I don’t write much about climate change for a number of reasons, but it is always nagging me, in the back of my head. We’re at a point where we must act now. Sadly, we’ve got a bunch of distractions. Big distractions.
This is the alien invasion. This is the global tragedy that should bring us all together. But we see how that worked with a global pandemic. Business as usual while people sickened and died. The sickness and death continues while too many want to ignore it. This is a solvable problem, if we would put much less funding into it than we do into war.
I have greatly enjoyed Twitter. It has been my main source of news and a continuing thread of humor, and I have met a great number of intelligent and helpful people through it. It’s a communication medium in which I’ve tested my ideas and learned from others.
Deterrence is a peculiar concept. Its effectiveness is measured by actions that don’t take place. Actions that are often called deterrence may have nothing to do with the actions that don’t take place.
It’s hackneyed to start with a definition, but this is a confused enough subject that let’s do it. Here’s what Google gives me, from Oxford Languages:
de·ter·rence /dəˈtərəns/ noun the action of discouraging an action or event through instilling doubt or fear of the consequences. “nuclear missiles remain the main deterrence against possible aggression”
To keep it simple, let’s assume two actors. Actor One may be contemplating an action that Actor Two finds undesirable. So Actor Two takes an action to instill doubt or fear of the consequences in Actor One’s mind.
Reports keep surfacing that Russia is forcibly removing people from Ukraine to Russia. RFE/RL has one of the more reliable reports of Ukrainians in Astrakhan. These reports are inherently difficult to confirm, but there are enough that something like this probably is happening. Even before Russia’s attack, “evacuations” from the Donbas to Russia were reported. Additionally, children have been reported to have been separated from their parents or taken from hospitals to be adopted in Russia.
The numbers are in the tens to hundreds of thousands for people forced to go to Russia, and in the double to triple digits for children taken. There are also reports of camps being set up to “educate” teachers and students in the Russian language and culture.
When the Soviets invaded their neighbors during World War II, they moved people to Siberia and Kazakhstan. Russians were then moved into those countries.
If indeed tens or hundreds of thousands of people are being moved from Ukraine, it is likely that this was part of Russia’s plan so that buses and trains could be made available.
Vladmir Putin started this war, and he could stop it today if he chose. What he thinks is important. He’s told us what he thinks. The way Russia is conducting the war supports what he’s said.
It’s easy to dismiss Putin’s screeds as historically inaccurate and a bizarre reading of current events. They are. But listing how they’re incorrect misses the point, which is that Putin believes these things: Ukraine was never a separate entity from Russia. Lenin and others made mistakes that separated Ukraine from its appropriate place in the scheme of things. Russia and Ukraine can never fulfil their true destiny apart from each other. Those are the central points.
Also in his belief system is that NATO, the United States, and the EU, which are lumped together as “the West,” are dedicated to undermining Russia’s proper place in the world. It’s less clear that he buys the whole long-standing Pan-Slavic myth that Russia has been specially designated by God to redeem the world. But at least Russia is a superpower that the rest of the world must recognize as such.
A number of people want to up the ante on Vladimir Putin. He made nuclear threats, so let’s threaten him back. He won’t escalate.
They leave out a lot.
What they leave out is a serious consideration, based on Putin’s words and actions, of his likely response. Assuming that one’s own side will always take the last action is as common a misapprehension in war as the idea that an invading army will be greeted as liberators, and just as dangerous.
Some of the authors of recent articles imply or state that they are not advocating escalation, but their bottom line is that Putin’s threats to use nuclear weapons must be met with similarly warlike responses. They criticize President Joe Biden for stating clearly that the United States will not meet Russia with a military response because those statements eliminate some of the steps they would like to take.
There are a lot of bad takes coming out on the war. Two documents provide the background necessary to evaluate them.
Masha Gessen talks about how authoritarianism works in Russia in this extended interview by Anand Giridharadas. Gessen has experienced that authoritarianism first hand and now lives in the United States.
What Putin has been doing for many, many years is building up to a big war. At a certain point, I felt crazy for saying it because the big war kept not starting. But the logic of his rhetoric, the logic of his actions, the logic of totalitarianism in general — all of these things required a big war. Since his Munich speech in 2007, there has been a constant and open insistence on re-establishing Russia as a great power and a refusal to recognize what’s referred to as the world order.