In 2014 publishers gave us some superb books describing the origins of the First World War including Christopher Clark’s spellbinding The Sleepwalkers. In the four years between 2014 and 2018 has the world moved towards peaceful coexistence? Do we learn from history? You must be joking
The danger of isolating Russia from the West was the theme of Matthew Del Santo’s post on the ABC’s The Drum site on 4 August 2014, a hundred years after the July Crisis that precipitated the First World War.
“On the threshold of a century that will test the West’s 500-year global dominance, the West would be scoring a massive own-goal by pushing Russia and China into an alliance,” wrote Del Santo, who is a former officer of our Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade.
Referring to Christopher Clark’s work in The Sleepwalkers, Del Santo described “a certain closure of Anglo-French imagination that pushed Austria-Hungary into a growing reliance – indeed dependence – on neighbouring Germany. Despite the differences that remained between them the marriage of convenience proved surprisingly strong and effective. Inferiority in manpower and industrial production notwithstanding, the Central Powers came close to winning the War. (See Ring of Steel by Alexander Watson)
“Today (2014) as China’s growing power drives America ever deeper into a great-power standoff in East Asia, the West’s tone-deaf policies in Western Eurasia risk midwifing a Sino-Russia alliance of the contained and sanctioned – a Central Powers 2.0 on a hemispheric scale ….
“Whether you blame the West or Russia for their estrangement it nevertheless represents an opportunity for a huge increase in potential Chinese power. The geopolitical fallout from the EU’s courtship of Ukraine could deliver the world’s most destructive nuclear arsenal and the hydrocarbons and minerals beneath one sixth of the earth’s land surface into the hands of the Chinese Communist Party.”
A fascinating wartime perspective on Russian relations with Western Europe comes to us from Hungarian intellectual Karl Polanyi in the essay – Why make Russia run amok? – written for the March 1943 edition of Harper’s Magazine and reproduced in a new Polanyi selection edited by Michele Cangiani and Claus Thomasberger, published by Polity.
Polanyi harks back to the Four Power Pact of England, France, Italy and Germany first mooted in public by Mussolini on 17 March 1933 and quickly signed off with Mussolini by British Prime Minister Ramsay MacDonald and Foreign Secretary Sir John Simons when they flew to Rome. This was a Concert of Europe designed to replace The League of Nations. “It would not be idealistic but at least it might work.” Russia was excluded.
In one of those elegant insights that endear Polanyi to his fans (of whom I am one) he wrote for Harper’s:
“The only revolution the City of London had ever understood was the French Revolution of 1789. Since the German Revolution of 1933 did not resemble it a bit, the City was reassured that it was not a revolution. On the other hand, the Russian Revolution of 1917 not only resembled the French but was in many details a veritable copy of it. Who but a fool could doubt which of the two was the enemy?
“(British Ambassador to Germany 1937-39) Sir Neville Henderson’s tolerance of the Nazis sprang from a restricted imagination to which he had been trained. The English public school was designed to create a national leadership immune to the virus of the French Revolution. Now there was nothing about the German Revolution to warn him that it was also a revolution and he did not study it carefully enough to discern that even though it did not start by dispossessing the rich it might nevertheless end that way.”
Polanyi traces the ancestry of Munich to the earlier crises of Manchuria and Ethiopia where the Russians could have intervened effectively, if they had been invited, and to the final catastrophe of Spain.
“There is no need to argue (about) that fascist victory which broke the moral backbone of republican France. When Franco marched into Madrid, Paris became a suburb of Berlin. If the oldest military power of Europe and her foremost republic did not dare any longer to succour a neighbour sister republic threatened by unconstitutional rebellion how could the people of France be expected to believe in themselves and the ideas of their free institutions? And yet, France gone, Britain would have to fight alone. When the Spanish loyalists were left to capitulate to the Luftwaffe in mufti, it was the British army on the sand of Dunkirk that was robbed of its defences.”
Polanyi could easily lead us to debate about the origins of The Cold War and that would have to involve a trip to Bretton Woods in 1944 where those collegial protagonists John Maynard Keynes and Harry Dexter White planned the post-war world a month after the Normandy landings. White wanted to bring Russia into the club. Four years later White died under a cloud of suspicion that he was a Russian agent. It is interesting and relevant but we had better skip back to the present.
In Warsaw on 24 October – just a couple of weeks ago – Lieutenant General Ben Hodges predicted that America would be at war with China within 15 years. It was not inevitable but war was a very strong likelihood, said the recently retired Commander of the US Army in Europe.
