Connect with us

Americas

After Senate Trial and Presidential Acquittal: Overlooked Foundations of U.S. Constitutional Law

Published

on

Lawyers on both sides of the recent Senate trial chose to ignore certain philosophic and jurisprudential foundations of the United States Constitution.[i] These “peremptory”  foundations lie recognizably in Natural Law,[ii] immutable rules that apply, by definition, to all peoples and for all time. Though it is plainly too late to remind the pertinent political parties about the salient relevance of  Higher Law principles to the Trump impeachment trial, the American public ought still learn about such original precepts for future jurisprudential reference. Ironically, these core precepts were already well-known and respected by the Founders, especially Jefferson, Franklin, Madison, Hamilton and Jay.

 Most assuredly, when the Irish poet William Butler Yeats penned “The Second Coming,”[iii] he did not have United States Constitutional law issues in mind. Nonetheless, Yeats’ famously-crafted warnings about “passionate intensity” and  “blood-dimmed tide” should have a palpable resonance in American politics. How could they not?

The just-completed Senate trial concerned US President Donald Trump and purposeful legal remedies for allegedly impeachable derogations. Though disregarded at trial,  these prospective remedies lay latent  in the American nation’s most rudimentary legal principles. For future reference, these core principles will need to be taken more seriously by anyone who might still value a justice-based United States.[iv]

Though little known, there exist several “peremptory”[v] principles of jurisprudence that could have proved applicable to seriously conceived impeachment motions. These relatively esoteric but still valid principles concern the Higher Law underpinnings of the United States. For the future, at least in principle, such basic expectations represent vital national security principles that could help protect Americans from presidentially-inflicted harms. 

Recalling the expanding nuclear weapons context of world politics, such harms could at some point display fully existential qualities.

The pertinent issues are primarily legal in both nature and codified form. In relevant jurisprudential terms, we must begin at the beginning. Remembering the celebrated jurist A.P. d’ Entrevesclassic text on Natural Law (Oxford University Press, 1951): “The Natural Law (Higher Law) is absolutely binding, and overrules all other laws.”  From the standpoint of any still-to-be considered impeachment strategies, this recollection could point the way to much more usefully broad bases for any future US presidential removal effort.

“In the beginning….”  For the United States, the principle of a Higher Law has always been more than just “any principle.”  Unmistakably, it is  one of the most enduring and canonic principles of the country’s acknowledged legal foundation.[vi] Revealed, inter alia, in both the Declaration of Independence and in the Constitution,[vii] it rests solidly and incontrovertibly upon the willing acceptance of  right and justice for their own sake. 

For the United States, considerations of right and justice have never been narrowly instrumental. On the contrary, at least until the recent impeachment trial acquittal, they have remained unwavering and meaningfully determinative.

Americans should take heed,  even “after the fact” of the recent jurisprudential failure. Such  foundational principles, as famed 18th century jurist William Blackstone once declared,[viii] represent nothing less than “the eternal, immutable laws of good and evil, to which the creator himself in all his dispensations conforms; and which he has enabled human reason to discover so far as they are necessary for the conduct of human actions.”[ix]

Plainly, Thomas Jefferson was a learned US president, even at a time when laborious study was vastly more complicated and difficult than it is today. When Jefferson – without any benefit of electric light, air conditioning, central heating, computers or even a manual typewriter – set to work on the Declaration, he drew productively upon Aristotle, Cicero, Grotius, Vattel, Pufendorf, Burlamaqui, and  most prominently – John Locke (Second Treatise of Government).[x] Asserting the right of revolution whenever government becomes destructive of “certain unalienable rights,”[xi] the Declaration of Independence posits a discernible natural order in the world, one whose irreducible laws are external to human will and remain eternally discoverable through staunchly determined applications of human reason.[xii] 

Although, by the eighteenth century, God had been “withdrawn” from any immediate philosophical contact with humankind , and had been transformed into the Final Cause or Prime Mover of the universe, “nature” still remained available as a convenient and altogether capable substitute.[xiii]  

There is more. Reflecting the unique influence of Isaac Newton, whose Principia was first published in 1686, all of creation could now be taken as a recognizable expression of divine will.[xiv]   Reciprocally, however, the only true way to ever truly “know” this original will of God was to first discover the underlying and eternal Law of Nature.

In essence, Locke and Jefferson had deified nature and “denatured” God.[xv]

But what exactly was this purported “Law of Nature,” a basic law that is accepted in the Declaration and Constitution as a continuously binding set of obligatory norms, and which could still pertain  to a present-day American president? Above all, Jefferson learned from Locke, such law was a necessary source of Reason:  Still more exactly, according to Locke’s Second Treatise:

The state of nature has a law to govern it, which obliges every one:  and reason, which is that law, teaches all mankind, who will but consult it, that being all equal and independent, no one ought to harm another in his life, health, liberty, or possessions….

In transgressing the law of nature, the offender declares himself to live by another rule than that of reason and common equity, which is that measure God has set to the actions of men….

A criminal, who having renounced reason, the common rule and measure God hath given to mankind, hath, by the unjust violence and slaughter he hath committed on one, declared war against all mankind.[xvi]

As reason is the only sure guide to what God has given to humankind, it must inevitably become the only reliable foundation of true law.  This Lockean and Jeffersonian idea of a transcendent or Higher Law is made manifest not only in the Declaration of Independence, but also in the Constitution.[xvii] Inter alia, the Ninth Amendment, in stipulating that “the enumeration of certain rights in this Constitution shall not prejudice other rights not so enumerated,”[xviii] reflects codified belief in a perpetual law that is justly superior to any expressed will of human governance.

 This vital conviction runs continuously from ancient times, especially traditional Jewish Law,[xix] up to the present intellectually detached “Trumpian moment.” The evident roots of such a prospectively lethal detachment lie in a broadly cast indifference to anything based upon Reason and a more person-specific indifference to history. What ought we ever really expect from a president who unambiguously prefers “attitude” to “preparation?”

There is still more. The Fragments of Heraclitus attest to the venerable antiquity of a Higher Law: “For all human laws are nourished by one, which is divine.  For it governs as far as it will, and is sufficient for all, and more than enough.”[xx]   Such Heraclitean dicta, offered somewhere around 500 B.C.E., entered easily into later Stoic philosophy and described a universal and expectedly rational body of human law. Hard as it may be to imagine amid American politics in 2020, this intellectual corpus  was familiar to many of the Founding Fathers.

Those people actually read books, serious and challenging books.

In 442 B.C.E., Sophocles clarified the idea of true law as an act of discovery, thus challenging the superiority of human rule-making in Antigone.[xxi] Already exploring inevitable conflict between claims of the state and those of an individual conscience, this classic challenge has since been taken to represent the incontestable supremacy of proper Higher Law overall man-made law. Later, in the nineteenth century, American Transcendentalist philosopher Henry David Thoreau, noting that men live with “too passive a regard for the moral laws,”[xxii]  cited directly to Antigone as a stirring example of “civil disobedience.” Still later, in these United States, the derivative legal and ethical conclusions of Antigone were learned and embraced by Martin Luther King.

The authority of Natural Law has a well-defined history in American society and politics. Ipso facto, it is not “merely” a pompous invention of interested philosophers and university professors. Or understood in more lay-person parlance, Natural Law already “has legs.”

But back to the philosophers. Building upon Plato’s theory of Ideas,[xxiii] which sought to elevate “nature” from the distressingly transient sphere of contingent facts to the “higher” realm of immutable archetypes or Forms,[xxiv]  Aristotle advanced in Ethics the derivative concept of “natural justice.”[xxv] Quoting the Antigone, he argued (in a juridical posture of perpetual significance)  “an unjust law is not a law.”[xxvi]  This irreducible position stands in markedly stark contrast to the more instrumental opinion of the Sophists –  i.e., that justice is never more than an expression of supremacy, that it is only what Thrasymachus cynically calls, in Plato’s Republic, “the interest of the stronger.”[xxvii]

Were he somehow made aware of such scholarly origins and underpinnings, US President Donald Trump would assuredly judge himself to be among the contemporary “Sophists.” This clarifying acknowledgment, to be sure, would be uttered openly by Mr. Trump, and perhaps even with an unmitigated pride.

Still more precisely apropos of  President Donald Trump’s jurisprudentialy disjointed presidency, this pernicious brand of Realpolitik has now become the openly acknowledged philosophic foundation of U.S. foreign policy. Left unmodified by timeless and universal principles of a Higher Law, the deleterious consequences for America and for the wider world are not difficult to predict or decipher.[xxviii]

These effects include very tangible US declensions into catastrophic war, potentially even  a nuclear war. Notable, in this regard, is the ongoing expansion of what might best be termed “Cold War II” with Russia; simultaneously, the undiminished nuclearization of North Korea and the ongoing recombination of ISIS Jihadist terrorists under the banner of al Qaeda should come to mind. Along all of these cited dimensions of decline, the “acquitted” American president is plainly complicit.

Again and again, history can be instructive. The Stoics, whose legal philosophies arose on the threshold of the Greek and Roman worlds, regarded Nature itself as humankind’s supreme legislator.[xxix] Applying Platonic and Aristotelian thought to a then-hopefully emerging cosmopolis, they defined this nascent order as one wherein humankind, by means of its seemingly well-established capacity to reason, can commune directly with the gods.[xxx]  As this definition required further expansion of Plato’s and Aristotle’s developing notions of universalism, the Stoics consciously articulated a further division between lex aeterna, ius natural and ius humanum.[xxxi]

Lex aeterna is the law of reason of the cosmos, the logos which rules the universe.  As an emanation of cosmic reason, human reason, it is assumed, rules the lives of men.  It follows that natural law partakes of eternal law, though it has a more limited range of application.  Unlike the more elitist conception of Plato (and, to a certain extent, even Aristotle), the Stoic idea of an innate “right reason” presumed no meaningful divisions between peoples.[xxxii]  

Instead, in linking all persons with the cosmic order, it established the essential foundations of an authentic and immutable universality.

Cicero, in De Republica, had defined the state as a “coming together of a considerable number of men who are united by a common agreement about law and rights and by the desire to participate in mutual advantages.”[xxxiii]  This definition shed a useful light on the problems surrounding positivist jurisprudence, a legal philosophy that values any state’s edicts as intrinsically just and therefore obligatory.[xxxiv] In a suitably famous passage of De Republica, one well known to Jefferson and other Founders, Cicero sets forth the still classic articulation of Natural Law:

True law is right reason, harmonious with nature, diffused among all, constant, eternal; a law which calls to duty by its commands and restrains from evil by its prohibitions….It is a sacred obligation not to attempt to legislate in contradiction to this law; nor may it be derogated from nor abrogated.  Indeed, by neither the Senate nor the people can we be released from this law; nor does it require any but oneself to be its expositor or interpreter.  Nor is it one law at Rome and another at Athens; one now and another at a late time; but one eternal and unchangeable law binding all nations through all time….[xxxv]

It goes without saying that US President Donald Trump has no acquaintance with any such still-binding or “peremptory” ideas.

