Thursday, March 26, 2015


"Lee Kuan Yew, the founder and patriarch of modern Singapore who has died at the age of 91, was one of postwar Asia’s most revered and controversial politicians and one of its last remaining independence leaders. His greatest achievement was to promote the concept of good governance in Southeast Asia, a region long plagued by corrupt, inefficient governments. As Singapore’s prime minister for more than 30 years, he built his small island republic into one of the world’s economic success stories. Average per capita income just after independence in 1965 was a mere US$511. By the time Lee resigned as prime minister it had topped $50,000. Singapore is one of Asia’s largest financial centres, and is the world’s biggest ship bunkering port. Lee was the embodiment of a new Asian dynamism: smart, tough and pragmatic and displaying unshakeable self-confidence. His style of leadership had many foreign admirers and he was credited with being a pioneer of “authoritarian capitalism”, which has influenced other countries including China, Russia and the Gulf states. Richard Nixon once described Lee as a big man on a small stage who, “in other times and other places, might have attained the world stature of a Churchill, a Disraeli or a Gladstone”. Perhaps at times Lee yearned to put his talents to work outside the narrow confines of Singapore but he was pleased to be acknowledged as a leading spokesman for Asia. Few other leaders have stamped their personalities so firmly on a country. His perfectionism, farsightedness, elitism, authoritarianism and intolerance, along with his obsessions with security, cleanliness and order, are reflected in nearly every aspect of modern Singaporean life. The sale of chewing gum is still banned — a nannyish rule he instigated that is arguably the most-recognised fact about Singapore abroad. “What is required is a rugged, resolute, highly trained, highly disciplined community,” Lee once said, believing that Singapore’s multi-ethnic population and the political instability of Southeast Asia represented a constant threat to his creation. He achieved his goal at the expense of curbing some civil liberties, such as freedom of the press. Lee was unapologetic about his means, dismissing the idea of western liberal democracy as unsuitable to Asian societies. His death comes as the city-state, whose economic and political model he oversaw, has reached a crossroads. Singapore is straining to cope with a declining working-age population, increasing reliance on foreign immigrants and unprecedented popular pressure for a less authoritarian government".
By John Burton, Peter Montagnon, Kevin Brown and Jeremy Grant, "Lee Kuan Yew, Singapore’s founding father, 1923-2015". The Financial Times. 22 March 2015, in
"He had performed the dramatic feats required by the crises that had brought him to power. He had consolidated new political institutions. He had achieved the decolonisation of French Africa while maintaining French self-confidence at home and its prestige in the former colonies. Barely overcoming incipient civil war, he had restored French pride by giving it a central role in the policies of Europe and the Western Alliance. His challenge to the United States had to a great degree the purpose of inspiring French self-assurance. But the student upheavals of 1968 had shaken de Gaulle. And the challenges facing him thereafter were not of a magnitude he considered relevant to his vision of himself. To ensure a growing economy, to arbitrate contending claims on limited resources, to organise and manager a bureaucratic state---these were tasks for what he half-contemptuously called 'quartermasters', not for heroic figures."
Henry Alfred Kissinger. The White House Years. (1979), pp. 387-388.
The query raised above is pertinent in considering the career and legacy of the late Singaporean Prime Minister (1959-1990). At least on the surface, Mr. Lee was an outstanding leader who via a mixture of political smarts and intelligent policies managed to raise the once relatively poor island of Singapore to unprecedented wealth and luxury. Something of a martinet or if you like an usually authoritarian Prefect from an early 20th century British Public School, Lee enforced policies and programmes which ordinarily would have landed him in an early and long-lasting retirement in almost any Western country in the past forty-five year: banning the chewing of bubble gum in public being the epitome of the very same. The fact that Lee enjoyed being in office for upwards of fifty years, highlights the differing political culture of Singapore to the post-soixante-huitard West. What would have become of Lee in the much less forgiving atmosphere in say Britain, France or indeed any Western country is perhaps best pointed to by the similar political denouements of General de Gaulle and Lady Thatcher. In both cases, political leaders who had accomplished much in a period of ten-years were ousted (directly in the case of Thatcher or indirectly in the case of General de Gaulle), soon thereafter. Given his overtly authoritarian tendencies in the latter part of his premiership, it is difficult to envisage Lee lasting longer than either of these two Western leaders. Whether or not Lee's so-called 'Confucian' model of authoritarian capitalism, is something that the contemporary West can or should adopt is of course a speculative question to put it mildly. Au fond, there is nothing in Lee's model of statecraft that cannot be found in say Meiji or early post-bellum Showa Japan (sans of course the endemic corruption of the latter), or 18th and 19th century Prussia. One can merely note that neither of these two models survived democratization of the latter half of the 19th century and the early 20th century. It is difficult to imagine at this point in time, that any Western country would be willing to step back into time and adopt the ways or the methods of the Prussian State. Perhaps this fact is an unfortunate one (and to a degree I do believe this to be true), but I cannot for the life of me, imagine this occurring. At least not in my lifetime. So in short, to answer my own query: I believe that Lee Kwan Yew was more of a Gaullist 'quartermaster' than a visionary statesman. The reason being that Lee's political career in Singapore did not require him to be anything else.

