“We win, they lose” – Wonderful world of Binary categorisations
Is the new Containment and its Cold War on our doorstep? Who does it need now and why? To answer that question is to grasp how the previous one ceased.
The end of the Cold War came abruptly, overnight. Many in the West dreamt about it, but nobody really saw it coming. The Warsaw Pact, Red Army in DDR, Berlin Wall, DDR itself, Soviet Union – one after the other, vanished rapidly, unexpectedly. To the outside world, there was no ceasefire, no peace conference, no formal treaty and guaranties, no expression of interests and settlement. Domestically, there was no general debate – even within the Soviet Communist Party ranks, there was no popular vote or referendum (if not for the USSR, at least for the RF), nor the Parliament’s decision to endorse it. Just an off-hand decree. After that, only the gazing facial expression of than Soviet Foreign Minister Eduard Shevardnadze, who circles around and unconvincingly repeats: “we now better understand each other”.
On the contrary, Bush (the 41st US President) calmly diagnosed: “We win, they lose!” (Read: tremendous freedom of action, unconstrained by concessions.) His administration immediately declared that US policies, including all military capabilities, will remain unchanged but with a different pretexts – to respond to the ‘technological sophistication of the Third world powers’ and to ‘radical nationalism’ (meaning; any indigenous emancipation). It simply meant that the US military power is not a last resort but a first impulse.
The World-is-Flat mantra sow the non-West Rest still enveloped in the Huntigtonian clash. Hence, the so-called normative revolution from the Atlantic followed shortly, in which the extensive, to say assertive, rights were self-prescribed on the (political process of NAM, derogated into geographic) global south. Thus, the might-makes-right interventions were justified through the new (de facto imperial) doctrines: humanitarian intervention, R2P (incl. Kouchner-Lévy bombing for a noble cause), doctrine of preemption, uninhabited access to or beyond the grand area, as well as the so-called Afroasia forward deployment, as a sort of the enlarged Brezhnev and Monroe doctrines combined together, etc.>
Simultaneously, Washington’s darling, Francis Fukuyama, published his famous article The End of History? and the book of a same title which soon followed. To underline the prevailing climate in the States, he even dropped the question mark in the title of the book.
Was this sudden meltdown of the Soviet giant and its Day After intrinsic or by design? (Should the humankind finally acknowledge the so-called directional path of history by which all possible and that probable is only a computable interplay between forces of biology, ecology and economy?)
Brutality respected ?
Classic theory would argue that the victorious power rearranges the postwar order to its economic, monetary and political advantage. To support this narrative, usual argument is that the victor rearranges the global trade system to its favor, as the UK did after defeating Napoleon and as the US did after winning over Hitler. But, it would be rather an outfoxing Allies than a winning the war. In both of these huge, cross-European, conflicts the main burden was suffered by Russians. Further on, the ultimate victory was decided nowhere else but on the Russian battlefields. What was the return?
The generous support, lavish and lasting funds that Atlantic-Central Europe extensively enjoyed in the form of Marshall Aid has never reached the principal victim of WWII – Eastern Europe. Despite the weak ethical grounds, this was so due to ideological constrains in the post-WWII period. Total WWII devastation of the East and their demographic loss of 36 million people (versus only 1,2 million in the Atlantic Europe), was of no help.
Moreover, only eight years after the end of WWII, the West brokered the so-called London Agreement on German External Debts (Londoner Schuldenabkommen). By the letter of this accord, over 60% of German reparations for the colossal atrocities committed in both WW were forgiven (or generously reprogramed) by their former European victims, including – quite unwillingly – several Eastern European states. The contemporary world wonder and the economic wunderkind, Germany that dragged world into the two devastating world wars, is in fact a serial defaulter which received debt relief like no one else on the globe – four times in the 20th century (1924, 1929, 1932 and 1953).
Despite all the subsidies given to the West, the East recovered remarkable fast. By the late-1950s and in the 1960s, many influential western economists seriously considered communism as better suited for economic advancements, along with a Soviet planned economy as the superior socio-economic model and winsome ideological matrix.
Indeed, impressive Soviet results were a living example to it: A backward, semi-feudal, rural country in 1920s, has won WWII and in parallel it evolved into a highly industrialized and urbanised superpower – all that in just 30 years. Spain needed over two centuries (and never completed), Holland 130 years, the UK 110, Germany 90, Japan 70 years to revolve from a backword agricultural cultivator into an industrial giant. Moscow achieved that in only 30-35 years, all alone. Thus, by the mid-1950s – besides its becoming a nuclear power – the Soviet Union grew up in a pioneer of cosmos exploration, and a pivot that moves the final frontier of mankind deep into the outer space. Sending a woman into orbit while many in the West still struggled with elementary gender equality was an ethical and technological blaster. Morality of communist narrative as well as its socio-economic advancements appealed globally.
