The Aftermath of Terror: Understanding ISIS and the Future of Our World

Last weekend France’s Prime Minister François Hollande declared a state of emergency and made the unprecedented decision to close off all of France’s borders after a large-scale terrorist attack was perpetrated in several spots in Paris leaving scores of dead and wounded.

As expected, soon after, a rush of condolences started pouring in from many heads of state and citizens from around the world who also expressed their rage at the situation and offered support for the victims.

In social media, many others whose countries had also been victimized by terrorism, sympathized with the French people by showing their support in different ways. And even hacktivist group Anonymous did its part by taking down Twitter accounts of people who sympathized with ISIS, including many of people who took to the social platform to hail Friday’s attacks as a great victory.

French Flag waving atop Caen Memorial- Nov 15th 2015 French Flag waving atop Caen Memorial- Nov 15th 2015 for the Nov-13th victims.  (Author: Benoit-Caen. Artist does not endorse this work. Creative Commons License. commons/wikimedia.org)

With the painful memory of the Charlie Hebdo attacks in January still fresh in our memory, it seems France, and possibly other European countries, is now experiencing another wave of terrorism as leaders of those nations ramp up efforts to combat extremism in their own countries and abroad. Now it’s apparent that these tactics are having an adverse effect in European cities. ISIS for one isn’t having it.

But are we correct to say that these attacks are simply a balancing act of retaliation on the part of ISIS for France’s meddling in Middle Eastern affairs? Or is there something else that many, including progressive-leftists and moderates (including Muslim moderates) seem to be missing?

From the many reports circulating about the identities of the attackers and their motives, what happened in France this past Friday was neither an isolated incident nor amateur hour. It was a highly-coordinated, deliberate attack in response to, once again, not one or two things, but a myriad of events that coalesce to form a situation that can only be described here as a clusterfuck of global proportions.

It’s important to understand that some of these reasons carry more weight than others in determining the motives behind these vicious attacks which, as always, kill more civilians than they do elements of the infrastructure of the target group or country–and to be perfectly fair here, that goes for both sides.

But we also cannot ignore another important fact that most people often overlook, and that is that the repercussions from these attacks–meaning the rain of bombs that will continue to rain on ISIS strongholds–are as coldly calculated into the model of the act of terrorism as the act itself. Meaning that ISIS, who has already claimed responsibility, not only expects vengeance but they in fact welcome it.

Why, you may ask, would they want retaliation.

As far as I–in my limited knowledge–can see, there are a few valid reasons that perhaps you may not be aware of.

Off the Fringe

It’s quite easy to label ISIS as murderous lunatics. And it’s equally simple to say that ISIS is just a bi-product of geopolitics gone wrong. However, while you may be right about one, or both, the facts actually point us in the other direction.

Ever since ISIS (initially an offshoot of Al-Qaeda) stemmed away from the root organization in the early 2000s, it has worked hard to establish “legitimacy” among the local players in the region. At times, this has not been easy. But with the escalation of war activity by the US-led coalition in the Middle East, the civil war in Syria that left entire regions ungoverned, and the abundance of civilian sympathizers both events created, ISIS, under the leadership of Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, has not wasted any time in recruiting a large force for the purpose of creating the Caliphate he said he would build. By taking full advantage of the governance vacuum in Syria, ISIS under the replenished leadership–including many who had served under Saddam Hussein, including generals and commanders who now oversee military operations–began successful offensives in Iraq and Syria and very quickly began to gain ground.

Of course this is a very simplified explanation of the ISIS-AL-Qaeda alliance, but for the purpose of this post, it’s more than enough.

Although this all sounds like clockwork we cannot ignore the sad reality that the main motivation behind what can only be described as openly-clandestine acts of war (a terribly ambiguous term) has turned out to be more religious than political at this point. So, once again, while you may be right that ISIS is the product of foreign affairs as the United States and our allies armed and disarmed insurgencies in the Middle East during and after the Cold War, and that they truly are murderous lunatics, at this point the religious radicalism in this organization has become so pronounced that the political reasons have effectively ceased to exist.

Unlike their Muslim counterparts in other areas of the Middle East such as Hamas and Hezbollah, who have clear goals in mind, such as the liberation of Palestine and the eradication of Israel, and even Al-Qaeda, who is more theologically-based, although still political–ISIS is unique in that more than anything it seeks to establish a Caliphate (essentially an absolute theocracy) that will follow the exact model of ancient Caliphates dictated by the literal interpretation of the Quran.

So for us to say that ISIS’s motives are purely political, it makes liars out of all of us.

ISIS has for some time now, worked very hard to establish themselves as even more extreme than all other groups cataloged as terrorist organizations by the U.S., the U.N., the E.U., and others. The strategy here, if there ever was one, is to play into people’s fears and emotions, and up until now it seems to be working wonderfully.

"Escenas de la Guerra contra ISIS"- Trans. "Scenes of war against ISIS." Leopoldo Christie. Creative Commons License. commons/wikipedia.org

“Escenas de la Guerra contra ISIS”- Trans. “Scenes of war against ISIS.” Leopoldo Christie. Creative Commons License. commons/wikipedia.org

Since before the Charlie Hebdo attacks, countries and individuals started censoring themselves and each other for fear of offending an invisible enemy that could strike anytime, anywhere. Many of us have made it our business to condemn those who point out the faults in Islam and Islamic extremists by labeling them Islamophobes or “racists” (a term that wouldn’t even be applied correctly), but what those so-called “progressives” don’t seem to realize is that this is perhaps the biggest disservice we could be doing for our communities and our way of life. There is, after all, a way to discuss bad ideas without alluding towards derogatory or hateful undertones regarding a whole population (Islam as opposed to Muslims).

