Connect with us

Americas

New Latin American Left and its complex trajectories

Demonstrators protest on the streets of La Paz, Bolivia. UN Bolivia/Patricia Cusicanqui

Published

on

Authors: Ash Narain Roy and Shimone Jaini

The rise and fall of a leftist government in Latin America evoke passion, nostalgia, optimism and rhetorical exuberance among commentators on the region that may not withstand rigorous academic scrutiny. The outcome of presidential elections in the region is often explained in terms of a victory or defeat for the left and the right. Experts and analysts spin their fine theories in their own imaginary laboratories. Media pundits have had notorious difficulty in predicting developments as they often defy the conventional wisdom.

Binaries usually suffer from blinkered vision. While one section has strong belief in the left’s redemptive power and sees a virile bloom in its upsurge, the other sees only gloom and doom. The analysis of the recent Bolivian election too conforms to this pattern. Such prognosis of Latin American politics is at once admirably catholic and regrettably myopic.

This paper seeks to contextualize the victory of the Movement Toward Socialism (MAS) in Bolivia and attempts a critical analysis of the new Latin American left and its agendas and trajectories.

Left on comeback trail or Bolivian exceptionalism?

Bolivians have shown an abiding faith in the Movement Towards Socialism (MAS), electing Luis Arce, the party’s presidential candidate, with a staggering majority. It is a vindication of MAS’s popularity and legacy of Evo Morales leadership. Should the election of Luis Arce be seen as a harbinger of re-emergence of Latin American left, a Pink Tide 2.0 in the region or is it a case of Bolivian exceptionalism?

Luis Arce as Finance Minister in the  Morales government was the architect of  the “Bolivian miracle”. The triumph of MAS is no less a victory of Arce, an academic, low-profile and soft-spoken leader. He ran a smart campaign and avoided inflammatory utterances and Morales rhetoric. The former Finance Minister has been rewarded for successfully managing the country’s economy with significant poverty reduction, inflation control and unprecedented growth for almost 14 years. Interestingly, Arce’s vice-presidential candidate David Choquehuanca had opposed Morales’ decision to run for the fourth term.

 MAS has moved away from Morales’ style of governance. It is now more institutionalised than ever before. Bolivia has demonstrated that there is no need for extreme populism or violation of democratic process to win. Democracy can triumph without establishing presidencies for life or manipulating constitutional procedures.

Bolivia under the interim president Jeanine Áñez had retreated into neoliberal wilderness. The intervening period in Bolivian history will be known for racist state oppression. According to a report of the Harvard School’s International Human Rights Clinic and the University Network for Human Rights, the month of the coup was “the second deadliest month in terms of civilian deaths committed by state forces since Bolivia became a democracy nearly four decades ago.Bolivia has recovered from that dark phase and it needs to follow a pragmatic policy. President Arce has made right kind of noise assuring the people that Bolivia is back on democratic rails. He said, “We are going to create a government of national unity. Without hate and learning from our mistakes as Movement towards socialism.”

As to the victory of MAS, two factors deserve special mention. Firstly, state repression apart, the interim government was plagued by various corruption scandals and the Áñez  government was never in control (Áñez had 34 different cabinet ministers in less than a year). Jeanine Áñez  became even more unpopular when she announced her candidacy for the 2020 presidential elections, after having said that she wouldn’t contest elections. Her constant refusal to act as a transitional president effectively boosted Morales and his party, reminding Bolivians why they had supported MAS in the first place.

Secondly, while Morales legacy may have helped mobilise people in favour of MAS, it is more likely that Evo’s absence helped strengthen MAS and “enabled the rise of a new group of leaders”.The credit for an impressive turn of events equally goes to Arce’s moderate temperament and his technocratic style that set him apart from Morales. But he will need to guard against populist forces hijacking the government’s agenda. President Arce must ensure that Bolivia doesn’t go the Argentina or the Ecuador way: In Argentina, Cristina Fernández de Kirchner, facing corruption charges, returned to office as the Vice president and promoted Alberto Fernández – who won by a large majority- as her party’s presidential candidate. He has been living under her shadow and has struggled to hold firm control of power. In Ecuador, Rafael Correa and his successor,Lenín Moreno have ended up becoming arch rivals.

Though Arce has said that Morales will have no part in this government,  it remains to be seen whether Evo Morales  stays on the periphery or Arce mirrors the trajectory of Lenin Moreno, who succeeded Rafael Correa in the name of continuity but reversed sharply the previously held stances and policies of the government. Arce will be governing a country which is now quite divided, economically weakened, far from the economic boom experienced by Morales, and lacks good diplomatic relations with several neighbours in the region. Arce’s government has an opportunity to rebuild these relations as most Latin American countries and the United states have welcomed Arce and expressed their wish to establish good relations.

All said, Bolivians have disavowed 12 months of a thuggish administration and rejected a period of ugliness, divisiveness, racism and sustained onslaught on democracy. The vote is as much a vindication of MAS’s legacy as a vote against Áñez  government’s daylight delinquency. The OAS, the Carter Centre and the European Union have commended Bolivia for holding a clean and transparent election. British playwright Tom Stoppard had once said, “it is not the voting that is democracy, it is the counting”. Bolivia has sent a powerful message as well as a warning to nascent and struggling democracies around the world.

