THE BLOG

Obama v Putin: 'Dr. Strangelove' and the Doomsday Machine

26/02/2015 14:35 GMT | Updated 27/04/2015 10:59 BST

Since it is Oscar season, I recently watched Stanley Kubrick's exquisitely composed portrait of Armageddon circa 1964 for the first time in several years.

Having spent the last 20 or so years working here in Washington engaged in politics, government, media and education, I must report with that experience under my hat, this film with its extraordinarily brilliant cast simply - pun intended - blew me away!

For those of us who have not had the pleasure of living through the "First Cold War" - Suez Canal Crisis, Soviet Forces Enter Hungary, Francis Gary Powers U2 (not the Irish Rock Group) Shot Down, Kennedy-Nixon Debates, Khrushchev 'banging his shoe' at UNGA, Berlin Wall, Cuban Missile Crisis, Vietnam, Prague Spring Ends as Soviet Tanks Roll into Czechoslovakia, Reagan's "Mr Gorbachev, Tear Down This Wall" speech, and so on!

Here's some background:

In 1964 Stanley Kubrick's Dr. Strangelove, a comedy film satirizing the Cold War fears of a nuclear conflict between the USSR and the US, became an instant smash!

The film was directed and produced by Stanley Kubrick and co-written by Kubrick and Terry Southern. The film is based on Peter George's thriller novel Red Alert.

It stars Peter Sellers, playing three totally over-the-top characters and George C. Scott - as brilliant here as he is in his portrayal of General George S. Patton.

The film also features Sterling Hayden, Kennan Wynn and Slim Pickens... brilliant all.

The story involves a totally whacked-out United States Air Force General who orders a first-strike attack on the Soviet Union aka "the Ruskies".

It follows the President of the United States, his close advisers, the Joint Chiefs of Staff and a Royal Air Force officer as they try to call back the bombers to prevent an unimaginable nuclear catastrophe.

Simultaneously, the narrative follows the crew of the one B-52 bomber loaded with a 40 megaton payload that has managed to escape destruction by avoiding a US-USSR coordinated pre-emptive missile strike which was launched to stop them and that previously took out all the other bombers - in an effort to prevent the activation of "the Doomsday Machine."

One might think that the most frightening element of the entire scenario, besides total nuclear annihilation, is the aforementioned 'dramatis personae' which include Dr. Strangelove himself - a mad Nazi scientist played by Sellers who most likely arrived at 'the War Room' from the Peenemünde Army Research Center by way of Huntsville, Alabama.

No, No that's not it. What is truly the most terrifying aspect of this movie is the level of bureaucratic insanity that must be endured and suffered in attempt to correct an error and prevent the mass destruction of the human race!

Ironically or maybe wisely in 1989 the United States Library of Congress included Dr. Strangelove in the first group of films selected for preservation in the National Film Registry.

It was also listed as number three on the American Film Institute "100 Years...100 Laughs List".

Flash forward fifty years!

The Berlin Wall has collapsed, many countries formerly under Soviet domination have become independent and Havana is talking to Washington.

The bad news is that the following states either have, had or are believed to have Nuclear Weapons, setting up an even more hideous scenario than Kubrick's "Doomsday Machine":

China, France, Russia, United Kingdom, United States, India, Pakistan, North Korea, Israel (believed to have) Belarus & Kazakhstan, (transferred to Russia) Ukraine (disposed of them) and South Africa (claimed it has disassembled them).

Instead of continuing to pursue the path to disarm the world and destroy these horrific weapons that began with the 1963 Nuclear Test Ban Treaty, the world now seems to be headed in a different direction.

Today as you know, the US, as part of the P5+1, Britain, China, France, Russia and Germany, is desperately trying to negotiate a deal with Iran to prevent Tehran from developing "the bomb".

This is problematic at best since it now seems the goal is "micro managing" those who wish to possess nuclear capabilities instead of preventing new members from ever joining the "nuclear club".

Skepticism about the negotiations and the wisdom of easing of sanctions on Iran are already growing and angering hard line Congressional leaders on both sides of the aisle as well as Israel's Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who is expected to strongly criticize easing the sanctions in a high profile address to the US Congress.

If the P5+1 talks fail, President Obama may be unable to hold off a politically anxious Congress from passing new sanctions against Iran.

After all, we are already entering another presidential election cycle and the soon-to-be officially declared candidates are very aware of the importance of the Pro-Israel vote.

As Americans it is always sobering to remember, especially during all this talk about nuclear proliferation of one sort of another, that the United States is still the only nation ever to drop "the bomb" on another sovereign nation.. and we did it twice.

Not only should everyone be concerned about admitting new members to the so called "Nuclear Club", some of its current members are already very troubling.

The USSR now The Russian Federation was once the main nemesis of the West.

Change eventually took place within the Soviet Union and 'perestroika' and 'glasnost' became key words of reform.

They inspired friendly new beginnings with the West but perhaps it was not destined to last.

Presently and frighteningly after annexing Crimea unopposed, Russian President Vladimir Vladimirovich Putin seems to be enjoying playing a deadly game of chess while the West continues to be engaged in a child's game 'tiddlywinks' over Ukraine.

In the case of Russia's Putin, these devastating weapons of mass destruction in his hands, or in anyone else's hands who may one day succeed him, mean that there are really no meaningful military options the West can deploy to keep Putin's voracious ambitions in check.

With Russia's vast storehouses of nuclear weapons looming in the background, the Americans and the Europeans seem only to have just another round of sanctions or some other diplomatic gesture as an option for a resolution to the Ukraine dilemma.

When it comes to nuclear powers, despite protestations to the contrary, the military option is basically off the table - unless the players are willing to risk a nuclear response - in Cold War parlance "mutually assured destruction".

So this latest round of muscle flexing by "Rootin Tootin' Putin" should give the world pause about permitting another member of the "nuclear club" in any form - even for so-called peaceful purposes.

This current situation between Russia and the West is eerily similar to the Cold War build up as these groups seem to be coming closer and closer to an accidental escalation from which there may be no return.

Despite noble efforts from Chancellor Merkel, acting as a go between to achieve some diplomatic resolution and support from President Obama, Prime Minister Cameron and other EU Leaders, Putin seems ready to violate any agreement - even the latest cease fire agreement - before the ink is dry.

Putin is clearly playing to his domestic audience who long for the 'bygone days' of the Great Soviet Union.

In response, the US has recently decided to show off its own military hardware with a parade of tanks dangerously close to the Russian border.

Perhaps the most difficult challenge for the West is whether to assist Urkraine with lethal aid since this may be viewed as entering into a proxy war with "Mother Russia".

So where does this leave us?

The cold hard fact is that unless Ukraine can somehow stand up to Russian aggression on its own, the response from the West will continue to be limited precisely because Russia is a nuclear power.

As these tensions escalate it is easy to see how a Dr. Strangelove incident might happen.

In the final analysis, it seems both Russia and the West have much more to gain by working together - even when it comes to the Iran issue - than arguing at cross purposes, otherwise this "Second Cold War" could turn Hot into a real Dr. Strangelove doomsday scenario.