This December, the world will witness the 70th anniversary of a publication best known for tracking the end of the world. Founded in 1945 by veterans of the Manhattan Project, which developed the atomic bomb, the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists was launched in the wake of the devastating nuclear attacks on Hiroshima and Nagasaki, with the goal of informing the public about nuclear policy. But since 1947, it has been known largely for a metaphorical device it introduced in June of that year: the Doomsday Clock, which measures how close humanity is to extinction.
In 2014, history returned to Europe with a vengeance. The crisis over Ukraine brought back not only the spectre but the reality of war, on the 100th anniversary of a conflict that had been spoken of as the war to end all war. The great powers lined up, amid a barrage of propaganda and informational warfare, while many of the smaller powers made their contribution to the festival of irresponsibility.
AFTER THE Soviet Union collapsed, Richard Nixon observed that the United States had won the Cold War, but had not yet won the peace. Since then, three American presidents—representing both political parties—have not yet accomplished that task. On the contrary, peace seems increasingly out of reach as threats to U.S. security and prosperity multiply both at the systemic level, where dissatisfied major powers are increasingly challenging the international order, and at the state and substate level, where dissatisfied ethnic, tribal, religious and other groups are destabilizing key countries and even entire regions.
According to the prevailing wisdom in the West, the Ukraine crisis can be blamed almost entirely on Russian aggression. Russian President Vladimir Putin, the argument goes, annexed Crimea out of a long-standing desire to resuscitate the Soviet empire, and he may eventually go after the rest of Ukraine, as well as other countries in eastern Europe. In this view, the ouster of Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovych in February 2014 merely provided a pretext for Putin’s decision to order Russian forces to seize part of Ukraine.