Thursday, March 28, 2013


At the invitation of Mr. Danny Millum, the editor the Institute of Historical Research's online journal, 'Reviews in History', I penned the below review of John Lewis Gaddis' splendid biography of the diplomat and scholar George Frost Kennan. The man who qualifies in my mind to have been the greatest Foreign Service officer in 20th century American History. As I make clear, in some respects the amount of attention devoted to Kennan by my fellow diplomatic historians, is perhaps not fully justified by Kennan's historical importance qua a policy-maker. And as I make clear perhaps in my review I have not entirely escaped myself from the aura of George F. Kennan, 'cold war iconoclast' and Jamesian character. Someone who speaks for us all who are not entirely comfortable with American life and prefer in their heart and bones the once solid verities of so-called 'Old World', id est., Europe. As James noted in his study of the great 19th century American novelist, Hawthorne:
"If Hawthorne had been a young Englishman, or a young Frenchman of the same degree of genius, the same cast of mind, the same habits, his consciousness of the world around him would have been a very different affair; however obscure, however reserved, his own personal life, his sense of the life of his fellow-mortals would have been almost infinitely more various. The negative side of the spectacle on which Hawthorne looked out, in his contemplative saunterings and reveries, might, indeed, with a little ingenuity, be made almost ludicrous; one might enumerate the items of high civilization, as it exists in other countries, which are absent from the texture of American life, until it should become a wonder to know what was left.. No State, in the European sense of the word, and indeed barely a specific national name. No sovereign, no court, no personal loyalty, no aristocracy, no church, no clergy, no army, no diplomatic service, no country gentlemen, no palaces, no castles, nor manors, nor old country houses, nor parsonages, nor thatched cottages nor ivied ruins; no cathedrals, nor abbeys, nor little Norman churches; no great Universities nor public schools--no Oxford, nor Eton, nor Harrow; no literature, no novels, no museums, no pictures, no political society, no sporting class--no Epsom nor Ascot!"
Which is not to gainsay the fact, that in his analysis of Sovietskaya Vlast, and in his early proposals to deal with the menace circa 1944-1946, Kennan outpaced all of his American contemporaries and many (but not all) of his British ones as well. Similarly, Kennan had the force of character to revise his initial views and policies to see that the only means of getting Sovietskaya Vlast to withdraw from Central Europe would be some sort of modus vivendi settlement, involving mutual withdrawals by both the Americans and the Russians. Unfortunately, by that time any such policy was infinitely more difficult to carry-out, as in the simplicity of mind that is the American Official Mind circa 1948-1949, only stark alternatives: a semi-militarized containment (later after Korea, fully militarized) or almost complete withdrawal from the containment. With nothing in between. Kennan's proposals both then and later suffered from the fact that they required a polity which was infinitely different from that obtaining in the USA, both then and now. Under the circumstances, it is not that surprising that within a few years Kennan was no longer in government service and had commenced his long road to inner emigre status. Given all that happened thereafter, one cannot blame the man in the least. That at any rate is some of what I endeavored to convey in my review of Gaddis opus. Given the fact that almost every primary source (at least in the USA) has been explored and exploited, there was not much new that Gaddis could exploited in that vein. Ideally of course, as I noted in my review it would have been worthwhile to have explored in much greater depth British and Russian sources as well as others (what about French views of Kennan circa 1946-1950?). As well as explored what if any similarities there were between say Kennan and his opposite numbers in the UK Foreign Office, like Sir Frank Roberts, among others. However, given those limitations, I felt and still feel that Gaddis' labour of love will withstand the test of time in being the outstanding and standard biographical study of Kennan's vita.
Book: George F. Kennan: An American Life, by John Lewis Gaddis, New York, NY, Penguin Books, 2012, ISBN: 9780143122159; 784pp.; Price: £15.00
'No one knows what George Kennan really meant [to say]!’ So did the late McGeorge Bundy, my then professor, initiate me and a half a dozen other graduate students into mystery of George Frost Kennan. I say ‘mystery’ deliberately, as both at the time and later, there was indeed something distinctly odd about two aspects of the life and career of the one-time scholar-diplomat. First, what exactly were the policies that Kennan truly wished to advocate during his years in power at the American State Department in the mid to late 1940s? The second mystery consists of the amount of scholarly attention, devoted to this at times brilliant, but highly irascible and indeed almost eccentric, man. To give a pertinent example: more scholarly monographs and studies have been devoted to the life and career of Kennan then to any American Secretary of State in the 20th century, with the possible exception of Henry Kissinger.