Russian Backfire 4/13/22

Political Thoughts by Richard Bleil

Russia truly messed up.  Sweden and Finland are now considering joining NATO, and when Sweden, famously neutral, decides to join a military alliance, you know that you messed up.

After World War II, there were several developments in the world.  Three of them were the establishment of the United Nations (the UN), NATO (the North Atlantic Treaty Organization), and the Warsaw Pact (now dissolved).  The principle of the UN was to develop a single body that includes all nations of the world, where leaders can all discuss issues, concerns and problems.  This was designed as a vehicle where differences could be resolved without resorting to war, and always had the full support of the US prior to Trump.  And it has been moderately successful.  Problems arise when you have difficulty identifying and recognizing nations and leaders. 

Unfortunately, despot leaders (such as Putin) don’t like working through the UN.  If they don’t get their way, they’re not likely to settle on whatever decision is made.  Russia should have been able to work through the UN with its grievances, but they knew they would never get what they wanted, so they elected to invade instead.  This is why NATO was created.  Currently with twenty-eight nations, NATO was conceptually a military organization for the defense of its member nations.  After Germany twice threatened world domination in less than a century, the need for a military agreement became certain. 

The idea behind NATO is a simple one; an attack on one NATO nation is an attack on all NATO nations.  If a nation were to try to invade, for example, England, they would find themselves in a war with all twenty-eight member nations.  Unfortunately, after World War II and the brief and uncomfortable alliance between Russia and the United States, the nations quickly fell back into a hostile standing.  American Generals were pushing for the allied nations to invade Russia “and just get it over with”, so to say that Russia was the aggressive nation is woefully myopic.  Russia couldn’t allow NATO to stand without their own response.

This is why the Warsaw Pact was created.  It was the counter measure to NATO, and had eight nation members, including the massive Soviet Union.  It was politicians saying, “oh yeah?  Oh yeah?  Well, us, too!”  Political Russian influence was felt most strongly in nations near the USSR, and those nations became communist, while those further away did not.  As a result, you could literally draw a line down Europe, with communist nations to the East and democratic to the west.  NATO was mainly comprised of Western nations, and the Warsaw pact Eastern.  The fall of the “Iron Curtain” and the prolonged “Cold War” only cemented this distinction.

Fast Forward to the Ukrainian invasion.  Russia’s stance towards the Ukraine has never been friendly, including when they annexed Crimea in 2014.  Basically, they just said, nope, this is ours now.  It wasn’t a military invasion, just a rude and abrupt declaration of a part of the Ukraine.  Because of this act and the threat of Russian invasion, the Ukraine had been considering joining NATO for its own protection.  With the Warsaw Pact dissolved, Russia, of course, saw this as a “dangerous expansion” of NATO.  It seemed wise to Putin that, if he was to prevent this, he should simply invade the Ukraine and make it part of Russia once again.

Today, he finds himself embroiled in a war that was far less successful than he had anticipated.  NATO is not defending the Ukraine because it is not a NATO nation, and to become actively engaged would quickly lead to an escalation between nuclear superpowers.  For the criticism Biden is taking, I’m happy he is smart enough to keep us out of a war with Russia which would be devastating on both sides. 

But Russia’s desire to keep NATO from expanding has had an opposite effect, as mentioned previously, with two more nations considering joining the alliance.  Now he is kicking and screaming like a child (sound familiar?) because he is not getting his way and keeping NATO at bay.  In fact, these hostilities have nations looking for ways to keep Russia from expanding into their territory, and NATO membership guarantees a swift and powerful response if he tries. 

But let’s not kid ourselves.  Russia’s invasion is devastating to the entire world.  While economic responses has isolated Russia and threatens to collapse its economy (as it did at the end of the cold war), we’re all feeling the pinch.  Without Russian wheat and food prices at the grocery store are rising, and without Russian oil and gas, prices at the fuel pump are following suit. 

What Putin, and despots like him, fails to understand is that international security comes from international trade.  As economies become increasingly dependent on goods and services from each other, why would any nation choose to threaten that supply chain by invading another?  Russia has demonstrated this, spectacularly.  Today, Russia has very limited trade partners and finds that their independence is far more difficult than being a friendly trade partner.  Just as we are feeling the pinch from losing Russian trade, they are feeling it much more painfully.  This is an interesting world war, not the kind predicted by authors, but one of economics.  We’re all suffering from this particular world war.

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