Johnny Matrix March 9, 2014
“When the number of factors coming into play in a phenomenological complex is too large…prediction even for a few days ahead is impossible” — Albert Einstein
Even though Einstein could smoke me on the GRE, I think it’s still worth a try.
Will our next foray into combat be asymmetric? I would love to be able to say that America has lost its appetite for this type of war. However, it is difficult to support this claim knowing that a maximum of .5% of our population served at the height of the War on Terror. With our projected force re-structuring, it will be all but impossible to conduct anything resembling our disposition in Iraq or Afghanistan. Our highest troop number in both countries was roughly 150,000-200,000. That’s almost half the future potential size of the Army alone, which leaves the other half either training or recouping, that is to say not ready for war. There could be a possibility of counterinsurgency waged in an indirect manner (argued during my last post), but this is unlikely as we have always been disinclined to deploy conventional troops with the intent on training foreign forces.
While it is all fun to talk about how we can affect unconventional war, the enemy’s vote is far more important to comprehend. A quick rundown of our adversaries reveals quite a bit in regards to where we have concentrated our resources;
Af/Pak Region: HIG (Hezb-e Islami Gulbuddin) & LeT (Lashkar-e Taybah) are regional threats at best. While they are the biggest threat to our deployed military at the moment, they pose little danger to the homeland.
Middle East: Al Nusra / ISIS are ponds in the violent chess game that is the Syrian Civil War.
North Africa: AQIM acts almost as a front…cannon fodder to keep our unmanned assets preoccupied.
While, recent history has supported the theory following the possibility of a strike originating from power vacuums such as those regions previously mentioned, more credible threats have unexpectedly come from inexperienced and untrained conduits, such as the 7 July Bombers in London, Umar Abdulmutallab (underwear bomber), and various other thwarted attacks on the homeland.
If conventional war was suspect prior to the GWOT, the possible outcome of the Crimea conflict could almost cement the impossibility of such a war occurring again in the future. It may sound sick when I say that this current dynamic is actually a healthy exercise, as it should provide our government with a wake-up call concerning what a possible conventional war could look like.
Say Russia shows their hand on the table and it involves a kinetic takeover of Ukraine’s southern peninsula. At this point, I find it difficult to believe our country is mentally prepared to escalate the conflict further by reinforcing unit’s in Germany and Italy. Russia’s ground troops number close to almost one million soldiers and while they are, generally speaking, poorly equipped and trained conscripts fighting for a weak cause, there is something to be said for the fact that Mother Russia has proved before that their strength is in the numbers and they are not afraid to sacrifice them. Barring nuclear involvement, would we be willing to perform airstrikes on vital Russian targets in Ukraine? I’d venture to say polls would point towards the negative as there are multiple options within the economic and diplomatic realms that we’d exhaust prior to any military involvement.
So what this proves is that one nation could completely invade and overtake another country in Europe, one of the most civilized continents on earth, and no one will do anything about it. If there is a better scenario that can rule conventional war out of the equation…I’m all ears.
For students of the subject, war has a spectrum with absolute peace and utter war on either end. If one subscribes to the 0-10 scale, the GWOT falls around the 5.75 mark while an unlikely but potential all-out ground war with Russia resides closer in the 8.33 (repeating of course) area. Many divide the spectrum into two sections, one covering general peace and the other comprised of combat. The difficult part in using this spectrum is that there are no metrics, ie casualties, length, collateral fallout. It is only defined by classifications of conflict, in other words counterinsurgency is lower on the totem pole than international war. Also, it is too cold of a grading scale. The average US citizen feels his country may be at a 1.25, with his only connection to the war on CNN, while a village Mullah from Panjwai, who lost most of his family to the fighting, will attest to a 9.5.
One may remark at the all too specific forecast of what could possibly come in a future time of war. I would argue that as the superpower we believe ourselves to be, it is simply not enough to only be prepared for any type of war…we must be able to know what comes next.
AfD has plummeted in the polls but the battle for democracy is far from won
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Constanze Stelzenmüller JUNE 18 2020
The writer is a Senior Fellow at the Brookings Institution
Might Germany’s most prominent Covid-19 victim be its hard-right party, the Alternative for Germany? Having roared to prominence with a vicious xenophobic campaign during the migration crisis of 2015, the AfD is having a remarkably bad pandemic.
It was only four months ago that defence minister Annegret Kramp-Karrenbauer resigned as head of the Christian Democratic Party (CDU), and thus as Chancellor Angela Merkel’s heir presumptive in the 2021 elections.
That was because a state branch of her party had let itself be inveigled into electing an unknown politician as the state’s premier with AfD support. The deeply divided CDU, which with its Bavarian sister party the Christian Social Union has long commanded more than 40 per cent of the popular vote, appeared to be dwindling into insignificance, polling just 26 per cent.
At the same time, the AfD, founded in 2013 by a handful of Eurosceptic academics, had been surging, mutating, and radicalising. It entered the federal legislature in 2017, winning 12.6 per cent of the vote, and became the largest opposition party. In several eastern states, it was the second-strongest or even strongest political force.
Moderates fled the AfD as its extremist “Wing” faction gained ascendance. Its supporters — among them, rightwing radical groups — rampaged on social media and the streets. Local officials were terrorised, Jewish cemeteries and a synagogue attacked. In June 2019, regional CDU politician Walter Lübcke was murdered by an alleged neo-Nazi.
Still, the AfD’s only path to power through Germany’s constitutional order (which its party programme decries as “illegitimate”) lay in capturing or co-opting the centre-right. With Ms Kramp-Karrenbauer’s resignation, it seemed as though the AfD had achieved a halfway victory: not as kingmaker, but as destroyer of a chancellor-in-waiting. Even Ms Merkel seemed to wobble.
Today, Ms Merkel’s popularity is as high as it has ever been in her 15-year tenure. The CDU has shot back up to 40 per cent in the polls and three-quarters of Germans approve of the work of her grand coalition with the Social Democrats. Meanwhile, the AfD’s rating has plummeted to eight per cent, and its leaders are at each other’s throats.
Much of this is because the AfD appears paralysed by the pandemic, which has brought out the scientist chancellor’s strengths: an evidence-based and consensus-oriented leadership style, which treats citizens as responsible adults. Facing the Covid-19 crisis, her coalition also stopped bickering and pulled together several “bazooka” stimulus packages, both for the nation and for Europe.
After a decade of denial about the growth of the extreme right, German authorities have also begun to crack down on the AfD’s hard-right support networks. Attempting to ward off pressure, AfD chieftains threw out its leading rightwinger, a former paratrooper, and the Wing dissolved itself.
Still, the fight for German democracy is by no means won. In the 1960s and 1990s, government action and citizen opposition routed hard-right parties. But the extreme right, for all its vicious infighting, has been meticulously preparing the battleground ever since. The AfD deploys an endless barrage of parliamentary inquiries and lawsuits in a war of attrition against ministries and courts. Its strident populism has also changed the scope of acceptable political discourse.
Two fundamental questions remain unresolved. Whether the AfD will attempt to march on power via the streets or via institutions. And whether Germany’s mainstream political parties will muster the determination to protect democracy against its enemy. Only one thing is certain. The medical, economic, social and institutional crisis unleashed by coronavirus has only just begun. That is an opportunity for both sides.
The Russian president offers a comprehensive assessment of the legacy of World War II, arguing that “Today, European politicians, and Polish leaders in particular, wish to sweep the Munich Betrayal under the carpet. The Munich Betrayal showed to the Soviet Union that the Western countries would deal with security issues without taking its interests into account.”
Seventy-five years have passed since the end of the Great Patriotic War. Several generations have grown up over the years. The political map of the planet has changed. The Soviet Union that claimed an epic, crushing victory over Nazism and saved the entire world is gone. Besides, the events of that war have long become a distant memory, even for its participants. So why does Russia celebrate the ninth of May as the biggest holiday? Why does life almost come to a halt on June 22? And why does one feel a lump rise in their throat?
They usually say that the war has left a deep imprint on every family’s history. Behind these words, there are fates of millions of people, their sufferings and the pain of loss. Behind these words, there is also the pride, the truth and the memory.
For my parents, the war meant the terrible ordeals of the Siege of Leningrad where my two-year-old brother Vitya died. It was the place where my mother miraculously managed to survive. My father, despite being exempt from active duty, volunteered to defend his hometown. He made the same decision as millions of Soviet citizens. He fought at the Nevsky Pyatachok bridgehead and was severely wounded. And the more years pass, the more I feel the need to talk to my parents and learn more about the war period of their lives. However, I no longer have the opportunity to do so. This is the reason why I treasure in my heart those conversations I had with my father and mother on this subject, as well as the little emotion they showed.
People of my age and I believe it is important that our children, grandchildren and great-grandchildren understand the torment and hardships their ancestors had to endure. They need to understand how their ancestors managed to persevere and win. Where did their sheer, unbending willpower that amazed and fascinated the whole world come from? Sure, they were defending their home, their children, loved ones and families. However, what they shared was the love for their homeland, their Motherland. That deep-seated, intimate feeling is fully reflected in the very essence of our nation and became one of the decisive factors in its heroic, sacrificial fight against the Nazis.
I often wonder: What would today’s generation do? How will it act when faced with a crisis situation? I see young doctors, nurses, sometimes fresh graduates that go to the “red zone” to save lives. I see our servicemen that fight international terrorism in the Northern Caucasus and fought to the bitter end in Syria. They are so young. Many servicemen who were part of the legendary, immortal 6th Paratroop Company were 19-20 years old. But all of them proved that they deserved to inherit the feat of the warriors of our homeland that defended it during the Great Patriotic War.
This is why I am confident that one of the characteristic features of the peoples of Russia is to fulfill their duty without feeling sorry for themselves when the circumstances so demand. Such values as selflessness, patriotism, love for their home, their family and Motherland remain fundamental and integral to the Russian society to this day. These values are, to a large extent, the backbone of our country’s sovereignty.
Nowadays, we have new traditions created by the people, such as the Immortal Regiment. This is the memory march that symbolizes our gratitude, as well as the living connection and the blood ties between generations. Millions of people come out to the streets carrying the photographs of their relatives that defended their Motherland and defeated the Nazis. This means that their lives, their ordeals and sacrifices, as well as the Victory that they left to us will never be forgotten.
We have a responsibility to our past and our future to do our utmost to prevent those horrible tragedies from happening ever again. Hence, I was compelled to come out with an article about World War II and the Great Patriotic War. I have discussed this idea on several occasions with world leaders, and they have showed their support. At the summit of CIS leaders held at the end of last year, we all agreed on one thing: it is essential to pass on to future generations the memory of the fact that the Nazis were defeated first and foremost by the Soviet people and that representatives of all republics of the Soviet Union fought side by side together in that heroic battle, both on the frontlines and in the rear. During that summit, I also talked with my counterparts about the challenging pre-war period.
That conversation caused a stir in Europe and the world. It means that it is indeed high time that we revisited the lessons of the past. At the same time, there were many emotional outbursts, poorly disguised insecurities and loud accusations that followed. Acting out of habit, certain politicians rushed to claim that Russia was trying to rewrite history. However, they failed to rebut a single fact or refute a single argument. It is indeed difficult, if not impossible, to argue with the original documents that, by the way, can be found not only in the Russian, but also in the foreign archives.
Thus, there is a need to further examine the reasons that caused the world war and reflect on its complicated events, tragedies and victories, as well as its lessons, both for our country and the entire world. And like I said, it is crucial to rely exclusively on archive documents and contemporary evidence while avoiding any ideological or politicized speculations.
I would like to once again recall the obvious fact. The root causes of World War II mainly stem from the decisions made after World War I. The Treaty of Versailles became a symbol of grave injustice for Germany. It basically implied that the country was to be robbed, being forced to pay enormous reparations to the Western allies that drained its economy. French marshal Ferdinand Foch who served as the Supreme Allied Commander gave a prophetic description of that Treaty: “This is not peace. It is an armistice for twenty years.”
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It was the national humiliation that became a fertile ground for radical sentiments of revenge in Germany. The Nazis skillfully played on people’s emotions and built their propaganda promising to deliver Germany from the “legacy of Versailles” and restore the country to its former power while essentially pushing German people into war. Paradoxically, the Western states, particularly the United Kingdom and the United States, directly or indirectly contributed to this. Their financial and industrial enterprises actively invested in German factories and plants manufacturing military products. Besides, many people in the aristocracy and political establishment supported radical, far-right and nationalist movements that were on the rise both in Germany and in Europe.
The “Versailles world order” caused numerous implicit controversies and apparent conflicts. They revolved around the borders of new European states randomly set by the victors in World War I. That boundary delimitation was almost immediately followed by territorial disputes and mutual claims that turned into “time bombs”.
One of the major outcomes of World War I was the establishment of the League of Nations. There were high expectations for that international organization to ensure lasting peace and collective security. It was a progressive idea that, if followed through consistently, could actually prevent the horrors of a global war from happening again.
However, the League of Nations dominated by the victorious powers of France and the United Kingdom proved ineffective and just got swamped by pointless discussions. The League of Nations and the European continent in general turned a deaf ear to the repeated calls of the Soviet Union to establish an equitable collective security system, and sign an Eastern European pact and a Pacific pact to prevent aggression. These proposals were disregarded.
The League of Nations also failed to prevent conflicts in various parts of the world, such as the attack of Italy on Ethiopia, the civil war in Spain, the Japanese aggression against China and the Anschluss of Austria. Furthermore, in case of the Munich Betrayal that, in addition to Hitler and Mussolini, involved British and French leaders, Czechoslovakia was taken apart with the full approval of the League of Nations. I would like to point out in this regard that, unlike many other European leaders of that time, Stalin did not disgrace himself by meeting with Hitler who was known among the Western nations as quite a reputable politician and was a welcome guest in the European capitals.
Poland was also engaged in the partition of Czechoslovakia along with Germany. They decided together in advance who would get what Czechoslovak territories. On September 20, 1938, Polish Ambassador to Germany Józef Lipski reported to Minister of Foreign Affairs of Poland Józef Beck on the following assurances made by Hitler: “…in case of a conflict between Poland and Czechoslovakia over our interests in Teschen, the Reich would stand by Poland.” The Nazi leader even prompted and advised that Poland started to act “only after the Germans occupy the Sudetes.”