At the same time we give the bad guys a free pass on our freedom of speech. Emphasis on the “our” because of the history of our own societies and our acceptance that speech should indeed be free. This is precisely what ISIS and other terrorist organizations are working towards: a collective psychology molded by fear.

But they also play into people’s emotions  by making use of something so elemental in people’s hearts and minds that it transcends politics, alliances, and even reason: religion.

Other groups with specific goals in mind operating in different parts of the region, groups like Hezbollah, Al-Qaeda, Hamas, et al., are the products of history and of very specific circumstances derived from foreign policy blunders. They are also good PR firms in their own right, and they have only gotten better and better at it. These yahoos are not only crazy, they are also highly organized and very adept at manipulating social media to recruit members, which has worked very well for them in recent years. But while these other groups use religion as a lightning rod to attract extremists, even if they believe what they profess, ISIS seems to take the religious rhetoric to heart, leaving all the political baggage that defines all other groups among the rubble of their conquests. This makes ISIS unique. They have taken the Al-Qaeda model and perfected it.

ISIS is peculiar in that they are not an organization so much as they are the embodiment of an ideology. Its leadership not only understands the endless power religion has, but knows how to tap into that well, and the reason is simple: they believe every word they say to their very core.

There’s a movie called “The Siege” (very apropos in this situation) where one of the characters, a C.I.A. officer investigating terrorist cells in the U.S. along with an F.B.I. agent, tells her partner, “In this game, the most committed wins.” That rings true every time you hear the news.

When al-Baghdadi announced that there would be a new Caliphate on Earth, most dismissed the claim as nothing more than extremist mumbo-jumbo. What people at that time did not realize was that their radicalism was so beyond what we had seen before, something so ingrained into their very psychology, that they truly believed–whether the leaders knew otherwise or not–that they were the messengers of god sent to Earth to bring about an apocalypse, and that only as the Earth was engulfed in fire, could every “innocent and moral” being ascend to heaven.

I’m not making shit up here. These guys have taken the most literal interpretation of the Quran and applied it to the real world. Scary isn’t?

If we have learned anything from history is that literal interpretations of holy books usually lead to disastrous consequences. Google “Holy Wars,” if you don’t believe me. But their plans go further than that and I’ll explain what I mean in the next section.

ISIS knows that it doesn’t have the capabilities, yet, to fight a large-scale war with any country, especially countries who have powerful allies on their side (think the EU), which initially was the reason why they limited their aims only to the local chapters they created as they opened way inside Iraq and Syria. Unlike Al-Qaeda, ISIS did not plan to engage their fighters in foreign soil. Note that this doesn’t mean they did not support stand-alone acts of terrorism by home-grown extremists who were loyal to their ideals. But instead it seemed less-than-clear that they would devote all of their energy towards expanding their hold in that region before operating abroad.

It is more than evident now that they have radically shifted course.

Now, as the world braces for what seems to be a new type of warfare, we are finally beginning to understand how ISIS operates and what they have in mind.

Three major outcomes will stem from deliberate acts of violence and terrorism, which in some countries will converge and feed off of each other in a symbiotic relationship that will centralize gubernatorial power and strip away citizen rights. Not to mention radicalizing the other side.

Retribution and Endless War

The first of these outcomes is that retribution will envelop the Middle East in conflicts for decades. These conflicts will spread, as they already have, into quasi-guerrilla wars that will be taken to the streets of the places we deemed “safe” at one time, which is exactly what groups like ISIS want.

As France vamps up military action, and its allies join in, the world will begin a second wave of wars that will go on for the rest of our lifetimes. Atrocities and injustices will happen on both sides as defenses and attacks are passed back and forth, with civilian populations bearing most of the casualties.

ISIS will undoubtedly continue its attacks on the world’s cities in order to provoke a self-fulling prophecy of apocalypse as dictated on their holy book. And as more attacks and threats unfold, future leaders will inevitably be forced to protect their own populations by any means necessary. This will follow the second outcome which has been happening for some time now.

Totalitarianism: The All-Seeing Eye

As the world becomes engulfed in obscure conflicts with irrational actors, governments will find in a scared and willing population the means to tighten their grip of control with the valid excuse of protecting their countries and their citizens. Valid to a very limited extent.

As 9/11 has proven, clandestine government programs designed with the aim of gathering intelligence at the global level will effortlessly expand to monstrous sizes, giving these governments the tools to police their own citizens faster and easier. These are not sensationalist claims, it is already happening as we have seen with the PRISM and MUSCULAR programs run by the American N.S.A. and the British G.C.H.Q. agencies, not to mention all other intelligence agencies around the world, and with help from major tech corporations like Google, Facebook, and others. With some luck, a portion of these programs will be monitored (although the chances are slim). In reality most of these clandestine surveillance programs will be so secretive that in the future–as it is today–they will not even be known by lawmakers and the general public.

Eventually, fear will work just as good for this side as it does for the other side, and most nations will enter a new era of governance where most central governments will hold immense power and sway over their own populations. But why convince your own people that what you’re doing is for their own good if the enemy can show them more effectively? This is the beginning of the third outcome.

