Staunton, October 25 – The INF Treaty which the US wants to annul was the effective end of the Soviet Union, Vladimir Pastukhov says, a concession of defeat by the Soviet Union but one that gave promise that Moscow and the West would not remain in a situation that could lead to war at almost any time.
That is because, the London-based Russian historian says, the INF prevented the mass deployment of nuclear warheads close to “the vital centers of the opposing sides,” a situation that if allowed to continue would inevitably have sparked a war because of fears that one side or the other could preemptively destroy the other (zen.yandex.ru/media/mbkhmedia/blefanutye-doigraiut-li-putin-i-tramp-holodnuiu-voinu-do-logicheskogo-konca).
Thirty years ago, the Soviet and American leadership recognized this reality and signed the INF accord, but “the paradox of today” is that the very same threats not only exist if its provisions are cancelled but have “increased many times over” with advances in military technology. Tragically, neither side appears frightened enough to stop.
Instead, Pastukhov continues, the leaders in Moscow and Washington are taking actions that will increase chaos, unpredictability and the danger of war. This reflects their personalities, and those in turn are a response to “a structural crisis of capitalism” and the end of a century of growth.
No one is sure what is coming next and this fear has pushed both Russia and the West into “right-wing populism” because, the historian continues, “people instinctively seek salvation from an uncertain future in the past.” Thus, “Putin’s Soviet restoration in Russia, the Trump phenomenon in America,” and the rise of the right in Europe are all of a piece.
They are part of a general “’panic attack’” which people experience when confronted by the limits of capitalism. And that means, Pastukhov continues that “politics in general and international politics in particular are fueled by hysteria,” with “lies and bluffs” rather than rational calculation their hallmarks.
According to the historian and commentator, the leaders of Russia and the US, as well as other countries, are currently “held captive by the illusion that they have the ability to bring back ‘the old days’ with all the advantages of those but that in doing so they won’t be constrained by the drawbacks” of that past which caused them problems.
This pattern is especially obvious in Putin’s Russia where the Kremlin is actively restoring the Soviet “triad” of an arms race, opposition to the West throughout the world, and autarky combined with isolation. There is no recognition that this combination will bleed Russia dry, condemn it to backwardness, and ultimately lead to its defeat.
Because of its current problems, Pastukhov says, “the Kremlin is running backwards in a panic toward the Soviet past, a political retreat that it proudly calls a rebirth” but that in fact is yet another retreat leading to defeat.
One might expect “everything to be different in the prosperous US,” but the burdens of victory in the Cold War have turned out to be difficult for Washington handle. “The Pax Americana turned out to be a classic suitcase without a handle, hard to carry but problematic to let go of.”
“The irony of history,” he continues, “is that the winner after some period of time finds itself in just an unenviable a position as the loser because it is sometimes more difficult to keep the victory than to win it in the first place.” Consequently, the US too is seeking to save itself by retreating into the past.
Thus, the most important word in Trump’s campaign slogan, “’Make America Great Again,’” is the word “again.”
As a result, the two capitals are rushing to restore a situation in the past that they earlier showed real wisdom in moving away from because of its risks. One might hope for a repeat, but “the chances of repeating the happy endgame of 30 years ago today are few and far between,” Pastukhov says.
Neither leadership now shows much of the sense of larger responsibilities that their predecessors both did a generation ago. They are thus moving in ways that restore the threats that earlier leaders recognized and sought to remove in the name of restoring pasts that never really existed.
“According to Hegel, history always repeats itself, first as tragedy and then as farce. Now it appears we are moving toward a third a tragic farce.” There is no sense of responsibility either in the Kremlin or in the White House. “Trump is less free than Putin in making political decisions,” Pastukhov says; “but otherwise appears as a bad parody of the Kremlin leader.”
Both men act on impulses and think they can outplay the other instead of recognizing that both are at risk and each needs to behave with a sense of responsibility toward the entire world. That opens the door to a disastrous war in which far more people than those two will be the victims.