Revolutionising democracy or democratising revolution? 

Till the collapse of the Berlin Wall and the disintegration of the Soviet Union,  the make-up of the old left revolved around class and nation. The new left has added democracy building as its third axis.The demise of the old left is universally acknowledged. If the old left articulated and defended the interests of the proletariat, the new left is championing the interests of the ‘pobretariado’, the poor and disenfranchised class as victims of exploitation and social exclusion.

With the Berlin Wall collapse, Soviet utopia dissolved. Though China, nominally a Communist country, still uses the language of equality and brotherhood, it is only a tactical device to woo the dispossessed. ‘Communism with Chinese characteristics’ is indeed a one-party authoritarian system which sees nothing wrong in becoming rich. To Deng Xiaoping, reform was  “China’s second revolution,” and he wanted to “let some people get rich first.” Today what is being pursued in Xi Jinping’s China is ‘CCPology’ and ‘CCPism’.

The Vietnamese revolution had strong nationalist credentials. Some say, Ho Chi Minh was half Lenin and half Gandhi. Others say, he was a cross between ‘Mao of the Long March’ and ‘Gandhi at the Spinning Wheel’. Ho Chi Minh was both a Confucian humanist and a Communist revolutionary. Among 20th-century statesmen, Ho Chi Minh was remarkable both for the tenacity and patience with which he pursued his goal of Vietnamese independence and for his success in blending Communism with nationalism. Ho was an enormously pragmatic Communist, a doer rather than a theoretician. That explains Vietnam’s success and not Communism.

Initially, Nicaragua’s Sandinista leaders defined themselves as Marxist or revolutionary socialist. Later they denied being Marxists. They also denied that they wanted Cuba-style communism in Nicaragua. Instead, they claimed they were fighting for a “New Nicaragua” that will be a pluralist democracy. Today, Nicaragua is under a one-man despotic rule of Daniel Ortega.

Cuba’s revolutionary credentials are still largely intact, perhaps the only country in the world that belongs to the old left but it is struggling to survive against economic adversities. It is true, Cuba benefited from the strategic alliance that Castro forged with Hugo Chavez as the Venezuelan leader lavished generous aid and trade benefits on Cuba. But Cuba had overcome economic crisis earlier without any help from outside. Between 1989 and 1991, USSR’s aid to Cuba evaporated. During this ‘Special Period’, oil imports dropped precipitously and the island-nation faced an unprecedented crisis. But Cuba gradually recovered from the crisis by “doing more with less”. As Christian Science Monitor says, Socialist Cuba has hung on “in spite of itself, achieving inspirational heights in public health and education, and enjoying international influence far beyond its means.” (1)

New left is distinctively Latin American

Who constitutes the new left? Andrew F Cooper and Jorge Heine maintain that “some elements of the old left have morphed considerably and a very different left has emerged.”(2).Jorge Castaneda and Marco A Morales say, “some are updated versions of the old Latin American left with a long term vision; others are populist versions of the left that seek power with short-term goals.” (3)The new left is grounded in Latin America’s long tradition of populism. It is not Castro and Che Guevara, but the legacies of Peru’s Victor Raul Haya de la Torre, Colombia’s Jorge Gaitan, Mexico’s Lazaro Cardenas, Brazil’s Getulio Vargas and Argentina’s Juan Peron that explain the rising tide of the new left in Latin America (4). The “pink tide” in Latin America was much misunderstood by outside observers. It was neither a “tsunami” nor a “tornado”; it was at best “a mild breeze”.(5)

What are the main traits of the new left? Revolution is no longer an objective of the new left. It follows reformist, not insurrectionary agendas. Andre Gorz characterizes its agenda as “non-reformist reforms” which means “to fight for alternative solutions and for structural reforms… (and) not to fight for improvements in the capitalist system; it is rather to break it up, to restrict it, to create counter-powers which, instead of creating a new equilibrium, undermine its very foundations.” (6)

Social and reformist agendas have the intended objective of not just seeking  immediate improvements in people’s lives, but also to build popular political capacity so as to lay the foundation for further advances at subsequent stages of political struggle. The relative success of the  new left in Latin America is thanks to its dynamic strategies, decentralised social bases and building coalitions and partnerships with multiple organisations, movements and stakeholders.

The Latin American left has moved in the direction of creating a new narrative of nationhood, challenging long-held assumptions and representations of culture, history, race, gender, citizenship and identity.What is common among new left governments is  their strong emphasis on social egalitarianism. They have been working to bring politics on a new footing as they are engaged in deeper social transformations. 

