Wednesday, February 13, 2013


Where is the line? Where does realism become excess and even paranoia? It's not an easy question. If somebody doesn't pull back at some point, then conflict becomes inevitable. And history has shown over and over that signs of weakness in a government can be interpreted as an invitation to attack or invade. At the same time, World War I was an amazing example of misunderstandings and incorrect assumptions, strange treaties of mutual protection and paraniod fantasies leading to absolute chaos. Most analysts believe that WWI was avoidable. Of course, historical speculation is not perfect. It's just as easy to argue that all the paranoia was the result of foolish and shortsighted colonialism that was bound to lead to war sooner or later. Historical inevitability is hard to establish but the possibility that things could have been different is almost equally hard to prove. Some measure of caution and preparedness for war clearly prevents war. But too much indulgence in arms buildup and military posturing also invites war or creates the conditions for war. Where is the line? Back to the beginning. It's not so easy to be comfortable trying to establish such a line but what else is the job of the policy-maker? How much military force do we need? What do we need to do to convince our enemies that we are serious about using military force? We have to provide practical answers to these questions and we have to hope that we're pretty much right. In that case, history and psychology are pretty much all we've got.

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