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How Significant is the $400 Billion Comprehensive Strategic Partnership between China and Iran

8 Apr

[Prefatory Note: the post below consists of my responses to questions posed by the Iranian journalist Javad Heiran-Nia Questions on the China/Iran Agreement (4 April 2021). The agreement, officially known as Comprehensive Strategic Partnership  was signed formally just a few weeks before it was announced that so-called ‘indirect talks’ between Iran and the U.S. were taking place in Vienna dealing with conditions relevant to the U.S. willingness to rejoin the JCPOA (Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action, the international agreement on Iran’s nuclear program, that had been negotiated in 2015 to address proliferation concerns of the UN P-5 + Germany and the sanctions concerns of Iran. The U.S. withdrew from the agreement in 2018 in fulfillment of Donald Trump’s 2016 campaign pledge to do so because it was derided as a bad deal for the West. What accounts for such talks being ‘indirect’ is not covered in the interview, and seems like a hedge against directly failing to find enough common ground to commence overdue ‘direct’ talks.] 

  1. 25-year cooperation document between Iran and China was signed. What is the significance of this document for the two countries?

The agreement configured to be worth at least $400 billion, carefully negotiated, and significantly named Comprehensive Strategic Partnership, promises significant mutual benefit to both countries. For China it offers both a major extension of its Belt and Road Initiative, involving huge infrastructure and investment features, especially Chinese investment in Iranian energy infrastructure and an Iranian commitment to supply China with crude oil. It also extends China’s diplomatic presence to and economic engagement with an important country in the Middle East at an opportune time given the present global setting. The fact that the agreement covers a period of 25 years suggests that it represents long-term commitment by China to Iran and Iran to China, presupposing continuity of governing structures in both countries.

For Iran, it signals the United States that Beijing is not isolated, and possess policy alternatives that can encroach upon American strategic interests. It also sends the message that China will not submit to U.S. pressures with respect either to the restoration of JCPOA or curtail its regional diplomacy that runs counter to the positions of Israel, Saudi Arabia, and the U.S.. The economic dimensions relating to infrastructure investment and trade also promise relief from the burdens imposed on Iran and its people by U.S. sanctions and threat diplomacy over a period of almost 40 years. The long duration projected for the arrangements also gives Iranian governing arrangements a vote of confidence as to stability and legitimacy. 

2. In terms of timing, what messages does the signing of this document have for the United States?

The timing seems important. Coming at the outset of the Biden presidency it sends a dual message: China is prepared to lend its support to countries that are placed under intense pressure by the United States and that China’s international policies will not be changed by the sort of bullying tactics that were exhibited by the American Secretary of State, Antony Blinken, at the recent bilateral meetings in Alaska. It also is an illustration of the difference between the U.S. emphasis on militarism by way of coercive diplomacy, arms sales, and overseas bases, and the very different Chinese stress on fashioning win/win economic relationships that result in mutual benefits without entailing intervention in internal affairs or abridgement of sovereign rights, although in this agreement it contains a provision on security cooperation including sharing intelligence and joint training exercises. At times, Chinese diplomacy may weaken national self-reliance and autonomous development of its partners, but its diplomacy seems to rest consistently on peaceful means and mutual benefits.

 3. The United States has expressed concern about the signing of this cooperation document. What worries America?

It seems inevitable considering the scale, scope, duration, timing, and even the name of the Iran-China agreement would cause concern in Washington.

