30 September 2011

When My Dream Becomes Your Nightmare

Want to read a really good article on US-Russian relations? Or on the challenges more broadly facing US foreign policy in the coming years, if not decades? You could hardly do better than one of historian Walter Russell Mead's Via Meadia blog entries from four days ago: http://blogs.the-american-interest.com/wrm/2011/09/26/reset-regret/. Here, in just two short paragraphs, I've encountered more sanity, level-headedness, nuance, balance, and good old-fashioned common sense than I'm sure I could find in a whole year's worth of either The National Review or The New Republic on the same subject:

There is a good case for a businesslike relationship no matter who runs Russia. There are many areas of vital strategic interest to both sides where our interests are aligned. Neither country wants China to dominate Eurasia, for example. Neither country wants Islamic radicals to destabilize Central Asia or get control of weapons of mass destruction.

There are also a number of areas in which our interests come into conflict.  The US does not want the Russians to rebuild something like the Soviet Union by incorporating former Soviet republics into a tightly centralized sphere of influence.  Nor do we like the idea that Russia could use its energy resources to detach Europe and especially Germany from the Atlantic alliance. Americans by and large remain convinced that governments like the Putin system in Russia are ugly, unreliable and in the long run justly doomed.  Prime Minister Putin disagrees.

But just to give you an idea of the overall caliber of the blog, and of the general quality of the posts submitted in comment, here's a sample from one of the best responding posts of the day:

I doubt that Germany is thinking in terms of being a client state of Russia. It may well be looking to rearrange European politics; it is practically inevitable that that would mean looking East rather than looking West, considering how heavily tilted West it has been since the end of the second world war. 

In any case, if Germany rearranges its foreign policy, it will be because it is to Germany’s advantage, not because of Russian pressure. It will also be to some arrangement where Germany takes more of a leadership role (as “befits” a country of its economic clout), not an arrangement where Germany bows to a superior.

Now inevitably all this got my own overheated brain going in its usual geopolitical channels. And of course my own reading of Modern History tells me, again and again, that just about any combination of Germany and Russia - and particularly one that works at the expense of the countries lying in between - tends to bring out the ungodly worst in both parties. And so my own posted comments on the original article follow, in a form revised and slightly expanded for the purposes of this blog. But first let me re-highlight just one crucial sentence from the original Mead quote:

Nor do we like the idea that Russia could use its energy resources to detach Europe and especially Germany from the Atlantic alliance. 

If that isn’t one red devil of a geopolitical nightmare, I don’t know what is. And again - as is clear from the responding poster's comments - how easy it is to imagine dog and tail trading places! Picture, say, a Germano-European-managed or -orchestrated Russia, its resources increasingly at the disposal of a most Eurasianly- (rather than Atlantically-) minded Germany. A Germany quite willing to borrow a page from the nineteenth-century American experience of “limitless” frontier expansion. It would be, if I’m remembering correctly, an outcome very much in keeping with Hitler’s own admiration of an American settler-driven land empire, as opposed to the older Western European pattern of maritime, soldier-and-administrator-dependent colonization. At the same time, this new “New Order” could hardly afford to treat all pre-existing inhabitants as just so many Red Indians – or Jews and Slavs? – to be disposed of. On the contrary, I should think a new, eastward-facing Europe would be happy to work with demographically dominant or “stronger” nations (like the Russians?), at the expense of “weaker” or dwindling peoples (like today’s endangered Baltics). Here I keep being reminded of John Foster Dulles’ grim, almost apocalyptic pre-World War II dichotomy of “dynamic” vs “static” nations; small wonder he opposed “dynamic” America’s tilting towards "decadent" Britain and France in the 1930s.    
For some reason, too, I have very little trouble imagining this latest New Order mending fences with the sort of emerging Sino-Saudi-Pakistani axis explored in a previous Mead post. After all, might they not both perceive in the US a common enemy – or at least a common competitor? If not the “Anglosphere” as a whole? And what better incentive could they then have for rationalizing and streamlining the resources of their common Eurasian interior? And that for the benefit of all big local buyers – er, powers? 
Some might argue, of course, that a Germano-Russo-European combine would have at least as strong an incentive to work with India and Iran against a Saudi-Paki-Chinese axis. Yet somehow I doubt it. Historically Germany – and not least its more Russophile elements (e.g., General Hans von Seeckt during the interwar period) – has enjoyed techno-military ties with China going back to the earliest days of the Nationalist government, if not earlier. Nor can I imagine any rationally-motivated China letting its “fears” of India stand in the way of upgrading ties with Russia and Iran. I mean, if there’s one thing geopolitical Goliaths can agree on, surely it’s the need to eliminate the common obstacle of a bunch of scattered or isolatable Davids?    

The key for us here, I suspect, lies in somebody persuading the Chinese that they’ve far more to lose from a radicalizing and imploding – or implosion-exporting? – Pakistan than from a stable, modern, secular India. (Again assuming, in India’s case, that the modernity and the secularity haven’t already become inversely proportionate.) And that outcome, in turn, may depend on China’s ability to see itself more as a specific, concrete nation and territory, to which jihadists pose an existential threat, and less as a globe-straddling, corporately-organized civilization for which jihadists may be just as much geostrategic assets and business partners. The same may be more or less true of Russia – in which case their real, national interest lies most emphatically in partnership with the West, NOT with an eastward-facing Germany. In either case, I believe the key lies in persuading these two great powers that, humanly (as distinct from corporately) speaking, they’re far better off regarding themselves as national and territorial entities, whose populations are finite and therefore valuable, rather than as corporate and civilizational entities whose human resources are infinitely renewable, downgradable and disposable. I just wish I knew whose gifts of persuasion we could rely on. Ours seem to be in a state of steady depletion since George H W.  

In any event, should both “axes” ever solidify and combine – say, in an effort to limit the Eurasian reach or leverage of Anglosphere – then personally I fear greatly for (quaint old diplomatic phrase!) the “liberties” of Central Asia. And naturally also, in time, for the political freedoms of the whole Euro-Asian land-mass. For one thing, the bulk of the “smaller” peoples would be under immense pressure to go more or less the way of our own native Americans. Or, to phrase it with more geographic relevance, to become "Tibetanized." 

Yet even then, mind you, it’s not like there would necessarily be nothing to celebrate. No doubt the result would prove to be an amazing triumph, on an unprecedented scale, of one version of the American Idea – namely, the American Geohistorical Model of the nineteenth century. Albeit mostly at the expense of the solidarity, power, influence, perhaps even ultimately independence, of the present American Nation. Or, for that matter, of any nation as we presently know it. (Right, as if anyone still cared . . .)   

And then just think: The lifelong horror of that grand old geopolitician Mackinder – a unified Eurasian continent able to command (“No, no, you idiot – AMERICANIZE!”) the globe – would have become a reality. 

Once again: God heal America (before it’s too late?).   

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