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  • Writer's pictureThe Paladins

International Relations in the Twenty-First Century: the Russian Snake

This is the draft first section to an intended new essay, entitled 'International Relations in the Twenty-First Century: the Russian Snake'.

All comments are welcome.


History repeats itself; but every time it does so it is in a slightly different way.

This is an essay about the way in which the 2022 Russian invasion of Ukraine has changed, and will change further, the world of international relations. Some of its arguments and assertions may be rather surprising. So they are set out here, in an introductory first section to the essay.

This is not a long essay, but it does seek to introduce a new method of thinking about problems in international relations because the traditional methods have failed the world. They have not been able to predict astonishing events and massive changes. So a new method of thinking of events in international relations is needed. It is called political psychology. It is introduced as a concept in Section 2 to this essay.

And now here is a summary of the essay's conclusions. The detail of the argument for each of the conclusions comes later.

External political actors cannot change the internal political psychology of a nation without waging necessarily devastating war against them and winning. As a rule countries have to change their own political psychologies from within, and each system has its own rules for change. The West tried to change Russia's political psychology by funding open democracy movements, and has abjectly failed. Possibly the biggest single turning point in early Twenty-First Century history was the failure of NATO to intervene sufficiently to prevent the Russian invasion of Ukraine. (NATO could still now do so, but she won't.)

The reason NATO did not intervene sufficiently in the Russia-Ukraine war is due to technological advancements principally in ballistic missile technology. This has been a ground war (air wars are precluded when a party has hypersonic ballistic missiles that can shoot any aeroplane out of the air, such as the Mach 14 Russian S-400 SAM) and there are insufficient troops in Europe to fight the Russian Armed Forces on the ground. The United States is too far away to have a strategic interest in committing hundreds of thousands of troops to Ukraine; moreover it is not easy to see how they would get there, given the capacity of Russian hypersonic missile technology to sink aerial and naval people carriers.

In recent years Russia invested in ballistic missile technology, in which she now excels, because she spotted that if she did this when nobody else was looking then she could eliminate air wars (which she is deficient at - she barely has one aircraft carrier) and shift to land wars, that in Europe at least she is superior because the number of her resources (people and armour) dominates, even if her soldiers are not the most skilled. In large scale ground wars, numbers may be more important than quality. That is how Russia has won all her ground wars in the past.

The one NATO asset that would have permitted a NATO reaction to prevent Russia from invading Ukraine would have been a substantial German ground army, that could have protected Ukrainian soil without the risk of substantial escalation. But Germany, following a disarmament style of policy since the end of World War II, doesn't have one. Germany is extremely good at fighting ground wars and the Russian Armed Forces would have lost, pitted in a ground war over Ukrainian territory against Germany. But Germany doesn't have the resources. There will be no negotiations to end the Russian invasion of Ukraine. Nobody wants to negotiate, even when the outcome is obvious and a non-negotiated solution is palpably worse for both sides than a negotiated solution. Political psychology explains why this is. Russia will continue relentlessly until she has a corridor from Tiraspol (maybe Chisinau) to Kharkiv, or until her death toll exceeds tolerable numbers: something which, given Russia's political psychology, is far higher than for most countries. At the same time she will use her control over Ukrainian grain from Odessa (a city which in reality she already controls) to exercise political influence particularly on Africa and the Middle East. She will use her supply of cheap hydrocarbons to pursue similar geopolitical objectives. Hence there will be a Second Cold War, as Russia seeks to transform herself back into a Superpower. This author has already written about this, in an essay entitled 'The Second Cold War'. Russia has a habit of veering from Superpower to failed state and back throughout her history, and this new phase is just the latest stage in that historical cycle. America will fight the Second Cold War using military means in proxy countries, as she fought the First Cold War. The European Union will fight the Second Cold War using soft power. The role of China remains to be determined, but in accordance with historical precedent she will probably turn inwards, unwilling to get involved. She will retract her quixotic array of global investments that so far have attracted for her little yield. She may well go back to the activity that so far has proven most profitable for her: trade with the United States.