Radicalizing the Other Side

It’s already happening. As I type this, scores of lawmakers around the world have vowed to end the radicalization of Islamism. A few others have vowed to do this the only way they know how, with “good old Christian values” and their own brand of crazy.

One of the (un)intended consequences of what ISIS is doing is radicalizing the other side in hopes that this will bring about the last holy war, where the soldiers of god (which one?) will fight the final battle against the infidels and defeat them. I’ll admit to you that I’m not sure which side I’m talking about here.

Not to make a direct comparison between these two parties, but more and more Greece’s Golden Dawn Party, an ultra-right fascist organization that openly calls for the rejection of immigrants, non-whites, and non-Christians–and the American Republican Party are starting to sound very much alike. And what’s more, people are listening.

These, and many other, organizations advocate for the eradication of Muslims. At the same time, they build up and spread the idea that only Christianity can end this evil. To these people it has never occurred that they are only the other side of that coin.

Even friends of mine have expressed their humble opinions that “their god is a false god, and ours is the only true god.” Please take a moment to understand that logical dilemma.

Racism, bigotry, and xenophobia will increase to exorbitant levels–unfortunately it’s not only the religious who will be turned, but even the fragile moderate base will begin to collapse as fear sets in. We can already see it in our own countries and communities as people often conflate the terms “Muslim” or “refugee” with “terrorist”, and reject these people fleeing war-torn areas where many of them have been victims themselves of atrocities by ISIS or even their own governments.

There have already been reports that terrorist sympathizers might have infiltrated the refugee wave that landed on Europe a few weeks ago and even ISIS has said as much. So it’s not a baseless fear that governments and people have that at some point in the future their cities will be attacked. Unfortunately, many people whose homes and lives have been ruined by war will once again be the victims of hatred and discrimination in a whole new land, all because it plays well into ISIS’s plans that the infidels fear and hate Muslims, whether they are their Muslims or not.

Damages

While it is true that Islamism is at the forefront of these recent troubles, it would be unfair to paint all Muslims with the same brush. However, to dismiss this as an entirely extremist problem is also not accurate either, after all, the tenets of Islam do support the literal interpretation given by ISIS, even if most Muslims don’t. The problem is not Muslims, the problem is extremists and our failure to speak out against them for fear of offending or being labelled as bigots or Islamophobes. As far as the refugees who flee war-torn nations in the M.E. and North Africa, they are hardly to blame for these terrible events.

The world stands united with France in this terrible moment. But before the bombs rain and we unanimously decide that all Muslims are evil and we are the good guys, a few things to ask ourselves: Where is the compassion for the victims of other terrorist attacks throughout the world and why hasn’t there been an outcry for victims of similar atrocities like the ones in Beirut and Kenya? Where are the flags on Facebook and the hash-tags? What are we as individuals doing to combat extremism of all kinds?

One essential question to ask is whether strong nations only support strong nations; whether we only support our allies; or whether we are prepared to repudiate acts of terrorism wherever we find them.

As far as France goes–our oldest ally–we stand with them. We shed the same blood and the same tears. We have similar values and similar views. And at this terrible time, we are all French just as they were Americans on 9/11. But if there’s anything that I can leave you with today is that we are also all Kenyans. And Beirutians. Hell, we’re all humans! So when will we start acting like it?

Speak out, and encourage others to speak out, against extremism of all kinds, otherwise our future might be a lot shorter than we thought, and the apocalypse the other guys are striving for might come sooner than we would want.

It’s a good thing that you show support for the victims of these terrible tragedies. It’s good that you pray, but… Well, I will let the Dalai Lama end this with some words he said following this tragedy, words that are wiser than any I could conjure:

“We cannot solve this problem only through prayers. I am a Buddhist and I believe in praying. But humans have created this problem, and now we are asking God to solve it. It is illogical. God would say, solve it yourself because you created it in the first place.”

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Old Hot Tensions or New Cold War: How World War 3 With Russia Will (Probably) Never Happen

Every now and then my dad and I engage in lively, and sometimes fierce, debate regarding the state of affairs in the world. We discuss our ideas and points of view as if by talking about it we could somehow dissolve the animosity that seems to be so commonplace nowadays. My father not only very knowledgeable but also one of the most interesting people I know, makes those little conversations quite fun and challenging. Most often than not we agree on many things, but every now and then there are inevitable crossroads where neither will make it easy for the other to get his point across. Just as he does, I too try to inform myself about what’s happening in the world when it comes to politics and things of that nature and just like him I am happy to learn new things that I didn’t know before. Some of these talks will stretch on for hours and even continue on in other phone conversations and unfortunately sometimes we will not concede to each other’s points no matter what the other person says. But when we do, we both agree that the other had the better argument.

One of those highly polarizing subjects that we often touch on is U.S.-Russia relations where I will usually side with the U.S. in mostly every aspect and where he always sides with Russia. It comes as no surprise to either one when during the natural course of a phone call the subject will “casually” come up with one or the other asking, “Hey, did you hear about what’s going on in ____?” And that’s when we both know it’s game on.

While the conversations might seem redundant at times, the news (and the growing divide between countries) will always provide new material for us to toss back and forth. My father’s view is usually that America’s “imperialism” and meddling is growing out of control and will eventually start a war that we will not be able to contain- among other things. In calm contrast, mine is that while the U.S. has committed barbaric acts of violence and does meddle in world affairs to a degree, that in many cases Russia is no better, at in most cases is worse. I typically refrain from using the phrase “the better of two evils” because I have such a loathing for it, but I wouldn’t be completely wrong in saying it.

