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Geopolitics in the 21st Century

Edward Campbell

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Part 1 of 2

I was planning to include this is the "Grand Strategy for a Divided America" thread, but Walter Russell Mead, in this (rather lengthy) essay, which is reproduced under the Fair Dealing provisions of the Copyright Act from Foreign Affairs, deals with more than just America: he's talking (when he says the EU and the USA) about Australia and Canada and Japan, too - the whole of the US led West and, of course, he's dealing with the push back from China, Iran and, most notably, now, Russia:

http://www.foreignaffairs.com/articles/141211/walter-russell-mead/the-return-of-geopolitics
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The Return of Geopolitics
The Revenge of the Revisionist Powers

By Walter Russell Mead

FROM OUR MAY/JUNE 2014 ISSUE

So far, the year 2014 has been a tumultuous one, as geopolitical rivalries have stormed back to center stage. Whether it is Russian forces seizing Crimea, China making aggressive claims in its coastal waters, Japan responding with an increasingly assertive strategy of its own, or Iran trying to use its alliances with Syria and Hezbollah to dominate the Middle East, old-fashioned power plays are back in international relations.

The United States and the EU, at least, find such trends disturbing. Both would rather move past geopolitical questions of territory and military power and focus instead on ones of world order and global governance: trade liberalization, nuclear nonproliferation, human rights, the rule of law, climate change, and so on. Indeed, since the end of the Cold War, the most important objective of U.S. and EU foreign policy has been to shift international relations away from zero-sum issues toward win-win ones. To be dragged back into old-school contests such as that in Ukraine doesn’t just divert time and energy away from those important questions; it also changes the character of international politics. As the atmosphere turns dark, the task of promoting and maintaining world order grows more daunting.

But Westerners should never have expected old-fashioned geopolitics to go away. They did so only because they fundamentally misread what the collapse of the Soviet Union meant: the ideological triumph of liberal capitalist democracy over communism, not the obsolescence of hard power. China, Iran, and Russia never bought into the geopolitical settlement that followed the Cold War, and they are making increasingly forceful attempts to overturn it. That process will not be peaceful, and whether or not the revisionists succeed, their efforts have already shaken the balance of power and changed the dynamics of international politics.

A FALSE SENSE OF SECURITY

When the Cold War ended, many Americans and Europeans seemed to think that the most vexing geopolitical questions had largely been settled. With the exception of a handful of relatively minor problems, such as the woes of the former Yugoslavia and the Israeli-Palestinian dispute, the biggest issues in world politics, they assumed, would no longer concern boundaries, military bases, national self-determination, or spheres of influence.

One can’t blame people for hoping. The West’s approach to the realities of the post–Cold War world has made a great deal of sense, and it is hard to see how world peace can ever be achieved without replacing geopolitical competition with the construction of a liberal world order. Still, Westerners often forget that this project rests on the particular geopolitical foundations laid in the early 1990s.

In Europe, the post–Cold War settlement involved the unification of Germany, the dismemberment of the Soviet Union, and the integration of the former Warsaw Pact states and the Baltic republics into NATO and the EU. In the Middle East, it entailed the dominance of Sunni powers that were allied with the United States (Saudi Arabia, its Gulf allies, Egypt, and Turkey) and the double containment of Iran and Iraq. In Asia, it meant the uncontested dominance of the United States, embedded in a series of security relationships with Japan, South Korea, Australia, Indonesia, and other allies.

This settlement reflected the power realities of the day, and it was only as stable as the relationships that held it up. Unfortunately, many observers conflated the temporary geopolitical conditions of the post–Cold War world with the presumably more final outcome of the ideological struggle between liberal democracy and Soviet communism. The political scientist Francis Fukuyama’s famous formulation that the end of the Cold War meant “the end of history” was a statement about ideology. But for many people, the collapse of the Soviet Union didn’t just mean that humanity’s ideological struggle was over for good; they thought geopolitics itself had also come to a permanent end.

At first glance, this conclusion looks like an extrapolation of Fukuyama’s argument rather than a distortion of it. After all, the idea of the end of history has rested on the geopolitical consequences of ideological struggles ever since the German philosopher Georg Wilhelm Friedrich Hegel first expressed it at the beginning of the nineteenth century. For Hegel, it was the Battle of Jena, in 1806, that rang the curtain down on the war of ideas. In Hegel’s eyes, Napoleon Bonaparte’s utter destruction of the Prussian army in that brief campaign represented the triumph of the French Revolution over the best army that prerevolutionary Europe could produce. This spelled an end to history, Hegel argued, because in the future, only states that adopted the principles and techniques of revolutionary France would be able to compete and survive.

Adapted to the post–Cold War world, this argument was taken to mean that in the future, states would have to adopt the principles of liberal capitalism to keep up. Closed, communist societies, such as the Soviet Union, had shown themselves to be too uncreative and unproductive to compete economically and militarily with liberal states. Their political regimes were also shaky, since no social form other than liberal democracy provided enough freedom and dignity for a contemporary society to remain stable.

To fight the West successfully, you would have to become like the West, and if that happened, you would become the kind of wishy-washy, pacifistic milquetoast society that didn’t want to fight about anything at all. The only remaining dangers to world peace would come from rogue states such as North Korea, and although such countries might have the will to challenge the West, they would be too crippled by their obsolete political and social structures to rise above the nuisance level (unless they developed nuclear weapons, of course). And thus former communist states, such as Russia, faced a choice. They could jump on the modernization bandwagon and become liberal, open, and pacifistic, or they could cling bitterly to their guns and their culture as the world passed them by.

At first, it all seemed to work. With history over, the focus shifted from geopolitics to development economics and nonproliferation, and the bulk of foreign policy came to center on questions such as climate change and trade. The conflation of the end of geopolitics and the end of history offered an especially enticing prospect to the United States: the idea that the country could start putting less into the international system and taking out more. It could shrink its defense spending, cut the State Department’s appropriations, lower its profile in foreign hotspots -- and the world would just go on becoming more prosperous and more free.

This vision appealed to both liberals and conservatives in the United States. The administration of President Bill Clinton, for example, cut both the Defense Department’s and the State Department’s budgets and was barely able to persuade Congress to keep paying U.S. dues to the UN. At the same time, policymakers assumed that the international system would become stronger and wider-reaching while continuing to be conducive to U.S. interests. Republican neo-isolationists, such as former Representative Ron Paul of Texas, argued that given the absence of serious geopolitical challenges, the United States could dramatically cut both military spending and foreign aid while continuing to benefit from the global economic system.

After 9/11, President George W. Bush based his foreign policy on the belief that Middle Eastern terrorists constituted a uniquely dangerous opponent, and he launched what he said would be a long war against them. In some respects, it appeared that the world was back in the realm of history. But the Bush administration’s belief that democracy could be implanted quickly in the Arab Middle East, starting with Iraq, testified to a deep conviction that the overall tide of events was running in America’s favor.

President Barack Obama built his foreign policy on the conviction that the “war on terror” was overblown, that history really was over, and that, as in the Clinton years, the United States’ most important priorities involved promoting the liberal world order, not playing classical geopolitics. The administration articulated an extremely ambitious agenda in support of that order: blocking Iran’s drive for nuclear weapons, solving the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, negotiating a global climate change treaty, striking Pacific and Atlantic trade deals, signing arms control treaties with Russia, repairing U.S. relations with the Muslim world, promoting gay rights, restoring trust with European allies, and ending the war in Afghanistan. At the same time, however, Obama planned to cut defense spending dramatically and reduced U.S. engagement in key world theaters, such as Europe and the Middle East.

AN AXIS OF WEEVILS?

All these happy convictions are about to be tested. Twenty-five years after the fall of the Berlin Wall, whether one focuses on the rivalry between the EU and Russia over Ukraine, which led Moscow to seize Crimea; the intensifying competition between China and Japan in East Asia; or the subsuming of sectarian conflict into international rivalries and civil wars in the Middle East, the world is looking less post-historical by the day. In very different ways, with very different objectives, China, Iran, and Russia are all pushing back against the political settlement of the Cold War.

The relationships among those three revisionist powers are complex. In the long run, Russia fears the rise of China. Tehran’s worldview has little in common with that of either Beijing or Moscow. Iran and Russia are oil-exporting countries and like the price of oil to be high; China is a net consumer and wants prices low. Political instability in the Middle East can work to Iran’s and Russia’s advantage but poses large risks for China. One should not speak of a strategic alliance among them, and over time, particularly if they succeed in undermining U.S. influence in Eurasia, the tensions among them are more likely to grow than shrink.