China is always at risk of her own very particular sort of implosion, as she has her own distinctive political psychology. She may seek to avert that by rebuilding cordial relations with the United States, who may see value in it given their unrelenting hostility to Russia: just as did Richard Nixon in his ping-pong diplomacy of detente. In terms of a new Arms Race, the United States will not be particularly interested in engaging save in upgrading her nuclear arsenal to include in particular hypersonic missiles with tactical nuclear warheads. She anticipates no direct war with Russia except a nuclear one. The United Kingdom will invest massive resources in upgrading her navy, in particular developing hypersonic missiles to defend her vessels and her shores. The United Kingdom might well commit to investing in a further four aircraft carrier strike fleets (beyond the two she already has), within the next twelve months; but rather than use them principally as a projection of power at a distance (people now do that ever less because hypersonic missiles can sink them) she will intend them to be used to deter an attack upon the British Isles.

In the Second Cold War, the United Kingdom, standing outside the EU, will have to transform herself into an armed naval camp borrowing such hypersonic technology (and antidotes to it) as the Americans may with all their technological might develop but for different purposes. The Americans will reluctantly but definitively subsidise the United Kingdom in her exercise in rearmament, as a military buffer against future contienential strife. NATO will have a second life, being reorientated around a large and effective German land army, ready to invade Ukraine and indeed Russia in the event of further provocation that threatens the European Union. But the balance of power between Germany and Russia will have to be kept. That role might be undertaken again, as it was effectively in the nineteenth century, by a militarily reinvigorated United Kingdom reinforced with the ever present threat of introducing the diplomatic muscle of the United States.

If Germany is to rearm, there is another balance of power to be kept: that between Germany and the rest of the EU. Right-wing nationalist and racist ideologies in Germany must be kept under constant supervision and, if necessary, action must be taken to hobble them. We cannot afford a rightist political trend in European politics, arising out of increased European hardship due to increases in hydrocarbon and food prices, to wash over Europe with a rearmed Germany at its helm. Constant balancing between the northern EU powers, from France to Poland and beyond,will be necessary to keep the European Union on a steady course. Rump free Ukraine, an important agrarian state and cultural centre for the Ukrainian speaking people, will join the EU and NATO. If necessary those treaties will be rewritten to get around vetoes. A way will be found to supply Ukrainian grain globally without using Odessa port. The Second Cold War's front line, replete with intrigue and mystery, will be a handful of neutral European states, including Hungary, Serbia and Moldova. The Iron Curtain will have moved east. In NATO failing to stand up to the Russian military invasion of a neighbouring state, we have just rewritten Twenty-First Century history. All should be okay; the Second Cold War can play out much as the first one. After all, there are (or will be) still more nuclear weapons to serve as deterrents; and if there is one unambiguously good thing in the world of international relations, it is nuclear weapons. As we have seen in the Russian invasion of Ukraine, it is an iron law of international relations that nuclear states do not (directly) go to war with one another.

Moreover countries with nuclear weapons increase their governance capacities, as they come to realise that a single administrative or governance mistake could result in their total extinction by an adversary's nuclear weapons. So the more states that have them, the better. Eventually, we should be able to wipe war out altogether. However in the interim there will be lots of proxy wars and sub-nuclear arms races, as people work out to build ever faster hypersonic missiles and also how to shoot them out of the sky. These things will go in circles; once we work out how to neutralise hypersonic missiles (and it won't be long), we will go back to air wars until an even faster hypersonic missile is developed.

At some point the Russian Empire will collapse again; it always does. But we have no way of estimating when that might happen.

In the meantime, we might consider the above as a blueprint for a second Congress of Vienna. Even though nothing will be formally agreed between the parties, the balance of power in Europe will be maintained according to an approximately congruent logic.


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