During our exchanges we will both accuse each other of blind allegiance and of only considering information from biased sources; as if a third party was completely impartial and objective- something which is becoming increasingly difficult to find. Among the other charges, he will usually accuse me of either blowing up the subject out of proportion and I of him undermining it, or vice-versa. He will usually say that China and Korea are still Russia’s allies and that in the inevitable war that is to come they will side with the Russians. I, on the other hand, will usually concede the point that while China is still Russia’s biggest ally, before a war breaks out they will do everything earthly possible to avoid one. But our biggest disagreement lies in the assumption that a war between the U.S. and Russia (which is starting to look more and more like the old Soviet state it once was) is not only near but inevitable.

While these debates are lighthearted and many “facts” will be tossed around in the heat of the moment, at times I am left thinking of the very real possibility that it might actually happen. I analyze as many factual things as my limited knowledge permits me and I come to conclusions. Of course I am not 100% sure of my prognosis, and should a war ever break out between the U.S. and Russia, I’ll be the first to apologize provided I’m not ash by that time- not that it would matter any.

But while a war with Russia seems unlikely, it’s worth going into detail about why that is. And more importantly, why the peculiar behavior from Russia’s side if they don’t intend to start a war with the West. China, which would also be a serious contender in a war and a country that has been racking up its military over these past several decades, is even less likely to enter into a war with the U.S., although tensions still run high in that front too. This is not to say that a third world war still couldn’t happen. But I believe our priorities need to match our reality. Before the conflict in Ukraine, there was a considerably higher possibility to enter into a direct armed conflict with North Korea, Iran, Pakistan and even Saudi Arabia than there was with Russia. Things change quickly, I know, and although none of these countries possess anywhere near the military power that China and Russia have, some of them do enjoy their support which complicates things a bit. However, I have come up with five reasons of why I believe that a direct war with Russia is nothing more than a dangerous dick-measuring contest between two countries with a historical tendency to fuck with each other.

 

1. The Semblance of Democracy

 

I heard somewhere that even the semblance of democracy is important because that means that a country is ready to embrace it, even if it’s in its most basic form. I really wish I could remember where I heard or read that particular quote because I’m sure the person who said it probably had something else interesting to say, so again I apologize. But it is true that the semblance of democracy is the first step towards a stable community run by the desires of those governed and not who govern.

In the most recent survey by Transparency.org, an organization which measures the index of transparency in countries around the world reported that Russia currently occupies number 136 out of 175 countries in the index of corruption. That’s really bad considering that only 175 countries were surveyed. The United States comes in at 17, Germany at number 12, France at 26, with Ukraine being the most corrupt country in Europe with a rating of 142.  At this, there is still a fundamental disparity between the styles of government between the West and the East, something that no doubt causes waves in geopolitics. It almost seems as if shifting from the reigns of a Communist vanguard, Putin has found in a democratic Russia the room he needed to implement his desired policies with little or no opposition. Whether his aim is to defy the west and reposition Russia to a top place in world politics or to completely turn back to Soviet-style politics is speculation, but there is no doubt that his defiance put us at a very uncomfortable position, that of knowing what we’ve always known, that we’re not the only players around.

I could go into detail about Putin’s puppet government, but in this section we’re just trying to see why even the semblance of democracy in an obviously not-so-democratic nation can help thwart a war between the East and the West.

It makes you wonder what would happen if Putin blatantly announced that Russia would be going back to Communism. Surely a lot of partnerships would collapse, economically, militarily, politically, and even its closest-trading partners in that side of the world would start to get nervous at the prospect, China for one. Having that kind regressive sentiment still carries a lot of stigma. The question then is not how many partners is Russia willing to lose to go head-to-head with the West in a war, but rather who of the partners it’s loosing. There’s no doubt that Putin would be applauded by leftist nations all over the world. The man is already popular with Venezuela’s Nicolas Maduro and Bolivia’s Evo Morales, but now he’s also warming up to other South American nations that have historically or currently politically have gripes with the United States. Could these nations, plus some Asian and African nations, garner enough support for another Cold War siding with Russia? There is no coincidence here, most of these nations, including some factions in Mexico that were quickly disbanded due to Mexico’s proximity to the U.S., were openly Marxist Socialist or otherwise Communist and sided with the Soviet Union during the Cold War. But could we go as far as saying that a new Cold War would begin? This is an interesting but fearful answer to contemplate.

My honest answer is I don’t know, but I also believe that it would be highly unlikely seeing how the prosperity of this country, and this one and this other one, not to mention Russia’s economy– countries where the Soviet Union had a strong grip- has dramatically improved since the fall of the Berlin Wall. It is highly unlikely that any of those now-sovereign independent states, many of which now enjoy the protection of NATO, would ever support a regression. Let’s go so far as to say that only Russia becomes openly Communist again without invading countries or meddling in the affairs of other nations, it’s possible even its closest allies like China- which whom Russia enjoys a privileged position- would be wary of doing business with them due to the complexity of Communism in politics in today’s world.

This is good for the rest of the world, because even if Russia doesn’t truly belong in the circles that the West has created for itself, it belongs to that trading partnership and is welcome to receive its benefits. A war with Russia will never start as long as it enjoys the strong concessions provided by democracy, or by Brittish-American-style Capitalism. Does that mean that trying to improve its influential position, especially in the case of Ukraine, will not lead it to start a war? No, it doesn’t mean that, but again, Soviet-style imperialism is hard to hide nowadays.

