Putin’s War: Old Threats Reemerge


Until 1945, war had always been “The solution to problems that have no solutions,” as a French minister once put it. But when America dropped atomic bombs on the Japanese cities of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, war suddenly ceased to be a solution and became a grim harbinger of atomic winter.

True, it brought a quick end to World War II, but perhaps the only other positive thing about the “Bomb” was the worldwide consensus that big wars were now impossible. Atomic war would mean mutually assured destruction that not even the most diabolical leaders would risk. Or so sane people reasoned, a collective opinion that remained more or less unchallenged until 2022 and the Russian invasion.

Now we wonder whether the assurance that traditional warfare was over may have been said too soon. The Russian invasion of Ukraine is the kind of classic military aggression we thought history had buried for good. Hence the worldwide shock and dismay when it happened again.

It was as though a prehistoric dinosaur, a Tyrannosaurus Rex of war, had come back to life to tear and trample our already wounded world. Just when we had gotten used to war’s sordid replacement tactics–spying, lying, sham, and hacking–by friends and foes alike, Vladimir Putin turns the world upside down with an honest-to-God invasion in the crass, unapologetic, historical style. And does so without the expected pretexts and pretenses characteristic of today’s governments. The world has not seen anything so brazen since Adolf Hitler. Instead, we had come to accept international deceit as normal.

Now the question is how to cope with a despot who doesn’t hide his nefarious designs. Does the evident reluctance of other nations to retaliate give the Russian leader a winning advantage?

Not that the atomic age, which supposedly ended traditional wars, also ended the problems that caused them. In fact, more problems that ever confront humanity and the natural world: vanishing resources and dying species, environmental destruction, ethnic and religious fanaticism, economic and social injustices, and–as always–ambitious, abusive despots.

Worst of all, there is no international organization with the legitimate power and authority to deal with them. Although war seems obsolete, humanity hasn’t yet devised an effective alternative. The United Nations are anything but united, and many members are nations in name only. Diplomacy and American dollars have limited viability. And for moral reasons, U.S. military might is a half-hearted option, and thus, half-heartedly applied–Korea, Vietnam, Afghanistan, the Middle East.

Despite its economic and military power, American, the free-world leader by default, inclines politically to quick solutions and lacks historical memory. Hence its lackluster diplomatic history. Does anyone even remember, for instance, the diplomatic fiction called SEATO, or the flimsy pacts with other New World countries?

As for Putin’s brazen gambit, it’s easy to predict that it will turn out to be catastrophic–already for the Ukraine, soon for other countries, and perhaps ultimately, most of all for Russia itself (published March 17, 2022).