Blackadder: You see, Baldrick, in order to prevent war in Europe, two superblocs developed: us, the French and the Russians on one side, and the Germans and Austro-Hungary on the other. The idea was to have two vast opposing armies, each acting as the other’s deterrent. That way there could never be a war.
Baldrick: But, this is a sort of a war, isn’t it, sir?
Blackadder: Yes, that’s right. You see, there was a tiny flaw in the plan.
Baldrick: What was that, sir?
Blackadder: It was bollocks.
— From the British television comedy set in World War I, Blackadder Goes Forth, 1989
Today we are only a few miscalculations and missteps away from a nuclear world war: fewer than ever since the Cuban Missile Crisis.
Last week Turkey shot down a Russian military plane over Syria. Turkish-backed fighters on the ground then executed one of the parachuting crew members. The militants also shot down a responding Russian rescue helicopter with a US-supplied anti-tank missile, killing a Russian marine.
Turkey justified the shootdown with allegations about airspace violations (lasting mere seconds), which Russia denies. The Turkish prime minister boasted that he personally authorized the attack.
Russian President Vladimir Putin called the incident a “stab in the back by the accomplices of terrorists.” Russia retaliated by imposing sanctions on Turkey and by allegedly “wiping out” the militants in the area of the shootdown with heavy bombing. Russia has also built up defenses for its planes operating over Syria near Turkey: fighter-plane escorts for bombers, as well as cover by sea-to-air and ground-to-air missile launchers.
Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg proclaimed that NATO “stands in solidarity” with Turkey and vowed support for the member country in any future war with Russia.
What if a Russian jet violates Turkish airspace for a few seconds again? What if Turkey shoots that one down too? What if Russia uses its increased defenses to retaliate? What if Turkey retaliates in turn? What if NATO makes good on its commitment to support Turkey such a conflict? What if all-out war breaks out between the West and Russia? Such a war could escalate to the use of nuclear weapons.
How secure does that make you feel? How do you feel about giving up your life, your children, your hometown, etc, for the absolute sanctity of Turkish airspace? Or for the sake of Turkish assets fighting alongside Syrian Al Qaeda to overthrow a secular head of state on the other side of the world? Or for the sake of protecting the flow of ISIS oil into Turkey and Turkish arms to ISIS?
If such a prospect makes you feel decidedly insecure, then recall that the very existence of NATO is predicated on its provision of “collective security.” As the present Russo-Turkish crisis makes plain, such provision is a myth. Indeed NATO generates profound insecurity for the entire world.
“But wait,” you object, “Mutually Assured Destruction (MAD) is what keeps Russia from attacking NATO-member Turkey.” Well, MAD did not dissuade Turkey from killing Russian troops. So why should we be so sure that MAD wouldn’t similarly fail to prevent Russia from retaliating if it happens again? Or that it wouldn’t fail to keep NATO in general from retaliating in turn?
Moreover, Turkey would not have done something so reckless in the first place if it was not coddled in NATO’s collective security blanket. Turkey is like the little guy in the bar who picks a fight because he knows his tough friends have “got his back,” and ends up instigating a huge brawl.
Superblocs create, not collective security, but severe insecurity, because they enable bloc members (especially truculent ones on the bloc’s “frontier”) to externalize the risks and costs of their own foolhardy belligerence onto other bloc members. Superblocs are giant generators of martial moral hazard.
As Blackadder emphasized, superbloc deterrence completely failed to prevent World War I. To the contrary, the superblocs were war stimulants. Serbs (the little guy in the bar) dared to assassinate Archduke Ferdinand because they knew Russia had their back. The Austro-Hungarians were more willing to come down hard on Serbia because they were confident of German support. And Russia felt free to threateningly mobilize in response thanks to its alliance with Britain and France. Europe’s webs of entangling alliances bound western civilization on a suicidal collision course toward the most disastrously momentous war in history. Expecting peace and security from superblocs is super-“bollocks” indeed.
More recently, Georgia’s tinpot dictator Mikheil Saakashvili was brash enough to pick a fight with Russia over the breakaway province of South Ossetia because he figured the US would back him in the conflict. And indeed the Bush administration would have, had Vice President Dick Cheney gotten his way. Once again, a world war might have been triggered over a petty regional dispute.
When Moscow dissolved both the Warsaw Pact and the Soviet Union, it was a major triumph for global peace and security. And it was a missed opportunity of tragic proportions that the West did not reciprocate by dissolving NATO once that military alliance’s bête noire and raison d’être was no more. Instead, the US promised that NATO would not expand toward Russia. This promise has been repeatedly broken ever since, and NATO has expanded up to the gates of Moscow.
The US-sponsored putsch in Kiev to pull Ukraine into NATO’s orbit was the last straw, and Putin has been responding more harshly to Western interventions in Russia’s near abroad ever since. The new cold war that ensued became even more frigid after Russia began directly militarily opposing the Western-backed jihad in Syria. Now Turkey’s deadly response to that opposition threatens to send the conflict spinning out of control, which may yet turn the cold war into a nuclear winter.
To prevent such a permafrost, we must demand that our “security forces” thaw relations with Russia, disable the nuclear tripwires that enmesh the earth, and dissolve the global suicide pact that is NATO. Life is infinitely more important than empire.