It is sometimes hard to know when something really starts. That’s not true of a horse race or even a mile run by humans. When they’re off, they’re off. But, as Bret Stephens outlines in the attached op-ed from The New York Times on March 16, the same cannot be said for world wars. He uses the Second World War to make his case.
As he points out, we were always taught that it began on September 1, 1939 when Germany invaded Poland. However, the prelude had many steps, all of which were denied as being what they were by the forces of freedom in the west until denial was no longer an option. Here are some Stephens’ list with the first added by me:
Hitler’s rise to power in Germany in the early 1930s
Japan’s invasion of Manchuria in 1931
Italy’s invasion of Abyssinia in 1935
The remilitarization of the Rhineland in 1936
The Spanish Civil War in 1936
Anschluss with Austria in 1938
The taking of the Sudetenland in 1938
Then, of course, Pearl Harbor in 1941
All of these events led to the plunging of the world into war. Is it happening again? Have we already seen the same sort of preludes around the world?
Russia has invaded Georgia, Crimea and eastern Ukraine. The Russians have bombed Syria into oblivion and poisoned those who would oppose their evil rule like Alexei Navatny. Add to Russian actions the use of chemical weapons in Syria, the Chinese takeover of Hong Kong and the widespread Iranian support for proxy wars all over the Middle East and you have more than enough evidence that the world is heading for a global conflict. Despite all that we hoped, the post-Cold War peace is over.
Let’s’ also factor in that the west has done little in response to these various aggressive acts by the Russians, Chinese and for that matter the Iranians and the North Koreans. We are in a world-wide conflict already. If the Russian invasion of Ukraine is what gets this declared to be the world war that it already is—fine. But Mr. Biden better own up to the fact that there is no avoiding a world-wide conflict. The only questions are how big does it have to get until the west accepts reality and when is Biden going to say to Putin, enough is enough?
I am very hopeful that Mr. Biden is heading to the NATO summit to make clear to our allies that we are in this to the death. On one side is a group of autocratic nations—Russia, China, Iran and North Korea—that wish to dominate the world with authoritarian regimes and unimagined power. On the other side is the democratic west that only wants to be left alone to do business and have lots of people live their lives in peace. Unfortunately, as we have learned over the past month, that last one is not an option without a fight.
Sanctions will not stop Russian aggression. As Stephens points out, the wise Russians hurt most by sanctions are getting out of the country and they are the one source of opposition to Putin anyway unless the oligarchs rebel, which is not impossible if they lose any more yachts. After all, we just passed the Ides of March.
Biden’s unwillingness to institute a no-fly zone over Ukraine or even send the Ukrainians old war planes is predicated on the idea that there is still a way to avoid a true global conflagration. As Stephens points out in the article, Russian and American jets sparred over Korea without leading to nuclear war.
Stephens expects Putin to double down. Putin will not back down and he will not give up his invasion even if it lays Ukraine to waste. Putin may use chemical or nuclear weapons to make his point that he will do anything to reconstitute the Russian Empire as he sees it.
The United States better realize that China, Iran and North Korea are all watching what we do in our battle against Russia. They will be more than happy to be the very second to challenge NATO or the west on the field of battle. As in the lead up to WWII, we didn’t get to pick when we were drawn in. This time we might. As this blog has said, 200,000 NATO troops must be assembled along the NATO-Russia border and a no-fly zone for Russian aircraft of any kind instituted over NATO countries and enforced with NATO war planes. Putin may be able to take Ukraine after he decimates it, but he will not stop. Make it clear he can go this far and no further. Get ready for WWIII. It may well have already begun.