What binds these powers together, however, is their agreement that the status quo must be revised. Russia wants to reassemble as much of the Soviet Union as it can. China has no intention of contenting itself with a secondary role in global affairs, nor will it accept the current degree of U.S. influence in Asia and the territorial status quo there. Iran wishes to replace the current order in the Middle East -- led by Saudi Arabia and dominated by Sunni Arab states -- with one centered on Tehran.

Leaders in all three countries also agree that U.S. power is the chief obstacle to achieving their revisionist goals. Their hostility toward Washington and its order is both offensive and defensive: not only do they hope that the decline of U.S. power will make it easier to reorder their regions, but they also worry that Washington might try to overthrow them should discord within their countries grow. Yet the revisionists want to avoid direct confrontations with the United States, except in rare circumstances when the odds are strongly in their favor (as in Russia’s 2008 invasion of Georgia and its occupation and annexation of Crimea this year). Rather than challenge the status quo head on, they seek to chip away at the norms and relationships that sustain it.

Since Obama has been president, each of these powers has pursued a distinct strategy in light of its own strengths and weaknesses. China, which has the greatest capabilities of the three, has paradoxically been the most frustrated. Its efforts to assert itself in its region have only tightened the links between the United States and its Asian allies and intensified nationalism in Japan. As Beijing’s capabilities grow, so will its sense of frustration. China’s surge in power will be matched by a surge in Japan’s resolve, and tensions in Asia will be more likely to spill over into global economics and politics.

Iran, by many measures the weakest of the three states, has had the most successful record. The combination of the United States’ invasion of Iraq and then its premature withdrawal has enabled Tehran to cement deep and enduring ties with significant power centers across the Iraqi border, a development that has changed both the sectarian and the political balance of power in the region. In Syria, Iran, with the help of its longtime ally Hezbollah, has been able to reverse the military tide and prop up the government of Bashar al-Assad in the face of strong opposition from the U.S. government. This triumph of realpolitik has added considerably to Iran’s power and prestige. Across the region, the Arab Spring has weakened Sunni regimes, further tilting the balance in Iran’s favor. So has the growing split among Sunni governments over what to do about the Muslim Brotherhood and its offshoots and adherents.

Russia, meanwhile, has emerged as the middling revisionist: more powerful than Iran but weaker than China, more successful than China at geopolitics but less successful than Iran. Russia has been moderately effective at driving wedges between Germany and the United States, but Russian President Vladimir Putin’s preoccupation with rebuilding the Soviet Union has been hobbled by the sharp limits of his country’s economic power. To build a real Eurasian bloc, as Putin dreams of doing, Russia would have to underwrite the bills of the former Soviet republics -- something it cannot afford to do.

Nevertheless, Putin, despite his weak hand, has been remarkably successful at frustrating Western projects on former Soviet territory. He has stopped NATO expansion dead in its tracks. He has dismembered Georgia, brought Armenia into his orbit, tightened his hold on Crimea, and, with his Ukrainian adventure, dealt the West an unpleasant and humiliating surprise. From the Western point of view, Putin appears to be condemning his country to an ever-darker future of poverty and marginalization. But Putin doesn’t believe that history has ended, and from his perspective, he has solidified his power at home and reminded hostile foreign powers that the Russian bear still has sharp claws.

End of Part 1 of 2
 

Edward Campbell

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Part 2 of 2

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THE POWERS THAT BE

The revisionist powers have such varied agendas and capabilities that none can provide the kind of systematic and global opposition that the Soviet Union did. As a result, Americans have been slow to realize that these states have undermined the Eurasian geopolitical order in ways that complicate U.S. and European efforts to construct a post-historical, win-win world.

Still, one can see the effects of this revisionist activity in many places. In East Asia, China’s increasingly assertive stance has yet to yield much concrete geopolitical progress, but it has fundamentally altered the political dynamic in the region with the fastest-growing economies on earth. Asian politics today revolve around national rivalries, conflicting territorial claims, naval buildups, and similar historical issues. The nationalist revival in Japan, a direct response to China’s agenda, has set up a process in which rising nationalism in one country feeds off the same in the other. China and Japan are escalating their rhetoric, increasing their military budgets, starting bilateral crises with greater frequency, and fixating more and more on zero-sum competition.

Although the EU remains in a post-historical moment, the non-EU republics of the former Soviet Union are living in a very different age. In the last few years, hopes of transforming the former Soviet Union into a post-historical region have faded. The Russian occupation of Ukraine is only the latest in a series of steps that have turned eastern Europe into a zone of sharp geopolitical conflict and made stable and effective democratic governance impossible outside the Baltic states and Poland.

In the Middle East, the situation is even more acute. Dreams that the Arab world was approaching a democratic tipping point -- dreams that informed U.S. policy under both the Bush and the Obama administrations -- have faded. Rather than building a liberal order in the region, U.S. policymakers are grappling with the unraveling of the state system that dates back to the 1916 Sykes-Picot agreement, which divided up the Middle Eastern provinces of the Ottoman Empire, as governance erodes in Iraq, Lebanon, and Syria. Obama has done his best to separate the geopolitical issue of Iran’s surging power across the region from the question of its compliance with the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty, but Israeli and Saudi fears about Iran’s regional ambitions are making that harder to do. Another obstacle to striking agreements with Iran is Russia, which has used its seat on the UN Security Council and support for Assad to set back U.S. goals in Syria.

Russia sees its influence in the Middle East as an important asset in its competition with the United States. This does not mean that Moscow will reflexively oppose U.S. goals on every occasion, but it does mean that the win-win outcomes that Americans so eagerly seek will sometimes be held hostage to Russian geopolitical interests. In deciding how hard to press Russia over Ukraine, for example, the White House cannot avoid calculating the impact on Russia’s stance on the Syrian war or Iran’s nuclear program. Russia cannot make itself a richer country or a much larger one, but it has made itself a more important factor in U.S. strategic thinking, and it can use that leverage to extract concessions that matter to it.

If these revisionist powers have gained ground, the status quo powers have been undermined. The deterioration is sharpest in Europe, where the unmitigated disaster of the common currency has divided public opinion and turned the EU’s attention in on itself. The EU may have avoided the worst possible consequences of the euro crisis, but both its will and its capacity for effective action beyond its frontiers have been significantly impaired.

The United States has not suffered anything like the economic pain much of Europe has gone through, but with the country facing the foreign policy hangover induced by the Bush-era wars, an increasingly intrusive surveillance state, a slow economic recovery, and an unpopular health-care law, the public mood has soured. On both the left and the right, Americans are questioning the benefits of the current world order and the competence of its architects. Additionally, the public shares the elite consensus that in a post–Cold War world, the United States ought to be able to pay less into the system and get more out. When that doesn’t happen, people blame their leaders. In any case, there is little public appetite for large new initiatives at home or abroad, and a cynical public is turning away from a polarized Washington with a mix of boredom and disdain.

Obama came into office planning to cut military spending and reduce the importance of foreign policy in American politics while strengthening the liberal world order. A little more than halfway through his presidency, he finds himself increasingly bogged down in exactly the kinds of geopolitical rivalries he had hoped to transcend. Chinese, Iranian, and Russian revanchism haven’t overturned the post–Cold War settlement in Eurasia yet, and may never do so, but they have converted an uncontested status quo into a contested one. U.S. presidents no longer have a free hand as they seek to deepen the liberal system; they are increasingly concerned with shoring up its geopolitical foundations.

THE TWILIGHT OF HISTORY

It was 22 years ago that Fukuyama published The End of History and the Last Man, and it is tempting to see the return of geopolitics as a definitive refutation of his thesis. The reality is more complicated. The end of history, as Fukuyama reminded readers, was Hegel’s idea, and even though the revolutionary state had triumphed over the old type of regimes for good, Hegel argued, competition and conflict would continue. He predicted that there would be disturbances in the provinces, even as the heartlands of European civilization moved into a post-historical time. Given that Hegel’s provinces included China, India, Japan, and Russia, it should hardly be surprising that more than two centuries later, the disturbances haven’t ceased. We are living in the twilight of history rather than at its actual end.

A Hegelian view of the historical process today would hold that substantively little has changed since the beginning of the nineteenth century. To be powerful, states must develop the ideas and institutions that allow them to harness the titanic forces of industrial and informational capitalism. There is no alternative; societies unable or unwilling to embrace this route will end up the subjects of history rather than the makers of it.

But the road to postmodernity remains rocky. In order to increase its power, China, for example, will clearly have to go through a process of economic and political development that will require the country to master the problems that modern Western societies have confronted. There is no assurance, however, that China’s path to stable liberal modernity will be any less tumultuous than, say, the one that Germany trod. The twilight of history is not a quiet time.

The second part of Fukuyama’s book has received less attention, perhaps because it is less flattering to the West. As Fukuyama investigated what a post-historical society would look like, he made a disturbing discovery. In a world where the great questions have been solved and geopolitics has been subordinated to economics, humanity will look a lot like the nihilistic “last man” described by the philosopher Friedrich Nietzsche: a narcissistic consumer with no greater aspirations beyond the next trip to the mall.

