As I write this blog update it is now 13 days since the world was plunged into possibly the most significant political crisis since the official end of the Cold War.
Russia stands accused by much of the International Community of having violated the sovereign territory of Ukraine by surreptitiously invading Crimea. The Superpowers are bandying threats and apportioning blame, while the gentle peoples of all countries wait in a moment of suspense, hoping for a peaceful conclusion and fearing conflict.
As I recently commented in my essay entitled “Some thoughts about Post-Apocalyptical fiction – how bad could things get?”, the Western World and Russia entered into a totally committing arms race that spanned nearly fifty years of threats between the end of the Second World War and US President George H.W. Bush’s speech on Christmas Day, 1991, which acknowledged the end of the Cold War.
Immediately after the Second World War, US President Harry Truman told the USSR that the US would be taking a “tougher” stance against them. The Cold War started at that moment, with East and West then facing each other across a no-man’s-land of differing ideologies The USA and USSR, the two major global Superpowers, invested literally trillions of dollars on the development of nuclear weapons of mass destruction. The United States had detonated its first device in 1945 during the “Trinity” test that led to the bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, and subsequently the end of the War in the Pacific. The USSR followed with their detonation of “RDS-1” in 1949. An escalating cycle then followed of threat and defence, ‘Massive Retaliation’, ‘Mutually Assured Destruction’ (MAD) and then strategic ‘sufficiency’ within ‘limited wars’.
It is a testament both to the cost of developing nuclear weapons and the restraint of many developed nations, that today only 7 other nations are known to have developed these terrible weapons of mass destruction. In Europe, the United Kingdom and France also developed “the bomb” (known in the UK as the ‘nuclear deterrent’). China followed just a few years later with their detonation of “596” in 1964. The US, USSR, UK, France and China are all signatories to “The Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons” (NPT), which at least holds out a credible hope for restraint in their manufacture, and disarmament in the future. Outside of the NPT, India, Pakistan and North Korea are known to have nuclear weapons. Israel is strongly suspected to be a nuclear state, with secrets from its nuclear production facilities being famously leaked to the world by Mordechai Vanunu in 1986 (his story is sensitively told in the film “Secret Weapon”). There are fears that Iran is also attempting to develop nuclear weapons.
Why the focus in this Blog entry on ‘Nukes? – Simple: on 27th and 28th February 2014, following a period of unrest in Ukraine, Western media started to report that Russian armed soldiers had entered Crimea (which had been gifted to Kiev by Khrushchev in 1954). These soldiers appeared in large numbers and were apparently well-equipped, but significantly they were not wearing any uniform insignia. These soldiers are claimed by Russia to be local ‘self-defence forces’ and not Russian troops.
Most other nations and the United Nations have not accepted that statement and demanded that Russia de-escalate the crisis and remove its troops immediately. Russia has asserted a right to use its military to protect the lives of ethnic Russians living in Crimea, and on 6th March the Crimean Parliament asked to join the Russian Federation, saying it would put that request to a referendum on 16th March. The rest of the world has essentially stated that any such change of affiliation or referendum would be illegal under Ukraine’s constitution… and so a war of words has rushed around the world.
In the meantime a pro-Russian ‘New Crimean Army’ has been sworn in. I saw a news report of them parading which reminded me very much of the fascist posturing of the fictional storm-troopers in the old sci-fi series Blake’s 7. It the circumstances weren’t so serious it could have seemed almost insanely comical.
The only sane moment for the public of Western nations has been that both the US and USSR have seemed very reluctant to escalate the Crimean Crisis into full-blown war. Even the Ukrainian government in Kiev has been reluctant about that, but given its capabilities next to those of Russia, this is understandable.
Despite other complaining noises coming from the West, things seemed to be settling into a predictable pattern of diplomacy that would end with Crimea becoming part of Russia. The Western public were then further shocked on 4th March with the announcement that Russia had test-fired an RS-12M Topol inter-continental ballistic missile (ICBM).
When I saw that test reported on the BBC News website that night I clearly thought ‘Oh my God, this is it!’ Thankfully this was a scheduled test that had been expected for months, but the decision to continue with it at a time of such heightened international tensions seems irresponsible to me.
Nobody wants Crimea 2014 to be the spark for a new global armed conflict, but I very much suspect it will have triggered a new Cold War.
So now we are all waiting… waiting to see what develops next and how the US will respond. Retaliation seems to be expected to be economic rather than military, and I am thankful for that. I live near the longest airfield in the UK: a quick run of the online application “Nukemap” showed that my town would be destroyed by a single warhead from such an ICBM and there would be very few (if any) survivors– a sobering thought and a reminder of the trust we place in our politicians to wisely use the power vested in them by the people.