Today, American strategists see Great Power competition with China, rather than countering terrorism, as their country’s primary security concern. Because of this, some suggest that Arab Gulf states may no longer be as relevant to the United States’ geo-strategic calculus as they once were, particularly during the Cold War.
Moreover, no longer reliant on the Persian Gulf region for oil thanks to shale technology, or so goes the argument, the geo-economic rationale behind the United States’ robust military presence in the region no longer applies. And while Iran, ISIS and al-Qaeda remain worrisome to Washington, the US has sought to reallocate military assets away from the US Central Command, which encompasses the Persian Gulf, to the Indo-Pacific theater, where they would serve to counter China’s military edge.
However, Gulf Arab states in fact constitute a key part of the puzzle of countering China’s military and economic footprint. Their geographic location, coupled with their hydrocarbon assets and economic allure, implies that any US strategy aimed at contesting China’s influence must undeniably include sustained and systematic engagement with the United States’ Gulf partners.
In his book The Return of Marco Polo’s World: War, Strategy and American Interests in the Twenty-First Century, American pundit and analyst Robert Kaplan lays out the military rationale behind fusing the United States’ presence in the Gulf region into its broader Indo-Pacific strategy. Kaplan advocates merging America’s “presence in the Persian Gulf region with that in the South and East China seas,” while “leveraging the growing naval presence of India,” to optimize the United States’ long-term posture against a rising China.
Among the Gulf states, Oman stands out for its geographic proximity to the Hormuz and Bab-el-Mandeb straits. It therefore holds strategic significance to the quest for naval supremacy and the ability to control – or at least deny any rival power control over – vital sea lines of communication in the Indian Ocean.
In March 2019, the US signed an agreement with Oman that grants the US Navy access to the ports of Duqm and Salalah. In addition to bypassing the perilous Strait of Hormuz, the two ports, located in the Arabian Sea, serve as key vantage points between China’s naval base in Djibouti and the Pakistani port of Gwadar, in which China holds a major commercial stake. Oman, in other words, is already shaping up as a pivotal player in the great-power competition over the Indian Ocean.
Besides the naval domain, Gulf states hold considerable sway over the great powers’ contest for influence and market share in the global arms industry. Saudi Arabia, for example, was the world’s largest importer of arms between 2015 and 2019, accounting for 12% of global arms imports. In eighth place, the United Arab Emirates was not too far behind.
Over the past few years, Saudi Arabia and the UAE have turned to Beijing to procure military technology, such as armed drones, that Washington has so far refused to sell them. As a sign of their growing defense industrial ties, Saudi Arabia reportedly is setting up the only Chinese facility in the Middle East to manufacture and service armed drones.
Although the US remains their largest arms vendor and has in fact widened its market share in recent years, Gulf states’ gradual turn to Beijing risks eroding the United States’ ability to control end-user operations while affording China the opportunity to widen its defense industrial footprint in the region.
From a geo-economic perspective, the United States’ military presence in the Gulf provides it with considerable leverage over a commodity that remains vital to China’s economic and military ambitions: oil. Although the US may no longer need oil from the Gulf, China still does, sourcing about 44% of its imports from the region. By maintaining a robust military posture in the region, the US in effect has China’s energy supplies in a stranglehold, allowing it to choke out the Chinese economy in case of conflict.
Economically, the UAE and Saudi Arabia are China’s top trade and investment partners in the MENA (Middle East and North Africa) region. In 2018, China committed more than US$11.5 billion in investments and contracts in the UAE and Saudi Arabia.
Despite US warnings, telecom operators in Gulf states, including the UAE, Saudi Arabia and Bahrain, are partnering with Huawei to roll out parts of their 5G (fifth-generation wireless) networks. Since the launch of the Belt and Road Initiative, China also has made inroads into these states’ industrial and logistics sectors, deploying tens of billions of dollars to develop a container terminal at the UAE’s Khalifa port, an industrial city and special economic zone at Oman’s Duqm port and an industrial park in Jazan, Saudi Arabia.
Although Chinese investments have fallen since their peak in 2009 because of slower economic growth and shrinking foreign-currency reserves, China remains an active and ambitious player in strategic sectors of Gulf states’ economies.
To keep China in check, the US will no longer be able to rely on sheer strength alone. Instead, it will need to sustain and leverage key partnerships, such as those with Gulf states, that allow it to maximize its military and economic impact against China.
Although Gulf states will seek to avoid being drawn into the fray, their own security needs all but guarantee a long-term demand for trusted US presence.
This article was provided by Syndication Bureau, which holds copyright.
Hasan Alhasan is a researcher at the India Institute at King’s College London and an associate fellow at the International Institute of Strategic Studies. Previously, he served as a senior analyst at the Office of the First Deputy Prime Minister of Bahrain.
Intertwined domestic crises are adding pressure for Trump and Xi to seek out confrontation
BY KEVIN BROWN
JUN 16, 2020
LONDON – Long before Donald Trump, with his “America first” foreign policy agenda, took office as U.S. president, relations between Washington and Beijing were in a state of gradual decline. These developments have their roots in the dramatic rearrangement of the post-1989 world order, where the fall of the Soviet Union made Beijing’s position as a counterweight to Moscow redundant for Washington. Add in mounting trade tensions and increasing Chinese aggression in the South China Seas, among other factors, and ties were fraying before the COVID-19 pandemic. Now both Trump and Chinese President Xi Jinping face dueling crises that could bring both powers to a head-on, domestically driven clash.
The COVID-19 pandemic, which originated in China, has killed over 110,000 Americans and sickened nearly 2 million. It has also rapidly sped up the deterioration in relations between the world’s top two economies. Now the United States faces interlinked public health, social and economic crises that have devastated vast swaths of the American economic landscape. Domestic developments are made only worse through urban unrest caused by the murder of an unarmed black man by a white police officer in Minnesota over a counterfeit $20 bill. As a result, Trump faces three crises providing headwinds to his re-election effort, which is just five months away. Amid domestic turmoil, he is now attempting to make opposition to China a centerpiece of his bid.
While the Biden campaign favors pre-2016 status quo attitudes toward Beijing, this is not held by all Democrats, including within the party’s leadership. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi has long been a center-left China hawk, dating back to her criticism of Beijing for the Chinese Communist Party’s actions during the Tiananmen Square protests. Senate Minority leader Chuck Schumer blames Chinese negligence for the severity of the opioid epidemic and encourages Trump to be even tougher on China. Likewise, the previously ascendant progressive wing of the party supports a tougher stance because of China’s trade practices, environmental policies, and human rights record.
In other words, even if Trump loses this November, there might be no change in political attitudes toward China, since a more confrontational stance toward Beijing seems to be shared by both Republicans and Democrats. And now, according to a poll by Morning Consult, a majority of American voters blame China for the spread of COVID-19.
On the other side of the Pacific, Xi is dealing with his own coronavirus-induced fallout, which is messing with his plans to further consolidate power within the CCP. Behind the scenes, he is facing criticism from influential stakeholders within the party structure, which he is trying to silence along with widespread skepticism within Chinese society.
At the same time, Beijing is trying to suppress potential Islamism in Muslim-majority Xinjiang by throwing by some estimates up to 1 million people into “re-education camps.”
Meanwhile protests are continuing in Hong Kong against Beijing’s efforts to impose a new national security law on the city, a move that Washington has warned justifies revoking Hong Kong’s autonomous status. The United Kingdom is opening the door to full British citizenship for BNO passport holders, posing a brain drain risk to one of China’s major cities. These events threaten the Chinese Communist Party’s legitimacy, since foreign investors are considering long-term exit strategies from the Chinese market with encouragement from Washington.
These problematic developments are playing on another emerging debate inside China, where the post-COVID-19 geopolitical landscape becomes scrambled for Beijing. Xi is opening a discussion on whether the country should take a semi-Stalinist cult of personality approach under his leadership, or retain the traditional post-Mao “Dengist” approach. These arguments within the CCP leadership have implications for Washington’s relations since they will dictate the tone of engagement between the two countries in the coming years.
The regional situation in Asia currently provides a match for the evolving tinderbox of relations between the U.S. and China, especially considering the domestic problems facing the two countries. The ongoing coronavirus pandemic and the social and economic havoc it is creating in the U.S. is providing an opening for Beijing to press its agenda throughout the region and the world. However, China’s assertiveness during this global crisis is coming at the cost of further tensions with regional rivals like Japan, Vietnam, Taiwan and India.
COVID-19’s origins in China are prompting the Japanese government to incentivize businesses to move supply chains back home. Vietnamese distrust of China’s intentions drove Hanoi’s successful COVID-19 strategy. At the same time, Beijing is increasingly aggressive toward Taiwan, while Washington is distracted by the crisis at home. There is now an ongoing standoff between Beijing and New Delhi (both armed with nuclear weapons) over territorial disputes along their border. An escalation of any of these standoffs — or if Xi overplays his hand with claims in the South China Sea — could easily drag Washington into a regional conflict.
Still, there is a reason for cautious hope considering the U.S. previously faced similarly difficult circumstances with the Soviet Union. From 1967 through 1970, Washington faced an intractable war in Vietnam, racial unrest at home and massive upheaval that changed social attitudes in American society. Internationally, the Vietnam War served as a potential flashpoint. Open conflict between Israel and the Arab World, war between India and Pakistan, left-wing terrorism, and the Prague Spring all posed heightened risks.
On the other side of the Berlin Wall, Moscow dealt with inter-socialist rivalry with Mao’s China, a massive military build-up, and aging leadership, among other issues. Still, despite these flashpoints and simmering tensions, Washington and Moscow refrained from coming to open blows.
The twin domestic crises impacting the U.S. and China carry repercussions that go beyond both powers. The unrest and discord currently happening in the U.S. are upping the stakes for American political leaders going into an election year where intertangled crises could easily spill over into the international sphere. With his re-election on the ropes, Trump could decide a show of force in Asia is an excellent option to bolster his campaign message. Mounting problems at home are also driving Xi’s decision-making calculus, and could similarly cause him to assert power in the near abroad, inducing a crisis with Washington. Rising instability among the elites and societies of both powers create numerous further risks for potential conflict between the U.S. and China.
All these domestically driven challenges play into Graham Allison’s famed “Thucydides Trap,” which predicts that a rising power will almost always come to blows with an established one. So far, the evolving nature of the U.S.-China relationship seems to be proving Allison’s theory well, considering the differences between the two are becoming more highlighted and tensions are rapidly ramping up due to domestic political rhetoric. Time will tell if the unrest currently plaguing both rival powers sees the Thucydides trap become a self-fulfilling prophecy.
Adding to the stakes is the fact that a global pandemic, the source of the recent social and economic upheaval, originated in the U.S.’ rising rival.
Xi must prove himself to be a decisive leader considering the pressure he is under within the ruling Communist Party to provide clarity in the aftermath of COVID-19 and the ongoing unrest in Hong Kong. Trump, meanwhile, is eyeing a tough-on-China stance as a crucial pillar of his re-election bid. If neither man can provide stability in the relationship between the two powers, the similar challenges facing both could snowball into an even larger crisis.
As the bonds between the two shores of the trans-Atlantic alliance weaken, Russia and China are asserting themselves more confidently in global politics. Traces of Cold War-like polarizations and geopolitical competitions are now being more evident in the post Covid-19 era. It is now high time to offer a comparative analysis of the security visions of the major global powers, for the future stability of mankind is at stake.
Since its foundation, U.S. leaders have not shown strong enthusiasm to pursue ambitious policies abroad to institutionalize American dominance unless other continents, most notably Europe and Asia, came under the domination of anti-American power blocks or any global power threatened U.S. national interests by trying to take a strong presence in America’s “near” abroad. The default position of the American people has been that the U.S. should not engage in entangled alliances and go abroad in search for monsters. However, since the early years of the Cold War era, the U.S. has shifted towards an internationalist mentality and put the containment of its geopolitical rivals and the promotion of its values to other places at the center of its foreign policy engagements. Despite the fact that “realists” and “isolationists” have traditionally abhorred adventures abroad and argued against the use of force unless vital national interests were at stake, they have nevertheless sided with liberal internationalists in defining the U.S as an exceptional country in terms of its norms and values. Pursuing liberal hegemony through the employment of various hard and soft power instruments and shouldering the responsibility of maintaining liberal international order have become uncontested foreign policy options for about twenty years since the early days of the post-Cold war era.
However, the steady increase in material and ideational power capabilities of non-Western powers, the abject failure of American nation-building projects across the globe and the economic crisis that hit the Western world severely in late 2008 have led Americans to go through a soul-searching process over the last decade. Both Obama and Trump administrations have recognized that the U.S. should no longer play the role of global hegemon in maintaining peace and security. The main message given by Washington over the last decade is that American support to the security interests of traditional European and Asian allies should be earned, rather than taken for granted.
With Obama and Trump, the focus has changed to great power politics and competition. Dealing with China and Russia now appears to be more important than focusing on humanitarian interventions, counterterrorism and democracy promotion exercises. The latest National Security Strategy and National Defense Strategy, adopted in late 2017 and early 2018, respectively, testify to this new mentality. Reverting from national building exercises abroad towards offshore balancing and adopting a more skeptical approach towards globalization process while prioritizing traditional great power relations seem to have strengthened the realist, pragmatic and isolationist tendencies in U.S foreign policy. Such trends will likely strengthen in the post Covid-19 era as the growing tension in American-Chinese relations demonstrates.
Americans appear to have rediscovered that their nation is now more an Indo-Pacific than a trans-Atlantic one. Whereas today’s America seems to adopt a mixture of containment and engagement strategies vis-à-vis China, Putin’s Russia is viewed more as an anti-American headache than an existential global security threat. Americans do not put Russia on an equal footing with China. Russia is a regional power in decay, whereas China is a global power on the rise.
On the other hand, the EU of today is far away from fulfilling the desired goals that its founders set decades ago. At stake now is the EU’s ability to deal with emerging modern challenges while remaining true to its post-modern aspirations. The European dream has been that the post-modern values of cosmopolitanism, multiculturalism, secular universalism, multiple interdependencies and soft-power oriented policies abroad would gradually transcend modern practices of balance of power politics, realpolitik security strategies, self-vs-other distinctions and the prioritization of hard power instruments in interstate relations. Yet, Russian actions in Ukraine, Syria and Eastern Europe do now confirm that geopolitical confrontations still haunt Europe and the constitutive principles of the post-Cold war era security order in Europe are now on shaky grounds. The growing chaos and anarchy in the Middle East and North Africa also presents the EU with very serious strategic challenges, the least of which is migration.
