August 21, 2015
Tensions in the Baltics are high at this moment. Both NATO and Russia are preparing for the event of a military confrontation in Eastern Europe, with both sides undertaking drills to increase readiness of a Russian invasion of Latvia and Estonia. A British think tank, the European Leadership Network, recently released a report analysing military drills in the spring warning that having militaries on high alert and operating in a relatively small geographical area is increasing the threat of an accidental escalation of hostilities between Russian and NATO forces. If you would excuse the pop-culture reference, this is strikingly similar to a quote from the 1990 film, the Hunt for Red October. Having two tense militaries operating in close quarters is dangerous, but this cannot be allowed to be an excuse for de-escalation of military operations in Eastern Europe. A war with the Russians would not be the worst case scenario, abandoning NATO and EU member-states to the mercy of a foreign occupation and partition, what NATO forces are there in the first place to prevent, would be still worse.
War and violence are soft spots for Western democracies. We are understandably reluctant to risk the destruction of our homes and the deaths of our citizens in conflicts that can be best prevented through other means. Some people even go so far to say that violence is never justified. This is not a rational position. Our societies are absolutely dependent on violence and the threat of potential violence to function. One can broadly describe the rule of law as such: if you commit an offence against the rules of society (ie. laws), then the state will use it’s instruments of violence (ie. the police force in civil cases) to force you to pay restitution or physically remove you from society (ie. prison). Despite hind-sight being 20/20, as they say, even the most ardent anti-war activists would be hard-pressed to say that we should have negotiated and bargained with Nazi Germany and avoided violent confrontation. Violence is necessary to maintain our daily existence, we tend to forget this in our comfort.
I’m not advocating an unnecessary application of force. I do not want a war in Eastern Europe. However, we cannot allow those who would harm us and our allies to do so, failing to act out of fear. We should be prudent to avoid accidental conflicts, but we cannot allow ourselves to slack in our preparations for war because it might lead to that which we prepare. As Heinrich Brauss is quoted saying in the the Economist, an adversary “must know that NATO is capable and willing to act”. Our willingness to act is our weak spot as liberal democracies. That is the foundation that Kant’s “perpetual peace” is built on: war is unpopular, so in a society that the populous chooses leaders, those leaders would avoid unpopular decisions. However, sometimes unpopular decisions are sometimes the right ones. We need leadership wise enough to know when they should risk popularity to take a chance to do the right thing.