My review of Charles Clover’s “Black Wind White Snow”.
A lot changed in one year. Almost a pole switched, and the global order reversed, since September 2015 to Trump’s inauguration. A lot happened in between, questioning out essential assumptions about everything we know.
How did we get here? What changed? What went wrong, and how to explain the change?
From February 2017, I am starting to teach a course called “M11006 Problems in Global Politics” and I will be quite busy. But I took some time off, to write a few long essays about issues around us.
I like to see myself as a chronicler of time; a political realist, equally hated from the right and the left, and that gives me immense pleasure. True neutrality is something to be cherished, and strive for constantly. From the ashes of our civilisation, sometime in distant future, maybe there will remain some iconoclastic viewpoints, a few of them mine hopefully.
In that spirit, here are a few selected long essays from last couple of weeks.
Must be hearing how Middle East civil wars are exactly like Jews being persecuted by Nazis in Europe during the 1930s?
I wrote on Quillette, why that is a lie. An excerpt.
(Originally published by the Centre For Land Warfare, New Delhi, India. Republished here, with added links.)
So, when does the left start calling Obama racist, sexist and misogynist?
So, once again, as usual, Donald Trump when faced with allegations about Russian hacking in his election, quickly gave an interview to Fox News about Taiwan. That helped in diverting much of the traffic towards the issue, in a communication diversion strategy that Trump has mastered since he decided to stand for election. The interview itself was obviously incoherent, and Trumpian…as in he said a lot of things, half said even more, and almost all of them contradictory. Typical example being he claimed Obama’s policies were a failure, but simultaneously claimed that President Obama has been a terrific president. If any observer was watching for signs of Trump’s pivot towards centrism, this is as good as it gets.
However, the important part was his comments about One China policy. Trump said, he understands completely what a One China policy is, and why US governments have followed it for over forty years, but he fails to comprehend why it should be continued if there’s no deal with China. “I fully understand the ‘one China’ policy, but I don’t know why we have to be bound by a ‘one China’ policy unless we make a deal with China having to do with other things, including trade,” Trump told Fox, as reported by Reuters.
(For a Military comparison, check GlobalFirePower)
Well, that’s a bold statement, because for a start, he doesn’t understand One China policy. And, a deal is already in place. The deal is so the planet earth doesn’t look like a sequence from Fallout 4. But on the other hand, he cleverly didn’t say that he wants to topple the One China policy and chart a new US foreign policy towards China. It’s like an art of saying things, without saying things; kind of like thinking out aloud, wondering, what does it matter if the policy is overturned. If the Chinese administration was looking for hint, this is it. Let me explain.
There’s a broad scholarly agreement that British grand strategy, was formed as a geopolitical gift. Britain, as argued in the Stratfor analysis linked above, traditionally was a naval power, but went on to dominate the globe and her peers, in a geopolitical game which was usually dominated by land powers. Despite early colonial ambitions, Britain was initially in no position to establish hegemony, and her losses in the American colonies made it look more unlikely. However, after the fall of Napoleon, and with Napoleonic hegemony decimating all the established continental forces, Britain was left challenged by other European power for the next hundred and fifty years. The only two near peer rivals were the United States, which was mostly busy solidifying its own hegemony in the Western hemisphere, and the Russian Empire, which despite her intentions, were economically, demographically and technologically far inferior to the might of the British Empire. The rest is well researched and archived. It dawned on British leaders that it could maintain this hegemony by tactically balancing opposing forces in continental Europe, even if it meant unwritten mega compromises with former rivals and colonies. This geo-strategic thinking, documented from Lord Palmerston to Winston Churchill, saw Britain form alliances with former rivals like France, Russia and Soviets as well as former colony United States to twice see off challenges and hegemonic aspirations of another rising continental superpower in Germany. Britain, aware of her radically diminished status after the Second World war and the Suez Crisis, also then subsequently joinedwith United States to balance the Soviet hegemonic ambitions.
