
“In Moscow, the offer to Montenegro — which has a population of about 600,000 and little military capacity — prompted fury and threats. Dmitri S. Peskov, the Kremlin spokesman, said that a NATO expansion would be met with unspecified retaliatory measures from Russia… ‘The continuing expansion of NATO and NATO’s military infrastructure to the East, of course, cannot but lead to response actions from the East, namely the Russian side,’ Mr. Peskov said…
“NATO no longer regards Russia as a ‘strategic partner’ but as a country seeking to undermine the post-Cold War order and restore its sway over the old Soviet empire, prompting a degree of confrontation that is reminiscent of the Cold War in tone.
“Adm. Vladimir Komoyedov, chairman of the Duma’s defense committee, said, ‘They are ready to admit even the North Pole to NATO just for the sake of encircling Russia.’ The invitation to Montenegro, he said, means that NATO ‘was and remains an adversary of Russia.’
“Secretary of State John Kerry, who was present when the invitation was made by the NATO secretary general, Jens Stoltenberg, denied any such intentions, saying that the alliance ‘is not focused on Russia per se or anyone else.’ He added that inviting Montenegro, which was eager to join, was ‘another step toward the full integration of Europe and toward the common defense.’
“The quandary for Washington and Europe is that any solution in Syria requires Russian participation and influence with Mr. Assad and the government in Damascus. But Washington, NATO and the European Union are not prepared to link progress on Syria to other issues, in particular any easing of sanctions imposed on Russia after its annexation of Crimea.” NY Times. But only the most naïve observers of geopolitics would remotely believe that adding Montenegro to the NATO mix was anything but a statement against Russian aggression.
The playbook will get rewritten as the world confronts major threats to us all. The maxim that the “enemy of my enemy is my friend” will be tested like no other. How will the world grapples with the massive global threats, from ISIS to climate change, that could easily destabilize us all has become the biggest story of the twenty-first century.
I’m Peter Dekom, and never before has the Chinese expression of trouble – “may you live in interesting times” – been more worrisome.