Friday, August 15, 2008

Something really worth being worried about

Ah. It seems we may soon have a real war to be concerned about, and that Steve Peterson’s Russian may serve more purposes that the leisurely reading of Dostoyevsky. I’ve been sanguine about the US’s role in the middle east; essentially saying that the US being involved keeps local turmoil from being exploited by hostile super- and near-super-powers. Now it seems that some of the darkest possibilities are beginning to play out, with Russia taking hostile action against direct allies of the US.

I think the position our government is taking thus far is appropriate, but dammit, this can’t lead anywhere good. If we back down, Russia will likely continue to push their interests. Maybe they’ll even get back into the business of supplying our smaller scale enemies with weapons to undo whatever accomplishments we’ve made in the middle east (the motive for that would be destabilization, again so that the turmoil could be exploited). If we don’t back down… well you know the escalation story. I’m not so confident that our missile defense systems are up to the task of being a real shield yet, and I really dislike the idea of living in bunkers.

So here’s some questions: the “WWII Appeasement” analogy obviously comes up here; how applicable is it to this situation, and if its applicable how should we approach it?

To explain: we can look back at history and say with confidence: “It would have been worth the effort to forcefully disallow Germany from rearming and to respond in force the moment they began taking over territory.” Is that the same situation as we have here? Is this the beginning of a protracted land grab, or really just an expression of Russia’s concern with the separatist movements in Georgia? The latter seems naïve.

If it is a land-grab, can we abide by it? There are strong voices that say that our military should be used only to defend our nation and its interests, but its almost impossible to draw clean lines around that issue. It is validly in the interest of the United States to have a healthy global economy, to not have hostile superpowers mucking about, and to not have the threat of nuclear war looming immanent.

Given that, can we afford to not prevent a hostile land grab? What if we were to play totally isolationist and just defend our borders? We may have enough domestic resources to continue being healthy and developing the kinds of technology humanity needs to survive the next century. We may be able to advance so quickly that conventional military threats will be obviated. The United States, on its own may be able to make it past an external global conflict with citizenry intact and sufficient advancement to not perish via pollution and resource exhaustion. But that approach banks on the rest of the world not having a real hot conflict and screwing things up for everyone.

So one approach is to invest heavily in defensive weapons, the kinds of things that are supposed to prevent nuclear weapons from being detonated. It’s a hell of a nerve-wracking strategy to continue that arms race up to the point of missiles being launched, then bank on the defensive systems working correctly. But at least a strong defensive capability could protect some parts of the world from destruction.

Another strategy would be to stop building defensive weapons, since that’s one of the thing’s that Russia is getting upset and hostile about (they say were weakening them by reducing their offensive potential.) Ok, that may cool things down a bit, but is that appeasement under a different guise?

No good options listed above. I think the only really positive solution to this mess is to develop the technology that will obviate the conflict very quickly, and share it fully with Russia and everyone else. That is, of course, Energy. If we can bring hydrogen catalysts or solar or anything else to a competitive level with petroleum, the motivation for the conflict disappears and the whole conflict becomes meaningless, outside of posturing. I suspect that without a strong resource-motivation, no state will have the real will to pursue such dangerous games.

So there’s a difficult question: do we invest in the technology that may protect us, or the technology that will ultimately save us? The latter seems like the obvious answer, but it takes a damn gutsy decision maker to gamble like that.

I have, thus far, totally ignored the moral implications of standing idly while nations invade countries that have caused no ruckus and wantonly killing civilians. Is it a morally acceptable stance to allow Russia or any other country to take such actions, given that we do indeed have the power to stop it? I suspect that thoughtful analysis will yield a negative answer.

And as a complete aside, here's a photo of me from last weekend at East Fork lake. I look like some unholy combination of Hunter S. Thompson and Popeye, mixed with the kind of person who brings a sketchbook and a paintbrush to the beach and a black bear.

The expression on my face is friendly, I promise.

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