In other words, these people would closely resemble today’s European bureaucrats and Washington lobbyists. They are competent enough at managing their affairs among post-historical people, but understanding the motives and countering the strategies of old-fashioned power politicians is hard for them. Unlike their less productive and less stable rivals, post-historical people are unwilling to make sacrifices, focused on the short term, easily distracted, and lacking in courage.

The realities of personal and political life in post-historical societies are very different from those in such countries as China, Iran, and Russia, where the sun of history still shines. It is not just that those different societies bring different personalities and values to the fore; it is also that their institutions work differently and their publics are shaped by different ideas.

Societies filled with Nietzsche’s last men (and women) characteristically misunderstand and underestimate their supposedly primitive opponents in supposedly backward societies -- a blind spot that could, at least temporarily, offset their countries’ other advantages. The tide of history may be flowing inexorably in the direction of liberal capitalist democracy, and the sun of history may indeed be sinking behind the hills. But even as the shadows lengthen and the first of the stars appears, such figures as Putin still stride the world stage. They will not go gentle into that good night, and they will rage, rage against the dying of the light.


I don't agree, fully, with Mead just as I did not agree, fully, with Fukuyama. I agree, fully, that Marxist-Leninist communism was, indeed, finished, it was "too uncreative and unproductive to compete economically and militarily with liberal states." And I'm sure that the Chinese, at least, say 'good riddance to bad rubbish.' But I am not so sure that Western liberal-democracy is the best or ultimate solution to the problem of how the word organizes itself.

I do agree with Mead and Fukuyama that if we are going to triumph over the "revisionist states" we will have to become something more, something better than "a narcissistic consumer with no greater aspirations beyond the next trip to the mall."

Who, which country, will lead us to the next page of history?
 

Edward Campbell

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Part 1 of 2

And here, also reproduced under the Fair Dealing provisions of the Copyright Act from Foreign Affairs, is a counterpoint by John Ikenberry:

http://www.foreignaffairs.com/articles/141212/g-john-ikenberry/the-illusion-of-geopolitics
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The Illusion of Geopolitics
The Enduring Power of the Liberal Order

By G. John Ikenberry

FROM OUR MAY/JUNE 2014 ISSUE

Walter Russell Mead paints a disturbing portrait of the United States’ geopolitical predicament. As he sees it, an increasingly formidable coalition of illiberal powers -- China, Iran, and Russia -- is determined to undo the post–Cold War settlement and the U.S.-led global order that stands behind it. Across Eurasia, he argues, these aggrieved states are bent on building spheres of influence to threaten the foundations of U.S. leadership and the global order. So the United States must rethink its optimism, including its post–Cold War belief that rising non-Western states can be persuaded to join the West and play by its rules. For Mead, the time has come to confront the threats from these increasingly dangerous geopolitical foes.

But Mead’s alarmism is based on a colossal misreading of modern power realities. It is a misreading of the logic and character of the existing world order, which is more stable and expansive than Mead depicts, leading him to overestimate the ability of the “axis of weevils” to undermine it. And it is a misreading of China and Russia, which are not full-scale revisionist powers but part-time spoilers at best, as suspicious of each other as they are of the outside world. True, they look for opportunities to resist the United States’ global leadership, and recently, as in the past, they have pushed back against it, particularly when confronted in their own neighborhoods. But even these conflicts are fueled more by weakness -- their leaders’ and regimes’ -- than by strength. They have no appealing brand. And when it comes to their overriding interests, Russia and, especially, China are deeply integrated into the world economy and its governing institutions.

Mead also mischaracterizes the thrust of U.S. foreign policy. Since the end of the Cold War, he argues, the United States has ignored geopolitical issues involving territory and spheres of influence and instead adopted a Pollyannaish emphasis on building the global order. But this is a false dichotomy. The United States does not focus on issues of global order, such as arms control and trade, because it assumes that geopolitical conflict is gone forever; it undertakes such efforts precisely because it wants to manage great-power competition. Order building is not premised on the end of geopolitics; it is about how to answer the big questions of geopolitics.

Indeed, the construction of a U.S.-led global order did not begin with the end of the Cold War; it won the Cold War. In the nearly 70 years since World War II, Washington has undertaken sustained efforts to build a far-flung system of multilateral institutions, alliances, trade agreements, and political partnerships. This project has helped draw countries into the United States’ orbit. It has helped strengthen global norms and rules that undercut the legitimacy of nineteenth-century-style spheres of influence, bids for regional domination, and territorial grabs. And it has given the United States the capacities, partnerships, and principles to confront today’s great-power spoilers and revisionists, such as they are. Alliances, partnerships, multilateralism, democracy -- these are the tools of U.S. leadership, and they are winning, not losing, the twenty-first-century struggles over geopolitics and the world order.

THE GENTLE GIANT

In 1904, the English geographer Halford Mackinder wrote that the great power that controlled the heartland of Eurasia would command “the World-Island” and thus the world itself. For Mead, Eurasia has returned as the great prize of geopolitics. Across the far reaches of this supercontinent, he argues, China, Iran, and Russia are seeking to establish their spheres of influence and challenge U.S. interests, slowly but relentlessly attempting to dominate Eurasia and thereby threaten the United States and the rest of the world.

This vision misses a deeper reality. In matters of geopolitics (not to mention demographics, politics, and ideas), the United States has a decisive advantage over China, Iran, and Russia. Although the United States will no doubt come down from the peak of hegemony that it occupied during the unipolar era, its power is still unrivaled. Its wealth and technological advantages remain far out of the reach of China and Russia, to say nothing of Iran. Its recovering economy, now bolstered by massive new natural gas resources, allows it to maintain a global military presence and credible security commitments.

Indeed, Washington enjoys a unique ability to win friends and influence states. According to a study led by the political scientist Brett Ashley Leeds, the United States boasts military partnerships with more than 60 countries, whereas Russia counts eight formal allies and China has just one (North Korea). As one British diplomat told me several years ago, “China doesn’t seem to do alliances.” But the United States does, and they pay a double dividend: not only do alliances provide a global platform for the projection of U.S. power, but they also distribute the burden of providing security. The military capabilities aggregated in this U.S.-led alliance system outweigh anything China or Russia might generate for decades to come.

Then there are the nuclear weapons. These arms, which the United States, China, and Russia all possess (and Iran is seeking), help the United States in two ways. First, thanks to the logic of mutual assured destruction, they radically reduce the likelihood of great-power war. Such upheavals have provided opportunities for past great powers, including the United States in World War II, to entrench their own international orders. The atomic age has robbed China and Russia of this opportunity. Second, nuclear weapons also make China and Russia more secure, giving them assurance that the United States will never invade. That’s a good thing, because it reduces the likelihood that they will resort to desperate moves, born of insecurity, that risk war and undermine the liberal order.

Geography reinforces the United States’ other advantages. As the only great power not surrounded by other great powers, the country has appeared less threatening to other states and was able to rise dramatically over the course of the last century without triggering a war. After the Cold War, when the United States was the world’s sole superpower, other global powers, oceans away, did not even attempt to balance against it. In fact, the United States’ geographic position has led other countries to worry more about abandonment than domination. Allies in Europe, Asia, and the Middle East have sought to draw the United States into playing a greater role in their regions. The result is what the historian Geir Lundestad has called an “empire by invitation.”

The United States’ geographic advantage is on full display in Asia. Most countries there see China as a greater potential danger -- due to its proximity, if nothing else -- than the United States. Except for the United States, every major power in the world lives in a crowded geopolitical neighborhood where shifts in power routinely provoke counterbalancing -- including by one another. China is discovering this dynamic today as surrounding states react to its rise by modernizing their militaries and reinforcing their alliances. Russia has known it for decades, and has faced it most recently in Ukraine, which in recent years has increased its military spending and sought closer ties to the EU.

Geographic isolation has also given the United States reason to champion universal principles that allow it to access various regions of the world. The country has long promoted the open-door policy and the principle of self-determination and opposed colonialism -- less out of a sense of idealism than due to the practical realities of keeping Europe, Asia, and the Middle East open for trade and diplomacy. In the late 1930s, the main question facing the United States was how large a geopolitical space, or “grand area,” it would need to exist as a great power in a world of empires, regional blocs, and spheres of influence. World War II made the answer clear: the country’s prosperity and security depended on access to every region. And in the ensuing decades, with some important and damaging exceptions, such as Vietnam, the United States has embraced postimperial principles.