 

2. Economics: China’s Growing Influence

 

Today, Russia and China enjoy a cozy relationship that was almost non-existent in the last years of Communism in Russia during the Sino-Soviet split. However, it seems that through calculated partnerships and strategic alliances, China’s sphere of influence has spread to cover now much of Asia and even the Latin American world as well. Here in the United States the insatiable craze for  Chinese trade that we have- which is also starting to wear thin- has allowed our country as well as theirs to prosper through mutual agreements and indeed also disagreements.

At the beginning of last century and during the start of the Cold War, Russian-style Communism was the perfect blend of social, political and economic elements to create the perfect alternative to the capitalistic democracy of the United States and similar sociopolitical systems of Europe. But as the years and leaders came and went and that romantic spirit of revolution waned, an almost antagonistic sentiment began to settle not just within the Politburo but also in the population of the Soviet Union itself. It was then that China took the torch and became the new model to follow. Chairman Mao Zedong and his “Cultural Revolution“, which was a brutal revival of the Chinese revolutionary sentiment that rebranded Communism and begun a new era of industrialism in the Eastern world. China quickly changed from being just a satellite state for the Soviet Union to becoming a top player in its own right.

Of course we know now that China is not the Communist nation that a young- or even an old- Mao aspired to build, but that in essence it is sort of like a hermit crab, a Capitalist hermit crab wearing a Communist shell. During the massive economic expansion that China went through in the 70s and 80s by opening up more to the West (something that Russia missed out on for obvious reasons), the Chinese grew their economy exponentially by more than 20% in some cases, quickly turning the country into a military and economic power.

USA and China.

Obvious disparities between the U.S. and China still exist, many based on culture differences, historical events, current alliances, economic models and, indeed, show of force; but overall, the business partnership that has allowed China to quickly become the second largest economy in the world after the U.S. while keeping the stability of the region fairly calm, has allowed both countries (China and us) to assert a major influence in that side of the world. This complex business partnership that begun some decades ago allowed a somewhat disenfranchised Asia to gravitate more towards China’s sphere of influence rather than Russia’s. And while the Western world seemed, for the most part, united against Eastern Communism, the East began to appear fractured as many Communist factions started to implement their own versions of the socio-economic and political system. In a word, China became somewhat of a good friend to the U.S., which was of course what the United States wanted and needed.

By the 1980s it was becoming more and more apparent that the partnership between China and the West would give the U.S. an important foothold in the East. Today, although tensions grow and diminish in Asia, China is still a good mediator between Western powers and hostile states such as North Korea and at times even between Russia and the United States. Even though the American dollar still dominates world markets, something that China’s powerful economy is working hard to change, with trillions of dollars at stake, it seems both countries would rather trade money than bullets. It’s also important to note that the massive purchase of American debt by China binds them in a strange way to us- if we can only hope they don’t ask for all their money all at once. There are problems that arise from this sort of mildly dangerous trade, one of those being that China might see the rift between U.S.-Russia relations as an opportunity for economic supremacy in a vie of military conquest towards eradicating the West. This is a real possibility, but until now it hasn’t had significant gravity to warrant hostile action on our part.

But to be honest, it is hard to imagine which side China would take if a war between the U.S. and Russia were to break out, after all China has been Russia’s trading partner for much longer than it has been America’s and what’s more, they share a border. We should also consider the recent developments in geopolitical events mainly the island disputes between China and Japan, of which the U.S. is a staunch ally. But I believe that if tensions start becoming unmanageable, China will use every resource available to resolve whatever differences diplomatically rather than militarily.

 

3. Isolationism

 

Think of the world as it is today. With the invention, or rather commercialization, of the internet, the world is now more connected than it has ever been before. I wouldn’t be surprised if a study produced results pointing out that the world is a little bit more peaceful, in part, to this collective thing that humanity has invented for itself. Today the power to speak to any human being on the planet (or even outside of it) in real time can be handled by any six year old with a mobile device and connection to the internet. The planet is quickly and willingly becoming more connected in mostly every aspect and the old policies of self-isolationism can no longer protect countries from the influence of the outside world. Take for example self-isolated countries such as Cuba and North Korea. These countries probably have the natural resources to survive independently of any other nation, unfortunately for them they only posses these resources and none other. In times of distress they can only depend on their own ingenuity to resolve their own problems and when those natural resources they depend on diminish, they have no outside help.

This wouldn’t be so bad of course if the leadership guiding these nations was disinterested in power and wealth. Unfortunately that’s not the case and as a result, their populations suffer immensely, in most cases lacking even basic human resources. It’s evident then that in this modern age we live in, isolationism for any country, whether self-imposed or as punishment by the conglomerate of nations that surround it (speaking in a political context), is in effect the kiss of death. In fact, no country in the world can now survive without the help of another. At this moment, Cuba is aided by many nations around the world and with the policy change under President Obama, the old embargo is expected to be fully lifted and a new partnership will begin between Cuba and the United States. But even North Korea, also known as the “Hermit Kingdom” for its aggressive self-imposed isolation, enjoys a military and economic alliance from one of its biggest sponsors- China.

