Generally, as readers of our blog will have become familiar, I would prefer to write with a full academic panoply of references and sources. Sometimes liberties need to be taken and forbearance pleaded. Some matters may require a more urgent statement while the fully researched and referenced version can await later publication in our Journal. I believe this issue, the US-China conflict, has enough urgency to justify ‘emergency use authorisation’, to coin a phrase.
THE MIRROR LANGUAGE OF US FOREIGN POLICY
Much ink can be wasted, and emotional energy drained when one fails to comprehend or ‘read’ the mirror language of the US foreign policy establishment. Let ourselves be W and the other side be E (We and Enemy). In this mirror language, W never seeks expansion, this can only be defended as an act to protect against greater harm or as an act of defence against a planned attack. So before attacking country E, it must be established to the satisfaction of the populace that country E plans to attack country W. If country E is a weak country such that even a surprise military attack would be laughable they must be attributed secret weapons. If later it is discovered that E has no such secret weapons this can be laughed off, as in any case W is bringing democracy and has ridden the place of an evil ruler. If there is a wish to invade multiple countries in a region then an arch-enemy E (who may not be in the region) is identified with deep strategic plans to use these countries as a bridgehead to expand their influence and eventually attack W. For the hard of hearing or simple-minded, visual metaphors can be used such as ‘dominoes’.
For W to prepare to invade an area of Europe it will need to station troops all around country E. However in mirror language, this is necessary because country E has plans to invade all other countries in Europe so these countries must be protected.
When such policies lead to undesired results then the commentariat begins to discuss how policymakers at W got their facts wrong or misinterpreted the situation. Obviously, at this point one is in cloud cuckoo land. Many people will think ‘I knew that all along, nothing new’. But is that so? These same people will say that the Manhattan Project was started to counter a similar project begun by Nazi Germany and the race was to get the atom bomb before Hitler. This is somewhat awkward in terms of explaining why the expensive effort continued after the fall of Germany. On the other hand when it is revealed by Daniel Ellsberg that not only did Hitler not have any plans to develop nuclear weapons but actively stopped such research AND that the US knew this but kept it secret, particularly from the scientists at Los Alamos and on the Manhattan Project, one should have cause to pause. These scientists were told: ‘we are doing this to prevent Hitler from getting it first’.
When the US says country Y is a threat to the IS, in fact the US is threatening country Y. If country Y is called a ‘major threat’ then the US is taking major (overt or covert) steps to threaten country Y. To be an existential threat to the US is to probably be a candidate for genocide.
When foreign policy analysts examine US foreign policy failures without decoding the mirror language they take us into ‘Alice in Wonderland’ country. One would have to believe the highest levels of US policy are inhabited by people who are barely literate and incapable of learning from past errors.
COLD WAR CONTAINMENT
It is widely believed in the West that communism collapsed because the West won the Cold War and that the policy of containment proposed by G F Kennan, was spectacularly successful. What if the truth is exactly the opposite? What if the Soviet Union collapsed because the West lost the Cold War?
Shortly before the collapse of the Soviet Union, the US made certain cast-iron promises to the Soviet leaders. They promised they would not expand NATO beyond its present borders, and made several other security promises and promises to open up trade. From the Soviet perspective, the greatest threat was a US attempt to ‘rollback’ the borders of Soviet influence as a prelude to an invasion of the heartland. US’ promises that those days were over and trade embargoes would be removed constituted a declaration of the end of the Cold War.
Once the Soviet leaders believed their survival was no longer at issue then granting liberty to their protective fringe of countries would no longer be a problem. Even the consequent collapse of the Russian economy and ensuing problems would not by itself create a strategic challenge. However, once the US broke its security promises then nothing else would matter. There would be no sacrifice the Russian leaders would not undertake for the preservation of the ‘motherland’. To the outside world, these events could be described as Russia returning to its ‘Cold War’ ways.
However, this situation today is far more serious. This US failure to keep to its security pledges will have far-reaching consequences to the chessboard. If the US’ firm promises to restrain itself cannot be trusted then the possible options for resolving severe conflict are seriously reduced. Both Russia and China will remember how the US kept or did not keep its promises during the collapse of the Soviet Union.
DOCTRINES OF PRE EMPTIVE ATTACK
When W wishes to begin an era of cyberwarfare against other countries including E it will announce as follows. It is an established military strategy that one must first protect oneself from a new weapon before using it on others. So W will declare that E is planning nefarious attacks on the industrial structure of country W, so that enormous expenditure is spent increasing the defence of the infrastructure. Once that is in place W will declare that it has found evidence of attacks or attempted attacks on its infrastructure by agents of E and so it must retaliate out of self-defence. As night follows day, the US first announced great expenditure on self-defence of its infrastructure claiming possible enemy attacks, and now announces probable evidence of cyberattacks by foreign agents on its infrastructure. There is a similar set of actions on voting systems.
US-CHINA TRADE WARS
If we have a US elite (both foreign policy elite and other sectors) that believes that it won the Cold War by aggressive containment, it will believe it can win its trade war with China by similar tactics. If the US never won the Cold War, if the Soviet Union never wished to invade the rest of Europe but to protect itself, then the attempt to revive a containment policy that failed miserably in the past, is likely to lead to unexpected results.
One of the greatest dangers is that there is one great important difference. E in the Cold War days were very weak countries in relative terms. One US diplomat described the Soviet Union as Upper Volta with rockets. Neither China nor Russia wished to harm the US. Rather they were obsessed with self-protection. However, the US is now saying to all other countries ‘If you want us to keep to our word, to honour our undertakings you will have to make us!’
This is the most irresponsible dare. It opens a chapter of world history that would be best played out on a large curved screen accompanied by popcorn, an exceptional music score, world-class Dolby surround-sound systems, expensive and stunning special effects, and a cast of A list actors starring in a tightly written plot with breathtaking action sequences.
If harming the US becomes the only way to « talk to the US », if the US only listens to greater aggression, greater perfidy, greater violence (see Iraq, Afghanistan, Libya and Syria), then its opponents may feel they have to step up to the plate. We may all be about to witness some jaw-dropping misjudgments.
This is not a chapter of World History one would choose to live through.