Up to now, there are few who dared to express an obvious suspicion, namely that the United States may have carried out the act of sabotage against the Northstream pipelines. I had expressed this suspicion in my last dispatch and was very surprised to learn shortly thereafter that none other than Jeffrey Sachs, one of the United States eminent economists, also suspected the US to be the culprit. Contacted by me on the matter, he praised my article as an „excellent analysis“, but then added: „Alas, I am not as happy with US power as you are! The US is bringing us to the brink of nuclear war, and has already trapped Ukraine in a brutal war.“
The fact that an influential American scientist like Jeffrey Sachs takes such a skeptical view of his own country deserves special attention, because such an attitude makes enemies in both political camps. It therefore takes much courage and great personal conviction to stand resolutely against the mainstream. Prof. Sachs reinforced his point by sending me two essays that express and support his view.*1* I note just two central points. The Wolfowitz Doctrine, codified in 2002, required that the United States should not tolerate a rival that may challenge its supremacy. In practice, this doctrine was then applied in the expansion of NATO, which was done against promises originally made. This was an act of aggression that forced Russia to respond offensively in its turn.
I know that there are various comments and protocols with regard to these promises. Whatever the truth, it can hardly be disputed that Kohl, Genscher and other German politicians had no authority to make any assurances on behalf of Eastern European states. And, of course, one must ask why Eastern European states were pushing so hard to become members of the North Atlantic Defense Alliance? These states were indeed grateful to the Russian People’s Army for liberating them from the Nazi reign of terror, but under Stalin they came under the Russian heel, which quite soon seemed no less intolerable to them. As is well known, uprisings broke out throughout Eastern Europe, including the Russian-occupied GDR, which the Soviet Union had to crush with military force. Indeed, at the heart of Eastern European yearnings was not the paradise of communism as promised by Stalin, but the lure of American capitalism and the prosperity it had brought to the West for half a century after the end of the war. No wonder they tried hard to join the common defense alliance and today, after the Russian invasion of Ukraine, they even repudiate their original gratitude for the liberation by the Red Army. Everywhere the Russian statues erected at that time are demolished or overthrown.
But this is not the point I want to emphasize. Suppose we had to acknowledge all the serious accusations that Prof. Sachs raises against the US. The United States are striving for a hegemonic position, which it wants to secure by expanding NATO. Thus they have created the conditions for the war in Ukraine and are the real culprits. The reverse conclusion then seems equally obvious. If the U.S. had not provoked the Russians or if they would now renounce all further support for Ukraine, then this war would not have come about in the first place, or it could be ended immediately.
The me this charge does not seem compelling even if we accept every single item. Of course, every child knows that if he doesn’t climb over the fence into neighbor’s garden and steal apples, he will be spared a beating from his father. Likewise, states also know that provocations rarely go unanswered. Such reactions usually follow immediately, as currently happens with sanctions and countersanctions. I would like to speak of „small history“ in order to contrast it with „big history,“ which follows essentially different laws.
In „big history“, the relationship of states fighting for precedence – like today the USA, Russia and China – is never stable. China lived apart and undisturbed from the rest of the world for almost two thousand years (except for the raids of nomads). But this tranquility was possible only after murderous wars between seven independent regional powers in the third century BC. Each of them felt threatened by its neighbors. There were only two possible ways to eliminate this permanent threat. Either a state was conquered and had the victor impose its own rules and order upon it, or it would take the initiative defeating the others and incorporating it into its territory.
I am intentionally going back more than two thousand years into the past, because alls history illustrates the same course of events. States have never voluntarily given up their own identity, governments have never given up their own power, but this is precisely what they have been forced to do again and again over the last ten thousand years. By and large, history has moved only in the one direction of aggrandizement and incorporation: families became clans, clans became tribes, tribes became nations and states, and these gave rise to confederations of states. In other words, whenever people were so close to each other that they perceived each other as an imminent threat, this mechanism was triggered and had the effect that the units in which people organized themselves became over time larger and larger.
Mostly, this development was driven by a second unidirectional process: technical superiority. Toward the end of the fifteenth century, a small number of white people, who until then had inhabited only a tiny corner of the Eurasian continent, succeeded in spreading out to and conquering entire continents, partly annihilating and partly enslaving autochtonous populations – all because of their superior weapons. As far back as we can look, people – no matter of what color! – have used superior power without hesitation, if they expected advantages from it. Sometimes, however, mutual fear alone was the driving force. Toward the end of the nineteenth century, the states of Europe lived as close to each other and felt as much mutually threatened as the seven regional powers of China two thousand years earlier. There was a Napoleon and a Hitler who wanted to unify Europe, but they had less success than Shi Huandi. Europe was bled dry in two fratricidal wars, lost its previous position of world power, and out of exhaustion established a precarious economic unity – political unity still remains unattained.
Today, the same game is no longer played between the small states of Qin and its rivals or, like a century ago, between Germany and France, but now it is the world powers of the US, Russia and China between which an unstable balance prevails. War between them would probably have broken out long ago and the last logical stage of history been realized – the establishment of a world state by the victor – had not the second unidirectional development, technological progress, endowed at least two of these powers with the possibility of annihilating the whole of mankind in the process. The fear of such global self-destruction has given something like stability to the unstable order. Gorbachev and Reagan were able to agree on a bold step toward disarmament, after which both powers even agreed on temporary mutual air surveillance so that the treaties would not be undermined.
