Thursday, May 29, 2014


"On particular historical example offers a powerful analogy to the current transition of economic leadership and also political power. Great Britain's economic position took a bad tumble in the financial crisis of 1931, when the pound was taken off the gold standard, but it was only some 25 years later that the full implications for power politics were really felt. In 1956, the humiliating fiasco of the Suez Crisis combined military incompetence and failure with vulnerability to financial pressure, and marked the end of Britain's claim to be an arbiter of the international order....There is an obvious parallel between Great Britain at the time of the Suez and the travails of the United States after the 2003 invasion of Iraq and its confusion at the prospect of a shift in the geography of economic influence and political power. Moreover the parallels have become even closer in the aftermath of the ill-prepared and politically divisive intervention in Libya...."
Harold James, "International Order after the Financial Crisis" International Affairs, (May 2011), pp. 525-537. Originally delivered as a lecture at Oxford University on 4 November 2010 as the Cyril Foster Memorial Lecture. Unfortunately, the article cannot be accessed via the Internet.
The US is, by some measures, about to cede to China its place as the largest economy. Some say that an era of Chinese world leadership cannot be far behind. But cast an eye over the history of America’s own rise, and one thing is clear: power did not come from economic might alone. America’s trajectory was unprecedented. It took the first world war – an earth-shattering convulsion in global politics – not just to hoist the US into the role of global leader but even to create that role.... At the heart of this rearrangement of world affairs stood one fact: the rise of the US as the first superpower. Victorian Britain had commanded far-reaching influence. London was the acknowledged leader of the coalition against Germany. But it owed this to its empire; the UK itself was a modest-sized power. When the US supplanted it, it did so as a nation state. US influence was undoubtedly anchored on its affluence. It became the world’s largest economy in the early 1870s. But economic capacity alone is not a source of power; it must be harnessed. And in the late 19th century, America lacked even the most basic institutions of a national economy. It was a peripheral member of the world economy, with prohibitively high tariffs and doubtful commitment to the international gold standard. The Federal Reserve board did not come into existence until 1913. It was the suicide of European power – the vast financial cost of the first world war, and the crisis of political legitimacy that followed the horrendous bloodbath – that opened the door to the assertion of American leadership.... No such opportunity presents itself to China. Its relative financial and economic power is far less than America’s was in the early 20th century. Principal regional powers are not desperate to form alliances with it. Is Beijing about to proclaim a new crusade for modernity with Chinese characteristics? Surely not. In any case, the search for this kind of simple historical analogy misstates the cognitive challenge of our own era. When we ominously announce that history is “restarting” and that “geopolitics is back”, let us not confuse those undeniable truths with the proposition that “history is repeating itself”. There is no doubt that China’s resurgence will be the defining story at least of the early 21st century. Still, America’s path to power suggests that there is a complicated relationship between economic, political and strategic heft. Furthermore, the unique circumstances of America’s ascent – two world wars that convulsed Eurasia – are hardly likely to be repeated in the present era.
Adam Tooze, "Economic Might is not enough to make China a superpower". The Financial Times. 24 May 2014, in
Yale Professor of History, Adam Tooze article, which is in fact a précis of a very important and most be read book, spells out cogently enough, something which has been stated and re-stated in this journal low this many years now. As I noted back in 2011, in response to the Harold James article quoted above:
"The mere fact that the USA had a greater GDP than the UK, did not for almost fifty years have any significant geopolitical ramifications. Indeed, sans the tremendous struggle put up by Kaiserreich Germany in the Great War, one is tempted to say that it would have been another fifty years before the greater American economic size, would have made itself felt geopolitically speaking. In the case of the PRC and the USA, the likelihood that the former will be able to oust the latter from its pinnacle as the leading hegemonic power is not something that is easy to fathom in either the near or mid-term future. Vis-`a-vis both the PRC as well as every other military power on the planet, the Americans still enjoy unparalleled military and strategic superiority. Far greater than what the Americans enjoyed during the Cold War, much less what the UK enjoyed vis-`a-vis the non-European world during the so-called Pax Britannica 5. And while one may argue that the PRC has now acquired the economic ability to outspend the Americans on arms, the fact is that history shows (the best example being the USA circa 1880-1940) that the mere circumstance of the ability to spend does not necessarily indicated that power x, y or indeed z shall indeed spend monies on armaments 1".
Or as the then First Lord of the Admiralty, Lord Selbourne, noted circa 1901, that while the Americans, could at that point in time: "chose to pay for what they can easily afford, they can gradually build up a Navy, firstly as large and then larger than ours", the Americans singularly failed to do so 2. Something which did not change until World War II.
1. Charles Coutinho, "Harold James & the International Order after the Financial Crisis: A Comment". Diplomat of the Future. 2 August 2011, in
2. Lord Selbourne, quoted in: The Crisis of British Power: The Imperial and naval powers of the Second Earl of Selbourne, 1895-1910. Edited George Boyce. (1990). p. 115.