But what is to be done when positive law (which now includes US Constitutional and statutory law) is at variance with “true law”?  The Romans had a remedy in all such challenging matters. They simply incorporated into their various statutes a contingency clause that man-made law could never abrogate those obligations that are inherently right or presumptively sacred.[xxxvi]  On several occasions, Cicero and others meaningfully invoked this clause, or jus, against one particular statute or another.[xxxvii] 

In this way, the written law of the moment, never more than an artifact of the extant civic community, remained correctly subject to “right reason.”

Later, St. Augustine reaffirmed that temporal law must always conform to the unchangeable eternal law,[xxxviii]  which he had earlier defined as “the reason or will of God (ratio divina vel voluntas Dei).”[xxxix]  Aquinas continued this tradition of denying the status of law to prescriptions that are inherently unjust (lex iniusta non est lex).[xl]  “Human law,” he wrote in the Summae,[xli]  “has the quality of law only insofar as it proceeds according to right reason; and in this respect it is clear that it derives from the eternal law.  Insofar as it deviates from reason it is called an unjust law, and has the quality not of law, but of violence.”[xlii]

The concept of a Higher Law, later to figure so importantly in the legal development of the United States of America, was widely integrated into medieval jurisprudential thought.[xliii] In John of Salisbury’s Policraticus, “There are certain precepts of the law which have perpetual necessity, having the force of law among all nations and which absolutely cannot be broken.”[xliv]  Recognizing the idea that all political authority must be intrinsically limited, John noted that the prince “may not lawfully have any will of his own apart from that which the law or equity enjoins, or the calculation of the common interest requires.”[xlv]  

“….or the calculation of the common interest requires.” Viewed against the backdrop of the current US president – now, correctly analogous to the medieval “prince” discussed by John of Salisbury – such “perpetual law” must of necessity prohibit any presidential placement of personal interest over the discernibly “common interest” of the United States. Natural Law, inter alia, still exists to frustrate political injustice, a vital function that failed to become materially relevant to Trump’s recent impeachment trial in the Senate.

In the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries, Natural Law doctrine was reaffirmed and secularized by Grotius,[xlvi]  the “father” of all modern international law. Reviving the Ciceronian idea of Natural Law and its underlying optimism about human nature, Grotius is credited with liberating this idea from any once-remaining dependence on ecclesiastical or Papal interpretation.[xlvii] Building upon the prior speculations of the Dominican Francisco de Vitoria, who had proclaimed a natural community of humankind and the universal validity of human rights,[xlviii]  Grotius fashioned a conceptual “bridge” from the Christian Commonwealth of the Middle Ages to a brand new interstate society.[xlix] 

In this connection, he strengthened the idea of a universally valid Natural Law, one transcending in obligation all human law, including the cumulative positive law of any single sovereign state.[l] This is an idea, of course, that lies at the conceptual heart of US law, but it also entirely alien to the understanding or vision of current US President Trump.

Unlike Machiavelli and Hobbes,[li] Grotius did not consciously reduce law to any presumed will of a prince or a separate state.[lii] Rather, while recognizing such will as a properly constitutive element within the much wider international legal order, he also understood that the binding quality of human edicts must be derived from a more overriding totality of “natural” imperatives.[liii]   Accordingly, he proceeded to reject raison d’etat as a “just cause” for war,[liv] a purposeful rejection that may sometime cease to resonate in US President Donald Trump’s personal ideas of governance.

This brings us directly to the conveyance of Natural Law ideas into American political theory, a transmittal that was preeminently the work of Locke’s Second Treatise on Civil Government (1690).[lv] The specified American “duty” to revolt whenever governments commit “a long train of abuses and usurpations”[lvi] flows largely from Locke’s seminal notion that civil authority can never extend beyond the securing of humankind’s natural rights.[lvii] Regarding  the recent US presidential impeachment and trial, the motto that Jefferson chose for his own seal was: “Rebellion to Tyrants Is Obedience to God.”[lviii] 

As for the right to pursue happiness, which Jefferson drew largely from Burlamaqui’s incorporation into natural law,[lix] it had nothing to do with today’s shallow presidential celebrations of raw commerce and exaggerated materialism. Not at all.

 Nor could this right have had any bearing any US presidential impeachment proceedings. Though happiness was viewed by Jefferson (in plausible deference to Pufendorf and Locke) as a welcome condition to be achieved as the direct result of humankind’s overriding commitment to reason,[lx] never specified were any corresponding or corollary presidential obligations.

Above all, the Declaration of Independence implemented a fundamental social contract that sets limits on the power of any government.[lxi] Its central purpose, therefore, was to better articulate a set of universally valid constraints upon all secular political authority. Moreover, as justice, which is necessarily based on natural law, binds all human society, the rights described by the Declaration of Independence can never be reserved only to Americans. Derivatively, when current US foreign policies violate elements of international human rights law, including the authoritative law of war or law of armed conflict, there are simultaneously created various pertinent issues of US “command responsibility.”[lxii]

 By ready and verifiable deduction, natural rights must extend to all human societies, and can never be rendered subject to abrogation by positive law. Today, this general applicability of an immutable imperative to “do justice” is ignored by an American president who remains openly disinterested in human rights, especially on matters regarding immigration to the United States and the granting of refugee or asylum status. Notably, such matters of international law are ipso facto binding upon the United States, both by virtue of the ubiquitous and universal natural law, but also in consequence of the US Constitution (especially Art. VI, the “Supremacy Clause”) and various leading US Supreme Court decisions (especially the Pacquete Habana, 1900).

The compelling theory of a Higher Law, which should have had a designated place in the Senate trial of President Trump, is based on clarity, self-evidence and coherence.  Its express legal validity can never be shaken by any presumed presidential imperatives of geopolitics or “America First,.” As noted by the Swiss scholar Emmerich de Vattel in the 1758 edition of The Law of Nations (a work in which several American fathers of independence discovered important and usable maxims of political liberty):  “No agreement can bind, or even authorize, a man to violate the natural law.”[lxiii] 

 Prudently, Vattel had  cautioned that only a strict obedience to higher legal obligations can produce a virtuous and thereby safe and prosperous state: “One would have to be very ignorant of political affairs not to perceive how much more capable a virtuous Nation is of forming a happy, peaceful, flourishing and secure state, respected by its neighbors and formidable to its enemies.”[lxiv] Earlier, going forward with impeachment proceedings, Vattel’s wisdom could have had a proper and utilitarian place. At a minimum, it could have stood as an unchallengeable corrective to the manifestly unjust imperatives of Trump’s” America First.”

                *********

In the end, as the recent Trump impeachment trial ought to have revealed, Higher Law expectations of the American political tradition can never be self-enforcing.  Instead, defied again and again by transient political elites, these expectations can only be sustained where individual citizens would first prepare to act (as does Antigone before Creon[lxv] ) according to conscience.  “Why has every man a conscience,”[lxvi]  asks Thoreau in his foundational American essay on Civil Disobedience.

I think that we should be men first, and subjects afterwards.  It is not desirable to cultivate a respect for the law, so much as for the right.  The only obligation which I have a right to assume is to do at any time what I think right.  It is truly enough said that a corporation has no conscience; but a corporation of conscientious men is a corporation with a conscience.[lxvii]

Where are such “conscientious men” (and of course women) to be found? Certainly not, says Thoreau insightfully, among the “commonly esteemed good citizens.”[lxviii]  These mass men and women serve the state “not as men mainly, but as machines, with their bodies.”[lxix]  

Placing themselves “on a level with wood and earth and stones,”[lxx] these creations of the “mass” (the Danish philosopher Soren Kierkegaard would have preferred the term “crowd”) are incapable of making essential moral or legal distinctions. This incapacity is easily enough recognized today, where so many  United States Senators remained unwilling to acknowledge the brutally stark differences between prima facie presidential wrongdoing and legally correct presidential behavior.

Could the United States still create the conditions for a conscientious “corporation” though the enhanced education of an informed citizenry?  From Rousseau to the present, this has been the preferred path of virtually all democratic theory.  Rousseau believed that law and liberty could best exist in a city-state of properly educated voters like Geneva:

He stipulates in Book III of the Social Contract:

First, a very small state where the people can be readily got together and where each citizen can with ease know all the rest; secondly, great simplicity of manners, to prevent business from multiplying and raising thorny problems; next, a large measure of equality in rank and fortune, without which equality of rights and authority cannot long subsist; lastly, little or no luxury – for luxury either comes of riches or makes them necessary.

But the contemporary United States is not at all like Geneva; Rousseau’s cherished idea that a majority (even under very specified conditions) can be trusted with what is best for “The People” is too-often mistaken. Now, the dangers of the “general will” have been made manifest not only in the exploits of Robespierre and Napoleon, but also in the dissembling presidency of Donald Trump.

There is more. Rousseau’s deification of The People actually points toward the very opposite of our own Higher Law tradition. The Genevan made “The People” sovereign; for us, ultimately, sovereignty must come to reside in The Citizen.  Earlier, as Thoreau had understood, apathy, complacency, passivity and moral cowardice are the inevitable qualities found in the “mass” of men and women. True hope, therefore, can lie only in those residually still-thoughtful individuals whose primary allegiance is directed toward properly overriding and universal laws; that is, not in the presumptive “good citizen,” but rather in the indispensable “wise minority.”

It is time to finally inquire: What is the real task of this body of enlightened persons, one which could in fact represent a true and distinct majority in formation? Thoreau speaks truthfully of civil disobedience, one still possible act of “counter-friction.” Now, confronted with an American president who could bring unparalleled harms to the United States, suddenly or in unanticipated increments – as we have seen, such harms could soon include even the onset of a catastrophic nuclear war[lxxi] –  Thoreau would urge, as he once did about still-earlier policy deformations (see Civil Disobedience),: “Let your life be a counter-friction to stop the machine.  What I have to do is to see, at any rate, that I do not lend myself to the wrong which I condemn.”

To this point, most visibly at partisan political levels, Thoreau’s earlier wisdom has fallen on variously deaf Congressional ears.

*********

This essay has explored certain now-lost jurisprudential remedies to the increasingly injurious Trump Presidency, most obviously “ordinary” impeachment options rooted in the US Constitution. For future reference, any Members of Congress directly involved with drafting and refining Articles of Impeachment could also avail themselves of  related Higher Law arguments. This potentially augmented path is suggested here because:  (1) the Constitution of the United States is indisputably and perpetually constructed upon core principles of Natural Law; and  (2) these antecedent and overriding legal principles are ultimately binding upon all citizens and all government officials.

To fashion such prospectively important Articles, careful attention ought to be paid not only to applicable statutory and Constitutional expectations, but also to the everlasting Higher Law traditions of the United States. While less explicit and thereby much harder to identify and operationalize, these core traditions and legal norms are in no way inferior to what had previously been codified. Accordingly, they should never be minimized or once again disregarded.

Though utterly ignored in the recently-completed Trump Senate trial, certain basic and immutable elements of the Western Higher Law tradition should figure importantly in efforts to protect the United States from a similarly catastrophic American presidency in the future. Such jurisprudence-based efforts at citizen protection would be not only justifiable, but indispensable. As Roman statesman Cicero already understood more than 2000 years ago, “The safety of the people shall be the highest law.”