Wednesday, March 25, 2015


"Tensions between Denmark and Russia were ratcheted up a notch on Saturday. Russia’s ambassador to Denmark, Mikhail Vanin, wrote in an opinion piece published by Jyllands-Posten that Denmark has made itself a target of a potential nuclear attack by joining Nato’s missile defence system. “I don’t think the Danes fully understand the consequences of what will happen if Denmark joins the American-controlled missile defence. If it happens, Danish war ships will become targets for Russian atomic missiles,” Vanin wrote. Denmark announced in August that it will will contribute at least one frigate to Nato’s defence system. At the time, Defence Minister Nicolai Wammen said that joining the missile defence system was not a move aimed at Russia. “That Denmark will join the missile defence system with radar capacity on one or more of our frigates is not an action that is targeted against Russia, but rather to protect us against rogues states, terrorist organisations and others that have the capacity to fire missiles at Europe and the US,” Wammen told Jyllands-Posten in August. Vanin’s op-ed made it clear that Russia doesn’t share that interpretation. “Denmark will become a part of the threat against Russia. It will be less peaceful and the relationship with Russia will be harmed. It is of course your decision – I want to simply remind you that it will cost you both money and security,” Vanin wrote. “At the same time, Russia has missiles that are guaranteed to break through future global missile defence systems,” he continued. Danish Foreign Minister Martin Lidegaard called Vanin’s statements 'unacceptable'".
"Russia delivers nuclear threat to Denmark". The Local DK: Denmark's news in English. 22 March 2015, in
"It seems fairly clear that plan [sic] of Soviet Government is to extort some agreement satisfactory to themselves from the Persian Government by threat, and indeed if necessary by use of force and to delay making any reply to United States Government or His Majesty's Government until they can say that matter has been settled with a Persian Government direct: meanwhile Persian Government is to be stopped from bringing matter up again before Security Council when this meets on March 25h....Persian Prime Minister....was obviously anxious to know what practical help United State Government and His Majesty's Government could give, if Soviet Government disregarded or flouted United Nations Organization procedure....Tarle [in Ivestiya] further asserts that Britain will not take military action and that we could not count upon American support. Confident as they seem on both scores the Soviet authorities will hardily be deterred from achieving their ends in North Persia by fear of unpleasant consequences in United Nations Organization. I interprete Tarle's article as a clear warning to us and above all to the Persians. We should therefore be prepared for the Russians to stick at nothing in North Persia".
Roberts [British chargé d'affaires in Moskva] to Foreign Office, on 13 March 1946. In: Documents on British Policy Overseas: Series I, Volume VII. Edited K.A.Hamilton & H.J. Yasamee. (1995), pp. 60-61.
The comments by the Russian ambassador to Denmark are of a piece with much of recent Russian activity in the Baltic Sea area. From aggressive submarine activity off the coast of Sweden to over-flights of many if not all of the Baltic States in the past six months. More recently, there has been a large-scale military build-up of Russian forces in the enclave of Königsberg 1. All this is in keeping with the recent turn in Russian foreign policy of the past twelve to fifteen months. A policy of brute force, threats, ultimatums, et cetera. Something out of the rule book of Nikita Khrushchev and Iosif Stalin. Even Tsarist Russia, which in many ways was hardily a laggard in the employment of the language of machtpolitik in its foreign relations, rarely if ever employed such brutal and crass language. With that being said what is to be done? Simply put: the Western powers must prepare themselves for any unexpected events by our Russian friends. Put forces on a higher state of alert and readiness, but at the very same time, not allow themselves to fall into the habit of provoking Moskva needlessly. Without ignoring the fact that in the case of Ukraine, Western policy should now aim to increase the pressure on Moskva by supplying large volumes of military assistance, both offensive and defensive to Kyiv. The sooner the better. The quicker that the West increases the costs of Russia's military intervention in Ukraine, the quicker that Russia will end its intervention in that poor and unfortunate land. The perspective herein is in fact that of the late, thoroughly unlamented Stalinist Foreign Minister, V. M. Molotov, who in his memoirs noted of the Russian pressure tactics in the Persian Crisis of 1946:
"In this matter we admittedly went to far, but something has been brewing in the South. You have to understand that there are limits to everything otherwise you can choke" 2.