It was during these postwar years that geopolitics and order building converged. A liberal international framework was the answer that statesmen such as Dean Acheson, George Kennan, and George Marshall offered to the challenge of Soviet expansionism. The system they built strengthened and enriched the United States and its allies, to the detriment of its illiberal opponents. It also stabilized the world economy and established mechanisms for tackling global problems. The end of the Cold War has not changed the logic behind this project.

Fortunately, the liberal principles that Washington has pushed enjoy near-universal appeal, because they have tended to be a good fit with the modernizing forces of economic growth and social advancement. As the historian Charles Maier has put it, the United States surfed the wave of twentieth-century modernization. But some have argued that this congruence between the American project and the forces of modernity has weakened in recent years. The 2008 financial crisis, the thinking goes, marked a world-historical turning point, at which the United States lost its vanguard role in facilitating economic advancement.

Yet even if that were true, it hardly follows that China and Russia have replaced the United States as the standard-bearers of the global economy. Even Mead does not argue that China, Iran, or Russia offers the world a new model of modernity. If these illiberal powers really do threaten Washington and the rest of the liberal capitalist world, then they will need to find and ride the next great wave of modernization. They are unlikely to do that.

THE RISE OF DEMOCRACY

Mead’s vision of a contest over Eurasia between the United States and China, Iran, and Russia misses the more profound power transition under way: the increasing ascendancy of liberal capitalist democracy. To be sure, many liberal democracies are struggling at the moment with slow economic growth, social inequality, and political instability. But the spread of liberal democracy throughout the world, beginning in the late 1970s and accelerating after the Cold War, has dramatically strengthened the United States’ position and tightened the geopolitical circle around China and Russia.

It’s easy to forget how rare liberal democracy once was. Until the twentieth century, it was confined to the West and parts of Latin America. After World War II, however, it began to reach beyond those realms, as newly independent states established self-rule. During the 1950s, 1960s, and early 1970s, military coups and new dictators put the brakes on democratic transitions. But in the late 1970s, what the political scientist Samuel Huntington termed “the third wave” of democratization washed over southern Europe, Latin America, and East Asia. Then the Cold War ended, and a cohort of former communist states in eastern Europe were brought into the democratic fold. By the late 1990s, 60 percent of all countries had become democracies.

Although some backsliding has occurred, the more significant trend has been the emergence of a group of democratic middle powers, including Australia, Brazil, India, Indonesia, Mexico, South Korea, and Turkey. These rising democracies are acting as stakeholders in the international system: pushing for multilateral cooperation, seeking greater rights and responsibilities, and exercising influence through peaceful means.

Such countries lend the liberal world order new geopolitical heft. As the political scientist Larry Diamond has noted, if Argentina, Brazil, India, Indonesia, South Africa, and Turkey regain their economic footing and strengthen their democratic rule, the G-20, which also includes the United States and European countries, “will have become a strong ‘club of democracies,’ with only Russia, China, and Saudi Arabia holding out.” The rise of a global middle class of democratic states has turned China and Russia into outliers -- not, as Mead fears, legitimate contestants for global leadership.

In fact, the democratic upsurge has been deeply problematic for both countries. In eastern Europe, former Soviet states and satellites have gone democratic and joined the West. As worrisome as Russian President Vladimir Putin’s moves in Crimea have been, they reflect Russia’s geopolitical vulnerability, not its strength. Over the last two decades, the West has crept closer to Russia’s borders. In 1999, the Czech Republic, Hungary, and Poland entered NATO. They were joined in 2004 by seven more former members of the Soviet bloc, and in 2009, by Albania and Croatia. In the meantime, six former Soviet republics have headed down the path to membership by joining NATO’s Partnership for Peace program. Mead makes much of Putin’s achievements in Georgia, Armenia, and Crimea. Yet even though Putin is winning some small battles, he is losing the war. Russia is not on the rise; to the contrary, it is experiencing one of the greatest geopolitical contractions of any major power in the modern era.

Democracy is encircling China, too. In the mid-1980s, India and Japan were the only Asian democracies, but since then, Indonesia, Mongolia, the Philippines, South Korea, Taiwan, and Thailand have joined the club. Myanmar (also called Burma) has made cautious steps toward multiparty rule -- steps that have come, as China has not failed to notice, in conjunction with warming relations with the United States. China now lives in a decidedly democratic neighborhood.

These political transformations have put China and Russia on the defensive. Consider the recent developments in Ukraine. The economic and political currents in most of the country are inexorably flowing westward, a trend that terrifies Putin. His only recourse has been to strong-arm Ukraine into resisting the EU and remaining in Russia’s orbit. Although he may be able to keep Crimea under Russian control, his grip on the rest of the country is slipping. As the EU diplomat Robert Cooper has noted, Putin can try to delay the moment when Ukraine “affiliates with the EU, but he can’t stop it.” Indeed, Putin might not even be able to accomplish that, since his provocative moves may serve only to speed Ukraine’s move toward Europe.

China faces a similar predicament in Taiwan. Chinese leaders sincerely believe that Taiwan is part of China, but the Taiwanese do not. The democratic transition on the island has made its inhabitants’ claims to nationhood more deeply felt and legitimate. A 2011 survey found that if the Taiwanese could be assured that China would not attack Taiwan, 80 percent of them would support declaring independence. Like Russia, China wants geopolitical control over its neighborhood. But the spread of democracy to all corners of Asia has made old-fashioned domination the only way to achieve that, and that option is costly and self-defeating.

In the age of liberal order, revisionist struggles are a fool’s errand.
While the rise of democratic states makes life more difficult for China and Russia, it makes the world safer for the United States. Those two powers may count as U.S. rivals, but the rivalry takes place on a very uneven playing field: the United States has the most friends, and the most capable ones, too. Washington and its allies account for 75 percent of global military spending. Democratization has put China and Russia in a geopolitical box.

Iran is not surrounded by democracies, but it is threatened by a restive pro-democracy movement at home. More important, Iran is the weakest member of Mead’s axis, with a much smaller economy and military than the United States and the other great powers. It is also the target of the strongest international sanctions regime ever assembled, with help from China and Russia. The Obama administration’s diplomacy with Iran may or may not succeed, but it is not clear what Mead would do differently to prevent the country from acquiring nuclear weapons. U.S. President Barack Obama’s approach has the virtue of offering Tehran a path by which it can move from being a hostile regional power to becoming a more constructive, nonnuclear member of the international community -- a potential geopolitical game changer that Mead fails to appreciate.

REVISIONISM REVISITED

Not only does Mead underestimate the strength of the United States and the order it built; he also overstates the degree to which China and Russia are seeking to resist both. (Apart from its nuclear ambitions, Iran looks like a state engaged more in futile protest than actual resistance, so it shouldn’t be considered anything close to a revisionist power.) Without a doubt, China and Russia desire greater regional influence. China has made aggressive claims over maritime rights and nearby contested islands, and it has embarked on an arms buildup. Putin has visions of reclaiming Russia’s dominance in its “near abroad.” Both great powers bristle at U.S. leadership and resist it when they can.

But China and Russia are not true revisionists. As former Israeli Foreign Minister Shlomo Ben-Ami has said, Putin’s foreign policy is “more a reflection of his resentment of Russia’s geopolitical marginalization than a battle cry from a rising empire.” China, of course, is an actual rising power, and this does invite dangerous competition with U.S. allies in Asia. But China is not currently trying to break those alliances or overthrow the wider system of regional security governance embodied in the Association of Southeast Asian Nations and the East Asia Summit. And even if China harbors ambitions of eventually doing so, U.S. security partnerships in the region are, if anything, getting stronger, not weaker. At most, China and Russia are spoilers. They do not have the interests -- let alone the ideas, capacities, or allies -- to lead them to upend existing global rules and institutions.

End of Part 1 of 2


 

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Part 2 of 2

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In fact, although they resent that the United States stands at the top of the current geopolitical system, they embrace the underlying logic of that framework, and with good reason. Openness gives them access to trade, investment, and technology from other societies. Rules give them tools to protect their sovereignty and interests. Despite controversies over the new idea of “the responsibility to protect” (which has been applied only selectively), the current world order enshrines the age-old norms of state sovereignty and nonintervention. Those Westphalian principles remain the bedrock of world politics -- and China and Russia have tied their national interests to them (despite Putin’s disturbing irredentism).

It should come as no surprise, then, that China and Russia have become deeply integrated into the existing international order. They are both permanent members of the UN Security Council, with veto rights, and they both participate actively in the World Trade Organization, the International Monetary Fund, the World Bank, and the G-20. They are geopolitical insiders, sitting at all the high tables of global governance.

