Weeks where Decades Happen
Great Powers are on a collision course. Can it be avoided?
This is the way the world ends
This is the way the world ends
This is the way the world ends
Not with a bang, but with a tweet
That’s right folks: You’re looking at a NATO war propaganda tweet about Harry Potter. I never once imagined I’d see the words “NATO,” “tweet,” and “Harry Potter” in the same sentence. But it’s 2023 and we’re in Bizarro World, so I suppose any sort of wacky word salad can be reality and not something from the ramblings of a paranoid schizophrenic or a bad acid trip.
So what does it matter if NATO hired some dork to run their Twitter account and post movie references? Who cares if they want to compare Ukrainian soldiers to fictional freedom fighters and Hollywood heroes?
It matters a great deal, actually. It’s another step in an ongoing series of escalations. Not only is this message pure propaganda aimed at managing public sentiment, it’s a perfect example of the flippancy with which a possible World War 3 is being approached. This story is not Harry Potter or Star Wars and we are not in a movie. This kind of rhetoric is a dangerous and calculated move to push people to mistake fiction for reality and thus diminish the reality of consequences.
Speaking of fiction and reality — to those who might think “Wait, Ukraine isn’t part of NATO,” you’re half right. But there’s a difference between de facto (in reality) and de jure (legal/official) membership, and anyone with eyes can see that Ukraine is now effectively part of NATO. I’ve pointed out before that the Ukrainian Defense Minister said so himself, as did Sergey Lavrov, the Russian foreign minister.
For those who say Russia should be unconcerned by NATO expansion, consider this. In 1997, as ranking member of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, then-Senator Joe Biden described how allowing the Baltic states of Estonia, Latvia, and Lithuania to join NATO would damage US-Russian relations. It’s long been known by anyone who matters that NATO expansion makes Russia anxious.
Check out these clips from the speech Biden gave below. I can’t get C-Span clips to embed, unfortunately, but I strongly suggest watching these.
In the same speech, Biden says he understands Russia’s position and laughingly encourages Russia to go be friends with China and Iran. How amazingly prescient. Remember, this was 1997. So there’s no way to say he couldn’t see what was coming.
Actions speak louder than words. NATO is providing arms, training, funding, and targeting data for Ukraine. So, we are now in effect in a hot NATO-Russia war. That’s the very thing we’ve been trying to avoid since the end of the Second World War. Neat!
And now China has entered the chat, laying out its case for an upcoming conflict against the US. We’ll get into that more a bit later in the article. President Biden visited Kiev (or Kyiv, I don’t care) on February 20, and US Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen is in Ukraine as of this writing to pledge more cash.
You don’t need me to tell you things are changing remarkably fast. Just over a week ago, I wrote about the odds of an upcoming war in Taiwan. Since then, things have changed significantly, and I’m having to reconsider my calculations.
The Cold War lasted decades, and while it certainly had inflection points, it moved at a glacial pace compared to what’s happening now. The most apt metaphors for recent changes are a runaway freight train, or a bus going downhill with its brakes cut, or something like that. The international order is quickly spiraling out of control and I don’t see any serious effort to slow things down.
On the contrary — world leaders seem determined to stomp on the gas.
As the communist revolutionary and Soviet founder V.I. Lenin put it, “There are decades where nothing happens, and weeks where decades happen.” We’re currently in the latter scenario.
Lenin would know something about that. He was both witness to and catalyst for some of the fastest and most momentous changes the world has ever seen. Let’s take a look at just one example of those changes, and then we’ll jump back to now to look at current escalations.
Looking Back: Prelude to WW1
I’d like to draw a comparison to the past. Looking into the past gives an indication as to what can happen in the future. After all, now is not the first time the world has been in a situation spiraling out of control. In the leadup to the First World War, Great Powers leaders watched in horror as their nations were pulled into the vortex of war. They simply lost control. Some approved of and pushed this war, of course.
However, plenty of leaders wanted to prevent the war. The correspondence between German Kaiser Wilhelm II and Russian Tsar Nicholas II are a touching, poignant example of both the personal side of the monarchs — third cousins — as well as their full awareness of just what was on the horizon. I recommend reading them in full.