1. Richard Milne, "Russia delivers nuclear warning to Denmark". The Financial Timnes. 22 March 2015, in
2. V. M. Molotov quoted in, Molotov Remembers: Inside Kremlin Politics. Conversations with Felix Chuev. Edited and Translated by Albert Reiss. (1991), p. 8.

Tuesday, March 10, 2015


"For a fully documented account of how the Auswaertiges Amt doctored Die Grosse Politik, see Holger Herwig, "Clio Deceived: Patriotic Self-Censorship in Germany after the Great War," International Security 12 (Autumn 1987), 5-44."
Stephen Schuker, "Reply to 'THE GREAT WAR REVISTED OR THE LAST GASP OF THE 'OLD HATS' ?". Diplomat of the Future. 16 February 2015, in
"The most obvious shortcoming of the Grosse Politik stemmed from its very nature as a publication from the files of the former foreign office. In other words, the collection does not include the highly important, indeed critical materials of several other, powerful planning agencies: the General Staff, the War Ministry, the Naval Office, the bureaus responsible for economic preparation for the war....Of course, not all materials, even in a forty-volume series, and there is little doubt that many documents were suppressed or even destroyed. Moreover, some of the documents published were shortened with potentially damaging sections deleted."
Holger Herwig, "Clio Deceived: Patriotic Self-Censorship in Germany after the Great War". International Security. Fall 1987, p. 15.
"I went over to see [Sir Walter] Monckton one day this week at the Ministry of Labour in St. James's Square to talk about the 'Windsor' papers --- captured German documents which show how the Germans tried to get a hold of the Duke in 1940 when he was in Portugual....Cabinet decided --- feebly and under pressure from the PM [Sir Winston Churchill] --- to try to suppress the Windsor papers. There is sure to be a row with the historians who will regard this as tampering with history. The PM and [Lord] Salisbury are to see the British editor, Miss Lambert, and try to 'persuade' her. She has already threatened to resign if her historian's conscience is assailed. We shall see".
Sir Charles Arthur Evelyn Shuckburgh. Descent to Suez: diaries 1951-1956. (1986), p. 100.
Do allow me to be the very first to offer my gratitude to Professor Stephen Schuker for replying to my piece last month, dealing with the ongoing historiographical debate over the origins of the Great War. In the very same, Professor Schuker was along with Professor John Röhl, made to carry the ball for the aforementioned 'old hats' of the older, Fritz Fischer school and generation of historians. In the course of my piece, I criticized Professor Schuker for raising what I thought was something of a red herring. Namely that the famous Weimar German, collection of diplomatic documents, Die Grosse Politik, covering the years from 1871 to 1914, were in Professor Shucker's words 'doctored'. Well, as you can see from his response, Professor Schuker is able to cite a most reputable source for his claim. And now having read Holger Herwig's essay which was subsequently was turned into a book, I will admit that Professor Schuker was indeed correct in his claim as it pertains to Grosse Politik. With that being said, this fact by itself does not change very much as it relates to Professors Schuker and Röhl's attacks on the new, revisionist scholarship relating to the origins of the Great War. As I stated in my piece, both gentlemen are quite careful to stay clear of actually critiquing the scholarship of Christopher Clark, Sean McMeekin, and Stefan Schmidt. Instead we are treated to a species of semi-ad hominem attacks on the revisionist school and on Professor Clark in particular. However, even when looking at the issue of the doctoring of Grosse Politik, which I am now agree was indeed 'doctored', what do we make of this fact? As the citation above from the diary of the high foreign office official, Sir Evelyn Shuckburgh clearly shows, it is in the nature of both governments and bureaucracies to endeavour to either 'hide' or indeed as the example of the so-called Windsor papers show, suppress documents which may be deemed to be 'sensitive' or embarrassing 1. However, the uniqueness of the doctoring of Grosse Politik becomes even more questionable, once we note that Weimar Germany was not the only combatant to doctor and or suppress diplomatic papers which were thought to be less than supportive of the national narrative that the war was caused by the enemy nation or nations. Specifically, of course I am referring to France, which as was noted first by the late, great Luigi Albertini in his magnum opus, The Origins of the War of 1914, that from the publication of the infamous Yellow Book, to their post-bellum memoirs, that Poincaré, Viviani, Paléologue all engage in falsification of the voluminous evidence that: a) France and in particular Paléologue 'egged on' (in Albertini's words) Russia to mobilize against both Austria and Germany; b) that Austria mobilised first prior to Russia 2. And it is in particular a new and much more critical examination of the Balkan policies of the Entente Powers, which the revisionist historians have focused on. In short, while I greatly appreciate Professor Schuker's kindness in replying to my prior piece on this subject, his rebuttal does not in any way or fashion cause me to change my position. Indeed, insofar as Professor Schuker, like Professor Röhl refuses to engage in any substantive fashion with the revisionist school, my own prior opinion is not only upheld but fortified.