China, despite its rapid ascent, has no ambitious global agenda; it remains fixated inward, on preserving party rule. Some Chinese intellectuals and political figures, such as Yan Xuetong and Zhu Chenghu, do have a wish list of revisionist goals. They see the Western system as a threat and are waiting for the day when China can reorganize the international order. But these voices do not reach very far into the political elite. Indeed, Chinese leaders have moved away from their earlier calls for sweeping change. In 2007, at its Central Committee meeting, the Chinese Communist Party replaced previous proposals for a “new international economic order” with calls for more modest reforms centering on fairness and justice. The Chinese scholar Wang Jisi has argued that this move is “subtle but important,” shifting China’s orientation toward that of a global reformer. China now wants a larger role in the International Monetary Fund and the World Bank, greater voice in such forums as the G-20, and wider global use of its currency. That is not the agenda of a country trying to revise the economic order.

China and Russia are also members in good standing of the nuclear club. The centerpiece of the Cold War settlement between the United States and the Soviet Union (and then Russia) was a shared effort to limit atomic weapons. Although U.S.-Russian relations have since soured, the nuclear component of their arrangement has held. In 2010, Moscow and Washington signed the New START treaty, which requires mutual reductions in long-range nuclear weapons.

Before the 1990s, China was a nuclear outsider. Although it had a modest arsenal, it saw itself as a voice of the nonnuclear developing world and criticized arms control agreements and test bans. But in a remarkable shift, China has since come to support the array of nuclear accords, including the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty and the Comprehensive Nuclear Test Ban Treaty. It has affirmed a “no first use” doctrine, kept its arsenal small, and taken its entire nuclear force off alert. China has also played an active role in the Nuclear Security Summit, an initiative proposed by Obama in 2009, and it has joined the “P5 process,” a collaborate effort to safeguard nuclear weapons.

Across a wide range of issues, China and Russia are acting more like established great powers than revisionist ones. They often choose to shun multilateralism, but so, too, on occasion do the United States and other powerful democracies. (Beijing has ratified the UN Convention on the Law of the Sea; Washington has not.) And China and Russia are using global rules and institutions to advance their own interests. Their struggles with the United States revolve around gaining voice within the existing order and manipulating it to suit their needs. They wish to enhance their positions within the system, but they are not trying to replace it.

HERE TO STAY

Ultimately, even if China and Russia do attempt to contest the basic terms of the current global order, the adventure will be daunting and self-defeating. These powers aren’t just up against the United States; they would also have to contend with the most globally organized and deeply entrenched order the world has ever seen, one that is dominated by states that are liberal, capitalist, and democratic. This order is backed by a U.S.-led network of alliances, institutions, geopolitical bargains, client states, and democratic partnerships. It has proved dynamic and expansive, easily integrating rising states, beginning with Japan and Germany after World War II. It has shown a capacity for shared leadership, as exemplified by such forums as the G-8 and the G-20. It has allowed rising non-Western countries to trade and grow, sharing the dividends of modernization. It has accommodated a surprisingly wide variety of political and economic models -- social democratic (western Europe), neoliberal (the United Kingdom and the United States), and state capitalist (East Asia). The prosperity of nearly every country -- and the stability of its government -- fundamentally depends on this order.

In the age of liberal order, revisionist struggles are a fool’s errand. Indeed, China and Russia know this. They do not have grand visions of an alternative order. For them, international relations are mainly about the search for commerce and resources, the protection of their sovereignty, and, where possible, regional domination. They have shown no interest in building their own orders or even taking full responsibility for the current one and have offered no alternative visions of global economic or political progress. That’s a critical shortcoming, since international orders rise and fall not simply with the power of the leading state; their success also hinges on whether they are seen as legitimate and whether their actual operation solves problems that both weak and powerful states care about. In the struggle for world order, China and Russia (and certainly Iran) are simply not in the game.

Under these circumstances, the United States should not give up its efforts to strengthen the liberal order. The world that Washington inhabits today is one it should welcome. And the grand strategy it should pursue is the one it has followed for decades: deep global engagement. It is a strategy in which the United States ties itself to the regions of the world through trade, alliances, multilateral institutions, and diplomacy. It is a strategy in which the United States establishes leadership not simply through the exercise of power but also through sustained efforts at global problem solving and rule making. It created a world that is friendly to American interests, and it is made friendly because, as President John F. Kennedy once said, it is a world “where the weak are safe and the strong are just.”


So there are two American views: one pessimistic and the other optimistic.

I am not as gloomy as Prof Mead but nor am I as hopeful as Prof Ikenberry. I'm not convinced that liberal democracy is "the most globally organized and deeply entrenched order the world has ever seen," and even if it is I am not persuaded that it is "the end of history."

I do not believe in exceptionalism, not in American exceptionalism nor in the exceptionalism of liberal democracy.
 

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I think I can render my own appreciation succinctly for a change.

I do not believe in belief.

Belief is the luxury afforded to those that are not struggling for survival. The less the individual has to worry about survival the more time they have to ponder.  Those with the most time to ponder are those that are paid to do so:  professors, pundits and journalists. 

It is little wonder that they spend their time debating ideologies and beliefs.

Meanwhile most of humanity spends their time debating how they can take advantage of the opportunities available to put bread on their tables.

Those with full bellies don't understand what it means to be starving and at the mercy of the world.

Stalinists, Maoists, Mussoliniists and Schickelgruberists were less driven by the ideology of their leaders than their ability to put shoes on their kids feet and make the trains run on time.

Unfortunately for all the authoritarians in the world the only counter to entropic chaos is energetic action - and as we are all fully aware just now, energy costs money.  The more order is required the more energy has to be expended.

Capitalism, and Churchillian democracy, are not just opposing concepts to the central planning of Communism and The Sun King, they survive as the "least worst solution" because they share the "lowest common denominator".  Short of outright anarchy, which imposes an insufferable burden on the individual, they are the "least cost solution" for both those that would impose order and those that seek peaceful lives.

Russians are not driven by belief to revert to Neo-Nazi Communism.  They are driven by despair, lack of grand-kids, the high price of vodka, failure to succeed outside of their borders and poor pensions to seek comfort where they can.  They don't want Putin to be a Communist.  They want Putin to be Stalin and make their lives simpler.
 

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Oddly enough stumbled upon this while looking at something else, and also considered posting it on the "Grand Strategy for a Divided America" thread. This is a reaction to WRM's essay by an American SF author, but has some pretty succinct and terrible predictions for us:

http://www.voxday.blogspot.ca/2014/04/faith-and-trust-and-pixie-dust.html

Faith and trust and pixie dust

David Brooks asks a grand strategic expert to help him make sense of his impression that the international system is collapsing:

All around, the fabric of peace and order is fraying. The leaders of Russia and Ukraine escalate their apocalyptic rhetoric. The Sunni-Shiite split worsens as Syria and Iraq slide into chaos. China pushes its weight around in the Pacific. I help teach a grand strategy course at Yale, and I asked my colleagues to make sense of what’s going on. Charles Hill, who was a legendary State Department officer before going to Yale, wrote back:

“The ‘category error’ of our experts is to tell us that our system is doing just fine and proceeding on its eternal course toward ever-greater progress and global goodness. This is whistling past the graveyard.

“The lesson-category within grand strategic history is that when an established international system enters its phase of deterioration, many leaders nonetheless respond with insouciance, obliviousness, and self-congratulation. When the wolves of the world sense this, they, of course, will begin to make their moves to probe the ambiguities of the aging system and pick off choice pieces to devour at their leisure.

“This is what Putin is doing; this is what China has been moving toward doing in the maritime waters of Asia; this is what in the largest sense the upheavals of the Middle East are all about: i.e., who and what politico-ideological force will emerge as hegemon over the region in the new order to come. The old order, once known as ‘the American Century’ has been situated within ‘the modern era,’ an era which appears to be stalling out after some 300-plus years. The replacement era will not be modern and will not be a nice one.”


This is correct. Notice in particular the phrase "when an established international system enters its phase of deterioration". Emphasis on "its phase" rather than "a phase". The phase is terminal. It is not part of a gentle cycle. And it usually ends in a considerable amount of war before its successor system is established.

Brooks more or less accurately describes the establishment of modern nationalist civilization, although he neglects to observe that this was a Christian civilization that imposed the modern order. The combination of religious homogeneity and technogical dominance is what made the establishment of the order both desirable and possible.

When Hill talks about the modern order he is referring to a state system that restrained the two great vices of foreign affairs: the desire for regional dominance and the desire to eliminate diversity. Throughout recorded history, large regional powers have generally gobbled up little nations. Powerful people have generally tried to impose their version of the Truth on less powerful people.

But, over these centuries, civilized leaders have banded together to restrain these vices. As far back as the Treaty of Westphalia in 1648, dominant powers tried to establish procedures and norms to secure national borders and protect diversity. Hegemons like the Nazis or the Communists tried to challenge this system, but the other powers fought back.