It follows that the Natural Law/Higher Law  background of the American Constitution could sometime still figure usefully and importantly in rescuing the United States from another lawless American president. Technically, of course, the recent Senate acquittal of Donald Trump must be duly respected by Americans as law-enforcing. But the “safety of the people” must always take acknowledged precedence over narrowly technical judgments by the United States Senate.

Always.


[i] As the U.S. Constitution does not spell-out the precise content of any such crimes, it would have been reasonable to maintain that presidential violations of  Natural Law were at least equally representative of “High Crimes and Misdemeanors” as anything locatable in tangible statute. Also worth noting is that at the time of the Constitution’s ratification, determinations of authentic criminality had much less to do with codified norms than with the common law or judicial precedent. In other words, when Professor Alan Dershowitz argued before the US Senate that an impeachable offense by Donald Trump must be linked to a “codified” crime, he fundamentally misrepresented the core legal origins of the United States.

[ii] Under international law, the idea of a Higher Law – drawn originally from the ancient Greeks and ancient Hebrews – is contained (inter alia) within the principle of jus cogens or “peremptory” norms.

[iii] Turning and turning in the widening gyre;

The falcon cannot hear the falconer;

Things fall apart; the centre cannot hold;

Mere anarchy is loosed upon the world.

The blood-dimmed tide is loosed, and everywhere

The ceremony of innocence is drowned;

The best lack all conviction, while the worst

Are full of passionate intensity.

[iv] This presumes, of course, a far greater attention to serious education in the United States. In this connection, contrast the “classical” American opinion of Thomas Jefferson with that of Donald Trump. Said Jefferson:  “To penetrate and dissipate the clouds of darkness, the general mind must be strengthened by education.” Said Trump: “I love the poorly educated.”

[v]     According to Article 53 of the Vienna Convention on the Law of Treaties: “…a peremptory norm of general international law is a norm accepted and recognized by the international community of states as a whole as a norm from which no derogation is permitted and which can be modified only by a subsequent norm of general international law having the same character.” See: Vienna Convention on the Law of Treaties, Done at Vienna, May 23, 1969. Entered into force, Jan. 27, 1980. U.N. Doc. A/CONF. 39/27 at 289 (1969), 1155 U.N.T.S. 331, reprinted in 8 I.L.M.  679 (1969).

  [vi]  See Edward S. Corwin, THE “HIGHER LAW” BACKGROUND OF AMERICAN CONSTITUTIONAL LAW (1955);  Alexander P. D’Entreves, NATURAL LAW: AN INTRODUCTION TO LEGAL PHILOSOPHY (1951).

    [vii]      See:  U.S. Constitution, Art. IX.  According to Clinton Rossiter, there exists a “deep-seated conviction” among Americans “that the Constitution is an expression of the Higher Law, that it is, in fact, imperfect man’s most perfect rendering” of eternal law.  See Rossiter, preface to Corwin, supra, at vi.

[viii]         Blackstone’s Commentaries, of course, provided certain basic foundations of America’s current legal system. It is unlikely, of course, that even a tiny handful of US representatives or senators were even aware of this juridical primacy.

    [ix]                   Blackstone’s COMMENTARIES expressly recognize that all law  “results from those principles of natural justice, in which all the learned of every nation agree….”  See William Blackstone,  COMMENTARIES ON THE LAWS OF ENGLAND,  adapted by Robert Malcolm Kerr  (Boston; Beacon Press,  1962),  Book IV,  “Of Public Wrongs,”  p. 62  (Chapter V.,  “Of Offenses Against the Law of Nations.”)

    [x]             See John Locke, TWO TREATISES OF GOVERNMENT 123 (T.I. Cook, ed., 1947).

    [xi]                   See THE DECLARATION OF INDEPENDENCE

    [xii]                  See Julius Stone, THE PROVINCE AND FUNCTION OF LAW (Cambridge MA: Harvard University Press, 1950), Chapter VIII, “Natural Law.”

    [xiii]      Here, in the Deist view, Nature had “replaced” God as the source for lawful behavior.

    [xiv]      Newton says famously in his Principia:  “This most beautiful system of the sun, planets, and comets could only proceed from the counsel and dominion of an intelligent and powerful Being.”  Cited by Abraham Kaplan, IN PURSUIT OF WISDOM: THE SCOPE OF PHILOSOPHY (Beverly Hills CA: Glencoe Press, 1977), p. 550.

    [xv]       See Stone, supra, Ch. VIII.

    [xvi]      See Locke, supra, 123.

    [xvii]     See The Bill of Rights, as detailed in the following discussion.

    [xviii]    See U.S. Constitution, Ninth Amendment.

    [xix]                  The most fundamental principle of ancient Hebrew law, of course, is that the revealed will of God is the only proper source of Jewish justice.  In the Talmudic position, “Whatever a competent scholar will yet derive from the Law, that was already given to Moses on Mount Sinai.” (See Jerusalem Megillah IV,  74d.)

    [xx]       See Sec. 81, Fragment No. DK 22B114 of THE PRESOCRATICS 75 (Philip Wheelwright ed.,  Bobbs-Merrill  1960).  The authoritative text for the fragments of Heraclitus is Hermann Diels & Walther Kranz, DIE FRAGMENTE DER VORSOKRATIKER (6th ed., Weidmann  1966).

    [xxi]      A century before Demosthenes, Antigone’s appeal against Creon’s order to the “unwritten and steadfast customs of the Gods” had evidenced the inferiority of human rule-making to a Higher Law.  Here, in the drama by Sophocles, Creon represents the Greek tyrant who disturbs the ancient harmony of the city state.  Aristotle, in his RHETORIC, quotes from Sophocles’ ANTIGONE when he argues that “an unjust law is not a law.”  See RHETORIC 1, 15,  1375, a 27 et seq.

    [xxii]     See Henry David Thoreau, ON THE DUTY OF CIVIL DISOBEDIENCE, in WALDEN, OR LIFE IN THE WOODS AND ON THE DUTY OF CIVIL DISOBEDIENCE (Signet 1960). 

    [xxiii]    Plato’s theory, offered in the fourth century B.C.E, seeks to explain politics as an unstable realm of sense and matter, an arena formed and sustained by half-truths and distorted perceptions.  In contrast to the stable realm of immaterial Forms, from which all genuine knowledge must be derived, the political realm is dominated by the uncertainties of the sensible world.  At the basis of this political theory is a physical-mental analogy that establishes a correlation between the head, the heart and the abdomen, and the virtues of intelligence, courage and moderation. 

    [xxiv]     Supra. 

    [xxv]     See Corwin, supra, at 7.

    [xxvi]     Id.

    [xxvii]    “Right is the interest of the stronger,” says Thrasymachus in Bk. I, Sec. 338 of Plato, THE REPUBLIC (B. Jowett tr.,  1875).  “Justice is a contract neither to do nor to suffer wrong,” says Glaucon, id.,  Bk. II, Sec. 359.  See also, Philus in Bk III, Sec. 5 of Cicero, DE REPUBLICA.

[xxviii]      In this connection, however, noted Sigmund Freud: “Wars will only be prevented with certainty if mankind unites in setting up a central authority to which the right of giving judgment upon all shall be handed over. There are clearly two separate requirements involved in this: the creation of a supreme agency and its endowment with the necessary power. One without the other would be useless.” (See: Sigmund Freud, Collected Papers, cited in Louis René Beres, The Management of World Power: A Theoretical Analysis, University of Denver, Monograph Series in World Affairs, Vol. 10 (1973-73), p, 27.)

    [xxix]     See Corwin, supra, at 9:  “The Stoics…thought of Nature or the Universe as a living organism, of which the material world was the body, and of which the Deity or the Universal Reason was the pervading, animating and governing soul; and natural law was the rule of conduct laid down by this Universal Reason for the direction of mankind.”  Salmond, JURISPRUDENCE 27 (7th ed., 1924), cited in Corwin, supra, at 9.

    [xxx]     Id.

    [xxxi]     These terms are defined and discussed below.

    [xxxii]    See Corwin, supra, at 9.

    [xxxiii]   Spoken by Scipio in Bk. I of DE REPUBLICA; cited in Alexander P. D’Entreves, THE NOTION OF THE STATE  24 (1967).

    [xxxiv]   See Stone, THE PROVINCE AND FUNCTION OF LAW, supra, 224-230.  Stone calls positive law “…the law actually enforced by organized society in a particular place at a particular time.” (p. 225)  Understood in terms of natural law, positive law is merely a necessary evil, tolerable and valid only to the extent that it coincides with natural law.  In this theory, says Julius Stone, “Not only does natural law provide the criterion for judgment whether positive law is just.  It goes further and provides the criterion for deciding whether positive law is valid law at all.” (Id., at 226)

    [xxxv]    See Cicero, I DE LEGIBUS, cited in Corwin, supra, at 10; D’Entreves, supra., at 20 – 21.  Similarly, in his DE OFFICIIS, Cicero wrote:  “There is in fact a true law namely right reason, which is in accordance with nature, applies to all men and is unchangeable and eternal….It will not lay down one rule at Rome and another at Athens, nor will it be one rule today and another tomorrow.  But there will be one law eternal and unchangeable binding at all times and upon all peoples.” (cited by Stone, supra, at 216.)  See also DE LEGIBUS, Bk. i, c, vii; cited by Stone, supra, at 216.

    [xxxvi]   See Corwin, supra, at 12.

    [xxxvii]   Id, at 13.

    [xxxviii]  See D’Entreves, supra, 36 – 37.  In early Christendom, Augustine offered a system of thought that identified the locus of all global problems in the human potentiality for evil.  Combining a philosophy of Neo-Platonism with a view of the universe as a struggle between good and evil, he attributed the trials of humankind to the taint of original sin.  This view, transformed into a secular political philosophy, is now reflected by exponents of the school of realism or realpolitik.  Augustine, writing at the beginning of the fifth century C.E., sets out, in the CITY OF GOD, to describe human history as a contest of two societies, the intrinsically debased City of Man and the eternally peaceful City of God.  In this contest, the state, the product of humankind’s most base tendencies, is devoid of justice and destructive of salvation.  A mirror image of human wickedness, the state is little more than a “large gang of robbers.”  In an oft-quoted passage, Augustine recalls the answer offered by a pirate who had been captured by Alexander the Great.  When asked by Alexander what right he had to infest the seas, the pirate replied:  “The same right that you have to infest the world.  But because I do it in a small boat I am called a robber, while because you do it with a large fleet you are called an emperor.”

    [xxxix]   See Julius Stone, HUMAN LAW AND HUMAN JUSTICE (Stanford CA: Stanford University Press, 1965), p. 44.  For Augustine, this reason or will of God “commands us to preserve the natural order and prohibits us to disturb it.” (See Contra Faustum, XXII, 27; cited by Stone, HUMAN LAW AND HUMAN JUSTICE, supra, p. 44.