1. On the 'Windsor Papers', see: Andrew Morton, "How Britain covered up the friendship between Hitler & Edward VIII". The New York Post. 1 March 2015, in Should one add, that Annika Mombauer, who Schuker cites with evident approval in his article and who is of course a protégée of John Röhl, in her own collection of documents dealing with the origins of the Great War, notes of Grosse Politik: "For the purposes of compiling the present addition of collected documents, individual documents contained within the volumes of Die Grosse Politik have been included without undue concern about their authenticity".See: The Origins of the First World War: Diplomatic and military documents. Edited and translated by Annika Mombauer. (2013), p. 12.
2. See in particular: Volume II, pp. 582-595, and Volume III, pp. 112-164. Both in: Luigi Albertini. The Origins of the War of 1914. Volumes I-III. Revised Edition. Edited & Translated by Isabella M. Massey. (2002). My comments above in no way gainsays the fact that Albertini himself, while highly critical of both French and Russian actions in bringing about the war, placed a higher degree of fault with Germany and Austria. However, given the fact that Albertini was a Liberal, Italian Nationalist of the pre-war school, it would be difficult to imagine that he would be able to overcome a life-time of prejudices as per this issue.

Sunday, March 08, 2015


"No one could claim Benjamin Netanyahu lacks chutzpah. Snubbing a Democratic US president by appealing to a Republican Congress to wreck the White House’s set piece initiative two weeks before facing his own election — well, that takes gumption. But guts are not the same thing as wisdom. It is doubtful Mr Netanyahu’s gambit will have persuaded US lawmakers to change their minds. Most were already sympathetic to Israeli misgivings about the outlines of Barack Obama’s proposed nuclear deal with Iran. By making it a US partisan issue, Mr Netanyahu’s flouting of norms has opened cracks within pro-Israeli groups where none existed. He has also invited deeper scrutiny of his own objections to any kind of Iran agreement. Mr Obama still has much ground to cover before he can secure an acceptable deal. Even then, it may be unattainable. But he has an obligation to try. Ironically, Mr Netanyahu’s actions may have made his task a little easier. Mr. Netanyahu’s main objection is that Iran can never be trusted to honour any nuclear deal. Only a full dismembering of all of Iran’s civil nuclear capacity — every centrifuge it possesses and every ounce of enriched uranium it has produced — would be acceptable to Israel. Even then, US sanctions on Iran should still be kept in place. As the chief sponsor of Syria’s Assad regime, Hizbollah and other regional instruments of terror, Iran should continue to be treated as a pariah. But this sets the bar unrealistically high. Under Mr Obama’s deal, Iran’s nuclear enrichment capacity would be drastically pared back and subject to a clear regime of international inspections. It would push Iran’s “nuclear breakout” capacity to one year, enough time for the world to detect and react to any breach. The deal would hold for a minimum of 10 years with the hope that Iran would have moderated its stance towards the world within that time, and relaxed its politics at home. In exchange, the US and its allies would ease the sanctions that are crippling Iran’s economy."
Leader, "Netanyahu’s brazen challenge to Obama". The Financial Times. 3 March 2015, in
"From the American perspective, the main question about Iran is, assuming it is a threat, can it be destroyed militarily? The Iranians are not fools. They observed the ease with which the Israelis destroyed the Iraqi nuclear reactor in 1981. They buried theirs deep underground. It is therefore not clear, regardless of how far along it is or what its purpose is, that the United States could destroy Iran's nuclear program from the air. It would require, at the very least, special operations on the ground, and failing that, military action beyond U.S. capabilities. Aside from the use of nuclear weapons, it is unclear that an attack on multiple hardened sites would work. The Israelis are quite aware of these difficulties. Had it been possible to attack, and had the Israelis believed what they were saying, the Israelis would have attacked. The distances are great, but there are indications that countries closer to Iran and also interested in destroying Iran's nuclear program would have allowed the use of their territories. Yet the Israelis did not attack. The American position is that, lacking a viable military option and uncertain as to the status of Iran's program, the only option is to induce Iran to curtail the program. Simply maintaining permanent sanctions does not end whatever program there is. Only an agreement with Iran trading the program for an end of sanctions would work. From the American point of view, the lack of a military option requires a negotiation. The Israeli position is that Iran cannot be trusted. The American position is that in that case, there are no options".