Brexit brings this debate into forefront again. Surprisingly this time, amidst the chaos, no one seems to have a clue, about what British Grand Strategy would be. One reason is, as John Kerry once said, it is all very much like 19th century politics, and strategists usually do not openly talk like that in civilised circles anymore. Liberal consensus in foreign policy and strategic circles also moved from such structural analyses, and talks of amoral balancing and bandwagoning and great power politics are considered old fashioned. Unfortunately the lesson that was etched in the next two years since that speech was that great powers, regardless of whether they are powerful or declining, lash out when their “perceived” national interests and spheres of influence are threatened. Even when those perceptions might be severely misconstrued, and it might even lead the great power to commit forces beyond it can muster or support, the great power will carry on the course, even at the risk of punishing economic retribution. Kerry and co re-learnt something which Realists talked about for the last quarter century, that there’s no other way other than either a compromise and honourable retreat, or a full on geopolitical confrontation (not necessarily conflict) that are the two ways this challenges can be dealt with. And that nation states, and not values or culture or trade are still the single most powerful determinant in geopolitics.
United Kingdom similarly needs to decide on the number of challenges that it will inevitably face in the coming years. Firstly, assessment needs to be done on the plausibility and effect of market forces deciding geopolitics and how much economic pain are the Britons willing to suffer. Britain cannot survive without European market, or without foreign brains, mostly working in the finance and tech and educational sectors in UK. Regardless of the cavalier attitude displayed by the Conservative leaders recently, one needs to get facts clear. United Kingdom is not British Empire without the productivity, and market of India, Canada, Australia and New Zealand behind it, and British industry base, like most of the Western countries, has shifted from manufacturing, agrarian and hard industry to a more modern urban, finance and tech centric knowledge based economy. There is no way that is going to be reversed, and Britain simply will not survive a competition when it comes to the labour mobility and comparative advantages of India or China, or other Asian economies for example. Which brings to the more important question, as both United Kingdom and Europe needs each other, what about the European Union and how to deal with it?
The European Union, is a political construct, and as long as it stays, harsh though it may sound, it might tend to look at United Kingdom post Brexit as a rival source of competition. UK has unleashed, or at least inspired a lot of national socialist and populist forces within EU, and the survival of EU depends on dominating and defeating these forces and that cannot be done, unless UK either compromises with EU on single market or capitulates to a more powerful EU. Already there is extreme friction with regards to an European security force led by none other than Germany, which understandably leaves UK shaken as it leads to a separate division and bureaucratization of European security command alongside NATO, not to mention the nightmarish idea of a potential joint military force across a narrow sea, of which UK is not a part of. With regards to that, what then should therefore be the British strategy? Would she join forces with Russia, another great power (albeit a rogue one) which might feel threatened by the same development? Should Britain then try to persuade United States that a single economic and military union in Europe is actually a hegemonic idea which is not desirable and one that both US and UK should oppose, because frankly no one knows how this union might act in future? Or should it covertly instigate separatist conservative anti-centralisation forces across the continent?
This is not a a fortunate or necessary development, however, nor is it desirable and is being advocated here. It is just a plausible scenario that falls within the realms of statistical possibility and therefore must be taken into account in any such analysis. United Kingdom, without a shadow of any doubt, has got more in common with immediate neighbours in Western European nation states than for example Russia or Central-Eastern V4 states, when it comes to culture, political leanings, and values, just as United States has more in common with United Kingdom than other European continental powers. United Kingdom is also heavily dependent on both European brainpower and research funding and the market forces and labour, despite the bravado of her current leaders.
However, Britain, is also a great power, and just like any other power, is shaped and influenced by structural forces around her. And as the literature of alliance formation tells us, if Britain faces too much pressure from the European Union regarding Brexit deals, the spring might just snap, and London might have to look for other partners and a more confrontational grand strategy, not just economically but also geopolitically. A lot is at stake here, and even post EU Referendum, it would be imprudent for both London and Brussels to be uncompromising, just as it would be unwise for Washington to have a completely hands off attitude regarding the future of these negotiations. The entire Atlantic security depends it.