The new left is primarily the electoral left. Venezuelan leader Hugo Chavez described it as the “21st century socialism”. It is very different from the traditional left. Hugo Chavez was the most radical exponent and practitioner of the new left. He saw himself as a revolutionary and a liberator and won the hearts of his voters and left-leaning individuals and groups across the region. Chavez, to many analysts, represented the social division of the Latin American society. As Colombian social historian Andres Otavaro says, Chavez “revived the political and ideological debate in Latin America” and thanks to him socialism once again became “an alternative to the long-prevailing neoliberal model.”And yet, Chavez was no Castro and Venezuela is no Cuba.Chavez held largely credible elections and used the vast energy resources to promote his agenda.  He did radicalise the new left agenda and made profound impact on other leaders.It is important to note that neither Lula nor Morales followed Chavez’s style or agenda.

During US President George W Bush’s visit to Latin America in 2007, while Bush and Chavez sparred at a distance over their visions about Latin America, Bush-Lula meeting was cordial and the two countries signed a biofuel agreement. Their ideological differences did not chill their official meetings. On his part, Chavez went to Buenos Aires while Bush was on official visit to Argentina and led a stadium full of leftists in screaming “Gringos go home.”

Morales had a different profile and support base from Ecuador President Rafael Correa. In fact, Morales avoided ‘Venezuela-ization” of Bolivia by following a pragmatic policy. Even the IMF recognised that Bolivia under Morales was “more effective in combating extreme poverty than any other South American government, slashing it from 33 % of the population in 2006 to 16 % in 2018. The Washington Post was all praise for Morales saying, “it is indisputable that Bolivians are healthier, wealthier, better educated living longer and more equal than at any time in this South American nation’s history.”

Argentine President Nestor Kirchner also steered clear of anti-Bush rhetoric though he questioned US-backed market policy. Uruguayan left leaders had no love lost for Chavez and Maduro. In fact, President Jose Mujica, a former Tupamaros guerrilla leader, said Maduro is “as mad as a goat”. Organisation of America States chief Luis Almagro, who earlier served as Mujica’s foreign minister, warned Maduro that he risked becoming “just another petty dictator.”

The left in Brazil and Chile and in Bolivia and Uruguay is as different as day and night. Neither the rhetoric nor the worldviews of Hugo Chavez, Luis InacioLula Da Silva, EvoMorales, Jose Mujica and Michelle Bachelet were similar. What was of course common among them was their opposition to the neoliberal reforms and policies that emanated from the Washington consensus.

Latin America’s new left leaders have not emerged from socialist movements. The new left parties are not the vanguards of revolution. The past and present presidents belonging to the new left don’t exercise hegemonic control over the government.

Social movement is new left’s novelty

Latin Americans, the indigenous and marginalized groups in particular, seem to have perfected the art of collective action. What Latin America has witnessed in this century could be called ‘festivals of protest’ or ‘politics of crowd’. “Dancing in the streets”, as described by Barbara Ehrenreich, has manifested amply in the region like nowhere else. The protesters, mostly the indigenous and marginalized groups, that the left parties have mobilized in their support, revel in feasting, costuming and dancing, long part of communal celebration of their culture. These techniques have been used while protesting, campaigning or marshalling support for their cause.

While street power in general evaporates fast, this has not happened in Latin America thanks to the good management of the ‘politics of crowd’. Elias Canetti, winner of the Nobel Prize in Literature in 1960, in his treatise “Crowds and Power” refers to four defining attributes in a crowd. First, the crowd always wants to grow. There are no natural boundaries to its growth. Second, within the crowd there is equality. Third, the crowd loves density. It can never feel too dense. Fourth, the crowd needs a direction. It is in movement and it moves towards a goal.

Indigenous movements and nationalist forces have asserted their presence in national politics in unprecedented fashion in the past few decades. The indigenous people have forged strong national movements and built alliances with other progressive groups highlighting principally their land rights and cultural specificities. It is primarily a fight for asserting their control over their lands, waters and other natural resources. In nearly all Latin American countries with substantial indigenous populations, indigenous movements have gathered force.

Socialism in one country has proved to be a defeated enterprise. As François Chesnais says, socialism can only be conceived as a global / universal enterprise. Its effectiveness in the national space will depend, decisively, on its development in other national spaces, which tends to give it a historical-world process(7). The same is true of the new left.

 New geometry of power

The 21st century has witnessed the rise of a new geometry of power in Latin America, that of below and above. With this has emerged new political actors. The most significant has been the rise of the indigenous. Democratization has opened up new spaces. With the traditional left in decline, indigenous groups have stepped in to fill the vacuum in many countries. Several countries in Latin America, Andean countries in particular, have seen sustained struggles for land and water and long marches and protests against mining and road construction through the forests. A host of grassroots movements from the Zapatista National Liberation Army (EZLN) in Mexico to the Brazilian Landless Rural Workers Movement (MST) in Brazil, and from the Argentinean piqueteros to the indigenous movements of Bolivia and Ecuador, a host of mass-based movements have occupied the social and political spaces vacated by the collapse of the traditional left.

Social movements are the principal novelty of the new left. The streets have become new theatres of politics. The more robust the street protests, the more pressure on government. Governments in Ecuador, Bolivia and Argentina have been ousted by street power.MAS  has become one of the pillars of democracy in Bolivia, but if the government doesn’t perform well, the highly politicised indigenous movements and street power may turn their ire against the government.