(1) Which, from a non-American perspective, might strike some as odd, given the fact that as a diplomat and public servant, Kennan can only be said to have occupied a position of the first-rank for a little over ten years: 1944–52 and 1961–3. It was, of course, during the first portion of Kennan’s official career, that he first achieved (and to his subsequent regret never quite managed to live-down) public renown as the ‘architect’ of the American policy of ‘containment’, the diplomatic strategy, which some (but never Kennan himself) claimed resulted in the eventual downfall of the Soviet Empire in Eastern Europe and eventually the Soviet Union itself. At the time that Bundy made his exclamation to us (in the fall of 1988), the first of the two mysteries relating to Kennan was well on its way to being answered, and the man who has provided most of it is none other than the author of this official biography, John Lewis Gaddis. A celebrated diplomatic historian himself in later years, it is not surprising that Kennan would choose (almost more than 30 years ago) as his official biographer the man who many perhaps (I myself being one of them) regard as the dean of 20th–century American diplomatic history. For the generation of historians of American diplomacy who were in graduate school in the 1980s and the 1990s, Gaddis was the most influential scholar in our historiographical patch. With a list of important journal articles and books, running from the groundbreaking ‘Was the Truman Doctrine a real turning point?’ to the magisterial ‘We now know’; Gaddis in many ways mapped out the whys and the wherefores of both post-1941 American foreign policy and the history of the Cold War. The book under review clearly shows on every page that it has been written by a scholar who has, in one way or the other, been living with this subject for about 45 years (Gaddis’ doctorial dissertation in 1968, on the origins of the Cold War, allots Kennan a prominent if secondary role).(2) Given the oceans of ink (much of which is Gaddis’ own) which has been spilled on Kennan what if anything new does Gaddis have to say about his subject? In terms of the substantive aspects of Kennan’s career, the answer is: not very much. And given, as mentioned, the voluminous scholarship already devoted to Kennan, as well as Kennan’s own autobiographical writings, perhaps this is not altogether surprising. This is not to gainsay the fact that Gaddis’ life will be, for the foreseeable future, the gold standard biographical treatment of this subject, but merely to state that given the reality that most of Kennan’s personal papers have been open to scholars for some years now, major surprises and revelations could hardly be expected. What, however, Gaddis does extraordinarily well is to present for the reader a series of in depth snapshots of the linear progression of Kennan’s life. From the lonely and motherless childhood in provincial Wisconsin to the even more lonely and now alienated college student at elite Princeton University, through to the young and still alienated American diplomat in Riga, Berlin and finally Moscow in the late 1920s and early to mid-1930s, holding what would appear in retrospect as a distinctly ‘un-American’ set of beliefs and points of view. From the now highly discontented (near resigning on several occasions) diplomat and budding Soviet expert, both at home and abroad; to the career-defining ‘long telegram’ from the Moscow in February 1946 and first head of the State Department’s Policy Planning Staff, to the equally career defining, ‘Mr. X’ article in the American periodical Foreign Affairs in July 1947, and from his gradual alienation and withdrawal from the seat of power through his many years as ‘Cold War iconoclast’ up to and indeed beyond 1989. In most respects Gaddis’s Kennan chimes with that of the man as previously known and explored. Where Gaddis’ biography shines, I think, is in delineating some of the remaining dark corners of Kennan’s personal odyssey (or given Kennan’s Calvinist beliefs, should we say ‘Pilgrim’s Progress’?), showing the alienated outsider who by force of nothing more than a combination of a brilliant intellect, a great prose style and (equally important as per Gaddis) a change of perspective by his superiors, became for a short time, a celebrated insider. Until Kennan once again, due to a combination of personal pique, diplomatic instincts and a different set of perspectives held by his superiors, reverted once more to the position of the alienated outsider, and eventually became a near heretic to the Cold War verities of official Washington. As per Gaddis, Kennan’s journey was of a piece with his at times tortured and self-critical personality. In the words of the American diplomatic historian, Lloyd Gardner, in George Frost Kennan ‘the Presbyterian Elder wrestled with the Bismarckian geo-politician’ (3), And according to Gaddis the former often overwhelmed the latter. Far from being eased, much less pushed out of the Policy Planning Staff by Secretary of State Dean Acheson in late 1949, it was Kennan who in essence engineered his own gradual removal from the seat of power, since according to Gaddis Kennan believed to be right was more important than to come out on top in some bureaucratic power struggle. This tendency for Kennan to be a pure intellectual manqué, is perhaps best exemplified by the contrast between Kennan and his successor as the Director of the Policy Planning Staff , the future arch-Cold Warrior, Paul Nitze, in terms of the advice they gave Acheson on the fraught question of whether or not the United States should develop a Hydrogen bomb in late 1949. Whereas Nitze (arguing in favor) submitted a two-and-a-half-page document which was a model of brevity and concision, Kennan (arguing against) produced a nearly 80-page document of verbose and moralistic, yet at times highly insightful, prose concerning the dangers of undue reliance on nuclear weapons . There was of course no contest between the two proposals. As Kennan later admitted, notwithstanding his characterization of his paper as ‘the most important of all the documents I ever wrote in government’, his advice was completely ignored (p. 379). As Gaddis succinctly puts it, Kennan ‘had become prophetic but no longer relevant’ (p. 381). Within three years, Kennan was to leave government service, never to return except for a short stint as John F. Kennedy’s ambassador to Yugoslavia, a posting which Gaddis painfully shows brought Kennan little pleasure and much grief. With that being the case, perhaps there is no surprise that Gaddis devotes approximately half of this almost 700-page book to Kennan’s private existence as a scholar, and occasional commentator on public affairs. During this period Kennan won such honors as the Pulitzer Prize (twice) and