However, this in no way removed fundamental instability. What is even more serious – it cannot be removed by such measures, because of the second unidirectional process: technical progress. This is an extremely serious obstacle, since technological progress forms no less than the essential part of the self-definition of modern states. Technological progress originates in laboratories and universities and changes in a largely unplanned and – also unplannable – way the means and instruments that sooner or later are then available to the military for its own purposes. No individual state is able or even willing to limit the permanent disturbance of power balances resulting from it. On the contrary, each hopes to gain advantages so it can expand its sphere of influence and power vis-à-vis its adversary. Putin boasts of possessing supersonic missiles that no Western state can fend off; the U.S. is presumably capable of crippling its opponent’s entire infrastructure in a hybrid war.
A look at „big history“ and its doubly unidirectional course – the constant expansion of organized human entities on the one hand, the accumulation of technical progress on the other – demonstrates that there are constants in the history of mankind that persist unchanged to this day. But it also shows that „small history“ plays a rather insignificant role in comparison. The unification of China would have happened even without Shi Huangdi, the First World War would have broken out even if Gavrilo Princip had not assassinated the Austrian heir to the throne and Emperor Wilhem II had struck less nationalistic tones. Certain persons and events only provided triggering occasions, but were not the root cause, of the explosion of hostilities. The deeper cause lay in the decades-long rearmament of the Chinese constituent states or the European powers and the fear it generated among them.
Similarly, NATO provides only the occasion for the Putin regime’s incursion into Ukraine. For Putin has nothing against alliances as such, provided he himself benefits from them – a point he proves with the unofficial but highly effective pact with Xi Jinping’s China. We must dig much deeper if we are to identify the underlying causes of the Cold War and its current resurgence. Two highly armed powers, now joined by the Chinese dragon, continually clash with each other through their trade, their foreign relations, their consumption of resources, and not least because of their differing ideologies on what has become a very crowded planet. A lasting geopolitical balance is not possible in such a situation.
Certainly, „small history“ in the form of great politicians is able to defuse the dangerous situation temporarily – sometimes even in a dramatic way. It did so at the time of Kennedy and Khruchov. But we should not forget that this happened only at the very last moment, when both politicians suddenly looked horrified into the abyss. One then withdrew his missiles from Cuba, the other from Turkey. Such a temporary thaw happened a second time under Gorbachev and Reagan because at the time Russia was facing economic collapse. In such a situation, the biggest concessions were suddenly possible.
Both times, however, favorable events were unable to eliminate the underlying cause of instability. This is certainly related to the fact that our present behavior can be completely rational, even if its future effects are dangerous to the highest degree and most irrational in this sense. Strengthening one’s own position by upgrading ones military power is rational if it can decisively improve one’s own geopolitical standing. It is irrational because humanity as a whole is being pushed further toward the abyss. In any case, neither the Russians nor the Americans have eliminated that constant cause of mutual distrust which is technical progress. Even against the will of the actors it threatens to turn former fratricidal wars into something unheard of: the extinction of our species. Each new breakthrough is a victory in terms of superficial rationality, spawning its own „neocons,“ that is geopolitical strategists obsessed with the idea that their own technologicl superiority may finally turn out to be great enough to bring their opponents to their knees. The United States has long been a technological leader, so such fantasies played a special role. In the meantime, however, Wladimir Putin is acting like an even more dangerous „neocon“ – the Russian edition. For some time now, it has been part of his propaganda to preach Russia’s military superiority (at best, the West would have comparable supersonic missiles in ten to twenty years).
Again, we should not confuse mere occasions with deeper cause. Who did what first seems of little importance in view of a fundamentally unstable situation. Responsible for this instability is unidirectional technical „progress“, which cannot be monitored and does not allow a permanent equilibrium. This dubious progress meanwhile ensures that more and more states – even dwarf states like North Korea – acquire the end-time weapon. For three quarters of a century, mankind has been sitting on a powder keg, which it continues to fill with undiminished zeal.
The solution to the problem has long been recognized by great thinkers. After Immanuel Kant, it was the great English historian Arnold Toynbee who clearly formulated it without any ifs and buts. „Today’s independent regional states are unable to maintain peace, to protect the biosphere from human pollution or to preserve the irreplaceable sources of raw materials. This political anarchy must not be allowed to continue in a world-wide ecumenism that has long since become a unity in technical and economic terms… In an age in which mankind has acquired control of nuclear power, political agreement can only take place voluntarily. However, as it appears to be accepted with great reluctance, it will probably be delayed until further disasters have taken place, catastrophes of such magnitude that mankind will eventually consent to a global political unity as a lesser evil“.
Whether Russians, Americans, Chinese or the peoples of Europe, Africa etc. – by now we are all neighbors on a globe shrunk by technology. If the old game of “big history” is not to destroy us, then we must live together, accept each other and renounce part of our sovereignty in favor of a planetary power of governance.