North Korea has launched three intermediate range ballistic missiles in the last two weeks. Each one was a failure and ended in an explosion or crash. The UN Security Council has banned such tests and issued a warning about increasing sanctions if such misbehavior continues. Indeed, there might be worse trouble in store. Many expect North Korea to conduct another nuclear test, its fifth. On May 6 the country is holding the first congress of its ruling Workers’ Party in 36 years.
Russia’s recent buzzing of NATO ships and planes in the Baltic points to something bigger. In the past several years Russia has engaged in a major naval and military buildup in the Baltic region. The epicenter is the city of Kaliningrad, Russia’s forward operating base, located on the south shore of the Baltic between Lithuania and Poland—about 600 miles southwest of St. Petersburg, Russia. The Kaliningrad area houses the Russian Baltic fleet and two air bases. It boasts Russia’s only year-round ice-free port on the Baltic Sea.
A small news item about Turkish-American relations and the latest stage of the Syrian civil war recalls the wisdom of Lord Palmerston, a mid-19th-century British prime minister. He said that England had no eternal allies or perpetual enemies but only eternal and perpetual interests. The same could be said of Turkey, the U.S. or any state.
On April 14, a Russian jet barrel-rolled over a U.S. reconnaissance plane doing a routine flight in international airspace over the Baltic Sea. That followed an incident on April 12 in the Baltic Sea, when Russian jets made close-range and low-altitude passes near a U.S. navy destroyer engaged in joint exercises with its NATO ally Poland.
The history of arms control agreements is the history of violations. States sign agreements when they must, but break them when they wish. Secret violations are especially hard to monitor in dictatorships and closed societies.
Hannibal of Carthage (in modern Tunisia) was one of history’s greatest generals. He invaded Italy in the third century BC and nearly brought Rome to its knees. At Cannae in southern Italy in 216 BC Hannibal won one of the most crushing victories in all of military history—and it is only the most famous of his battlefield successes.
Small and medium-sized states located between great powers often develop impressive survival skills. At the dawn of history in the third millennium BC, the smaller city-states of Sumer no doubt had to scramble to survive the wars between such giants as Lagash and Umma or Uruk and Ur.
In the sixth century BC, King Cyrus the Great founded the Persian Empire, the largest realm in human history to date. His advisors suggested that Cyrus relocate his people from their rugged homeland in southwestern Iran to a more imperial seat in one of the lush lands that they now controlled. Cyrus said no; he called the plan a recipe for ruin...
The destruction of Iraqi and Syrian archaeological treasures by ISIS appalls the entire civilized world, and rightly so. Yet what we call cultural vandalism, ISIS calls tearing down idols, the symbols of an unholy, pagan past.
Vladimir Putin and the Russians more generally are practical people. They seize opportunities presented by their opponents’ weakness and they pull back from confrontation when enemy strength makes success unlikely.