The United States has two principal concerns: a weakening of its diplomatic leverage with Iran and a further display of Chinese competitive skills that expose the weakness of current U.S. hegemonic approaches to world order, and specifically in the Middle East. The fact that this cooperative mega-agreement is situated in the Middle East threatens to diminish U.S. regional influence in a crucial strategic setting where it has been unopposed since the end of the Cold War in the early 1990s. This observation is given added plausibility by the recent efforts of several important countries in the Middle East, including even Israel and Saudi Arabia, to enter into significant economic relationships with China. The recent good will visit of the Chinese Foreign Minister, Wang Yi, to the region also reinforced the impression of increasing China’s interests and activities in the region, which can only make Washington nervous about being displaced, or at least challenged. Mr. Wang set forth five principles delimiting satisfactory inter-governmental conduct, which he indicated that if accepted by the governments of the region, would encourage China to play a supportive role. These five principles, somewhat resembling the principles of peaceful coexistence drafted and endorsed by the UN General Assembly are rather benign, but convey aspirations for cooperative relations among states rather than conflictual or hegemonic international relations. [See Declaration of Principles of International Law Concerning Friendly Relations and Co-operation Among States in Accordance with the Charter of the United Nations, GA Res 2625 (XXV), 24 Oct 1970] The five points set forth are mutual respect, upholding equity and justice, achieving non-proliferation, collective security, and accelerated development assistance. Only ‘achieving non-proliferation’ seems a bit peculiar considering that Israel already possesses nuclear weaponry [for elaboration see “Wang Yi Proposes a Five-point Initiative on Achieving Security and Stability in the Middle East,” PR China, March 26, 2021] In this spirit the Foreign Minister ventured to suggest China’s willingness to host a conference dealing with the security of sea lanes and oil facilities in the Middle East.

4- During Iran foreign minister Zarif’s visit to China, the Chinese Foreign Minister somehow tied the signing of this agreement to the settlement of Iran’s disputes with the countries of the region. But he has now traveled to Iran to sign the agreement. Has there been a change in China’s view since Biden came to power in the United States? In other words, has China been waiting for the policy of the new US administration?

That earlier Chinese reluctance to sign the agreement has not been mentioned very often in the Western assessment of the event, which had been tied to Iran’s successful overcoming of difficulties with Arab countries in the region. This somewhat unusual demand, and now the change of position on China’s part lends weight to the circumstantial evidence that formalizing the agreement at this time reflects a reaction to the wider political context. It particularly suggests that China is prepared to demonstrate its firmness and independence in relation to the United States. It is a warning to the Biden presidency that if the U.S. forcibly challenges China’s regional sphere of influence in the South China Seas, China has ways to retaliate. China may still be hoping for a de-escalation of tensions when the negative effects of starting a new cold war become better appreciated by the Biden leadership. This is speculative on my part as nothing formally articulated suggests that such a reconsideration is underway in Washington. The irresponsible allegations of ‘genocide’ allegedly being perpetrated by the Chinese government against the Uyghur minority in the Xinjiang area suggest a further worsening of relations, allegations certain to further inflame relations between these two major countries.

Nevertheless, Washington’s cautious signs of willingness to move toward the resumption of negotiations with regard to JCPOA may also be indicative of a new American interest in neutralizing China’s leverage and influence in Tehran. And beyond this, to keep open the possibility of limiting confrontations to peaceful forms of competition, regionally and globally.

The underlying agreement, officially known as Comprehensive Strategic Partnership  was signed formally just a few weeks before it was announced that so-called ‘indirect talks’ between Iran and the U.S. were starting in Vienna dealing with U.S. conditions and demands relevant to its willingness to rejoin the JCPOA (Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action, the international agreement on Iran’s nuclear program, that had been negotiated in 2015 to address proliferation concerns of the UN P-5 + Germany and the sanctions concerns of Iran. The U.S. withdrew from the agreement in 2018 in fulfillment of Donald Trump’s 2016 campaign pledge to do so because it was derided as a bad deal for the West. What accounts for such talks being ‘indirect’ is not covered in the interview, and seems like a hedge against directly failing to find enough common ground to commence overdue ‘direct’ talks

5-One of the important issues raised for this cooperation document is Iran’s land connection to Iraq and Syria. In this way, China can connect to the Mediterranean Sea through Iran, Iraq and Syria. Iran has a strong presence in the Syrian port of Tartus, and pro-Iranian forces also control the Bokmal border crossing in Syria’s Deir ez-Zor province and the al-Qaim crossing in Iraq’s Anbar province. How feasible do you think this path is?