the Bancroft (once) awards. Finally, he covers Kennan’s years as a Cold War gadfly (or to his harsher critics essentially a crank) and as an almost internal émigré, utterly alienated in his detestation of contemporary American civilization. On this issue, I must enter one of my few caveats with Gaddis’s opus: the subtitle of the book was chosen, one assumes, with some care in order to disparage the idea that Kennan was a Henry James character, more European than the Europeans and having little American about him. According to Gaddis, Kennan’s frequent claims to be un-American are nothing more than a form of mental irritation, and thus not to be taken seriously. Still, one scarcely can think of any public figure in American life in the last century or more, who would put pen to paper and argued (albeit privately) that the United States should adopt aspects of a European dictatorial and authoritarian governance ( specifically the Dollfuss & Schuschnigg regime in Austria), as Kennan did in the 1930s. As Walter Hixson archly noted in his own Kennan biography, Kennan’s ideas were, ironically enough, closer to those of the Soviet regime which he thoroughly detested than to those of his own native country.(4)To attribute Kennan’s alienation and detestation of American society and governance as merely forms of eccentricity with nothing substantive behind them, seems to belie the importance of and indeed seriousness of Gaddis’ subject. Another minor caveat with this first-rate study concerns the realm of ideas. Specifically, where exactly did Kennan acquire that mishmash of ideas and concepts which was to be transformed into what became later known as the international relations theory of ‘realism’? Did Kennan obtain them via exposure to Bismarckian concepts during his two years as a student-diplomat in Berlin, Kennan being the only foreign service officer in the Russian section of the State Department to be sent to Berlin as opposed to London or Paris?(5) Gaddis does not tell us, nor does he even investigate this aspect or any related aspects of Kennan’s intellectual formation and development as a budding diplomat and Soviet expert. Indeed, the only author that Gaddis mentions who was an influence on Kennan in the years prior to his ‘long telegram’ was Edward Gibbon. To give another example, in a letter to the Hungarian émigré historian, John Lukacs, in 1984 (not quoted in Gaddis’ book), Kennan stated that the British writer-diplomat, Sir Harold Nicolson, was ‘his model of the diplomatic historian’.(6) Whether true or not, I would think that this statement would be worthy of investigation in an almost 700-page book. Certainly this is an area for further research by any future biographer of Kennan. Finally, the somewhat esoteric realm of Kennan studies could I believe stand a degree of greater of exposure to extra-American sources and indeed comparisons. While Gaddis does use some British and Russian primary source materials, one has the impression that this was more of an afterthought than anything else. Similarly, it would have been interesting to have compared and contrasted Kennan’s views on the Soviet Union during the war, with those of, say, the UK’s Post-Hostilities Planning Sub-Committee. In light of the fact that the views of both were remarkably similar, what does that tell us the nature of Western perceptions of the Soviet Union in the latter part of the War? And, given the similarity, could Kennan’s unique antennae, as they related to Stalin’s Russia, have been truly that singular?(7) That being said, can we say that Gaddis answers the second of the two mysteries of George Kennan, namely why the overwhelming scholarly devotion to this rather curious and unusual man? The answer is yes: for Gaddis, Kennan was in reality a teacher and a first-rate scholar more than he was anything else, whether he was engaged in diplomacy at the time or not. And perhaps it is this sense of Kennan as a kindred spirit which perhaps more than anything else explains the fascination exercised by him over academics and historians. He is in short, whether we agree with his record as a policy planner, ‘one of us’. The brilliance of Gaddis’s book consists of conveying this insight to his readers. He deserves many thanks from all of us for this labour of love.
1.For the best known studies, see: David Allan Mayers, George Kennan and the dilemmas of U.S. Foreign Policy (New York, NY, 1988); Walter Hixson, George F. Kennan: Cold War Iconoclast (New York, NY, 1989); Anders Stephanson, Kennan and the Art of Foreign Policy (Cambridge, 1989); Barton Gellman, Contending with Kennan: Towards a Philosophy of American Power (New York, NY, 1984); Wilson Miscamble, C.S.C, George F. Kennan and the Making of American Foreign Policy, 1947–1950 (Princeton, NJ, 1992). John Lukacs, George Kennan: A study of Character (New Haven, NJ, 2007).Back to (1)
2.John Lewis Gaddis, ‘Was the Truman Doctrine a real turning point?’, Foreign Affairs, 53 (January 1974), 386–402; John Lewis Gaddis, We Now Know (Oxford, 1997). The dissertation was eventually made into a book (The United States and the Origins of the Cold War, 1941–1947), which won the Bancroft Award in 1972.Back to (2)
3.Lloyd Gardner, Architects of Illusion (Chicago, IL, 1970), p. 285.Back to (3)
4.Hixson, op. cit., p. 7. Stephanson in his idiosyncratic if at times illuminating study gets it about right when he says that Kennan circa 1940 was a: ‘radically conservative man, bordering on the reactionary’. See: Stephanson, op. cit., p. 117. See also Kennan’s frequent comments about his detestation and alienation from America and American life over a good number of years in Through the History of the Cold War: The Correspondence of George F. Kennan and John Lukacs, ed. John Lukacs (Philadelphia, PA, 2010), pp. 91–92, 106–110 and passim. The Henry James comparison was first made by Gardner, op. cit., p. 278.Back to (4)
