The shooting of a Russian jet by Turkish forces won't spark World War Three, but the situation might still worsenby Ben Judah / November 26, 2015 / Leave a comment
Watching the shaking, blazing footage of a Russian jet downed by the Turkish air force one question was running through millions of people’s minds—is this what the start of World War Three looks like?
I think this is a very 20th century question. Historically, few periods of interstate conflict start in a single day. Nor, for the most part war and peace is not a black and white thing with an on/off switch.
Zooming out, like the historians will, to what has been happening between Russia and the west over the last ten years, we can see a slowly building, new normal of interstate violence. The unthinkable happens, is quickly accepted, and fades obscure into a darkening background.
Russia shoots an MI6 agent in London, Russia invades and occupies Georgia, Russia begins constant provocative air intrusion into NATO airspace, Russia annexes Crimea and occupies a chunk of Eastern Ukraine, Russian and the west then fall into a cycle of sanctions and trade wars, Russia bombs Western militia allies in Syria. These are not discrete happenings: they are our new violent normal.
Turkey’s shooting of a Russian fighter jet is not going to start World War Three. Nor a neo-19th century style war between Tayyip Erdogan and Vladimir Putin. But it adds dogfights to our increasingly violent normal. We can now fully expect Russia to shoot down Turkish—and probably other, weaker NATO allies’ jets—should they stray into Moscow’s airspace. Trade wars, blockades, and proxy bombings in Syria— expect more of these too. Russia’s borders, under Vladimir Putin, are exceptionally open in terms of recent history: it is entirely plausible they could be sealed to certain nationals, or exit permits could be imposed on visits to states deemed hostile. Indeed, these have been discussed in Moscow.
Thinking like a historian, this pattern is pretty normal. It was only in the Cold War, with its rock-solid blocs and hair-trigger deterrence that…