I am not in a good position to make any informed judgment beyond expressing the view that this kind of projection is consistent with other arrangements concluded within the framework of the Belt and Road Initiative, which has taken advantage of Chinese capital and skilled labor for similar development projects in Asia and Africa. All of these countries benefit when such plans go forward, and it would strengthen the temptation to preserve political independence in Iraq and Syria to encourage such arrangements, which could be part of a broader strategy of protecting national security of vulnerable countries by practicing equi-distance diplomacy, that is, maintaining workable relations with both the U.S. and China without alignment with either one, and thereby retaining freedom of maneuver.

The Chinese agreement with Iran, officially known as Comprehensive Strategic Partnership  was signed formally just a few weeks before it was announced that so-called ‘indirect talks’ between Iran and the U.S. were taking place in Vienna dealing with conditions relevant to the U.S. willingness to rejoin the JCPOA (Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action, the international agreement on Iran’s nuclear program, that had been negotiated in 2015 to address proliferation concerns of the UN P-5 + Germany and the sanctions concerns of Iran. The U.S. withdrew from the agreement in 2018 in fulfillment of Donald Trump’s 2016 campaign pledge to withdraw because the agreement was derided as a bad deal for the West. What accounts for such talks being ‘indirect’ is not covered in the interview, and seems like a hedge against failing to find enough common ground if the parties were to commence overdue ‘direct’ talks without adequate preparation. It is likely that these indirect talks are really to intend to explore whether negotiations had a reasonable prospect of success.

Do We Really Want a Second Cold War?

31 Mar

[Prefatory Note: The post below is a slightly modified version of Policy Paper #4 RESPONDING TO CHINESE VIOLATIONS OF HUMAN RIGHTS, published previously on the website of the Committee for a Sane China Policy. It reflects my view that the protection of human rights is being geopolitically manipulate to mobilize public support for an anti-Chinese foreign policy in the West that risks generating a dangerous geopolitical confrontation. Such a confrontation is costly, amounts to war-mongering, and diverts U.S. attention from self-scrutiny and global peacebuilding. Whether a second cold war is already underway is a matter of interpretation, but even those reluctant to reach such a depressing assessment would have to acknowledge that unless there are strong efforts made to support what I would call ‘inclusive global multipolarity,’ the drift toward such a dismal near-term future will become inevitable. The need to sound the alarm has reached a level of urgency.]    

Introduction: 

There is no doubt that Chinese government encroachments on the fundamental human rights of its population have become more pervasive and serious in several respects during the leadership of President Xi Jinping. This unfortunate development has been increasingly highlighted, often with inflammatory intent, by Western leaders and media outlets – apattern that is contributing to increasing tensions between China and the West, especially the United States. This emphasis on Chinese violations of human rights is reinforced by complaints that China acted irresponsibly and oppressively in its early responses to the COVID-19 challenge, is defying international law in the South China Sea, and has not participated in the world economy in a fair and proper manner, hence justifying such American responses as blocking exports of high-technology items to China, persuading European governments to avoid tying their internet network to Chinese 5G technology, placing burdens on Chinese investment in the United States, and above all in mounting a global propaganda offensive against China. 

President Biden in his speech to the Munich Security Conference on February 19, 2021 highlighted what he called ‘competition’ with China as well as with Russia, blaming each for bad behavior, while saying that the U.S. seeks to avoid a new cold war and looks forward to cooperation with China in areas of shared concern, most notably in relation to health and climate change.[1]  At the same time the, central thesis of the Munich speech was disturbing, a confusing call for solidarity among democratic countries, highlighting NATO’s mission in ‘prevailing’ over the challenges mounted by the rise of autocratic nationalism all over the world. For those able to recall the bellicose rhetoric of prior decades, this call is highly resonant with Cold War slogans about the ‘free world’ resisting the totalitarian Soviet bloc. It was also confusing by combining alliance solidarity with Biden’s call for the formation of a united front of democratic states, forgetting that many U.S. allies are far from achieving democratic credentials – consider the Philippines, India, Brazil, Hungary, and Saudi Arabia.  

