Along with most of the world economies, the Russian economy is disappointing its citizens. But for oil and gas exports, things in Russia would be worse. Since the oil and gas benefits fail to reach many Russians, Mr. Putin needs to distract them; the reacquisition of the old Russian Empire of Czarist and Soviet days seems to be the current ploy.
Mr. Putin bit off a chunk of little Georgia a couple of years ago; that went down well, so he escalated by swallowing Crimea recently. Now, he is taking over Eastern Ukraine proper, using the Russians that Stalin planted there as his excuse. Others that gained freedom from Moscow in the Soviet collapse are beginning to sweat.
There is a little-discussed piece of this that needs more attention. In 1994, Russia signed an agreement to protect then-existing Ukrainian borders in exchange for Ukraine handing over its Soviet-era nukes for disposal. Ukraine did hand them over; now Russia says that agreement doesn’t apply to its takeovers of Crimea and Eastern Ukraine. This is a huge landmark in the world’s nuclear regime, one that is receiving far too little attention.
Iran for one, is watching closely. The obvious lesson is that having nukes may protect your borders; having a treaty, won’t. History has taught the same lesson repeatedly. America’s President Theodore Roosevelt put it: “Speak softly, but carry a big stick.”
What is presently not discussed, is the nuclear regime of planet earth as the E.U. and America continue their ongoing withdrawal from dominance, the primary encouragement of Mr. Putin’s current expansion of Russia.
The previous reality of nukes in Pakistan and North Korea give the lie to most anti-proliferation rationales. The primary purpose of anti-nuclear policies is not to prevent acquisition; it is demonstrably already too late for that. It is to calm the minds of voters and businessfolk so that they will proceed normally in a no longer normal world.
Governments around the world are noticing the American withdrawal as the U.S. economy is no longer capable of supporting world wide military superiority. China is becoming bellicose against its neighbors in the China Sea. That leads Japan and South Korea to worry about American aid if China advances; a concern that could convince them to produce their own nukes. Places like South Africa, Brazil, Argentina and Saudi Arabia (afraid of Iran) must be thinking about it as well. In Europe, with a nuclear Britain and France, how long will Germany be willing to remain unarmed, next to a nuclear and aggressive Russia?
The technology is no longer secret, only expensive and complex. The U.S. has lost control of it. Anyone with the resources and a strong enough desire will acquire nukes sooner or later; we have already seen that. And given the numbers of megalomanic dictators available, we should expect to see more.
One may pity President Obama, he has inherited the mantle of the chief preventer of nuclear proliferation in a world in which he cannot prevent it. However, as he evidently lacks the courage to say that, he will have earned whatever comes his way as nukes pop up from place to place in the coming years. That is bad but already inevitable.
It gets worse when one contemplates the ability of relatively cheap submarines to deliver nukes via missiles fired from undersea…. One can see why Israel seems more nervous than does President Obama, contemplating Iran.
Perhaps we need new advice: What do you do, when everybody, even the little guys, carry big sticks?