5.This point is made in a study of the 'official mind' of Kennan's generational cohort of American diplomats. See Hugh DeSantis, The Diplomacy of Silence: The American Foreign Service, the Soviet Union and the Origins of the Cold War, 1933-1947 (Chicago, IL, 1980), p. 29, where it is noted that he was ‘exposed to his teachers’ realpolitik view of international affairs as well as the intellectual current of Weimar Germany, which pulled against the dominant stream of liberalism’. Other than Kennan there were only six other American diplomats who received the specialized European study course, before the programme was discontinued. See T. Michael Ruddy, The Cautious Diplomat: Charles E. Bohlen and the Soviet Union, 1929–1969 (Kent, OH, 1986), p. 3.Back to (5)
6.Lukacs, Through the History of the Cold War, p. 100.Back to (6)
7.The Foreign Office and the Kremlin: British Documents on Anglo-Soviet Relations, 1941–1945, ed. Graham Ross (Cambridge, 1984), pp. 147–155, 157–171.Back to (7)
Dr Charles G. V. Coutinho, review of George F. Kennan: An American Life, (review no. 1397) URL: Date accessed: 28 March, 2013

Tuesday, March 26, 2013

Alexandr Dugin on Putin's Russia: A comment

"Liberals, to paraphrase Leo Tolstoy, are all alike; but conservatives are all conservative in their own way. While liberals insist on universal human rights and the pursuit of a globalised world, conservatives value national uniqueness, sovereignty and identity, defending their exceptionalism from a single, encroaching world order. During his third term as president, Vladimir Putin is starting to distinguish himself as a Russian conservative. Understanding this will have considerable benefit for those seeking clues to the country’s future.... One sees echoes in Mr Putin’s policies. In his first term, he cut the oligarchs down to size. Now he is chastising his own ruling group over petty corruption, symbolised by the firing of defence minister Anatoly Serdyukov after his ministry was embroiled in a corruption scandal. Modern Russian conservatism is both anti-communist and anti-liberal. It is not the same as the US version, which values a small state. Here, conservatives value undivided political power, with economic power rooted in and subordinate to it. They value the traditions of established religion, sovereign foreign policy and the guarding of great power status. For his first 12 years in power, Mr Putin’s conservatism was tempered by the need to appeal to an influential liberal elite. But with the desertion of this class to the ranks of anti-government protesters since 2011, he is finally making his true views known. This should not be seen as winding back the clock, however. Russia is in transition from the pure totalitarianism of the Soviet era; this conservative moment represents a rethinking of what comes at the end of the transition. Russia cannot return to the Soviet model other than on a symbolic level – such as reviving the Soviet anthem or socialist rhetoric. Likewise, we will not see the rebirth of the Tsarist empire with the Orthodox Christian tradition as the official ideology. Today, we are a multi-ethnic society with a growing Islamic population. It is also worth noting that, while liberals are a numerical minority, they are influential. The government is controlled by moderates, with Dmitry Medvedev as their head. The oligarchs, who by and large espouse liberal ideas, retain much power. If we put these facts together, Mr Putin’s presidency is pragmatic – conservative mainly in the sense that it does not share globalists’ optimism. It is not trying to guard an exhausted status quo. His ideas, by and large, do not transgress the limits of moderate western-type nation-building. Mr Putin’s conservatism has been moulded by foreign pressure, symbolised by the passage in the US of the Magnitsky law, which creates a travel blacklist for certain Russian officials. It has been moulded from inside by the desertion of the middle class from the ranks of his supporters and the growth of a liberal protest movement. In the face of these challenges, Mr Putin will move in the direction of being a conservative moderniser at home and a realist abroad. He will insist on state sovereignty, distrust globalisation, limit liberalisation and keep democracy strictly within a sovereign, national framework".
Alexandr Dugin, "The World needs to understand Putin." The Financial Times. 12 March 2013, in
"The senseless dreams as to the participation of of the Zemstva in the general direction of the internal affairs of the State".
Tsar Nicholas II, January 1895.
"If you want things to stay as they are, things will have to change."
Guiseppe Tomasi di Lampedusa. The Leopard. Translated. Archibald Colquhoun. (1960).
The analysis (or should we say credo) of Alexandr Dugin, for what is is worth makes for an insightful reading in the following sense and in this sense only: it contains au fond what the Putin Regime would like to believe to be true. Its own idea (at least publicly) of what it stands for and wants the Russian narod to believe to be truth. In reality of course, nothing akin to Grazhdanin Dugin's text is state policy in Russia to-day. Instead we have rampant corruption, capital flight (formerly to Cyprus of course, now elsewhere) and a failed modernization process and policy. Money is occasionally thrown, allegedly in very large amounts for various 'state' projects, which inevitably result in stagnation at best and collapse at worse. Accordingly, expect the Winter Olympics in Sochi to be an acute disaster of the very first magnitude. Which is not to endorse the notion that a simple turn an unthinking liberalism and an uncritical Westernism would alleviate Russia's deep-seated problems. Far from it. Merely that in the absence of real and durable programme of reform; a programme which in some fashion or other takes into account the needs and desires of the middle classes of Russia's key urban centers, one can only expect either Russia to continue on a downhill slope. `A la the contemporary Argentine, or conversely in perhaps five to ten years time, a profound and widespread series of explosions and with it a perhaps systemic collapse of the Russian state apparatus. Something absolutely horrible to think about and even to contemplate. Yet is it difficult to envisage in the medium-term anything else resulting from Putin's contemporary version of 'senseless dreams'.