There are also unacknowledged worries in the West about competitiveness arising not from Chinese improper behavior towards its own people, but from its growing technological creativity and regional military muscle. The so-called ‘Thucydides Trap’ has historically prompted nervous dominant states seek to turn back a challenge to their preeminence by initiating a war while still enjoying military superiority, which is feared will soon be overtaken.[2] The dangers of confrontation with China are especially great given the flashpoints in the South and East China Seas, and especially in relation to Taiwan. China seems intent on establishing its regional supremacy while the United States seeks to reassert its long-dominant regional role by displaying its formidable naval presence as a sign of readiness to meet political threats with shows of force, a recipe for dangerous forms of unintended escalation. There are additional concerns arising from the anticipated further military buildup in the Indo-Pacific regions, based on $27 billion additional budget requests over the next five years. In the background of intensifying militarization is the related public expression by high-ranking Pentagon officials that in view of China’s regional buildup of forces, the U.S. would be under great pressure to use nuclear weapons. A top admiral urged strategic planners to grasp this reality by understanding that the use of nuclear weapons in a forthcoming crisis would not be possible but probable, and should be prepared. Such a conclusion was reinforced by recent war game simulations showing that China would prevail at conventional levels of interaction. Not since the Cuban Missile Crisis has there been a situation in which ‘rational’ security analysts acknowledged a dependence on nuclear weapons to meet strategic goals, and not just as serving in a deterrent role.

It is against this background of mixed messages that U.S. policy toward human rights in China should be shaped, especially if the goal is to avoid war and establish an overall atmosphere that encourages cooperative engagements. This critical goal would best be served by reducing tensions that could give rise to hazardous and hostile confrontations, and even outright conflict. This paper seeks to thread the needle so as to separate genuine concerns about human rights from the overriding priority of not stumbling into a cold war – let alone a hot war – with China. In that spirit it sets forth a profile of China’s human rights record, including taking account of its considerable positive sides, and expresses a skeptical view as to whether overt hostile criticisms, policies, or actions are justified or effective, adopting the view that such a pushback is certain to be resented by Chinese leaders and dismissed as hostile propaganda. It is certain to be ineffective in changing China’s controversial domestic policies.  

Declaring this, however, does not dispose of the problem. As with the Cold War and regime-changing interventions, the denunciation of human rights violations by an adversary of the United States, usually in exaggerated form, has proven extremely useful in mobilizing Congressional, media, and citizen support for coercive diplomacy, taking a variety of forms, including military buildups, sanctions, interventions, threats, and covert destabilizing operations. When John Bolton, a relentless right-wing geopolitical hawk when it comes to opposing Muslim political aspirations in the Middle East and elsewhere, expressed fury over Donald Trump’s unwillingness to do anything substantial about the plight of the approximately 12 million Turkic speaking Muslim Uyghurs and Kazakhs living in the Xinjiang Autonomous Region of China, we should realize that his concern is not about human rights or the plight of the Uyghurs, but is about seizing the opportunity to use human rights concerns to bludgeon the Chinese and arouse anti-Chinese sentiments in the United States already inflamed by Trump’s frequent allusions to the ‘Wuhan virus’ or ‘China virus.’. 

Some Perspective on China’s Human Rights Record  

It is difficult to disentangle Western anti-Chinese propaganda from an objective appraisal of China’s record on human rights. This difficulty is compounded by certain Asian values and traditions that help explain government behavior, which when given a special Chinese twist, diverge in approach from Western liberal approaches that give priority to individual freedoms.   

