The Lukewarm War: Part One

The world is in the throes of a Lukewarm War. And it is getting warmer every day. As I write these words, North Korea rattles a nuclear saber, and we meet their rants with our own. The peace of the globe hangs on the brink of that distant peninsula.

But there are many places in the world today that are one incident away from igniting the Lukewarm War into a hot one. A Russian plane shoots down an American one in Syria. Ukrainian rebels launch an attack towards Kiev. America responds….

Iran, infuriated by the Israeli response to the attack on the Temple Mount, decides it time to teach that state, which they’d love to destroy, a lesson. They launch some of their own missiles, which they’ve been testing and perfecting lately. Tel Aviv gets hit. Israel strikes back….

Our European allies are indecisive, until Russia takes advantage of the chaos to foment trouble in the Baltics, sending troops to Lithuania, allegedly to protect the Russian speakers in that country. NATO mobilizes its forces….

We are living in the most dangerous times since the Cold War, maybe even more dangerous. During the Cold War both sides were rational, and when it turned hot, like Korea, Vietnam, Afghanistan (always Afghanistan) and even during the extreme brinksmanship of the Cuban missile crisis, neither side’s leaders were reckless, stupid or self-destructive enough to push the button. They’d rather lose—as both sides did, in Berlin, or Vietnam or elsewhere—than bring on Armageddon.

But the current crop of world leaders does not inspire confidence to any rational observer. Most of them seem less than rational themselves.

What the Lukewarm War has, more than the Cold War and the hot wars like WWII ever did, is unpredictability. We’re not sure where it could boil over, or with whom.

All this stuff is too horrible to contemplate, which is exactly why we must contemplate it now. And I mean right now. History does terrible things to the unprepared.

History can help us here, but for the study of history to be worth anything, we must pay heed to its cautionary tales.

Lesson one is that in any geopolitical conflict, nothing is inevitable, choices must be made. The way the world works it is leaders who make those choices. Nothing in the digital revolution has changed that fact. Twitter can’t call out the troops (it can’t even promulgate a legitimate military order, the Trump transgender tweets proved that.)

But presidents can, Kim Jong Ill can, Xi Jinping can, Vladimir Putin can, and has, Bashar al-Assad gasses and barrel bombs daily. Somehow, they must be persuaded to pull back from the precipice.

The Lukewarm War is the greatest challenge of our times. If we lose control of it, we could be engulfed in a maelstrom of searing destruction before we even have time to react.

Once the Lukewarm War becomes hot, it will be too late. And nobody can foresee the consequences, any more than Europe could imagine the global slaughter that followed a rogue assassination in June 1914. How a single killing, of the Archduke Ferdinand, greased the slippery slope into World War I, and how World War I led to World War II. One wrong move at a dangerous time became a half-century cascade of catastrophe that nobody wanted.

This sounds dire, I know. And, usually, I don’t like dire. I think it clouds the vision and makes issues hard to discuss rationally. But the Lukewarm War is an existential threat, right now. Not in a hundred years, like global warming, but tomorrow or the day after. We better get our heads around the threat, real fast, before we lose them.

America is always told it needs to have a conversation: About race, about inequality, about police brutality, about climate change. Those are important conversations to have.

But we’ve barely begun to talk about the Lukewarm War that threatens to explode at any moment. And if we don’t have that conversation, and make plans to thwart the Lukewarm War while it is merely smoldering, none of the other conversations will matter. The world will be aflame.

And, as horrible as that is to contemplate, here is the real tragedy. We saw it coming. And we did nothing to prevent it.

But the Lukewarm War doesn’t have to become WWIII. There are things we can do to deter it. We’ll talk about them, next month. Assuming we make it that long.

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