Pulling Together


Neither a Kennedy nor a Kruschev

As Britain experiences its first frosts and the BBC begins its annual appeal for St Martin in the Fields’ work with homeless people, my thoughts cannot help turning to the real horror and homelessness being experienced in Ukraine as a deliberate policy imposed by a brutal dictator in a neighbouring state. In all that monstrous hardship, I can’t forget that this is a disaster to which the relatively rich countries of the West could easily respond.

When natural disaster strikes it is easy to feel overwhelmed. We know, for the most part, there is little we can do to prevent earthquakes or hurricanes, and in our powerlessness all we can offer are tents and food supplies and a few medics to go and treat the injured. The disaster in Ukraine is different. It is not natural or inevitable; it is the deliberate act of one very evil man. If that one man could be persuaded to change his direction further disaster could be prevented and reconstruction and relief could become meaningful. This war is cruel, and instead of ending the cruelty, as we could, Western nations posture and send arms to even up the fighting and help it continue.

I am not suggesting countries should stop sending arms to Ukraine. Ukraine needs to defend itself and Putin must not be allowed to get away with his dastardly crimes. What I mean is we need to grapple with what we can do to put an end to this intolerable suffering. This war is evil and if we can end it we are surely impelled morally to do so. All it would take is NATO leadership with the courage and strategic insight of Nikita Kruschev or John Kennedy, for those two statesmen showed us how high-stakes situations could be handled for the good of their nations and the stability of the world. Sadly, Joe Biden appears not to be a Kennedy, and even less of a Kruschev, and that is to the West’s shame, and something with which Putin has safely gambled, which reassures him he can attack nation after nation with impunity, as Hitler did before him. It took a long time for the world to wake up to Hitler, and even longer to wake up to Putin.

If we look back sixty years to a cold-war world where America had installed some medium range nuclear missiles in Turkey and the Soviet Union was, understandably enough, feeling threatened by them, and America had also tried to reverse a revolution in its neighbour, Cuba, by mounting a failed invasion attempt, driving the new Cuban regime to look for a powerful ally against the United States, we can see how the art of “brinkmanship” developed. A Cuba which hastily identified itself as Communist in order to gain the protection of the Soviet Union provided Kruschev with just the opportunity he needed to persuade the US to change its mind about stationing missiles on the USSR’s doorstep. All he had to do was a tit-for-tat installation in his new ally next door to the US, and wait for the inevitable American reaction.

Although the media sensationalised the Cuban Missile Crisis, spreading fear through many people at the time, it was only really a crisis in the Greek sense of a moment of decision. Neither leader had any intention of starting a war, nuclear or otherwise. Rather, America probably saw its missiles as a deterrent to Soviet aggression and the Soviet ones were almost certainly a ploy to show the US how such actions would be perceived. Rather than warmongers, Kennedy and Kruschev might be better compared to two poker players raising the stakes and observing each other’s reaction. Each therefore brought the other to understand that this kind of threat was not a sensible policy. Sane people could come to no other conclusion.

The outcome of this stand-off was renewed efforts to improve communication between the two governments, reduce the probability of war arising by accident through misunderstanding, cement the doctrine of Mutually Assured Destruction and its pertinent acronym, and ultimately talks to reduce the size of the nuclear arsenals both sides held.

World leaders cannot show fear. They have to have the courage of their convictions. When Joe Biden talks of avoiding escalation he is making the same mistake as leaders who thought appeasement would satisfy Hitler. Escalation is exactly what is needed to dissuade bullies.

The most foolish thing Putin did in Ukraine was to declare four more provinces to be Russian territory, even as he was losing them. Until that moment he could, at any time, save face by declaring his “Special Military Operation” to have achieved its purpose, and withdraw. Since the threat against which he was fighting was largely illusory, a victory could be equally imagined. Now he has got himself on a hook. He has raised the stakes and made it more obvious if he lose, and therefore closed his option of withdrawing. It is an odd thing for a politician to do, and indicates how little he thinks the West will respond. His gamble has paid off. Instead of matching his move, Biden continues to talk of avoiding escalation, not realising escalation is exactly what’s needed to end this here and now.

The right kind of escalation is to raise the stakes until Putin has to withdraw, not to add fuel to the already burning fire, but to divert attention elsewhere, giving Putin an even more urgent concern justifying him abandoning for now his escapade in Ukraine. NATO could easily arrange that without firing a shot. All that would be needed would be a massive troop build-up along the Russian border, forcing Putin to move his army North to face it. We could end the war without firing a shot, simply because an army can’t be in two places at once. Thousands of lives would be saved. The fighting would stop, Ukraine could consolidate its position, and the world would learn another lesson about the folly of war. All it needs is leaders with vision and courage. Are we so lacking in those we let the killing and destruction continue?

About the Author

K J Petrie has a Full Technological Certificate in Radio, TV and Electronics, an HNC in Digital Electronics and a BA(Hons) in Theological Studies.

His interests include Christian and societal unity, Diverse Diversity, and freedoms from want, from fear, of speech, and of association. He is a member of the Social Democratic Party.

The views expressed here are entirely personal and unconnected with any body to which he belongs.

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