There is no doubt that China’s policy toward Tibetan, Eastern Mongolian, and Uyghur minorities raise serious human rights issues that have been reliably reported by respected human rights organizations. The allegations include involuntary detention and abusive treatment in so-called ‘reeducation camps,’ forced sterilization, denials of freedoms of expression, religion, and cultural identity, family separation, and discrimination in paid work.[3]  

Yet the underlying issues are complex, and can be interpreted from contradictory perspectives. Concerns about human rights, especially when associated with discontented ethnic and religious minorities, are inevitably interrelated with questions about the interplay of territorial sovereignty and specifying the acceptable nature of national identity. This includes grappling with the indistinct relationship between duties to uphold the internationally protected human rights of minorities and responses to social movements based on claims of autonomy and separation. In such cases, human rights issues need to be balanced against measures undertaken to maintain the unity of the state. There are legal ambiguities and factual complexities about who has the authority to strike a balance between collective human rights and governmental responsibility to uphold the unity of the state. What constitutes a reasonable balance? Who decides? There are no firm answers. 

International law has long wrestled with this complexity. On the one side exists a strong affirmation of the right of self-determination that inheres in every ‘people’ and it set forth in Article 1 of both the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights and the International Covenant on Economic, Social, and Cultural Rights. On the other side is the common understanding in international law, as confirmed by an influential 1970 UN resolution, as prohibiting claims of self-determination that seek to fragment or threaten the unity of existing sovereign states. The language of the preamble to the UN resolution is clear and uncontested: “…any attempt aimed at the partial or total disruption of the national unity and territorial integrity of a State or country or at its political independence is incompatible with the purposes and principles of the [UN] Charter.[4] This conceptual confusion is accentuated to the extent that international law confers the right of self-determination on a ‘people’ while endowing ‘states’ with ‘sovereignty,’ which often encompasses more than one people. Governments are legally empowered to exercise virtually unrestricted authority within recognized territorial boundaries to curb movements that exhibit separatist tendencies. 

Yet when national policy is being challenged by ethno-political movements seeking greater degrees of cultural and political autonomy, including language rights and questions bearing on the freedom of religion, issues of human rights and sovereign authority are inevitably intertwined. In these contexts, independence demands, nationalist claims, and secessionism tendencies are often disguised beneath assertions of human rights grievances, partly to arouse a sympathetic international response. Not only is a careful balancing of facts, law, and rights called for, but account must be taken of how and why some human claims are ignored while others are strongly confirmed. International alignments often explain these glaring differences of response. The human rights wrongdoing of geopolitical adversaries is exaggerated, while comparable wrongs of friends are overlooked or handled discreetly. Perhaps, this unequal response is to some extent understandable given the way the world is politically organized, but when, as here, there is present a dangerous tendency to use human rights issues to stoke the fires of geopolitical contestation, caution and prudence are called for. We observe a toxic correlation of recommended toughness in relating to China in the context of trade and the South China Sea disputeswith inflammatory complaints about Chinese violations of human rights. Such behavior threatens confrontation, serious crises, even war, and so has very different implications than justifiable efforts to counteract abusive exercises of state power by the recent military takeover of the government in Myanmar. 

Some of China’s policies toward the Uyghurs seem to be clearly in violation of international human rights standards. Such behavior is unacceptable, but even here the facts are not as clear in its character as China’s most fervent critics contend. China has long adopted controversial measures to curb population growth and was widely criticized for its one-family policies, but also widely praised for avoiding demographic pressures that might have intensifies expansionist policies, causing conflict. 