Interviewed after the Warsaw speech, Lieutenant General Hodges elaborated: “My real audience that I was trying to reach with that comment there in Warsaw was our European allies. I was trying to tell them – hey look, we do not have the capacity in the United States to be able to deter Russia, to be the bulwark against possible Russian aggression, and deal with China.”
The 15 years are needed in the view of American service chiefs to build up sufficient strength to fight simultaneous wars in Europe and the Pacific as the Americans did with such phenomenal economic power between 1942 and 1945.
There are two deep flaws in the strategy. The Chinese grow stronger every year and 15 years hence will be truly formidable. Secondly, there is no guarantee the next three American administrations will build up defence budgets in the manner to which the Pentagon has become accustomed. If the Anglospheric establishment is determined to knock China down to size a time frame of 15 months makes more sense that 15 years.
Donald Trump won office in 2016 with three excellent policies – to stop baiting the Russian bear, to stop blowing the Middle East to bits and to rebuild American industry. He won because these are good policies and the Democrat policy was to break glass ceilings. The original Trump policies are still good and the Democrats have spent two years examining the entrails of Russian cyber spies. If Trump wanted to implement his policies, he would keep his son-in-law out of the White House, not go within a bull’s roar of John Bolton and set up multi-disciplinary committees to produce ideas, programmes and projects after the manner of FDR and the New Deal.
It is possible a new Democrat administration in 2020 led by Elizabeth Warren and Bernie Sanders with a Congress rejuvenated by young talent such as Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez will exercise a civilising influence on American public life but first the Democrats will have to bury their Wall Street, Clintonite faction. Then they will have to deal with the usual suspects – the Anglo-American deep State, the military-industrial complex, the links between rich Saudi-Arabians, rich Americans, rich Zionist Jews, etc.
But this is not about America. It is about China. I would like to think that the Chinese in Xinjiang and Tibet have sown the seeds of their one-Party State’s destruction but they play for keeps and these are land-locked provinces. There is not much we can do to help although I did consider sending the Tibetans a copy of The Seven Pillars of Wisdom by T.E. Lawrence when the Chinese were building that mountain railway.
The Lawrence of Arabia movie was faithful to the book but I agreed with my mother’s literary criticism. After Lawrence and his team had blown up half a dozen trains it did get boring. The Dalai Lama has a point. Physical resistance to such overwhelming numbers on such remote soil is likely to be counter-productive. The Tibetan Buddhists will have to hope their philosophy outlasts Chinese neo-Leninism. Their position is analogous to that of the Australian Aborigines who are waiting patiently for us whitefellas to go back to England after we have used up all the iron ore and gas.
The island of Taiwan is another matter. I doubt if the Americans will go to war over the South China Sea but they will absolutely go to war over Taiwan. They will have to. If they fail to support Taiwan they will die of shame and Americans do not like to die of shame. Australia will support America in a Taiwan war.
Thus, the hope for peace in our time rests on the ability of Chinese President Xi Jinping and Defence Minister Wei Fenghe to exercise restraint on the Taiwan issue. Toning down their rhetoric would be a good start. Their better policy is to undermine Taiwanese independence by duchessing politicians, businessmen, professors and suchlike folk as they do in Australia, although I can’t imagine the Taiwanese would let them get away with such a blatant exercise as The Australian Council for the Promotion of Peaceful Reunification of China. That little Aussie beauty reminds me of the Taliban’s Ministry for the Propagation of Virtue and the Prevention of Vice (financed by Saudi Arabia), Senator McCarthy’s House Committee on Un-American activities and my all-time favourite propagandist outfit, Soviet Russia’s League of Militant Godless.
The Orwellian thought control brought to new heights by the Communist Chinese is unforgiveable, although I dare say we have political and corporate types who wish they could emulate the Politburo’s power in Australia, where we leave it to commercial television and professional sporting leagues to turn us all into morons.
There must still be an element of risk in the South China Sea where both sides are batting like millionaires. A Gulf of Tonkin incident would not be difficult to engineer. ABC television’s Sunday night serial “Pine Gap” is exploring these themes. This Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy tale for the age of the internet and mobile phones is a neat snapshot of life in the north. Australians and Americans are spying on each other. The Chinese are playing games with both of us and an educated young woman of Aboriginal descent is trying to screw as much money as she can from native title deals. Such is life in outback Oz.
Jerry Roberts was born in the American mid-west and grew up there in the first decade of the Cold War. He has a clear childhood memory of a newspaper on the kitchen table with a picture of Russian tanks rolling into Budapest to crush the 1956 Hungarian uprising. As today’s cold war between China and America heats up, he finds himself supporting his native land despite its sins in the Middle East, Central America and elsewhere.