Are the West’s chickens coming home to roost? If the Western powers had gambled 2% of NATO’s budget and met the Soviet Union’s economic needs in President Mikhail Gorbachev’s glasnost era there would have been a much less de-stabilising transition and today there would have been a recognisable democracy. Then, having misjudged that window of opportunity, preferring Boris Yeltsin for reasons that now appear rather ludicrous- he seemed fresher, more pro-western and more democratic- they missed it again with Yeltsin’s first government. The West should have done with Russia what it did with Poland, effectively write off its debts. Or do what it did with its defeated enemies after World War 2, Japan and Germany- give them enough free money to get them back on their feet.
Then there would have been no Yeltsin presiding over a great economic decline. Nor would there have been his hand-picked successor, Vladimir Putin taking office. Mikhail Gorbachev, the great and sober (in every way) reformer, would have remained in power until elections that he had promised were held. The Soviet Union would still be intact and there would have been no war in Chechnya nor the upheavals in Ukraine today. (Many people don’t know how the demise of the Soviet Union came about. Yeltsin and his counterparts in Belarus, Alexander Lukashenko, and Ukraine, Leonid Kravchuk, met in a forest for an evening barbecue over a roaring fire. They drank copious amounts of liquor and, drunk, decided to break up the Soviet Union. If you think this is a bazaar tale, I was told it by the very well informed Zbigniew Brzezinski, the National Security Advisor to President Jimmy Carter. I was also told about it by Georgi Arbatov, Gorbachev’s chief foreign affair’s advisor.)
With India and Pakistan it is different chickens but the same roost they are coming home to. Their nuclear bombs dangle like a sword of Damocles by the slenderest piece of old string. Their nuclear arms race could have been probably canned around 1979. Then the non-violent, Moraji Desai, a follower of Mahatma Gandhi, was Indian prime minister and was sympathetic to the idea. Indeed, Mrs Indira Gandhi (no relation) crossly told me that he had unilaterally ruled out so-called peaceful nuclear tests, without even consulting his cabinet. But, short-sightedly, President Jimmy Carter pushed Desai on the wrong flank, threatening to cut off supplies of enriched uranium, even though it was needed for India’s civilian nuclear power stations. This worked only to raise hackles in the Indian establishment and reduced Desai’s room for manoeuvre. If Carter had listened more carefully to Desai he would have thrown his energies into signing the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty and pushed harder on the Strategic Arms Limitation Treaty with the Soviet Union. Then Desai, if he could have demonstrated to his colleagues real superpower progress on these two issues, would have been happy to ban continuing testing, foreclosing any attempt to build an actual bomb.
Then the same Jimmy Carter, who built himself an undeserving image as a peacemaker, decided in response to the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan (that happened many years before Gorbachev came to power) to back Pakistan to the hilt, turning a blind eye to its nuclear weapons program. It couldn’t have been a more badly chosen time to take the pressure off Pakistan.
Instead, Washington piled in military and political support, backing and aiding the Pakistani military and intelligence services in the black arts of subversion inside Afghanistan. To the Afghani mujahideen guerrillas went state-of-the-art Stinger and Blowpipe anti-aircraft missiles.
It was an incredibly emotional and unthought-out policy. The Soviets, even if they wanted to cross through Afghanistan and then Iran to find a “warm water” port, as the NATO geo-politicians maintained, would have been physically unable to traverse such inhospitable terrain en masse. The main threat they posed was mainly to themselves and they should have been allowed simply to get bogged down and stew in their own juice, just as the Americans later did, having learnt nothing from the mistakes of the Soviet Union.
This rash American reaction created “America’s Frankenstein”, two of them in fact. In Pakistan the nuclear bomb and, in Afghanistan, Osama bin Laden, leader of the so-called “Afghan Arabs”, the minds behind 9/11.
Short-termism and a lack of being able to look over on the other side of the mountain has been the undoing of our world. Money has rarely been the problem. It is purpose, it is vision. We have started paying the price, but the worst is still to come. There could be a nuclear war between Pakistan and India. There could be a new European war between Russia and NATO. Then we will know in the most horrible way that America’s chickens have truly come home to roost.