Who rules the World: Chal­lenges to­day East Asia (2)

The African - - POT POURRI -

Be­gin­ning with the “Amer­i­can lake,” some eye­brows might be raised over the re­port in mid-De­cem­ber 2015 that “an Amer­i­can B-52 bomber on a rou­tine mis­sion over the South China Sea un­in­ten­tion­ally flew within two nau­ti­cal miles of an ar­ti­fi­cial is­land built by China, se­nior de­fense of­fi­cials said, ex­ac­er­bat­ing a hotly di­vi­sive is­sue for Washington and Bei­jing.” Those fa­mil­iar with the grim record of the 70 years of the nuclear weapons era will be all too aware that this is the kind of in­ci­dent that has of­ten come per­ilously close to ig­nit­ing ter­mi­nal nuclear war. One need not be a sup­porter of China’s provoca­tive and ag­gres­sive ac­tions in the South China Sea to no­tice that the in­ci­dent did not in­volve a Chi­nese nuclear-ca­pa­ble bomber in the Caribbean, or off the coast of Cal­i­for­nia, where China has no pre­ten­sions of es­tab­lish­ing a “Chi­nese lake.” Luck­ily for the world.

Chi­nese lead­ers un­der­stand very well that their coun­try’s mar­itime trade routes are ringed with hos­tile pow­ers from Ja­pan through the Malacca Straits and be­yond, backed by over­whelm­ing U.S. mil­i­tary force. Ac­cord­ingly, China is pro­ceed­ing to ex­pand west­ward with ex­ten­sive in­vest­ments and care­ful moves to­ward in­te­gra­tion. In part, these de­vel­op­ments are within the frame­work of the Shang­hai Co­op­er­a­tion Or­ga­ni­za­tion (SCO), which in­cludes the Cen­tral Asian states and Rus­sia, and soon In­dia and Pak­istan with Iran as one of the ob­servers — a sta­tus that was de­nied to the United States, which was also called on to close all mil­i­tary bases in the re­gion.

China is con­struct­ing a mod­ern­ized ver­sion of the old silk roads, with the in­tent not only of in­te­grat­ing the re­gion un­der Chi­nese in­flu­ence, but also of reach­ing Europe and the Mid­dle East­ern oil-pro­duc­ing re­gions. It is pour­ing huge sums into cre­at­ing an in­te­grated Asian en­ergy and com­mer­cial sys­tem, with ex­ten­sive high-speed rail lines and pipe­lines.

One el­e­ment of the pro­gram is a high­way through some of the world’s tallest moun­tains to the new Chi­nese-de­vel­oped port of Gwadar in Pak­istan, which will pro­tect oil ship­ments from po­ten­tial U.S. in­ter­fer­ence. The pro­gram may also, China and Pak­istan hope, spur in­dus­trial de­vel­op­ment in Pak­istan, which the United States has not un­der­taken de­spite mas­sive mil­i­tary aid, and might also pro­vide an in­cen­tive for Pak­istan to clamp down on do­mes­tic ter­ror­ism, a se­ri­ous is­sue for China in west­ern Xin­jiang Prov­ince.

Gwadar will be part of China’s “string of pearls,” bases be­ing con­structed in the In­dian Ocean for com­mer­cial pur­poses but po­ten­tially also for mil­i­tary use, with the ex­pec­ta­tion that China might some­day be able to project power as far as the Per­sian Gulf for the first time in the mod­ern era.

All of these moves re­main im­mune to Washington’s over­whelm­ing mil­i­tary power, short of annihilation by nuclear war, which would de­stroy the United States as well.

In 2015, China also es­tab­lished the Asian In­fra­struc­ture In­vest­ment Bank (AIIB), with it­self as the main share­holder. Fifty-six na­tions par­tic­i­pated in the open­ing in Bei­jing in June, in­clud­ing U.S. al­lies Aus­tralia, Bri­tain, and oth­ers which joined in de­fi­ance of Washington’s wishes. The United States and Ja­pan were ab­sent. Some an­a­lysts be­lieve that the new bank might turn out to be a com­peti­tor to the Bret­ton Woods in­sti­tu­tions (the IMF and the World Bank), in which the United States holds veto power. There are also some ex­pec­ta­tions that the SCO might even­tu­ally be­come a coun­ter­part to NATO.