There is doubt that China also exhibits intolerance toward political dissent and opposition politics that would be viewed in many national settings as violating civil and political rights. More than elsewhere, China has established intrusive surveillance mechanisms to monitor the behavior of its citizenry that encroach upon the privacy of its citizens. But China is hardly the only country in the world where this is occurring. In general, the drift throughout the world is toward authoritarianism with respect to state/society relations, and however regrettable, this trend often discloses the political will of the nation as expressed through periodic elections, and although noted with concern by Washington, is not allowed to influence U.S. foreign policy, especially if authoritarianism prevails in an ally or friendly country. As a result, this focus on China’s authoritarian policies and practices seems less concerned with the rights of the Chinese people and better understood as a means of ramping up geopolitical pressures. 

Again, police brutality in response to public demonstrations in Hong Kong seem unacceptable from the perspective of a truly free society; note, however, that the Chinese government response is far less harsh than the far bloodier Egyptian response to peaceful demonstrations in recent years, and yet no media or State Department scrutiny has been forthcoming in that case. In contrast, the Hong Kong confrontational demonstrations are given intensive, one-sided, and totally sympathetic media coverage. 

Fairly considered, the human rights picture in China looks quite different if economic and social rights are taken into account. China, perhaps more rapidly and impressively than any country throughout all of history, has overcome the extreme poverty of as many as 300 million of its citizens, providing for health, education, housing, food security, and infrastructure development in ways that many affluent countries of the West fail to do, despite centuries of effort. China’s ‘Belt and Road Initiative,’ the largest public works project ever undertaken – while controversial in some respects – has produced many beneficial outcomes in Asia and Africa that have enabled developing countries to better meet the needs of their peoples, and indirectly contribute to the realization of economic and social rights. 

China’s Human Rights Record and U.S. Foreign Policy

When attempting to devise an appropriate U.S. foreign policy response to China’s human rights record, there are several issues that need to be distinguished: 

·       What is the overall Chinese record on human rights if fairly appraised, given some uncertainties as to evidence and behavior reflective of cultural divergencies? 

·       Should U.S. foreign policy highlight Chinese violations of human rights? 

·       Would highlighting be effective in improving the protection of human rights in China? 

·       Would such highlighting increase the likelihood of heightened geopolitical tensions, reduced global cooperation, and greater conflict in the South China Seas?

Assessing the Record 

China’s record on human rights is definitely mixed. If judged by Western liberal standards it can be faulted for serious violations of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights. If appraised by non-Western and Global South standards, its achievements with respect to economic and social rights stand out, and compares favorably with many Western countries. The Universal Declaration of Human Rights contains many provisions confirming economic and social rights, and is considered expressive of customary international law, despite being originally set forth as ‘declaratory’ and ‘non-binding.’ In the public discourse about China, even the most respected Western human rights NGOs accord China zero credit for this amazing record of poverty alleviation, and thus its overall reputation is denied a proper appraisal.  

The most serious internationally actionable allegations with respect to China involve the treatment of the Uyghur minority. As mentioned earlier, there is no doubt that allegations involving serious human rights violations by China in Xinjiang involving the Uyghurs seem based on extensive evidence. In the words of the Human Rights Watch World Report for 2020, China’s “‘Strike Hard Campaign Against Violent Extremism’ has entailed mass arbitrary detention, surveillance, indoctrination, and destruction of the region’s cultural and religious heritage.”[5] But whether pressure from outside China will help or hurt the Uyghurs is problematic. It should be kept in mind that many some of these charges against China are difficult to evaluate, and rest on rationalizations relied on by many governments under the heading of anti-separatism and counter-terrorism. As such, they are subject to controversy and much of the evidence relied upon is clouded by partisan political interpretations relating to legally ambiguous issues such as the discretion of the territorial sovereign with respect to the treatment of minority nationalities that exhibit violent separatist tendencies.[6]  

The most serious charges of ‘genocide’ seem certainly exaggerated and unfounded by reference to international standards, which impose exacting standard of intentionality.[7] In this instance, to allege genocide, as Secretary of State Mike Pompeo did on the basis of discredited assessments by Andrew Zenz, seems outrageous considering verified population increases among Uyghurs in recent years.[8] Such extreme charges are politically motivated, highly provocative, legally unsupportable, and hence, diplomatically irresponsible. 

