One hundred years ago today, Europe went to war. A century later, Europe is at war again. The only question is how limited or how general, how cold or how hot. There’s no question about when: it has already started. Flight MH17 was the Lusitania of our time: a neutral passenger carrier blown up without warning in neutral space. European casualties have fallen on European soil (from a height). Nations went to war for far less in 1914. And appeasement is useless when the missiles are already flying.
I have two young half-Hungarian daughters. I don’t want them to become victims of this war like so many of their forebears were of the last. Therefore, I’d rather not hide my head in the sand or leave anyone else the luxury of doing so.
War will continue because Putin and his clique simply do not want peace. It doesn’t serve their political or their ideological interests. Autocracy requires it. Autocracy depends on it. Already Russian Facebook buddies are sharing stirring pictures of the Russian military in training which could have been taken straight from Nazi propaganda of the Thirties. Already we have tinpot authoritarians like Viktor Orban grooming themselves to be the new Quislings of a putative Russian Reich. And already we have useful idiots like the current French establishment trying to indulge their pompier fantasies of independence in the middle ground, in a polarized world where autonomy at the national level will be as fraudulent as Russia’s mini-statelets.
Sadly, Europe’s ailing democracies will probably need a few more lessons in threat management before they are really ready to face up to what is going on. European political establishments are Marshal Plan babies, whose diplomatic and strategic skills have withered under American protection, even if they ever could have supported much of an effort by themselves in the era of the Superpowers. And their resolve and commitment is fatally sapped by an era where they relied on the premise that freedom was about wealth. Having sold that to their electorates for generations, they are sadly inept and late to the game when it comes to rediscovering what freedom is really about.
However, they will probably not be given too much chance to disgrace themselves because the issues are so stark. There is no accommodation simply because, Russia and Israel are both demonstrating beautifully that anti-democratic governments need to shoot other people in order to stay in power. War is what props them up. And yes, Russia could develop a perverse self-interest in a Europe on a permanent cold war footing, since this would justify the autocracy staying in power, just as it did previously. Business could be done under those conditions – but with a very long spoon. And as for Russia’s liberals and more pacific elements, they may be casualties of history and their own heritage, but that is no reason to add the rest of Europe to the casualty list.
Containment is workable. It kept the peace in Europe for almost 50 years post the last war. Maybe it can keep this one within bounds too. If it has to be a permanent cold war, fine: it will be. And as for peace? An awful lot of reality is going to have to dawn for that to happen.