    [xl]       Thomas Aquinas recalls Augustine as follows:  “St. Augustine says: `There is no law unless it be just.’ So the validity of law depends upon its justice.  But in human affairs a thing is said to be just when it accords aright with the rule of reason: and as we have already seen, the first rule of reason is the Natural Law.  Thus all humanly enacted laws are in accord with reason to the extent that they derive from the Natural law.  And if a human law is at variance in any particular with the Natural law, it is no longer legal, but rather a corruption of law.” See SUMMA THEOLOGICA, 1a 2ae,  95, 2; cited by D’Entreves, supra, pp. 42 – 43.

    [xli]      See D’Entreves, supra, at 42 – 43.

    [xlii]                  The importance of reason to legal judgment was prefigured in ancient Israel, which accommodated reason within its system of revealed law.  Jewish theory of law, insofar as it displays the marks of natural law, offers a transcending order revealed by the divine word as interpreted by human reason.  In the striking words of Ecclesiasticus 32.23,  37.16,  13-14:  “Let reason go before every enterprise and counsel before any action…And let the counsel of thine own heart stand…For a man’s mind is sometimes wont to tell him more than seven watchmen that sit above in an high tower….”

    [xliii]     See Stone, THE PROVINCE AND FUNCTION OF LAW, supra, Chapter VIII.

    [xliv]     See Corwin, supra, at 17 – 18.

    [xlv]      Id., at 19.

    [xlvi]     See Stone, HUMAN LAW AND HUMAN JUSTICE, supra, pp. 64 – 68.

    [xlvii]    Id.

    [xlviii]    See Stone, HUMAN LAW AND HUMAN JUSTICE, supra, pp. 61 – 63.

    [xlix]     Id, pp. 65 – 68.

    [l]  Id.

    [li] The sixteenth-century Florentine philosopher, Niccolo Machiavelli, joined Aristotle’s foundations for a scientific study of politics with assumptions of realpolitik to reach certain conclusions about politics.  His most important conclusion underscores the dilemma of practicing goodness in an essentially evil world:  “A man who wishes to make a profession of goodness in everything must necessarily come to grief among so many who are not good.” (See THE PRINCE, Chapter XV).  Recognizing this tragic state of affairs, Machiavelli proceeds to advance the arguments for expediency that have become synonymous with his name.  With the placing of the idea of force at the center of his political theory, the author of THE PRINCE stands in sharp contrast to the Platonic and early Christian concepts of the “good.”  Rejecting both Plato’s argument that there is a knowable objective “good” that leads to virtue, and Augustine’s otherworldly idea of absolute goodness, Machiavelli constructs his political theory on the assumption that “all men are potential criminals, and always ready to realize their evil intentions whenever they are free to do so.” In his instructions to the statesman on how to rule in a world dominated by force, he advises “to learn how not to be good.”  The seventeenth-century materialist and social philosopher, Thomas Hobbes, elaborated a complex system of thought in which man was reduced to a state of nature and then reconstructed.  Seeking a science of human nature that would have the rigor of physics, Hobbes looked to introspection as the source of genuine understanding:  “Whosoever looketh into himself and considereth what he doth when he does think, opine, reason, hope, fear, etc., and upon what grounds, he shall thereby read and know, what are the thoughts and passions of all other men, upon the like occasions.” (See Introduction to LEVIATHAN).  The results of such an analysis of one’s own thought processes led Hobbes to his celebrated theory of the social contract:  the natural egoism of man produces a “war of all against all” in the absence of civil government and must be tempered by absolute monarchy.  Moreover, the condition of nature, which is also called a condition of war marked by “continual fear, and danger of violent death,” has always been the characteristic condition of international relations and international law:  “But though there had never been any time, wherein particular men were in a condition of war one against another; yet, in all times, kings, and persons of sovereign-authority, because of their independency, are in continual jealousies, and in the state and posture of gladiators; having their weapons pointing, and their eyes fixed on one another; that is, their forts, garrisons, and guns upon the frontiers of their kingdoms, and continual spies upon their neighbors, which is a posture of war.”  (See LEVIATHAN, Chapter XIII).

    [lii]       This is because the principal Grotian effort was to “translate” natural law from pure philosophical speculation into a pragmatic legal ordering.  See Stone, HUMAN LAW AND HUMAN JUSTICE, supra, p. 65.

    [liii]      Id.  

    [liv]      The Swiss scholar, Emmerich de Vattel, notes – in his 1758 classic THE LAW OF NATIONS:  “No agreement can bind, or even authorize a man to violate the natural law.”  See Albert de LaPradelle, Introduction to Emmerich de Vattel, LE DROIT DES GENS (THE LAW OF NATIONS)(Charles G. Fenwick, tr., 1916).

    [lv]       See Corwin, supra, at 61.

    [lvi]      Id. 

    [lvii]      Id. 

    [lviii]     See Thomas Jefferson, IV WORKS 362 (New York, P.L. Ford, ed., 1892-99).

    [lix]      J.J. Burlamaqui, author of PRINCIPES DU DROIT DE LA NATURE ET DES GENS (1774) was a Swiss scholar who held a Chair at the University of Geneva.  His work has been described by J. Stone and others as “rational utilitarianism.”  See Stone, HUMAN LAW AND HUMAN JUSTICE, supra, p. 71.

    [lx]       See Corwin, supra, p. 81.

    [lxi]      Id. 

[lxii] Criminal responsibility of leaders under international law is not limited to direct personal action or limited by official position. On this peremptory principle of “command responsibility,” or respondeat superior, see: In re Yamashita, 327 U.S. 1 (1945); The High Command Case (The Trial of Wilhelm von Leeb), 12 Law Reports of Trials Of War Criminals 1 (United Nations War Crimes Commission Comp., 1949); see Parks, Command Responsibility For War Crimes, 62 MIL.L. REV. 1 (1973); O’Brien, The Law Of War, Command Responsibility And Vietnam, 60 GEO. L.J. 605 (1972); U.S. Dept. Of The Army, Army Subject Schedule No. 27 – 1 (Geneva Conventions of 1949 and Hague Convention No. IV of 1907), 10 (1970). The direct individual responsibility of leaders is also unambiguous in view of the London Agreement, which denies defendants the protection of the act of state defense. See AGREEMENT FOR THE PROSECUTION AND PUNISHMENT OF THE MAJOR WAR CRIMINALS OF THE EUROPEAN AXIS, Aug. 8, 1945, 59 Stat. 1544, E.A.S. No. 472, 82 U.N.T.S. 279, art. 7.

    [lxiii]     See Vattel, THE LAW OF NATIONS (Washington D.C.: Carnegie Institution, 1916), C.G. Fenwick tr., p. 4.

    [lxiv]     Id. 

    [lxv]      See Sophocles, ANTIGONE, supra. 

    [lxvi]     See H D Thoreau, ON THE DUTY OF CIVIL DISOBEDIENCE (New York: New American Library, 1959).

    [lxvii]    Id. 

    [lxviii]    Id. 

    [lxix]     Id. 

    [lxx]      Id. 

[lxxi]            “The obligation of subjects to the sovereign,” says Thomas Hobbes in Chapter XXI of LEVIATHAN,  “is understood to last as long, and no longer, than the power lasteth by which he is able to protect them.”

LOUIS RENÉ BERES (Ph.D., Princeton, 1971) is Emeritus Professor of International Law at Purdue. His twelfth and most recent book is Surviving Amid Chaos: Israel's Nuclear Strategy (2016) (2nd ed., 2018) https://paw.princeton.edu/new-books/surviving-amid-chaos-israel%E2%80%99s-nuclear-strategy Some of his principal strategic writings have appeared in Harvard National Security Journal (Harvard Law School); International Security (Harvard University); Yale Global Online (Yale University); Oxford University Press (Oxford University); Oxford Yearbook of International Law (Oxford University Press); Parameters: Journal of the US Army War College (Pentagon); Special Warfare (Pentagon); Modern War Institute (Pentagon); The War Room (Pentagon); World Politics (Princeton); INSS (The Institute for National Security Studies)(Tel Aviv); Israel Defense (Tel Aviv); BESA Perspectives (Israel); International Journal of Intelligence and Counterintelligence; The Atlantic; The New York Times and the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists.

Continue Reading
Comments

Americas

Sino-American confrontation and the Re-binarized world

Published

on

USA China Trade War

Americans performed three very different policies on the People’s Republic: From a total negation (and the Mao-time mutual annihilation assurances), to Nixon’s sudden cohabitation. Finally, a Copernican-turn: the US spotted no real ideological differences between them and the post-Deng China. This signalled a ‘new opening’: West imagined China’s coastal areas as its own industrial suburbia. Soon after, both countries easily agreed on interdependence (in this marriage of convenience): Americans pleased their corporate (machine and tech) sector and unrestrained its greed, while Chinese in return offered a cheap labour, no environmental considerations and submissiveness in imitation. Both spiced it by nearly religious approach to trade.

However, for each of the two this was far more than economy, it was a policy – Washington read it as interdependence for transformative containment and Beijing sow it as interdependence for a (global) penetration. In the meantime, Chinese acquired more sophisticated technology, and the American Big tech sophisticated itself in digital authoritarianism – ‘technological monoculture’ met the political one.

But now with a tidal wave of Covid-19 and binary blame-game, the honeymoon is over. While the US-led west becomes disappointment, China provoked backlash instead of gaining global support and adoration. Is any new form of global centrality in sight?

(These days, many argue that our C-19 response is a planetary fiasco, whose size is yet to surface with its mounting disproportionate and enduring secondary effects, causing tremendous socio-economic, political and psychosomatic contractions and convulsions. But, worse than our response is our silence about it.)

Still to be precise, the C-19 calamity brought nothing truly new to the already overheated Sino-American relations and to the increasing binarization of world affairs: It only amplified and accelerated what was present for quite some time – a rift between alienated power centres, each on its side of Pacific, and the rest. No wonder that the work on the C-19 vaccine is more an arms race that it is a collaborative humanistics.

This text examines prehistory of that rift; and suggests possible outcomes past the current crisis. It also discusses location and locality (absence of it, too). This since,  geography is a destiny only for those who see their own history as faith.

Origins of Future

Does our history only appear overheated – as rearly monocausal, while it is essentially calmly predetermined? Is it directional or conceivable, dialectic and eclectic or cyclical, and therefore cynical? Surely, our history warns (no matter if the Past is seen as a destination or resource). Does it also provide for a hope? Hence, what is in front of us: destiny or future?[1]

Theory loves to teach us that extensive debates on what kind of economic system is most conductive to human wellbeing is what consumed most of our civilizational vertical. However, our history has a different say: It seems that the manipulation of the global political economy (and usage of fear as the currency of control) – far more than the introduction of ideologies – is the dominant and arguably more durable way that human elites usually conspired to build or break civilizations, as planned projects. Somewhere down the process, it deceived us, becoming the self-entrapment. How?

*                            *                            *                            *            

One of the biggest (nearly schizophrenic) dilemmas of liberalism, ever since David Hume and Adam Smith, was an insight into reality: Whether the world is essentially Hobbesian or Kantian. As postulated, the main task of any liberal state is to enable and maintain wealth of its nation, which of course rests upon wealthy individuals inhabiting the particular state. That imperative brought about another dilemma: if wealthy individual, the state will rob you, but in absence of it, the pauperized masses will mob you.

