Can you remember the Cold War years when we wondered if the United States would use the A-bomb to end a war they were losing in Korea or Vietnam? Most of us who lived through the 1939-45 Second World War thought the world cured of nations’ need to kill each other’s young to further a political cause. We were dismayed that, with the ink hardly dry on one war’s armistice, we were fully engaged again.
After the Second World War, the battleground was North Korea, where communism was the adopted form of government. The United Nations didn’t like North Korea’s choice and agreed to rally troops to help South Korea discipline its neighbour and chart a path to peace. Canada, especially our navy, joined the battle. So did Australia, New Zealand, England, Ireland, Scotland and France, and several smaller nations.
Things went well as the Allies, under the UN flag, swept across the north-south border. China, which was relatively new to communism, decided its way of life was being threatened, and suddenly the UN forces were facing a formidable Chinese army.
The UN was stopped. The dominant U.S. generals were dismayed and suggested they could bring China into line quickly if they used just one, maybe two, of the nuclear bombs used on Hiroshima and Nagasaki. The White House rejected the proposal, and the lead American general was ordered home. Today, Korea remains a divided country.
We jump ahead. Now Russia is the military architect of a new Cold War.
Until 1991, Ukraine was part of the Soviet Union, a superpower equal to the U.S. When the Soviet Union collapsed in 1991, Ukraine dismayed its Russian overlord by opting for independence. President Vladimir Putin has tried persuasion to change the thinking of the Ukrainian government but has failed. Ukraine remains independent and is trying to become a member of NATO – a move that would deny Putin a buffer state distancing himself from the NATO alliance in Europe and beyond.
Eight years ago, Ukrainian citizens awakened to find Russian tanks in their streets. Since then, there has been sporadic fighting, and Ukraine claims it has lost 14,000 soldiers as a result. In Kyiv, a memorial service is held for the dead every day. Four names from the casualty list are read, a rifle fire volley is fired, and the bell of St. Michael’s Cathedral tolls.
It is reported that Russia has an estimated 100,000 troops poised on the border. Last Wednesday, Global News reported that 200 members of the Canadian Special Operation Forces Command were on the ground, in part to offer assistance to Canadians who may need to evacuate the country.
U.S. President Joe Biden has suggested the Russian troop build-up indicates an invasion is probable and has threatened drastic trade embargos if the invasion order is given.
Putin has asked for a show of good faith from Biden – an assurance that Ukraine will not be allowed to join NATO. Biden has declined to give that assurance. NATO officials confirm that if Ukraine were a member, other nations would be duty-bound to support its defence.
And so, we wait and wonder who will blink first. Will China, the game-changer on other warlike occasions, become a participant in this political maelstrom? Who will keep this Cold War brinkmanship from spiralling out of control?