Recent years have also witnessed the rise of illiberal, populist, anti-integrationist, anti-immigrant and anti-globalist parties across the European continent. The EU’s post-modern integration process seems now to be on life support. The United Kingdom leaving the EU is a fatal blow to the EU’s credibility and its ability to act strategically on a global level. Neither Germany nor France can lead the European ship in the uncharted waters of the emerging century. The idea of European integration being based on common identities, social policies and the legitimacy of Brussels-based institutions might further erode in the years to come should centrist politicians in key EU member states fail to provide solutions to the daily problems of their people and continue to lose elections against fringe parties.
Far from having established itself as a credible actor speaking with one voice, the EU now appears as a weak geopolitical actor in the eyes of other global actors. The United States, Russia and China continue to employ the time-tested strategy of divide-and-rule in their relations with EU members. Each sees the EU as a playground in their geopolitical games. At stake for the EU is that should EU continue to remain as a herbivorous power – long on civilian and soft power capabilities yet short on hard power capabilities -, its ability to help shape the key tenets of the emerging world order will remain limited, for in its current form it cannot compete with such carnivorous powers the U.S., China and Russia.
Looking to Far East Asia, one can notice that China has pursued the so-called “peaceful rise/peaceful development” strategy since the late 1970s. However, China’s recent assertiveness seems to have led both the Obama and Trump administrations to redefine China as a potential hegemonic threat that needs be contained. Hence the strategic pivot, rebalancing, Quad and trade tariffs.
While Chinese see their country’s efforts to leave behind the “centuries of humiliation” as China’s rightful return to its glorious days, the majority of Westerners tend to feel skeptical about the end results of this process. Through such initiatives as “Belt and Road” and the Asian Infrastructure and Investment Bank, China is trying to give the message that there is a mutually constitutive relationship between its development at home and the development of others abroad. The goal is to bring into existence more China-friendly regional and global environments in which China’s march to global primacy would not only remain uncontested but also be accommodated easily. Chinese rulers have never adopted an imperial mission whose driving logic was to conquer non-Chinese territories and project Chinese norms and values onto others in a universalistic fashion. Instead, China has been to trying to midwife an international order in which China remains at the center of the global cobweb and all road lead to Beijing. China is now waging a connectivity war against its rivals.
The main characteristic of Chinese foreign policy, particularly concerning its relations with the U.S., seems to be avoiding taking clear stances on issues that directly touch upon vital American interests or global concerns. Traditionally speaking, unless the issues at hand concern Taiwan, Hong Kong, Tibet, the Uighur region or the islands in the South and East China Seas, China tends to avoid taking responsibility in global governance issues. Yet, with Covid-19, Chinese leaders seem to have come to the conclusion that there now exists a suitable atmosphere for China to assert its claim to global primacy while the U.S. and many liberal democracies experiencing strong challenges at home. American abdication from global leadership seems to have encouraged China to embrace a more assertive and aggressive foreign policy stance.
Nevertheless, China is not questioning the Western-led international order in a revolutionary fashion. What it wants is to see its growing ascendance in the global power hierarchy be accommodated institutionally and peacefully. In case of Western reluctance to do so, China does not hesitate to mastermind the establishment of alternative institutional platforms under its patronage.
Focusing on Russia, one notices that Russia has witnessed a national revival process following Putin’s ascendancy to power in late 1990s. Yet Russia has lately come under the international spotlight once again following its annexation of Crimea, the support that it gives to separatist groups in eastern Ukraine, its military involvement in Syria on the side of the Assad regime and its continuous political meddling in Western liberal democracies. The major criticism directed to Russia is that Russia acts as a typical realpolitik power which deeply believes in the primacy of material power capabilities, the use of brute military force and commanding spheres of influence. Russia is believed to have been acting as a nineteenth century power in the twenty-first century.
Putin’s Russia has been striving to help bring into existence a multipolar world order in which Russia plays a decisive role. Despite the growing strategic rapprochement between Moscow and Beijing in recent years, one not should conclude that Russia would act as a fiddle to China whenever its relations with Western actors deteriorate. In the best of circumstances China appears to be a trump card for Russia in its dealings with Western powers.
In Russian strategic thinking, Western institutions, most notably NATO, should not be the main regional platforms in which questions of European security are discussed. Putin being no exception, Russian security elites have been subscribed to the view that Russia has been deceived by Western powers in that NATO’s enlargement occurred to the detriment of Russia’s geopolitical interests and priorities.
Russia offers a textbook example of traditional nation-states where sovereignty, state survival and territorial integrity are still the most important security issues. Having the largest stockpile of nuclear weapons in the world, possessing sophisticated conventional military capabilities, and sitting on abundant natural resources and a huge land mass are considered to be the main power resources of Russia. To Russian rulers, there are no universally agreed human rights and the use of force in the name of “responsibility to protect” would only mask Western imperial designs on other places.
Ascribing a messianic mission to Russia, Russian leaders wish to resurrect the defunct Russian empire in new clothes, which acts as the protector of traditional Christian values against the challenges stemming from the post-modern or post-religion societies in the West and religious fundamentalism in the East and South. Russian elites are very much obsessed with the ideas that Russia is historically and empirically entitled to have an equal standing with the West and Russia’s greatness and distinctiveness should be recognized by outside actors. As Westerners question Russia’s equality and continue to lecture Russians on the superiority of Western values and Russia’s shortcomings, Russia tends to define itself in opposition to the West.
The years ahead will likely see that major global powers will adopt a more realist than liberal foreign policy outlook. The only exception might the European Union. Yet, it remains to be seen how a liberal post-modern EU would survive in the world of emerging realist challenges from all directions.
THE confrontation instigated by the United States with China continues to intensify. The pandemic has escalated tensions between them that were already at a record high before the Covid outbreak. This fraught situation has variously been described as a new Cold War, end of the post-1979 era, a geopolitical turning point and less seriously, a ‘scold war’.
What does this mean for the world’s most consequential relationship? Is this a transformative moment from where ties will have to be completely redefined rather than reset? Will the two global powers arrive at a modus vivendi or will their stand-off become an enduring feature of the international landscape? How much of China-bashing in the US reflects campaign politics in an election year? Is the friction an inevitable result of a global power’s response to the rise of another that can challenge its predominant position — a classic phenomenon witnessed throughout history when power dynamics shift fundamentally?
Is economic decoupling between the two inescapable? Or will present hostilities eventually give way to a restructuring of ties in which relations may end up being fiercely competitive and selectively cooperative but with overtones of hostility?
Clearer answers will emerge over time. But a key factor that could shape future relations will be the US presidential election in November when the next occupant of the White House will have to decide how to manage relations with China: to stabilise the relationship on new terms, or embark on a course of drawn-out confrontation. In both eventualities, a return to engagement that previously characterised relations with China is unlikely.
The future course of Sino-US ties will have far-reaching consequences for the world.
This is because the political consensus and public opinion that has emerged in the US — fanned by President Donald Trump’s actions and rhetoric — sees China as an adversary that has exploited the US on trade and poses a strategic challenge that needs to be countered and contained, not engaged. Many foreign policy advisers of the Democratic contender for the presidency, Joe Biden, also happen to be hawks on China. Therefore, whoever wins the election will likely follow a tough line on China.
Beijing’s interest lies in de-escalating tensions and steadying relations. But it is up against the weight of US-led Western opinion that has become increasingly sceptical and hostile towards China. The European Union which has strong economic equities in ties with China is being assiduously courted by Beijing to encourage it to follow an independent path from Washington. But developments in Hong Kong have added to European suspicions of China.
In the face of Trump’s provocative statements and actions during the pandemic, China has generally kept its cool, reacting sharply only when Washington crossed certain red lines or when Trump’s patently misleading narrative needed to be countered. But top US officials led by Trump have continued virulent criticism of China. This provoked China’s foreign minister Wang Yi to warn that the US was pushing China to the brink of a new Cold War. But he also stressed that both countries had a major responsibility for “world peace and development”, and that “China and the US stand to gain from cooperation, and lose from confrontation”.
There are limits though to China’s forbearance in the face of offensive US actions. There is fresh thinking in Beijing about how to deal with a more antagonistic Washington and growing nationalist sentiment that their country should push back against Western criticism and US bullying. This sentiment is already driving a more assertive Chinese policy in Asia.
China is expected to emerge as the world’s largest economy in a decade. This should itself persuade the US and its Western allies that engagement is necessary in their own interest with a country that will be pivotal to achieving post-pandemic global economic revival and addressing a host of other international challenges. However, this rational calculation and also the fact that China remains Washington’s biggest lender may not be enough to overcome US apprehensions about the challenge posed to America’s global position by China’s rise.
A report titled United States Strategic Approach to the People’s Republic of China, submitted by the White House to Congress last month, lays bare these wide-ranging concerns. It says that US National Security Strategy demands that Washington “rethink the failed policies of the past two decades — policies based on the assumption that engagement with rivals and their inclusion in international institutions and global commerce would turn them into benign actors and trustworthy partners”. The future approach should be based on “tolerance of greater bilateral friction”.
The report says that America is in strategic competition with China and enumerates the economic and security challenges posed by Beijing. The tone is of a power anxious to counter a strategic challenger whose economic strength and reach have already eroded America’s global pre-eminence. More explicitly, US Defence Secretary Mark Asper declared in February that China is top of the Pentagon’s list of potential adversaries.
In one of the most influential books on Sino-US relations published in 2017, Harvard scholar Graham Allison invoked the ancient Greek historian Thucydides’ depiction of the dangerous trap that emerges when one great power challenges or is poised to displace another. The historian had pointed to the inevitability of war when the fear of the rise of another power determined the established power’s actions. Allison recalled that in 12 of 16 cases in history this dynamic between the two led to conflict.
The need to avoid the Thucydides’ Trap has not only been Allison’s advice but that of several thinkers and policymakers, most notably Henry Kissinger. Allison often quotes Kissinger as saying, “The Thucydides’ Trap is the best lens for looking through the noise and news of the day to the underlying dynamic driving the relationship between the US and China.” Kissinger has also frequently warned of the devastating consequences of falling into this trap and urged the need to place relations on a stable and peaceful course.
The key question is whether the present era’s most significant bilateral relationship will be managed responsibly to avert a complete breakdown, even conflict. After all the future course of Sino-US relations will be a game changer for the world, with far-reaching consequences for the global economy and international peace and security.
The writer is a former ambassador to the US, UK and UN.
At the moment, all eyes are on the demonstrations in the USA and the course of the COVID epidemic. But Hong Kong has been hosting similar protests every weekend for months. Moreover, they are struggling against the Chinese administration, which has no regard for human rights. They are fighting against the Chinese police force, face recognition, and labeling programs without any equipment other than cell phones, masks, spray paint, and umbrellas.
Therefore, Hong Kong demonstrations are like an experimental area for the demonstrations that the world will face much more frequently in the coming period.
George Orwell, who had fought against the fascists in Spain, wrote what the oppressive regimes could do in his novel 1984. If he was alive, he would observe what was happening in Hong Kong on the spot and made great additions to his book.
Playing hide-and-seek with “Big Brother”
The Hong Kong authority under the administration of the Chinese Government is trying to identify the activists with its full force, while the activists are doing their best not to get caught. The activists believe that if they are caught and flagged in China’s criminal database, their lives will be over. Measures such as China’s social credit system feed this fear. It will be impossible for any citizen whose social credit grade has fallen in the system, which China started in 2014 and aimed to finish in 2020, to work in a decent job, to get a loan from the bank, to buy a house, or to get a good education. Those who live in Hong Kong are aware that if they are caught in protests, they will be downgraded at the social credit system. So they respond instantly to every step that the government takes. The Big Brother described by George Orwell is chasing, the protesters are dodging.
Trying every way to capture
This hide-and-seek game continues both in the physical world and the virtual world. The Hong Kong administration is trying to use everything from drones, cameras, police force, pepper spray, pressurized water, dyed water, mobile phone information, and credit card information to capture the demonstrators.
Demonstrators have some basic rules to avoid getting caught in the virtual world. First of all, they turn off the facial recognition and fingerprint reading functions of mobile phones. Thus, the police can only search for evidence on their mobile phones, legally if the captured demonstrators show consent to enter their passwords. They do not install any apps that they think are cooperating with the government on their mobile phones. They prefer Telegram and similar applications to speak encrypted. They connect to the Internet via a Virtual Private Network (VPN). They also use their phones’ Bluetooth and airdrop features to exchange information when they come side by side. They never prefer Istanbul Kart-like city card (Octopus) when they go to their homes, they buy disposable tickets and arrive at their homes through a different station than they always use. They either leave their credit cards and all cards with chips on them, or if they take them with them, they cover them with aluminum foil. They think this will prevent the police from accessing their cards remotely.
You can’t blame if you can’t record
Of course, the most dangerous thing for protesters is getting caught in the act. Virtual evidence may prove that they were where the protest took place and that they have anti-Chinese views, but it may not be able to fully document their participation in the protest. That is why it is very important to hide their identity at the time of the protest.
For this, they usually start by removing the “smart poles” equipped with various cameras at the location of the demonstrations, or they spray paint their cameras. If the cameras are up high, like on a drone or on the shoulder of a police officer, they disarm that camera either by building a wall of umbrellas or by holding hundreds of laser lights towards the cameras. That’s why the Chinese government is trying to qualify laser lights, which can be bought from any market for $ 10, as assault weapons and to prohibit its sale. They have not yet attempted on umbrellas, but they also want to ban the masks altogether.
Is Corona mightier than Big Brother?
The use of masks in Hong Kong has turned into complete chaos. In October 2019, the administration banned wearing masks at the demonstrations. However, in December this ban was rejected by the higher court. Then there was a series of different orders until the final decision in April 2020. According to the final decision of the higher court at the beginning of April, it was announced that the mask could be worn in legal demonstrations and it was forbidden to wear it in unauthorized demonstrations. The COVID epidemic was cited as a reason for this decision. The court delegation stated that the government cannot take away the right to wear a mask for anyone who wants to demonstrate while there is a pandemic threatening public health. So, in the last case, COVID has overcome Big Brother.
Neoconservatism has died, and liberal internationalism is discredited. Perhaps it’s time to return to the ideas of one of the last century’s greatest realists.