Monday, March 11, 2013


North Korea’s army has not carried out routine communication checks with US forces for the past three days, as the country steps up angry rhetoric over new UN sanctions and forthcoming military exercises. Pyongyang responded angrily on Friday to a UN Security Council resolution passed the previous day in response to its recent nuclear test. North Korea would judge the armistice agreement that ended the Korean war “totally invalid” from the moment a US-South Korea joint exercise begins on Monday, it said, professing itself ready for war. The statement, issued through state media by the regime’s Committee for the Peaceful Reunification of Korea, also vowed to close the telephone link at Panmunjom, on the border between North and South Korea, which serves as an emergency communication channel. However, that link may already have been out of action for several days, said a spokeswoman for the US forces in South Korea. Since Tuesday North Korean forces have not responded to routine communication checks on the line usually conducted every weekday, she told the FT. The last time that this occurred was between April 6 and May 10 last year, around the time of an unsuccessful satellite launch by Pyongyang. “We have no way of knowing if the [North Korean army] has actually disconnected the phone lines or are just not answering the phone,” the spokeswoman said. North Korea’s apparent abandonment of the communications channel would remove a safeguard intended to reduce the threat of avoidable conflict, although US and South Korean officials stressed that other means of communication remain available. Analysts have responded cautiously to North Korea’s threat to abandon the 1953 armistice, noting that it previously professed to have done so in 2009. “The regime’s threats are consistent with previous North Korean behaviour,” said Bruce Klingner, a research fellow at the Heritage Foundation. However, Mr Klingner warned of “a greater risk of miscalculation since new North Korean leader Kim Jong-eun may stumble across red lines that his predecessors would have known not to cross”.... There is no evidence that Pyongyang has the capacity to reach the US with a nuclear-armed missile, and most analysts believe that the regime would not launch a major conflict for fear of being defeated and overthrown. However, it appears to have made significant progress towards long-range nuclear missiles. In December, it used a long-range rocket to put a satellite into space. The nuclear bomb it tested last month yielded a bigger blast than previous tests in 2006 and 2009 – although this is still small by the standards of modern nuclear weapons, and it is not clear that North Korea is able to “miniaturise” a bomb in order to fit it on to a missile.
Simon Mundy, "North Korea steps up rhetoric over sanctions." The Financial Times. 8 March 2013, in
"With North Korea having declared that it will nullify the Korean War armistice agreement when the Key Resolve joint military exercises between the US and South Korea begin on Mar. 11, attention is focusing both in Korea and abroad on what Pyongyang’s next move will be. While the chances of a major military provocation against the South are not considered to be very high, analysts believe it is more likely that we will see provocative behavior taking the form of pressure on the US to come to the negotiating table. On the morning of Mar. 11, North Korea announced that it had gone through with its threat to cut off the Red Cross communication hotline with South Korea. In all, there are three things that North Korea has said it will do starting on Mar. 11. First, it said it would nullify the ceasefire agreement, but this does not look easy. This is because Clause 61 of the agreement states that any amendments to the ceasefire must be agreed to by the commanders of both sides in the hostilities. In addition, Clause 62 provides that the ceasefire shall remain in effect until it is replaced by a peace agreement between both sides. As a consequence, if North Korea is to nullify the agreement, it requires the agreement both of China, its ally in the war, and the UN (led by the US), its opponent in the war. In addition, the ceasefire agreement cannot be nullified until a peace treaty is signed with the US and takes effect. To summarize the positions expressed by James Sherman, commander of UN military forces, and the Chinese foreign ministry, right now, the chances that the ceasefire will be nullified and a peace treaty signed are virtually nil. In addition, Pyongyang’s unilateral declaration to stop all activity and cut off the military hotline at Panmunjeom between the DPRK and US located there will have just as little effect. Back in Mar. 1991, North Korea announced that it would not participate in the military armistice commission in retaliation for a Korean general being appointed as the chief delegate for the UN forces. However, starting in 1998, general-level talks between the UN and DPRK forces, which replaced the armistice commission, were held 16 times. Furthermore, while the UN-North Korea military hotline at Panmunjeom was cut on Mar. 5 and the hotline between the North and South Korean government was severed on Mar. 8, the six phone lines in the military situation room in the area jointly managed by North and South, which are used for administration of the Kaeseong Industrial Complex, remain in operation. It appears that North Korea is fully aware that completely cutting off all phone communication would lead to its isolation.... "We are viewing this declaration as a gesture for dialogue. North Korea is trying to improve its relations with the US as it gains recognition as a nuclear-armed state with long-range missiles,” explained a Ministry of Defense official. “In the past, India and Pakistan normalized relations with the US after acquiring nuclear weapons.” Of course, it is not impossible that North Korea will make some kind of low-intensity military provocation. For example, it could launch one of its short-range 120km KN-02 missiles into its territorial waters. It was recently reported that North Korea has set up a no-sailing zone in its territorial waters in the West and East Seas, and the Ministry of Defense is viewing this as one reason to suspect the possibility of a missile launch.
Kim Kyu-won, "As US-SK military exercises begin, world is watching the Korean peninsula." The Hankyoreh 11 March 2013, in www.
"Korea does not really matter. I'd never heard of the bloody place till I was seventy-four."
Sir Winston Churchill quoted on the 5th July 1953, in Churchill: Taken from the diaries of Lord Moran. (1966), p. 451.