However, Brooks goes awry and leaves out two of the primary threats to the system when he considers the opponents of what he calls "liberal pluralism":

Today that system is under assault not by a single empire but by a hundred big and little foes. As Walter Russell Mead argues in a superb article in Foreign Affairs, geopolitics is back with a vengeance. Whether it’s Russia seizing Crimea or China asserting itself, old-fashioned power plays are back in vogue. Meanwhile, pre-modern movements and people try to eliminate ethnic and religious diversity in Egypt, Ukraine and beyond.

China, Russia and Iran have different values, but all oppose this system of liberal pluralism. The U.S. faces a death by a thousand cuts dilemma. No individual problem is worth devoting giant resources to. It’s not worth it to spend huge amounts of treasure to establish stability in Syria or defend a Western-oriented Ukraine. But, collectively, all the little problems can undermine the modern system. No individual ailment is worth the expense of treating it, but, collectively, they can kill you.


These two additional threats are globalism and multiculturalism. Both are also attempts to eliminate ethnic and religious diversity at the national level. But nations exist for a very important reason: to provide sufficient homogeneity within a political entity to prevent tribal power struggles by reducing violent conflict to mere political conflict. Attempting to spread the nations externally (globalism) while mixing them internally (multiculturalism), puts even more pressure on liberal pluralism than pre-modern movements. Indeed, it is mass immigration, which is the ******* child of globalism and multiculturalism, that has injected these poisonous pre-modern movements into Western civilization.

John Gaddis, another grand strategy professor, directs us to George Kennan’s insights from the early Cold War, which he feels are still relevant as a corrective to the death-by-a-thousand-cuts mentality. He argues that we should contain these menaces until they collapse internally. The Moscow regime requires a hostile outside world to maintain its own internal stability. That’s a weakness. By not behaving stupidly, by not overextending ourselves for example, we can, Gaddis argues, “make sure Putin’s seeds of self-destruction are more deeply rooted than our own.”

That’s smart, but I think I’m less sure that time is on our side. The weakness with any democratic foreign policy is the problem of motivation. How do you get the electorate to support the constant burden of defending the liberal system?

It was barely possible when we were facing an obviously menacing foe like the Soviet Union. But it’s harder when the system is being gouged by a hundred sub-threshold threats.


Gaddis's answer is a complete non-starter, which Brooks would have realized if he had properly taken the two additional threats I have mentioned into account. How can the West "contain these menaces until they collapse internally" when the West has taken those menaces into itself? The Moscow regime and the Muslim world may both require their Dar al-Harbs to maintain their internal stability, but at least they have an internal stability. The West has little more than termites in its foundations, clogged arteries in its heart, and parasitic cysts in its brain.


The Republicans seem to have given up global agreements that form the fabric of that system, while Democrats are slashing the defense budget that undergirds it. Moreover, people will die for Mother Russia or Allah. But it is harder to get people to die for a set of pluralistic procedures to protect faraway places. It’s been pulling teeth to get people to accept commercial pain and impose sanctions.

The liberal pluralistic system is not a spontaneous natural thing. Preserving that hard-earned ecosystem requires an ever-advancing fabric of alliances, clear lines about what behavior is unacceptably system-disrupting, and the credible threat of political, financial and hard power enforcement.


It is true that liberal pluralism is not a spontaneous natural thing. The rest is meaningless gobbledy-gook. The globalist, multiculturalist West is no longer liberal or pluralistic, so it should be no surprise that the system of liberal pluralism is on the verge of collapse and that its rivals are increasingly confident that they need neither fear nor respect it. There will be no "saving the system", not when its self-appointed defenders neither understand the extent of the problem and are more than a little sympathetic towards some of the threats posed.

And from the comments:

Trust, or rather the lack of it, is the key issue here whether we're talking about international or intra-national relationships. The U.S. is no longer trusted to manage the world's reserve currency nor is it trusted to maintain the Pax Americana in a manner that, if not palatable, is at least bearable by the other major powers. Additionally, no supra-national organization (e.g. UN, IMF, etc.) is trusted to fulfill those roles. Similarly, the U.S. gov't is no longer trusted to look after the best interests of its own citizens. The default will be nations and cohesive groups (within the U.S.) looking after their own interests. This is both natural and inevitable. Statists/one worlders may dream of an all-powerful dictatorship that can keep humanity and human nature subservient to their goals by brute force, but it remains an unachievable dream that will, unfortunately, kill millions before it lands on the ash heap of history with its kin for the simple reason that you cannot force trust. Without trust, such complex systems collapse under their own weight.
 

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Peggy Noonan yesterday via Real Clear Politics

....To be in Europe is to realize, again and at first hand, that America has experienced a status shift. Europeans know we are powerful—we have the most drones and bombs and magic robot soldiers—but they don't think we are strong....

The more America, and the West generally, develop strategies that emphasise these:

Predator%20fires%20Hellfire

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and move away from these:

WW2+soldier.jpg

NorthAfrica1942

vietnam_oda.jpg


the more we are demonstrating that we may win battles but we have lost the war.

We consider the other guys' bombers as terrorists because they won't stand up and fight like a man.  They don't take us on in a fair fight.  They strike assymetrically at our civilians in ways that we can't counter.

Pretty much the same thing the other mob has been accusing us of since Clinton started lobbing cruise missiles at baby-milk factories in Sudan rather than answering questions about shot-spots on his intern's dress.

There needs to be a lot more of this

ChapmanCCT.jpg


I don't believe we can gain the moral ascendancy that wins wars unless we are willing to commit boots on the ground, lives, to the task at hand.

And as a civilian, past service age, I fully appreciate what I am saying.  Particularly when 3 VP et al, HMCS Regina and  425 Squadron have just headed for Eastern Europe.
 

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Kirkhill said:
I think I can render my own appreciation succinctly for a change.

I do not believe in belief.

Belief is the luxury afforded to those that are not struggling for survival. The less the individual has to worry about survival the more time they have to ponder.  Those with the most time to ponder are those that are paid to do so:  professors, pundits and journalists. 

It is little wonder that they spend their time debating ideologies and beliefs.

Meanwhile most of humanity spends their time debating how they can take advantage of the opportunities available to put bread on their tables.

Those with full bellies don't understand what it means to be starving and at the mercy of the world.

Stalinists, Maoists, Mussoliniists and Schickelgruberists were less driven by the ideology of their leaders than their ability to put shoes on their kids feet and make the trains run on time.

Unfortunately for all the authoritarians in the world the only counter to entropic chaos is energetic action - and as we are all fully aware just now, energy costs money.  The more order is required the more energy has to be expended.

Capitalism, and Churchillian democracy, are not just opposing concepts to the central planning of Communism and The Sun King, they survive as the "least worst solution" because they share the "lowest common denominator".  Short of outright anarchy, which imposes an insufferable burden on the individual, they are the "least cost solution" for both those that would impose order and those that seek peaceful lives.

Russians are not driven by belief to revert to Neo-Nazi Communism.  They are driven by despair, lack of grand-kids, the high price of vodka, failure to succeed outside of their borders and poor pensions to seek comfort where they can.  They don't want Putin to be a Communist.  They want Putin to be Stalin and make their lives simpler.

I think that belief plays a huge role in conflict and people's willingness to resort to violence to resolve conflicts. Intense nationalism across the European countries of 1914 certainly played a role in that conflict. The German people did not march to war in 1939 to make the trains run on time or have a chicken in every pot. The people of the USSR did not make the sacrifices that they made trying to achieve the same. Looking at the insurgencies and wars of national liberation of the post-war era you can certainly find strong beliefs held by the folks doing the killing and dying. Combine beliefs with changes to the distribution of power or perceived inequities with the distrubition of that power and you have wars.

I offer that the wars of 1866 to 1945 were generally centred around the question of Germany's place in Europe. The Cold War repressed some fracture points in Eastern Europe as the USSR was willing to quash any resistance. The end of the Cold War and the lessening of Russia's power led to the settling of nationalist issues that had been repressed up until then. In some cases there were relativley peaceful transitions and we gained new NATO partners. In others we had some drawn out wars. Russia's power has rebounded, however, and now we have tension as they reassert themselves. Both sides of the Ukrainian issue are fuelled by belief. I argue that Russian people are also fuelled by a sense of their own place in the world. I suggest that nationalism is not dead.
 

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Kirkhill said:

Is that guy in the back row, fourth from the left, wearing a smilie face buckle?

Yea, sorry. That's my take away from an otherwise good discussion. :blotto:
 

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T2B - I think you offer the chicken to my egg.

I don't believe (funny word for someone that doesn't believe in it) the belief is causative.  I certainly agree that belief is a key element in organizing people into a functional following - a motivated herd.