You can hate Henry Kissinger and think him evil. What you can’t do is ignore him—especially now. So argues Barry Gewen in his incisive new intellectual history of Kissinger and his times, The Inevitability of Tragedy. Indeed, not only can we not ignore the old statesman, who turned 97 in May, but we need him more than ever. To be precise, we desperately need Kissinger’s ideas and instincts about how to muddle our way through a world that, we now realize, isn’t working very well—and probably never will.
The world, from Washington’s perspective especially, has gotten Kissingerian again. America’s crusades are over or at best are corroded and crumbling at their derelict foundations. The Wilsonian crusaderism that transformed sensible Cold War containment into a futile and delusional battle against the myth of monolithic communism, ending horribly in Vietnam; and then reawakened in the post-Cold War era as a neo-Reaganite call to end “evil” regimes, finishing tragically in Iraq, has all but exhausted itself. No one wants anything to do with transforming the world anymore—so much so that Americans put a frank neo-isolationist, Donald Trump, in the White House so that he could shut the country off from the world.
The Inevitability of Tragedy: Henry Kissinger and His World, Barry Gewen, W.W. Norton, 452 pp., , April 2020
The Inevitability of Tragedy: Henry Kissinger and His World, Barry Gewen, W.W. Norton, 452 pp., $30, April 2020
The coronavirus crisis has accelerated Trump’s agenda, inspiring a new wave of “America First” isolationism, as his trade representative, Robert Lighthizer, argued in a recent essay calling for a reversal of U.S. economic offshoring in response to China’s “predatory trade and economic policies” and deceptions over the origins of the pandemic. The Trump administration is even invoking the power blocs of previous eras, mulling the creation of an “Economic Prosperity Network” of like-minded countries that would detach themselves from China. With the 2020 presidential race in full swing, Democrats too are sounding more and more like Cold Warriors toward China, with the party’s presumptive nominee, Joe Biden, hammering Trump for his occasional praise for Chinese President Xi Jinping. And as a party, Democrats are questioning as never before liberal internationalist institutions that came out of their own tradition, such as the World Trade Organization (WTO)—largely because of a growing sense of grievance that China has exploited and violated WTO rules to rob middle-class Americans of their jobs.
The United States is not ready for any of this. Certainly, U.S. diplomats have not figured a way out of it. To be sure, the liberal international order and the system of alliances that emerged out of World War II three-quarters of a century ago still exist, thankfully, and we’ll continue to make use of them. But mistrust among allies is high, cooperation all but nonexistent, and each country seems inclined to go its own nationalist way. Global institutions like the United Nations and WTO have become meek poor relations at the table, pleading for policy scraps, while Washington, Beijing, and Moscow jostle for a seat at the head. Among nations the great ideological struggles are over—or at least in deep hibernation. Over the course of the past century or so, we have witnessed the debunking of monarchy, authoritarianism, fascism, communism, and totalitarianism, each of them tried and tested to destruction. And now, to a degree, we are also experiencing the failures of democracy, which in so many places seems polarized into paralysis, as in Washington, drowning in memes of misinformation and hacked by malign external forces like Russia. We have also seen how capitalism—though it bested Cold War communism in terms of ownership of the means of production—has proved grossly unequal to the test of producing social equity. The world’s chosen system is prone to continual collapse.
Just as significant, American prestige and power are as low as they’ve been in living memory, especially following Trump’s divisive, polarizing first term, which culminated most recently in international condemnation of his brutal approach to the protests that erupted following the killing of a black man in police custody in Minneapolis. Beyond that, the president’s puerile jingoism and fumbling coronavirus response have only completed the road to reputational ruin begun under President George W. Bush. It is difficult now to remember how high American prestige was less than two decades ago, as recently as Sept. 10, 2001—that post-Cold War unipolar moment when the Yale University historian Paul Kennedy observed that the lone superpower had surpassed even ancient Rome in economic and military dominance—and how quickly that went off course. In what was possibly the worst strategic misdirection in U.S. history, Bush and his neoconservative abettors (who are all in hiding now, conceptually speaking) turned what should have been a globally unifying struggle against the international community’s remaining criminal holdouts, Islamist terrorists, into an exhausting imperialist game of invasion and whack-a-mole, exposing in the process America’s worst vulnerabilities on the ground and in the air. Then Bush did commensurate damage to the U.S. economy, ending in the Wall Street crash and Great Recession. China, meanwhile, rose and spread its monied influence across the world, Vladimir Putin preened and plotted, and the Viktor Orbans, Narendra Modis, and Jair Bolsonaros went their own ways. And Americans, disgusted with how badly they’d been misled, responded first by electing a freshman senator (Barack Obama) who rose to prominence by calling Iraq a “dumb war” and who then vacillated for eight years over U.S. involvement overseas and finally by embracing America First populism.
All this brings us directly back to Kissinger, the great realist Hans Morgenthau (who was his mentor), and the fierce geopolitical urgency of now. Global anarchy beckons, and proliferating great-power rivalries demand savvy, hardheaded strategic diplomacy of the kind that Morgenthau conceived in theory and Kissinger mastered in practice. This appears to be the main message of Gewen’s book, which demands to be studied, especially at a moment when Sinophobia is surging and Beijing is giving back as good as it gets. For China today, Gewen writes, is “the Apatosaurus in the room.”
The answer to the future of U.S.-China relations—and the global peace and stability that largely depend on getting them right—may lie in the past, Gewen suggests. It’s no small coincidence that Kissinger and his philosophy had their moment in the sun at a time of U.S. weakness, during the Vietnam War, civil unrest, Watergate, and the stagflation of the 1970s, when diplomats had to find common ground and a balance among the major powers. Because a weakened and disordered Washington may be in an analogous place today vis-à-vis China, Kissinger’s favorite subject and the focus of his greatest diplomatic triumphs. In particular, Washington needs a reversion to tried and tested realpolitik that will be deft enough to turn great-power rivalry into a stable and peaceable modus vivendi. As former Australian Prime Minister Kevin Rudd, a scholar of China who has watched Beijing’s rise up close, wrote in a recent essay about the coronavirus pandemic in Foreign Affairs: “The uncomfortable truth is that China and the United States are both likely to emerge from this crisis significantly diminished. Neither a new Pax Sinica nor a renewed Pax Americana will rise from the ruins. Rather, both powers will be weakened, at home and abroad. And the result will be a continued slow but steady drift toward international anarchy.”
Yet it is just this likelihood of mutual weakness between the two great world powers that may provide a way out. The answer begins by recognizing and accepting what we face today—which is a permanently gray world. This is hard to accept for Americans, who for several generations since World War II and in the triumphalist aftermath of the Cold War have grown used to unquestioned world dominance. But it is largely this chaotic 21st-century world that Morgenthau, though largely forgotten now except in academia, presciently described in the ur-text of modern realism more than 70 years ago, Politics Among Nations, and which Kissinger expanded on in his diplomatic career, as Gewen brilliantly documents in his book. Morgenthau anticipated the present breakdown in the belief about the progress of human society when he said that the rationalists who pined for perfection in human governance and society denied the “inevitability of tragedy,” to pick up Gewen’s main theme. That is what every great statesman has known—that the “choices he faced were not between good and evil … but between bad and less bad,” writes Gewen, a longtime editor at the New York Times Book Review (who, full disclosure, has occasionally assigned me reviews). This describes much of Kissinger’s career, including the opening to China, the 1973 truce in the Middle East, even the chaotic and bloody end to the Vietnam War and the thousands of lives lost Kissinger must have on his conscience.
Kissinger’s ideas have more resonance now because we are clearly in a place similar to the American weakness in the ’70s, when foreign-policy elites weren’t thinking of triumph but just survival.
Kissinger, it is true, is not an easy man to restore to good public opinion, as Gewen notes in considerable detail. Kissinger and Richard Nixon oversaw the brutal campaign to force Hanoi to the table, dropping more bombs on Cambodia than all the bombs Allies dropped in World War II, ultimately leading to hundreds of thousands of innocent deaths; that policy, along with their indifference to the 1971 genocide in Bangladesh and apparent support of the coup in Chile, helped provoke a generation of prominent liberals from Seymour Hersh to Christopher Hitchens to label Kissinger a paranoiac and a war criminal. There was always a duplicity about his beliefs and shrouding of his motives—he knew that Americans weren’t going to fight to, in his words, “preserve the balance of power.” (Gewen notes that Kissinger had concluded as early as 1965, after a visit, that Vietnam was unwinnable but still supported the war.) Gewen tries to place Kissinger in the lineage of German Jewish thinkers who escaped the Holocaust and were haunted by the failures of Weimar democracy, along with Leo Strauss and Hannah Arendt—though he’s not entirely persuasive here, given that some of Strauss’s often-obscure ideas later inspired the neocons and another such European refugee from Hitler, Madeleine Albright (nee Korbel), ended up a passionate hard-power Wilsonian.
But Kissinger’s ideas have more resonance now because we are clearly in a place similar to the American weakness in the ’70s, when foreign-policy elites weren’t thinking of triumph but just survival, as they should be now, especially when America’s internal problems are arguably as enervating as they were back then. Perhaps the biggest disappointment of Gewen’s book is that after spending hundreds of pages delving into the biographical and historical sources of Kissinger’s nuanced, Hitler-haunted realism, the author doesn’t apply it much to the present—and only fleetingly to China. Because there is no greater vindication of Kissingerian realism than what has happened in China during the first decades of the 21st century. After a quarter century in which it became fashionable in Washington to think that co-opting China into the post-Cold War system of global markets and emerging democracies would gradually nudge that country toward Enlightenment norms—what Kissinger once archly called “the age-old American dream of a peace achieved by the conversion of the adversary” —such illusions have faded away. All we have left is an emerging superpower that fits Kissinger’s hardheaded view of a country he visited some 100 times, dating back to his first talks with Mao Zedong. And if Kissinger’s analysis is correct—as it probably is—the United States and China can find accommodation if they work at it, with preaching kept to a minimum.
What the post-Cold War triumphalists didn’t understand, Gewen writes, is that after the collapse of the Soviet Union we confronted “a world without ideology, in which transcendent prescriptions for democracy were no answers to the problems at hand.”
Indeed, it has become far worse than that. We should frankly confront the postmodern reality that all hopes for the perfectibility of society and governance have fallen short; there is no longer any Great Cause to launch a revolution over. Thomas Jefferson’s “ball of liberty,” which Americans once expected to roll unfailingly across the globe, has ended up in a gutter. The recent Nations in Transit report from Freedom House documents a “stunning democratic breakdown”—in particular pointing to failures in Central and Eastern Europe and Central Asia, saying that there are “fewer democracies in the region today than at any point since the annual report was launched in 1995.” History will trundle on, weak Afghan-like states will continue to fail, and democracies and autocracies like the United States and China will remain in contention with each other. But no one should delude themselves any longer that this clash of wills will yield some Great Teleological Outcome—a resolution in favor of one form of social and political organization over another.
For decades, the country managed to avoid most problems suffered by dictatorships. Now Xi Jinping’s personal power play risks undermining everything that made China exceptional.
As a result, as Kissinger once explained, “Almost every situation is a special case.” The new rise of nationalism, he wrote, might seek “national or regional identity by confronting the United States.” This is what Xi’s China has done. Indeed, many of today’s nationalists are responding to Washington as the Soviets once did, consolidating national control by playing up the threat from foreign enemies. And neonationalism across the globe should be dealt with in the same jujitsu manner George Kennan recommended against the Soviet Union: Reduce the perceived threat from the United States, and authoritarian systems like China’s are more likely to wither on their own. (Even now Xi may be facing a serious internal challenge; Rudd, in his Foreign Affairs essay, writes that Xi’s coronavirus response “has opened up significant political dissension within the Chinese Communist Party, even prompting thinly veiled criticism” of his “highly centralized leadership style.”) As Gewen notes, Kissinger observed in his 2011 book, On China, that even Mao, the Marxist revolutionary responsible for the deaths of millions of Chinese, was no ideologue like Lenin but a “China-first” nationalist and represented a country that had its own sense of exceptionalist insularity—like the United States—but unlike the Americans the Chinese regime saw little need for missionary zeal and proselytizing abroad. China today is buying influence everywhere. But creating so-called debt colonies around the globe is a lot less threatening than outright conquest.
The key is not to overreact. And the choice is stark for both countries, Gewen writes. “One way or another, either through an intellectual evolution that accepts limits and diplomatic compromise or through the wholesale shedding of blood, they will have to give up their cherished exceptionalism for a Westphalian system of international diversity and a more modest, if uncomfortable, equilibrium.” Moreover, Washington and Beijing will need to bring in other major world powers to accept this new balance of power.
In particular, Kissinger—perhaps the most profound student of the centurylong peace that began with the Congress of Vienna and ended in August 1914—worries about the pre-World War I descent into aggression, an especially scary prospect in a nuclear age.
Kissinger anticipated much of this outcome, Gewen writes. Decades ago he foresaw that the Reagan era and the Cold War’s end would not prove a new beginning for American-style liberal democratic capitalism, as the neocons believed and liberal internationalists hoped, but was more “in the nature of a brilliant sunset.” While Kissinger conceded, as always, that Wilsonian idealism would continue to define the heart of U.S. foreign policy, he wrote that even in the triumph of the Cold War—which he admits was partly won by the primacy of human rights in the debate (especially its role inside the Soviet bloc)—U.S. leaders would have to articulate a new balance of power “to preserve equilibrium in several regions of the world, and these partners can not always be chosen on the basis of moral considerations alone.”
China too is engaged today in a self-searching debate about how far it can go in global dominance, and the country’s long history of geopolitical caution (in deed if not always in word) is encouraging. Amid all this self-doubt and mutual probing of “limits”—one of Kissinger’s favorite words—lies the possibility of common ground, even if the two economies decouple in terms of supply chains and financial codependence. For without smart, aggressive diplomacy to find a new balance of power, there is the possibility of a catastrophic, even world-ending misstep. In particular, Kissinger—perhaps the most profound student of the centurylong peace that began with the Congress of Vienna and ended in August 1914—worries about the pre-World War I descent into aggression, an especially scary prospect in a nuclear age. Like many in Washington and Beijing today, Europe’s leaders back then blithely thought “risk taking was an effective diplomatic tool,” Kissinger wrote.
