“How does one man have the ability to start a nuclear war and end life as we know it on planet earth?”
It’s a good question and one that my children asked me just a few days ago. It is unbelievable that we are at the edge of conflict with Russia and facing a world-ending scenario. I’d like to offer a few thoughts that aren’t discussed on the news. Over the years I have sought to share and discuss some of the concepts of intractable conflict. Intractable conflict is defined as a conflict that is “highly escalated.” To understand what is happening right now in plain and simple terms, we need to have clarity on a few areas of thought including the factors of intractable conflict.
An all-out war resulting in the death of billions is the end result of a failure to negotiate a compromise to the current conflict. It is possible for this conflict to escalate. It has already escalated to a place outside of reason and logic. The fact that Russians are attacking nuclear facilities, killing innocent civilians, destroying property and, advancing on Ukraine with a false narrative of Nazi occupation is proof.
The reason Putin can advance on Ukraine is because he knows what is at stake, he has been successful in his military campaigns over the course of his rule of Russia. In many places the US backed off of any protection or military engagement because they did not want to start a larger conflict. He knows or believes that the US won’t engage because the US does not want a global conflict. US military leaders over the years have taught us the best way to win in warfare is not to have a war. Fighting a war is never a good option. If you have to fight a war, you must fight to win. In the case of a world-wide conflict with all options on the table most of the world will be impacted. If we consider how nuclear weapons work, through automation the world would be decimated within an hour. How do we get from zero to nuclear? This question starts to poke at the first question in this post. If Putin felt he had something to lose, he wouldn’t have taken the action on Ukraine. He doesn’t care about the consequences and he has an arsenal at his disposal. He isn’t any different than Kim Joug-Un except for the fact that he has the ability to do the damage the Kim desires. This is not madness, it is clarity. He knows what he wants and he knows what he can do and he knows the risk to the world but has no fear. He has intention, ability to take action and the will to take action. The main issue here is the inability to find a place to compromise. I am going to refer to a post I wrote in 2013 about compromise.
Intractable conflicts are clearly different from other conflicts. The major characteristics of intractable conflicts can be summarized as follows:
- In terms of actors, intractable conflicts involve states or other actors with a long sense of historical grievance, and a strong desire to redress or avenge these.
- In terms of duration, intractable conflicts take place over a long period of time.
- In terms of issues, intractable conflicts involve intangible issues such as identity, sovereignty, or values and beliefs.
- In terms of relationships intractable conflicts involve polarized perceptions of hostility and enmity, and behavior that is violent and destructive.
- In terms of geopolitics, intractable conflicts usually take place where buffer states exist between major power blocks or civilizations.
- In terms of management, intractable conflicts resist many conflict management efforts and have a history of failed peacemaking efforts.
Do these points read familiar? I wrote that almost 10 years ago. The truth is that history repeats itself no matter how we try to stop it from happening. Somehow bad people in the world rise to lead nations and use the tools in their arsenal to assert power, control and, chaos. The major issue today beyond the death, violence and wrongness of this situation is the ability that Putin has to put the world into a new dark age. We sit on the precipice of a dystopian path with limited options. While there are many options, only a few of them are good and none of them will give Ukraine back what Putin has already stolen.
What I tell my kids.
Intractable conflict is very difficult to address because there are multiple issues which are interconnected. The primary issue and conflict is tied to many complex interconnected conflict factors and issues that are often symbolic and emotional. This is a critical factor to consider. Putin is acting on emotion and the world is watching a world leader with far reaching power have a temper tantrum. There are moral, ideological issues connected to the main issue and concern. Putin reached deep into his version of modern history to create a false narrative with real implications. The sub components of the main issue now morph into issues about weakness, saving face, pride, inability to gain or give forgiveness. There are vast financial implications to Russia and her people along with global commerce. The financial aspects of this war effort will impact almost every living interconnected human being alive today. The main reason why this is so difficult to untangle is due to the fact that no third party unbiased negotiators exist. Since everyone is impacted, everyone has a position. In order to successfully address intractable conflict, there must be an unbiased third party involved. This leaves us with very limited options.
It is difficult to see what will happen in this situation due to the emotional factors. Putin put everything on the table and advanced his personal agenda on the world. There are occasions when people get in trouble and even though they realize the consequences, they triple down on the commitment. It appears to me that no matter the consequence, he is all in on achieving his goal. If the world burns, so be it. If that is his true position, the world is left to decide if they too want to commit to suicide bombing. After all, nuclear war is an unreasonable and illogical act. The world including the US may have to watch the slow burn take over of Ukraine which will further empower Putin but temporarily offer a click back on the doomsday clock. If the Russian people can rise up to overthrow Putin, there may be some reprieve there as well. The problem with this is that an overthrown Russia would also add more instability to the world.
If you are worried, it makes sense and there is good reason to be concerned. That said, we can’t do much about it as we are in the sociological back seat. The best we can do is be here for each other and be ready for financial difficulties ahead. While it is unlikely that we will actually realize a nuclear conflict, we will all deal with historical inflation and financial hardship.
For all of those in the Ukraine, and for the people of the world, I hope and pray this conflict ends and that we can start to pick up the pieces and build towards a brighter and more peaceful future. We do need help and I hope the universe steps in to give us a hand.