The tensions that the violent and indeed almost demonic statements coming from the North Korean regime, belie the fact that the regime in Pyongyang has rarely indulged in activity which would surely result in an immediate and violent retaliation by its enemies. The fact of the matter is that North Korea is quite happy to engage in stunts, of a violent nature, as long as it is assured that no reaction will result. Obviously, any attack on either US forces or at present, Korean forces would be allowed to go unpunished. This is something which is well understood by both the current regime in Pyongyang and more importantly its Chinese backers in Peking. And in a nutshell the standoff between Washington and Pyongyang will continue, until the latter's patron, the PRC decides to cut-off North Korea's economic and political life-line. Then and only then will the tensions on the Korean peninsula diminish and finally disappear. And for very good geopolitical reasons, the authorities in Peking see absolutely no reason to end the existing state of tensions. As it was recently pointed out in the Financial Times:
"Chinese diplomats last week rejected almost angrily suggestions of a US-China deal on a draft resolution. Chinese foreign policy experts fret that taking too hard a line against North Korea, or being seen as openly siding with Washington, could trigger either more bellicose acts from Pyongyang or even the regime’s collapse – both scenarios which Beijing views as worse than the status quo"1.
Unless and until the PRC sees that its interest lie more in the pacification of the Korean peninsula, which effectively means the collapse of the North Korean regime and the unification of the peninsula, then the current tensions in the Korean peninsula will continue apace. Sanctions or no sanctions, since sans Peking's rigorous enforcement, a sanctions regime will simply not work. Pur et simple.
1. Kathrin Hille, "China adjusts approach to North Korea." The Financial Times. 10 March 2013, in

Thursday, March 07, 2013


"Hugo Chávez, who has died at the age of 58, was the most controversial and quixotic Latin American leader of recent years. His 14-year sway over Venezuela marked a high point in the rise of South America’s left. But just as his highly personalised “21st century socialist” revolution was inextricably linked with the charismatic populist, so too is it unlikely to survive his death, either in his own country or in the region. That is despite Venezuelans’ willingness as recently as October to grant him a fourth term as president – although by a margin narrower than the previous time. He won re-election with 55 per cent of the vote, although he was too ill to attend his official inauguration in January. His death leaves the majority of his compatriots bereft of a leader who, for all his foibles, retained their confidence.... When he first came to power, the price of oil was less than $20 a barrel; by 2006, it was more than $60 and rising. Chávez was able to pour money into social programmes and engage in a burst of petrodiplomacy – subsidising like-minded governments not only in Cuba but also Bolivia and Nicaragua in exchange for their political support. It was all part of his dream to unite Latin America. Yet his approach did more to fracture than unite the continent: relations with neighbouring Colombia deteriorated after Bogotá claimed Chávez was supporting leftist rebels on its territory. Ambitious regional schemes including a Latin American development fund failed to get off the ground. The enthusiasm of the “pink tide” of leftist leaders then being elected across Latin America ebbed as the failings and inefficiencies of his retrograde and statist model became more apparent – especially when measured against the relative success of more pragmatic social democrats such as Brazil’s Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva. He became a postmodern caudillo – adept at using state television and social media such as Twitter; prone to posturing, long speeches and a narcissistic conflation of his life story with Venezuelan history that exasperated many. At one regional summit, King Juan Carlos of Spain famously asked him: “Why don’t you just shut up?” At home, Chávez’s governing style became more impulsive and authoritarian. He subordinated institutions such as the supreme court, the military, parliament and the central bank. Yet even as he gathered more power into his hands, Chávez appeared to lose himself in philosophical abstractions while failing to counter violent crime, high inflation and collapsing public services. Nationalising swaths of the economy only increased its vulnerability. The global downturn triggered in 2008 hit Venezuela worse than other countries in the region. Incompetence, inefficiency and corruption eventually did more to undermine support for Chávez than any supposed imperialist plot to unseat him ever could. The decisive moment, however, came in June 2011 when he disappeared from view for almost a month, reappearing in a sombre television broadcast from Cuba to say he had been operated on to remove a cancerous tumour. Back in Caracas shortly afterwards, he declared his arrival to be part of a “supreme return” that would bring him another election win this year and then extend his rule until 2021 – the bicentenary of the defeat of Spanish troops at the battle of Carabobo. But his entreaties last year for God to give him “100 crosses, your crown of thorns, but don’t take me yet – I still have things to do” did not spare him for long. Like his hero Bolívar, Chávez might have concluded: he who serves the revolution ploughs the sea. His legacy is a country riven by revolutionary rancour that suffers from weakened institutions and a diminished economy; a fuzzy political ideology akin to the Peronism of Argentina".
Benedict Mander, "Hugo Chavez, Venezuelan President." The Financial Times. 5 March 2013, in
"In these circumstances, the shadow of a tremendous helplessness and impotence falls today over most of the Latin American world. The handicaps to progress are written in human blood and in the tracings of geography; and in neither case are they readily susceptible of obliteration. They lie heavily across the path of all human progress; and the answers which people have suggested to them thus far have been feeble and unpromising. These bitter realities are ones which people cannot face fully constantly. Human nature, with its insistence that life must go on, represses the consciousness of these things, turns away from them in healthy revulsion, and seeks to balance them out by over-compensation. Thus the inordinate splendor and pretense of the Latin American cities can be no other than an attempt to compensate for the wretchedness and squalor of the hinterlands from which they spring. And, in the realm of individual personality, this subconscious recognition of the failure of group effort finds its expression in an exaggerated self-centeredness and egotism--in a pathetic urge to create the illusion of desperate courage, supreme cleverness, and a limitless virility where the more constructive virtues are so conspicuously lacking. For the foreign representative, this presents a terrible dilemma. In an environment which ill supports the naked face of reality, he cannot get very far with the sober and obvious concepts which are his stock of trade in other parts of the world. He must take these neuroses as the essence of the medium in which his activity must proceed; and he must bear in mind that every impulse which he gives to his activity must, if it is to be successful, find its translation into the terms of a world where geography and history are alike tragic, but where no one must ever admit it. Thus the price of diplomatic popularity, and to some extent of diplomatic success, is constant connivance at the maintenance of a staggering and ubiquitous fiction: the fiction of extraordinary human achievement, personal and collective, subjective and objective, in a society where the realities are almost precisely the opposite, and where the reasons behind these realities are too grim to be widely or steadily entertained. Latin American society lives, by and large, by a species of make-believe: not the systematized, purposeful make- believe of Russian communism, but a highly personalized, anarchical make-believe, in which each individual spins around him, like a cocoon, his own little world of pretense, and demands its recognition by others as the condition of his participation in the social process. Confronted with this phenomenon, many non-Latin diplomatists first pause in dismay; for they see that only by accepting it can they achieve many of their purposes. Yet to plunge deeply into it, as many finally do, is to lose one's self in a sort of Alice's Wonderland, where normal relations between cause and effect have lost their validity, where nothing may be judged on its actual merits, where no idea has more than a relative integrity, where real things receive recognition only by their relation to the diseased and swollen human ego, where nothing is ever wholly finished because things are never more than symbols and there is no end to those things which are the objects of the symbols".
