Since 1945, great powers have not fought against each other. Instead, tensions between great powers have been discharged through proxy wars: the Huk Resistance versus the Philippine government; North Korea versus South Korea; the Malayan National Liberation Army versus British Malaya; North Vietnam versus South Vietnam; the Mujahideen versus the Democratic Republic of Afghanistan; and any number of civil wars within Western-aligned, Eastern-aligned and non-aligned states. In every instance, the Cold War protagonists either explicitly or implicitly supported the opposing belligerents, but never took up arms directly against one another.
Sometimes the West was victorious (e.g. The Philippines, Malaya), sometimes the East (e.g., Vietnam), but most such conflicts resulted in stalemate and armed truce (e.g., the Korean Peninsula, Afghanistan). By and large, the dominoes may have teetered, but eventually stayed in place. All this was largely necessitated by nuclear deterrence and the threat of mutual assured destruction. But it was also, by and large, a good thing, at least as compared with all-out war between the Eastern and Western Blocs.
That is to say, it was a good thing unless one had the misfortune to reside in a buffer state. But this was a minor consideration for great powers. With some notable exceptions, buffer states had these things in common: they tended to be poor, undeveloped, agrarian economies, situated in South or South-East Asia, Latin America, or Africa, populated by people with ochre or umber skins. Alas, in the grand scheme of things, these geopolitical pawns mattered little to the developed world. The West’s shame is epitomised by the inglorious US withdrawals from Saigon (1975) and Kabul (2021).
The exceptions included the 1953 East Germany Uprising, the 1956 Hungarian Revolution and the 1968 Warsaw Pact invasion of Czechoslovakia. Here, the battle grounds were relatively sophisticated European countries with developed industrial economies, Judaeo-Christian cultural traditions, and populations predominantly of the Caucasoid phenotype. But an unwritten rule of the Cold War prohibited any of the great powers from interfering in another’s immediate sphere of influence. So these incursions were short-lived, extensive property damage was avoided, the casualties were minimal, and – for better or for worse – life soon returned to normal.
That was until 24 February 2022.
Suddenly, we are faced with something not seen since 1945. A war on the European continent. A great power war. A war against the grandchildren and great-grandchildren of those who fought off the Nazi menace.
From the Western standpoint, it is a war against people just like us. Predominantly Christian people. People who share our history, our traditions of Eurocentric art, music and culture. People whose East Slavic language and Cyrillic alphabet are unmistakably of the Indo-European language family. People who dress like we do, who live in houses not unlike our own. People who attend schools and universities, work in jobs, shop at supermarkets, enjoy recreations, largely indistinguishable from those in our countries. People who are used to a high standard of health care, a high standard of social infrastructure, a high standard of living. People who laugh at the same comedies as we do, who cry at the same tragedies. A war of barbaric ferocity and pitiless atrocities is being prosecuted against Western civilisation.
Against the ineffable depravity of Putin’s onslaught, the zombies of the White House and Brussels – the living dead who purport to lead the Free World and its premier defensive alliance, Nato – have resorted to type. For three-quarters of a century they have got by with proxy wars, not daring to take up arms against another great power, leaving the Kremlin butchers with a free hand in their own back yard. But this is not East German 1953, Hungary 1956, or Czechoslovakia 1968. It is no brief incursion which, with limited property damage and minimal casualties, will lead to restoration of the status quo ante bellum. It is a naked and ruthless land-grab by a totalitarian state against a stable democracy.
No less shocking for being utterly predictable are the atrocities now being reported out of Bucha, Irpin and Berestyanka – added to those previously witnessed in the Chernihiv and Kharkiv regions, and especially Mariupol – and the horrific Kramatorsk railway station massacre. But also utterly predictable, sad to say, is the response from Western leaders: more hectoring rhetoric, more sanctions, more supplies to Ukraine, but nothing new or different. What used to be called a ‘line in the sand’, now (for no obvious reason) called a ‘red line’, has plainly been crossed. The West cannot hamstring itself with Queensberry Rules when Putin is fighting ‘no holds barred’. It is time to throw away the Cold War playbook. If the West will not do so for the sake of Ukraine – as it should – then it must do so in its own interests.
Since 1945, the US and its allies have poured countless trillion dollars, spilt countless billion gallons of blood, sacrificed countless million lives, in wars on foreign soil, often upon the flimsiest of pretexts. In Afghanistan alone, the US spent an estimated $2.3 trillion over 20 years, before their ignominious capitulation; yet nothing in Afghanistan came close to provoking the justified moral outrage at Russia’s Ukraine war. The Persian Gulf War cost an estimated $1.9 trillion, took (depending on estimates) over 1 million lives, and eviscerated the US military reputation through the torture and murder of war prisoners, all to seize non-existent ‘weapons of mass destruction’, and to achieve regime change by replacing one evil autocracy with another arguably worse. By contrast, there can be no doubt that Putin’s regime is the incarnation of evil and certainly possesses WMDs.
The first step, surely, is to send a battle fleet to the Black Sea and Sea of Azov to guard shipping through international waterways, to and from Ukraine ports, and to interdict Russian attempts to prevent either the landing of supplies or the evacuation of refugees.
Not even Putin’s propaganda machine could seriously suggest that protection of shipping in international waters amounts to interference in a war which, according to the Kremlin, is not a war at all. And if this is seen by Russia as a ‘provocation’ and leads to retaliation, Western forces will be well within their rights to defend themselves and their Nato allies – including Romania and Bulgaria, Nato members which both have lengthy Black Sea littorals.
One way or another, the West needs to show that it is willing to provide active support to the people of Ukraine, regardless of Russian threats and intimidation. Patrolling international waters is a way to send that message, without becoming – or being seen to be – an aggressor.
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