Now Beijing is lining up armies of bots and billions of dollars against U.S. democracy, and many in Washington are recklessly calling for a new cold war to confront “the imperialists in Beijing” who are “a menace to all free peoples,” in the words of Missouri Sen. Josh Hawley, a rising star in the Republican Party. First task of this dangerous new agenda: withdraw from the WTO, under which China has “bent and abused and broken the rules of the international economic system to its own benefit” and cost 3 million American jobs, Hawley said in a May 20 speech.
Left: Chinese President Xi Jinping meets with Kissinger at the Great Hall of the People in Beijing on Nov. 8, 2018. Right: U.S. President Donald Trump speaks during a meeting with Kissinger in the Oval Office of the White House in Washington on Oct. 10, 2017.
The stakes for solving the issues between Washington and Beijing are hard for Americans to digest but in their essentials fairly simple: The two sides need to agree to disagree about certain fundamental beliefs, Kissinger says. The Americans will never give up their commitment to human rights and personal freedom, and the Chinese will never stop being mostly focused on maintaining stability in their vast populace, thus giving short shrift to human rights and freedom. On moral and cultural grounds, this is an irreconcilable stalemate. On economic grounds too, there is only the prospect of diplomatic compromise. China has flagrantly stolen U.S. intellectual property and exploited open U.S. markets by flooding them with state-subsidized cheap products—another great failure of the George W. Bush administration was neglecting to invoke WTO “anti-surge” rules to blunt this—and Trump’s trade war has made no headway against such practices. The way forward? Muddle through. Or, as Kissinger put it, find a “pragmatic concept of coexistence” not unlike Cold War-era detente, when a Vietnam-embogged and stagflation-encumbered America was also in no shape to conduct ideological crusades and instead got into bed with Beijing while negotiating arms restraint with Moscow. Keep the pressure on diplomatically but fudge the fundamental issues, as smart diplomats have always done. Because the alternative—constant conflict and war in the South China Sea that could potentially go nuclear—is unthinkable. “Ambiguity,” Kissinger said, “is sometimes the lifeblood of diplomacy.”
Another issue that both Kissinger and Morgenthau foresaw is that the more populist democracy becomes, the less able it is to conduct reliable foreign policy. Morgenthau, who later broke with Kissinger over his opposition to the Vietnam War, especially saw the effect popular democracy would have on professional diplomacy—an impact that is all too apparent in the Trump administration but also affected the ever dithering Obama and Bush administrations. Kissinger picked up this theme in his 2001 book, Does America Need a Foreign Policy?, and in a 2018 article in the Atlantic that Gewen describes as his “final lesson as a self-appointed educator of the American public.” In the growth of cyberspace, Kissinger perceived a “growing anarchy, which he equated with a Hobbesian state of nature in which the prospect of world order receded ever further from view … and in his mind the computerization of the world encouraged a kind of irresponsible thinking that was deleterious to rational judgment at best, disastrous at worst.”
In making this assessment, Gewen writes, Kissinger revealed a side of himself that his many detractors would find hard to believe: Kissinger the humanist. The algorithms and amassing of data in cyberspace—some of it sound, much of it not—threatened to undermine or even destroy good common sense. “[T]he successful conduct of foreign policy demands, above all, the intuitive ability to sense the future and thereby to master it,” Kissinger argued. Anticipating future pitfalls, and relying more on pragmatic common sense than providence, is something Americans have to keep relearning. Even the deistic Founders saw Providence on their side, and later American leaders like Ronald Reagan believed themselves to be doing the will of God. Kissinger admired Reagan for his principled stand against the Soviets, but he also ironically referred back to a quote from the proto-realist he so admired, Otto von Bismarck, who said, “The best a statesman can do is to listen to the footsteps of God, get hold of the hem of his cloak, and walk with Him a few steps of the way.” Kissinger appealed not to God but instead to a “metaphysical humility,” Gewen writes, “an understanding that mere humans would never know all they needed to know as they engaged in the dangerous game of international affairs.”
That lack of certainty sounds squishy, but what is worse is to be too hard and unyielding—in a word, arrogant. Hubris, a lack of humility, and an excess of moralizing led to the worst disasters in modern U.S. foreign-policy history, the invasions of Vietnam and Iraq. A close review of the debates leading up to Vietnam, which Gewen delivers in some detail, and the Iraq invasion reveals the lamentable extent of overconfidence among U.S. policymakers in the God-given righteousness of America’s cause. (The infamous phrase with which Bush made his final case for the Iraq invasion was, “The liberty we prize is not America’s gift to the world, it is God’s gift to humanity.”) Did Reagan win the Cold War, as many conservatives believe? Even Kissinger has acknowledged that Reagan’s confrontational approach, as opposed to detente, “had much to recommend it.” But mainly Reagan was lucky; he was the man who was in the room when 40 years of strategic patience—the policy of containment—paid off. (Reagan himself must have known how lucky he was, since he was still desperately trying to negotiate arms reduction with Moscow, much to the consternation of the hard-liners in his own second term, even as the Soviet system was collapsing internally.) Kissinger himself foresaw as well as anyone that slow and steady would eventually win the Cold War race, and even Kennan, the father of containment, once remarked that Kissinger “understands my views better than anyone at [the State Department] ever has.”
In the end, the choice in front of us is not as difficult as we may think. Kissinger lamented Wilsonianism’s excesses but conceded that it still formed the bedrock of American foreign policy. And a consensus is possible if the Wilsonians accept that American sovereignty and hard power will always be sacrosanct and the America Firsters accept that the liberal international order the United States created, flawed as it is, will remain far more a protector than an antagonist, not least because it has gained majority consensus in the world and helps take the raw edge off Washington’s still dominant military power, preventing would-be rivals like Beijing and Moscow from forming alternative power blocs. Striving openly for U.S. hegemony just won’t work, Kissinger has written, because no international order can survive if it isn’t viewed as just: “The dominant trend in American foreign policy thinking must be to transform power into consensus so that the international order is based on agreement rather than reluctant acquiescence.” Ragged though its dominance is, the United States, as chief author of this international order, still has the upper hand here. Or as Kissinger wrote: “Our goal should be to build a moral consensus which can make a pluralistic world creative rather than destructive.” The task is all the greater today.
Three decades of efforts to broaden the definition of “national security” have largely failed, and it is time to try a new approach. Thinking instead in terms of global security would expand policy discussions beyond national governments and lead to a stronger emphasis on making societies more resilient.
WASHINGTON, DC – The world has spent the last 30 years trying to redefine “national security” in ways that will allow nation-states to prepare for and tackle a wider range of threats to our existence and wellbeing. Alternatively, national security has been juxtaposed with “human security,” again in an effort to focus money and energy on dangers to humanity as much as to national sovereignty.
But those efforts have largely failed, and it is time to try a new approach. Instead of widening our definition of national security, we need to start narrowing it. That means distinguishing national security from global security and putting military security in its place alongside many other equally important but distinct priorities.
We must begin by asking four essential questions: What or who is being protected? What threat or threats are they being protected against? Who is doing the protecting? And how is protection being provided?
In its classic form, national security involves protecting nation-states from military aggression. More precisely, as Article 2(4) of the United Nations Charter states, it is about preventing or countering “the threat or use of force against the territorial integrity or political independence of any state.”
Nation-states now face other threats, including cyberattacks and terrorism, although such attacks generally must be sponsored by one state against another to threaten a country’s territorial integrity or political independence. Hence, these threats really qualify as subsets of military security. Climate change, on the other hand, poses an existential threat to many island states as a result of rising sea levels, and similarly endangers already arid countries by contributing to desertification and water scarcity.
Moreover, whereas the world of 1945 was almost entirely defined by nation-states, today’s security experts must also focus on threats that transcend national borders. Unlike military aggression, phenomena such as terrorism, pandemics, global criminal networks, disinformation campaigns, unregulated migration, and shortages of food, water, and energy do not necessarily threaten the political independence or territorial integrity of a particular state. But they do endanger the safety and wellbeing of the world’s people.
The distinction between national and global security is not just semantic. It goes to the heart of the third question: who is doing the protecting? National security is the province of national governments, and of a fairly small group of homogeneous people within them who traditionally have focused almost entirely on military security. Those establishments have expanded in recent years to take account of issues like cybersecurity, health security, and environmental security, but only at the margins.
Thinking in terms of global security, by contrast, opens the door to participation by a far wider group of people – starting with mayors and governors, who are directly responsible for the safety and welfare of the residents of their states, provinces, and cities. Since the September 11, 2001, terrorist attacks on the United States, for example, US city and state officials have been actively engaged in preventing and protecting against future attacks. They are as likely to talk to their counterparts around the world as national diplomats or defense officials are.
Even more broadly, global security has no official designees. CEOs, civic groups, philanthropists, professors, and self-appointed leaders of every description can launch and join efforts to keep all of us safe. Indeed, the COVID-19 crisis has provided many instances of effective leadership from sources other than national governments.
For example, while the US and Chinese governments have used the pandemic to ratchet up bilateral tensions, myriad international networks of researchers, foundations, businesses, and government agencies have been working together to develop treatments and vaccines for COVID-19, with little concern for nationality.
Broader participation in global-security efforts will also increasingly dissolve the boundary between “domestic” and “international” affairs and policy. Health, environment, energy, cybersecurity, and criminal justice have all traditionally been seen as domestic matters, with foreign-policy and security experts regarding defense, diplomacy, and development as entirely separate realms involving relations between countries and international organizations. But this distinction will progressively crumble.
These shifts will in turn create opportunities for a vastly more diverse range of people to sit at the table on global security issues. Despite some gradual changes in conventional military domains in recent years, far more women and people of color occupy prominent positions in city governments, and in fields like health and environmental protection, including environmental justice.
The final piece of the puzzle is how to provide global security. Traditional military security is ultimately focused on winning. But many global threats primarily call for greater resilience – that is, less winning than withstanding. As Sharon Burke of New America has argued, the goal is more to build security at home than to destroy enemies abroad.
We certainly still want to “win,” if winning means prevailing over a virus, or eradicating a terrorist cell or disinformation network. But the deep nature of global threats means they can be reduced, but almost never eliminated. Arming people with the means to recognize and avoid danger, survive trauma, and adapt to new circumstances is a better long-term strategy.
Nearly twice as many Americans have now died of COVID-19 than died in the Vietnam War. But many national leaders in the US and elsewhere remain focused on great-power competition, and appear less concerned with the pandemic’s mounting death toll than with distracting domestic publics by pointing fingers at other countries. And yet the lessons of this crisis will loom large in how we think about and provide for our security in the future.
That will be particularly true for younger generations. New America’s Alexandra Stark, for example, argues that COVID-19 is her generation’s 9/11. Instead of the highly militarized anti-terrorism response that the US adopted in the wake of those attacks, she calls for a new grand strategy “fundamentally oriented around human wellbeing,” refocusing on human health, prosperity, and opportunity. That sounds like security to me.
As the world’s two largest economies, the United States and China are condemned to a relationship that must combine competition and cooperation. For the US, exceptionalism now includes working with the Chinese to help produce global public goods, while also defending values such as human rights.
CAMBRIDGE – In my recent study of 14 presidents since 1945, Do Morals Matter, I found that Americans want a moral foreign policy, but have been torn over what that means. Americans often see their country as exceptional because we define our identity not by ethnicity, but rather by ideas about a liberal vision of a society and way of life based on political, economic, and cultural freedom. President Donald Trump’s administration has departed from that tradition.
Of course, American exceptionalism faced contradictions from the start. Despite the founders’ liberal rhetoric, the original sin of slavery was written into the US Constitution in a compromise that allowed northern and southern states to unite.
And Americans have always differed over how to express liberal values in foreign policy. American exceptionalism was sometimes an excuse for ignoring international law, invading other countries, and imposing governments on their people.
But American exceptionalism has also inspired liberal internationalist efforts for a world made freer and more peaceful through a system of international law and organizations that protects domestic liberty by moderating external threats. Trump has turned his back on both aspects of this tradition.
In his inaugural address Trump declared: “America first … We will seek friendship and good will with the nations of the world, but we do so with the understanding that it is the right of all nations to put their own interests first.” He also said “we do not seek to impose our way of life on anyone, but rather to let it shine as an example.” He had a good point: When the United States sets a good example, it can increase its ability to influence others.
There is also an interventionist and crusading tradition in American foreign policy. Woodrow Wilson sought a foreign policy that would make the world safe for democracy. John F. Kennedy called for Americans to make the world safe for diversity, but he sent 16,000 US troops to Vietnam, and that number grew to 565,000 under his successor, Lyndon B. Johnson. Likewise, George W. Bush justified America’s invasion and occupation of Iraq with a National Security Strategy that promoted freedom and democracy.
Indeed, since the end of the Cold War, the US has been involved in seven wars and military interventions. Yet, as Ronald Reagan put it in 1982, “regimes planted by bayonets do not take root.”
Avoiding such conflicts has been one of Trump’s more popular policies. He has limited the use of American force in Syria, and wishes to withdraw US troops from Afghanistan by election day.
Protected by two oceans, and bordered by weaker neighbors, the US largely focused on westward expansion in the nineteenth century, and tried to avoid entanglement in the global balance of power that was centered in Europe. By the beginning of the twentieth century, however, America had become the world’s largest economy, and its intervention in World War I tipped the balance of power.
In the 1930s, American opinion believed intervention in Europe had been a mistake and turned inward toward strident isolationism. With World War II, President Franklin Roosevelt, his successor, Harry S. Truman, and others drew the lesson that the US could not afford to turn inward again. They realized that America’s very size had become a second source of exceptionalism. If the country with the largest economy did not take the lead in producing global public goods, no one else would.
The post-war presidents created a system of security alliances, multilateral institutions, and relatively open economic policies. Today, this “liberal international order” – the basic foundation of US foreign policy for 70 years – is being called into question by the rise of new powers such as China and a new wave of populism within democracies.
Trump successfully tapped this mood in 2016 when he became the first presidential nominee of a major political party to call into question the post-1945 US-led international order, and disdain for its alliances and institutions has defined his presidency. Nonetheless, a recent poll by the Chicago Council on Global Affairs shows that more than two-thirds of Americans want an outward-oriented foreign policy.
The US popular mood is to avoid military interventions, but not to withdraw from alliances or multilateral cooperation. The American public is not about to return to the isolationism of the 1930s.
The real question Americans face is whether the US can successfully address both aspects of its exceptionalism: democracy promotion without bayonets and support for international institutions. Can we learn how to promote democratic values and human rights without military intervention and crusades, and at the same time help organize the rules and institutions needed for a new world of transnational threats such as climate change, pandemics, cyber-attacks, terrorism, and economic instability?