The third left

Besides the electoral left, there is ‘third Left’ stirring in Latin America. The Zapatistas and the piqueteros have shown utter disdain for power though they avow autonomy from the state and promote bottom-up decision-making, rather than pursuing state power. John Holloway, Marxist sociologist, has done considerable work on the Zapatista movement and the piqueteros in Argentina (8).These movements and others dismiss all political institutions as untrustworthy and authoritarian. Such distrust of power—bureaucratic, electoral and governmental is reflected in the slogan ‘que se vayantodos’  at the height of the piqueteros movement. Holloway sees revolution as a struggle against power, not for power.

The third left believes that the world can’t be changed through the state. The notion of revolution was strongly associated with gaining control of the state. This view has been challenged. As Holloway says, “the failure of those attempts to change the world through gaining control of the state has led very many people to the conclusion that revolution is impossible.”

It is the Zapatistas who first said that they want to make the world anew, to create a world of dignity, a world of humanity, but without taking power. Holloway argues that what is at issue in the revolutionary transformation of the world “is not whose power but the very existence of power. What is at issue is not who exercises power, but how to create a world based on mutual recognition of human dignity.” The third left makes demands for economic justice and human rights but it strives for the transformation of people—”self-management, independent thought, and self- construction.”

The third left has supported new left governments but has continued to be critical of their policies. Another characteristic of the third left is horizontalism which means “having everybody decide.” The Zapatistas use village-wide meetings to decide local issues, rotate regional leaders, and use intensive consultation to reach movement-wide decisions. The MST uses a more traditional set of pyramidal elected councils (with some less traditional aspects, such as mandating an equal number of women and men representatives at every level).

Challenges

The leftist governments in Latin America benefited from the commodities boom. While the economy expanded, the period also witnessed sharp reduction in poverty. That boom has now ended largely as a consequence of a slowdown in China’s economy.

Because of the Pink Tide, women in power are no longer a novelty in Latin American politics;in 2014, female presidents ruled in Argentina, Brazil, and Chile. Their policies leave little doubt about the transformative nature of their leadership. Much of the economic development happened due to an intense extractive development model. The indigenous groups have sharpened attacks on the Left regimes. This model of development, which relies on the rapacious extraction of natural resources, entails environmental destruction and the fragmentation of indigenous territory.

From Mexico to Chile, Latin Americans frustrated with scandals, stagnant economies and government incompetence are taking to the streets. Often the protesters’ ire is aimed against the very populist leaders they rallied around earlier when rising wealth from a commodities boom fueled a surge in government spending and helped mask corruption. There are no takers for left governments’ slogans like “paradise with us or hell with the opposition”.

Some governments tried to justify their extractive development by saying how they need these projects to fight poverty. Governments sought to differentiate their prudent and indispensable extractivism from “predatory” extractivism. Some governments even preferred not to take away money from rich people since money came from extractive policies. However, this “hydrocarbon-fuelled social-democratic bargain” could not save their governments. The indigenous protesters who consider Nature as patrimony, not capital, refused to relent.

The fall of some leftist governments, not all, was due to what Santiago Anriaand Kenneth M Roberts call the “autocratic temptation”. Charismatic leaders began to believe that they speak “for the entire nation” and that “they can do so forever.” 

Conclusion

Inequality and poverty have sharply fallen in Latin American countries ruled by the leftist governments even though some have had better record in redistributing income than others.

It would be erroneous to view the rise and fall of a government in Latin America as pendulum swings between the left and the right. There has been a steady expansion of democratic institutions and political rights in recent decades. The deepening of democracy has created political space and Latin America has seen the emergence of several new political parties and social movements. The changing political fortunes of governments are part of what political scientist Sidney Tarrow calls “cycle of contention”.

Social mobilisations and protest movements across Latin America have given a new dimension to democracy. Just as protests and social movements become protest cycles if these are well-organised, sustained and diffused to several sectors, the rise and fall of leftist government becomes cyclic.Like protests and social movements, the advent of a left government has followed a parabolic pattern. It expands to more sectors and more countries.

The new left has made Latin America the epicentre of left-wing politics in the world. It is now part of democratic politics.The region’s experiments in institutional innovations have gone a long way in deepening democracy. As they say, before the deed comes the doing. The unprecedented explosion of rage against injustices of various kinds in Latin America portend a radical change. The rage is the starting point. The rage implies doing. Will it prove to be another utopia?It may well be. But isn’t utopia  the process of making a better world?

1. French, Anya Landau. Can Cuba survive the loss of Venezuela’s Hugo Chávez. March 07, 2013.

2. Cooper, Andrew F and Heine, Jorge. The effect of national and global forces on the Americas: Tsunami, tornado or just a mild breeze? Which way Latin America? Hemispheric politics meets globalization. Tokyo : United Nations University Press, 2009.

3. Castaneda, Jorge and Morales, Marco A. The emergence of the new left. Which way Latin America? Hemispheric politics meets globalization. Tokyo : United Nations University Press, 2009.

4. Latin America in India’s foreign policy. Roy, Ash Narain. s.l. : International Studies, 2010, Vol. 47, pp. 2-4.

5. Cooper, Andrew F and Heine, Jorge. “The effect of national and global forces on the Americas: Tsunami, tornado or just a mild breeze?”.

