The Mideast and WWIII

As Europe’s security unravels with the Russian challenge to NATO hegemony, in the blink of an eye the world has become a far more dangerous place. Although many Israeli analysts downplay the recent remarks by the Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Sergei A. Ryabkov, they are still a serious worry for not only Russian-American relations but for the entire Middle East, Ukraine, the Baltic states and all of Europe. “We wouldn’t like to use these talks (the Iran nuclear talks) as an element of the game of raising the stakes, taking into account the sentiments in some European capitals, Brussels and Washington,” the minister said. He added, “but if they force us into that, we will take retaliatory measures here as well. The historic importance of what happened in the last weeks and days regarding the restoration of historical justice and reunification of Crimea with Russia is incomparable to what we are dealing with in the Iranian issue.”

In other words, Russian border security is far more important to Russia than an expanded nuclear arms race in the Middle East and beyond. While there is a certain amount of truth to that statement (the Ukraine is as vital to Russian security as the Jordan River Valley is for Israel’s), a nuclear arms race in the Middle East is probably the most unstable of all geopolitical scenarios that anyone could possibly imagine.

Also, a vastly expanded regional conventional war would probably be the near-term outcome of the failure of the P5+1 (the Iran nuclear talks). If the Israeli military deterrent is to be believed, the failure of a diplomatic solution to the Iran nuclear program must surely lead to war. Iran’s allies (Syria, Hezbollah and Hamas) most certainly would become involved. This would have immediate consequences for Russia, because the Assad regime has been Russia’s chief ally in the Middle East. How Russia might respond to an all-out Syrian-Israeli-Hezbollah-Iranian war is questionable. But if the war goes badly for Israel (three thousand rockets a day raining down on a small geographic country), escalation on an unprecedented scale or the full force of the US military is certainly not outside the foggy equation of possibilities.

This is where the scenarios become really dangerous, especially now when the so-called post-Cold-War European security structure of NATO hegemony is under serious challenge. The Obama administration is under intense pressure to find the appropriate leverage to deter or roll-back what has been perceived in the West as Russian aggression against the Ukraine. According to NATO, President Putin must pay a cost for Russia’s illegal annexation of the Crimea. However, any further moves against any of the sovereign states with sizable Russian populations (especially states already in NATO, like Latvia for instance) would be risking confrontation. Russia has little room for military maneuver in the Middle East, but a serious challenge to her position in Syria could foster serious instability closer to home in Eastern Europe. With sizable Russian minority populations stretching in an arc from the Transnistria through the southern and eastern Ukraine into Belarus and the Baltic states, the new European instability caused by NATO expansion could be far more unpredictable in the present circumstances than it ever was in the German-occupied Cold War.

Bi-nationalism and inter-ethnic democracy do not appear to be on the European agenda. Europe talks a lot about democracy and human rights (it especially loves to lecture its historic victim–the Jews–and their new state, Israel). But in practice, large multinational or bi-national European states have either broken apart or are in the process of breaking apart. The Ukraine could become another Yugoslavia. The US under President Clinton bombed Serbia for weeks to allow the secession of a break-away province (Kosovo).

However, Eastern Europe does not stand alone in its rejection of bi-nationalism. England has forever occupied Ireland and within the last century partitioned the country into two completely separate political entities. Scotland, Catalonia, the Flemish, Northern Italy and the Basques all seek independence. Crimea and other sections of the Ukraine as well as other populations are part and parcel of these centrifugal political forces. Even the supra-national construct of the EU (ironically created as a bulwark against another continent-wide European war) has lost its appeal for the common people of Europe. Decentralization has become the political watchword of Europe. Could the Baltic states be next? They have large Russian populations. And could the Baltic instability be triggered by a failed Middle East nuclear negotiation that leads to a wider Israel-Iran regional war? Is it totally unrealistic to believe that we might be inching toward a global precipice?

In this highly unstable political and military environment, the crisis of global economic demand still plagues the economies of the EU. The working people of Greece, Spain, Portugal, Ireland, Italy and even France can only hope and wonder when the economic depression across the continent will end. The instability created by NATO hegemony can only add to these economic woes. As tit-for-tat sanctions take their toll, the negative consequences for the economy of Europe and the ensuing political turmoil it creates can only add fuel to fire. How far these events could slip from our grasp and take on a momentum of further irrationality is anyone’s guess. But the seeds of geopolitical crisis are always planted deep within the soil of fear and paranoia. Anarchy has always been the nature of geopolitical reality. History is filled with miscalculation. Cooperation and partnership have never taken place on a global level. The bi-polar world was never really overcome, as the old Cold War didn’t end. The bear was humiliated and simply went into a kind of political hibernation. NATO expanded eastward.