Berlin Wall Credit: "Berlinermauer" by Noir at the German language Wikipedia. Licensed under CC BY-SA 3.0 via Wikimedia Commons - http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Berlinermauer.jpg#mediaviewer/File:Berlinermauer.jpg

Berlin Wall
Credit: “Berlinermauer” by Noir at the German language Wikipedia. Licensed under CC BY-SA 3.0 via Wikimedia Commons – http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Berlinermauer.jpg#mediaviewer/File:Berlinermauer.jpg

During the years of the Cold War when no trade agreements were allowed between Western countries (mostly Capitalist) and Eastern countries (mostly Communist), even isolated Russia traded with its satellite states and other neutral countries. There are many here in the United States that call for the self-isolation of our country and to stop meddling in other nations’ affairs. While I partially agree with the second part, I don’t think the first is a realistic goal at all.

According to our Republican politicians, and Conservatives throughout, Putin has made all the right moves in this political chess game being played at the global level. But as near-history has proven, Obama’s bloodless policy has not only worked better than military action, but it has repaired the somewhat damaged relationship between the U.S. and Germany over allegations that the N.S.A. had tapped German Chancellor Angela Merkel’s phone. This is a very good thing since Angela Merkel and French President François Hollande are some of our closer allies in that side of the world, and the people who are willing to stick our their necks so close to the Middle East and to Russia for us.

This strengthening relationship with the Europeans means that we are united against Putin’s shenanigans where it pertains to Ukraine and Georgia. It almost seems like deja vu what’s happening in Ukraine after the events of 2008 when Russia invaded another sovereign country in its backyard, Georgia. But the NATO alliance of which the U.S. and several European countries are members of, will not allow another invasion to go unresolved. But rather than fighting the Russians with conventional wars in their own turf (of which even a united Europe is incapable of doing), instead they turn to economics as way of fighting the Russians.

Last year, the meeting of the G7, formerly the G8, rejected to be held in Russia as a protest for the blatant act of invasion on Ukraine. And just a month ago Angela Merkel said with confidence that if Russia continues on this path with Ukraine, it will not be invited to the next G7 summit hosted by the German chancellor.  Take into account that the G8, now the G7, is not your typical college club. The G7 is a group of the seven most powerful nations in the world in terms of economy, military, and influence, and being shunned by the group can not only cost a country a lot of money, but also influence. When all G7 countries forcibly removed Russia from membership, that act sent a message that they will not tolerate one of their industrialized partners to behave like bullies.

With an already shrinking economy, the combination of sanctions imposed on Russia by Europe and the U.S. and the low price of oil will further drive down their economy, and with no way for foreign investors to take a stake in Russian goods, the Russians are quickly being isolated from the world stage. There’s only so much a country can do by itself. Even the very charitable IMF (International Monetary Fund) could not rescue Russian banks from the economic crisis of last year. These effects are being felt by the Russian people who, while at first supported the campaign in Crimea, now support instead a balance in Russian economics, and more importantly a drop in food prices.

Since the fall of the Berlin Wall, Russia has retreated into a capitalism-style economy that is self supporting. But this strategy is not free. There is already an ongoing effort that’s gaining momentum to curb Russia’s energy supplies on Eastern Europe. The natural gas demands are to be supplanted by American natural gas reserves as a counter-measure to Russia’s Gazprom, the company that supplies Ukraine at steep prices that the current government is unable to pay up front.

By reading this you might think that it is a dangerous thing to bully Russia into isolation, but an isolated Russia, although still powerful and influential, is less likely to start a war with the United States- and NATO for that matter- without first having the support of more powerful allies. Agreed, economics alone perhaps will not stop Russia from starting a war, but it certainly does help. Hopefully, Russia will choose to go the diplomatic route instead of going to blows with the world.

 

4. Global Terrorism

 

After the Cold War ended, conventional wars quickly become obsolete in light that there were very few worthy contenders to fight with. Even the American military campaigns of Iraq and Afghanistan were little more than invasions. While one could make the case that these military campaigns were nothing more than an oil-grab or legitimate defensible invasions to depose a dictator, is up for individual debate. What we can be sure of is that global terrorism has changed the way the world conducts military operations, and the renewed involvement of intelligence services is reminiscent to the age of espionage during the Cold War.

Aided by one side or another (the Mujaheddin in Afghanistan to fight the Russians, or the North Vietnamese to fight the Americans), these groups, some of which are now players in today’s conflicts, mainly in the Middle East, now wage a different type of war against the West; this is not a war of allegiances or for territory, it is a war of ideas- holy war. Jihad, or holy war, against the “West”- a term not indicative of a region of the globe but an umbrella word to cover all of the oppressors of the Middle East and basically anyone who is an infidel, or an enemy of Islam- is indiscriminate of anyone. Even Muslims fall prey to the brutal tactics now in full effect by terrorist organizations like Al Qaeda and ISIS. And unlike the conventional enemies of before, up until a couple of years ago the enemy was invisible.

If we remember Russian imperialism during the Cold War, there is no way we can dismiss the Russian invasion of Afghanistan in the 80s. Could it be that the freedom fighters of yesterday (or the terrorists of today) realized that Soviet Russia was just America’s counterpart in the East? Perhaps. What we know for sure is that in this fight no one is safe, least of all civilians.

A few weeks ago, Haruna Yukawa and Kenji Goto, a pair of Japanese journalists were captured by the Islamic State (a.k.a. ISIS, ISIL) and were executed after the group failed to collect a hefty ransom that in all probability they knew they wouldn’t get. Now, Japan is considering amending their constitution, which expressly forbids Japan from building an offensive military, to aid in the “war against terror.” In similar situations other civilians of different nationalities have also been captured by the terrorist group and executed violently.

