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Scanning for the Next War


  1. Keep an eye on Serbia.

  2. No US easing.

More below:

Over the weekend, the hard-right made gains in European Parliamentary voting. Last week, Senator Tuberville (R. Alabama) said Putin “doesn’t want Ukraine.” That extreme rightwing leaders are gaining even while we can see what the hard right looks like—Putin invading Ukraine—tells you something odd is afoot.

If I had to reduce the rise of the hard right to one cause, I’d point to wildly disruptive technology. Yes, immigration plays a role in some places, but that clearly doesn’t apply to Russia and China where people are trying to get out. More likely is the more we delight in new tech—computers that “think” for us—the more something deeply emotional rebels and seeks to preserve “tradition.” For some those traditions are found in religion for others in fixed gender roles.

The contradiction between a delight in novelty and an affinity for the old is in each of us. It’s just a matter of degree. While I embrace modernity, I’ve also taken to shutting down my phone on Saturdays. The difference is that I do this voluntarily and anti-modernist strictures impose such orders. If forced to turn off my phone, I’d probably turn it on.

How does this tie to a podcast on Serbia?

Serbia is a tiny country—6 million people—on the fault line of this modernism fissure, an ally of Russia but supposedly aspiring to be part of the EU. A belligerent in the 1990s Balkan wars and the home of the person who assassinated Arch-Duke Ferdinand (see my Letter from Sarajevo) to start World War I, Serbia is in a sometimes bloody dispute with Kosovo, which has declared independence from Serbia but which Belgrade does not recognize. It isn’t hard to imagine this conflict spiraling, Russia backing Serbia and NATO and the EU backing Kosovo and, bam, Ukraine squared.

The EU represents money and modernity, Russia past (Soviet) norms. I was researching the sequel to Master, Minion and came upon Mark Montgomery and Ivana Stradner, two people who know a lot about Serbia and US foreign policy and were kind enough to share their insights. Ivana grew up in Serbia and teaches at Johns Hopkins’ SAIS and Mark spent over 30 years in the US Navy, retiring as a Rear Admiral. Both are now with the Foundation for the Defense of Democracies.

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