George Frost Kennan, "Memorandum on Latin America." 29 March 1950, in Foreign Relations of the United States, 1950, Volume II, (1977), pp. 598-599.
"Hegel remarks somewhere that all great world-historic facts and personages appear, so to speak, twice. He forgot to add: the first time as tragedy, the second time as farce".
Karl Marx. The Eighteenth Brumaire of Louis Bonaparte. (1852).
The passing away of Hugo Chavez is a moment akin to the passing away in the past twelve years or so of such figures as Assad Pere, Saddam Hussein, and Colonel Gaddafi: the passing away of men who represent a mode of politics and governance which had run out of steam. Which and who no longer served any positive purpose (if they ever did, which is questionable for all of them...). In the cases of our trio from the Near and Middle East, they at least represented the second-wave (in generational terms) of Arab Nationalism. With all of the peculiarities which that movement, especially in its 'ruling regime' vintage gave birth to: massive corruption, cynicism, mis-development and under-development, and of course repeated military defeat. No wonder that by the late 1970's / early 1980's the tide of history had commencing moving in another direction than what they represented. No matter: like a living corpse, these men and others continued to play out the role that history had assigned to them to the very last. In the case of Assad Pere, the by far most intelligent of them all, he died peacefully in his bed, having managed to stage-manage the succession of his son Bashar. In the cases of the other two, not being as intelligent, they both ended up dying horrible deaths, after attempting to survive the downfall of their regimes. Hugo Chavez's passing away is in some strange perverted fashion, similar to these other events. Not of course that he was an Arab Nationalist. Merely that like his near contemporaries in the Near and Middle East, Chavez, represented a politics and for that matter an economics whose time has indeed come and gone. Gone that is many, many years ago. Chavez was not a second-wave, Latin American nationalist and populist from the school of Juan Peron, he was too young for that. Chavez was deliberately I would say, a throw back, a reversion to something earlier, something which had been fully tested and found wanting. Chavez did his country a disservice by playing a farcical role, which outside of his own country, few took seriously. Perhaps as George Kennan cogently put it, all Latin American politics deals in make-believe and fantasies. If so, one may be tempted to say that in the case of Hugo Chavez, the element of phantom, was almost one-hundred percent, with reality a mere one-percent. In short, once may conclude by saying that the only proper response to Chavez and his burned-out school of politics as played-out farce is to repeat the words of the regicide Oliver Cromwell, to the Rump Parliament:
"Depart, I say and let us have done with you. In the name of God go!"

Monday, March 04, 2013


"Pope Benedict XVI was never destined to be a moderniser. His was a deeply spiritual but strongly conservative vision for the Catholic Church that looked back to past practice rather than forward to reform. Yet in deciding to step down before infirmity called his leadership into question, Pope Benedict has gone further in revolutionising the papacy than many expected. It is a courageous decision. Not since 1294 has a pope voluntarily left the Holy See. But Pope Benedict is right to try to avoid a repetition of the paralysis that set in during the final years of John Paul II’s pontificate, when his frail mental state affected his stewardship. Nonetheless Benedict’s legacy will be mixed. He failed to give the church the firm leadership it needed in the spiralling controversy over child abuse. Though some procedures against paedophile priests were tightened, the Vatican was slow to move against bishops who protected them. Despite his commitment to interfaith relations, Benedict also managed to offend both Muslims and Jews – the former with references to Islam as evil, and the latter by receiving excommunicated Holocaust deniers back into the church. Finally the scandal over Vatican finances raised questions over his organisational grip. Pope Benedict’s resignation offers the chance to address these and other issues. The risks of division within the church are greater than ever. Though traditionalists have rediscovered their voice, liberal Catholics are increasingly alienated. This divide is one that any new pope will have to address. Yet those who hope for a radical reformer are likely to be disappointed. Both John Paul II and Benedict XVI have ensured through their appointments a deeply conservative bias in the College of Cardinals. There will also be some who push for a candidate from the developing world. This would be historic. But geography should not be the deciding factor. The Catholic church needs a pope with enough youthfulness and energy – in effect a tough chief executive – to shepherd 1.2bn faithful in a world that is changing with great speed. If the conclave of cardinals makes this goal its priority, the church will end up with the leader it needs".