Wednesday, May 28, 2014


The New America Society, a liberal, bourgeois, bien-pensant, non-profit institution in the United States, whose only redeeming feature appears to be the presence of the great journalist and writer, Anatol Lieven, had a function to-day in mid-town Manhattan dealing with the current state of the nuclear negotiations between the Western Powers and Teheran. The chief 'draw' for this event was none other than Hossein Mousavian, a former, high-ranking Persian diplomat and negotiator. Mousavian, has recently co-written a book dealing with the past history and future prospects of the nuclear negotiations (Iran [sic] and the United States: an insider's view on the failed past and the road to Peace.), published by Princeton University Press. Among Mousavian's more salient and interesting comments at the event were the following:
'Frankly speaking the same [the interim agreement signed in November of last year] agreement could have been arrived at in 2004 / 2005'. And that it was the United States which vetoed said possible agreement. Resulting in as per Mousavian 'missing 8, 9, 10 years for nothing'. As per Mousavian there is both good and bad aspects to the agreement: the 'good' aspect is that Persia agrees to both the de facto and the de jure, uphold the provisions of the Nuclear Non-proliferation Treaty of 1968 (hereafter 'NPT' for short). The 'bad' aspect is that as per Mousavian, the 'World Powers' (as he terms them), are looking for Persian concessions beyond the provisions of NPT. In particular in the areas of the number of nuclear plants, enrichment capacity and access to Persian nuclear sites. As per Mousavian, the Persians are willing for the sake of a comprehensive and final agreement to agree to certain terms which go beyond NPT, for upwards of four years. Teheran, as per Mousavian, is completely unwilling to agree to such extraordinary terms for say ten to twenty years. As per Mousavian, the talks which recently adjourned after a truncated session in Wien, are not yet at an impasse. However, what is needed for success in the talks is: a) bilateral sessions `a la what occurred last year to produce the interim agreement; b) that the American Administration need to ignore both the pressures of domestic political groups and those coming from the Israeli government. According to Mousavian, it was these negative variables, which prevented the Americans from agreeing to previous Persian attempts at a modus vivendi back in 1988-1989 and 2001-2002. Mousavian does say that both countries need and do not presently have a 'comprehensive strategy' to resolve successfully both the nuclear issue and the question of normalizing bi-lateral relations. In the realm of Saudi-Persian relations, he claims that relations can also be normalized. As per Mousavian, the key problem in so preventing the same is that Saudi Arabia is 'too occupied by the Syrian issue', to come to terms with Teheran. Similarly, on the issue of Persian-Israeli relations, Mousavian, is reasonably optimistic: neither country is an 'existential threat' to the other. What Tel Aviv needs to do is drop the idea that it can employ or indeed has a veto over both the course of the nuclear negotiations and over Persian-American relations. That the Israelis need to remember that they can easily be negatively impacted (from the Lebanon one presumes, but Mousavian did not care to elaborate upon), by the fallout of armed conflict over the nuclear issue. And similarly, that a resolution of the issue would have a very positive impact on Israel's regional profile. Finally, Mousavian warned that for the Americans to introduce the question of Persian missile capacity is a non-starter and would indeed effectively derail the negotiations. That Persian missile capacity and range can only be resolved on a 'regional basis'. And no other.
What is one to make of Mousavian's comments? Besides the special pleadings for the views and indeed policies of the current regime in Teheran, it appears to be the case that Mousavian is laying out the maximum goals that Persia can live with. And conversely that in fact, Teheran will, if push comes to shove, agree to the desiderata of the Western Powers as outlined. Including one is tempted to believe some type of language dealing with Persia's missile programme. And while I for one am not enamoured of the concept of employing force to resolve the conundrum of Persia's nuclear programme, putting even more pressure on the regime of Mullahs will assist in obtaining the very best settlement. In that mix, the possible employment of force, at least as a 'threat perception' for Teheran may be necessary. As the former American Defence Department official, Matthew Kroenig recently argued in the London periodical the Spectator, force, the ultima ratio will be employed, even by the current American administration:
"If Iran's [sic] nuclear programme continues to advance, therefore, then there may very well come a time to attack" 1.
1. Matthew Kroenig, "Would Obama bomb Iran?" The Spectator (London). 17 May 2014, pp. 20-21. See also:

