So something has been bugging me today. Since 2014 we’ve seen a familiar pattern of responses to Russian aggression. It goes like this:
- Russia commits flagrant act of military aggression.
- Western leaders insist there’s no military solution, call for restraint, express concern, etc.
- Pundits come up with responses.
- Other pundits warn that these responses could lead to World War III.
Russia seized the Crimea, but Western leaders urged the new Ukrainian government to maintain restraint. Russia put about 700 tanks and armored vehicles in Ukraine, but selling Ukraine Javelins would “escalate the conflict” that Putin already escalated on several occasions in the past. Russia attacks and seizes Ukrainian naval vessels, but any show of force, such as sending a few more NATO ships to the Black Sea, would provoke World War III. It’s really strange how responding to Russia’s aggression is the thing that’s going to provoke World War III, but nobody’s warning Russia about doing this when they make their aggressive moves on their own initiative. It’s almost like some kind of bias.
Let’s take a moment to remember some of the things which were sure to provoke WWIII with Russia, yet didn’t:
-The downing of a Russian Su-24 by a NATO state (Turkey) for briefly crossing its airspace
-Supply non-lethal, then lethal aid to Ukraine
-Accidentally bombing Russia’s Syrian allies
-Intentionally bombing the crap out of Russian mercenaries near Deir-ez-Zor
-Several large-scale NATO military exercises near Russia’s border
-Ukraine sending armed patrol boats to protect a tugboat from Russian coast guard vessels
Now if Russia is going to launch World War III over some NATO ships coming to support Ukraine’s right of passage through the Kerch strait (guaranteed by a bilateral treaty with Russia from 2003), then perhaps Russia, and not NATO, is the aggressive party we should be worried about, right?
See the thing about appeasement of aggressive military powers is that the logic of avoiding war only goes so far. By tacitly encouraging or ignoring further military aggression, the aggressor advances further and further until there is no more buffer zone and war becomes inevitable. We have the perfect example of this in 1938. At that time, the Third Reich could have been totally wrecked had Britain and France stood with Czechoslovakia, whose army was one of the largest and well-equipped in Europe. Czechoslovakia also had potential backing from Poland and the Soviet Union, which was offering up to 1 million troops to defend the last democracy in Central/Eastern Europe (though getting transit rights was an issue at the time). Most people are unaware of how weak the Third Reich actually was in those days, and how many of their famous war-time accomplishments had more to do with taking bold risks and capitalizing off the mistakes of their enemies than a highly advanced war machine. In fact, one of the things that war machine depended on in the early years of the war were weapons, particularly tanks, captured from Czechoslovakia when they invaded and broke up that country in the spring of 1939. The Third Reich survived to commit its unprecedented atrocities because no one was willing to call its bluff.
Upon seeing how Hitler had hoodwinked him by taking Czechoslovakia, Chamberlain and his French allies were forced to try to draw the line somewhere else, this time in Poland. Of course they knew they would not fight for Danzig, as did Hitler. Once again, appeasement encouraged aggression, and at this point Britain and France had no choice but to declare war or be totally discredited. Imagine, if they had stood firm for Czechoslovakia. Imagine if they’d stood up for Austria, or even better- stood up for Austria in 1934 when Hitler didn’t even have Mussolini on his side. But because the British and French couldn’t fathom a local European war, they ended up with a world war, the most destructive in history.
Those who have read my work know that I don’t believe anyone can win Ukraine’s war for it. I do not want NATO or other foreign troops fighting in Ukraine. Support and aid is fine, but this is Ukraine’s fight. That being said, I do still believe that had one U.S. Army Brigade Combat Team or a USMC Regimental Combat Team arrived in Ukraine with air support as soon as the Little Green Men showed up in Crimea, things would have gone a lot differently. Ditto with the Donbas. Remember, Putin denied they were Russian troops. Nothing wrong with the US helping its ally deal with some armed “separatists,” right? Putin would be forced with an ultimatum- fight and risk war with NATO and everything that entails, or run and avoid the humiliation of Russia’s best troops getting trounced by a small force of American professionals. Remember, this is an empire built on narratives and propaganda. Putin had a big flank in the wind and yet he got away with everything because the West immediately decided there was no military solution when he had already decided there was.
Of course we don’t want war. Nobody really wants it. But what do you do when war is at your doorstep? What do you do when an aggressor shows you time and time again that they will continue to act in an aggressive manner toward your country or its allies? And if responding to that aggression may escalate the conflict, isn’t that primarily the fault of the side who started it in the first place? If a man is walking around a bar punching people, shouldn’t someone stop him, or do we engage in pearl-clutching and whine about “escalation” and the possibility of drawing more people into a brawl?
If we’re going to keep worrying about WWIII every time Russia embarks on another military adventure, we might as well just surrender every country they would claim as Russia’s sphere of influence and allow Putin and his cronies to further corrupt our system with money-laundering and organized crime. Sure, we’ll end up living in a neo-feudal dystopia and the Earth will become unable to support our species a few decades after that, but hey, at least we’ll have only had two world wars.*
So please, if you’re concerned about provocative military gestures that could spark a third world war, please direct your complaints to the side initiating them first and foremost.
*Assuming you don’t count the dozens of multinational conflicts that will inevitably break out due to the lack of resources and the promotion of xenophobia and nationalism.