But what is the spark that encourages the herd to coalesce and move, stampede if you will.  I think (there, that's better, if less exact) that there has to be  a set of externals extant that set in train the conditions that encourage the herd to form, to seek a solution to their predicament, to look to a leader with a plan.  And keep following him as long as he/she doesn't lead them off a cliff.

A follow-on from that is that, given the mortality of leaders, and  the difficulty of finding good ones, a key problem for any herd is succession planning.  What do you do when your successful leader dies or quits?  How do you choose the next leader?  Do you believe in blood, nature, nurture, education, institutions, common sense, plebiscites or experts to find you the next leader to take you to the next green pasture?

I am less inclined to see history as a series of beliefs that have changed mankind than I am to see history as a series of crises (volcanos, asteroids, floods, ice ages, droughts, pestilence, disease, famine and wars) that have encouraged mankind to move.  Not necessarily in a particular direction, just away from the threat.  Kind of like the conditioned response to the cry "Arty, Arty, Arty".

Moses didn't develop a following because the Jews were fat, dumb and happy.  The Jews were peeved with the tax regime and were looking for a leader.  Aaron, his brother, like any good priest or Sergeant-Major, brought up the rear, encouraging morale by a combination of institutional belief, the promise of free bread in a land of milk and honey, the threat of the wrath of God, or the CO, and the occasional judicious application of the rod.  Not to mention rationalizing a good smiting from time to time.  This left Moses time to find water, part the Red Seas and plan his next miracle.

Unfortunately the Jews proved little better at succession planning than the Russians.

 

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recceguy said:
Is that guy in the back row, fourth from the left, wearing a smilie face buckle?

Yea, sorry. That's my take away from an otherwise good discussion. :blotto:

No worries - coffee and rum on a Sunday morning here.

Could be a happy face - not inappropriate if we are talking about morale.

I wonder though if it could be some sort of Regimental Belt Buckle.  The Corps of Guides and the Frontier Force regiments were all partial to the Jaegers' hunting horn.

175px-56_Punjab_Rifles_-_8_FF.jpg


56th Punjabi Rifles (Frontier Force) Indian Army as an example.
 

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I agree that external pressures and injects can alter the behaviour of societies and states, but I do not look to these acts as the primary factors. Beliefs do motivate people, but these beliefs and not simple props devised by cunning leaders to dupe the masses. It is true that we are social beings, and that certain people can certainly hold sway over groups from time to time. I think, though, that successful ideologies and belief systems are able to tap into some existing sentiment in society. 

The crowds in London before the First World War who were demanding additional Dreadnoughts were not being manipuated by clever leaders. These smart, well-fed members of the middle class who rode trains that were on time actually believed in Britains place at the top of the world. Nationalism may be a dirty word today in the West, but I think that it is alive and well.
 

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I accept that Nationalism exists.  I don't know that I accept that Nationalism falls into the same category as Communism, Catholicism, Presbyterianism or Fascism.

Nationalism is a form of tribalism, as is football hooliganism, or any other form or fanaticism.  Any institution, espousing any set of beliefs will have its own fanatics, its own tribe.  But although there are Presbyterian Tribes (Up the 'Gers) and Catholic Tribes (Up the Pope) their belief systems can be pretty flexible.

Hence you have Nazi Russians calling themselves Communists, Polish Jews siding with the Nazis and Catholics of Anglican, Lutheran, Gallican, Dominican, Franciscan, Benedictine and Cluniac stripes.  Some people adhere to the belief systems and some just to the institutions.  Some because they truly believe and some because everybody else in the neighbourhood is running towards the cliff so they might as well go along as well to see what happens.
 

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And here, reproduced under the Fair Dealing provisions of the Copyright Act from the Globe and Mail, is an entirely predictable, and equally predictably error filled diatrribe from one of the left's regular voices:

http://www.theglobeandmail.com/globe-debate/get-the-pitchforks-the-cold-warriors-are-back/article18571329/#dashboard/follows/
gam-masthead.png

Like hawkish zombies, the Cold Warriors are back

DOUG SAUNDERS
The Globe and Mail

Published Saturday, May. 10 2014

The most threatening thing Vladimir Putin has done in eastern Ukraine, worse than his massing of troops and trumping-up of separatist movements, is the way the Russian President has unleashed, on our shores, a zombie apocalypse.

These zombies, raising their crumbling limbs from the dank soil of think tanks, university departments and military alliances, are the Cold War hawks. Shaking off the loam of a quarter-century’s irrelevance, they have used Mr. Putin’s moment of nastiness as an opening to stagger en masse onto TV news shows and op-ed pages and, we fear, into ministers’ offices, where they foul the air with their very bad ideas.

We need to “show strength” and deliver a “robust response,” lest the West appear to be “in retreat” and insufficiently “assertive,” making us “vulnerable” to attacks from those who see our weakness. We should send ground troops marching to the banks of the Dnieper, and aircraft carriers into the Black Sea, because “this is the only language Putin understands.” What these soldiers are meant to do, we’re never really told.

It’s time to get the pitchforks. The Cold Warriors have a consistent record of being wrong.

They’re wrong about military power. In the eyes of the hawks, former CIA official Paul Pillar recently noted, “it is all seen as one big contest in which setbacks for one side somewhere on the global playing field mean that side is losing overall.”

But, as he notes, it makes no sense at all to commit a military action that will produce no useful response simply in order to enhance your nation’s prestige and image of forcefulness on the world stage. In support of this, writer Peter Beinart cites political scientist Daryl Press, whose analysis of a century of “deterrent” wars found that they never work: “Those countries that have fought wars to build a reputation for resolve,” Dr. Press concludes, “have wasted vast sums of money and, much worse, thousands of lives” without achieving that outcome.

They’re wrong about Russia. Mr. Putin stands to gain absolutely nothing from eastern Ukraine. Even the most “Russian” of the eastern districts has no more than one-third Russians in its population, and they are by no means united behind Moscow. Adding such regions to Russia would give him economically useless territory that would likely be plunged into perpetual civil war. This is not empire-building; his territorial thrust puts him in a position of weakness, not strength.

The Russian military is weak: While it claims a million soldiers, almost all of them are make-work transcripts who are unable to fight; Mr. Putin’s viable fighting force is estimated in the tens of thousands. Europe has hundreds of thousands of soldiers who can be deployed instantly.

It does not help him that Ukraine is not in the North Atlantic Treaty Organization; the alliance’s military successes and quick responses have all been on behalf of non-NATO members. Had Ukraine have been made a member in 2004, this crisis simply would have happened a decade earlier.

His possession of nuclear weapons does nothing to enhance his influence or power in the region (or his vulnerability to economic reprisals). A hawkish response from the West would make no difference to any of this, other than to prevent an actual resolution. And that resolution will be derived from Russia’s weakness – especially its economic weakness – not from some mutual display of strength.

They were wrong the last time around. The Cold War Hawks have been interred in cold earth for decades because they were wrong about the Cold War itself.

Vietnam was the first, and characteristic, test of their ethos. Few cared about its fate per se, but full-scale war there was meant to show resolve and contain the Soviet Union and China. It didn’t: There was no chance of victory, and the bloodshed did nothing to lend menace to the West or deter the communist countries.

In the 1980s, the hawks blew our chance to end the Cold War. When the USSR was about to collapse politically and economically, the hawks persuaded NATO to respond to Moscow’s gestures with military confrontation. The 1983 stationing of missiles along the Russian border did nothing to reduce the size or scope of the Soviet empire, but forced Moscow to keep the charade going for years after it would have quit. We should have known: Decades of such hawkish threats had done nothing to prevent Russian tanks from wheeling into capitals and overthrowing democratic movements in Hungary in 1956, Czechoslovakia in 1968, or Poland in 1981.

“Strength” didn’t end that conflict. It cemented it in place and rendered it irresolvable. What finally ended it was something that remains our best hope to end this one: strong economic sanctions, tough but constant dialogue and sensible exploitation of Moscow’s weakness.


Quibbles, first: Russia can, certainly, deploy, quickly, more than just a few "tens of thousands," and Europe, including the US military in Europe, does not have "hundreds of thousands of soldiers who can be deployed instantly."

But, Doug Saunders is on the right track, even if the doesn't understand it: the way to bring Russia to its geopolitical knees is, essentially, economic ... but the easiest way to force the Russians to make bad economic decisions is to entice them into a military confrontation - an arms race. Defence spending is, almost always, unproductive* and it is often counter-productive. That would be the case for Russia if it was forced if it forced itself to redirect economic resources from domestic demand to military production. The Russian economy cannot manage that; social stability requires jobs and hope for the future; state planned military spending doesn't offer that. The very nature of Russian crony-capitalism means that defence production will be a zero sum game and the zero will go to people who are, already, restive and unhappy. A full scale economic collapse in Russia, followed by riots in the streets and a nice, bloody civil war would be good for our businesses ... we, the West, will be able to pick up the useful pieces - resources - and leave the trash behind.

