Optimism is all the rage today, but Roger Cohen reminds us that pessimism can be “a useful prism through which to view the affairs of states.” The problem with optimism is that it often blinds us to the warning signs of looming catastrophes. Too much pessimism has its dangers as well, but today we seem to be wearing rose colored glasses when considering the possibility of another major world war. Not to mention that the fear of terrorism has consumed all our attention when it comes to world affairs. But this is a mistake. It is important, but it is not existential threat that it has been made out to be. There are events in other parts of the world that are more concerning in terms of their destabilizing potential across the globe. The potential for large-scale land wars has not disappeared, despite appearances.
You’re probably tired of me ranting about nationalism, but the threat it poses is real and deserves our attention. I’m glad to see that Cohen has taken it seriously. As he points out, “It is already clear that the nationalist fervor unleashed by Putin after a quarter century of Russia’s perceived post–Cold War decline is far from exhausted. Russians are sure that the dignity of their nation has been trampled by an American and European strategic advance to their border dressed up in talk of democracy, the rule of law, and human rights. Whether this is true is irrelevant; they believe it. National humiliation, real or not, is a tremendous catalyst for war.” And this type of national fervor and perceived humiliation is not limited to Russia. It can be found across the globe from Japan to Israel and eastern Europe.
I would recommend reading Cohen’s thoughtful consideration of this very important topic. I somewhat disagree with his solution concerning the need for U.S. power projection, but overall his diagnosis of the problem is well-grounded in historical precedent. Read the entire piece here: Yes, It Could Happen Again – The Atlantic.