Would Highlighting be Effective in Improving China’s Human Rights Record? 

Overall, when dealing with major countries, including the United States, improving compliance with human rights comes about as a result of developments from within territorial borders. Criticism from outside, even from the UN or other international institutions, tends to be ignored or discounted as hostile propaganda. Such a pattern not only reflects the statist nature of world order, but is also a reaction to the cynical use of human rights discourse to justify hostile attitudes toward foreign adversaries or geopolitical rivals. Such patterns of behavior were very characteristic of the selective emphasis on human rights throughout the Cold War: a country with a left or Marxist outlook was condemned for human rights violations while countries that were aligned with the West were not criticized, much less sanctioned, no matter how serious their violations of fundamental human rights. 

Against this background it would be a mistake for the U.S. Government to emphasize allegations of Chinese human rights violations when seeking to work out relations with China that accord with the national, regional, and global priorities that should serve as the foundation of American foreign policy, including cooperation on climate change and monetary stabilization. It would seem that mainstream human rights NGOs in the West should be sensitive to similar cross-cutting considerations bearing on current policy priorities in international relations, although to a lesser extent than the U.S. government, as their undertaking is to report on human rights as objectively, reliably, and persuasively as possible. At the same time, civil society actors should be cautious about accepting insufficiently evidenced allegations of human rights violations that seem to intrude upon China’s territorial sovereignty, especially given the inflammatory character of the present diplomatic setting in which those advocating an aggressive approach toward China seek to play the human rights card.  

The most effective way to engage China on human rights would be to rely on discreet methods of communication through private and peace-oriented channels that do not seek to exert public pressures and are diplomatically linked to an underlying commitment to encourage global cooperation with respect to shared issues such as climate change and conflict resolution. A genuine concern with human rights in China must acknowledge that any improvement in the situationdepends on internal Chinese developments that cannot be exploited to generate hostile propaganda and are not funded or encouraged by covert destabilizing operations. 

Foreign Policy Imperatives in the Present Era 

Unlike the Cold War in which the focus was placed on the containment of Soviet military expansion, especially in Europe, and on contesting the ideological embrace of Marxist ideas of political economy within the Global South, the challenges posed by the rise of China are entirely different, and call for different types of response. For one thing, China poses no threat to core U.S. security interests, especially in this post-Trump period when the United States seeks to revive a Eurocentric alliance in the course of reviving its global leadership role. Unlike the Soviet Union, China has largely pursued its geopolitical ambitions by non-military, economic means, except in maritime areas close to its shores and in border disputes with neighboring countries. This difference in geopolitical profile strengthens the incentives to avoid tensions that could lead to risky military confrontations in the South and East China Seas; from this perspectiveavoiding excessive criticism of China’s violations of human rights would seem helpful from a war prevention perspective. There is no reason to laud China’s domestic political environment, but high-profile complaints about Xinjiang and Hong Kong will be met with counter-allegations about American shortcomings with respect to human rights and would likely intensify the confrontational atmosphere. 

Also different is the nature of the global agenda. Although it would have been a welcome contribution to world peace if the United States and the Soviet Union had more vigorously cooperated to produce a monitored and comprehensivenuclear disarmament treaty, the need for cooperation in responding to climate change is unprecedented. If the dangers posed by global warming are not addressed cooperatively it will produce a worldwide disaster, and China – as the leading source of greenhouse gas emissions – is an indispensable partner in managing a positive response.  

