]]]]]]]]]]]   WAR IN EUROPE: THINKING THE UNTHINKABLE    [[[[[[[[[[[[ 
                          By Mark Helprin,               (11/11/1988)
                 novelist and political commentator.
                  [WALL STREET JOURNAL, 11/1/1988]

     In 1908, long before he recrossed the floor to the Conservatives, 
Winston Churchill spoke as a Liberal intending to further the good 
will that had broken out between Britain and Germany.  Though he would 
soon revise his position, he said then that the "belief in this 
country that war between Great Britain and Germany is inevitable... is 
all nonsense."
     "There is no collision of primary interests...between Great 
Britain and Germany in any quarter of the globe."  War was unthinkable 
because "there is no result which could be expected from any struggle 
between the two countries except a destruction of a most appalling and 
idiotic character."
     Even if Churchill pointedly refused to make this mistake twice, 
others had no such reservations, and others still are bucking for a 
third go-round.  In this country and in Europe, left, right and 
center, each in its own way, embrace the conventional wisdom that a 
European war is so remote as to be nearly unthinkable.
     But history has not been cauterized.  After countless wars and 
upheavals, the system of blocs and alliances remains, with the Balkans 
and Eastern Europe, as ever, the engine of instability.  The existence 
of nuclear weapons may unsettle the custodians of the international 
system, but the system itself, practiced survivor of holocausts, 
hardly blinks.  Certain themes are stronger and deeper than wishful 
thinking would have them: War has been an integral part of history, 
and the elements of history have not changed.

