ViewPoint | Foreign policy issues are complicated

"In times of war, the enemy gets a vote." Those words are particularly relevant today, as tensions build between the U.S. and Russia.

But this all seems eerily familiar.

As Americans, we need to ask ourselves how we would feel if Russia placed nuclear weapons in Mexico. Or Venezuela. Or Cuba. Ah yes, Cuba. That already happened, didn’t it? And as many historians would agree, that event brought our species the closest it's been to total annihilation.

May cooler heads prevail, this time around.

During the Cuban Missile Crisis, American naval ships began dropping depth charges on Soviet submarines, not knowing that the subs were equipped with nuclear-tipped torpedoes AND orders to fire, should the subs be attacked.

The decision to fire nukes required three commanding officers—the captain of the sub, the political officer, and the submarine flotilla commander. The captain agreed to launch. The political officer agreed to launch. Flotilla Commander Vasili Arkhipov did not agree to launch.

We are alive today because of Vasili Arkhipov.

And Arkhipov’s decision is just one chilling example throughout the 20th century of instances when one person prevented a nuclear war.

Fast forward to the present. Russia is taking an aggressive, reprehensible posture as it invades Ukraine (a country where 30% of citizens speak Russian and swaths of the country identify as Russian or Russian-Ukrainian), but a sovereign nation nonetheless.

Why is Russia doing this?

Another reminder from history may answer that question. When negotiating the 1990 reunification of Germany and the issue of potential NATO expansion (something the Russians obviously did not want), Secretary of State James Baker had this to say to Soviet President Mikhail Gorbachev, "We understand the need for assurances to the countries in the East. If we maintain a presence in a Germany that is a part of NATO, there would be no extension of NATO’s jurisdiction for forces of NATO one inch to the east."

Almost immediately after the promise was made and an agreement was struck, NATO expanded east, pushing what Russia saw as a hostile military alliance closer to Russia’s doorstep. Fast forward to the present, and despite the end of the Cold War, NATO has not disbanded. Rather, it’s advanced, expanding in the three decades since, further encircling Russia.

May cooler heads prevail indeed.

Foreign policy issues are complicated. The enemy gets a vote too. And though Americans may have short memories, they would do well to remember the cautionary tales of the Cold War. They should put themselves in the shoes of a defiant and war-hardened Russian people who see American political leaders as incapable of keeping promises. Americans would do well to ask themselves, "Would I consent to a hostile military alliance placing nuclear arms in the Americas?" If the answer is no, then we know exactly how the Russians feel.

The Biden Administration must stop caving to pressure from the media, the war hawks, the contractors and arms dealers who profit from war. The Biden Admin must move away from its aggressive posturing. It must stop making threats to clash with Russia over Ukraine, a nation not even remotely within our sphere of influence. Even now, it must seek diplomatic resolutions, not military ones, because there are no military options between nuclear powers.

Ren Brabenec is a Tennessee-based author and freelance writer specializing in U.S. foreign policy.