6. Gorz, Andre.Strategy for Labor. Boston : Beacon Press, 1964.

7. Chesnais, François.The globalization of capital. s.l. : Syros Editions, 1996.

8. Holloway, John.Change the World without Taking Power:The Meaning of Revolution Today. s.l. : Pluto Press, 2002.

Ash Narain Roy did his Ph.D. in Latin American Studies , Jawaharlal Nehru University, Delhi. He was a Visiting Scholar at El Colegio de Mexico, Mexico City for over four years in the 1980s. He later worked as Assistant Editor, Hindustan Times, Delhi. He is author of several books including The Third World in the Age of Globalisation which analyses Latin America's peculiar traits which distinguishes it from Asia and Africa. He is currently Director, Institute of Social Sciences, Delhi

Continue Reading
Comments

Americas

Perils of Belligerent Nationalism: The Urgent Obligations of Planetary Community

Published

on

“…the worst are full of passionate intensity, while the best lack all conviction.”-William Butler Yeats, The Second Coming

By definition, former President Donald J. Trump’s doctrinal emphasis on “America First” signified a rejection of human community and universal cooperation.[1] The enduring effect of this rejection has been palpable acceleration of global chaos, a dissembling speedup that includes corollary risks of war, terrorism and genocide. To the extent that these more-or-less plausible risks might sometime display a nuclear dimension,[2] any further continuity of belligerent nationalism could propel the United States and other countries toward certain irretrievable forms of human catastrophe..

                Ultimately, whatever the particular outcomes, truth will likely win out over shortsighted expressions of political wizardry.[3] A core component of any such truth is that American survival and prosperity are inextricably linked with a much wider global vulnerability. In essence, it would be foolish to suppose that the American nation – or, indeed, any individual nation – could meaningfully secure itself at the expense of other nations.

                For an especially timely example of such profound intellectual error, one need look no further than the now-persistent “plague” of worldwide disease pandemic. As in cases of belligerent nationalism regarding military security matters, the effective management or conquest of Covid19 will require full scale rejections of zero-sum thinking. Here, where it is understood as a metaphor of much wider problems, authentic planetary community is indispensable.

               There is more. Learning must always be theory-based.[4] With its inherently self-deceiving nature, however, belligerent nationalism is gratuitously crude and injurious. Going forward, the only sensible posture for a sitting U.S. president must express some determinedly coherent variant of “all in the soup together.”

               Such an improved mantra need not be all that difficult to operationalize. It is usefully discoverable in the succinctly prescient writings of Pierre Teilhard De Chardin: “The egocentric ideal of a future reserved for those who have managed to attain egoistically the extremity of everyone for himself,” summarizes the late Jesuit scientist and philosopher, “is false and against nature. No element can move and grow except with and by all the others with itself.”

               Prima facie, the core message here is both simple and incontestable. It is that no single country’s individual security can ever be achieved at the tangible expense of other countries. Moreover, no such individual state security is conceivably sustainable if the world as a whole must thereby expect a reciprocally diminished future.[5]

               There is more, No conceivably gainful configuration of Planet Earth can ever prove “secure” if the conspicuously vast human legions which comprise it remain morally, spiritually, and intellectually adrift. It is, of course, precisely such a willful detachment from stable national and international moorings that was openly fostered by Donald Trump’s “America First.”

               Earlier, observed William Butler Yeats, in what represented a more broadly metaphorical indictment of chaos, “Theblood-dimmed tide is loosed.”  But just as it appeared for the empathetic Irish poet, today’s still-expanding global chaos is really just a symptom. It is, as the professional philosophers would likely claim, “merely epiphenomenal.”[6]

               The philosophers would be “on course.” For the world as a whole, chaos and belligerent nationalism are never themost truly underlying “disease.”[7] Always, that more determinative pathology remains rooted in certain seemingly great and powerful states that stubbornly fail to recognize the remorseless imperatives of human interrelatedness or community. This core failure has been a long-term problem, and is not one that is particular to any particular American president or to the United States in its decisional entirety.[8]

               Following former President Donald Trump’s “America First,” world politics will increasingly encourage an already lethal human deficit. This deficit is the reluctance of individual citizens and their respective states to discover authentic self-worth as individual persons, within themselves. Precisely such a significant deficit had already been foreseen in the eighteenth century by America’s then-leading person of letters, Ralph Waldo Emerson. Today, revealingly, the still-vital insights of “American Transcendentalists” remain recognizable and meaningful to only an excruciatingly tiny minority. Unsurprisingly, especially after Trump, the “life of the mind in America” is a very shallow narrative.

               Despite their impressive intellectual antecedents, including some earlier occupants of the White House, Americans almost never read seriously challenging books. Such a cryptic observation is not offered here in an offhanded or gratuitously mean spirited fashion. Quite the contrary, it is presented as an unassailable fact of American life, one famously commented upon during the first third of the nineteenth century by French visitor Alexis de Tocqueville in his Democracy in America. This same fact led the Founding Fathers of the United States, including Thomas Jefferson (the most identifiably democratic figure among them), to rail against uneducated mass participation in the new republic.[9]

               As the necessary corrective, Jefferson set forth in his Notes on Virginia a plan of elementary schooling by which, he argued, “twenty of the best geniuses will be raked from the rubbish annually.”

