A reporter asked President Obama on Tuesday if ratcheted sanctions placed on Russia by America and the EU marked “a new Cold War.” The United Kingdom’s Common Defense Committee said Thursday that NATO is unprepared for further aggression from Russia. Roger Cohen of the New York Times has explained in the Atlantic why World War III is not so unimaginable after all. It has become apparent that Eastern Europe is unstable, and in a world knit tightly together by technology and treaties, that instability may prove for everyone inescapable.
It is sobering to think about the repercussions and lessons of the current crisis in Ukraine while Gaza burns, Ebola eats through Africa, North Korea threatens nuclear war, and Pakistan and India sit staring one another down, fingers poised to wind the doomsday clock, red buttons and key locks primed for mutually assured destruction. There are many reasons to fear the future, to see another global total war bring the world to its knees, and as the world reflects upon the centennial of that first Great War, let it remember that it turned from single shot to avalanche through alliances gripping a shrinking world. In NATO and the unrest of Europe’s east the stage is set once more.
Members of Britain’s parliament have declared that NATO, the twenty-eight-nation alliance nominally tied to the North Atlantic, organized in such a way as an attack on one member state is an attack on every other, has little defense against “ambiguous warfare” from an opportunistic and aggressive Russia. Should Putin’s strategy of proxy-fighters and cyber-warfare, seen vividly in east Ukraine, extend into a NATO nation—Estonia and Latvia border Russia, and Bulgaria and Romania are separated from the Bear by only the Black Sea—the treaty will be tested, and collective defense shall either beckon the world to war, or breaking under the strain of reality, shatter the balance of geopolitical power.
Poland houses NATO troops, and in October is supposed to host a series of exercises by the treaty organization. However, as UK officials have noted, it’s not a conventional war NATO fears from Russia, at least at first. The committee has suggested that NATO house a permanent garrison in “vulnerable” member states—the ones that border Russia. That, and they have called for NATO countries to clarify whether the kind of support Russia has lent Ukraine’s separatists should constitute a violation of the treaty’s Article 5 and warrant military responses from the whole alliance.
It appears clear that the problem for NATO leaders is striking the balance between preempting future conflict and escalating current tensions. Does it discourage or encourage Russian aggression to line troops on its border and hair-trigger collective self-defense? It is honestly hard to say. Putin is an opportunistic but careful prince; who knows how far he feels he can push the West? Would NATO states be only bluffing? The West is war weary and apathetic; America and Northern Europe care little for the taste of martial glory. That is something Britain’s MPs fear is far too likely, that NATO lacks sufficient “political will” to follow through on any promises it makes.
These days the road to hell, or world war in a nuclear age, seems smoothly paved indeed. The temptation to complacency and appeasement may prove stronger than integrity and treaty, but should that prove the case then have we only traded one forerunner for a second? Only God and time will tell. Let us pray for peace.