The Rules of the Great Game


Since the end of the Cold War Western nations have proceeded as though the rules of international politics have been suspended; Mr Putin has reminded them that it is not so. International politics, like Hobbes’ state of nature, is the ‘war of all against all’, and we have, in this generation, rediscovered the truth he enunciated that ‘covenants without swords are but mere words’. Like the British at the time of the Boer War we have had ‘no end of a lesson’; but can we divine its meaning?

At the very simplest level it is that power matters. We hear much about ‘soft power’, but in fact it is hard power, as the Ukrainians will tell you, which matters. Foolishly, back in the 1990s, they believed us when we and the Russians guaranteed their territorial integrity when they gave up their nuclear weapons; does any one suppose the Russians would be behaving as they are now if the Ukrainians had kept those weapons? In fact, here is a clear case where preparing for the worst might have avoided trouble. As things stand, Putin may well, like Hitler, miscalculate how far he is allowed to go. I am not saying he is like Hitler, just that the two men both presumed on the weakness and vacillation of their opponents; Hitler got it wrong. let us hope Putin does not.

The second lesson, which means I think Putin will not get it wrong, is to know what your opponents will concede without a fight. Putin has gone for the Crimea because he knows he can get it. It is Russian in character, always was Russian since the 1770s, and wants to be part of a revived Russian Empire. For this, the West will not fight. Real power lies in a correct assessment of where your enemies will yield most easily and then going for that; Putin passes that test – so far; but sometimes appetite grows in the eating.

The third lesson is that it is foolish to assume that sanctions can work when you, yourself, would be more damaged by their implementation. Angela Merkel and the Europeans depend upon Russian gas to such an extent that they dare not impose real sanctions on Putin; the lights would go out all over Europe. It is true that Russia would suffer economic damage, but Russian public opinion has far less influence on Putin than British and American public opinion do on Cameron and Obama. Democracies find it difficult to act as swiftly as non-democracies.

The fourth lesson is that if you do not have guns you will not long be in possession of large supplies of butter. War-weariness has prompted the democracies to begin to reduce the size of their armed forces and decrease what they spend on them. This is fine, provided they realise this means that they will have far less influence in a multi-polar world where Russia and China have ambitions.

Finally, we must realise that our ways are not their ways. There is no inevitable triumph of the idea of democracy as preached by the West. It is a form of government like any other. It may be, as Churchill said, the least worst form of government, but it is dangerously dependent on being able to deliver bread and circuses to its own people, which exposes it to the risk of being defeated by those who promise even more bread and better circuses as the price for people giving up their freedom.

The price of freedom is eternal vigilance and striving. We have not been vigilant and we have settled into a comfort zone. It is up to us whether we wake up and take notice. If not, we bequeath to our children and grandchildren a very different world from the one we have known. That would be the ultimate failure.


About JessicaHof
Anglican Christian, evangelist, survivor, grateful

3 Responses to The Rules of the Great Game

  1. normabrown says:

    Ukraine could not afford under any circumstances to maintain a nuclear force — and the weapons would have been tempting were they either insufficiently protected or allowed to decay from lack of maintenance. So the nuclear issue is pretty much a red herring. But I’m sure they did count on the US and NATO to run to its defense in the event Russia acted against Ukraine. And Ukraine did not have a problem with Russia other than quarrels over Kiev’s stealing of Russian energy from the pipelines and its failure to pay for the energy it actually acknowledged receiving. It owes Russia 2 billion dollars. Then there came the business of the EU pressuring for an association agreement with them on the part of Ukraine, Russia outbid the EU and poof! — a violent mob in which the US Asst Sec of State for Europe mingled. How’s that for encouraging an illegal takeover of power? The West rushed in to embrace a group that includes far-right groups (who hold key ministries now) despite its illegitimacy. This raises questions of who was behind the coup. The West wants Ukraine and every other bit of territory outside of Russia in their military alliance and that is a major threat to Russia. Everything happening in Ukraine today can be left at the doorstep of NATO and the West. They held all the cards, and they couldn’t exercise an ounce of caution or humility. It’s all throwing their weight around and bullying. They have very limited understanding, apparently, of the underpinnings of global security — threatening NATO war against every country that doesn’t do what NATO wants is not the way to do it. Leaving Russia with zero security buffer (i.e. non-NATO territory) is an open invitation to the further take-over of eastern Ukraine. You can take it to the bank.


    • JessicaHof says:

      I don’t disagree at all. We made treaties we couldn’t and won’t honour – that’s fatal.


  2. Pingback: Russia and Iran Moving to Corner the Mideast Oil Supply? | nebraskaenergyobserver

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