An existential threat is a threat to a people’s existence or survival.
The subject is war. The place is throughout the Middle East, Eastern Europe, and Central Asia. The time is now.
The subject is not the “why”: Why these wars? Why now? These are not for today. For this post, I merely consider the reality of the wars. They are – this is certain, regardless of why and why now.
Ukraine, Iraq, Syria, Turkey, Iran, Israel, Saudi Arabia, Russia, Afghanistan.
An existential threat. The term is often applied to a nation. Of course, one can debate if this is an appropriate use of the term but one cannot debate that it is used this way. For this post, I will accept that it is used this way. I will further accept that political leaders see things this way; they are the ones with a) something to lose, b) the weapons necessary to do something about it, and c) a legacy to consider.
What if the political leaders of Russia see these current wars as posing an existential threat to the viability of an ongoing Russian state? With NATO on its borders and Ukraine playing the part of the rope in a tug-of-war between east and west, why not? With Afghanistan in continuous play? With the arming and radicalization of Muslims in the Middle East threatening the security of the Muslim regions of the Russian Federation?
What of Turkey? One hundred years ago – having already suffered the embarrassment of losing almost all lands in North Africa, the Middle East, and Europe – Turkey’s Ottoman predecessor saw in the Armenians such a threat; a risk of losing what is today eastern Turkey. From the Turkish perspective, then it was Armenians, today it is the Kurds.
Iraq? It is already gone, divided into at least three – one reason the Turks are worried about the Kurds. Syria? In process; one cannot deny that to Assad’s Syria what is going on is an existential threat.
Israel? We are constantly reminded of this nation feeling existentially threatened. Iran? It has been bullied like few others in recent decades, with today only a slight opening. Saudi Arabia? If there was ever a regime ripe for revolution from below, this one would seem to qualify.
What if the national leaders in each of these countries sees in the current condition an existential threat – the risk of loss of political borders, loss of sovereignty, loss of power and wealth, loss of control over subject populations? How will they fight? How long will they fight for? What measures (military and otherwise) will they be willing to consider in order to delay the day of reckoning?
What of the United States, with fingers in each pie yet without facing any existential threat – at least to its political borders? What if the existential threat is to the empire?
What if the fight is not for oil (in any case not a convincing reason)? What if it has devolved into nothing less than a fight for their lives – not the lives of the individuals within a given nation-state, but the lives of the various nation-states – personified in the various political leaders?
If the alternative is death, why not fight to the death without concern of collateral damage – no matter how massive the destruction? Yes, why not? Might this explain the seemingly irrational behavior of many of the actors?
Might this be what we are witnessing? Every actor facing what is considered to be an existential threat?