____
* Of course there are exceptions, but they are few, far between and easy to identify.
 

Journeyman

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E.R. Campbell said:
But, Doug Saunders is on the right track, even if the doesn't understand it: the way to bring Russia to its geopolitical knees is, essentially, economic ... but the easiest way to force the Russians to make bad economic decisions is to entice them into a military confrontation - an arms race.
Panem et circenses.

Putin's popularity remains high because he's giving the Russians bread and circuses.  Seeing Crimea as a success restores Russians' egos in the wake of the Cold War.  It's no surprise that he's unilaterally suspended Russia's agreement with Lithuania on bilateral information exchange and military inspections.  Putin will be fiddling (shirtless) as Moscow collapses. 

Maybe 'journalists' should start practicing the spelling of "Kaliningrad."

 

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Saunders is right about the most useful lever being economic this time, but he is wrong about the value of military confrontation, about the obviousness of deciding how to respond, and about the Cold War in general.  Tipping points are easy to identify long after the fact, as are the few among the horde of contemporary prognosticators who were correct.  But while events are still current, it is impossible to foresee with complete clarity how things will unfold and to confidently declare victory and stop applying pressure at all possible points.  If Saunders wishes to be useful, he can apply his research and knowledge and identify today's tipping point exactly as it happens so that we can comfortably return to our mundane daily lives.  Hindsight armchair criticism and moral posturing about past events serves the public not at all.

Military confrontation is ultimately what burnt out the USSR.  The West (predominantly, the US) could afford to consume resources fighting proxy wars; the USSR could not.  The West (again, mostly US) could afford to pursue the bleeding edge of military technology; the USSR could not.  The West could sustain itself by co-operation rather than enslavement; the USSR could not.  At some point, Putin's expansionism should be stopped.  At some point, Putin may choose a military response to diplomatic and economic pressure.  We'd be stupid not to be undertake the former and be prepared for the latter.  "Nicht Kleckern sondern Klotzen" is a sound principle for moral as well as material strength, but I suppose that along with Cold War zombies we'll get Cold Anti-War zombies crawling out to dissuade the West from showing any resolve.
 

tomahawk6

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Brad Sallows said:
Saunders is right about the most useful lever being economic this time, but he is wrong about the value of military confrontation, about the obviousness of deciding how to respond, and about the Cold War in general.  Tipping points are easy to identify long after the fact, as are the few among the horde of contemporary prognosticators who were correct.  But while events are still current, it is impossible to foresee with complete clarity how things will unfold and to confidently declare victory and stop applying pressure at all possible points.  If Saunders wishes to be useful, he can apply his research and knowledge and identify today's tipping point exactly as it happens so that we can comfortably return to our mundane daily lives.  Hindsight armchair criticism and moral posturing about past events serves the public not at all.

Military confrontation is ultimately what burnt out the USSR.  The West (predominantly, the US) could afford to consume resources fighting proxy wars; the USSR could not.  The West (again, mostly US) could afford to pursue the bleeding edge of military technology; the USSR could not.  The West could sustain itself by co-operation rather than enslavement; the USSR could not.  At some point, Putin's expansionism should be stopped.  At some point, Putin may choose a military response to diplomatic and economic pressure.  We'd be stupid not to be undertake the former and be prepared for the latter.  "Nicht Kleckern sondern Klotzen" is a sound principle for moral as well as material strength, but I suppose that along with Cold War zombies we'll get Cold Anti-War zombies crawling out to dissuade the West from showing any resolve.

Actually what did in the Soviet Union was that they couldnt keep up the defense spending to match the US.They sacrificed their civilian economy which collapsed.To this day they haven't recovered their conventional power,but they have learned to pay attention to their economy.
 

pbi

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Brad Sallows said:
Saunders is right about the most useful lever being economic this time, but he is wrong about the value of military confrontation, about the obviousness of deciding how to respond, and about the Cold War in general.  Tipping points are easy to identify long after the fact, as are the few among the horde of contemporary prognosticators who were correct.  But while events are still current, it is impossible to foresee with complete clarity how things will unfold and to confidently declare victory and stop applying pressure at all possible points.  If Saunders wishes to be useful, he can apply his research and knowledge and identify today's tipping point exactly as it happens so that we can comfortably return to our mundane daily lives.  Hindsight armchair criticism and moral posturing about past events serves the public not at all.

Military confrontation is ultimately what burnt out the USSR.  The West (predominantly, the US) could afford to consume resources fighting proxy wars; the USSR could not.  The West (again, mostly US) could afford to pursue the bleeding edge of military technology; the USSR could not.  The West could sustain itself by co-operation rather than enslavement; the USSR could not.  At some point, Putin's expansionism should be stopped.  At some point, Putin may choose a military response to diplomatic and economic pressure.  We'd be stupid not to be undertake the former and be prepared for the latter.  "Nicht Kleckern sondern Klotzen" is a sound principle for moral as well as material strength, but I suppose that along with Cold War zombies we'll get Cold Anti-War zombies crawling out to dissuade the West from showing any resolve.

Good post. However, I might be one of those Cold Anti-War zombies, or something like them. Maybe. I find it a bit difficult to articulate clearly.

I certainly understand that the Russians really only respect strength and determination, and that at some point we may have to re-draw the old Cold War line in the sand and stand behind it. As I've posted elsewhere, I find Russia a pretty repulsive mess in most respects and I look forward to its ultimate decline. But I would like a clear explanation of is just what it is, specifically, that is going to be worth Canadian lives and the potential risk of a much greater conflict?  Remember that confrontation is a game of chicken, with much higher stakes, but with just as much unpredictability. Don't ever, ever underestimate the role of misunderstanding, paranoia,stupidity or pride in triggering war.

Poland, and maybe even Romania: OK-I get it. Those are very clearly outside Russia's legitimate backyard. The Ukraine: no, I don't get it. I think we in the "West" have done (again...) what we did in FRY-pick sides where there really may not be any truly "good" guys, except the one we pick.  (Croats=good, Serbs=bad) This raises the question of the Balts: by putting additional NATO forces there we probably reassure those countries, but unless we're making a hollow threat, we're saying that we're prepared to go to war over them? Has anybody asked the Canadian people about that?

Maybe I'm a craven defeatist already. Perhaps. Or, maybe I'm thinking along the lines of the US Republican party when it fought the 1940 election on an anti-intervention platform. Why make it our fight? Why not ask ourselves, very clearly and openly, what our national interests are in this case? Do an analysis based on the facts of the current situation, not on shallow, "conventional wisdom" resurrection of conditions that existed over 70 years ago. If that analysis truly shows us that we need to make it our fight, OK. This is not 1937 and we need to be very clear on that.

I'm not saying do nothing. I am saying that before we get into that game of chicken, we exhaust the strongest set of economic and financial restrictions that the West can muster. At the same time, make it clear that NATO will do what it was created to do: for its membership. Provoking or antagonizing the Russian population , who have in my view a very mercurial, paranoid and distorted understanding of the world in the first place, may not have the results we want. Whatever else Russians may be, history makes it quite clear that they are not cowards. However, history also shows (ie: reaction to the Berlin Airlift; the Cuban Missile Crisis; their political analysis leading to their decision to withdraw from Afghanistan) that they can be pragmatists.

And, yes, part of that calculus of pragmatism would be an assessment of  the risks versus the benefits, including military risks. They will calculate the trade-off on pushing further West against the potential risks. They will engage in that thought process no matter what we do: I suggest that we want them to engage in it as coolly and rationally as possible, not out of paranoia or anger.

A firm, calm hand on the tiller is needed right now.
 

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I'm pretty much with you, pbi:

    1. I, too, look forward to Russia's ultimate decline and, probably, dismemberment into, possibly, a semi, but not quite European state, a Eurasian state and an Asian one;
   
    2. I don't think there is any need to fight to achieve that. Nor is there any really good reason, short of Russian military aggression, to fight them at all; but

    3. We do need to rekindle the cold war to drag them back into an arms race which will, sooner rather than later, deprive the Russian people of what they really want - peace and prosperity; and

    4. We need to attack them, relentlessly, on all economic fronts, provoking the people into open revolt.
 

Brad Sallows

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>This raises the question of the Balts: by putting additional NATO forces there we probably reassure those countries, but unless we're making a hollow threat, we're saying that we're prepared to go to war over them?

Membership has its responsibilities, as well as privileges.

I agree about Ukraine.  If Russia decided to take it tomorrow, we should let them have it (and everything else up to NATO member borders).  And we should prepare to assist in the defence of those borders, while turning every possible screw on the Russian economy.
 
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