Martin HellmanWhile many factors propelled the rise of Hitler and Nazism, humiliating Germany at the end of World War I played a major role. Hitler even forced the French to surrender in the same railway car –  in the exact same spot –  that had witnessed Germany’s earlier capitulation. Because of the risk involved in humiliating an adversary, I have been concerned by the belittlement Russia has experienced in recent years. Just as the ending of World War I played a major role in the start of World War II, let’s not have the ending of the Cold War lead to World War III.

The most recent evidence of this risk surfaced in yesterday’s edition of Fareed Zakaria’s GPS (Global Public Square) on CNN. Zakaria asked Henry Kissinger:

Henry, you’ve met with Vladimir Putin probably more often than any … senior American official. You’ve had something like 20 odd one-on-one meetings with him. What do you think of Vladimir Putin? … Is he a thug? Is he a modernizer? Is he … pro-Western, anti-Western?

To which Kissinger replied:

He is, above all, a Russian patriot who feels humiliated by the experience of the 1990s, which were in the most formative period of his career. He is not anti-western. When I first met him, he was very anxious to have a kind of strategic partnership with the United States. He is very resentful of what he interprets as intervention in Russian domestic affairs and even more, of course, in what he may interpret and does interpret as some American tendencies to support his political opponents in order to encourage his overthrow, … but I believe that a dialogue is possible and on specific issues he can turn out to be a constructive partner.

Conservative columnist Patrick Buchanan blames our humiliation of Russia as being partly responsible for the Georgian War of 2008. In a column entitled Blowback from Bear Baiting, he wrote:

But is not Russian anger understandable? For years the West has rubbed Russia’s nose in her Cold War defeat and treated her like Weimar Germany. … For a decade, some of us have warned about the folly of getting into Russia’s space and getting into Russia’s face.

Speaking of the Georgian War, Buchanan also noted that “American charges of Russian aggression ring hollow. Georgia started this fight — Russia finished it.” Wrongly placing all blame for that war on Russia – as is consistently done in our media – adds to Russia’s feeling wrongly humiliated.

Along similar lines, in 2007, former Vice Admiral Ulrich Weisser, head of the policy and planning staff in the German Ministry of Defense from 1992 to 1998, wrote:

Moscow also feels provoked by the behavior of a number of newer NATO member states in central and Eastern Europe. Poland and the Baltic states use every opportunity to make provocative digs at Russia; they feel themselves protected by NATO and backed by the U.S.

Humiliating an opponent may have short term, egotistical benefits. But are they worth the long term risk to our survival?