It is, to a certain degree, understandable why IS would have a deep hatred for the U.S., but to vow the destruction of Japan is something that falls a bit off the realm of reason. Not only is Japan a peaceful nation, but it doesn’t even have an offensive military. This just comes to show that the irrationality of these terrorist factions, not just Islamic but all terrorist factions around the world, is causing the world to unite against them. The effectiveness of these groups is rooted in three things: one is that they are totally and completely devoted to their beliefs and they are incredibly organized to carry them out; the second reason of why they are effective at what they do is that they take advantage of the goodwill of democratic nations and their tolerance; and the third thing is that they take advantage of the disagreements between these nations.

Russia must be united in this goal to eradicate global terrorism so that conventional wars with serious adversaries can resume. I obviously joke in that last part. But what is true is that it is easier to divide and conquer than to conquer. Of this I am obviously speaking of the visible divide that exists between industrialized nations such as the U.S. and Russia which makes it easier for these other players to take advantage of the situation and benefit from it for their own purposes. A divided world is exactly what they want.

The political games played for the supremacy of the region could be an indication as to what sort of plans one country or another has for that region of the world. I speak of the wars of Iraq and Afghanistan, the arming of Syria and the support to Iraq by Russia, the thousand alliances that are made and broken in the region and the million of details that go with them. Let’s not forget that although the Middle East is a patch of desert in the middle of nowhere, it’s also a gold mine with  seemingly inexhaustible oil reserves that the world wants a part of. Again, nothing in this life is free. With that oil comes something even more polluting, a slew of complications that are born out of the interests of all these different groups vying for what little natural resources this tiny part of the world has.

These tensions arising from warnings between the two powers exacerbate the dire situation that we find ourselves in. Where Russia doesn’t belong, perhaps the U.S. doesn’t belong either. But in protecting the interests of the United States (I will not say “protecting democracy or the free peoples or the Middle East” or any other such nonsense), it is unlikely that the U.S. will leave the region alone anytime soon. Let’s not make the mistake of thinking that just because U.S. boots are on the ground close to Russia that the Russians will just walk away. It’s not gonna happen. But is that enough to spark a war between the two countries? I am very skeptical that it will. Russia, like the United States, will protect its interests wherever it sees fit, interests that everyday are threatened more and more with the looming shadow of the Islamic State. If Russia vows to drive away these terrorists, you can be sure that its actions will also turn it into a target for ISIS, just like anyone else.

Although the situation that we find ourselves in is infinitely more complex than it was during the Cold War, I believe that through cooperation the enemy can be defeated. I do not forget that Russian authorities warned the F.B.I. about Tamerlan Tsarnaev (one of the Boston Marathon bombers) before he entered the U.S.- and the United States and its allies shouldn’t forget either. Admittedly, we dropped the ball on that one and civilians were murdered. But the cooperation was there.

If there’s anything that we should be thankful for now is that ISIS has grown to be big enough to spot. However, as big and mighty as the U.S. military is, if we want to deal effectively with global terrorism we will need all the help we can get. That’s a little hard to do when you are fighting wars all over with the people having the same problem as you. Not only must we appear united against terrorism but we must actually be united.

 

5. Common Sense: The Worst Is Over

 

Back in the 60s, the Cuban Missile Crisis brought the U.S. and Russia to the brink of destruction. The world watched nail-bitingly as President Kennedy and Soviet Premier Khrushchev faced off in the highest tensions the world had seen since the Iron Curtain came down over Europe.

Before the United States unveiled humanity’s deadliest weapon by dropping it on Hiroshima and Nagasaki, and thus evaporating more than 200,000 people, the world was a bit more ballsy, going in and out of conflicts without much care for the people that fought them. But when the mushroom cloud rose high in the sky, it was obvious that this new weapon was a game changer in many ways. The Russians feared that the delicate balance of power had shifted dramatically and they worked arduously to produce an atom bomb of their own to counter the threat that they faced from the West.

By the time the Cuban Missile Crisis came around nearly 20 years after the invention of the atom bomb, both the United States and the U.S.S.R. were siting on a pile of about 20,000 nuclear and hydrogen bombs (an even more powerful weapon) and ICBMs*. [1] Although more than 18,000 of those were owned by the U.S., the other 2,000 that Soviet Russia owned was still a large enough stockpile to pulverize everything on the planet.

Fortunately for mankind none of those nukes were ever launched. It was then that humanity realized that the huge boulder hanging over their heads was held by nothing more than a thin thread with two men holding the scissors. During these early years of the Cold War, there was a very serious probability that by the end of the decade the world would be in ashes. Even after the Cuban Missile Crisis, the proliferation of nuclear weapons continued to massive levels peaking at 62,000 nuclear weapons, enough to destroy the entire planet many times over.

The scary thing is that while the C.M.C. was probably the closest we ever came to annihilation, it was not the only close call. There are at least five others, not one but two of them involving serious computer malfunctions that nearly caused us to bomb the shit out of each other, situations only averted by the good reasoning of soldiers from both sides that no doubt did not wish their two countries go to war. This mutual sentiment of coexistence surely contributed to the dismantling of nuclear weapons and the beginning of cooperation between the two countries with programs like SALT, after a tired and scared world counted the days until one leader or the other decided to end countless lives and kill every living thing at the push of a button.