Now those terrible seeds have sprouted once again, and the world is on the edge of a full-blown European and Middle East crisis. One hundred years after the tragic events of July and August 1914, we face a new summer of escalation. The anarchy of human history has reared its ugly head as the vortex of events spin like a black hole of negative coincidence leading down the unforgiving path of irreconcilable differences. By July, the Iran nuclear negotiations must have a solution. But after the Libyan example (Khadafi gave up his nuclear program and look what happened to him) and the Budapest Agreement (the Ukraine gave up their actual nuclear weapons in exchange for Russian guarantees to respect their sovereignty), can any nation rely on any document of so-called international law? Iran knows the history of its relationship with Europe and the US. They are not strangers to foreign power and occupation.

Neither are the Jews. More than once, foreign occupation and power have cost them their country. They live in the aftermath of fourteen hundred years of Muslim and Christian domination and oppression. They have suffered a hate that has been both severe and continuous. They feel its power in a world of political transgressions that focuses its moral hypocrisy with untoward weight and urgency upon them. Under the very shadow of the Holocaust, they are being lectured by the uneducated masses of European and Muslim youth that they, as Jews, have no place in Judea. They could be surrounded by enemies at any time, as the shifting sands of Middle East geopolitics only respect power, and certainly not the idealistic side of religion (“spears into pruning hooks and swords into plowshares”). After two thousand years of non-violence and turning the other cheek (how ironic), the Jewish people have finally sought self-defense and have once again decided to participate in the global anarchy of war and geopolitics. Their ancient nation-state has been rehabilitated, and their army possesses a vast arsenal of weapons.
The Israelis were also threatened with nuclear annihilation in 1956 (by the Soviet Union) and found neither the US, Britain nor France willing to extend its nuclear umbrella to protect them. The Israelis would be extremely reluctant to relinquish their current arsenal of nuclear weapons without iron-clad superpower and Security Council assurances that they would have, in perpetuity, military access to the Jordan River valley. Even with these assurances, in today’s global geopolitical environment the trend is toward nuclear proliferation and not against it. This is another failing of the so-called post-Cold War US-led world that has now been exposed by the Ukrainian crisis.

Nuclear disarmament can only happen in a world where Russia, China and the US are engaged in the harmonious pursuit of peace. This is not the case in Asia, the Middle East, or Europe. In the present global situation any nation would be foolhardy to forestall the option of nuclear weapons. This includes both Israel and Iran and makes the current situation even more precarious. Israel will simply not allow Iran to continue its nuclear program, while calling for Israel’s destruction as it pursues its mad quest for regional Persian hegemony.

So what is to be done? A US-Russian or tripartite summit including China must take place this summer on the one hundredth anniversary of the start of WWI. On the agenda should be the future of NATO, the end of all regional conventional hegemony, the not-too-distant future of nuclear disarmament, the structure of UN Security Council cooperation and the Zone of Peace concept for the Middle East (as previously described in the pages of this blog).

The Obama administration has shown its feebleness with regard to foreign affairs (a feebleness of ideas). Nowhere is this more clear than in Europe and the Middle East. But now is not the time to attempt to prove that the current situation demands strength. On the contrary, the present moment is as fraught with danger as was the summer of 1914. We are not at a Munich parallel. And Vladimir V. Putin is unquestionably not an Adolf Hitler. To suggest otherwise is an affront to both sanity and history. Obama should pursue the high ground of compromise with harmony and peace. In Putin, he will assuredly have a willing partner. Like the old Chinese adage, with danger comes opportunity. The G-1 world has revealed itself to be a myth. We are either headed to war, or to a place in history that could make our children and grandchildren proud. The ball is in NATO’s court.

About the Author
Steven Horowitz has been a farmer, journalist and teacher spanning the last 45 years. He resides in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, USA. During the 1970's, he lived on kibbutz in Israel, where he worked as a shepherd and construction worker. In 1985, he was the winner of the Christian Science Monitor's Peace 2010 international essay contest. He was a contributing author to the book "How Peace came to the World" (MIT Press).