Thursday, May 15, 2014


"Ukraine’s provisional government faces an uphill struggle to make it to the 25 May presidential election. Shaken by separatist agitation and distracted by Russian troops on its borders, it has not asserted itself coherently and has lost control of the eastern oblasts (regions) of Donetsk and Luhansk, which have voted for independence in contentious referendums. It appears incapable of keeping order in much of the south east, where separatists, supported and encouraged by Moscow, threaten the state’s viability and unity. Kyiv and the presidential candidates should reach out to the south east, explaining plans for local self-government and minority rights, and for Ukraine to be a bridge between Russia and Europe, not a geopolitical battleground. With relations between Moscow and the West deeply chilled, the U.S. and EU should continue tough sanctions to show Russia it will pay an increasing cost for destabilising or dismembering its neighbour, while pursuing parallel, vigorous diplomacy to reach understandings that avoid the worst and respect mutual interest. The situation has consistently worsened since late February, as much of the optimism from the Maidan protests that brought down the Yanukovych government has faded. Following Russia’s annexation of Crimea, “volunteers” and quite possibly special forces (Spetsnaz) dispatched by the Kremlin have seized the initiative in the south east. The separatists’ objective seems to be to provoke sufficient disruption and bloodshed so that President Vladimir Putin can assert, if he chooses, what he says is Moscow’s right to protect Russian speakers anywhere – in the worst case scenario by carving off what would in effect be a new autonomous entity embracing almost a third of the country and many of its most viable economic resources, which might eventually be absorbed into the Russian Federation. All this deepens the crisis between the West and Russia, making the rapproche­ment necessary to resolve it much more difficult. The chaos in the south east seriously threatens the presidential election. The govern­­ment formed in February after months of street demonstrations and fighting barely functions, consists mostly of veterans of a discredited political system and new faces with little or no government experience. Communication within government institutions seems weak, with the public as a whole almost non-existent. Moscow’s depiction of a country in the thrall of a fascist coup, dominated by ultra-right militias, has persuaded the Russian public and for lack of alternatives has taken root in parts of Ukraine."
The International Crisis Group, Ukraine: Running out of Time. 14 May 2014, in
For some weeks now the pessimists appear to have the upper hand in their reading of the situation in Ukraine. The country appears to be fast heading for another truncated, post-Soviet split and or division akin to that suffered by Moldova and Georgia in the immediate post-Soviet period. And while Matushka Russia has much to answer for, the fact of the matter is, that the government in Kyiv has proven itself to be, at least as per endeavoring to run the country with the minimum of efficiency and order to be almost entirely hapless. As the American commentator, Fred Kaplan has cogently argued, it is much too easy to merely blame Grazhdanin Putin for the events of the past month in the eastern portions of the country 1. Which is not to gainsay that fact Putin has no doubt contributed to the escalating violence and disorder. Merely that per se, it seems somewhat unlikely that what is occurring in the eastern sector of the country would necessarily have come about if there was not some pre-existing tensions and acute dissatisfaction with the new, post-revolutionary government in Kyiv. Stirred up no doubt by egregiously horrid Russian propaganda, those elements in say Donetsk, et. al., would not be up in arms (literally) if the new regime in Kyiv, had played their cards right politically speaking. Unfortunately, they did not. Which means that the game plan for the Western powers at the very least, currently should be to at the very least ensure that Presidential elections later on this month proceed in a manner suggested by the International Crisis Group. If indeed the elections are able to proceed in something approaching a fair and transparent manner, then that will give the lie to the mendacious claims coming out of Moskva. And, with a successful Presidential elections, it might, just might be possible to save the unity of Ukraine from being completely fractured and destroyed. Indeed, as Uilleam Blacker cogently argues in the current issue of the Times (London) Literary Supplement, the twenty-plus years of post-Soviet independence has given to the vast majority of the population something approaching a common identity. Or as he cogently puts it:
"while the polls show that the citizens of Lviv and Donetsk may have divergent views on some issues facing their country, the overwhelming majority in both regions agree that they are still talking about 'one country' " 2.
1. Fred Kaplan, "The Right Goal in Ukraine: Don’t be distracted by Putin and his antics. The real test is stabilizing Ukraine." Slate. 14 May 2014, in
2. Uilleam Blacker, "One Country? Ukraine's search for cultural coherence." The TLS. 9 May 2014, in