What Putin Really Wants in Ukraine
Russia Seeks to Stop NATO’s Expansion, Not to Annex More Territory
WHY are we Westerners feeling so uneasy today? Many answers might, no doubt, be given to this question; but one answer, at any rate, is that we are disconcerted at suddenly finding ourselves in a situation that is unfamiliar as well as unpleasant. For more than 250 years ending in the year 1945, the West was besieging the world. The last and farthest wave of this modern Western tide of aggression brought German armies within sight of Leningrad, Moscow and Stalingrad. And now, since 1945, the tide has turned, and today it is the West that is having the novel experience of being besieged by Russia. In Korea, in Southeast Asia, in the Middle East and in Europe, we Westerners today are conscious of standing on the defensive against a formidably rising concentric pressure.
This experience is novel for us in the West in the sense that it is one that has not previously overtaken either our generation or its predecessors within living memory. But it is perhaps consoling to remind ourselves that, on a rather longer view of past Western history, this state of siege turns out to have been the rule of Western life rather than an exception. The Ottoman siege of the West, which ended, Stalingrad-fashion, under the walls of Vienna in 1683, had been sustained for about 300 years before the Turkish tide at last began to ebb. Before that, in the thirteenth century, there was a Mongol siege of the West which came and went in a flash before our forefathers had had time to wake up to the deadly danger that had overshadowed them.
Yet there was a moment when the European and Indian peninsulas of Asia were the only two continental fragments of the Old World that still stood high and dry above the Mongol flood; and there was a year in which, in England, there was a glut of herrings because the continental fishermen and shippers had stayed at home to defend their wives and children in case the Mongols might sweep on from the Carpathians to the Frisian coast. Before that, again, there had been an Arab siege of the West which, by the time of its ebb in the course of the tenth century, had been sustained (like the Turkish siege in modern times) for about 300 years, reckoning from the first Arab invasion, in the 640's, of a Northwest Africa that, like Spain, was at that date an integral part of a Latin speaking Western Christendom.
This state of siege, then, has been at least as usual in our Western history up to date as our two great Western outbursts of aggression--the unsuccessful Crusades and the likewise unsuccessful modern Western attempt to conquer the globe through the conquest of the ocean. The more recent and more violent of these two Western outbreaks began as an oceanic encircling movement in answer to the Ottoman siege of the West in the Danube Valley and in the Mediterranean Basin. It went on, virtually unopposed, for a quarter of a millennium after the final collapse of the Turkish offensive in 1683. And it is only in our own day that it has reached its high-water mark and has begun to recede from it. Yet these two outbreaks, which have given us Westerners the reputation of being habitual aggressors in the judgment of the great non-Western majority of mankind, are--so we Westerners may plausibly plead--merely exceptions to the normal state of affairs. Normally the Western World has been under siege by its neighbors; and, indeed, to have to live normally in a state of siege is surely the destiny of a geographically ecccentric society like ours, clinging precariously to a bridgehead on and off the tip of one of the peninsulas of a vast alien continent.
At this point I can see an American Western reader turning restive. "What a characteristically European blinkered point of view!" he will interpellate. "The Western World an Asiatic bridgehead! Why, surely all this has been changed by the modern Western discovery and settlement of a New World. Happily our Western World has long since outgrown the dimensions of a Western Europe which you can, I admit, fairly describe, if you choose, as being merely an Asiatic bridgehead."
Yes, happily the Western World has grown in size as a result of the expansion that began with the West European oceanic voyages of discovery more than 450 years ago. But in this connection it has to be borne in mind that, while the Western World has been growing in size, its non-Western neighbors and rivals have been growing pari passu, and this as an effect of the same Western technical causes. A constantly accelerating process of Western technological development, beginning with the invention of a Portuguese caravel and continuing at this moment in the invention of a British jet-plane, has resulted in "the annihilation of distance;" and, while these unprecedented Western means of communication have made it possible for the Western World to expand out of Western Europe over the Americas and South Africa and Australia and New Zealand, they have also made it possible, in the stubbornly non-Western heartland of the inhabited world, for Russia to build a land-empire on the likewise colossal scale of the ephemeral empire of the Mongols.