Right now, the US is failing on both fronts. Rather than taking a lead on enhancing international cooperation in the fight against COVID-19, the Trump administration is blaming China for the pandemic and threatening to withdraw from the World Health Organization.
China has much to answer for, but turning it into a political football in this year’s US presidential election campaign is domestic politics, not foreign policy. We are not finished with the pandemic, and COVID-19 will not be the last one.
In addition, China and the US produce 40% of the greenhouse gases that threaten humanity’s future. Yet neither country can solve these new national security threats alone. As the world’s two largest economies, the US and China are condemned to a relationship that must combine competition and cooperation. For the US, exceptionalism now includes working with the Chinese to help produce global public goods, while also defending values such as human rights.
Those are the moral questions Americans should debate ahead of this year’s presidential election.
“In recent years, people have been saying that the next century will be the century of Asia and the Pacific, as if that were sure to be the case. I disagree with this view.” The Chinese leader Deng Xiaoping made that argument to Indian Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi in 1988. More than 30 years later, Deng has proved prescient. After decades of extraordinary economic success, Asia today is the world’s fastest-growing region. Within this decade, Asian economies will become larger than the rest of the world’s economies combined, something that has not been true since the nineteenth century. Yet even now, Deng’s warning holds: an Asian century is neither inevitable nor foreordained.
Asia has prospered because Pax Americana, which has held since the end of World War II, provided a favorable strategic context. But now, the troubled U.S.-Chinese relationship raises profound questions about Asia’s future and the shape of the emerging international order. Southeast Asian countries, including Singapore, are especially concerned, as they live at the intersection of the interests of various major powers and must avoid being caught in the middle or forced into invidious choices.
The status quo in Asia must change. But will the new configuration enable further success or bring dangerous instability? That depends on the choices that the United States and China make, separately and together. The two powers must work out a modus vivendi that will be competitive in some areas without allowing rivalry to poison cooperation in others.
Asian countries see the United States as a resident power that has vital interests in the region. At the same time, China is a reality on the doorstep. Asian countries do not want to be forced to choose between the two. And if either attempts to force such a choice—if Washington tries to contain China’s rise or Beijing seeks to build an exclusive sphere of influence in Asia—they will begin a course of confrontation that will last decades and put the long-heralded Asian century in jeopardy.
THE TWO PHASES OF PAX AMERICANA
Pax Americana in Asia in the twentieth century had two distinct phases. The first was from 1945 to the 1970s, during the early decades of the Cold War, when the United States and its allies competed with the Soviet bloc for influence. Although China joined the Soviet Union to confront the United States during the wars in Korea and Vietnam, its economy remained inwardly focused and isolated, and it maintained few economic links with other Asian countries. Meanwhile, elsewhere in Asia, free-market economies were taking off. Japan’s was the earliest to do so, followed by the newly industrializing economies of Hong Kong, Singapore, South Korea, and Taiwan.
What made Asia’s stability and prosperity possible was the United States. The United States championed an open, integrated, and rules-based global order and provided a security umbrella under which regional countries could cooperate and peacefully compete. American multinational corporations invested extensively in Asia, bringing with them capital, technology, and ideas. As Washington promoted free trade and opened U.S. markets to the world, Asian trade with the United States grew.
Two pivotal events in the 1970s shifted Pax Americana in Asia into a new phase: the secret visit to China in 1971 by Henry Kissinger, then the U.S. national security adviser, which laid the basis for U.S.-Chinese rapprochement after decades of hostility, and the launch, in 1978, of Deng’s program of “reform and opening up,” which allowed China’s economy to take off. By the end of the decade, economic barriers were coming down, and international trade was growing rapidly. After the Vietnam War and the war in Cambodia ended, Vietnam and the other countries of Indochina were able to focus their energies and resources on economic development, and they started catching up with the rest of Asia.
Many Asian countries had long viewed the United States and other developed countries as their main economic partners. But they now increasingly seized the opportunities created by China’s rapid development. Trade and tourism with China grew, and supply chains became tightly integrated. Within a few decades, China went from being economically inconsequential for the rest of Asia to being the region’s biggest economy and major economic partner. China’s influence in regional affairs grew correspondingly.
Still, Pax Americana held, and these radical changes in China’s role took place within its framework. China was not in a position to challenge U.S. preeminence and did not attempt to do so. Indeed, it adopted as its guiding philosophy Deng’s dictum “Hide your strength, bide your time” and prioritized the modernization of its agricultural, industrial, and science and technology sectors over building military strength.
Southeast Asian countries thus enjoyed the best of both worlds, building economic relationships with China while maintaining strong ties with the United States and other developed countries. They also deepened ties with one another and worked together to create an open architecture for regional cooperation rooted in the Association of Southeast Asian Nations. ASEAN played a central role in forming the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation in 1989, establishing the ASEAN Regional Forum in 1994, and convening the annual East Asia Summit since 2005.
China participates fully in these processes. Every year, the Chinese premier travels to an ASEAN member state to meet the ASEAN countries’ leaders, well prepared to explain how China sees the region and armed with proposals to enhance Chinese cooperation with the grouping’s members. As China’s stake in the region has grown, it has launched its own initiatives, including the Belt and Road Initiative and the Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank. These have helped deepen China’s engagement with its neighbors and, of course, increased its influence.
But because the regional architecture is open, China’s influence is not exclusive. The United States remains an important participant, underpinning regional security and stability and enhancing its economic engagement through initiatives such as the Asia Reassurance Initiative Act and the BUILD Act. ASEAN also has formal dialogue mechanisms with the European Union, as well as with India and many other countries. ASEAN believes that such a network of connections creates a more robust framework for cooperation and more space to advance its members’ collective interests internationally.
So far, this formula has worked well. But the strategic basis of Pax Americana has shifted fundamentally. In the four decades since it began to reform and open up, China has been transformed. As its economy, technological capabilities, and political influence have grown exponentially, its outlook on the world has changed, as well. Chinese leaders today no longer cite Deng’s maxim about hiding one’s strength and biding one’s time. China sees itself as a continental power and aspires to become a maritime power, too; it has been modernizing its army and navy and aims to turn its military into a world-class fighting force. Increasingly, and quite understandably, China wants to protect and advance its interests abroad and secure what it sees as its rightful place in international affairs.
At the same time, the United States, which is still the preeminent power in many dimensions, is reassessing its grand strategy. As its share of global GDP diminishes, it is unclear whether the United States will continue to shoulder the burden of maintaining international peace and stability, or whether it might instead pursue a narrower, “America first” approach to protecting its interests. As Washington asks fundamental questions about its responsibilities in the global system, its relationship with Beijing has come under increased scrutiny.
THE FUNDAMENTAL CHOICES OF THE
UNITED STATES AND CHINA
The United States and China each face fundamental choices. The United States must decide whether to view China’s rise as an existential threat and try to hold China back through all available means or to accept China as a major power in its own right. If it chooses the latter path, the United States must craft an approach to China that will foster cooperation and healthy competition wherever possible and not allow rivalry to poison the entire relationship. Ideally, this competition will take place within an agreed multilateral framework of rules and norms of the kind that govern the United Nations and the World Trade Organization (WTO).
The United States is likely to find this a painful adjustment, especially with the growing consensus in Washington that engaging Beijing has failed and that a tougher approach is necessary to preserve U.S. interests. But however difficult the task will be for the United States, it is well worth making a serious effort to accommodate China’s aspirations within the current system of international rules and norms. This system imposes responsibilities and restraints on all countries, strengthens trust, helps manage conflicts, and creates a safer and stabler environment for both cooperation and competition.
The United States and China are not necessarily set on a course of confrontation, but it cannot be ruled out.
If the United States chooses instead to try to contain China’s rise, it will risk provoking a reaction that could set the two countries on a path to decades of confrontation. The United States is not a declining power. It has great resilience and strengths, one of which is its ability to attract talent from around the world; of the nine people of Chinese ethnicity who have been awarded Nobel Prizes in the sciences, eight were U.S. citizens or subsequently became U.S. citizens. On the other side, the Chinese economy possesses tremendous dynamism and increasingly advanced technology; it is far from being a Potemkin village or the tottering command economy that defined the Soviet Union in its final years. Any confrontation between these two great powers is unlikely to end as the Cold War did, in one country’s peaceful collapse.
For its part, China must decide whether to try to get its way as an unencumbered major power, prevailing by dint of its sheer weight and economic strength—but at the risk of strong pushback, not just from the United States but from other countries, too. This approach is likely to increase tensions and resentment, which would affect China’s standing and influence in the longer term. This is a real danger: a recent survey by the Pew Research Center found that people in Canada, the United States, and other Asian and western European countries have increasingly unfavorable views of China. Despite China’s recent efforts to build soft power abroad—through its network of Confucius Institutes, for example, and through Chinese-owned international newspapers and television outlets—the trend is negative.
Alternatively, China could acknowledge that it is no longer poor and weak and accept that the world now has higher expectations of it. It is no longer politically justifiable for China to enjoy the concessions and privileges it won when it was smaller and less developed, such as the generous terms under which it joined the WTO in 2001. A larger and more powerful China should not only respect global rules and norms but also take on greater responsibility for upholding and updating the international order under which it has prospered so spectacularly. Where the existing rules and norms are no longer fit for purpose, China should collaborate with the United States and other countries to work out revised arrangements that all can live with.
The path to creating a new order is not straightforward. Powerful domestic pressures impel and constrain both countries’ foreign policy choices. Foreign policy has featured little in the current U.S. presidential campaign, and when it has, the prevailing focus has been variants of the theme of “America first.” In China, the leadership’s overriding priority is to maintain internal political stability and, after enduring nearly two centuries of weakness and humiliation, to manifest the confidence of an ancient civilization on the rise again. So it cannot be taken for granted that the United States and China will manage their bilateral relations based on rational calculations of their national interests or even share a desire for win-win outcomes. The countries are not necessarily set on a course of confrontation, but confrontation cannot be ruled out.
DYNAMICS IN THE ASIA-PACIFIC
These dynamics will play out all over the world, but one crucial arena will be the Asia-Pacific. The United States has always had vital national interests in this region. It expended blood and treasure fighting the Pacific War to defeat Japan, a war in which the United States nearly lost three future presidents. It fought two costly wars in Korea and Vietnam, which bought precious time for noncommunist countries in Asia to consolidate their societies and economies and win the battle of hearts and minds against communism.
The United States’ generous, open policies that have so greatly benefited the Asia-Pacific derived from deep-rooted political ideals and its self-image as “a city upon a hill” and “a light unto the nations,” but they also reflected its enlightened self-interest. A stable and prospering Asia-Pacific was first a bulwark against the communist countries in the Cold War and then an important region of the world comprising many stable and prosperous countries well disposed toward the United States. To U.S. businesses, the Asia-Pacific offered sizable markets and important production bases. Unsurprisingly, several of the United States’ staunchest allies are in Asia, such as Australia, Japan, and South Korea, and so are some of its long-standing partners, such as Singapore.
China has vital interests in the region, too. In Northeast Asia, the Second Sino-Japanese War and the Korean War still cast long shadows. In Southeast Asia, China sees a source of energy and raw materials, economic partners, and important sea lines of communication. It also sees chokepoints in the Strait of Malacca and the South China Sea that must be kept open to protect China’s energy security. But one critical difference with the United States is that China sees the Asia-Pacific as its “near abroad,” to borrow a Russian expression, and thus as essential to its own security.
Chinese President Xi Jinping has said that the Pacific Ocean is big enough to accommodate both the United States and China. But he has also said that Asian security should be left to Asians. A natural question arises: Does Xi think that the Pacific Ocean is big enough for the United States and China to coexist peacefully, with overlapping circles of friends and partners, or that it is big enough to be divided down the middle between the two powers, into rival spheres of influence? Singapore and other Asia-Pacific countries have no doubt which interpretation they prefer. Although they may not have much influence over how things will turn out, they fervently hope not to be forced to choose between the United States and China.
The U.S. security presence remains vital to the Asia-Pacific region. Without it, Japan and South Korea would be compelled to contemplate developing nuclear weapons; both are nuclear threshold states, and the subject already regularly surfaces in their public discourse, especially given North Korea’s growing nuclear weapons capabilities. Such developments are fortunately still hypothetical, but their prospect is conducive neither to stability in Northeast Asia nor to nonproliferation efforts globally.
In Southeast Asia, the U.S. Seventh Fleet has contributed to regional security since World War II, ensuring that sea lines of communication remain safe and open, which has enabled trade and stimulated economic growth. Despite its increasing military strength, China would be unable to take over the United States’ security role. Unlike the United States, China has competing maritime and territorial claims in the South China Sea with several countries in the region, which will always see China’s naval presence as an attempt to advance those claims.
Another obstacle that would prevent China from taking over the security role currently played by the United States stems from the fact that many Southeast Asian countries have significant ethnic Chinese minorities, whose relations with the non-Chinese majority are often delicate. These countries are extremely sensitive about any perception that China has an inordinate influence on their ethnic Chinese populations—especially recalling the history of China’s support for communist insurgencies in Southeast Asia until the early 1980s. Those sensitivities will constrain China’s role in Southeast Asian affairs for the foreseeable future.
Singapore is the only Southeast Asian country whose multiracial population is majority ethnic Chinese. In fact, it is the only sovereign state in the world with such demographics other than China itself. But Singapore has made enormous efforts to build a multiracial national identity and not a Chinese one. And it has also been extremely careful to avoid doing anything that could be misperceived as allowing itself to be used as a cat’s-paw by China. For this reason, Singapore did not establish diplomatic relations with China until 1990, making it the final Southeast Asian country, except for Brunei, to do so.
Of course, Singapore and all other Asian countries want to cultivate good relations with China. They hope to enjoy the goodwill and support of such a major power and to participate in its growth. Global supply chains—whether for aircraft, cellular phones, or surgical masks—link China and other Asian countries closely together. China’s sheer size has made it the largest trading partner of most other Asian countries, including every treaty ally of the United States in the region, as well as Singapore and nearly every other ASEAN country.