The invisible hand of Smith’s followers have found the satisfactory answer – sovereign debt. That ‘invention’ meant: relatively strong central government of the state. Instead of popular control through the democratic checks-&-balance mechanism, such a state should be rather heavily indebted. Debt – firstly to local merchants, than to foreigners – is a far more powerful deterrent, as it resides outside the popular check domain.

With such a mixed blessing, no empire can easily demonetize its legitimacy, and abandon its hierarchical but invisible and unconstitutional controls. This is how a debtor empire was born. A blessing or totalitarian curse? Let us briefly examine it.

The Soviet Union – much as (the pre-Deng’s) China itself – was far more of a classic continental military empire (overtly brutal; rigid, authoritative, anti-individual, apparent, secretive), while the US was more a financial-trading empire (covertly coercive; hierarchical, yet asocial, exploitive, pervasive, polarizing). On opposite sides of the globe and cognition, to each other they remained enigmatic, mysterious and incalculable: Bear of permafrost vs. Fish of the warm seas. Sparta vs. Athens. Rome vs. Phoenicia… However, common for both (as much as for China today) was a super-appetite for omnipresence. Along with the price to pay for it.

Consequently, the Soviets went bankrupt by mid 1980s – they cracked under its own weight, imperially overstretched. So did the Americans – the ‘white man burden’ fractured them already by the Vietnam war, with the Nixon shock only officializing it. However, the US imperium managed to survive and to outlive the Soviets. How?

The United States, with its financial capital (or an outfoxing illusion of it), evolved into a debtor empire through the Wall Street guaranties. Titanium-made Sputnik vs. gold mine of printed-paper… Nothing epitomizes this better than the words of the longest serving US Federal Reserve’s boss, Alan Greenspan, who famously quoted J.B. Connally to then French President Jacques Chirac: “True, the dollar is our currency, but your problem”. Hegemony vs. hegemoney.

House of Cards (Forever r>g) 

Conventional economic theory teaches us that money is a universal equivalent to all goods. Historically, currencies were a space and time-related, to say locality-dependent. However, like no currency ever before, the US dollar became – past the WWII – the universal equivalent to all other moneys of the world. According to history of currencies, the core component of the non-precious metals’ money is a so-called promissory note – intangible belief that, by any given point in future, a particular shiny paper (self-styled as money) will be smoothly exchanged for real goods.

Thus, roughly speaking, money is nothing else but a civilizational construct about imagined/projected tomorrow – that the next day (which nobody has ever seen in the history of humankind, but everybody operates with) definitely comes (i), and that this tomorrow will certainly be a better day then our yesterday or even our today (ii).

This and similar types of collective constructs (horizontal and vertical) over our social contracts hold society together as much as its economy keeps it alive and evolving. Hence, it is money that powers economy, but our blind faith in constructed (imagined) tomorrows and its alleged certainty is what empowers money.

Tellingly, the universal equivalent of all equivalents – the US dollar – follows the same pattern: Bold and widely accepted promise. For the US, it almost instantly substan-tiates extraterritorial economic projection: American can print (any sum of) money without fear of inflation. (Quantitative easing is always exported; value is kept home.)

(Empire’s currency loses its status when other nations lose confidence in ability of that imperial power to remain solvent. For the pre-modern and modern history, it happened with 5 powers – two Iberian, Dutch, France and the UK – before the US dollar took the role of world reserve currency. Interestingly, each of the empires held it for roughly a century. The US century is just about to expire, and there are already contesters, territorial and non-territorial, symmetric and asymmetric ones. On offer are tangibles and intangibles: gold, cryptocurrencies, and biotronics/nano-chemoelectricals.)

But, what does the US dollar promise when there is no gold cover attached to it ever since the time of Nixon shock of 1971?

Pentagon promises that the oceanic sea-lanes will remain opened (read: controlled by the US Navy), pathways unhindered, and that the most traded world’s commodity – oil, will be delivered. So, it is not a crude or its delivery what is a cover to the US dollar – it is a promise that oil of tomorrow will be deliverable. That is a real might of the US dollar, which in return finances Pentagon’s massive expenditures and shoulders its supremacy.

Admired and feared, Pentagon further fans our planetary belief in tomorrow’s deliverability – if we only keep our faith in dollar (and hydrocarbons’ energized economy), and so on and on in perpetuated circle of mutual reinforcements.[2]  

These two pillars of the US might from the East coast (the US Treasury/Wall Street and Pentagon) together with the two pillars of the West coast – both financed and amplified by the US dollar, and spread through the open sea-routs (Silicone Valley and Hollywood), are an essence of the US posture. Country that hosts such a dream factory, as the US does Hollywood, is easy to romanticize – though other 3 pillars are to take and to coerce.

This very nature of power explains why the Americans have missed to take the mankind into completely other direction; towards the non-confrontational, decarbonized, de-monetized/de-financialized and de-psychologized, the self-realizing and green humankind. In short, to turn history into a moral success story. They had such a chance when, past the Gorbachev’s unconditional surrender of the Soviet bloc, and the Deng’s Copernicus-shift of China, the US – unconstrained as a lonely superpower – solely dictated terms of reference; our common destiny and direction/s to our future/s.

Winner is rarely a game-changer

Sadly enough, that was not the first missed opportunity for the US to soften and delay its forthcoming, imminent multidimensional imperial retreat. The very epilogue of the WWII meant a full security guaranty for the US: Geo-economically – 54% of anything manufactured in the world was carrying the Made in USA label, and geostrategically – the US had uninterruptedly enjoyed nearly a decade of the ‘nuclear monopoly’. Up to this very day, the US scores the biggest number of N-tests conducted, the largest stockpile of nuclear weaponry, and it represents the only power ever deploying this ‘ultimate weapon’ on other nation.

To complete the irony, Americans enjoy geographic advantage like no other empire before. Save the US, as Ikenberry notes: “…every major power in the world lives in a crowded geopolitical neighborhood where shifts in power routinely provoke counterbalancing”. Look the map, at Russia or China and their packed surroundings. The US is blessed with its insular position, by neighboring oceans. All that should harbor tranquility, peace and prosperity, foresightedness.  

Why the lonely might, an empire by invitation did not evolve into empire of relaxation, a generator of harmony? Why does it hold (extra-judicially) captive more political prisoners on Cuban soil than the badmouthed Cuban regime has ever had? Why does it remain obsessed with armament for at home and abroad? Why existential anxieties for at home and security challenges for abroad? (Eg. 78% of all weaponry at disposal in the wider MENA theater is manufactured in the US, while domestically Americans – only for their civilian purpose – have 1,2 small arms pieces per capita.)

Why the fall of Berlin Wall 30 years ago marked a beginning of decades of stagnant or failing incomes in the US (and elsewhere in the OECD world) coupled with alarming inequalities. What are we talking about here; the inadequate intensity of our tireless confrontational push or about the false course of our civilizational direction? 

Indeed, no successful and enduring empire does merely rely on coercion, be it abroad or at home. The grand design of every empire in past rested on a skillful calibration between obedience and initiative – at home, and between bandwagoning and engagement – abroad. (Thus, the main battle is traditionally between the television and the refrigerator.) In XXI century, one wins when one convinces, not when one coerces. Hence, if unable to escape its inner logics and deeply rooted appeal of confrontational nostalgia, the prevailing archrival is only a winner, rarely a game-changer.

How did we miss to notice it before? Simply, economy –right after history– is the ideologically most ‘colored’ scientific discipline of all. (Our ‘mainstream’ narrative is thus full of questionable counterfactuals.)

To sum up; After the collapse of the Soviet Union, Americans accelerated expansion while waiting for (real or imagined) adversaries to further decline, ‘liberalize’ and bandwagon behind the US. One of the instruments was to aggressively push for a greater economic integration between regional and distant states, which – as we see now, passed the ‘End-of-History’ euphoria of 1990s – brought about (irreversible) socio-political disintegration within each of these states.

A Country or a Cause, Both or None?

Expansion is the path to security dictatum, of the post-Cold War socio-political and (hyper-liberal) economic mantra, only exacerbated the problems afflicting the Pax Americana, which acidified global stewardship; hence oceans, populations and the relations to the unbearable levels. That is why and that is how the capability of the US to maintain its order started to erode faster than the capacity of its opponents to challenge it. A classical imperial self-entrapment (by the so-called bicycle theory: keep pedalling same way or topple over).

Clearly, the US post-Cold War preponderance is now challenged in virtually every domain: America can no longer operate unrestrained in the traditional spheres of land, sea and air, not in newer ones like the (near and deeper) outer space and cyberspace. The repeated failure to notice and recalibrate such an imperial (over-)emasculation and consequent retreat brought the painful hangovers to Washington, the most noticeably, by the last two presidential elections.[3]

Inability to manage the rising costs of sustaining the imperial order only increased the domestic popular revolt and political pressure to abandon its ‘mission’ altogether. In that light the recent Saigon II – withdrawal from Afghanistan, too. The pullout was not a miscalculation or ill-made move but a long overdue shift to realism in American foreign policy.[4] Perfectly hitting the target to miss everything else …

In short, past the Soviet collapse Americans intervened too much abroad, regulated too little at home, and delivered less than ever – both at home and abroad.  Such model attracts none.[5] No wonder that today all around the globe many do question if the States would be appealing ever again. Domestically, growing number of people perceive foreign policy mostly as an expensive destruction; divinized trade and immigration as destroyers of jobs and communities. Its political system is unable to decouple and deconcentrate wealth and power which suffocates the very social fabrics.[6]

Hence, Americans are not fixing the world anymore. They are only managing its decline. Look at their footprint in former Yugoslavia, Afghanistan, Iraq, Pakistan, Georgia, Libya, Syria, Ukraine or Yemen (GCC, Israel, Poland, Baltics, Taiwan soon too) – to mention but a few. Violence as a source of social cohesion is dying out. This explains why Americans nowadays nearly obsessively turn to promise of technology. Still, what the US plans to do becomes overshadowed by what others are already doing.

*                    *                            *                            *                           

When the Soviets lost their own indigenous ideological matrix and maverick confrontational stance,[7]  and when the US dominated West missed to triumph although winning the Cold War, how to expect from the imitator to score the lasting moral or even a temporary economic victory?

Dislike the relationship with the Soviets Union which was on one clear confrontational acceptance line from a start until its very last day, Americans performed three very different policies on the People’s Republic: From a total negation (and the Mao-time mutual annihilation assurances) to Nixon’s sudden cohabitation.[8]

American strategy to westernize [xihva] and split up [fenhva] China failed short there, but worked well for Yugoslavia and Soviet Union – weakening and delegitimizing central government by antagonizing nationalities, and demonizing party and army. Hence, a Copernican-turn: While offshore balancing Asian continent, the US ‘spotted’ no real ideological differences between them and the post-Deng China.

This signalled a ‘new opening’ – China’s coastal areas to become West’s industrial suburbia. Soon after, both countries easily agreed on interdependence:[9]  Americans pleased their corporate (machine and tech) sector and unrestrained its greed, while Chinese in return offered a cheap labour, no environmental considerations and submissiveness in imitation. However, for both it was far more than economy lubricated by sanctified free trade, it was a policy – Washington read it as interdependence for transformative containment and Beijing sow it as interdependence for (global) penetration. American were left in a growing illusion that the Sino growth is on terms defined by them, and Chinese – on their side – grew confident that these terms of economic growth are only accepted by them.

