Sunday, 1 March 2015

Russian Aggression v Western Self Righteousness

I remember playing Cowboys and Indians when I was little. There was never any doubt about who were the goodies and who were the baddies. The Indians were obviously bad. There wore war paint, made scary seagull noises and scalped people. The cowboys on the other hand were the good guys. How could John Wayne or Errol Flynn be anything else? They normally died heroic deaths protecting the the land that they loved. Even a simplistic study of history reveals this as the myth that it was. In fact it was the opposite. It was nothing short of genocide. As Martin Luther King once said –

‘We are perhaps the only nation which tried as a matter of national policy to wipe out its indigenous population. Moreover, we elevated that tragic experience into a noble crusade.’

This has been part of a western self-righteousness that has never gone away. How I loved watching Zulu when I was 10!

I think we are kidding ourselves if we think that this self righteousness has gone away. In fact it has informed foreign policy for much of my life. I think we need to be conscious of this when judging recent actions of President Putin. This is not in any way to defend his aggression. He has clearly exploited unrest in the Ukraine to promote expansionism. The annexing of Crimea was nothing short of good old fashioned imperialism. Nobody seriously doubts that he is behind the rebel forces in Eastern Ukraine and there are now serious questions about the recent killing of a political opponent –

So many in the west are genuinely concerned that we are heading towards another cold war. But we should be equally concerned about our own self righteousness. The American writer and academic, Noam Chomsky was recently interviewed on Channel 4 news. He reminded us that we need to understand the extent of Russian insecurity. Ukraine borders Russia. They have been drawing closer and closer to the West. On several occasions in the last few years there have been suggestions that the Ukraine might become part of NATO.

We can dismiss this by asking what Russia has to fear in the 21st Century. But in 1983 the USA invaded the former British Colony of Grenada following a left wing coup. American troops ‘arrested’ a number of Cubans and Russians. This was a rare occasion when Margaret Thatcher openly criticised Ronald Reagan. America was not afraid to be aggressive when its interests were threatened.

We could also mention the Cuban Missile crisis or the earlier, disastrous, efforts by Britain and France to gain control of the Suez Canal by force.  Other countries like Iraq, Afghanistan and Libya come to mind. We moved in as the good guys and left them in a state of chaos out of which have grown extremist groups like Islamic State.

Noam Chomsky asked a significant question – what would the USA have done in the 1980s if Mexico had declared an interest in joining the Warsaw Pact??

None of this justifies Russia’s recent behaviour. But her mistrust of the west has some logical basis.

Whilst the west is right to be concerned it needs to examine the many logs in its own eyes…hmm where does that come from?

The great Stephen Hawking has recently commented that scientific disasters are far less likely to destroy the world than aggression.

Food for thought?