Saturday, October 3, 2015

Not the Usual Bad News

Four years ago I argued that the trend since the Cold War's end has been toward the diminution of great power rivalry--not only between Russia and the West, but Russia and China, and China with its other neighbors, including India and Japan, and China and the United States. Indeed, I argued that "the relations of the major powers are less defined by concerns about traditional, state-centered threats than at any time since the nineteenth century, if not earlier."

I still think my reading of how things stood at the time of writing was not unreasonable--all the more so as I acknowledged that the situation could deteriorate, especially in a context of continued economic turmoil, as it in fact did. However, I have to admit that I did not think it would deteriorate so much, so quickly.

Today I would argue that the risk of great power war is as bad as it has been in at least three decades, and maybe longer than that.

Even at the Cold War's height, there was nothing quite like the Crimean crisis (an open invasion and annexation by the forces of a great power inside Europe).

Or the present war in the Donbass (a far more dangerous thing than the 2008 Russo-Georgian War that I earlier took to be as bad as the competition between Russia and the West was likely to get--overoptimistically, it now appears).

Or the war in Syria, which with its skies filled with the planes of foreign air forces pursuing their own, conflicting campaigns, is starting to look even more dangerous than the conflict in Ukraine. (Even in the Korean War, the Soviet pilots officially flew in Chinese planes based in Chinese territory, in contrast with the Russian Air Force units openly stationed in Syria now.)

That the wars in Donbass and Syria are happening at the same time makes the situation the more frightening. As does the fact that, along with the other wars already ongoing, these conflicts have helped turn over 60 million people into refugees and displaced persons--numbers the world has not seen since World War II.

In short, what we are getting in the international security sphere is not just the "usual" bad news. Just as the bad economic news of the past several years has not been the usual bad economic news (and seems set to worsen still, with China slowing down, currencies devaluating and stocks volatile everywhere, while the repeatedly, thoroughly discredited neoliberalism of the '70s remains the "conventional wisdom"). And our ecological problems, like global warming (which picture seems to get worse every time anyone looks at it).

While each and all seem likely to worsen the rest of our problems, about which the media (its mainstream, anyway) seem astonishingly, frighteningly blasè, as if they don't get the significance of it all, not that there is anything terribly subtle about it. It seems more likely that what all these things point to simply seems unthinkable--and so they do not think about it, even though that may be one of the surest ways of heightening the danger.

Unfortunately, I have to admit that not being sure what to say to all this has been one reason why my other blog was so inactive for so long.

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