               Somehow, whatever we might now think of Jefferson’s earlier expectations for “The People,” former president Trump managed to defile what is most urgently important to our common future. This factor is the critical inner horizon to world politics and whatever it implies. In literature, this subtle horizon is not in any fashion conspicuous. Nor is it “practically” oriented toward commerce or personal wealth aggrandizement. It can be encountered and clarified in the “inner horizon” writings of Sören Kierkegaard, Sigmund Freud, Friedrich Nietzsche, Hermann Hesse, Carl Jung,[10] Jose Ortega y’Gassett and Pierre Teilhard de Chardin.

               Here on earth, the tribe, in at least one form or another, is always the determinative microcosm. From the beginning, from the muddled primal promiscuity of our very earliest global politics, determinative behavior in world affairs has been driven by some kind or other of individual group elevation and resultant inter-group conflict. From the identifiable human origins of all our so-called “civilizations,”[11] and from the pitiably aggregated totals of individual human souls seeking some ultimately satisfying forms of redemption, most people have felt themselves utterly lost or hideously abandoned outside the warmth of a “protective” tribe.

               Today, it is precisely this degrading and potentially lethal inclination that is fostered by any and all forms of belligerent nationalism.

               The veneer of human civilization remains razor thin. Oddly, certain whole swaths of humankind remain dedicated to certain ancient and grotesque sacrificial practices. In this connection, shamelessly linking violence and the sacred, most terrorist murders are now reassuringly justified as “holy war” or as “freedom fighting.” But their net effect is always plainly insidious and thoroughly dissembling.

               As a stipulated response to these serious challenges, belligerent nationalism remains wholly misconceived. Left unchallenged, this atavistic mantra would only further harden the hearts of humankind’s most recalcitrant enemies, and thereby exacerbate the indispensable search for some truly viable American remedies. What we need, instead, is broadening support for a much more enduring impulse of global solidarity and human interconnectedness.

                From the seventeenth-century Peace of Westphalia, which in 1648 ended the last of the great religious wars sparked by the Reformation, to the present precarious moment, international relations and international law[12] have been shaped by a protean “balance of power,” and by the evident corollaries of war,[13] terror, and genocide.[14] To be sure,  hope still exists, but now, it must sing softly, in an undertone, that is, with circumspection, inconspicuously, almost sotto voce. Although counter-intuitive, the time for visceral celebrations of science, modernization, technology, and even social media is already partially over.  Now, to survive, together, on an imperiled planet, all of us must energetically seek to rediscover an individual life that is consciously detached from nationally patterned conformance, cheap entertainments, shallow optimism, and disingenuously contrived visages of tribal happiness.

               With such refreshingly candid expressions of the awakened human spirit, we Americans may yet learn something that is both useful and redemptive. We may learn, even during the declension “Time of Trump,” that a commonly felt agony is more important than astrophysics; that a ubiquitous mortality is more consequential than any transient financial “success;” and that shared human tears may reveal much deeper meanings and opportunities than narrowly self-serving tax reductions or imbecilic border walls.

               In his landmark work, The Decline of the West, first published during World War I, Oswald Spengler inquired: “Can a desperate faith in knowledge free us from the nightmare of the grand questions?” It remains a noteworthy query, one that will likely never be raised in our universities, let alone on Wall Street or in the White House.  We may, however, still learn something about these “grand questions”  by studying American responsibility for the still-expanding chaos in world politics.

               At that time, we might finally learn that the most suffocating insecurities of life on earth can never be undone by militarizing global economics, by building larger missiles, by abrogating international treaties, or by replacing one abundantly sordid regime with another in the naively presumed interests of “national security.”

               In the end, even amid an endlessly squalid American politics, truth is exculpatory. Accordingly, in a promising paradox, Trump’s “America First” expressed a lie that could still help to see the truth. This cosmopolitan truth, worldwide in scope, is that Americans require above all else a consciousness of unity and relatedness between human beings and their particular nation-states. Always, as this essay has expressly underscored, this indispensable consciousness must be rooted in pertinent international law.[15]

               Though widely unrecognized, such an elementary consciousness is integral to all meaningful possibilities of both American security and planetary well-being. Now, before it is too late, represents the human community’s literally last chance to replace the “passionate intensity” of Realpolitik[16] with a vitally revised “conviction.” At this point, armed with a vision that rejects zero-sum or “everyone for himself” thinking in world politics,[17] the grave dangers of belligerent nationalism could finally collapse under the unsustainable weight of their own contradictions.[18]

               No other conceivable replacement could prove more necessary.


[1] The legal principle of “universal cooperation” is founded upon a presumption of solidarity between states in their common struggle against criminality.  It is mentioned in the CORPUS JURIS CIVILIS; in Hugo Grotius’s DE JURE BELLI AC PACIS LIBRI TRES (Book II, Ch. 20); and in Emmerich de Vattel’s LE DROIT DES GENS (Book I, Ch. 19). 

