Hello dear reader(s)!
Occasionally, a conflict will arise in which both parties continue to escalate until pushed right to the brink. It happened in 1963 during the Cuban Missile Crisis. Because of ICBM’s, thermonuclear warheads, launch detection systems, reconnaissance aircraft, and a whole host of other military weapons and tools; it became clear to both the US and the USSR that continued escalation of a conflict would result in the complete and utter destruction of humanity. Because of this knowledge, both parties sought a back-channel way to deescalate the tension. Concessions were made on both sides, and the crisis was just barely averted.
Brinkmanship is a failed strategy when both have the means and will to take everyone out with them. As arms proliferation increases worldwide, the devastation many nations now have the potential to unleash is simply not worth whatever gains may be made by pushing a conflict closer to the brink. When things reach that point, it is wiser to seek peace, than to face the alternative on a matter of principle.
It is happening right now with Syria. Many are reporting that the United States has sought to reach out to Russia indicating an abnegation of the United States’ former demand of regime change in order to seek a strong ally in the fight against ISIS. Assad is completely willing to watch his people be brutally slaughtered and has participated in the slaughter itself. Assad, is trying to maintain his grip on power in Syria. ISIS on the other hand, is trying to create an Islamic world and is so radical that there are no means of negotiation available. Assad is a brutal dictator, but like Saddam Hussein in Iraq, he kept things more stable than those who would fight against him. The United States is offering a concession to Russia that they will not pursue immediate regime change in Syria, both as an attempt at gaining an ally in the fight against ISIS, but also a gesture to Russia to try to deescalate the tensions that have been building between the two nations since Putin has become increasingly willing to return to the Soviet style of rule; and especially since the Ukraine crisis and annexation of Crimea.
A return to a hotter side of a cold war is not something in the best interest of either nation or humanity in general. Russia has a large stake in Syria, and with the United States trying to oust Assad, Russia does not want to lose its influence. Russia has reportedly signaled that they would be open to the proposal of the United States that eventually Assad should be deposed, but Russia (rather than the United States) would have a hand in the transition. In the meantime, the two nations cooperate on fighting the larger threat to stable governments and people worldwide (ISIS) and try to stem some of the damage created by fighting in the first place.
Tensions remain between the United States and Russia, and due to their histories, those tensions likely will continue for the foreseeable future. However, cooperation between the two nations to avoid the unthinkable is absolutely paramount to humanity, because both nations have the capability to wipe it out. I see this conciliatory gesture by the United States as a step in the right direction. Strategically, the United States does not have interests in Syria. Russia does. If Russia oversees a power transition in Syria that stabilizes the region (even if it is not the type of government the US would like to see there) the United States is actually in a better position than when Assad had an iron grip on the country; and most definitely a better position than it is in now. Additionally new lines of communication and cooperation will open between the two nations that are still most capable of ending life on Earth.
But what if we went further? What if nations quit playing games in the names of their “interests”, let the past stay in the past, and actually sought to allow the peaceful co-existence without the maneuvering and tit-for-tat responses that result in the destruction of innocent lives? What if they abandoned the arming of people initially thought to be allies because of a common enemy? What if they quit looking to expand power and influence and instead were happy with what they have? The defense capabilities of the nations are beyond question in the face of serious attack. Military budgets could be drastically reduced to maintain that defense capability, provide for good intelligence and counter-terrorism forces, and debt would be reduced allowing for stronger economies. Rather than blowing trillions of dollars on meddling in the affairs of sovereign nations, (which never really works out well anyway), the money could go to things that actually benefit people.
The first step is to withdraw from treaties to protect nations that don’t act like allies anyway. The commitment to protect countries of aggression and human-rights abuses has done more harm than good. It is widely believed that the United States’ courting of Ukraine into joining NATO (along with the Russian backed Yanukovych fleeing the country in favor a more NATO friendly government), led to Russian military intervention in Ukraine and the paramilitary elections. The expansion of the alliance was seen as threatening to Russia and Russia used the corruption of the new government to its advantage by backing rebels. Trying to expand power resulted in a power loss, and more importantly the loss of innocent lives.
I believe that we have reached a point in our evolution, where reason can win out over aggression. I think peace should be something to strive for whenever possible. Sometimes “the only winning move, is not to play.”*