From the February 2000 of the Socialist Standard
In December’s Socialist Standard, we commented on the decision by the US Senate not to ratify the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty and the promise by the more hawkish Republicans to scupper the 1972 Anti-Ballistic Missile Treaty which outlawed “Star Wars” defence programmes, and suggested that such steps, at the dawn of a new millennium dampened any hopes the more optimistic workers held for the 21st century.
We did not have to wait long for further confirmation of the troubled century that awaits us. Two weeks into the new millennium, the Guardian reported on Moscow’s newly published security strategy doctrine which aims to raise the nuclear stakes by lowering the threshold at which Russia can resort to the use of nuclear weapons:
“Mr Yeltsin’s strategy, decreed in December 1997, declared that nuclear weapons could only be used ‘in the case of a threat to the very existence of the Russian Federation as a sovereign state’. The new document states that the use of nuclear weapons is necessary ‘to repel armed aggression if all other means of resolving a crisis situation have been exhausted or turn out to be ineffective’ “(14 January).
At the peak of the Cold War, the former Soviet Union had a force of 5 million under arms and was an acknowledged superpower. Since 1989, it has seen its armed forces shrink to almost a fifth of that number and has suffered humiliation after humiliation—the withdraw from Afghanistan in 1989 and the first botched war in Chechnya, for instance. As well as morale in the armed forces being low, their combat readiness, according to Putin himself, is in a critical condition, with training and maintenance reported as being grossly inadequate. While a contingent of 300 Russian soldiers serving in Kosovo as part of the peace keeping force have been returned home because of alleged drunkenness, drug-taking and a general inadequateness, the higher ranks are becoming notorious for their infighting, with the defence minister constantly arguing with his generals.
With the above in mind, one can well see the method in Putin’s madness. He has after all the job of protecting the interests of Russia’s capitalist elite with faulty tools. Moreover, he is faced with the stark realisation that he exists in a unipolar world increasingly dominated by the US. Putin’s attempt to make the world once again bipolar can also be seen a response to NATO’s New Strategic Concept which, like Putin’s proposals in his 21 page document, suggests the early recourse to the use of nuclear weapons.
That the world’s leaders are still prepared to carry their nuclear logic into another century, that they are continually prepared to wipe out millions of their fellow humans to further the interests of a minority at the end of a century that witnessed the deaths of 220 million in conflict, should shatter any illusions we have that this century will proceed on a different course to the one we have stepped out of. While we contemplate the wars, the conflicts and the horrors our masters have in store for us this coming century, it is also important to remember that we as a class hold the power to prevent the same from coming about.
We are not ruled by force or coercion, but by consent. The Putins and Clintons of this world can only do the things they do because we vote them in, thus legitimising their actions, however detrimental they may be to our interests. War and conflict and all the terrors we dare to imagine only come to pass because we refuse to join together as a class to express our class interests. Once we recognise that as a class we have shared basic needs and desires, suffering the same privations because of our less privileged position in the relations of production, and unite in defiance of that minority intent on maintaining the status quo and its nuclear insanity, we need never fear the horror of war again.
While you muse on the aforementioned, remember the argument is not that complicated. This is your world as much as anybody’s and requires your active involvement to protect it. Are you for socialism or against it? Don’t take too long to make up your mind—we may not have that much time.