The Chal­lenges To­day: East­ern Europe

Turn­ing to the sec­ond re­gion, East­ern Europe, there is a cri­sis brew­ing at the NATO-Rus­sian bor­der. It is no small mat­ter. In his il­lu­mi­nat­ing and ju­di­cious schol­arly study of the re­gion, Front­line Ukraine: Cri­sis in the Bor­der­lands, Richard Sakwa writes — all too plau­si­bly — that the “Russo-Ge­or­gian war of Au­gust 2008 was in ef­fect the first of the ‘wars to stop NATO en­large­ment’; the Ukraine cri­sis of 2014 is the sec­ond. It is not clear whether hu­man­ity would sur­vive a third.”

The West sees NATO en­large­ment as be­nign. Not sur­pris­ingly, Rus­sia, along with much of the Global South, has a dif­fer­ent opin­ion, as do some prom­i­nent West­ern voices. Ge­orge Ken­nan warned early on that NATO en­large­ment is a “tragic mis­take,” and he was joined by se­nior Amer­i­can states­men in an open let­ter to the White House de­scrib­ing it as a “pol­icy er­ror of his­toric pro­por­tions.”

The present cri­sis has its ori­gins in 1991, with the end of the Cold War and the col­lapse of the Soviet Union. There were then two con­trast­ing vi­sions of a new se­cu­rity sys­tem and po­lit­i­cal econ­omy in Eurasia. In Sakwa’s words, one vi­sion was of a “‘Wider Europe,’ with the EU at its heart but in­creas­ingly coter­mi­nous with the Euro-At­lantic se­cu­rity and po­lit­i­cal com­mu­nity; and on the other side there [was] the idea of ‘Greater Europe,’ a vi­sion of a con­ti­nen­tal Europe, stretch­ing from Lis­bon to Vladi­vos­tok, that has mul­ti­ple cen­ters, in­clud­ing Brussels, Moscow and Ankara, but with a com­mon pur­pose in over­com­ing the di­vi­sions that have tra­di­tion­ally plagued the con­ti­nent.”

Soviet leader Mikhail Gor­bachev was the ma­jor pro­po­nent of Greater Europe, a con­cept that also had Euro­pean roots in Gaullism and other ini­tia­tives. How­ever, as Rus­sia col­lapsed un­der the dev­as­tat­ing mar­ket re­forms of the 1990s, the vi­sion faded, only to be re­newed as Rus­sia be­gan to re­cover and seek a place on the world stage un­der Vladimir Putin who, along with his as­so­ci­ate Dmitry Medvedev, has re­peat­edly “called for the geopo­lit­i­cal uni­fi­ca­tion of all of ‘Greater Europe’ from Lis­bon to Vladi­vos­tok, to cre­ate a gen­uine ‘strate­gic part­ner­ship.’”

These ini­tia­tives were “greeted with po­lite con­tempt,” Sakwa writes, re­garded as “lit­tle more than a cover for the es­tab­lish­ment of a ‘Greater Rus­sia’ by stealth” and an ef­fort to “drive a wedge” be­tween North Amer­ica and West­ern Europe. Such con­cerns trace back to ear­lier Cold War fears that Europe might be­come a “third force” independent of both the great and mi­nor su­per­pow­ers and mov­ing to­ward closer links to the lat­ter (as can be seen in Willy Brandt’s Ost­poli­tik and other ini­tia­tives).

The West­ern re­sponse to Rus­sia’s col­lapse was tri­umphal­ist. It was hailed as sig­nal­ing “the end of his­tory,” the fi­nal vic­tory of West­ern cap­i­tal­ist democ­racy, al­most as if Rus­sia were be­ing in­structed to re­vert to its pre-World War I sta­tus as a vir­tual eco­nomic colony of the West. NATO en­large­ment be­gan at once, in vi­o­la­tion of ver­bal as­sur­ances to Gor­bachev that NATO forces would not move “one inch to the east” af­ter he agreed that a uni­fied Ger­many could be­come a NATO mem­ber — a re­mark­able con­ces­sion, in the light of his­tory. That dis­cus­sion kept to East Ger­many. The pos­si­bil­ity that NATO might ex­pand be­yond Ger­many was not dis­cussed with Gor­bachev, even if pri­vately con­sid­ered.

