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The tyrants in Moscow and Beijing are intent on transforming the post-Cold War liberal world order in favor of one dominated by those with big sticks and deep pockets. The ongoing war in Ukraine is a foretaste of that new world and could push the world closer to a nuclear war.
Western leaders appear flummoxed by Russian President Vladimir Putin’s war. The Kremlin’s authoritarian assembled a massive force, seeded the pretext for an attack, and entered Ukraine promising to demilitarize and de-nazify it; a great performance right out of Soviet Joseph Stalin’s playbook. Then Putin warned the West not to threaten him because you “should know that Russia’s response will follow without delay and entail consequences [perhaps nuclear] that you have never encountered in your history.”
Putin’s warning upped the ante on Sunday when he directed Russian nuclear forces to high alert, what he labeled “special regime of combat duty,” a move that could boil into a nuclear war. The Russian authoritarian attributed the escalation to “aggressive statements regarding our country” by NATO powers and the West’s hard-hitting financial sanctions against Moscow and individual Russians like himself.
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The Ukraine invasion is a wake-up call of a coming new world order, especially Putin’s nuclear saber-rattling. Unfortunately, our political class seems clueless about Putin’s assault into Ukraine and especially the carnage piling high in the streets of Kyiv.
Yes, Putin will likely succeed in taking that country no matter the cost because he has overwhelming military capabilities and the mostly risk-adverse West is unlikely to help because Putin would cut off their gas or heaven help us, launch a nuclear-tipped Tsirkon hypersonic cruise missile, or any number of nuclear-tipped ballistic missiles like the Iskander in Russia’s Baltic enclave Kaliningrad. Meanwhile, if further escalation fails for now, Putin will then, in his own time, make every effort to recapture the remnants of the old Warsaw Pact countries, beginning with the Baltics.
Anyone with an understanding of world history and a pulse on current geopolitics knew this was coming.
It’s simple. The war in Ukraine wouldn’t be if Putin didn’t have his comrade Chinese President Xi Jinping’s tacit approval. Remember they met Feb. 4, 2022, in the shadow of the Beijing Olympics and signed a joint communique pledging mutual support, what some now call a new authoritarian alliance, echoes of the World War II Axis Powers. Both tyrants have had enough of the lopsided pro-West world order, those liberal values and institutions. They are taking a wrecking ball to that order to create one to their liking.
This fits the Chinese ambitions. The Middle Kingdom dates back 3,500 years, ruled until the early 20th century by 15 dynasties. Since 1949, after a vicious civil war and occupation by the Japanese, the communists brought Leninism to that massive population. They constantly remind themselves of past humiliations at the hand of 19th-century Europeans, but welcomed Richard Nixon in 1972 and the global community of nations. Bill Clinton then gave them membership in the World Trade Organization, an act that brought China into great wealth. Now, the regime is returning to its roots, like Putin: out with the liberal order and in with an authoritarian order in its image.
Both Putin and Xi are like Hitler in that they are resentful of the West and are ambitious.
Communist leader Xi Jinping is much like Putin. The chairman rejects most everything western: he disregards our laws, manipulates our elections, robs our corporations of their intellectual property, steals what he can’t buy, and threatens or kills those at home who fail to abide by his regime’s mandates. He’s perhaps worse than even Mao Zedong, who reportedly killed 45 million Chinese.
We need to understand these men, especially something about their history.
Putin’s use of Russian imperial imagery in his speeches suggests that he intends to go beyond the Soviet Union to restore the empire. Keep in mind that in 1989 Putin was a KGB agent in East Germany when the Soviet Union collapsed, and then the U.S. declared itself the Cold War “winner” and set up a unipolar world. That transition ignored the Russians who felt humiliated by the West, and as a result a deep-seated cultural “resentment” metastasized.
There is a historic precedent, a lesson that was evidently ignored by the West. World War I ended with the Versailles Treaty that humiliated the defeated Germans. The treaty forced Germany to accept the war guilt clause and total responsibility for the war, as well as pay the allies reparations, and it gutted the proud Wehrmacht (German army). That humiliation led to World War II.
The German people were distraught after that war and their economy was in the tank. They were ripe for help but none came from the allies. So, a nationalist rose from the ashes, Adolf Hitler, who plugged into hyper-nationalism, quickly rebuilt the nation’s economy and military, and then turned its newfound might and a stomach full of humiliation on the rest of Europe.
Both Putin and Xi are like Hitler in that they are resentful of the West and are ambitious. They are tapping into nationalism to resurrect their countries’ former greatness. The difference now vs. pre-World War II is that Moscow and Beijing together have lots of energy, people, technology and money. Together, they can rip up the old and put in place a world order in their authoritarian image.
Where does that leave the West?
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The West must seek a way to reduce tensions and especially the possibility of a nuclear exchange. However, it’s clear our world order is shifting, which means the West must take at least three significant steps while being alert for further developments.
First, in World War II the United States was the arsenal of democracy. It can once again fill that role, not necessarily with just tanks and airplanes, but by producing energy. Europe needs a steady source of energy to escape Putin’s stranglehold. China, in particular, is very vulnerable to energy issues, as well as food.
Second, recognize Putin and Xi are fundamentally opposed to the principles of the West. This is about a civilizational struggle, something similar to Sam Huntington’s “Clash of Civilizations.” It’s not about ideology but opposing world views – liberal versus authoritarian values. The West must aggressively oppose Russian and Chinese maligned behavior and punish their consistent violations.
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Finally, the U.S., in concert with NATO, will need to move additional military assets back to Europe, particularly Poland, Romania and the Baltics. Both Putin and Xi must understand the U.S. and its allies are resolved to counter this attack on global order. We must also build up in Asia to firmly oppose any adventurist ambitions by the Chinese.
The evil alliance of Putin and Xi will try to destroy our liberal world order and turn it into one governed by authoritarians that seize sovereign nations like Ukraine or Taiwan at will and impose their draconian ways, robbing us of all our liberties.
CLICK HERE TO READ MORE FROM LT. COL. ROBERT MAGINNIS