How world wars start
By Bruce Walker
World Wars are not planned. No one, not even Hitler, intended to begin a long and bloody global war seventy-five years ago. Hitler instead hoped to parlay German nationalism, rearmament, and the weakness of the democracies into a Greater Germany which would mean hegemony over Europe. Stalin did not intend to start wars for his Soviet empire. Stalin preferred to bully territory out of Finland and force the Baltic States to join the Red Empire rather than wage war.
The First World War, which began one hundred years ago, did not start because the major powers really wanted war but because Russia did not believe that Germany would give Austria a "blank check" and because Germany was not sure what Britain would do in the event of war. Most Europeans understood the horror of war and peace had been kept on the European continent for the prior one hundred years because no one wished again another conflagration like the Napoleonic Wars.
The Cold War stayed cold as long as the aggressor Communist states knew what was intolerable to the West. So during the Eisenhower Presidency the Soviets understood what Eisenhower would fight to defend. This meant, unhappily, that Hungary was consigned to the Soviet Empire and Ike did not even threaten to intervene in the 1956 Hungarian Revolution, but it also meant that Eisenhower very quickly compelled a ceasefire in Korea and Russia did not move against Western Europe or Afghanistan.
The Cold War grew dangerously hot on those occasions when American's strategic interests were not unmistakably defined and American's resolve to wage war seemed remote. The Korean War began because the Communists did not understand that America would fight to defend the Republic of Korea because of the weak and ambiguous responses of Truman. The Cuban Missile Crisis arose after Khrushchev had met Kennedy in Vienna and perceived our Camelot King as craven and after Kennedy's lame actions at the Bay of Pigs led Castro also to believe that America was a paper tiger. Carter's weakness and pussyfooting directly led to Soviet acts of aggression in Afghanistan – notably when the American Ambassador to Afghanistan was murdered by Marxist goons – and when Carter let the Iranian occupation of our embassy go unpunished.
The limp and incompetent management of America's national security goals by Obama smells much like Carter or Kennedy or Truman when they brought the world close to a general war. This is aggravated by the number of hot spots we have to watch and their interrelationships. Putin knows that he can encourage our enemies in North Korea or Iran to cause problems because Obama cannot figure out yet how to stop Putin from resurrecting the old Soviet Empire. What will we do, for example, when Iran tests a nuclear weapon? What will we do if North Korean military forces wander across the 38th Parallel? Does anyone really know? Or does everyone have to guess our response?
This invites reckless behavior by our enemies. It may not matter that Putin does not really want a Third World War. Putin is acting as if he is sure that Obama will shrink from any real confrontation and because of that Putin will push and push and with each success become more confident that America will not fight to stop him. Putin cannot know exactly when he will have crossed that point of no return – that point at which America cannot back down and at which Putin cannot either back down either because the Russian people have become so emotionally invested in Putin's aggressions.
The recklessness of our enemies promotes weakness among our allies. The strength of NATO has always been the solidarity of its members. Why should any of our European NATO allies trust us, the nation which has historically been the de facto leader of the alliance, when we are not leading? Why should other nations vital to our strategic security arrangements, nations like Japan and South Korea, of course, but also nations like Turkey or Pakistan, place their fates in our hands?
This year we celebrate the 25th anniversary of that magnificent achievement of Reagan, winning a global war bloodlessly and leaving office with our national security very sound. Who would have thought in 1989, as America was winning the Cold War, that in twenty-five years we be facing, at best, another Cold War and, dreadfully, maybe another world war as well?
Bruce Walker is the author of book Poor Lenin's Almanac: Perverse Leftists Proverbs for Modern Life and a contributing editor to Enter Stage Right.