Maintaining a balance of nuclear arms in the world is one of geopolitical diplomacy’s permanent concerns. It’s a subtle game few are equipped to practice. Like driving a car backwards at high speed, the levers of nuclear statecraft operate counterintuitively.
For example, anti-missile missiles are provocative and threatening, rendering the owners apparently immune to the consequences of provoking or starting a nuclear war. It’s the real reason Ronald Reagan’s so-called “Star Wars program” was so deadly dangerous in the 1980s. We are far safer living life with our throats bared to the skies, hoping that no one is crazy enough to take “the nuclear option.”
The largely discredited theory of Nuclear Winter leaves us with just one reliable failsafe: evolution’s very own universally-inculcated sense of self-preservation as an incentive for preventing nuclear war. So far, the self-preservation gene of each nuclear leader and their people has prevented, with the exception of the United States (twice in 1945), their ever using them. For it to be otherwise would require that at least one of our current crop of world leaders be a known murderer and conscience-free psychopath with delusions of grandeur and an almost bottomless sense of entitled narcissism. Did I just recite Vladimir Putin’s résumé? I’m afraid I did.
There we were, cruising along nicely at the start of 2022 with just two threats to our survival — a pandemic and global warming — when Putin goes and introduces a third. It’s the one thing no one wants to talk about. But it’s finally here. For the second time in my life, the planet is faced with a clear and present danger of immediate nuclear war. Up until now all we lacked to complete the picture was a certified madman. Vlad the Impaler just asked Ukraine to hold his beer.
If anyone was wondering before, wonder no longer. There are good reasons behind nuclear disarmament. Just as the solution to gun violence isn’t more guns, the solution to the threat of nuclear war isn’t more nukes. The only sane answer is no nukes at all. And the reason today can be summed up with two words: Vladimir Putin.
I’m afraid I am unimpressed with the popular narrative that Putin is on his last legs, or that we have brought him to his knees, and other metaphors. I’ve heard it all before. As a survivor of two malignant narcissists, I’m only too fully familiar with their implacable relentlessness. I don’t believe Putin will voluntarily alter course as long as he is alive. Never in my life have I wished more that I was wrong, but, to paraphrase Al Jolson, you ain’t seen nothin’ yet.
If Putin continues down this perilous course — and my experience with narcissists tells me he will — then our best chance for ending this madness lies within Russia itself. An internal coup d’etat is our best hope. The real question is, will it happen? That is a question no one can answer for sure. Narcissistic madmen are very good at surrounding themselves with fanatical believers ready to die for them. Putin is probably no exception. We shall see.
If we come out of this on the other side relatively unscathed, I doubt the lesson will have been learned. The election of Donald Trump proved that we cannot trust any leader on a planet with so much power at their disposal. The world will never be truly safe until we remove all weapons of mass destruction. The rise of Vladimir Putin proved that there is always the possibility that someone could one day let slip the dogs of nuclear war. We will never be fully safe until we finally admit to ourselves and each other that our most dangerous enemy is war itself. And, as ever, ladies and gentlemen, brothers and sisters, comrades and friends, stay safe.
Robert Harrington is an American expat living in Britain. He is a portrait painter.