From Nicky (Tsar Nicholas II) to Willy (Kaiser Wilhelm II), 29 July, 1914:
In this serious moment, I appeal to you to help me. An ignoble war has been declared to a weak country. The indignation in Russia shared fully by me is enormous. I foresee that very soon I shall be overwhelmed by the pressure forced upon me and be forced to take extreme measures which will lead to war. To try and avoid such a calamity as a European war I beg you in the name of our old friendship to do what you can to stop your allies from going too far.
From Willy to Nicky, also 29 July, 1914:
It is with the gravest concern that I hear of the impression which the action of Austria against Serbia is creating in your country.
The unscrupulous agitation that has been going on in Serbia for years has resulted in the outrageous crime, to which Archduke Francis Ferdinand fell a victim. The spirit that led Serbians to murder their own king and his wife still dominates the country.
By July 31, a note from Nicky to Willy contained this line:
It is technically impossible to stop our military preparations which were obligatory owing to Austria's mobilization. We are far from wishing war.
Five days later, Germany invaded Belgium on the way to attack France, which was allied with Russia. This move brought in the United Kingdom, committed to defend Belgium’s neutrality. The leaders of every nation at the time knew what grave danger they were in, yet could do nothing to prevent it once the gears were in motion.
The situation sounds eerily familiar if you simply substitute some country names and events. To summarize: A powerful nation (Austria-Hungary) attacked a comparatively small, neighboring nation (Serbia), with whom they had long had a tenuous relationship, after a Serbian national had assassinated Austria’s heir to the throne. Russia felt compelled to defend Serbia from Austrian aggression, and due its size, it was forced to mobilize. Other countries mobilized in response. It was too late.
If you want to know more about just how the First World War began, there’s no better book on the topic than The Guns of August by historian Barbara Tuchman. I wish our leaders would read it right now.
Four and a half years after the Willy-Nicky telegrams, both Willy and Nicky had been deposed, millions of their citizens were dead, and both governments had collapsed. Tsarist Russia went into years of civil war to become the USSR, and Imperial Germany became Nazi Germany fifteen years later. Nicky and his family were captured and executed by his former subjects, and Willy died in exile.
Europe went from general peace in June to continent-wide hostilities by August. The world changed forever in a matter of weeks. And all of this happened decades before nuclear weapons were invented.
Back to the Future: Endless Escalations
Back to now. We’re in a whirlwind of escalating tensions that have gone global. What escalations have we seen recently? To put it simply: a lot, and fast. Let’s look at some of the most important of these from just the last couple of weeks. I assume you’re sick to death of the spy balloon story, so we’ll skip that one and get to the good stuff.
Kamala Harris Accuses Russia of Crimes against Humanity
At the Munich Security Conference of 17-19 February, Kamala Harris formally accused Russia of Crimes against Humanity. This is the heaviest of charges, and makes the chance for a negotiated settlement effectively nil.
Chinese Foreign Ministry Publishes “US Hegemony and Its Perils”
On February 20, the Chinese foreign ministry effectively laid out their moral case for an upcoming conflict against the US. This is a strong indicator that China is anticipating a war with the US. This excerpt is from the introduction, but I highly recommend reading the full report, which isn’t too long.
“Since becoming the world's most powerful country after the two world wars and the Cold War, the United States has acted more boldly to interfere in the internal affairs of other countries, pursue, maintain and abuse hegemony, advance subversion and infiltration, and willfully wage wars, bringing harm to the international community.
The United States has developed a hegemonic playbook to stage "color revolutions," instigate regional disputes, and even directly launch wars under the guise of promoting democracy, freedom and human rights. Clinging to the Cold War mentality, the United States has ramped up bloc politics and stoked conflict and confrontation. It has overstretched the concept of national security, abused export controls and forced unilateral sanctions upon others. It has taken a selective approach to international law and rules, utilizing or discarding them as it sees fit, and has sought to impose rules that serve its own interests in the name of upholding a "rules-based international order."