If all the above is true, why then did the Soviet Union collapse? Was it really a global overstretch; bankruptcy caused by the Afghan intervention, along with the costly Space program (orbital station Mir)? And finally, if the US collapsed earlier with the so-called Nixon shock, why did America turn stronger afterwards, while after the Gorbachev-era bankruptcy of Moscow, the Russian historical empire melted away so rapidly?
There are numerous views on it. Still, there is nothing conclusive yet – neither a popular nor scientific consensus is here.
Some years ago, I had the honour to teach at the famous Plekhanov University of Economics in Moscow. It was a block-week with students of the Plekhanov’s elite IBS program. Twelve days in Moscow proved to be an excellent opportunity to ask these questions to some of the most relevant economic authorities among academic colleagues.
The line of answers was quite different to anything I’ve usually heard or read (leaving and teaching) in the West. Furthermore, their clarity and simplicity surprised me: Muscovites claimed that right after Nixon shock the Soviet Politbureau and Gosplan (the Soviet Central Planning Economic Body – overseeing the entire economic performance of the Union, and indirectly its satellites) sat jointly in an extensive closed session. They debated two items only:
1. Could we prevent chaos and global instability by filling the gap after the collapse of the United States (and it eventual partition into 4 to 6 entities). Meaning to put the allied countries – previously under the US sphere of influence – under the Soviet effective control;
2. Could we viably deter Chinese economic (and overall Asia’s socio-demographic and politico-military) advancement alone, without the help of the US (or its successors) and its western satellites.
After thorough and detailed talks, answer to both questions was a unanimous NO.
Consequently, the logical conclusion was: Moscow needs to save the US as to preserve balance of power. Without equilibrium in world affairs, there is no peace, stability, and security over the long run – a clear geostrategic imperative.
Indeed, right after the Nixon shock, an era of détente has started, which led to the Helsinki process and its Decalogue (that remains the largest and most comprehensive security treaty ever brokered on our planet). The SALT I and II were signed. The NAM (Non-Aliened Movement) gained ground globally as the 3rd, way of moderation, wisdom and stability. The US was left to re-approach China (so-called Triangular engagement). Soon after, it recognised the Beijing China (One-China policy), and closed the chapter on Vietnam and Indochina.
Simultaneously, Americans (re-)gained a strategic balance elsewhere, like in Latina America and (horn of and western) Africa, with a brief superpowers’ face-off in the Middle East (Yom Kippur War) which – though bloody and intensive – did not damage the earlier set balances.
Why, then, the instability in today’s world?
Apparently, Washington did not really consider these two questions when it was their turn. Soviet planetary stewardship was misused and Gorbachev’s altruism was ridiculed. As a consequence of today, the edges of the former Soviet zone – from Algeria to Korea and from Finland to the Balkans – are enveloped in instabilities. On top of it, Chinese powerhouse is unstoppable: Neither of the Western powers alone nor a combination of them is able to match Sino-giant economically. Even the cross-Pacific TPP cannot deter China, and therefore is silently abandoned. Asia itself, although the largest and most populous continent, is extremely bilateral. Its fragile security structures were anyway built on the precondition of a soft center.
* * * *
A Bear of permafrost worried about global balance and was finally outfoxed, while a Fish of warm seas unleashed its (corporate) greed and turned the world into what it is today: a dangerous place full of widening asymmetries and unbalances. Climate, health, income parity, access to food and water, safety and security – each regionally and globally disturbed. Exaggerated statement?
For the sake of empirical test, let us apply the method of sustainability on this short story of 20th-21st century geopolitics. As per tentative definition, Sustainable Development is any development which aims at the so-called 3Ms: the maximum good for maximum species, over maximum time-space span – comprehensive stewardship. Beauty of the 3M principle is that it makes SD matrix very easily quantifiable. Hereby, we certainly leave aside other methods of quantification – all reporting rather disturbing figures: the Oxfam study, Paris Accord/IPCC, Gini coefficient, Database of Happiness, Tobin Tax initiative, Ecological Footprint - CDI/SDI, WTO’s Doha round, etc.
Hence, how did our superpowers behave? Was our 3M better off before or after 1991?