To many it might seem like an ironic and dark twist of fate that during the Cold War the world was probably due to the very delicate balance of power protected by nuclear deterrence from both sides. However, this illusion of balance was maintained solely through fear. The M.A.D. (Mutually Assured Destruction) protocol dictated as much, and both countries were well aware of the kind of mayhem that they would be causing should a real war between them would ever happen. Although proxy wars of more conventional fare were fought and many people did die, at the very least we can say that the world did not disappear in the blink of an eye.

Even before the end of the Cold War, both the Americans and the Soviets began making progress to reduce the amount of W.M.D.s each possessed and continued working together well after it. One of the strongest indications that peace between the two countries will remain, at least at the non-nuclear level, is that we’ve been through it before and both nations know of each other’s capabilities to wage a war with the capacity to destroy everything and everyone on the planet.

Today many protocols and organizations exist solely to avoid the doomsday clock from ever reaching midnight. For fear that the 20,000 nuclear weapons that the U.S. and Russia still have might spark a nuclear war that most likely will drag most other countries in, these organizations and even the leaderships of our countries, I believe will work to eliminate every option before going to blows with each other.

 

The Importance of ‘Probably’

 

Although the Ruso-Ukrainian situation is severely hindering any effort for Russia to regain its seat as part of the G8, and exacerbating a terrible situation that is starting to turn our worst nightmares into realities, I believe there is still hope that a war can be averted.

This past Sunday a ceasefire devised by Germany’s Merkel and France’s Hollande and agreed upon by Russia’s Putin and Ukraine’s Poroshenko began between the Russian separatists and the Ukrainian military. Until now the truce has held sporadically, and some fighting still continues, some say at the behest of Putin who doesn’t seem to be all that serious about keeping the truce. Where the West is concerned, most of Ukraine would rather belong to the European union rather than form part of the Russian bloc that seems to be resurging. The Russians are well aware of this, but fearing that Ukraine will join NATO, Putin seems to be utterly prepared to hold the country at ransom to prevent that from ever happening. Crimea and now other parts of Ukraine under the control of the separatists are that leverage.

ukraine russia and europe

 

This all sounds very grave, but it seems that neither side is 100% ready to officially christen the follow-up to the first Cold War by starting a proxy war. If my dad were to tell me that he believes that another Cold War already broke out, to a certain degree I would feel inclined to agree with him, all the symptoms are there after all. But just as the United States feels that arming Kiev, secretly or openly, is the first step to a war, Russia also knows the consequences of arming the rebels. And each knows that what both are doing is just pushing that clock closer and closer to midnight.

While I base my opinion on what I observe, my entire argument also rests on something that is completely beyond my control, on the hope that both countries maintain some sort of civility and clear headedness through every step that as nations of power have to forcibly and inevitably engage in to resolve this.

To bet against this is stupid to the point of irrationality. People need to remember just how incredibly frail is this relative peace we have today, and how much we have to work to improve it. You must make the effort to see the reasons I’ve listed as the only barriers against global war and be alarmed at the fact that these things are what’s keeping the world “safe”, as if we had nothing else to base peace on but threats. It’s shameful that it is a sad reality to consider the new normal. Again.

Reality proves that there are those who are more right than others, but the United States as well as Russia need to engage in honest, purposeful diplomatic conversation to avert another major political and military disaster a mere 15 years into this new century.

Hopefully, the next time I talk with my dad, this reality I speak of will not be so grim.  Hopefully the talk will remain hypothetical and nothing else. Hopefully neither one will ever have to find out which side would win because make no mistake, no one will win, least of all the people who have little or no say in their country’s policy. Hopefully “probably” is enough to stop the world from tearing itself apart. Hopefully.

 

Bibliography

 

[1] “Historical Nuclear Weapons Stockpiles and Nuclear Tests By Country.” Wikipedia.com. Wikimedia Foundation, Inc. Last modified 8 January 2015, at 11:26. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Historical_nuclear_weapons_stockpiles_and_nuclear_tests_by_country. Accessed 18 February, 2015.

 

Definitions

 

*Inter-Continental Ballistic Missiles allows for a cross-continent payload delivery, which is a missile with several warheads that has the capacity to reach targets across the world.

**G7- The group of seven allied economic powers which include the United Kingdom, France, Germany, Italy, the United States, Canada, and Japan.

*** North Korea’s official name is DPRK or the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea.

 

Interesting Articles to Read

http://www.theguardian.com/business/2014/dec/16/falling-rouble-all-you-need-to-know

http://www.nytimes.com/2015/02/13/world/europe/imf-approves-17-5-billion-bailout-for-ukraine.html?_r=0

http://www.foreignaffairs.com/articles/71413/s-walter-washington/mexican-resistance-to-communism

http://finance.yahoo.com/news/peace-agreement-proves-putin-lying-221700335.html

http://www.thecommonsenseshow.com/2014/03/21/will-china-choose-russia-or-america-in-the-coming-war/

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Nuclear_arms_race

http://www.historytoday.com/vladimir-batyuk/end-cold-war-russian-view

http://www.aljazeera.com/news/europe/2014/03/timeline-ukraine-political-crisis-201431143722854652.html

http://news.yahoo.com/cold-war-us-russia-fight-191709484.html

http://news.yahoo.com/rebels-ukrainian-forces-agree-humanitarian-corridor-082121426.html

http://www.forbes.com/sites/michaelpeck/2014/03/05/7-reasons-why-america-will-never-go-to-war-over-ukraine/

http://blogs.reuters.com/great-debate/2015/02/16/ukraines-military-is-stronger-than-believed-heres-what-it-needs-to-win/?utm_source=Facebook