Commitments made at the G7 Summit are the biggest steps towards international war since the invasion of Ukraine. That does not mean that I don’t think they are right. They might have been taken earlier but political life is the Art of the Possible, not the Practice of the Perfect. It will be extremely difficult to retreat from these steps. But they are necessary if we value freedom.
It wasn’t inevitable. Mostly we were content to keep NATO one country away from the Russian border. Or two, if you include Sweden. NATO has been seen as aggressive, assertive, calm, dormant and essential in turns. By its nature it responds; its own inclination is to be proactive. Like all military operations it wants the best forward positions for whichever role it may be called upon to perform. Putin’s Troops’ behaviour in Ukraine has been shocking by any standards. But war itself is shocking. You cannot expect an aggressor to knit his way to victory.
The war has precipitated the expansion of NATO. It is the opposite of what Putin was aiming to achieve. His lack of strategy and resource is astonishing considering his armoury. The earlier procession of Mickey Mouse troop movements was an indictment of the whole chain of command, not just of Putin. But it is likely that his tendency to meddle has exacerbated the rigmarole. In a war, who does what needs to be well defined – and generally stuck to.
Now the nuclear threat hangs more ominously than ever. Putin must think that his adventure with an aggressive rat, when he was a child, is being repeated. He is reported to have cornered the rat whereupon it turned and chased him. He has sworn, ever since, that he won’t corner people. It seems he has forgotten to apply that to himself.
NATO will be on the lookout for trouble. One foot across the border and the guns may get busy. We must, at one and the same time, prepare and restrain NATO. Its obligations are largely military but it finds itself in the middle of a delicate and dangerous political situation. Not that it hasn’t been there before but I doubt it has seen such a tricky balance as it must now perform. The politicians must stay firmly in charge of NATO during this delicate pas de deux. We cannot afford a foot wrong. If and when the time comes to take a decisive nuclear step its purpose and limits must be clearly defined. We will have only one shot. It must reach its mark.
Such action is at present largely thought of as a response not an initiation. We all hope it won’t happen at all. But as the aggressor grits his teeth, so we must grit ours. The world’s nuclear experience is limited. At the end of WWII the use of such force was thought to have saved many lives that would have been lost in protracted fighting. The same logic applies today but the potential scale of the response is overwhelming. If to be done, it must be decisive.
We need one courageous leader to tell us when to go. It cannot wait too long. Logistically the Ukraine war is already getting tired. Meanwhile weapons are developing that involve nuclear elements and yet are not conventionally nuclear. The distinction between nuclear and non-nuclear is getting blurred. We are already seeing rockets of a nuclear composition being used – whether by only one side or by both we do not know. We may slip into a nuclear age without really noticing it.
Would you now take the initiative with a nuclear weapon if it was your decision?
And why would that be your decision?
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