I never thought I’d agree with the Chinese Foreign Ministry, but they’re right. Leaders all around the world will be nodding along when they hear this message. It’s a rallying cry. This is the result of Iraq, Afghanistan, Libya, Syria, and many more interventionist disasters. American soft power has vanished in a short two decades.
US Sends Troops to Taiwan
On February 25, news came out that the US is sending some 200 troops to Taiwan for training exercises. The “Strategic Ambiguity” phase of US-Taiwan relations, which lasted decades, is over.
US Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin: No Contact with Chinese Counterpart
Also on February 25, Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin stated in an interview that he attempted to contact the Chinese Defense Minister after the balloon incident. The call was refused. Secretary Austin further noted he hadn’t spoken with his Chinese counterpart in months.
US Secretary of State Anthony Blinken: China May Give Arms to Russia
On February 20, US Secretary of State Anthony Blinken warned of serious consequences should China provide arms to Russia. China counters that the US is giving arms to Ukraine and Taiwan, and is in no position to dictate terms.
China is further mulling sending drones and artillery to support Russia in the war. Such a move would very likely accelerate any conflict between the US and China.
China Proposes a Peace Plan
On February 25, exactly one year after Russia invaded Ukraine, China proposed a negotiated peace plan, positioning themselves as a neutral arbiter in the conflict. It’s obvious posturing, but it’s an easy role to play and fits well with their message that the US is the true aggressor here. Note that China also described their relationship with Russia as a “no-limits friendship” which sounds an awful lot like an alliance.
Because Kamala Harris accused Russia of Crimes against Humanity, the US is unlikely to encourage a negotiated settlement at this time. This further helps position China as the good cop to unaligned nations. The February 27 Chinese Foreign Ministry press briefing hammered down this point.
“I wish to point out that on the one-year mark of the full escalation of the Ukraine crisis, China issued its position paper on the political settlement of the crisis, whereas the US imposed sanctions on Chinese and other foreign companies. Who is promoting peace and de-escalation, and who is fueling the tension and making the world more unstable? The answer is fairly obvious.”
Don’t Light the Fuse
Note that all of the above sources are as mainstream as possible. That’s on purpose: There’s a lot that can be read between the lines by what is both said and unsaid.
In short: We have a situation where NATO won’t back down, Russia won’t back down, and China has just entered the fray. Ukraine is host to the worst war in decades, with casualty numbers widely disputed, but almost certainly in the hundreds of thousands already. Recall that a peace deal was nearly reached in April, 2022, but was shot down by NATO envoy Boris Johnson.
This is the real deal, folks. What happens next I can’t say, but I can say that things are quickly getting out of hand.
To those who say Russia could end this war tomorrow: No, they couldn’t. Kamala Harris made sure of that. Even if you’re among the many who believe Russia is solely responsible for this war, your sense of self-preservation should take over and help you realize a nuclear war over Eastern European borders is not worth it. Nothing is worth it.
Without the possibility of a negotiated settlement, this is a one-way street to nuclear war. Yes, really. And we’ve got no one near any position of power in the Western world taking this as seriously as it should be. I remain convinced that a subset of powerful foreign policy influencers see Ukraine as one of the four key pivot points to world domination, as I wrote back in October.
I can come to no other conclusion than that our leaders either actually want World War 3, or at least tolerate courting the risk for their goals. My goodness, dear readers — we have to do everything we can to bring sanity back to the world and stop the escalations that inevitably lead to nuclear war. There is nothing more important, as there is no such thing as a limited nuclear war.
I would absolutely love to be wrong about the direction this conflict is headed in. If a quick peace is reached and sanity returns, then you can call me a lunatic for the rest of my days and I’ll smile and tell you you’re right.
But I don’t think that’s what’s going to happen. Things are headed the wrong direction, and fast. If you’re opposed to the war escalating — as I hope you are — we must make our voices heard. Call your representative, get in the street, and call for an end to the war immediately. The longer it goes on, the more dangerous it is. Our leaders are not doing their jobs, so citizens will have to take the lead.