Addendum: “This article was written on October 14th. One of the three primary hypothesis was that Britain, should it face an intransigent EU, might consider tactical alignment with Russia. The author would like to note, that as of 31st October, 15 days after the article was first drafted, while not official policy, that hypothesis is well within official consideration among the ruling Conservative policy circles.”
Sumantra Maitra is a doctoral researcher at the University of Nottingham, UK. His research is in Great power politics and Neorealism. You can find him on Twitter @MrMaitra.
The wounds are not dry so to speak…in the sense the World is still trying to grapple with a Trump Presidency.
Henry Kissinger agrees on that, as well!
On that note, I gave a lecture today, on “The Russia Question“, on how to deal with Russia and have a Western grand strategy. I am adding the PPT and abstract here for anyone interested.
” russian-question ”
The Russian Question
Abstract: ” Recently there is a policy paralysis in the West with regards to Putin’s Russia. The primary difference is on the causality of Russian revanchism, and therefore in effect prescribe completely opposing policy to counter this threat, which in turn highlight the two dominant schools of current Western political thought process. One is a minor but growing and influential conservative isolationism, and the other a more prevalent and mainstream liberal hegemony. I argue that neither of them either represent and define Realism as a school of foreign policy, or prescribe a Realist policy position to deal with Russia. ”
Read, and let me know what you guys think!
I don’t want to pile you with cliches, but the unthinkable happened.
Now, I have decided to focus on some other areas of my expertise, and my research…just because there are so many interminable, paranoid, hot takes going on, like this one for example…with nothing concrete, just peddling fear.
Anyway, I wrote two articles…first one for Quillette Magazine, where I critique this hysteria after Trump’s win.
Second one for National Interest, where I chart the foreign policy course for Trump in the near future, and the structural limitations he might face.
Have a read and let me know what you think!
The idea of a long form, citation-heavy, analytical article on Russia and Russian foreign policy, was not something I was interested in, particularly for two simple and personal reasons. First of all, great power relations, their military and grand strategy, with a particular focus on Russia, NATO and Europe is my area of study, research and, dare I say the much-reviled word, expertise. Like every academic, I treat my subject of research with a cherished, revered detachment; not because I feel skeptical about sharing the information/knowledge/wisdom which I spend days studying, for free, but because it is something which I essentially do all day and I feel reluctant about writing or talking about it during my journalistic leisure. Secondly, there is already an insane amount of what we call “pop analysis” on Russian foreign policy that is available online, especially snowballing during election and referendum seasons and such fluid state of Western foreign policy in general. Some written by bleeding heart rights campaigners, some written by broadly partisan ideological commentators from both left and right. Yet others written by journalists covering a single beat or region, broadly missing the greater geopolitical long game. A lot written by op-ed writers and bloggers desperate to fill up their daily content quota. I started my career as a journalist, so I don’t blame any of them. A lot of these pop analysis and explainers are inevitably asinine and demonstrably flawed, and lack even the most fundamental understanding of International Relations theory and the structural forces that shape and influence how states and nations behave and interact with each other in this Hobbesian, anarchic world.
Page 1 of 12
Going forward, conservatives must not bow to Trump
January 19, 2017
Book Review: “Black Wind White Snow”
January 19, 2017
Few Recent Essays by yours truly
January 18, 2017
Does President Trump deserve the respect of liberals?
January 16, 2017
The Donald vs. the US Intelligence Community
January 16, 2017
Trump: Neither isolationist nor interventionist
January 12, 2017
A tale of two scandals
January 12, 2017
Trump applies the lessons of Iraq backwards
January 4, 2017
Trump’s tabloid crony and his “Muslim spies”
December 26, 2016
Don’t listen to the false prophets of humanitarianism
December 24, 2016