     Specifically, the elements of the great European conflicts--
economic rivalry, imperial unrest, religious, ideological and 
linguistic differences--still are intact.  Germany, ever the 
flashpoint, drifts further into the rage and indignation for which it 
is justly famous and justly feared.  And why not?  The integrity of 
its quarrel with Europe is such that no great treaty and no long 
decades can dilute it.  Should Germany's infatuations prevail over its 
habits, it will exit the alliance.  Confronted with this, the Soviet 
cat will be hard pressed not to eat the very bird to which it is now 
trying to sing.
     In the U.S. and in Europe strong currents of opinion exist in 
favor of taking the Soviets at their word, interpreting their actions 
in the kindest light, ignoring their unreduced military capacities, 
extrapolating the present eye in the hurricane of Russian history into 
the indefinite future, and not thinking very much about the hard turn 
from Gorbachevism that most observers state becomes less and less 
possible each time it is barely avoided.
     But the warm wind from Russia that drives so many policy 
windmills in the West is awakening the national aspirations of Eastern 
Europe.  These, in conflict with the prestige, ferment and 
disintegration of great powers and empires similar to Russia today and 
including the Russia of yesterday, have put the lights out all over 
Europe, with stupefying ferocity, twice in this century alone.  Those 
who rejoice at perestroika should remember first the laws of 
unintended consequences and second that Russia never fails to be a 
land of cyclical repression and reform, where Mensheviks are replaced 
by Bolsheviks, new economic plans by forced collectivizations, 
Khrushchevs by Brezhnevs, Andropovs by Gorbachevs, and Gorbachevs, 
eventually, by something else.
     Each time Mr. Gorachev consolidates his power, he doubles his 
bets, as in the gambling strategy called the martingale.  Some 
misinterpret his momentum as evidence of stability rather than merely 
as a sign of political courage.  To win a martingale, you have to be 
lucky or your assets have to be greater than those of the house.  In 
this case, the house is the historical inertia of Russia, which has 
always arranged, however ponderously and slowly, for precisely the 
kind of governance that Mikhail Gorbachev does not represent.
     It would be ironic if weakened European resolve presented nearly 
discredited factions in the U.S.S.R. with a powerful argument for 
abandoning Russia's new look to seize opportunities where they lie.  
It is astounding that perestroika and glasnost influence American and 
European military preparedness more than that of the Warsaw Pact, 
which remains steady, massive and free of mercurial shifts.  If, 
despite their constant arsenal, the Soviets are seen by many as the 
light of world peace, can the West--even if it receives lesser praise 
from liberals--at least be free to guard its interests with the same 
caution and sobriety?
     The utility of the left is that, in regard to the Soviets, it 
ensures that every hopeful chance is taken. Divided by its motivations 
but singular in its goal, the left comprises a small number of fifth 
columnists, some apolitical millennialists, those who are reflexively 
anti-military, those who will not willingly pay the cost of deterrence 
because it subtracts from the bankrolling of social causes, those who 
do not understand or will not credit the workings of deterrence, those 
for whom apportionment of the burden overshadows the purpose for which 
the burden is borne, and those--like Michael Dukakis--who are merely 
uncomfortable and confused.
     Arising from this confusion is the governor's Conventional 
Defense Initiative, which is supposed to address the problem about 
which you are now reading.  But it is a useless artifact on at least 
three counts. First, it is nothing more than an election ploy, alien 
to his record and his inclinations.  He is no more likely to cut 
social spending to finance conventional forces than he is to finance 
the strategic forces for which he cannot hide his revulsion quite as 
     Second, though far stronger conventional forces are absolutely 
necessary for preserving the peace in Europe, they are almost 
irrelevant without the theater and strategic nuclear weapons with 
which they must be woven into a solid and inviolable braid.  If 
nuclear parity were enough to unlink American strategic forces from 
Europe, Soviet policy would not stress as it does the issue of 
severance.  Think tanks resound with the rhetorical question, "Would 
an American president risk the U.S. for the sake of Europe?"  The same 
question is standard for the highest echelons of Soviet war planners, 
only, for them, it isn't rhetorical.
     Third, a President Dukakis would renovate conventional forces 
with as much enthusiasm as Ronald Reagan protecting the snail-darter.  
He would find reassurance for his benign neglect in Harvard advisers 
who read, credit, edit and thereby encourage the classics of 
revisionism, such as "Stalin's Postwar Army Reappraised" in their 
journal International Security (Winter 1982-1983), or a more recent 
favorite from the same source, "Is There A Tank Gap?" (Summer 1988).
     The first article, by Matthew Evangelista, confirms everyone's 
suspicions that NATO was a provocation mercilessly directed at the 
gentle and bewildered Red Army, which could not have invaded Europe 
because it was too busy as it "repaired barracks, built dining halls, 
set up military posts, camps, and sports fields."  In the second, 
which I call "Tanks but No Tanks," Malcolm Chalmers and Lutz 
Unterseher set out to prove that the Warsaw Pact's 68,300 tanks (to 
NATO's 30,500) confer no advantage, because, among other things, they 
are fiercely anti-Soviet.  They inflict "cuts and bruises" and "spinal 
and kidney damage" on operators who, because the tanks are so 
diminutive, must be less than 5 feet 3 inches tall.  Their satanic 
lack of ventilation is such that during the 1973 War, "numbers of Arab 
tankmen [in Soviet tanks] ... were asphyxiated or went into shock."  
And, "the automatic loader on the T-72 'grabs crew members and rams 
them into the gun's breach.'"  What a pleasure then, in World War III, 
to sit back and watch Soviet tanks wreaking havoc upon Russian 
     Nor is the right without folly.  Traditional isolationists have 
joined with those who see little to save in a decadent 
accommodationist Europe other than the lifeboat that would bring 
Margaret Thatcher and some French intellectuals west with the night.  
Like the Russians, they want the U.S. out of Europe.  They excuse the 
coincidence of view by claiming, despite the thousand years of 
European history that contradict them, that, left to itself, Europe 
would strengthen and unify. And if it didn't?

     The flanks of the center are falling to both sides, and what 
remains are stately plump Atlanticists who, though they do not have 
the courage to stake their careers on it, know that no polical or 
economic benefit is worth the price of inadequately deterring a 
European war.  And as a European war is deterred less and less 
adequately during the Russian pause for refreshment, the problem 
shifts from the realm of politics to the realm of arms.  To perceive 
the issues of European security as political is a luxury allowable 
only when the military foundation is minimally secure.  That condition 
is fading as Western theroists and politicians factor hypotheses and 
illusions into the order of battle while their dull East Bloc 
counterparts accept only arms and men.
     Looking back upon the first World War Churchill reflected upon 
how easily fundamental warnings can be misintereted.  Of the risk of 
war, he wrote: "It is too foolish too fantastic to be thought of in 
the twentieth century....Civilization has climbed above such perils.  
The interdependence of nations in trade and traffic, the sense of 
public law, the Hague Convention, Libera principles .. have rendered 
such nightmares impossible.  Are you quite sure?  It would be a pity 
to be wrong."

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