Leader, "Papal precedent: Pope Benedict’s withdrawal offers a chance for change." The Financial Times. 11 February 2013, in
"Has Pope Benedict shown himself to be up to the job? Over the long history of the Roman Catholic Church, there have been popes like Gregory the Great who were inspired administrators, and others who were not. Pope Benedict XVI had little experience in governance; he had served for only a short time as Archbishop of Munich and ran a small staff at the Congregation of the Doctrine of the Faith. From the start of his pontificate, he was clearly determined to delegate the more mundane duties of his ministry to others, in particular his prime minister, the Secretary of State. He wished to keep space in his life to study and to teach. In due course he wrote a series of outstanding Encyclicals, among them Deus Caritas Est and Sacramentum Caritatis; and a trilogy, Jesus of Nazareth. Until the late 20th century, popes rarely left the Vatican. It was Pope Paul VI who initiated pontifical pastoral visits to the four corners of the world. Shy and scholarly, Pope Benedict never looked comfortable in front of crowds; but given that he lacked the charisma of his predecessor, his public appearances were remarkably successful. His gentle manner and kindly smile proved beguiling. Intellectually, Pope Benedict has been acute and fearless: as Prefect of the CDF he had said that from a Catholic perspective the Anglican Communion was ‘not a church in the proper sense’; and as Pope, in a lecture in Regensburg, he quoted the observation of a Byzantine emperor that certain aspects of Islam were ‘evil and inhuman’. In his theological writing, Pope Benedict showed an exceptional clarity of thought and expression; and it is this lucidity that has undoubtedly brought him to realise that he should resign. The reasons he has given are that he is now too weak both in body and mind to properly exercise the Petrine ministry. Clearly, the gruelling pastoral visits abroad had become an ordeal for a man of his age, and he may well have been demoralised by the unending revelations of the clerical abuse of children and charges that he covered them up. He may feel that he has failed in the task he set himself of countering moral relativism in the developed world. The British MPs who listened politely to his address in Westminster Hall in 2010 last week voted overwhelmingly in favour of same-sex marriage: among the majority were 47 Catholics. It has also been shown in a most humiliating way that Pope Benedict has not been in control of the governance of the Holy See. His butler, Paolo Gabriele, charged with passing the Pope’s confidential papers to a journalist, Gianluigi Nuzzi, told prosecutors that, from conversations he overheard as he served at table, it was clear that Pope Benedict was being kept in the dark by his closest advisers about various scandals in the Vatican. Gabriele, a true Italian, assumed this was the result of a conspiracy. It seems more likely that Pope Benedict’s minders, the handsome Monsignor Georg Gänswein and the Papal Secretary, Monsignor Alfred Xuereb, wanted to save him from distraction so that he could get on with his book on the infancy of Jesus. Mundane matters such as EU regulations on money-laundering could be left to the Pope’s Secretary of State, Cardinal Bertone. Pope Benedict, in his retirement, will able to look back at some considerable achievements during his eight years as pope; and we can look forward to further luminous writing. It was always what he did best".
Piers Paul Read. "Benedict XVI in perspective: The triumphs and tribulations of Pope Benedict XVI." The Spectator. 16 February 2013, in
The retirement of the Holy Father, Pope Benedict XVI was an event of great sadness to both myself and to many millions and millions of Catholics around the world. Notwithstanding the banal slurs of our bien-pensant, secular and mostly ignorant at that, semi-intelligentsia as per the above referenced piece in the Financial Times, it is without a doubt the case that his Holiness did a yeoman's service while sitting in the august chair of Saint Peter. In agreeing to take up the burden of the becoming the Holy Father for the world's one billion plus Roman Catholics, the Holy Father, at his advanced age engaged in a labour of love. Indeed, His Holiness, Pope Benedict did something in the nature of a giving a gift of his self to the entire world. It was not in the least easy occupying the Chair of Saint Peter immediately after the pontificate of Pope John-Paul II. A man of many, many gifts, great personal charisma and charm being one of them. In contrast, His Holiness, Pope Benedict XVI, is a shy, scholarly man, not made of the same mold as his predecessor. However, in a good many ways, his tenure as Holy Father, was crucial in righting and correctly certain unfortunate tendencies in the Church. A man of towering intellect, he endeavored to instruct the peoples of the earth about such things as the dangers of Islam in contemporary society. A warning which merely (and predictably) resulted in our usually ignorant, bien-pensant, semi-intelligentsia screaming nonsense about 'Islamophobia', without even having the intelligence of endeavoring to read and reflect upon the splendid words of the Holy Father, in his lecture at Regensburg in 2006. To sum up, future ages will reflect upon the retirement of His Holiness, in much the same way perhaps that people reflected upon the abdication of the Emperor Charles V in 1555:
"Of all the events and achievements that characterized the reign of Charles V, contemporaries were most impressed by the Emperor's decision to divide his possession and abdicate his many titles while still in his mid-fifties. His action had few precedents, and few rulers have chosen to follow his example. We do not know with certainty when Charles first began to think about abdication, but the decision itself seems to have been reached at some point in 1553....He wanted to be at peace and to prepare his soul for death in a location far from the struggles that had marked his career. Contemporaries saw in his retirement the humility and self-abnegation of a true Christian ruler 1."
1. William S. Maltby. The Reign of Charles V. (2004).