The so-called Financial crisis 2008/09 (or better to say the peak time of Casino economy) undermined positions of the largest consumer of Chinese goods (US), and simultaneously boosted confidence of the biggest manufacturer of American products (PRC). Consequently, soon after; by 2012, Beijing got the first out-of-Deng’s-line leadership. (One of the famous dicatums of this Bismarck of Asia was ‘hide the capabilities, bide your time’ – a pure Bismarckian wisdom to deter any domestic imperialism in hurry.)   

However, in the process of past few decades, Chinese acquired more sophisticated technology, and the American Big tech sophisticated itself in digital authoritarianism.

But, as America (suddenly) returns home, the honeymoon seems over now. (Although heavily criticising Trump in past years, the Biden administration – along with the leading Democrat’s foreign policy intellectuals, is more of the Trumpistic continuity than of a departure from it. It especially refers to the Sino-American relations.)

Why does it come now? Washington is not any more able to afford treating China as just another trading partner. Also, the US is not well situated to capitalize on Beijing’s eventual belligerence – be it compliance or containment (especially with Russia closer to China than it was ever before).[10]  

The typical line of western neo-narrative goes as: ‘The CCP exploited the openness of liberal societies and particularly its freedom of speech as to plunder, penetrate and divert’. And; ‘Beijing has to bear the reputational costs of its exploitative practices’.

Accelerating collision course already leads to the subsequent calls for a strategic decupling (at best, gradual disengagements) of the two world’s largest economies and of those in their orbits. Besides marking the end of global capitalism which exploded since the fall of Berlin Wall, this may finally trigger a global realignment. The rest of the world would end up – willingly or not – in the rival (trade) blocks. It would not be a return to 1950s and 1960s, but to the pre-WWI constellations.

Epilog is plain to see: Neither more confrontation and more carbons nor more weaponized trade and traded weapons will save our day. It failed in our past; it will fail again any given day.

Entrapment in Imitation

Interestingly, China opposed the I World, left the II in rift, and ever since Bandung of 1955 it neither won over nor (truly) joined the III Way. Today, many see it as a main contestant, a leader from the global South. But, where is a lasting success?

There is a near consensus among the economists that China owes its economic success to three fundamental factors. Firstly, it is that the People’s Republic embraced an imitative economic policy (much like Japan, Singapore, Taiwan or ROK did before, or VietNam does now) through Deng-proclaimed opening aided by the tiny middle class of political police and the national army of working class. Second goes to a modest domestic consumption, and German-like thick home savings (steered by the Neo-Mandarin cast of Communist apparatchiks in higher echelons of Beijing ruling court).

Finally, as the third factor that the economists attribute to Chinese miracle, is a low production costs of Sino nation – mostly on expenses of its aging demography, and on expenses of its own labor force and country’s environment.[11]

In short, its growth was neither green, nor inclusive, nor sustainable. Additionally, many would say – while quantifying the negative externalities of Chinese authorita-rianism – that Beijing mixes up its nearly obsessive social control, environmental negligence and its dismal human and minority rights with the right to development.

Therefore, many observers would agree that the so-called China’s miracle is a textbook example of a highly extractive state that generates enormous hidden costs of its development, those being social, environmental and health ones as much as expanding and lasting. And indeed, energy-intensive exports (especially carbon footprint) from China as well as its highly polluting industrial practices (overall ecological footprint) were introduced to and then for a long while tolerated in People’s Republic by the West.

Further on, China accepted a principled relation with the US (Russia, too), but insists on transactional one with its neighbors and BRI (Belt and Road Initiative) clients. This reduces the choice (offered by the two protagonists) on selection between the colonial democracy and authoritarian paternalism.   

None of the above has an international appeal, nor it holds promise to an attainable future. Therefore, no wonder that the Imitative power fights – for at home and abroad – a defensive ideological battle and politics of cultural reaction. Such a reactive status quo has no intellectual appeal to attract and inspire beyond its borders.[12]  

So, if for China the XIX was a “century of humiliation”, XX “century of emancipation”, should it be that the XXI gets labeled as a “century of imitation”?

(The BRI is what the most attribute as an instrument of the Chinese planetary posture. Chinese leaders promised massive infrastructure projects all around by burning trillions of dollars. Still, numbers are more moderate. As the 2019 The II BRI Summit has shown – and the BRI Summits of November 2020 and of 2021 confirmed, so far, Chinese companies had invested USD 90 billion worldwide. Seems, neither People’s Republic is as rich as many (wish to) think nor it will be able to finance its promised projects without seeking for a global private capital. Such a capital –if ever – will not flow without conditionalities. The Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank (AIIB) and the BRICS or ‘New Development’ – Bank have some $150 billion at hand, and the Silk Road Infrastructure Fund (SRIF) has up to $40 billion. Chinese state and semi-private companies can access – according to the OECD estimates – just another $600 billion (much of it tight) from the home, state-controlled financial sector. That means that China runs short on the BRI deliveries worldwide. Ergo, either bad news to the (BRI) world or the conditionalities’ constrained China.)

How to behave in the world in which economy is made to service trade (as it is defined by the Sino-American high priests of globalization), while (preservation of domestic jobs and) trade increasingly constitutes a significant part of the big power’s national security strategy? And, how to define (and measure) the existential threat: by inferiority of ideological narrative – like during the Cold War; or by a size of a lagging gap in total manufacturing output – like in the Cold War aftermath. Or something third? Perhaps a return to an inclusive growth.

If our civilizational course is still the same – the self-realization of mankind; than the deglobalization would be a final price to pay for re-humanization of labor and overall planetary greening. Are we there yet?

Promise of the Schumann Resonance

Earlier in this text, we already elaborated on imperial fictions and frictions: Empires and superpowers create their own realities, as they are not bound to ‘situation on ground’. For them, the main question is never what they can but what they want in international conduct. However, the (illiberal) bipartisan democracy or one-party autocracy is a false dilemma, both of nearly the same dead end.

Currently, Party slogans call for China to “take center stage” on the world stage and architecture “a community of common destiny for mankind”. But despite heated rhetoric, there is no intellectual appeal in a growth without well-being, education that does not translate into fair opportunity, lives without dignity, liberalization without personal freedom, achievement without opinionisation.

Greening international relations along with a greening of socio-economic fabrics (including the shift to blue and white, sea and wind, energy) – geopolitical and environmental understanding, de-acidification and relaxation is that missing, third, way for tomorrow.

(Judging the countries’ PEM /Primary Energy Mix/ and the manufacturing footprint, the American e-cars are actually run on the tar sands and fracked oil/gas, while Chinese electric vehicles are powered by coal.)

This necessitates both at once: less confrontation over the art-of-day technology and their de-monopolized redistribution as well as the resolute work on the so-called Tesla-ian implosive/fusion-holistic systems. That would include the free-transfer non-Hertzian energy technologies (able to avoid life in an electromagnetic, technologically generated soup of unbearable radiation toxicity, actually able to de-toxicate our troposphere from dangerous fields, waves and frequencies emittance – drawing us closer to a harmony of Schumann resonance); carbon-sequestration; antigravity and self-navigational solutions; bioinformatics and nanorobotics. Surely, with the bioinformatics and nanorobotics being free from any usage for eugenics’ ends (including the vaccination for microchipping purpose).

In short, more of initiative than of obedience (including more public control over data hoovering). More effort to excellence (creation) than a struggle for preeminence (partition). Leader of the world needs to offer more than just money and intimidation.

‘Do like your neighbor’ is a Biblical-sounding economic prophecy that the circles close to the IMF love to tirelessly repeat. Indeed, it is hard to imagine a formidable national economic prosperity, if the good neighborly relations are not built and maintained.[13]  Clearly, no global leader has ever in history emerged from a shaky and distrustful neighborhood, or by offering a little bit more of the same in lieu of an innovative technological advancement.

(Eg. many see Chinese 5G – besides the hazardous electrosmog of IoT that this technology emits on Earth’s biota – as an illiberal innovation, which may end up servicing authoritarianism, anywhere.[14] And indeed, the AI deep learning inspired by biological neurons (neural science) including its three methods: supervised, unsupervised and reinforced learning can end up by being used for the diffusion of digital authoritarianism, predictive policing and manufactured social governance based on the bonus-malus behavioral social credits.[15])

Ergo, it all starts from within, from at home; socio-economically and environmentally. Without support from a home base (including that of Hong Kong, Xinjiang and Tibet), there is no game changer. China’s home is Asia. Its size and its centrality along with its impressive output is constraining it enough.

Conclusively, it is not only a new, non-imitative, turn of socioeconomics and technology what is needed. Without truly and sincerely embracing mechanisms such as the NAM, ASEAN and SAARC (eventually even the OSCE) and the main champions of multilateralism in Asia, those being India Indonesia and Japan first of all, China has no future of what is planetary awaited – the third force, a game-changer, discursive power, lasting visionary and trusted global leader.[16]  

If there was ever in history a lasting triumph, this is over by now. In the multipolar world of XXI century dominated by multifaceted challenges and multidimensional rivalries, there is no conventional victory.  Revolution or restauration?

Post Scriptum:

To varying degrees, but all throughout a premodern and modern history, nearly every world’s major foreign policy originator was dependent (and still depends) on what happens in, and to, Russia. So, neither a structure, nor content or overall direction of world affairs for the past 300 years has been done without Russia. It is not only a size, but also a centrality of Russia that matters. That is important as much (if not even more), as it is an omnipresence of the US or a hyperproduction of the PR China. Ergo, that is an uninterrupted flow of manufactured goods to the whole world, it is a balancing of the oversized and centrally positioned one, and it is the ability to controllably corrode the way in and insert itself of the peripheral one. The oscillatory interplay of these three is what characterizes our days.

Therefore, reducing the world affairs to the constellation of only two super-players – China and the US is inadequate – to say least. It is usually done while superficially measuring Russia’s overall standing by merely checking its current GDP, and comparing its volume and PPP, and finding it e.g. equal to one of Italy. Through such ‘quick-fix’, Russia is automatically downgraded to a second-rank power status. This practice is as dangerous as it is highly misleading. Still, that ill-conceived argument is one of the most favored narratives which authors in the West are tirelessly peddling.

What many analysts miss to understand, is in fact plain to see throughout the entire history of Russia: For such a big country the only way to survive – irrespectively from its relative weaknesses by many ‘economic’ parameters – is to always make an extra effort and remain great power (including colossal military expenditures).

To this end, let us quickly contrast the above narrative with some key facts: Russia holds the key positions in the UN and its Agencies as one of its founding members (including the Security Council veto right as one of the P5); it has a highly skilled and mobilized population; its society has deeply rooted sense of a special historic mission (that notion is there for already several centuries – among its intellectuals and enhanced elites, probably well before the US has even appeared as a political entity in the first place). Additionally and tellingly, Moscow possesses the world’s largest gold reserves (on surface and underground; in mines and its treasury bars); for decades, it masters its own GPS system and the most credible outer space delivery systems (including the only remaining working connection with the ISS), and has an elaborate turn-key-ready alternative internet, too. 

