Few of those who lived through the Cold War with its constant threat of nuclear annihilation realize the role confidence played in preventing an outbreak of apocalyptic hostilities. Even at times when we thought the "other side" was nearing the point of pre-emptive attack, we had a sufficient degree of confidence that they would do no such thing. The Red Telephone that connected the White House to the Kremlin was specifically intended as an instrument for maintaining confidence.
The Cuban missile crisis demonstrated the leadership needed to maintain confidence - and peace - in stressful circumstances. Kennedy was being pulled by contradictory advice given by competing forces some of which demanded a shooting war. In the end, Kennedy's confidence in Khrushchev prevailed and a diplomatic result was obtained.
Today I have a sense that we have discounted the importance of confidence and confidence-building between major powers. Under Bush/Cheney, America drove NATO right up to Russia's doorstep. That was an act of diplomatic aggression that showed no interest in maintaining, much less building, confidence between west and east. It was both a threat to Russia and a humiliation of Vlad Putin. Imagine if Russia reached a pact with Mexico and wound up parking tanks, surface to air missile batteries and mobile rocket artillery along the south bank of the Rio Grande.
What has the Ukraine conflict become? It resembles a proxy war reminiscent of the Cold War era. We support the west-leaning government that ousted the previous democratically-elected (yet horribly corrupt) government in a coup. Putin sees us as interlopers, meddlers, once again wreaking mischief at Russia's doorstep. That he took Crimea should have been expected. That he should support pro-Russia rebels seeking to pry loose the Donetsk region is equally predictable.
It's probably safe to say that the confidence level between Putin and western leaders has fallen into an abyss. We have imposed successive waves of sanctions against Russia and its leaders. We have actually threatened Russia with dire consequences that await if it doesn't leave Ukraine alone. NATO Secretary General Anders "Foggy" Rasmussen, an avowed and bellicose neoliberal, is using the final months of his tenure to get straight into Putin's face. He gives the impression that he's just itching to see NATO jets over the Ukraine before he's put out to pasture. There are plenty of other prominent hawks in Rasmussen's camp including our own warrior-prince, Stephen Harper.
The German financial newspaper, Handelsblatt
, recently warned that the people of the west are being "mentally mobilized
" for war by our corporate mass media cartel. This could hardly have gone unnoticed by the Kremlin.
And what happens when confidence plummets? Rearmament is one usual result. Rearmament that further undermines confidence. Russia is rearming with a new strategic bomber, a new ballistic missile that may breach one or more of its nuclear weapons treaty obligations, two new submarine designs and a dandy new stealth fighter designed to turn F-35s into lawn ornaments. Is this a Russian provocation? Hardly.
America kicked off today's arms race when Bush/Cheney introduced the incredibly bellicose Bush Doctrine that threatened friend and adversary alike with the use of pre-emptive and overwhelming military force against any country or group of countries that should deign to rival America militarily or economically. That was accompanied by an enormous increase in military spending focused on achieving enormous technological advances that would leave all other nations so far behind that they couldn't catch up. Out of that depraved mentality emerged the F-35.
For Beijing, a real confidence-buster came with the staging of "Operation Chimichanga
", a full scale, dress rehearsal of a pre-emptive "first strike" stealth attack on China to render the Peoples Republic defenceless. Provocative, yes. Confidence building, plainly not.
America is doing no end of sabre-rattling and we're playing our part in it also. Our foreign policy has been subsumed into America's. The F-35 is our admission ticket into America's Aerial Foreign Legion. There's a reason American commanders refer to it as their "kick in the front door weapon."
On this, the centenary of World War One, it's important to remember that not all wars are intended or even desired. History shows it's remarkably easy for leaders to back us into wars of duration and dimensions that were never foreseen. It doesn't take much - an arms race here or there, sabre-rattling and other provocations, a power vacuum real or perceived, the "mental mobilization" of society - go ahead, light the fuse.
Without seemingly recognizing it, we're creating an incredibly dangerous world packed with stressors such as arms races; geo-political transitions with contested spheres of influence; power vacuums and the rise of failed states; militarized foreign policy; economic, resource and territorial rivalries; and, of course, early onset climate change impacts, all under the umbrella of western neoliberalism. What could possibly go wrong?