By Maria Alejandra Aristeguieta
In 1983 the band, Nena made a German new wave song very famous called “99 Luftballons” that talked about how the innocent act of 99 red balloons flying on the horizon are identified by a general as an aggression against the airspace of his country and unleashed a nuclear war.
The lyrics were inspired by one of the young members of the band, who, during a Rolling Stones concert in West Berlin in which they launched helium balloons into the sky, wondered what would happen if those balloons flew over the wall. that divided the city in two and arrived at East Berlin, capital of the then communist German Democratic Republic. In the midst of the excitement of the concert, the young man was able, however, to imagine a dystopian world in which that flight of 99 balloons over the horizon could trigger a Soviet reaction of such proportions that all the nuclear alarms would go off and that, when attacking , all countries would react in chain. The song did nothing more than reveal the fears felt by the German youth, the epicenter of the geopolitical division of the world, in the face of an uncertain future caused by the atmosphere of tension and permanent escalations that characterised the Cold War, and very particularly, in a period of an intensifying arms race in the late 1970s and early 1980s in which both the Soviet Union and the United States tried to show their superiority through political rhetoric, military exercises, and the deployment of missiles and weapons (capable of annihilating a large part of Europe, and above all, Germany), as well as through diplomacy towards countries that are part of their respective axes of influence.
With its fast-paced tone and ironic words, the song also contained criticism of the levity with which the nuclear threat was handled both in the media and in the world of show business and entertainment, in which references to the red button appeared frequently. That anyone could accidentally press, in a kind of collective drive that did nothing more than throw, as the song itself said, lit matches to the oil drums. Such was the success of the German version, that a year later an even more incisive version appeared in English, describing a terrified world that triggers the war machine, and in which 99 ministers meet 99 times to take 99 decisions and take out the troops in the midst of the ecstasy of finally seeing his dream come true. Both versions, as is to be expected, end up describing a devastated world in which neither generals nor planes are left, but neither are cities, and in the midst of that destruction, a red balloon appears, which the protagonist throws back into the air.
Despite the distance from the scenario described above, forty years later other “red balloons” appear on our horizon, innocently flying through the airspace of the United States, Costa Rica and Colombia, and only when the United States shoots down one of them does China condemn the action while identifying them as his own and describing them as balloons intended for meteorological scientific purposes that were diverted due to technical failures and appeared in the US and Latin American skies. We will not know for sure the characteristics or objectives of the artifacts until American experts have analyzed the debris that fell into the sea, shot down by its air force.
Meanwhile, Biden has seized on the event, which occurred on the eve of his annual State of the Union address, to escalate the rhetoric, postponing his Secretary of State’s trip to China as a symbolic action of a new cooling of relations, thus showing firmness and uniting the nation around himself and facing the (potential) enemy. Likewise, the position assumed by the President of Colombia, an old ally of the United States, does not escape, who not only did not condemn the overflight of the Chinese balloon over his airspace, but also announced his trip to China in order to seek financing for a new construction of the Bogota metro.
In a time marked by the geopolitical positioning of the post-Cold War world in frank realignment and in which Russia and China are working in concert to open simultaneous fronts of tension, such as the war in Europe or the mysterious balloons, elements such as the political rhetoric of the different actors that repeat their incrementalist tone of the past, or the alliances and new axes of influence, and even the increasingly less latent and more present threat of a nuclear escalation, give us signs of both the path we are traveling on and the path we are running the risk of falling into.
Therefore, if I remember the song of the 99 Red Balloons and what it represented, Biden, Xi Jinping and Putin must also remember, and seriously think about putting their matches away from the oil drums.