The UN High Commissioner for Refugees Filippo Grandi (in the Agency’s Global Trends Report) notes the unprecedented asymmetries of today’s world. Facts are heart-freezing like my Moscow winter years ago. The UNHCR states: “Every 111th person on this planet is the displaced. Of the 68,5 million people forcibly displaced globally by the end of 2018, 10.3 million became displaced in 2016 and 16,2 million in 2017… This equates to one person becoming displaced every 2 seconds – less than the time it takes to read half of this sentence.” Most of the displaced are originating from the III World – Developing countries and are (temporarily) logged within that part of the world.
What is with the II World? According to the UN (UNPD, World Population Prospects), all ten of the world’s most “endangered” countries are in Eastern Europe. They are Bulgaria, Romania, Poland, Hungary, the Baltic republics, ex-Yugoslavia, as well as Moldova and Ukraine. By 2050 the population of these countries will decrease by another 15-23%. Leading demographers are shocked by the severity and speed of this civilizational demise: “it is unprecedented depopulation for peacetime.” Among the main reasons called the killer combination are a low birth rate, high mortality and mass emigration to the western world caused by the rapid deindustrialisation and acculturalisation.
Finally, how does it stand with the I World since early 1990s? Within the OECD world, real wages today are lower than those of late 1980s. At the same time, the income gap is widening along with the generational accounting figures. From a wage ratio 1-15 in Western Europe in early 1990s, it escalated so much that today in some of the OECD countries it is 1-204 (!!). The youth unemployment (and youth indebtedness) is all-time high, while an early career salaries are in constant fall. Nowhere in the West of today, more education does translate into better job – figures of overqualified jobless are alarmingly large. Number of suicides and abuses related to either medical or narcotic drugs is skyrocketing.
The OECD world was never before involved in so many overseas interventions. At the same time, back home, it was never that many ‘temporary’ or ‘extended’ suspensions of rights and freedoms on a pretext of fighting the ‘war on terror’. All what attributes that democracy is contracting in recession. The economic austerity followed the libertarian one.
Winning has never felt this bad.
“You are either with us or against us” is a famous binary platform of Bush (the 43rd US President). Indeed, our planetary choice is binary but slightly broader.
An End of history in re-feudalisation or a dialectic enhancement of civilisation. Holistic or fractionary. Cosmos (of order) or chaos (of predatory asymmetries) – simple choice.
1. In his 1991 interview, Allen Weinstein, the co-founder of the National Endowment for Democracy admitted: “A lot of what we do today was done covertly 25 years ago by the CIA”. Meddling in other states’ internal affairs is old rabbit, but what became new was the transparent and institutionalized nature of these activities – a sign of arrogance triggered by the Cold War victory euphoria. 11
2. Such an accelerated liberal hegemony quest was of a cross-presidential coherence going well beyond the Bush presidency. Forward on, it perfectly linked Clinton’s policy of “engagement and enlargement”, G.W. Bush’s “freedom agenda” and Obama’s “chose your destiny” like the Arab Spring did. Today, results are of course plain to see: costly occupations, massive forced migrations and failed states. 11
3. Revisiting and rejuvenating one of the classical theories of political sociology, the theory of modernization, formulated by S.M. Lipset, another darling and high priest of globalization – this one a cheerleader of the New York Times – influencer and columnist Thomas Friedman gave it the postmodern vision. He openly divinized the US ‘triumph of the will’ by suggesting; “once a country got enough McDonald’s restaurants, democracy and institutions were bound to follow.” 11
4. ”Between 1928 and 1960 national income grew at 6% a year, probably the most rapid spurt of economic growth in history up until then… As late as 1977, a leading academic textbook by an English economist argued that Soviet-style economics were superior to capitalist ones in terms of economic growth, providing full employment and price stability and even in producing people with altruistic motivation. Poor old Western capitalism did better only at providing political freedoms. Indeed, the most widely used university textbook in economics, written by Nobel Prize-winner Paul Samuelson, repeatedly predicted the coming economic dominance of the Soviet Union. In the 1961 edition, Samuelson predicted that Soviet national income would overtake that of the US possibly by 1984, but probably by 1997.” – reminds us seminal work Why Nations Fail. //Acemoglu, D. and Robinson, J. (2012), Why Nations Fail, Crown Publishing Group/Random House NY (pg. 127-128) // 11
5. ”When the Dutch emerged in 1945 from five years of brutal Nazi occupation, almost the first thing they did was raise an army and send it halfway across the world to reoccupy their former colony of Indonesia. Whereas in 1940 the Dutch gave up their own independence after little more than four days of fighting, they fought for more than four long and bitter years to suppress Indonesian independence. No wonder that many national liberation movements throughout the world placed their hopes on communist Moscow (and later on the Tito’s Non-Allied movement, com. aut.) … rather than on the self-proclaimed champions of liberty in the West.” – remarks Harari (21 Lessons for the 21st Century, page 10).