It would be very difficult, bordering on impossible, for the United States to replace China as the world’s chief supplier, just as it would be unthinkable for the United States itself to do without the Chinese market, which is the third-largest importer of U.S. goods, after Canada and Mexico. But neither can China displace the United States’ economic role in Asia. The global financial system relies heavily on U.S. financial institutions, and the renminbi will not replace the U.S. dollar as the world’s reserve currency anytime soon. Although the other Asian countries export more to China than to the United States, U.S. multinational corporations still form the largest source of foreign investments in many Asia-Pacific countries, including Singapore. China’s major companies are starting to invest abroad, but it will be many years before China has multinational corporations of the same scale and sophistication as those based in the United States, which tie global production chains together, link Asia with the global economy, and create millions of jobs.
For these reasons, Asia-Pacific countries do not wish to be forced to choose between the United States and China. They want to cultivate good relations with both. They cannot afford to alienate China, and other Asian countries will try their best not to let any single dispute dominate their overall relationships with Beijing. At the same time, those Asian countries regard the United States as a resident power with vital interests in the region. They were supportive—some more overtly than others—when U.S. President Barack Obama declared that the United States intended to “rebalance” American foreign policy toward Asia. They take comfort that although the Trump administration has raised issues of cost and burden sharing with its friends and allies, it has also put forward a strategy for the Indo-Pacific region and announced its intention to build up the U.S. military’s Indo-Pacific Command.
But those Asian countries also recognize that the United States is a global hyperpower, with far-flung preoccupations and urgent priorities all over the world. They are realistic that should tensions grow—or, even worse, should conflict occur—they cannot automatically take U.S. support for granted. They expect to do their part to defend their countries and interests. They also hope that the United States understands that if other Asian countries promote ties with China, that does not necessarily mean that they are working against the United States. (And of course, these Asian countries hope for the same understanding from China, too, if they strengthen their ties with the United States.)
AN INCLUSIVE REGIONAL ARCHITECTURE
The United States and China are not the only major countries with a great deal of influence in the region; other players also have significant roles. Japan, in particular, has much to contribute to the region, given the size and sophistication of its economy. Under Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, it has contributed more actively than before. For example, after the United States withdrew from the Trans-Pacific Partnership in 2017, Japan stepped up. It galvanized the remaining 11 members to complete the Comprehensive and Progressive Agreement for Trans-Pacific Partnership (CPTPP), which brings together developed and developing countries on both sides of the Pacific Ocean and is a step toward free trade in the Asia-Pacific region.
India also enjoys a great deal of potential influence. Under Prime Minister Narendra Modi, India has declared a strategic shift through its Act East Policy, and other countries look forward to seeing this policy put into action. The East Asia Summit includes India as a member because other members hoped that as India’s economy grew, it would see more value in regional cooperation. India was also one of the original countries negotiating to form the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership, a proposed free-trade agreement that aims to integrate all the major economies in the Asia-Pacific, similar to the way that the North American Free Trade Agreement (now the U.S.-Mexico-Canada Agreement) linked together countries in North America. After extensive negotiations, India decided last year not to join the RCEP; the remaining 15 participating countries are moving forward, although without India, something significant has been lost.
It is great powers’ capacity for cooperation that is the true test of statecraft.
As most Asian countries recognize, the value of such agreements goes beyond the economic gains they generate. They are platforms that enable Asia-Pacific countries to cooperate with one another, develop stakes in one another’s success, and together mold the regional architecture and the rules that govern it. Such regional arrangements must be open and inclusive. They should not, whether by design or result, keep any party out, undermine existing cooperation arrangements, create rival blocs, or force countries to take sides. This is why CPTPP members have left the door open for the United States to sign on once again, and why the countries that are working to form the RCEP still hope that India will join one day.
This is also the basis on which Asia-Pacific countries support regional cooperation initiatives such as the various Indo-Pacific concepts proposed by Japan, the United States, and other countries, as well as China’s Belt and Road Initiative. Many other Asian countries view supporting the Belt and Road Initiative as a constructive way to accommodate China’s growing influence in the region. If implemented well and with financial discipline, the initiative’s projects can strengthen regional and multilateral cooperation and address the pressing need for better infrastructure and connectivity in many developing countries. Some such projects have been criticized for lacking transparency or viability, but there is no reason to believe that all of the initiative’s projects, by definition, will impose unsustainable financial burdens on countries or prevent them from growing their links with other major economies. Such consequences would not serve China’s interests, either, since they would undermine its international standing and influence.
Developing new regional arrangements does not mean abandoning or sidelining existing multilateral institutions. These hard-won multilateral arrangements and institutions continue to give all countries, especially smaller ones, a framework for working together and advancing their collective interests. But many existing multilateral institutions are in urgent need of reform: they are no longer effective, given current economic and strategic realities. For instance, since the conclusion of the Uruguay Round of trade negotiations in 1994, the WTO has found it increasingly difficult to reach meaningful trade agreements, because any deal requires consensus from its 164 members, which have hugely divergent interests and economic philosophies. And since last year, the WTO’s Appellate Body has been paralyzed by the lack of a quorum. This is a loss for all countries, who should work constructively toward reforming such organizations rather than diminishing their effectiveness or bypassing them altogether.
A FERVENT HOPE
The strategic choices that the United States and China make will shape the contours of the emerging global order. It is natural for big powers to compete. But it is their capacity for cooperation that is the true test of statecraft, and it will determine whether humanity makes progress on global problems such as climate change, nuclear proliferation, and the spread of infectious diseases.
The COVID-19 pandemic is a stark reminder of how vital it is for countries to work together. Diseases do not respect national borders, and international cooperation is desperately needed to bring the pandemic under control and reduce damage to the global economy. Even with the best relations between the United States and China, mounting a collective response to COVID-19 would be hugely challenging. Unfortunately, the pandemic is exacerbating the U.S.-Chinese rivalry, increasing mistrust, one-upmanship, and mutual blame. This will surely worsen if, as now seems inevitable, the pandemic becomes a major issue in the U.S. presidential election. One can only hope that the gravity of the situation will concentrate minds and allow wiser counsel to prevail.
In the meantime, Asian countries have their hands full, coping with the pandemic and the many other obstacles to improving the lives of their citizens and creating a more secure and prosperous region. Their success—and the prospect of an Asian century—will depend greatly on whether the United States and China can overcome their differences, build mutual trust, and work constructively to uphold a stable and peaceful international order. This is a fundamental issue of our time.
U.S.-China relations have been in decline for a long time. The United States had for years provided China with relatively free access to the American market. The United States wanted equivalent access to the Chinese market, but China was unable to grant this. Its industrial base produced more products than the Chinese people could consume, in terms of quantity, price and the types of products produced. China was a compulsive exporter because only exports could sustain its industrial base and hence its economy and financial system. Giving the United States broad access to the Chinese market, on the financial order of Chinese exports to the United States, would have undermined the financial foundations of the Chinese system – a system that had to a great extent funded the creation of China’s industrial system, and depended on both domestic consumption and foreign sales to balance it.
China’s financial system had been under pressure since before 2008. And so the Chinese could not permit the U.S. to have equivalent trading rights, leading to the imposition of U.S. tariffs. The Chinese were in no position to agree to America’s demands because of the financial consequences it would have, and the United States was in no position to drop the tariffs because of social realities within the U.S. Many industries benefited greatly from reduced production costs and access permitted selectively to the Chinese market, even though Chinese imports had devastated some American industries. Each represented different social groups, and partly define the tensions in the American economy.
This was not a new story in the history of capitalism. From about 1890 until the late 1920s, it was the United States that held China’s place. In the late 19th century, the United States launched an industrial revolution that depended on access to foreign markets as domestic consumption was not able to support the industrial plant. Cheap U.S. goods flooded Europe until after World War I, which shredded the market for the U.S. The U.S. continued to try to surge exports but also to limit imports of, for example, Japanese textiles. In the end, the collapse of global demand for American goods led to essential but self-defeating foreign imports, and was a significant force in driving the U.S. into depression.
The China story is an old one replete with social tension on all sides and the chance of war. Global capitalism, built on a global supply chain, doesn’t require but enjoys an efficient, low-cost producer of products. The name for it now is Supply Chain. The U.S. supply chain is critical to the functioning of a large part of the global supply chain. The same is true with China. World War I constricted imports and hit the American leg of the supply chain. The same has happened to China as a result of the COVID-19 crisis. The damage to affected economies cut demand in most countries, leaving China in a difficult position.
But there was another dimension. The heightened demand for some products, such as pharmaceuticals, could not be met. The virus had also struck China, and its own internal supply chain was disrupted or redirected to Chinese needs. So as the loss of export markets staggered the Chinese economy, it was also being hit by importers’ realization that depending on one country for their supply chain was too risky. China had been regarded as a reliable exporter, one of its main virtues. But even if it could offer products at a low cost, it was no use to importers if the products they needed weren’t available. It is not that trust in China is necessarily shaken; rather, it is that the lack of redundancy in the supply chain has revealed its risk.
The Best Alternative
Two questions arise. First, China has reached the political limits of an export-based economy with a range of tensions with the United States and wide distrust of the robustness of its supply chain. It has to do what the U.S. did, after two decades of depression and war, and create massive domestic demand to drive its economy. Since global capitalism prefers a low-cost producer – or many low-cost producers – the question now is: Who will take China’s place? The obvious first option is India, a country with a massive, diverse and generally poor population, but which has a degree of discipline and entrepreneurialism, similar to China in 1980.
India, however, is not in a take-off situation. It is the fifth-largest economy in the world and is also a major exporter already. China exports $2 trillion a year, India only $345 billion. Exports account for 19 percent of China’s gross domestic product, and 14 percent of India’s. China has a population of about 1.4 billion, roughly the same as India. When you look at these numbers, you can see a large, available workforce. More important, India is a nation much less dependent on exports to drive its economy, yet it is still poor. The basic characteristic of the U.S.-China model of development is a workforce that is paid relatively low wages but an existing political order with a demonstrable economic system.
Put simply, India has grown on domestic demand, and its next stage of growth should be a surge in exports. Thus at the very moment when China is in a deep and multidimensional conflict with its largest customer, India has a unique opportunity to charge its economy from these problems. And since India and China see each other as adversaries – there was a minor skirmish in the Himalayas last week – India has a strategic as well as economic interest in this move.
The Indo-Chinese confrontation, going back more than half a century, gives the United States an opening that would make economic alignment between the two more attractive. The United States, Japan, Australia and India are also developing a naval alliance called the Quadrilateral Security Dialogue. India in particular is wary of any formal alliance that requires any commitment. Unable to see the forces that might change its future, the Indian navy has merely carried out maneuvers in the Western Pacific with its Quad allies. The Chinese have noted this, of course, but they have assumed that India would not be eager to do anything formal, and that no war plan in the Pacific would be created that did not have a formal commitment.
The United States as a nation, and many individual companies, now see that depending on a single country as the root of a supply chain is a mistake. The situation in any one country, including how a global pandemic might impact its economy and its demand for a critical product, cannot be predicted. However attractive Chinese low-cost labor is to American companies buying from or producing in China, and however expensive redundancy might be, redundant supply chains are essential. India is the logical addition or alternative to China, and indeed already serves that role, although at an insufficient level as its export numbers show. But those numbers also show where we can expect India to demonstrate the greatest growth.
India has been a major economic power for a long time. But its historical goal is to move into the GDP ranks of Germany, Japan and China. The opportunity presented by the pandemic and China’s current poisonous relations with the United States means that U.S. companies are already choosing to move out, and India is clearly eager to host them. Inevitably, however, the economic move becomes entangled with the political and military. China and India are already hostile toward one another, and the U.S. and China are increasingly hostile. The shift in supply chains is partly related to that hostility. China would have more economic options were it not confronting the U.S. The fact that it is creates economic possibilities for India.
And India certainly knows that there are many other countries that could fill and want to fill that gap. Shifting the supply chain takes time in some cases. Deciding where to shift does not.
Sixteen members of George Floyd’s family joined the 60,000 protesters for the Houston rally.
They included sister La Tonya and brother Philonese. A nephew told the crowd: “Don’t stop until we get justice for my uncle,” the Houston Chronicle reports.
At an emotional news conference in Minneapolis, Roxie Washington, the mother of George Floyd’s six-year-old daughter Gianna, said he was a good man.
Standing with Gianna, she said: “I’m here for my baby and I’m here for George because I want justice for him.”
George Floyd’s funeral is due to take place on 9 June in Houston.
Trump defends himself
President Donald Trump has meanwhile defended his controversial decision to pose with a Bible outside a historic church in Washington, whose basement was set on fire at the weekend.
Taking to Twitter, he wrote: “You got it wrong! If the protesters were so peaceful, why did they light the Church on fire the night before? People liked my walk.”
On Monday, police used rubber bullets and smoke grenades to clear protesters from near the White House before Mr Trump stood for the cameras outside St John’s Church.
Michael Curry, the presiding bishop of the Episcopal Church diocese in Washington, accused him of using the Church for “partisan political purposes”.
Criticism also came from Washington’s Catholic archbishop, who condemned Mr Trump’s visit to the Saint John Paul II National Shrine on Tuesday. It “manipulated” the shrine, Archbishop Wilton D Gregory said.
Earlier, Democratic presidential hopeful Joe Biden criticised Mr Trump for using the crisis to appeal to his supporters, saying he was “serving the passions of his base”.
On Monday, Mr Trump said he would deploy the army if cities and states failed to control the protests.
Monday night saw some of the worst unrest with widespread looting and arson as previously peaceful protests saw a minority resort to violence. In Las Vegas, a police officer was described on Tuesday as being in a grave condition after being shot.
Separately, an armed man was shot dead by police in the same city.
Four police were also shot in St Louis, though their injuries were not described as life-threatening. But a retired officer was shot and killed outside a looted store.
What’s the background?
The protests began after a video showed Mr Floyd being arrested on 25 May in Minneapolis and a white police officer continuing to kneel on his neck even after he pleaded that he could not breathe.
The officer, Derek Chauvin, has been charged with third-degree murder and will appear in court next week. Three other police officers have been fired.
Garner was placed in a police chokehold in New York in 2014 and could be heard crying out “I can’t breathe” as officers restrained him. His words, which were also shouted by Mr Floyd in his final moments, have become a rallying cry for Black Lives Matter protesters.
African-Americans are more likely to get fatally shot by police than other ethnic groups. They are also arrested for drug abuse at a much higher rate than white Americans, although surveys show drug use is at similar levels.
For many, the outrage over Mr Floyd’s death also reflects years of frustration over socio-economic inequality and discrimination.
