We’ve all seen the headlines: A New Cold War. Tensions With Russia Climbing. The New World War. Politicians have also jumped on the war wagon, painting their candidacy as the only way to prevent a nuclear holocaust.
Is the fear justified?
Let’s move past the headlines designed as click-bait or ratings grabbers.
The fact is, relations between the nuclear superpowers have deteriorated.
Part of that is an ingrained suspicion each has of each other. Russia sees the United States as an expansionist empire bent on taking the throne of the world. The United States sees Russia as an invader that will gobble up countries like it did after World War II.
The problem is, each is right. And when you feel you’re fears are justified, you feel a righteous cause behind whatever you do to counter your perceived enemy.
Another part of the problem is that War really makes good propaganda. Russia is very adept at feeding the fears of the public conscious. The United States makes a great (and convenient) bad guy, and there’s nothing like a common enemy to take the eyes off of domestic problems. The current political power in Russia enjoys a great deal of public support based not in small part because the public believes they need to be protected. Couple this with some national pride in taking a defeated Russian power at the end of the Cold War and projecting it back on to the world stage, and why wouldn’t Russia start showing its strength when it makes for such great popularity back home?
The United States is in no way the Good Guy in all this. They’ve done everything they can to play into Russian fears, playing the World Police and trying to be everywhere and do everything, often with horrendous results. It’s hard to shake off the “empire building” label when you’re busy building an empire.
There is a difference, though. Ask the man on the street in the United States, and nuclear war isn’t very high on his list of worries. Ask that same question in Russia, and you’ll find that they think WWIII will start before they have a chance to use their symphony tickets that evening. (The Day After reference.)
People in the West are almost oblivious to how Russians think in regards to how close nuclear war is.
Now, does this mean that war is coming?
Read the headlines, and you would think so. Russia invades Ukraine, NATO builds up on Russian boarders, U.S. and Russia face off in Syria. How could war not be knocking at the door?
Despite all this, the United States has been very careful in its dealings with Russia. Some would actually call it weakness. And certainly Russia views the United States as weak right now. But when the opportunity presented itself, the United States has not risen to it. Much of it out of a justified fear of escalation. Just because no one is insane doesn’t mean they can’t react out of fear. Russia has also been careful not to cross what it sees as a red line for NATO. They’ll bite off parts of Ukraine, but they won’t go so far as to compel a NATO reaction. They only go so far and no more. They play the high road in Syria and know the United States…for now anyway…won’t commit to anything that would cause a confrontation between U.S. and Russian proper forces.
Both countries are playing dangerous games, but games which have known rules, and they are following the rules. Diplomatic channels remain open (despite public statements otherwise), and relations are tense but not on a war footing.
As everyone looks at what is happening in Europe and the Middle East between Russia and the United States, it’s easy to become lost in the fog. When you think about war so much, you can’t help but see war. The DEFCON Warning System has even been guilty of that in the last year, probably overreacting to what has been going on between the two countries. That is one of the drawbacks when you’re a warning system. You have to ring the bell when you think something is wrong, and with that comes the possibility that you ring the bell too early.
Of course, all this movement by the United States and Russia harkens back to the dark days of the Cold War. The diplomatic barbs sent back and forth speak of a sour relationship.
Can war happen? Absolutely. Someone can misread a sign, a computer can malfunction and make a missile test look like an incoming attack, a troop movement can seem like preparation for invasion. And the worse relations get, the more likely this can happen.
Can there be a first strike, out of the blue, Pearl Harbor type of attack? Unlikely, but it’s possible. And so we always recommend that the public prepare for nuclear war. Remember, being prepared and not needing it is far better than being unprepared and not having it.
But should you spend your days in a corner, cowing in fear, wondering when the missiles are going to fall? No. Go out, enjoy your day, and live your life. I’m the Director of The DEFCON Warning System. I think of nuclear war all day every day, and I have every intention of playing World of Warcraft tonight. That’s how worried I am about nuclear war.
Relax. Just be prepared.
Thomas Lonely Wolf is the director of The DEFCON Warning System, a private enterprise which monitors world events and assesses nuclear threats against the United States by national entities. At all times, citizens are urged to learn what steps to take in the event of a nuclear attack.