6. Each and every military plan of the Warsaw Pact presumed a war started by NATO. In 1987, George Kennan – the architect of containment doctrine himself, had finally published what he was telling privately for years: “I have never believed that Soviet leaders have seen it as in their interest to overrun Western Europe militarily, or that they would have launched an attack on that region generally even if the so-called nuclear deterrent had not existed.” FAM (3) 1987 – Containment: 40 years later. Confirming Kennan, Stephen M. Walz states: “The idea that the EU (whose roster includes two nuclear-armed powers) lacks the wherewithal to defend itself against a neighbor whose economy is smaller than Italy’s is risible.” FAM (3) 2019 – The End of Hubris. And, indeed the European Union has over 500 million inhabitants, while Russia has only 144. The EU’s combined annual GDP is 11 times bigger than that of the RF (over $17 billion versus $1,6). Finally, the European NATO members annually spend more than three times what Moscow does on its defense.
7. Grand reformer of modern China, Deng Xiaoping famously put it: ‘hide your strength, bide your time’. Back in the 1970s, Deng doctored a visionary concept of four modernizations – of agriculture, industry, science and technology. The last one – military, he kept for the end. Successive leaderships followed this recipe blindly. Hence, the Sino giant firstly modernized, and not before becoming the world’s second largest economy, the country moved to the next step – flexing the muscles. Recent opening of the China’s naval base in Djibouti is the first permanent overseas military presence of China since late XIV century (if ever before). Its sudden dismissive military posture in the South and in the East China Sea suppressed many.
8. “For decades, the real income of the developed world’s working classes has been declining. Fifty years ago, the largest employer in the US was General Motors, where workers earned an average of around $30 an hour in 2016 dollars. Today, the country’s largest employer is Walmart, which in 2016 paid around $8 an hour.” – laments the US Foreign Affairs magazine. // Inglehart, R. (2018) The Age of Insecurity, FAM 97(3) pg.26 //
9. Except for rather brief moments of wars and famines, every next generation of Europeans has, ever since the age of Industrial Revolution, enjoyed a higher standard of living than their own parents. An average newborn European could expect to have more money, to live longer, and to spend more at leisure. These days are clearly over, especially for the EU-15: The median income has remained stagnant over the past 25 years. Meaning that the real median household income in 2014 is less than it was in 1989. Like never before, the EU today has its best-educated workforce ever. At the same time, the EU financial sector is the least regulated ever – a process that coincided with the end of Cold war. Thus, many economists, like Nobel laureate Solow, claim that the so-called financial industry has negative impact on economy and society. Therefore, no wonder that today over 100 million Europeans are hitting the poverty line.11
10. ”Over the past two decades, the United States has been mired in a series of wars that have sapped its strength. The human cost of these wars have been staggering… By financing these conflicts while cutting taxes, the country has essentially charged the costs of war to a collective credit card for future generations to pay, diverting money that could have been invested in critical domestic priorities. This burden will create a drag on the economy that will last for generations.” – laments Senator Elizabeth Warren4. 14Warren, E. (2019), A Foreign Policy for All, FAM 98 (1) 2019 (pg.54)
11. Handing over the socio-economic tomorrow to the mercy of quarterly revenue reports, while additionally squeezing the socio-political future by the so-called technological modernisation (AI and bioinformatics enforcement) – notably, algorithmisation of human behaviour, digital authoritarianism and predictive policing in a struggle of irrelevance of human existence.41314
12. ”For now, our governing system resembles a kind of collective hysteria, an emotional breakdown that reflects problems far broader than our having a crackpot president. Both major parties are stuck in the past and afraid of the future. Fear and confusion have overwhelmed the establishment. They have no plan for our future—not one that speaks candidly to the troubled conditions that have emerged over the last generation.4.. The crux of America’s conflicted feelings is this: We are a great power in decline, but one that pretends nothing has changed. The decline in our dominance of world affairs is not a tragedy, and may actually be liberating in many ways. But the so-called American Century is definitely over, mainly because so many other countries have caught up with us… 11The history of great nations in decline ought to be a cautionary tale for Americans. On their way down, declining powers have often squandered their assets on wasteful wars in vain attempts to deny the reality of new competition… 13we do seem to be following the same old script—using military force in an attempt to shape the economic playing field.” 14Greider, W. (2017), Why American Democracy Has Descended Into Collective Hysteria, The Nation (28 SEP 17)