[2] For authoritative early accounts of nuclear war effects  by this author, see: Louis René Beres, Apocalypse: Nuclear Catastrophe in World Politics (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1980); Louis René Beres, Mimicking Sisyphus: America’s Countervailing Nuclear Strategy (Lexington, Mass., Lexington Books, 1983); Louis René Beres, Reason and Realpolitik: U.S. Foreign Policy and World Order (Lexington, Mass., Lexington Books, 1984); and Louis René Beres, Security or Armageddon: Israel’s Nuclear Strategy (Lexington, Mass., Lexington Books, 1986). Most recently, by Professor Beres, see: Surviving amid Chaos: Israel’s Nuclear Strategy (New York, Rowman & Littlefield, 2016; 2nd ed. 2018).

[3] “Reason,” warns Karl Jaspers, “is confronted again and again with the fact of a mass of believers who have lost all ability to listen, who can absorb no logical argument, and who hold unshakably fast to the Absurd….” See the 20th century philosopher’s Reason and Anti-Reason in Our Time, Archon Books, 1971, p. 78.

[4] “Theory is a net,” observes the German poet Novalis, “and only those who cast, can catch.” This apt metaphor was embraced by philosopher of science Karl Popper as the epigraph to his classic Logic of Scientific Discovery (1934).

[5] In both logic and law, the rights assured by the Declaration and Constitution can never be confined to the people of the United States. This is because both documents were conceived by their authors as the indisputable codifications of pre-existing Natural Law. Though generally unrecognized, the United States was expressly founded upon the Natural Rights philosophies of the 18th century Enlightenment, especially Locke, Hobbes, Montesquieu and Rousseau. Thomas Jefferson was well acquainted with the classical writings of political philosophy from Plato to Diderot. In those early days of the Republic. an American president could not only read serious books, but also write them.

[6] The classical example is Plato’s parable of the cave in The Republic.

[7] Although composed in the seventeenth century, Thomas Hobbes’ Leviathan offers a still- illuminating vision of chaos in world politics. Says the English philosopher in Chapter XIII, “Of the Naturall Condition of Mankind, as concerning their Felicity, and Misery:”  “During such chaos,” a condition which Hobbes identifies as a ‘time of War,’  it is a time “…where every man is Enemy to every man… and where the life of man is solitary, poor, nasty, brutish, and short.” At the time of writing, Hobbes believed that the condition of “nature” in world politics was less chaotic than that same condition existing among individual human beings. This owed to what he called the “dreadful equality” of individual men in nature concerning ability to kill others, but this once-relevant differentiation has now effectively disappeared together with the global spread of nuclear weapons. More precisely, today, “weaker” states that are nonetheless nuclear can still bring insufferable harms to the “stronger” states.

[8] Early on, William Blackstone, the jurist upon whose work the United States owes its own basic system of law, remarks at Book 4 of his Commentaries on the Law of England: “The law of nations (international law) is always binding upon all individuals and all states. Each state is expected, perpetually, to aid and enforce the law of nations as part of the common law, by inflicting an adequate punishment upon the offenses against that universal law.”

[9] See by this writer, Louis René Beres, at Oxford University Press:  https://blog.oup.com/2011/09/the-people/ See also, by Professor Beres, at The National Interest, https://nationalinterest.org/feature/america-becomes-what-its-founders-feared-16000?nopaging=1

[10]The term “mass,” favored by Swiss psychologist Carl G. Jung, is roughly identical in meaning to Sigmund Freud’s  term “horde” (itself derived from Friedrich Nietzsche’s “herd”) and to Danish philosopher Soren Kierkegaard’s “crowd.” Always, warns Kierkegaard insightfully, “The crowd is untruth.”

[11] “Civilization,” adds Lewis Mumford, “is the never-ending process of creating one world and one humanity.” Still the best syntheses of contemporary creative outlines for a world civilization are W. Warren Wagar The City of Man (1967) and W. Warren Wagar, Building the City of Man (1971).

[12] For the authoritative sources of international law, see art. 38 of the Statute of the International Court of Justice; done at San Francisco, June 26, 1945. Entered into force, Oct. 24, 1945; for the United States, Oct. 24, 1945.  59 Stat. 1031, T.S. No. 993, 3 Bevans 1153, 1976 Y.B.U.N., 1052.

[13] Under international law, the question of whether or not a true “state of war” exists between countries remains ambiguous. Traditionally, it was held that a formal declaration of war was necessary before a true state of war could be said to exist. Hugo Grotius divided wars into declared wars, which were legal, and undeclared wars, which were not. (See Hugo Grotius: The Law of War and Peace, Bk. III, Chs. III, IV, and XI.) By the start of the twentieth century, the position that war obtains only after a conclusive declaration of war by one of the parties was codified by Hague Convention III. This treaty stipulated that hostilities must never commence without a “previous and explicit warning” in the form of a declaration of war or an ultimatum. (See Hague Convention III Relative to the Opening of Hostilities, 1907, 3 NRGT, 3 series, 437, article 1.) Currently, declarations of war may be tantamount to admissions of international criminality, because of the express criminalization of aggression by authoritative international law, and it could therefore represent a clear jurisprudential absurdity to tie any true state of war to formal and prior declarations of belligerency. It follows that a state of war may now exist without any formal declarations, but only if there exists an actual armed conflict between two or more stat and/or at least one of these affected states considers itself “at war.”

[14] This balance creates a “vigilante” system of “Westphalian” law. See: Treaty of Peace of Munster, Oct. 1648, 1 Consol. T.S. 271; and Treaty of Peace of Osnabruck, Oct. 1648, 1., Consol. T.S. 119, Together, these two treaties comprise the Peace of Westphalia.

[15] International law is an integral part of United States jurisprudence. In the words of Mr. Justice Gray, delivering the judgment of the US Supreme Court in Paquete Habana (1900): “International law is part of our law, and must be ascertained and administered by the courts of justice of appropriate jurisdiction….” (175 U.S. 677(1900))  See also: Opinion in Tel-Oren vs. Libyan Arab Republic (726 F. 2d 774 (1984)).The specific incorporation of treaty law into US municipal law is codified at Art. 6 of the US Constitution, the so-called “Supremacy Clause.”

[16] Throughout history, geopolitics or Realpolitik has been associated withpromises of personal immortality. To wit, in his posthumously published lecture on Politics (1896), German historian Heinrich von Treitschke observed: “Individual man sees in his own country the realization of his earthly immortality.” Earlier, German philosopher Georg Friedrich Hegel opined, in Philosophy of Right (1820), that the state represents “the march of God in the world.” The “deification” of Realpolitik, a transformation from mere principle of action to a sacred end unto itself, drew originating strength from the doctrine of sovereignty advanced in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries. Initially conceived as a principle of internal order, this doctrine underwent a specific metamorphosis, whence it became the formal or justifying rationale for international anarchy –  that is, for the global “state of nature.” First established by Jean Bodin as a juristic concept in De Republica (1576), sovereignty came to be regarded as a power absolute and above the law. Understood in terms of modern international relations, this doctrine encouraged the notion that states lie above and beyond any form of tangible legal regulation in their interactions.

[17] This brings to mind a comment by Italian film director Federico Fellini: “The visionary is the only realist.”

[18] One such contradiction concerns the crime of “aggression” under international law. Punishment of aggression is a firm and longstanding expectation of international criminal law.  The peremptory principle of Nullum Crimen sine poena, “No crime without a punishment,” has its origins in the Code of Hammurabi (c. 1728 – 1686 B.C.E.);  the Laws of Eshnunna (c. 2000 B.C.E.);  the even earlier Code of Ur-Nammu (c. 2100 B.C.E.) and the law of exact retaliation, or Lex Talionis, presented in three separate passages of the Jewish Torah.  Punishment of aggression is a firm and longstanding expectation of international criminal law.  The peremptory principle of Nullum Crimen sine poena, “No crime without a punishment,” has its origins in the Code of Hammurabi (c. 1728 – 1686 B.C.E.);  the Laws of Eshnunna (c. 2000 B.C.E.);  the even earlier Code of Ur-Nammu (c. 2100 B.C.E.) and the law of exact retaliation, or Lex Talionis, presented in three separate passages of the Jewish Torah.  Since World War II, aggression has typically been defined as a military attack, not justified by international law, when directed against the territory of another state. The question of defining aggression first acquired legal significance with the Draft Treaty of Mutual Assistance of 1923. One year later, the Geneva Protocol of 1924 provided that any state that failed to comply with the obligation to employ procedures of peaceful settlement in the Protocol or the Covenant was an aggressor. Much later, an authoritative definition of aggression was finally adopted without vote by the UN General Assembly on December 14, 1974.

Continue Reading

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

Publications

Latest

china india pakistan china india pakistan
East Asia5 hours ago

Shi Maxian’s trap vs Thucydides’ trap

Many political theories and international interpretations have emerged to explain the form of the conflict between the United States and...

East Asia12 hours ago

China and Indo-Pacific democracies in the face of American boycott of Beijing Winter Olympics

Despite the US administration’s announcement of a boycott of the Winter Olympics in Beijing, with the “American Olympic Committee allowing...

New Social Compact15 hours ago

E-resilience readiness for an inclusive digital society by 2030

The COVID-19 pandemic has clearly demonstrated the link between digitalization and development, both by showing the potential of digital solutions...

Tech News17 hours ago

Maintenance Tips for Second-Hand Cars

With a shortage of semiconductors continuing to plague the automotive industry, many are instead turning to the second-hand market to...

New Social Compact17 hours ago

Delivering on Our Promise for Universal Education

On the International Day of Education, we call on world leaders to transform how we deliver on education. The clock...

Africa Today19 hours ago

Bringing dry land in the Sahel back to life

Millions of hectares of farmland are lost to the desert each year in Africa’s Sahel region, but the UN Food...

Middle East21 hours ago

“Kurdish Spring”: drawing to a close?

For decades, the Kurdish problem was overshadowed by the Palestinian one, occasionally popping up in international media reports following the...

Trending