Finally, as the US Council of Foreign Relations’ Thomas Graham fairly admits: “with the exception of China, no country affects more issues of strategic and economic importance to the US than Russia. And no other country, it must be said, is capable of destroying the US in 30 minutes.”


[1] Flow and irreversibility (as well as the non-directionality and the Boltzmann’s unfolding) of time is one of the fundamental principles that governs visible (to say; comprehensible) universe. If and when so, the Future itself must be certain, but unshaped. Hence, (directionality of time towards) Future is nothing else but a manifestation of the second law of thermodynamics (one of the fundamental principles of chemo-physics that governs us). At the same time, it also has to be (a net sum of) our collective projection onto the next: Collapse of the (multivectoral) probability and its realisation into (a four dimensional) possible tomorrow. For a clerical reason, we tend to deduce future events from human constructs (known as the theoretical principles) or to induce them from deeply rooted/commonly shared visions (known as past experience).

[2] Complementing the Monroe Doctrine, President Howard Taft introduced the so-called ‘dollar diplomacy’ – in early XX c. – that “substitutes dollars for bullets”. This was one of the first official acknowledgements of the Wall Street – Pentagon symbiotic link.  

[3] Average American worker is unprotected, unorganised/disunionised, disoriented, and pauperised. Due to (the US corporate sector induced) colossal growth of China, relative purchasing power of American and Chinese labourer now equals. At present, the median US worker would frictionlessly accept miserable work conditions and dismal pay, not too different from the one of the Chinese labourers – just to get a job. The first to spot that and then wonderfully exploited it, was a Trump team.

[4] E.g. during the peak times of its longest – and fiasco ending – foreign intervention, the US was spending some $110 billion per annum in Afghanistan, roughly 50% more than annual American federal spending on education.)

[5] “A rogue superpower … colossus lacking moral commitments … aggressive, heavily armed, and entirely out for itself. … some US security guaranties have started to look like protection rackets. … participates in international institutions but threatens to leave them when they act against US narrow interests; and promotes democracy and human rights, but mainly to destabilize geopolitical rivals” – enumerates some in the long list of contemporary US sins prof. Beckley (Beckley, M. (2018) Unrivaled: Why America Will Remain the world’s Sole Superpower, Cornell University Press).  

[6] Abandoning a traditional bipartisan system, the US is already by now a one-party (illiberal) democracy. Many within the corporate world would accept (even overt) extensive socio-economic reengineering as to transform the system into the one-party autocracy.  

[7] It will forever remain unknown what the MAD (Mutual Destruction Assurances) in the Cold War prevented and deterred: Aggregation of these events is a history (of probabilities) that didn’t unfold. 

[8] Withdrawal of recognition from Formosa to Beijing formally opened relations between the two on 1 January 1979. On a celebratory tour to America later that very month, Deng Xiaoping recommended that China and the US were ‘duty bound to work together [and unite] to place curbs on the polar bear’. 

[9] Non-interference promise between China and the US brought about 3 decades of colossal interdependence between the two: The internal order was in hands of CCP and the international order was in American hands. Neither party was to interfere the affairs of the other. But the paradox of inversion was sudden and severe – the internal order has been strengthened by the US (authoritarian) technology and the international (liberal) order à la Americana has been running on cheap Chinese goods. Changed roles urge for fundamental readjustment of positions.  

[10] The most favoured tool for containment or compliance of the US foreign policy – economic sanctions do not only reveal American decline but accelerate it, too. Instead of being imposed to defend commonly accepted universal principles, they are increasingly imposed for national security reasons – as a stalking horse for trade protectionism. Despite its simplicity of conception and flexibility of application, in retrospect, the crippling potency of sanctions is still sound but historically their effectiveness remains rather modest.

[11] High tech and know-how appropriation via mandated/forced technology transfers and copy-cats, joint ventures, discriminatory patent-licencing practices and cross-sectoral state-led industrial modernisation have lifted China up the value chain. No wonder that its GDP per capita has jumped from $194 (1980) to over $9,000 (2019). Beijing is modernising its navy, and is engaged in international economic expansion and geopolitical projection via its Belt and Road Initiative, and so far has bought, built or is operating 42 ports in 34 countries. In the meantime, Washington is publicly lamenting return to a ‘worker-focused trade policy’ – as the Trump’s US Trade Representative Robert E. Lighthizer called it – and openly objecting to both ‘market-distorting state capitalism in China and a dysfunctional WTO’. “No trade policy decision since the end of WWII proved more devastating to working people than the extension of permanent normal trade relations to China in 2000. Despite President Clinton’s predictions… , the opposite occurred” – he concludes. (FAM, 99/04/20)

[12] Undeniably, China managed to expand its economic presence, but so far is short of any prevailing and lasting strategic influence despite weaponization of trade and overseas aid. Simply, Beijing achieved some short-term objectives, but China’s long-term strategic influence remains limited and reversable. People’s Republic did not secure major shifts in geopolitical alignments. Beijing still has to learn how its grand strategy might play in different geographic and socio-political contexts. While the US-led west becomes disappointment, China provoked backlash instead of gaining global support and adoration. Clearly, political control, economic growth, surveillance and transport infrastructure alone do not necessarily make a durable nation. Having all that without psychological attachment and moral sentiment cannot sustain cohesion of nation on long run.   

[13] Fully aware of it, China and Russia (in their historical and yet still ongoing rapprochement) are pushing on a new Asian continental/regional security organisation. Building on the best legacy of comprehensive pan-European security mechanism – that of the Vienna-based OSCE (Organisation for Security and Cooperation in Europe), these two are committing themselves to and inviting their neighbours to join with the CICBMA (Conference on Interaction and Confidence Building Measures in Asia), architecting the CSTO (Collective Security Treaty Organisation) and the QCCM (Quadrilateral Cooperation and Coordination Mechanism). It is on a top of already elaborate SCO (Shanghai Cooperation Organisation) and well-functioning economic FORAs – China-run AIIB (Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank) and Russia-backed EAEU (Eurasian Economic Union). Hence, in a matter of just two decades the central section of Eurasian continent became the most multilateralised – and therefore stabile, region of the world. The collective one is far better than the bilateral or selective/Ad Hoc security arrangement preferred by the US in the Asia-Pacific. Alliances are built on shared interested, solidified by formulated principles and maintained on reliability and predictability – hence, are structural stabilisers. 

[14] Seems that China leads but is not alone with its much-criticised bonus-malus social credit system powered by facial recognition technology. Human Rights monitory agencies (including the US Carnegie Endowment’s AI Global Surveillance Index) report that practically each and every of the G-20 countries extensively uses the AI-enabled surveillance appliances, including variety of facial recognition programs, aimed at social ‘predictability’. Not to mention that such new technologies are particularly dangerous for weak democracies since many of their digital tools are dual use technology.

[15] Technology, its innovation and to it related norm-setting institutions are not a fancy item for round-tables’ discussions – it is a central element of contemporary global and regional geopolitical competition. Finally, data is nonrival, but data is also disruptive if not encapsulated in clear rules of engagement. 

[16] Over the past perido, People’s Republic has upped the ante in nearly all of its many territorial disputes and even provoked new ones, in another departure from past practice. Beijing has also reversed course when it comes to its national periphery. “Past Chinese leaders, notably Deng Xiaoping and Jiang Zemin, believed in the institutionalized processes of collective leadership. Xi has disabled or neutralized many of these channels. The world may now be getting a sense of what China’s decision-making looks like when a singularly strong leader acts more or less on his own” – noted professor Rapp-Hooper recently in her book. That of course triggers constant shockwaves all over Asia. While Indonesia is contemplating the NAM’s reload as well as the ASEAN block strengthening, others are reactive. India and Japan, two other Asian heavyweights (and champions of multilateralism), are lately pushed to sign up on the so-called Indo-Pacific maritime strategy with the United States (balancing the recent Pacific trade deal of RCEP). However, none of these three has any coherent plan on what to do on the Asian mainland. They all three differ on passions, drives and priorities. This is so since the truly pan-continental organization is nonexistent in Asia.

Continue Reading

Americas

The Forgotten Analogy: World War II

Published

on

Pundits are searching for adequate analogies to explain the growing China-U.S. rivalry and predict its future direction. Two main ones appear: the pre-World War I era and the Cold War. Both have their merits. The early twentieth century pitted Germany, a rising power, against status quo Britain and France. The Cold War also shares similarities to the current situation. The United States engaged in a prolonged struggle to contain a nuclear-armed great power. However, neither the Cold War nor the First World War offers an entirely appropriate analogy to make sense of the current world order.

Wilhelmine Germany was a formidable power but it largely stood alone, cornered in the center of Europe. London, Paris, and Saint Petersburg had an easy time concentrating their forces to balance against Berlin. Although it had Asia as secondary and the rest of the globe as tertiary theaters, the heart of the Cold War was also Central Europe. There were only two great powers, the Soviet Union and the United States, wholly occupied checkmating each other. 

Today’s international politics differs by the number and locations of the main protagonists. Although China legitimately attracts most of the attention, Russia remains a great power. Both China and Russia are the sole great powers of their respective regions — Asia and Europe. Both are bent on correcting the balance of power to their advantage and pushing the United States out of their neighborhood. On its side, Washington has a deep-seated interest in making sure that no great power competitor dominates Asia or Europe because both regions concentrate a big share of the world’s wealth and advanced industries. Indeed, a regional hegemon in possession of such resources would be strong enough to potentially overpower the United States. 

Washington found itself in the same position during the late 1930s and early 1940s. Nazi Germany had become the strongest power on the European continent and seemed bound to dominate all of it. Imperial Japan’s bid for Asian hegemony was unfolding unabated. The Americans had a vested interest in ensuring that neither Berlin nor Tokyo would seize control of their neighborhood because local powers were unlikely to get the job done on their own. It is now Beijing and Moscow occupying these roles.

Asia and China

China is the strongest state in Asia by a wide margin. No regional state can counterbalance Beijing on its own. Even a coalition of current U.S. partners — say Australia, Japan, the Philippines, Taiwan, and South Korea — would likely be too weak to seriously deter China without America’s support and strength. If Washington wants to prevent a Chinese bid for regional hegemony, it needs to throw its weight behind the balancing effort.

During the World War II era, America had to work alongside allies with widely divergent interests (notably Britain, Free France, and the Soviet Union) against the would-be German and Japanese hegemons. In a similar vein, the United States needs to help repair the relations between Japan and South Korea and accommodate those who have had rocky relations with Washington (India, Vietnam) or that are non-democracies (Singapore). The sheer power of China and the challenge of putting together a working balancing coalition imposes to the United States an “Asia First” strategy in the same way that the Third Reich’s superior military and industrial capabilities forced “Europe First” during World War II.