But the protests also echo those of the Civil Rights movement more than 50 years ago. This action was led by Martin Luther King Jr and sought to challenge white supremacy and the segregationist policies that were commonplace at the time.
The ongoing unrest is the most widespread racial turbulence the US has experienced since Dr King, known to most Americans as MLK, was gunned down by a sniper in 1968.
The eastern Mediterranean is becoming ever more perilous as geopolitical fault lines steadily enmesh the region. These rifts emerge from the Cyprus ‘frozen conflict’, competition for valuable gas fields, and the increasingly entangled wars in Libya and Syria.
Overview: Fear and loathing in the Eastern Mediterranean
Asli Aydıntaşbaş Julien Barnes-Dacey Cinzia Bianco Hugh Lovatt Tarek Megerisi
In a world of pandemics, forever wars, and great power showdowns, it might come as a surprise that Europe’s next crisis is emerging from disputes over maritime law. In the eastern Mediterranean, a scramble is under way between countries in the region for access to recently discovered gas fields. Conflicting legal claims to the fields are merging with old and new conflicts, and have led to the creation of a new geopolitical front in the eastern Mediterranean that should cause Europeans substantial concern. At the heart of these tensions lies the unresolved dispute in Cyprus and long-standing antagonism between Turkey and Greece, around which a broader front of anti-Turkey forces is lining up. These disputes have also now grown to encompass the civil wars in Libya and Syria, and have drawn in states from as far afield as the Gulf and Russia.
The eastern Mediterranean’s potential for escalation was evident in February 2020, when France deployed its Charles de Gaulle aircraft carrier to defensively stalk Turkish frigates sailing near to the contested gas fields close to Cyprus. The fact that NATO allies are staring each other down on the European Union’s doorstep should cause all Europeans to pay greater attention to the region. The escalating conflict in Libya and the rivalry between Turkey and its Gulf rivals now directly intersect with the European-Turkish disputes over gas and territory. What happens in the eastern Mediterranean is no longer a peripheral issue for Europe.
The EU has a direct stake in the matter, but remains divided on how to approach it. The bloc has a significant interest in upholding the sovereignty and territorial integrity of Cyprus, securing its own energy interests, and advancing a political resolution to the conflict in Libya to manage refugee and terrorism challenges. The anti-Turkey front that has converged in the eastern Mediterranean is led by EU member states Cyprus, Greece, and France. They, in turn, are working with players from further afield, such the United Arab Emirates, whose intensifying competition with Turkey is a defining feature of the strained – and ever-more destabilising – situation in the Middle East. But, collectively, these countries’ activity risks entrenching geopolitical fault lines, with consequences for Europe as a whole, not least the crucial relationship with Turkey.
To address this, the EU and its member states need to change tack and pursue a wider, inclusive deal with Turkey. They will need to incrementally agree on the components of this new bargain and, critically, base it on pragmatic engagement with Ankara rather than escalatory measures against it. Europe’s decision-makers are aware that they cannot afford a complete diplomatic breakdown, much less a kinetic confrontation, with Turkey given the world of trouble already present on their eastern and southern flanks.
This awareness needs to translate into a policy shift in which Europeans remain committed to key policy principles – namely, the sovereignty of Cypriot and, therefore, EU territory – but also recognise the dangers of current tensions with Ankara, as well as the convergence of Middle Eastern conflict lines within areas of their dispute. This approach can only succeed if Turkey also demonstrates its support for it by scaling back its drilling activity and naval presence in the eastern Mediterranean. Europeans should incentivise Turkey to do so by dialling down the recent military and political measures they have put in place. This will help prevent the dispute from slipping into increasingly zero-sum and dangerous positioning, while dispelling the impression that Europe has ganged up on Turkey in a common cause with Arab states.
NEW GAS FIELDS AND THE ANTI-TURKEY CLUB
Cyprus is central to the eastern Mediterranean’s rising tensions. After more than 40 years of frozen conflict, over the past decade hopes rose that the discovery of significant gas reserves could improve the chances of a settlement between the island’s Turkish and Greek communities. In the process, gas exports from Cyprus would help the EU diversify its energy supplies and boost regional cooperation. In time, however, a different impulse took over – one that is now increasing tension between not just Cyprus and Turkey but also between wider regional players.
A collective interest in leveraging eastern Mediterranean gas reserves spurred increased cooperation between Greece, Cyprus, Israel, and Egypt, as well as key energy companies from Italy and France. This grouping has grown to encompass Italy itself, Jordan, and Palestine, culminating in the creation of the Eastern Mediterranean Gas Forum (EMGF) in Cairo in January 2019. Noticeably absent is Turkey – despite its overlapping maritime claims, vast domestic market, and potential as a transit route for eastern Mediterranean gas exports. This coalition has received the backing of the United States, whose relationship with Turkey is also strained due to divergences on a growing number of issues, most recently Ankara’s purchase of Russian-made S-400 air defence systems.
Although the desire to create a geopolitical hub that excludes Turkey was not the organisation’s founding purpose, it has grown to define the emerging coalition. Perceptions of the EMGF as an anti-Turkey club were bolstered when it extended its remit to include regional security cooperation and joint military drills around Cyprus. Greece and Cyprus have sought to leverage the undersea gas reserves and the creation of the EMGF grouping to improve their own political standing – at Turkey’s expense. The forum offers both countries a means to strengthen a broader alliance to counter Turkish influence. Israel and Egypt maintain acrimonious relations with Turkish president Recep Tayyip Erdogan, while the forum’s anti-Turkey slant has also attracted the UAE, which is engaged in an acute regional rivalry with Turkey. Like Egypt, the UAE takes issue with Turkey’s support for Muslim Brotherhood movements across the region.
This fault line is starkest in Libya, where Turkey and the UAE provide military support to opposite sides in the deepening civil war. In November 2019, Ankara and the internationally recognised Libyan government struck a partnership agreement on a maritime boundary, which created an exclusive economic zone that cuts across Greek and Cypriot interests. The move seeks to preclude the proposed EastMed pipeline, which would bring gas to European markets from Israel, Egypt, and Cyprus. Turkey has also recently applied for licences to start drilling off the coast of Libya.
This agreement caused Cyprus and Greece to line up behind Abu Dhabi’s man in Libya, Field Marshal Khalifa Haftar, who France has long supported. But these fault lines also extend into Syria, with supporters of both sides of the civil war hiring Syrian fighters. This draws the Libya and Syria conflicts closer together – and gives Russia a greater opportunity to cement its position in the Mediterranean.
TURKEY: BACKED INTO A CORNER?
The Turkish government has long suffered from a chronic siege mentality, believing itself to be surrounded by hostile forces that threaten its core interests. The formation of the EMGF appears to vindicate such concerns.
Turkey has little room for manoeuvre to its south and west, despite having the longest contiguous coastline in the eastern Mediterranean. Ankara also believes that making concessions in this part of the sea would be tantamount to conceding to the Greek position on various maritime disputes between the two countries in the Aegean. Turkey’s difficulties are exacerbated by its failure to discover gas in its local waters. Given its own economic woes, Turkey will not cede the potentially lucrative exploitation rights around Cyprus without representation for Turkish Cypriots. Turkey has long favoured a model that allocates maritime rights based on continental shelves. But this differs from the approach adopted by European states, which is based on the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea), to which Turkey is not a signatory.
From Ankara’s perspective, there are clear links between this eastern Mediterranean coalition – as embodied by the EMGF – and wider regional conflicts, as well as the Emirati-led campaign against Turkey. Turkey believes that a slowly emerging superstructure of political, economic, and security interests will inevitably challenge its regional position. This has transformed an economic competition into an existential struggle. Turkey has responded in its traditional fashion – with escalation: namely, by increasing its military presence in Libya and concluding the maritime agreement with the Tripoli-based government. In parallel, Turkey has deployed naval expeditions to explore gas fields claimed by the Republic of Cyprus and to chase away research vessels operating under Republic of Cyprus licences.
NAVIGATING THE REGION’S CHOPPY WATERS
The EU’s current eastern Mediterranean policy centres on a ‘soft containment’ of Turkey, as marked by its introduction of new sanctions on the country in February 2020. These measures came at the request of Cyprus, Greece, France, and Italy in a bid to curtail Turkey’s predatory drilling expeditions. This dynamic was further highlighted in May 2020 in a joint declaration by Cyprus, France, Greece, Egypt, and the UAE, which “urged Turkey to fully respect the sovereignty and sovereign rights of all states in their maritime zones in the eastern Mediterranean … [and] strongly condemned Turkey’s military interference in Libya”. Turkey responded by accusing the states of forming an “alliance of evil” that would create “regional chaos and instability”.
Clearly, the EU is right to stick up for the sovereignty of the Cyprus and its maritime claims: the bloc’s non-recognition of the Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus (TRNC) is a pillar of its legal policy on the island. Nevertheless, the exclusionary approach towards Turkey in the eastern Mediterranean has contributed to escalation in Cyprus, as well as Libya, where European interests relating to migration and terrorism are directly under threat. This wider confrontation has also drawn the UAE more deeply into the Mediterranean theatre, a development that should be as much a cause for European concern as Turkey’s widening role. The threat of a confrontation with Turkey on Libya and wider eastern Mediterranean issues risks destabilising the long-standing refugee deal between Ankara and the EU. It could also weaken the EU position on Syria if, as has been mooted, some member states re-engage with Bashar al-Assad as a means of increasing pressure on Turkey, which maintains a military presence in northern Syria. More broadly, unless the pressure eases, this could further worsen Turkey’s relationship with the US, NATO, and the EU more generally.
There is no doubt that the EU needs a more functional relationship with Turkey to protect its core interests in migration, energy, and the Middle East. The EU should now adopt a different approach – one that recognises the need for more constructive engagement with Turkey, and that highlights their shared interests in trade, energy, and regional security. This does not have to involve a miraculous resolution of the Cyprus conflict – or, at the other end of the scale, a move towards the two-state solution supported by hawks in Turkey and Turkish Cypriots. But it might involve the recognition of some Turkish claims around the rights of Turkish Cypriots to the region’s energy spoils. And it should certainly include a rejection of active European participation in the destabilising regional conflict between Ankara and Abu Dhabi. The EU needs to carefully advance the following confidence-building steps that are in sync with core EU principles.
The highly contested, internationalised, and multilayered nature of problems in the eastern Mediterranean makes it impossible to address all sources of tension in one go. Instead, the EU should view the Cyprus conflict as the symbolic heart of the crisis and as a potential way to advance wider de-escalatory measures. While holding firm to its core principles, the EU should explore avenues for addressing technical issues related to gas exploitation. These are easier to engage with and resolve than more ideologically charged political questions around a final resolution of the conflict or maritime law. Besides allowing for meaningful headway on important issues, this approach would build much-needed confidence between the parties.
Firstly, European states should push the Cyprus and Turkish Cypriots towards technical-level discussions, with the goal of ensuring that all Cypriots can benefit from the island’s gas reserves – whether they live in the north or the south. Turkish Cypriots can be represented without needing to recognise the TRNC or legitimise the Turkish military presence on the island. As the EU and the UN already regard Turkish Cypriot leaders as interlocutors on intercommunal issues, they should bring them into discussions on hydrocarbons. This process could be underpinned by a moratorium on gas exploration in Cyprus’s exclusive economic zone, while Turkey would need to pull its drilling ships and navy out of the area.
Bring Turkey into the Eastern Mediterranean Gas Forum
A wider agreement with Turkey would have to include Turkish access to the regional gas network, both in its current form and in future infrastructure developments. The current configuration of the EMGF as a conduit for political and security developments is aggravating regional tensions. For energy, security, and economic reasons, Europe and Turkey have similar imperatives to reach a deal with each other. The EU should propose Turkish access to the EMGF as an entry point to a wider deal. This would also help improve relations between Turkey and Egypt, and ease exploration and development tension between the EU and Turkey.
Linking up Libya
Enhanced European cooperation with Turkey on Libya is another necessary dimension of a more effective EU approach to the eastern Mediterranean. Turkey’s deal with the Libyan government has angered much of Europe. But Europe’s current response risks marginalising it in the region – and will only prolong the war in Libya, given Turkey’s centrality to any resolution there.
Europeans need to adopt an approach that not only presses Turkey to take a seat at the negotiating table but also provides it with incentives to do so. Europe should simultaneously ask the same of Haftar’s external backers, who in many ways bear greater responsibility than Turkey for the recent escalation in Libya.
The EU should use the assets of its recently deployed naval operation and the opening created by Tripoli’s Turkish-backed military gains to press the UAE to agree to a ceasefire and meaningful political talks. Europe should express frustration with not only Ankara but also Abu Dhabi for its role in escalating the regional conflict. This step would help convince Turkey that the EU is not singling it out. A balanced European approach to Libya, including an impartial attempt to monitor arms-embargo violations, would help persuade Turkey that the southern Mediterranean is not turning into another arena to exclude Turkish influence.
Progress on wider maritime talks would also help advance this effort, given that Turkey’s position in Libya is partly driven by concerns that other actors are looking to squeeze it out in the Mediterranean.
The EU can take steps to ease deepening eastern Mediterranean tensions in accordance with European interests. It should adopt a broad-based approach that recognises and seeks to reconcile the complex linkages that now criss-cross the eastern Mediterranean. The EU has the capacity to ensure that the accumulated benefit of a wider deal prevents backsliding elsewhere. Ultimately, a wider EU approach would aim to turn the current situation on its head, taking advantage of the highly interconnected nature of the issues and of shared interests to create a mutually acceptable stabilising track. The depth of the problems means that no single, all-encompassing bargain is possible. But Europeans could stitch together a patchwork of more self-contained deals as they work towards establishing a ‘new bargain’ with Turkey.
Given the potential for instability in the eastern Mediterranean to affect core EU interests – migration, counter-terrorism, energy security, sovereignty, and more – European states not directly involved in the overlapping conflicts should help improve the relationship with Turkey.
Countries such as Germany have highlighted how they could work to support the political process in Libya. Berlin has already provided a neutral forum for all states to try to agree on core principles. But so far it has failed, partly because of a lack of European consensus on broader eastern Mediterranean issues and relations with Turkey. This was demonstrated most recently by Turkey’s recent pressure on Malta to withdraw its support from the EU’s Mediterranean mission, Operation IRINI. As is so often the case, a lack of unity is fatally undermining Europe’s attempts to become a relevant actor, and is creating further space for other actors beyond Turkey and the UAE – namely Russia – to fill the void.