As the world has grown smaller, the Great Powers have grown bigger; but, in these world-wide changes of scale, there have been no appreciable local changes of proportion. The Western World of 1952, relative to the Russian World of 1952, is no bigger than a pre-Columbian Western World, confined to Western Europe, once was relative to an Ottoman Empire or, before that, to an Arab Caliphate. It is true that the pair of American isles that lie anchored off the Old World across the Atlantic Channel are, in absolute magnitude, vastly larger than the pair of British Isles that, on the pre-Columbian map, lay anchored off Europe across the English Channel; but then the absolute magnitude of the Soviet Union, together with its satellites and associates, is vaster, in the same ratio, than the absolute magnitude of the Ottoman Empire. When all the magnitudes have increased in approximately the same proportion, the balance of power remains much as it was; and, while it is true that, without its new arsenal and citadel in North America, our Western World would be doomed today, it would also be a delusion for us to feel secure today because the resources of America have been added to those of Western Europe--considering that our Russian antagonists have performed the same acrobatic feat of piling Pelion on Ossa.
And now the world has become "round" for strategic and political, as well as for mere navigational, purposes. Before the Second World War, the world's surface had not yet become global for military purposes. For these unpleasant purposes it was then still an oblong area with edges; and a world that has not yet rid itself of war is a less dangerous world to live in when it has some edges, against which combatants can set their backs without fear of being taken in the rear, than it is when it has become a continuous global surface with no edges anywhere; for, in this new global world, everybody is all the time encircling, and being encircled by, everybody else. Our old comfortable militarily oblong world was transformed into this new perilous militarily global world when Admiral Nimitz welded the world's two surviving edges together by "annihilating the Pacific." Today, the world has no sheltering edges left in it; and this means that Russia, who seems to us to be besieging our Western Community all the way round a circumglobal front, seems in Russian eyes to be being besieged, all the way round the same front, by us.
After all, when there is talk of being besieged, Russia can perhaps make out almost as good a case as Western Christendom can for the thesis that her normal experience, throughout her history up to date, has been to find herself under siege. Such competitive claims to innocence are, of course, as unprofitable as they are unconvincing. On the other hand, the "geopolitical" transformation of the world's surface from an oblong into a globe does point at least two morals: one for us in the West and one for the human race as a whole.
The moral for us Westerners surely is that, in a world that has now become global for military purposes as the result of a technological "annihilation of distance," we can no longer afford the luxury of political disunity in which we were able to indulge during the recent exceptional chapter of Western history in which we were enjoying a temporary ascendancy over the non-Western majority of mankind. In those brief spacious days, when the Western peoples had the whole habitable and navigable surface of the globe for their playground, they had plenty of elbow room and no menacing clouds on their horizon; and so, when they found one another's company irksome, they could apply the simple remedy of sheering off from a tiresome Western neighbor.
This was, for example, what the American people did in the eighteenth century when their political association with the United Kingdom had become annoying to them as the result of a shift in the balance of power between them and the British people--a shift which the British Government and people had been unwilling to recognize. The Americans wanted to have the control over their own affairs which was the logical corollary of their growth in numbers, wealth and strength; the British were obstructive. The Americans found their remedy in setting up a new sovereign and independent state of their own. This was practical politics in an eighteenth century Western World, because there was still room there for new sovereign independent states. There were still open spaces; and the Western countries that had been making relative, as well as absolute, gains in power were communities that, like the United States, were on the edge of those open spaces and were expanding into them and developing their resources. They could go on developing them, as independent states, without fear, because at that time the Western World as a whole was not threatened by any outside power, while the threats, within the Western World, to one Western country from another, were not very serious.
This remedy of parting company is not, however, open any longer today to a Western country that is irked, as America was two hundred years ago, by a shift in the balance of power between itself and its Western neighbors. It is irksome today for France and Great Britain--states with long memories of greatness, which, within living memory, were great Powers of the highest caliber--suddenly to find themselves dwarfed by a super-Power of the caliber of the present United States; and their natural human inclination might be to apply the remedy--which the American people applied in the eighteenth century--of sheering off from an irksome associate. But in fact this remedy is no longer open to any Western country in the new circumstances of our twentieth century. New lands, new markets, new opportunities are no longer to be found in a world in which the former empty spaces have now been filled and in which the political horizon is no longer cloudless. In old days, when Great Britain lost her mediaeval empire in France, she could find a new opening in the New World; when she lost her American colonies, she could find a new opening in India; but, now that she has lost India too, she has nowhere to turn, outside the limits of the Western World. The Dutch, again, built up an empire in Indonesia after they had lost their status as a Great Power in Europe; but now the Dutch have lost Indonesia too.
