Fool, it is the end of your world

I was the 9 years old when the Berlin wall fell. I was 11 when the Soviet Union ceased to exist. My generation never knew the draft and never really knew a world in which the US was at risk. The fall of the Twin Towers was traumatic for my generation because it revealed that there were people in the world who wanted to kill Americans. But except for a few brief days when nobody knew the full extent of what had happened, no one thought America as whole was in danger. On the scale of a brief national history that includes the Civil War and World War II, the Twin Towers do not even register.

Confident in our power, we destroyed nations to make sure no one would even think of attacking us again. Never in this entire process was the thought that America itself was in the balance. Instead, the debates were about dollars and cents. They were about whether the gains were worth the cost. Whether we were killing bad guys faster than were making more enemies for ourselves. It was a consumer nation at war and we made war as if it was just another product to be consumed or not as we saw fit.

That world is dying and may already be dead. Now war carries with it the devil’s choice of slavery or death. America is not longer a consumer. Now America is just a gambler trying to figure which door has the least bad surprise while trying to pretend it can reason its way to the right answer.

Not everyone has figured that out yet. But the educated fools are getting increasingly panic stricken. Now some people in the Pro-Ukraine camp are starting to openly talk about the need to make sure Ukraine gives in before Russia uses nukes. They are not in the majority for sure. But it is becoming more and more real for people the weaker and weaker that Russia appears on the battle field.

The argument of this fool is all too typical of these people. He argues…..

Consider the least escalatory option, that of a “demonstration detonation”: Russian forces air-burst (to avoid the nuclear fallout that results from a ground detonation) a tactical nuclear weapon with sub-kiloton yield (ie, no bigger than a big conventional weapon) over uninhabited territory somewhere in south-eastern Ukraine. This would be consistent with Russia’s “escalate-to-deescalate” doctrine (although the doctrine is also consistent with limited use of nuclear weapons at much greater scale). What happens then?

Precisely because it is such a dramatic break with precedent, even a demonstration detonation would radically change the character of the Russo-Western conflict over Ukraine. New Yorkers and Berliners etc, are likely to flee the cities. Everywhere, in Europe and America, supermarkets would likely empty within hours. Many local authorities may institute civil defense measures, even as federal governments everywhere urge calm. A widespread breakdown of law and order would be a real possibility; especially in America, where it would be attended by partisan passions and finger-pointing. Under such conditions, keeping the Western alliance together will become extraordinarily difficult. Indeed, it’s possible that even Nato would break under pressure, as anti-war and/or pro-Russian political forces emerge from repression and threaten to break the Western coalition.

So far so good. This is merely an argument that the Western coalition is materially strong but morally weak. Who is to say that he is wrong? But from this plausible starting point he degenerates into becoming a biblically proverbial fool when he says….

And this is where it is really important to think things through. Precisely because Russia is so weak relative to Nato, any Russia-Nato war will eventually escalate into strategic nuclear war, the only level on which the Russia enjoys parity with the United States. So, any counter-escalation by the United States would be fraught with escalation risk and nuclear danger. Bearing this risk could make sense if a vital strategic interest of the United States was at stake — an attack on Western Europe, for instance. But is bearing this escalation risk worth the candle for an extended position all the way out on Russia’s border? And while the US is struggling with this dilemma, the pressure from US allies and third parties to terminate the war and initiate diplomatic negotiations would be relentless.

The underlying weakness of the US position is that, while the stakes are virtually existential for the Russians, they’re quite peripheral to the United States. For if Russia loses, it loses its entire world position. But if Ukraine loses, or the war ends in a stalemate, the United States’s world position will hardly be affected. So the balance of resolve is extremely unfavorable to the United States.

Fools cling to false hope. The false hope in this fool’s argument is “the United States’s world position will hardly be affected.” The truth of the matter is that use of the nuclear weapon by Russia that cause the US to back down will be the end of a world in which nukes are not used. Henceforth, everyone will know that America will back down at the slightest whiff of radiation and they will push that knowledge up to the point that America proves that it will not back down. And how will America prove that?