Another similarity with the World War II era is that power dynamics are rapidly changing. In Europe, the primary focus of American planners, Germany was with little doubt the strongest power on the continent. But the balance of power was evolving and the Soviet Union, still reeling from its civil war and Stalin’s purges, appeared to the Germans as a rising threat. Today, Beijing is growingly wary of India, a state as populous as (and very soon, probably more than) China and enjoying economic growth rates superior to China’s.

Europe and Russia

While most Asian states are directly exposed to Chinese military power, the states of Western and Southern Europe are separated from Russia by several other states in-between. Therefore, many European states feel less threatened by Russia and have been slow to balance against Moscow. Although France has been increasing its military spending and Britain vowed to redeploy heavy forces to Germany, these small incremental changes do little to correct the overwhelming military superiority of Moscow. No Western European state is ready or willing to confront Russian power head-on. Europe needs American leadership for that. It is not unlike the late 1930s, when the Soviet Union, separated from Germany by Poland, readily passed the buck of containing Berlin to London and Paris, with disastrous results.

On paper, European states — most notably Britain, France, and Germany — have enough latent capabilities to counterbalance Russian power. But geography and the collective action problem stand in the way. Indeed, Russia is not an immediate threat to Western Europe like the Soviet Union was. Today’s Russian army is unable to threaten the survival of France or Germany due to the East-Central European states acting as a buffer. Even if the Western Europeans acknowledge the resurgence of Russian power and are slowly rearming, they just do not feel the same sense of urgency as in Eastern Europe.

Collective action is difficult when many actors have to provide for a common good. An instinct is to do as little balancing as possible and wait for others to take the mantle of deterring Russia. Also, with no clear leader, effective decision-making is unlikely. Berlin, London, Paris, and others will push for their own preferences, thus resulting in lowest-common-denominator policies and under-balancing. Russia would then be free to cherry-pick its small neighbors and subjugate opposition. Eventually, Western Europeans would balance more effectively; but by the time they do so, Russia will have grown its power base and will already dominate Eastern Europe, thus representing a far more formidable challenge.

NATO is a powerful but imperfect tool to contain a Russian aspirant hegemon. The misaligned interest between many western and southern states and those closest to Russia stands in the way of effective balancing. A potential cure would be to form an additional smaller and more focused alliance system of Poland as the main bulwark, the Czech Republic, Romania, the three Baltic states, and maybe Sweden. In any case, to overcome buck-passing tendencies and problems of coordination, American political leadership is inescapable.

No Easy Fix

Historical analogies are always risky and no situation ever recurs in the exact same way. Yet, if we are to compare the current international situation with a past example, the World War II analogy appears more powerful than the World War I and Cold War ones.

Indeed, the United States faces the same conundrum of having to deal with two formidable rivals on two different continents. World War II had Germany as the most powerful opponent and Europe as the theater concentrating the most resources. Now, both the strongest competitor and the main loot are in Asia. During World War II, U.S. policymakers wanted to focus their forces on taking down Germany but they also had to cope with Japan out of fear that Tokyo would successfully absorb much of East and Southeast Asia and become a far greater threat than it already was. Today, although Russia lacks the power potential of China and Asia has now more wealth than Europe, with potential hegemons in both Asia and Europe, Washington is forced into a gigantic act of dual containment. Therefore, the same dilemma that plagued the United States eight decades ago plagues the Americans of today. 

Continue Reading

Americas

There is no roadblock in the way of improving Sino-US ties

Published

on

photo: Tehran Times

According to my long-term observations, the challenge that the US strategic circle has been confronted with in assessing Sino-US ties is: How to comprehend China? What is the best strategy for dealing with China? What is the proper topic for researching Sino-American relations? If they have a more objective perspective of China and a more reasonable understanding of China’s growth, there will be less friction between China and the US, and bilateral ties will develop more smoothly. Otherwise, there will be additional difficulties and twists and turns.

Of course, the United States has no shortage of discerning and young people. Nixon and Kissinger, for example, ventured to question American society, “Should the United States open the door to China?” “Should US-China relations be broken?” They had the “Ice-Melting Theory” because the questions they presented were valid. Despite the fact that diplomatic ties have not yet been established, Nixon has decided to visit China as President of the United States.

Such an accomplishment is still remarkable and admirable. Because the topic they propose is appropriate, their efforts will live on in the annals of history and will be remembered in perpetuity. In truth, the Chinese did not have the present degree of awareness of the United States at the time, and the “Cultural Revolution” had not yet finished. Even if the sign on the edge of the Beijing airport welcoming President Nixon remained “Down with US imperialism.”

Despite the removal of the Beijing Airport tagline, Nixon’s successors have always had a swinging perception of China, whether clear or muddy, straight or crooked, and floating. As a result, Sino-American ties have been bumpy along the road. Because some Americans misunderstood the subject of China studies, the ensuing misconceptions appear to be a black cloud in the sky of Sino-US relations; when the dark cloud appears, the US and China will lose ground in their interactions with China.

The current challenges in Sino-US relations are likewise similar: there are both black clouds of the so-called “China threat theory” and aggressive actions continually unleashed by the US administration, which throws a shadow on US policy toward China while also casting a shade on the US itself. There are several impediments to growth. In truth, the different “evidences” of the so-called “China Threat Theory” are not difficult to understand and do not need profound knowledge or secrets that cannot be made public.

Viewing China’s peaceful development trend honestly and logically is not an insurmountable challenge for Americans. Nixon and Kissinger of the United States strove hard 50 years ago not to “hide from the clouds.” Today, the US likewise has no need to invent a slew of fictitious “reasons for China threats” in order to keep Sino-US ties from improving!

Otherwise, I’m not sure whether future Americans will be able to answer the question, “Who lost China?” However, as the adage goes, “the house leaks and rains,” referring to the ongoing epidemic of the new crown epidemic, which prevents direct face-to-face connection. The hurdles, which include psychological and emotional barriers, have exacerbated the difficulty of removing these black clouds.

Expressions like “I am in you, and you are in me,” “Everything is thriving, and everything is lost,” and “Global Village” are also taught from American scholars, and they reflect true developments in Sino-US ties. As far as I am aware, virtually few researchers over the age of 40 in American academic circles have not been inspired by the thesis of “interdependence.” As a result, they recognize the importance of interdependence and will not turn a blind eye to the breadth and depth of dependency between China and the United States today.

The United States and China’s interdependence today is extensive, multi-layered, and multi-faceted. It is a network structure system that is vertically and horizontally interwoven and coexists peacefully. What exactly is “hehe”? It is designed to meet the demands of both China and the United States. If the difficulties of matching and matching between the two nations via peace and collaboration is unique in history, then the matching and matching accomplished between the two countries after a half-century of hard effort is also exceptional. There are few countries in the world that can be compared to it, and none that can replace it.

To put it another way, the compatibility that China and the US require may be achieved through hard work. Even though China and the United States do not share the same destiny or synergy for the time being, the American people’s everyday lives are nearly inextricably linked to China. Based on this, I’ve understood the truth: the mutual relationship’s ability to shift from danger to safety is due to their interdependence, and no one can abandon others. This is the heart and soul of Sino-American ties. There is no justification for anybody to overlook this basic due to the disagreement between them, let alone dig out the roots and harm the truth!

There is no obstacle that cannot be overcome in order for Sino-US relations to develop, because there are always more solutions than challenges. The author has firsthand knowledge of the development process that occurred after the “hard ice” of Sino-US ties was cracked. I’ve witnessed both the flowering spring and the dismal winter that appears to be on its way. Even if “apes on both sides of the strait couldn’t cry,” they can nonetheless show up. Situation in which “the light boat has crossed ten thousand huge mountains.” Following the upheaval of the late 1980s, Sino-US relations were practically intolerable, and they persisted until the end of 1991, with little indications of improvement.

There is no obstacle that cannot be overcome in order for Sino-US relations to develop, because there are always more solutions than challenges. Following the upheaval of the late 1980s, Sino-US relations were practically intolerable, and they persisted until the end of 1991, with little indications of improvement. On January 24, 1992, excellent news came out of Chinese diplomacy in the midst of such a “severe winter”: Following a brief conversation with Israel, they agreed to formally establish diplomatic ties without any impediments, based on the strong affinity forged in the history of the Chinese and Jewish peoples. The two countries’ long-awaited wish. The positive news of the creation of diplomatic relations between China and Israel has taken the Jewish world by surprise and has had a significant impact on the inclination of the American media to report on China issues.

There are many Chinese in the United States, and most Chinese expect Sino-US ties to strengthen. Only until Sino-American ties improve will Chinese people have a place and be appreciated in the United States. Foreigners will also consider a person’s “birth background,” which is natural and nothing strange; if the “birth background” is favorable, they will be “admired.” China is also the “birthplace” of Chinese people in the United States. Chinese in the United States have put in a lot of effort and made significant contributions to the establishment of stable and seamless Sino-US ties. This tradition is not only alive and well, but also thriving.

There are a considerable number of Americans who rely on China-related employment, business, and investment, whether in China or the United States. Only until Sino-US ties improve will they be able to focus only on China-related professions, business, and investment, and they despise “McCarthyism.” As a result, they anticipate that Sino-US ties will improve, which is unavoidable.

For example, in July 1990, at the invitation of the “National Committee on U.S.-China Relations,” then-Shanghai Mayor Zhu Rongji led a delegation of Chinese mayors to the United States, aiming to dispel U.S. government and opposition to China’s reform and opening up through the development of Pudong.

The Sino-US relationship, which was harmed by the late 1980s instability, also sought an agreement from the US Congress to prolong China’s most-favored-nation status. According to Zhu Rongji’s suggestion, Shanghai organized a delegation of scholars led by Ding Xinghao from the Shanghai Institute of International Studies, Hong Wenda from the Department of Economics at Fudan University, Yao Tinggang from the Shanghai Academy of Social Sciences, and Yao Tinggang from the Department of International Politics at Fudan University. Shanghai Institute of Foreign Trade’s Zhou Dunren and Zhou Hanmin are made up of five persons.

These five people’s round-trip travel expenditures were not covered at the time. When the National Committee on US-China Relations learned about the situation, they quickly said that they would offer it in its entirety. American friends are very ruthless! At the time, Sino-US ties were exceedingly tense, but China had made many American friends via bilateral exchanges with the US, as well as diplomatic assets for the growth of Sino-US relations. Trusted friends will provide genuine assistance in times of need.

As a result, the Chinese mayor delegation led by Zhu Rongji’s tour to the United States outperformed expectations. Friends such as the “National Committee on US-China Relations” are not only there, but numerous. This decision should be practical and in line with objective reality. Furthermore, the US still has a vast number of international challenges that cannot be managed by one country alone and necessitate China’s assistance. There are still many shared interests between China and the United States that must be pursued in order for individual interests to be realized. There are several elements that benefit both China and the United States. The challenge is how to make the most of these advantageous circumstances. The overarching theme is how to persuade Americans to view China’s peaceful growth trend objectively and rationally.

In sum, their concept of the character of the United States has been constantly painted and has not been in place for a long time. The examination of the character of the United States, on the other hand, differs from the policy of international affairs in the United States. The primary purpose of US strategy is to enable the US to comprehend China objectively and logically. There is still a lot of opportunity for improvement.

Continue Reading

Publications

Latest

Trending