At the same time the Western World as a whole is now beset once again by a threat from outside; and this new threat from the Soviet Union is more formidable than the old threat from the Ottoman Empire ever was. Today it is not just the border cities or marches or countries of our Western World that are under siege; the Communist siege of the West is pressing upon the whole of our Western community. In these new circumstances, if Britain or France sought to relieve herself from the pressure of an American ascendancy by disengaging herself from the United States, the effect would be, not to reëstablish France's or Britain's independence, but merely to place France and Britain at the mercy of the Soviet Union. Today, the lesser states of the Western World cannot sheer off from the United States without walking into the Soviet Union's jaws; and the United States too, relatively powerful though it is today by comparison with any other Western country, is really in the same plight as the rest. However tiresome it may find its West European junior partners, it cannot afford to throw them off, because it cannot afford to see their weight fall into the Russian side of the Russo-American balances.
In a world in which the Western peoples have no longer either a cloudless horizon or a reserve of untapped resources, the moral for all is clear. We must make the most economical use of the aggregate resources that we do command. We must overhaul the management of our Western affairs, cut out waste and renounce luxuries. Our greatest luxury has been to live divided into some 40 sovereign and independent Western states, each pulling against the others; and this is a luxury in which we can no longer afford to indulge. No doubt, our hearts are still far from reconciling themselves to this renunciation, however clearly our minds may accept its logic. Yet the logic is inexorable. The non-Western majority of mankind is now once again besieging our Western fortress. Considering that this non-Western majority is a great one, and that this great non-Western majority is rapidly mastering the "know-how" of the technology which has been the secret of our recent Western power, we must expect, in the round world of today, to continue to be under siege for as long as we can see ahead; and who has ever heard of a besieged city that did not fall when the troops refused to submit to the military necessity for a unity of command? Western Christendom's retort to the first of the sieges that it ever had to face--the Arab siege of the West in the early Middle Ages--was to unite under the single command of Charlemagne. A modern equivalent of that Carolingian union is what the West needs again today. If we refuse to submit to this military and political necessity, a divided Western house will certainly fall. If we decide to build a united house, NATO is already there to serve as the foundation.
So the United States, like its West European associates, today finds itself in an ironical situation which is made all the more exasperating by the fact that it has resulted from their common victory in the Second World War. The United States is now more powerful than ever, relatively and not only absolutely. But the source of this enhanced American power is a change in the world which has deprived the American people of the possibility of satisfying their dearest wish. The American people's dream has been to disentangle America from the Old World in order to build an Earthly Paradise in the New World. But now they are inextricably entangled with the whole of the rest of the world because America's present mighty power comes from a recent vast increase in the scale of all human operations--technological operations in the first place, and therefore economic and political and military operations as well. This change of scale is comparable in magnitude to the change that came over the world 450 years ago, as a result of the West European peoples' conquest of the ocean. In consequence, the United States today is so powerful that it can do anything--except the one thing that the American people want to do most.
Thus the American people are finding themselves faced with the necessity of having to change one of their fundamental ideas if they are still to pursue one of their fundamental ideals. In order to make the United States or any other part of the world safe for democracy, the whole world under present conditions has to be made safe for democracy. This psychological readjustment is an excruciating experience, and the fact that the necessity for it comes from an increase of power and from a great victory is an aggravation of the malaise.
Yet we Western peoples no longer have a choice. We are bound to unite with one another, considering that we have no intentions of allowing ourselves to go under, and that our downfall would be the inevitable penalty of a continuing disunity.
The technological revolution that has "annihilated distance" also has another moral--which is one for the Russians as well as for us Westerners. It looks as if, in a war fought by air forces armed with atomic bombs, there would no longer be any distinction between "the front" and the relatively sheltered "interior" behind it. Every target worth attacking in either camp would be exposed all the time to being attacked at any moment. Since a war of this unprecedented kind would spell almost certain death for both belligerents, both parties have the strongest common interest in keeping the peace. In the world in which we find ourselves today, to live and let live is the first and last word of wisdom for both the armed camps into which mankind has unhappily allowed itself to be sorted out.