This fool seems to think that what “vital strategic interest of the United States” is clear to everyone and that one can let go of Ukraine without causing the slightest bit of doubt about American resolve in truly important areas. I have heard Russians proclaim on state TV that the US would never risk nuclear war over the Baltic’s. Is this true? I have heard Russians proclaim on state TV that the US would never risk nuclear war over Poland. Is this true? Once you prove them right in Ukraine, how do you prove them wrong elsewhere?

What this fool forgets is what happened in Somalia. It was an unimportant country that America got involved in because of sentiment. To stop pictures of starving kids from showing up on TV screens we sent troops in. When a handful of troops died, we pulled the troops out. The country was of no “strategic interest to the United States.” We know for a fact that people interpreted that pull out as a sign of American weakness and were embolden to attack the US because of it. The significance of how the pullout from Somalia was perceived had nothing to do with its importance to the US.

In the same matter, you can debate whether the US should have supported Ukraine and be a rational person regardless of what side of the debate you fall on. But if you think the answer to that question has any bearing on how an abandoning of Ukraine will be perceived, you are a fool.

Of course, fools are not limited to any one position. There are fools who think that Russian will never use nukes “because that would not be rational.” There are fools who think that if Russian does use a nuke, we can retaliate conventionally with such force that nobody will use nukes again but not enough force to cause Russian to use more nukes.

The fundamental problem is that people learned all the wrongs lessons from the Cold War. Since the entire world did not blow up during the Cold War, people came up with this idea that mutually assured destruction worked. And because it worked, they somehow convinced themselves that people are rational. But this was all foolishness.

A rational man (at least as defined in contemporary western thought) will never use nukes. Therefore, a rationale man will always be the slave of the irrational man who is willing to use nukes because the rationale man will never be party to the destruction of everything if that is what it takes to stop the irrational man. In theory, if everyone is rational, nuclear weapons bring about peace. If only one actor is irrational, he is King. If two actors are irrational, you have nuclear war in short order.

In reality, things are not that simple. The dividing line between rational and irrational is not that clear cut. Mutually assured destruction worked throughout the Cold War because during World War II all sides had proved with oceans of blood that they were a little bit irrational but all sides were sick of the cost and not eager to pay it again. Thus we had a precarious balance between credible rationally and credible irrationally on both sides.

To a Russian point of view, this apple cart was upset with the election of Ronald Reagan. He believed that the rationality beloved by western elite was immoral and he was determined to win the Cold War. We know from Soviet Archives that his defense build up and general “irrationality” seriously freaked out the Soviet Leadership. It put immense strain on them and their system at a time when they could not take it because of other factors. Some Soviet Leaders at the time argued that the correct response was to strike out in war before they and their entire system went down the drain that they could feel pulling them into the abyss. In the end, the Soviet leadership chooses to be “rational” and go out with a whimper but there is a still a strong segment of Russian opinion that feels that this was a mistake.

We come to the present time and now the Russian doctrine is to escalate to deescalate. In one sense, this is a hat tip to Ronald Reagan. They feel that after the fall of the Soviet Union the west has done nothing but abuse and take advantage of Russia’s “rational” choice and that the west has benefited immensely from Ronald Reagan’s irrational choice. In other sense, this strategy is nothing more than a crude calculation that Russian balls are bigger then Western ones.

But really the focus on Russia obscures the real problem. Maybe Putin will take the defeat of Russian arms and his own demise without ever reaching for the red button. Maybe Russia will rally and win via conventional means and so the question will be moot in regards to Ukraine. It doesn’t matter. If it is not Russia, it will be China. If not China, it will be Iran.

The problem that nukes make the irrational kings and rational slaves is a problem that is inherent in the nature of the weapons and human nature. The precarious balance between rationality and irrationality bequeath to us by the generation that fought World War II is not ours to keep. That world is ending.

The weapons will be used again. Then what?

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *