RUSSIA IN SYRIA: THE FOREIGN POLICY OF INTERVENTION
"U.S. President Barack Obama warned Russia on Friday that its bombing campaign against Syrian rebels will suck Moscow into a "quagmire," after a third straight day of air raids in support of President Bashar al-Assad.
At a White House news conference, Obama frequently assailed Russian President Vladimir Putin, who he accused of acting out of a position of weakness to defend a crumbling, authoritarian ally.
Friday prayers were canceled in insurgent-held areas of Syria's Homs province hit by Russian warplanes this week, with residents concerned that mosques could be targeted, according to one person from the area.
Putin's decision to launch strikes on Syria marks a dramatic escalation of foreign involvement in a more than four-year-old civil war in which every major country in the region has a stake.
It also gives fuel to domestic critics of Obama who say his unwillingness to act on Syria has allowed Moscow to stage its biggest show of force in the Middle East in decades.
But the U.S. president warned that Russia and Iran, Assad's main backer in the Muslim world, have isolated the majority of Syrians and angered their Sunni Muslim neighbors.
"An attempt by Russia and Iran to prop up Assad and try to pacify the population is just going to get them stuck in a quagmire and it won't work," Obama said".
Alistair Bell and Tom Perry, "Obama warns Russia's Putin of 'quagmire' in Syria". Reuters
. 2 October 2015, in www.reuters.com.
"Russia's decision to begin airstrikes in Syria should not come as a surprise. Moscow's preparations for this scenario were first known two months ago in mid-August, when various media sources began reporting about Russian military delegations who were arriving in Syria to assess the capacities of local airfields to host Russian fighter jets. Subsequent information about the reconstruction of Latakia airport and two other airfields in the area controlled by the Assad regime only strengthened conviction that Moscow was preparing for a military operation. Finally, in the second half of September, when the number of Russian fighter jets and military helicopters in Syria exceeded the number of actual Syrian pilots available to use them, the last doubts about Moscow's intentions disappeared. And now it has finally happened.
The decision to begin a military operation in Syria fits logically into the broader Russian strategy of settling the Syrian conflict on Moscow's conditions. Putin continues to insist that any peace settlement in Syria should be based around the existing Syrian state structures and institutions, and some sort of power-sharing between the Damascus regime and the 'healthy' elements of the opposition. Moscow absolutely rejects the removal of President Bashar al-Assad from power as a precondition for the beginning of the national dialogue. To the Russians, Assad is the only person capable of standing up to Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS) and keeping Syria from total collapse. This vision of the situation drastically differs from that of the West and many Middle Eastern countries, who consider Assad as the source of the Syrian problem rather than part of any solution.
Yet the Kremlin is now determined to try to change that via a two-track approach. On the one hand, since spring this year, Russian diplomats have intensified their dialogue with the West and the Middle Eastern countries (initially the Gulf states) to impose Moscow's views on the actual settlement of the conflict. On the other hand, their military support is helping to guarantee that the Syrian regime can hold out long enough for the Kremlin to achieve a desirable breakthrough on the diplomatic track. Under these circumstances, Moscow's military presence in Syria may become important leverage used by the Russians in their game in the Middle East".
Nikolay Kozhanov, "Russia's Military Intervention in Syria Makes It a Key Regional Player". The Royal Institute of International Affair
s. 2 October 2015, in www.chathamhouse.org
The reality of the whys and wherefores of Russian military intervention are closer I believe to the description given to it by Nikolay Kozhanov of Chatham House, rather than that of the American President and his administration. So to employ the example of 'Afghanistan' circa 1979 to my mind, misses the point entirely 1. Russian military activity appears to be consist solely of the employment of air power. At this point in time, as I have noted in my prior entry on this topic, Moskva does not appear to be interested nor has it readied itself for, employing large numbers of ground forces. Currently, there are less than one-thousand possible ground troops that Russia can employ in Syria. Unless and until that number changes, and Russian ground forces in large numbers (more than say ten-thousand at a minimum), are positioned in Syria, can the example of 'Afghanistan' be used. As previously mentioned in this journal, the rationale for Russian military intervention is both multi-faceted and simple: i
) assist the Assad Regime to survive by assisting it militarily. Primarily by the employment of air power. Admittedly of a rather brutal variety; ii
) ensure that Russia has a position at the 'top table' in any negotiations which might take place in the future; iii
) to assist 'ii' to occur in the near future, by making sure that the backers of the opposition to Assad Fils: the Americans, the Gulf Arabs, the Saudis, Turkey, and the French, understand that it is simply impossible to defeat Assad on the ground. And that any escalation of support for the opposition, will be met by Russian and Persian intervention on the other side. Which is not to gainsay the fact that the fighting in Syria at the moment, with or without Russian intervention is systematically destroying the country and its people.
The fact that the Russians, for reasons good or ill, has had a better 'read' on what is going on in Syria than the Americans and the other Western Powers since 2011, simply makes Russian reasoning all the more cogent, if not politically speaking acceptable, to Washington and Riyadh. The fact of the matter is, that even with the active co-operation between Washington and Moskva, 'fixing' the Syrian imbroglio will require tremendous efforts by all concerned. As the American military commentator, Anthony Cordesman, among others has pointed out:
The problem is that the “forest” is dying, burning, and occupied by four broad sets of fighters that have little reason to cooperate with any UN-led negotiating effort, outside agreement over Assad – with or without U.S. and Russian cooperation.
To shift from one cliché to another, Syria presents far more problems than Humpty Dumpty. “All the king's horses and all the king's men” couldn’t put Syria back together by negotiating a solution from the outside even if there was one King instead of a divided mix of the United States, Russia, Iran, Turkey, Iraq, the other states surrounding Syria, the Arabian Gulf states, Egypt, and France and the other interested European powers 2.
1. Geoff Dyer, "Putin risks Syria quagmire to remain step ahead of Obama". The Financial Times
. 2 October 2015, in www.ft.com
2. Anthony Cordesman, "The Long War in Syria: The Trees, the Forest, and All the King’s Men". The Center for Strategic and International Studies
. 1 October 2015, in www.csis.org.
See Also: Charles Glass, "In the Syrian Deadlands". The New York Review of Books
. 22 October 2015, pp. 8-12. On the fact that Russia has had a better idea as to the possibilities of what a post-Assad Syria would look like, see: John R. Bradley, "Why Putin backs Assad: the West's strategy on Syria is a complete shambles". The Spectator
. 26 September 2015, pp. 16-17.
PUTIN IN SYRIA: AN EXERCISE IN THE NEW-OLD 'GUNBOAT DIPLOMACY'
"Russia is to deploy 2,000 military personnel to its new air base near the Syrian port city of Latakia, signalling the scale of Moscow’s involvement in the war-torn country.
The deployment “forms the first phase of the mission there”, according to an adviser on Syria policy in Moscow.
The force will include fighter aircraft crews, engineers and troops to secure the facility, said another person briefed on the matter.
The pair declined to confirm whether Moscow had sent surface-to-air missiles and fighter jets, as alleged by Washington at the weekend.
But Russian and western military experts said surface-to-air missiles were an integral part of the defences of any air base.
The comments are unlikely to allay fears in the US-led coalition fighting the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (Isis), that Russia’s military involvement in Syria could escalate the country’s bloody civil war or risk incidents between Russian and other forces active in the country."
Kathrin Hille and John Reed, "Russia to deploy 2,000 in Syria air base mission’s ‘first phase’". The Financial Times
. 22 September 2015, in www.ft.com.
"The use or threat of limited naval force, otherwise than as an act of war, in order to secure advantage or to avert loss, either in the furtherance of an international dispute or else against foreign nationals within the territory or the jurisdiction of their own state".
Sir James Cable. Gunboat diplomacy, 1919-1991: political applications of limited naval force.
(1971), p.10-15 and passim.
"In May 1911 the French occupied Fez, the most important city; it was certain that the French would take Morocco before the had paid a price for it to Germany; and the failure of the schemes for compensation seemed to confirm his fears....Therefore he had only to take a firm line and France would pay; then opinion in both countries would be satisfied, and a lasting reconciliation would follow. On 21 June he told Jules Cambon [French Ambassador in Berlin] that Germany must be compensated: 'bring us something back from Paris'.
In the Bismarkian manner, he imagined that the French would yield only to threats. In his own words: 'it is necessary to thump the table. However the only object of this is to make the French negotiate'. On 1 July the German gunboat Panther anchored in the south Moroccan harbor of Agadir".
A. J. P. Taylor. The Struggle for Mastery in Europe, 1848-1918
. (1954), pp. 466-467.
It is with grave and utter reluctance that one disagrees with someone as knowledgeable and experienced in the annuals of diplomacy and diplomatic history as Sir James Cable, but in the case of the etymological origins of the term 'gunboat diplomacy', then my case is clear. Strictly speaking, 'gunboat diplomacy' is not the bombardment of coastal towns and cities in the Palmerstonian, 19th century manner, but something a bit different as in the case of the Agadir Crisis of 1911, wherein the term actually originated. Where the German Foreign Office employed a simple gunboat to give public evidence of German demands for compensation from France over the latter's forthcoming occupation of Morocco 1. In the current case of the Russia's policy in Syria, it is obvious (or seems obvious to me) that what Grazhdanin
Putin is aiming for is not an overt military intervention, which would endeavor by itself to prop up the Assad Regime. Which may or may not be crumbling 2. Albeit, if a very very limited Russian contribution to the ongoing intervention of Hezbollah and the regime in Persia, had a positive effect on the battlefield, all the better no doubt from Moskva's
perspective. What Moskva
is aiming at I would instead argue is three fold: a
) establish a gage
, a forfeit, so to speak so that if indeed the Assad is crumbling, then Russia will endeavor to establish its foothold on the parts of the Syrian corpse that it covets; b
) more important to try by its overt presence (if for the most part militarily inconsequential presence to date), to coral the Western powers and in particular the Americans to join Russia, in an anti-ISIS crusade. Which would faute de mieux
, also help to prevent the collapse of the Assad Regime; c
) to bring Russia out of the diplomatic doghouse which its policies in the past twenty-months in Ukraine has consigned it to, by allying with the Western powers in the Near East. The latter two aspects of the policy it seems to me is the heart of what Putin and his clique are aiming at. Since in all seriousness, the number of Russian ground forces (less than one-thousand if one means fighting foot soldiers strictly speaking) in Syria at present cannot by a simple lack of numbers, enable Moskva to turn the tide and help the Assad Regime to survive, must less win its war against his opponents (ISIS and others). Even, if all those thousand troops were special forces and or shock troops. Unless Putin were to seriously pursue a va banque
policy of large-scale military intervention in Syria, Russian forces mere presence in Syria cannot by any means have a significant effect in the conflict 3. However, if Putin were to parlay the presence of Russian forces in Syria into a lever to obtain a repositioning of Western policy in the conflict, then would Russian intervention could be said to have changed the dynamics of the civil war in Syria. As per the possibilities of the latter, that is matter which at present is not entirely clear. I for one, have always viewed the regime of Assad Fils
, to be a lesser evil given who his successors among the opposition might be. And nothing in the past two to three years has caused me to change my mind about the matter. Hopefully, the Americans and their allies will see things in the same light in the near future.
1. See the following for an outline of the crisis, in: Taylor, op. cit., pp. 465-473. For a complete, if albeit 'old-fashioned', diplomatic history of the crisis, see: Irma Barlow. The Agadir Crisis
2. Andrew Osborn, "Syrian army reversals spook Kremlin into hasty military build-up". Reuters
. 18 September 2015, in www.reuters.com
3. As per the premier American military analyst, Anthony Cordesman, Russian forces have (so far) constructed facilities to house up to 3,500, with so far only 200 marines stationed in Syria as of this week. With up to forty armored vehicles of various types. Notwithstanding a more voluminous air and sea arm, the above assets are not nearly enough to win the war for Assad. See: Anthony Cordesman, "Russia in Syria: Hybrid Political Warfare". Center for Strategic And International Studies
. 23 September 2015, in www.csis.org
TOWARDS A FORTRESS EUROPE? OR ANGELA MERKEL'S FOLLY
"Nervous governments in central and south-east Europe tightened their borders and lashed out at each other on Friday, as fears grew that tens of thousands of migrants could be stranded in the Balkans.
In the latest sign that the migrant crisis has led to a breakdown in European co-ordination and solidarity, Croatia closed seven out of eight road crossings from Serbia and sought to bus some of the 15,000 migrants already on its territory to Hungary, even as Budapest reinforced the border between the two countries.
Almost all of the migrants have poured into Croatia from Serbia since Hungary, previously a key transit country, effectively closed its own Serbian border on Tuesday. In the intervening three days, Croatia has shifted from its previous welcoming stance and officials have confessed themselves overwhelmed.
“We cannot register and accommodate these people any longer,” said Zoran Milanovic, Croatia’s prime minister. “They will get food, water and medical help, and then they can move on. The EU must know that Croatia will not become a migrant hotspot. We have hearts, but we also have heads.”
But a bottleneck was forming on Friday as Croatia’s neighbours to the north and west threw up new barriers to prevent a migrant inflow."
Neil Buckley in Budapest, Duncan Robinson, Daniel Dombey, "Croatia shuts borders as it is overwhelmed by influx of migrants". The Financial Times
. 18 September 2015, in www.ft.com
We liberals need to argue from Europe’s self-interest: our continent has the need, the space and the ability to accept people. Here’s the pragmatic manifesto for welcoming refugees into Europe.
Simon Kuper, "Why we should welcome migrants". The Financial Times
. 11 September 2015, in www.ft.com.
"'I am not a sentimental man', said Constantius, 'but I love the wall'. Think of it, mile upon mile, from snow to desert, a single great girdle round the civilized world; inside, peace, decency, the law, the altars of the Gods, industry, the arts, order; outside, wild beasts, and savages, forest and swamp, bloody mumbo-jumbo, men like wolf-packs; and along the wall the armed might of the Empire, sleepless, holding the line'".
Evelyn Arthur St. John Waugh. Helena
. (1950), p. 43.
One does not have to be an enthusiast for the somewhat morally and politically questionable Magyar Premier Orban to agree with his often-proclaimed statements that it is both dangerous and mindless to allow the current situation of hordes of refugee / economic migrant influx to proceed without any controls. The fact of the matter is that in the past forty to forty-five years, Europe has shown almost no taste or skill in assimilating the existing ten to twelve million third-world immigrants. To have tout à coup.
, over one million (which in short order will grow to two to four million) migrants land up on the shores of Europe is a recipe for sheer disaster and unmitigated disaster. That may perhaps be a pessimistic way of looking at the matter, but it is an unfortunate but cogent fact. Does one need to bring to mind the riots in Paris and London of a few years ago? Or the mini-riots which take place regularly in the suburbs of Sweden? Where Molotov cocktails are regularly used? Or the massacre in Paris earlier this year? Not to speak of the (by now) thousand or so, Muslims residing in Europe who have joined the madmen of ISIS 1? The question answers itself. Notwithstanding, liberal, bien-pensants
like Simon Kuper who, ostrich-like, prefer to ignore the harsh reality all around him (in both Paris and London by the bye!). The uncontrolled influx of these hordes of third-world migrants, of course being the unintended result of German Premier, Angela Merkel's completely unnecessary and in retrospect ultra-dangerous decision to process any and all 'refugees' who enter the Federal Republic of Germany. Notwithstanding the fact that this coup de theatre
, was completely at variance with existing European Union policy as well as being positively wrongheaded. As the London Spectator's James Forsyth has correctly and aptly noted:
"Of all the irresponsible decisions taken in recent years by European politicians, few will cause as much human misery as Angela Merkel’s plan to welcome Syrian refugees to Germany. Hailed as enlightened moral leadership, it is in fact the result of panic and muddled thinking. Her pronouncements will lure thousands more into the hands of unscrupulous people-traffickers. Her insistence that the rest of the continent should share the burden will add political instability to the mix. Merkel has made a dire situation
1. On the problems in assimilating the existing Muslim populations in Western Europe, see: Owen Bennett-Jones, 'We’ and ‘You’. The London Review of Books
. 27 August 2015, in www.lrb.co.uk
2. James Forsyth, "Merkel’s grandstanding on Syrian refugees will lead to many more deaths at sea". The Spectator
. 12 September 2015. p. 14. Also: www.spectator.co.uk
PREDICTING THE CHINESE FUTURE SOME NINE YEARS AGO: A LOOK BACK
"The gigantic military parade that will pass through Beijing on Thursday is meant to be all about the past. But, inevitably, many in the Asia-Pacific region will see it as a disturbing message about the future.
The Chinese government has called the parade to mark the 70th anniversary of “victory in the war of Japanese aggression”. But, in the 21st century, it is potential Chinese aggression that is worrying many Asian countries. China has unresolved territorial disputes with several of its neighbours. Vietnam, India, Japan and the Philippines have all complained about Chinese incursions, backed by military force, into these disputed areas. This year China has also engaged in “land reclamation” projects in the South China Sea — creating entire islands that are likely to be equipped with airstrips and military facilities, to reinforce Beijing’s claims to territorial waters thousands of miles from the Chinese mainland.
Such overt militarism is a risky course. If it goes wrong, it could destroy the international order that has provided the basis for China’s stunning economic success over the past 40 years. Ever since the late 1970s, successive Chinese leaders have realised that the economic transformation of their country depended on globalisation and peaceful relations with their major trading partners. To get the message across, Chinese leaders parroted slogans such as “peaceful rise” and “harmonious world”.
Under President Xi Jinping, however, China seems inclined to take a more assertive approach in territorial disputes that it regards as part of its “core national interests”. This is a reflection of both strength and weakness.
Gideon Rachman, "Militarism is a risky temptation for Beijing". The Financial Times
. 31 August 2015, in www.ft.com
With the benefit of hindsight it is possible of course to predict almost anything and indeed everything. It is infinitely much more difficult to see one's predictions come true! Well, I do believe that in the instance of the future course of Chinese foreign policy, the predictions that I made circa the Spring of 2006 have indeed largely come true. In an exchange in the online periodical Nautilus specializing in Asiatic politics and diplomacy, between myself and then Yale Professor Emanuel Pastreich, I predicted that while China was indeed a Great Asiatic power, it was not and would not be in a position to become a challenger to American so-called
'Hegemony'. And indeed, while there is very much warranted concern `a la Gideon Rachman's piece in this week's Financial Times
as to the dangerous courses that the regime in Peking might very well embark upon in order to displace popular anti-government feelings, that is not the same thing as seeing the PRC as being the next in line to succeed the USA as a world hegemonic power. However, please reader peruse both pieces and offer up your own opinion whose predictions some nine years ago are indeed correct.
The following are comments on the essay “Is China the Nemesis in a New Cold War?” by Emanuel Pastreich, visiting scholar at the Center for East Asian Studies, University of Pennsylvania and a Japan Focus associate, which appeared as Policy Forum Online 06-18A: March 6th, 2006.
This report includes comments by Charles G. Coutinho, Ph. D. an independent scholar, having with a doctorate in the department of History at New York University in 1997. specializing in Anglo-American relations during the early Cold War.
1. Comments by Charles G. Coutinho, Ph. D
I have read, and, been impressed with Pastreich’s essay concerning current and future state of Sino-American relations. My comments are going to be much more directed towards the flaws that I see in the analysis, especially the historical examples used by the author, to hang together his argument, rather than per se, the predictions made by Pastreich, although, in my conclusion, I do offer my own opinion of the future course of Sino-American relations as well.
First, to characterize current relations between the USA, and the PRC, as akin to those between the USA, and the UK in the years 1910 and 1970, is to put it mildly, a rather distorted view of both relationships. Let us first, get the historical background in proper and accurate perspective: while, there were at times elements of discord and even strain, no serious historian would characterize Anglo-American relations between say 1910 and 1939, much less in the later time frame as one of ‘bitter rivalry’, in the way that Pastreich does. ‘Competitive Cooperation’, in the words of David Reynolds, is a much more accurate term to describe Anglo-American relations in this time frame. 1 As for the period after 1939, it would be accurate to describe it, as one of a de facto alliance. Admittedly, an alliance of unequals, especially, after 1945, but an alliance still. The best example of which, is that it would be difficult to put it mildly, to conceive any other foreign representative, had the same access, and influence in the inner corridors of American policy-making that the UK’s did, in this time frame. In the embassy’s of Sir Oliver Franks (1949-1953), Lord Harlech (1961-1964), Lord Cromer (1970-1973), and Sir Nicholas Henderson (1979-1982). It is pretty much inconceivable that a representative from the PRC, would ever be able to possess either the confidence or the influence that the above UK Ambassador’s had, and, to some degree still possess. 2
Second, in his historical background Pastreich, has a simplistic and erroneous idea of both the UK’s power political position circa 1910, and, USA, today. Contrary to Pastreich’s statement that the UK ‘maintained undisputed dominion in the economic, diplomatic and military realms’, the realty was quite different. Firstly, by 1913, both the USA, and Germany, had overtaken the UK in share of World Manufacturing Output. 3 The USA’s share being more than two and half times as large as the UK’s. With the same being true of the former’s production of Iron and Steel. 4 It was precisely with this shift in mind, that caused the then British First Lord of the Admiralty, the Earl of Selbourne, to remark that if the USA so wished it, British naval supremacy could easily be made a thing of the past. 5 As for land power, the UK’s was far down on the list of existing military contenders. 6
As compared to the above, the USA, in contemporary terms possesses a power political position, which bears in fact, little parallel with the UK in 1910. In the economic realm, the USA possesses by far, the world’s largest economy, with 23% of total world output. A figure which is double that of Japan and China combined. 7 In the military sphere, the USA is in a class by itself – both in contemporary terms and historically. With none of the other world’s military forces being in the same league with the USA, much less competitive. 8
In short, the major flaw, as I see it, in Pastreich’s argument, is his thesis, that the PRC, is in the equivalent position, vis`a-vis, the USA, that the USA, was vis-`a-vis, the UK, in 1910. In addition to the examples adduced above, the key difference in the two situations, as I see it, is that while the USA, was by 1910, a major world power, with interests, both the Far East, the Pacific, as well as being the de facto hegemonic power on the American continent, the PRC, is none of these at present. While perhaps one can characterize it as a major Far Eastern power, no one would call it the hegemonic one. And, with no military bases or alliances outside of the Far East, China is still a provincial, limited actor, in power political terms. This perhaps harsh, but accurate characterization is reinforced when one looks at the global influence and attraction of China’s cultural and ideology. It is difficult to put it mildly, to envisage the PRC’s current rulers, having the worldwide appeal of say Presidents T. Roosevelt, Wilson, or F. D. Roosevelt. In the realm of ‘soft power’, the PRC is an also-ran, if it can even be said to be in the race at all.9
To sum up, while one does not like to prognosticate the future from current conditions, it is difficult to envisage the scenario that Pastreich posits, whereby in the near future, the ‘United States will concede’, its ‘dominant status to China’. While one may agree with Pastreich’s caveats about Bush’s ‘war on terror’, and, especially the way that it is being waged, it is very farfetched indeed, to compare the war and its impact on the USA, with say the impact that the two World War’s had on the UK. Lest Pastreich forget, on the first day of the Battle of the Somme, the UK, lost times as many men, as the USA, has lost in Iraq and Afghanistan, since 2001.10. The war on terror may perhaps be many things, but, it is most assuredly not a repetition of the Great War. Least of all, in its impact on the USA. Which means, that in the case of the near term evolution of Sino-American relations, that it is much more likely that the PRC, will retain its position as merely a great Far Eastern power, without expanding much beyond that area, much less, becoming a great power, with worldwide ambitions, and interest, `a la the contemporary USA, or such great powers in the past as say the Soviet Union, Czarist Russia, the British Empire, or France between say 1884 and 1939.
1.David S. Reynolds, The Creation of the Anglo-American Alliance, 1937-1941: a study in competitive co-operation. 1982.
2.Robin Edmonds, Setting the Mold: the United States and Great Britain, 1945-1950. 1986; Nicholas Henderson, Mandarin: The Diaries of an Ambassador. 2000; Charles Douglas-Home, Evelyn Baring: the last proconsul. 1978.
3.Paul Kennedy, The Rise and Fall of the Great Powers, 1987, pp. 200-204.
4.A. J. P. Taylor, The Struggle for Mastery in Europe, 1954, pp. xxv-xxxi.
5.George Boyce, eds. The Crisis of British Power: Imperial and naval papers of the Second Earl of Selbourne, 1895-1910. 1990, pp. 133, 184-185.
6.Kennedy, op. cit.
7.Niall Ferguson, Colossus: The Price of America’s Empire. 2004, p. 18; Joseph Nye, The Paradox of American Power, 2002, pp. 36.
8.Ferguson, pp. 16-17.
9.On the concept of ‘soft power’, see Nye, p. 9, and throughout.
Response by Emanuel Yi Pastreich
I am most grateful for the thoughtful comments I received in response to my essay. Many readers pointed out that China’s own social, political and demographic weaknesses put an absolute limit on its geopolitical ambitions. I fully recognize the possibility that China may ultimately be hobbled by its own internal problems. I would only respond that ultimately the issue is not whether China has handicaps, but rather whether these handicaps will be more serious than the ones incurred by the United States over the next few decades. I will frame the argument differently, with greater qualifications, when I next write on this topic.
Nevertheless, if we look at East Asia as a whole, we can still see many parallels between the relationship the United States had with Europe, or Great Britain in specific, during the twentieth century and that which Northeast Asia has with the United States. A similar shift of capital, manufacturing, technology, cultural authority and the control of information and education can be readily identified.
Analogies are imperfect, and ultimately subjective, heuristic tools. There are aspects of China’s relationship to the United States that can be elucidated through a comparison to the rivalry between the United States and the Soviet Union and aspects of that same relationship that are better explained through an analogy to the competition between the United States and Great Britain in the first half of the twentieth century.
I presented a brief argument employing the latter analogy in order to raise serious questions about current attempts to evaluate the challenge China poses in a purely military manner. I felt that such arguments are misleading, inappropriate and dangerous. That said, comparing the economic, political and diplomatic relations of the United States and the People’s Republic of China in the 21st century with those of Great Britain and the United States in the 20th does not mean that I think the United States will adopt a Queen and parliamentary system, or that China will allow all citizens to own handguns and develop a strong anti-abortion movement. It could well mean that China will not be as open a society for the average citizen as the United States fifty years from now and at the same time play the role of honest broker in the world.
Dr. Coutinho’s careful analysis of my article makes very valid points about the limitations of the analogy. One prominent error in my writing that Dr. Coutinho pointed out is the arbitrary decision to limit the historical scope for the analogy to the period 1910 to 1970. In fact, the competition between the United States and Great Britain went on for a far longer period of time and even included military conflict. A longer section of the history of the two countries would have allowed for a more nuanced and convincing comparison.
I would like to concentrate on the specific points in which the clear difference in opinion between myself and Dr. Coutinho goes beyond my rudimentary understanding of British history.
For example, Dr. Coutinho argues that the term “bitter rivalry” is exaggerated and suggests that the term “competitive cooperation” is more accurate to describe the Ango-American relationship. Although “competitive cooperation” may well be the standard adjective for the relationship between the United States and Great Britain over the last hundred years, a strong argument can be made that whatever the surface impression may have been, in the battle for control of telecommunications, or the efforts to increase international market share, control of oil in the Middle East and diplomatic influence, there was a clear struggle between the two states that could be described as “bitter.”
For example, as William Engdahl notes in his recent article, “The US Geopolitical Nightmare: The Middle East, Central Asia, East Asia,” the competition between the US and China in the Middle East follows the same contours of the previous struggle between the US and Great Britain. Recently, after Chinese President Hu Jintao was insulted by President Bush in Washington, Saudi King Abdullah bin Abdul Aziz welcomed him with full state honors in Riyadh:
“Hu signed a deal for Saudi Basic Industries Corp (SABIC) of Saudi Arabia to build a $5.2 billion oil refinery and petrochemical project in northeastern China. At the beginning of this year, Saudi King Abdullah was in Beijing for a full state visit.
“Since the Franklin D Roosevelt-King Ibn Saud deal giving US Aramco and not the British exclusive concession to develop Saudi oil in 1943, Saudi Arabia has been regarded in Washington as a core strategic sphere of interest.”
China has set its eyes on dislodging the United States over the next few decades from its privileged place in the Middle East much as the United States displaced Great Britain previously.
It is true that the Chinese ambassador does not have the access in Washington that an English diplomat like Sir Oliver Franks (1949-1953) had. I would say that even if China never has that level of influence based on a common culture, the general analogy may still be relevant. Obviously China has a different ideological and political history and different demographic challenges than the United States. The relationship between the two nations can never be as close as that between two nations sharing a language and many ethnic ties. That does not rule out the possibility that China will gradually and increasingly have say over what happens in the United States, and the world, without most Americans even being aware of it.
Moreover, not all American influence in Great Britain was a matter of agreements between gentlemen. During the Suez Crisis (1956-57) the Eisenhower administration forced a cease-fire on Great Britain by threatening to sell off US reserves of the British pound, thereby precipitating a collapse of the English currency. It is quite easy to imagine China engaging in such arm twisting to get its way in some future disagreement without ever deploying an aircraft carrier.
There is no reason to assume that China cannot “possess the confidence or the influence” of the great UK ambassadors to the United States in the future. It is true that such a scenario is unimaginable today. But imagine a deeply indebted America that has been bogged down in devastating conflict in the Middle East involving Iran, Iraq, Israel and Saudi Arabia for a decade or two? Might that America find that the China it once loathed has become one of its few allies. We should not forget that China is a state that is not motivated by religious principles, is committed to the ideology of free trade, has invested vast sums in the US economy, and in general does not harbor a strong Anti-American sentiment.
For that matter, should we assume that the outward signs of hostility towards China that radiate from the Bush White House rule out the possibility that China already has considerable backdoor influence in Washington? Perhaps that American hostility is little more than an infantile effort to cover up a growing and unseemly dependency.
History will show whether China ever produces leaders with a worldwide appeal. That may never happen, but I do not see any reason to assume it will not. Although China does not have military bases around the world that allow it to project military power, that massive military commitment is precisely what is undermining American power. China may be blessed not to have that burden in the first place. For that matter, much of the overwhelming American military consists of aircraft, tanks and weapons systems designed to fight an apocalyptic war of position that will never take place in the twenty-first century.
China is at an advantage not having an entrenched military bureaucracy dedicated to protecting those increasingly expensive boondoggles. The American military, in terms of highly trained individuals with a strong dedication to their work, has been seriously degraded over the last five years, even as spending goes up. The ultimate question is, could the United States end up so indebted, so dependent on the import of technology and so demoralized by its position in the world that nations previously closely allied with the United States would see China as a better partner, and the United States itself would fall into the Chinese realm? I am not saying that will happen, I am only questioning the certainty with which others assert that nothing even resembling that could ever happen.
Finally, Dr. Coutinho notes that there is no comparison between the terrible losses suffered by Great Britain in the First World War and the casualties of the United States over the last five years in Iraq and Afghanistan. I grant that the number killed is far is thankfully less than those killed in major WW I battles. But how can we be sure just how many Americans will lose their lives in the years to come? The Middle East is not Vietnam for the simple reason that the United States is so dependent on oil for every aspect of the economy. At a certain point, pulling out may be such a threat to the American economy that it cannot be done no matter how high the casualties.
WHAT IS WRONG WITH CHINA?
"First the good news about the new role of China: it lies—at least up to now—in the economic side of the case. Alongside better
monetary policy and more flexible exchange rates between the big industrial blocs, the response of China along with other big emerging market economies to the world financial crisis is the central explanation why the financial turbulence that emanated from the U.S. subprime crisis did not completely destroy the world economy and lead to a repeat of the 1930s Great Depression...How different the twenty-first century looks from the Depression story! It is as if the Chinese leadership were 'A' students in one of Kindleberger's courses. Throughout the crisis, the Chinese economy continued to grow at an amazing pace, in part as a consequence of large state countercyclical strategies. When anyone wants an example of how a Keynesian strategy can be highly effective in the short term, internationally as well as domestically, they should look at China's 4 trillion renmibi stimulus."
Harold James, "International order after the financial crisis". International Affairs
. (May 2011), pp. 530-531.
August in China has been anything but the quiet month of myth. Developments in the equity and foreign exchange markets and even the appalling industrial accident in Tianjin might seem mere bad luck when considered individually. Together, however, they symbolise a slow-motion denouement of China’s economic and political model. The country is now going through a crisis of transition, unparalleled since Deng Xiaoping set out to put clear water between China’s future and the Mao era.
The signs are that it is not going so well. Rebooting the authority and primacy of the Communist party, the pursuit of often contentious reforms, financial liberalisation and rebalancing the economy while trying to sustain an unrealistic rate of growth are complex and mutually incompatible goals....China’s economic transition was always going to be difficult, but developments this year suggest that things are not going according to plan. The centralisation of power is proving to be
a double-edged sword for reform, the anti-corruption campaign is choking off initiative and growth and the economy cannot be kept on an unrealistic expansionary path by unending stimulus.
The time for accepting a permanently lower growth rate is drawing closer. It will test the legitimacy and reform appetite of China’s leaders in ways that will determine the country’s prospects for years to come.
George Magnus, "The Chinese model is nearing its end". The Financial Times
. 21 August 2015, in www.ft.com
As someone who was extremely skeptical of Professor James original thesis at the very time that he first presented the very same four years ago (in this very journal in fact), I would not be human if I did not show a little bit of Schadenfreude
at the recent
economical turbulence in China. Obviously, notwithstanding the 'hurrahs' of praise for the technocratic skills and decision making ethos of the new Mandarins of the PRC, all is not well in the Chinese capital these days 1. Given the endemic corruption and harsh authoritarian nature of the political regime in the PRC (infinitely worse than say in Putin's Russia), it is a wonder (at least to me) why or how anyone could have even the minimal sympathy for the regime in Peking. Not to speak of the fact that in the regime still pays lip service to the 'heroic' doings of that monster in human form, called Mao Tse-tung
. Accordingly, it is not surprising, but indeed refreshing that the hollow nature of the so-called expertise of the technocrats who rule in China has clearly been shown to be hollow 2. Something that the ever-wise, George Magnus has been reminding people for quite awhile now. One can only hope that with the recent events, the legitimacy and sympathy that the regime in Peking has garnered since 2008, both at home and abroad, will quickly evaporate in short order. As Dr. Jonathan Eyal of the Royal United Services Institute
cogently commented yesterday:
"The way the Chinese leaders handled the crisis also tells us a great deal about the country’s political vulnerabilities.... The bottom line is that although there are plenty of officials in China who understand financial markets, the top leaders who approve decisions in time of emergency speak no foreign languages, talk to nobody outside their small circle of acolytes and have no idea of what makes markets and people tick. That has always been China’s Achilles heel, as it is for any authoritarian state: the idea that the Chinese have invented a miraculous system which preserves absolute power in the hands of a tiny self-selecting elite but somehow still allows for ‘technocrats’ to make sensible ‘meritocratic’ decisions was always nonsense, and remains nonsense, as the handling of the current crisis indicates" 3.
In short, while the BRIC countries of the world will also feel the after shocks of the economic turbulence that is contemporary China, it is far better for the future of the world, that the PRC be taken down a peg or two in every way possible, unless and until its system of governance changes. Nay indeed changes almost completely.
1. See in particular: David A. Bell. The China Model: Political Meritocracy and the Limits of Democracy
. (2015). As well as: Martin Jacques. When China Rules the World: The End of the Western World and the Birth of a New Global Order
2. Jamil Anderlini, "China: Credibility on the line". The Financial Times
. 28 August 2015, in www.ft.com
3. Jonathan Eyal, "China’s Stock Market Crash Threatens Her Global Power Ambitions". The Royal United Services Institute.
27 August 2015, in www.rusi.org
EHUD BARAK'S CONFESSION OF ISRAELI WEAKNESS OVER PERSIA: A COMMENT
"On Aug. 21, Israeli Channel 2 Television aired a recording of Ehud Barak, Israel's former defense minister and former prime minister, saying that on three separate occasions, Israel had planned to attack Iran's nuclear facilities but canceled the attacks. According to Barak, in 2010 Israel's chief of staff at the time, Gabi Ashkenazi, refused to approve an attack plan. Israeli Cabinet members Moshe Yaalon and Yuval Steinitz backed out of another plan, and in 2012 an attack was canceled because it coincided with planned U.S.-Israeli military exercises and a visit from then-U.S. Defense Secretary Leon Panetta.
The fact that the interview was released at all is odd. Barak claimed to have believed that the tape would not be aired, and he supposedly tried unsuccessfully to stop the broadcast. It would seem that Barak didn't have enough clout to pressure the censor to block it, which I suppose is possible....It would seem, intentionally or unintentionally, that Barak is calling Israeli attention to two facts. The first is that militarily taking out Iranian facilities would be difficult, and the second is that attempting to do so would affect relations with Israel's indispensible ally, the United States. Military leaders' opposition to the strikes had been rumored and hinted at in public statements by retired military and intelligence heads; Barak is confirming that those objections were the decisive reason Israel did not attack. The military was not sure it could succeed".
George Friedman, "Israel: The Case Against Attacking Iran". Stratfor: Global Intelligence
. 25 August 2015, in www.stratfor.com
"The US has military options for preventive strikes that Israel cannot come close to matching if it has the support of its Arab Gulf allies. This does not, however, make such military options desirable if there is any hope of successful negotiations with Iran, or more desirable than some form of containment.
Any such conflict would have a major impact on world oil prices for an unknown period of time at a point the global economy is in crisis. It could trigger serious clashes in the Gulf and spill over into other parts of the region, including Iraq, Syria, Afghanistan and the Levant, and lock the US and its Southern Gulf allies into a period of overwatch and restrikes for years to come. The warnings about the “law of unintended consequences” from two US Chiefs of Staff – Admiral Mullen and General Dempsey – are fully justified".
Anthony Cordesman, "Iran and U.S. Options for Preventive Military Strikes". Center for Strategic and International Studies
. 6 September 2012, in www.csis.org
The intentions of the former Israeli Prime and Defense Minister, as well as former Chief of Staff, Ehud Barak
in admitting publically that it was Israel's own strategic calculations which prevented it from proceeding with air strikes on Persia's nuclear weapons are or should be revealing. Not, mind you revealing to those who were reasonably informed about what the likelihood of any such endeavor (mixed at best) would be, but one may presume both a domestic (Israeli) audience and an American audience (Congressional and public) who may have swallowed whole, the argument that it was only American, official hesitations which caused Tel Aviv to pull back from launching any such attacks. Nothing could be further from the truth as Barak's radio interview clearly shows, wherein in it was stated that:
"an Israeli chief of staff blocked one plan, a former chief of staff blocked a second plan and concern for U.S. sensibilities blocked a third. To put it in different terms, the Israelis considered and abandoned attacks on Iran on several occasions, when senior commanders or Cabinet members with significant military experience refused to approve the plan. Unmentioned was that neither the prime minister nor the Cabinet overruled them. Their judgment — and the judgment of many others — was that an attack shouldn't be executed, at least not at that time 1."
Something that Anthony Cordesman, who is without a doubt the leading American commentator on military matters, own writing over the years in dealing with this topic have clearly shown to be the case: that Israel, by itself lacked and lacks the wherewithal to effectively prevent, nay guarantee that it could employ sufficient military force to cripple Persia's nuclear weapons programme. When people, either informed or not so informed discuss this rather fraught and difficult issue, the fact that the usually very tough-minded Israeli leadership refused to launch attacks on Persia clearly underlines the fact that the recent agreement between the Americans and their allies with Teheran is indeed 'the very best deal that we can get' 2. Pur et simple
1. Friedman, op. cit.
2. Anthony Cordesman, "The Best Deal with Iran That We Can Get". Center for Strategic and International Studies
. 24 November 2013, in www.csis.org
THE NUCLEAR AGREEMENT WITH PERSIA: DANGERS AHEAD?
"A critical criteria of the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA) is a twelve month breakout timeline for Iran's remaining gas centrifuge program. However, this 12 month criteria does not hold if Iran were to re-install the advanced IR-2m centrifuges during a breakout. Breakout timelines of seven months result if these centrifuges are re-installed. The U.S. administration makes the assessment that Iran will not re-install these centrifuges because they are unreliable and work poorly. This assessment preserves a 12-month breakout timeline but it appears questionable. The JCPOA has many strengths but one of its most serious shortcomings is that it almost ensures that Iran can emerge in 15-20 years as a nuclear power with the potential, at a time of its choosing, to make enough weapon-grade uranium for several nuclear weapons within a few weeks. Addressing this weakness, in particular by finding ways to ensure Iran does not build a semi-commercial enrichment program, should become a critical part of the implementation of the JCPOA and not left to future generations of decision makers."
David Albright, Houston Wood, and Andrea Stricker, "Breakout Timelines Under the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action". Institute for Science and International Security
. 18 August 2015, in www.isis-online.org
"Preventive war is like committing suicide out of fear of death."
Fürst von Bismarck.
The remarks by the ultra-informative and insightful David Albright and his colleagues need to be taken seriously. And indeed one cannot gainsay the fact that per se
there is a very good possibility that the regime in Persia, provided that it has the very same complexion as it does as present. The caveat employed by me is a deliberate one. There is no way to know what will be either the complexion or the policies of the future governors of Persia. It could of course very well be that the country will be saddled with the same mad Mullahs as at present. In which case, there is a very good likelihood that Persia will indeed (as Albright, et. al., state):
"Emerge in 15-20 years as a nuclear power with the potential, at a time of its choosing, to make enough weapon-grade uranium for several nuclear weapons within a few weeks 1."
But the crux of the matter is that at present, no one except the Good Lord in Heaven, has an idea as to the future nature of the governance of Persia circa Anno Domini
2025-2030. Unless one wishes to go down the path of the Bismarkian geopolitician who stages suicide in a futile effort to avoid death, there were no alternatives to the deal that was arrived at. Per contra
to the musings of failed Neo-Conservative policymakers like the egregious Elliott Abrams
, there was and is not in the offing a 'better deal' that could have been negotiated with Tehran 2. Which is not to say that the Americans and their allies had everything their own way. Obviously not. But that is the nature of diplomatic 'give and take'. 'Diplomacy
' if the mot
means anything, means that in a negotiations both sides must to at least some extent exchange gages
. It is or should be self-evident that in order to arrive at any deal with Persia, the Americans, et. al., would had to agree to begin to dismantle the sanctions regime that has been constructed in the past fifteen years or so against Persia. Accordingly, the agreement does provide for the very same. Sans
that concession there would not have been any agreement and the end-result of that would have been some combination of: i
) Persian racing to begin developing nuclear weapons; ii
) the Americans and the Israelis begin to contemplate taking military measures to forestall scenarios 'i' & 'ii'. Given the overall situation in the current Near & Middle East, to seriously give thought to beginning military activities against Persia would indeed be a case of madness. Given the alternatives available, the agreement, while far from perfect, is far better than the two scenarios outlined above. The incoherent yells of our Neo-Conservative failures notwithstanding.
1. Albright, et. al., op. cit.
2. Elliott Abrams, "Iran Got a Far Better Deal Than It Had Any Right to Expect". The National Review
. 15 July 2015, in www.nationalreview.com