Soon, NATO did be­gin to move be­yond, right to the borders of Rus­sia. The gen­eral mis­sion of NATO was of­fi­cially changed to a man­date to pro­tect “cru­cial in­fra­struc­ture” of the global en­ergy sys­tem, sea lanes and pipe­lines, giv­ing it a global area of op­er­a­tions. Fur­ther­more, un­der a cru­cial West­ern re­vi­sion of the now widely her­alded doc­trine of “re­spon­si­bil­ity to pro­tect,” sharply dif­fer­ent from the of­fi­cial U.N. ver­sion, NATO may now also serve as an in­ter­ven­tion force un­der U.S. com­mand.

Of par­tic­u­lar con­cern to Rus­sia are plans to ex­pand NATO to Ukraine. These plans were ar­tic­u­lated ex­plic­itly at the Bucharest NATO summit of April 2008, when Ge­or­gia and Ukraine were promised even­tual mem­ber­ship in NATO. The word­ing was un­am­bigu­ous: “NATO wel­comes Ukraine’s and Ge­or­gia’s EuroAt­lantic as­pi­ra­tions for mem­ber­ship in NATO. We agreed to­day that these coun­tries will be­come mem­bers of NATO.” With the “Orange Rev­o­lu­tion” vic­tory of pro-West­ern can­di­dates in Ukraine in 2004, State Depart­ment rep­re­sen­ta­tive Daniel Fried rushed there and “em­pha­sized U.S. sup­port for Ukraine’s NATO and Euro-At­lantic as­pi­ra­tions,” as a Wik­iLeaks re­port re­vealed.

Rus­sia’s con­cerns are eas­ily un­der­stand­able. They are out­lined by in­ter­na­tional re­la­tions scholar John Mearsheimer in the lead­ing U.S. es­tab­lish­ment jour­nal, For­eign Af­fairs. He writes that “the tap­root of the cur­rent cri­sis [over Ukraine] is NATO ex­pan­sion and Washington’s com­mit­ment to move Ukraine out of Moscow’s or­bit and in­te­grate it into the West,” which Putin viewed as “a di­rect threat to Rus­sia’s core in­ter­ests.”

“Who can blame him?” Mearsheimer asks, point­ing out that “Washington may not like Moscow’s po­si­tion, but it should un­der­stand the logic be­hind it.” That should not be too dif­fi­cult. Af­ter all, as ev­ery­one knows, “The United States does not tol­er­ate dis­tant great pow­ers de­ploy­ing mil­i­tary forces any­where in the West­ern hemi­sphere, much less on its borders.”

In fact, the U.S. stand is far stronger. It does not tol­er­ate what is of­fi­cially called “suc­cess­ful de­fi­ance” of the Mon­roe Doc­trine of 1823, which de­clared (but could not yet im­ple­ment) U.S. con­trol of the hemi­sphere. And a small coun­try that car­ries out such suc­cess­ful de­fi­ance may be sub­jected to “the ter­rors of the earth” and a crush­ing em­bargo — as hap­pened to Cuba. We need not ask how the United States would have re­acted had the coun­tries of Latin Amer­ica joined the War­saw Pact, with plans for Mex­ico and Canada to join as well. The mer­est hint of the first ten­ta­tive steps in that di­rec­tion would have been “ter­mi­nated with ex­treme prej­u­dice,” to adopt CIA lingo.

As in the case of China, one does not have to re­gard Putin’s moves and mo­tives fa­vor­ably to un­der­stand the logic be­hind them, nor to grasp the im­por­tance of un­der­stand­ing that logic in­stead of is­su­ing im­pre­ca­tions against it. As in the case of China, a great deal is at stake, reach­ing as far — lit­er­ally — as ques­tions of sur­vival.

US Pres­i­dent Barack Obama

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