George Friedman, "Geopolitical Weekly: Netanyahu, Obama and the Geopolitics of Speeches". Stratfor: Global intelligence. 3 March 2015, in
"My moment came at dinner in the embassy - Dulles, Eden, Livvy Merchant, Douglas MacArthur, Ambassador Dillon, Gladwyn [Jebb], Harold Caccia and Tony Rumbold....I found them amenable to the idea of trying to get concessions out of Israel....Dulles, however, gave us an enlightening account of the power and influence of the Jews in America. Subscriptions to Israel, alone of all non-local charities, are (quite illegally) exempt from tax. But he said we have another twelve months to do something in, before another election looms up and makes all action impossible."
Sir Charles Arthur Evelyn Schuckburgh. Descent to Suez: diaries 1951-1956. (1986). pp.242-243.
Whether the Israeli Premier, Benjamin Netanyahu's speech this week to the American Congress was a 'brazen challenge' is in the eyes of the beholder. Certainly, it is a highly unusual thing for a foreign leader to make a speech before the parliament of the country in which he is a guest to attack the policy of the home government. But then again, the American-Israeli relationship has defied the grounds of 'normality' for quite awhile now. As John Mearsheimer & Stephen Walt have shown in their book (which per se merely brought out into the open the findings of many books and articles by professional historians who specialized in this area), the normative aspects of foreign relations are strikingly absent in America's relations with the Jewish State 1. With that being said and understood, it would be truer to argue that Netanyahu's 'brazen challenge' to the current American Administration is merely the ne plus ultra of the peculiarity of Washington's relations with Tel Aviv. After all, the current Israeli government's position on the Western Powers nuclear negotiations with Persia are hardly novel. It has been stated and reiterated time and again for several years now. And insofar as Netanyahu singularly failed to waive the stick of preventive air strikes to 'solve' the problem posed by Tehran's quest for nuclear power (and or nuclear weapons), then it could be argued that there has been 'progress' in how Israel views the matter of resolving the problem posed by Persia's nuclear ambitions. It is useful to remember that it was not too far distant in time to hear sotto voce, from either Israel or its American supporters that if the negotiations with Persia did not result in an acceptable modus vivendi by day x, then Israel would take matters into its own hands. AKA endeavor by means of air strikes to destroy Persia's nuclear programme. Well day 'x' has come and gone. Several years and several times ago, and Israel has chosen not to act. The fact of the matter is, that as George Friedman of Stratfor cogently argues, Israel lacks the requisite military capacity to unilaterally to destroy Persia's nuclear infrastructure 2. Accordingly, with a military option not available, Israel has instead chosen to try to propel the Americans to either ensure that any agreement is airtight as it relates to Persia's nuclear programme, or conversely to employ military means to destroy said nuclear programme in the absence of an agreement acceptable to Israel. Hence the point of the Israeli premier's speech to the America Congress is to lobby the very same to prevent the American administration from negotiating any agreement acceptable to the mullahs of Persia. Knowing this to be the case himself, one can only wonder what au fond the Israeli's premier true motives are. Ones that comes immediately to mind is of course 'regime change'; and no matter how desirable that outcome might be in the abstract, that fact is that with the ongoing wars in Syria and Iraq, as well as the concurrent upheavals in Yeman and Libya, to endeavor to overthrow the detestable regime in Persia would be pure madness at this point in time. Like it or not, some mutually acceptable modus vivendi agreement over the nuclear issue with the regime in Tehran is vital. The Israeli premier's challenge to the proposed agreement must be rejected pur et simple. And one may only hope in doing so that Netanyahu will be ousted in the forthcoming Israeli elections.
1. John Mearsheimer & Stephen Walt. The Israeli Lobby and U.S. Foreign Policy. (2007). See also for a historical perspective the following two books by Peter Hahn: The United States, Great Britain, and Egypt, 1945-1956: Strategy and Diplomacy in the Early Cold War(1991) & Caught in the Middle East: U.S. Policy Toward the Arab-Israeli Conflict, 1945-1961 (2004).
2. Friedman, op. cit. This point is emphasised greatly and at length, by someone who I conceive of as the premier American military 'expert', Anthony Cordesman, in his: Iran, Sanctions, Energy, Arms Control, and Regime Change. (2014), pp. 134-142 and passim.