War, prepping, fear and nationalism

Two weeks ago Russia invaded Ukraine, and I’ve been on edge since. The threat of escalation into a wider European war which might turn nuclear suddenly feels tangible. It’s frightening – I wonder if this is how my parents generation felt growing up during the cold war.

Dead wasps

In the tv series Lost, Jack gives a pep talk to a frightened survivor along the lines of “I allow myself to feel panic and fear for three breaths, and then I do what needs to be done” – and that is all well and fine, but you need to somehow know what needs to be done. And if you believe that there’s a risk of end-of-the-world nuclear all-out fuckupery, it’s difficult to know what you ought to do.

To mitigate my anxiety I’m trying to read up on international releations, and I thought the 2015 lecture by John Mearsheimer was a clearly presented case of how “offensive realism” has played out in the Ukraine example:

My argument is: When security considerations are at stake. When core strategic interests are at stake, and there’s no question, ladies and gentlemen, in Russia’s case this is a core strategic interest. Countries will suffer enormously before they throw their hands up. So you can inflict a lot of pain on the Russians and they’re not going to quit. And they’re not going to quit because Ukraine matters to them. And by the way, Ukraine doesn’t matter to us. You understand there is nobody calling for us to fight in Ukraine. Even John McCain, who up until recently has never seen a war he didn’t want to fight, is not calling for using military force in Ukraine. What even John McCain is saying is Ukraine is not a vital strategic interest for the West.

RealClear Politics, John Mearsheimer: Why is Ukrain the West’s fault

What’s compelling about his analysis is that the ideologies of the actors are secondary to security considerations. Countries are basically single cell organisms looking to expand their resource base as much as possible, acting aggressively to defend real or perceived threats. For those of us playing computer games it’s the most rudimentary behaviour of AI opponents in a 4X game: if you’re closing in on our borders I will perceive it as a threat, and if you don’t repell my encroachment of your borders I will see it as a weakness to exploit.

It’s also a very depressing view of how human society functions. Then again, perhaps we won’t be functioning that much longer:

There is no denying that China is a rising superpower confronting the U.S. Reporting a study of Harvard’s Belfer Center of International Affairs, Graham Allison argued further that the so-called Thucydides Trap is likely to lead to a U.S.-China war. That cannot happen. U.S.-China war means simply: game over. There are critical global issues on which the U.S. and China must cooperate. They will either work together, or collapse together, bringing the world down with them.

Noam Chomsky: US Push to “Reign Supreme” Stokes the Ukraine Conflict