It is worth remembering that if overcoming the threats posed by Hitler’s Germany had not involved cooperation with the ideologically alien Soviet Union during World War II, which included suspension of most Western criticisms of the excesses of Stalinism, the outcome of war might not have resulted in victory for the Western democracies. The Soviet Union posed no economic threat to American global economic primacy. China does pose such a threat, and so could lead the United States to make irrational responses that would weaken the global role of the dollar as reserve currency and produce a downward spiral of trade and investment that would hurt all countries, and quite possibly inducing a new world depression of even greater gravity than the Great Depression of the 1930s. Here, as with climate change, the interests of the West favor a geopolitics of accommodation, compromise, and a search for win/win outcomes. In this regard, accentuating the human rights failures of China is imprudent, ineffective, and dangerous under present conditions. 

Copyright 2021 Richard Falk

ENDNOTES: 

1. https://www.whitehouse.gov/briefing-room/speeches-remarks/2021/02/19/remarks-by-president-biden-at-the-2021-virtual-munich-security-conference/

2. Graham Allison, “The Thucydides Trap: Are the U.S. and China Headed for War?” The Atlantic, Sept. 24, 20154, https://www.theatlantic.com/international/archive/2015/09/united-states-china-war-thucydides-trap/406756/

3. See, for example, Austin Ramzy, “China’s Oppression of Muslims in Xinjiang, Explained,” New York Times, Jan. 20, 2021, https://www.nytimes.com/2021/01/20/world/asia/china-genocide-uighurs-explained.html. 

4. Declaration of Principles concerning Friendly Relations and Cooperation Among States, Commentary on Principle (e), UN General Assembly Res. 2625, Oct. 24, 1970, https://www.un.org/rule of law/files/3dda1f104.pdf

5. Human Rights Watch (HRW), Human Rights Watch World Report, 2020 (HRW, 2020), p. 1. 

6.. See, for example, James Millward, Violent Separatism in Xinjiang: A Critical Assessment (Washington, D.C.: East-West Center, 2014). 

7. On the high legal bar with respect to genocide, see: Judgment, Application of the Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide (Bosnia and Herzegovina v. Serbia and Montenegro, ICJ Reports, 1996). 

8. On Pompeo’s claims, see Edward Wong and Chris Buckley, “U.S. Says China’s Repression of Uighurs Is ‘Genocide,’” New York Times, Jan. 19, 2021, https://www.nytimes.com/2021/01/19/us/politics/trump-china-xinjiang.html. For a well-reasoned and documented rebuttal of the data relied upon in making those allegations, see Gareth Porter and Michael Blumenthal, “U.S. State Department accusation of ‘genocide’ relied on data and baseless claims by far-right ideologues,” The Greyzone, Feb. 18, 2021, https://mronline.org/2021/03/01/u-s-state-department-accusation-of-china-genocide-relied-on-data-abuse-and-baseless-claims-by-far-right-ideologue/

Will China Run the World? Should it?

14 Dec

[Prefatory Note: Interview Responses to Questions of Javad Heiran-Nia on world order in the time of COVID-19, with emphasis on China & United States, especially as reflected in the restructuring of the world economy. The underlying issue is whether the Chinese or U.S. approach to global policy and world order will gain the upper hand, and at what costs to humanity. The interview will be published in a forthcoming issue of Age of Reflection, a monthly magazine. (http://www.asreandisheh.com/). This post adds some observations at the end that do not appear in the interview.]

  1. In recent years, and especially with the spread of the Corona virus and the way China and the United States have dealt with this virus, the issue of Chinese and American order has received more and more attention. Do you think it is relevant to talk about Chinese order?

Yes, I think it has become extremely relevant to talk about the comparative approaches of China and the U.S. to problem-solving and political order, both their differences and similarities. There exists a preliminary question relating to the seemingly unusual character of American political leadership during the past four years of the Trump presidency, and the probability that it is about to change in style and substance shortly after Joe Biden is inaugurated as the next president. Trump is the first American leader to reject the authority of science and expert guidance in a period of national crisis, greatly aggravating the harm caused by the Corona-19 virus through the advocacy of behavior that contributes to the spread of the disease rather than to its containment. It is also notable that other illiberal leaders of important states have also acted in extremely irresponsible ways during the crisis, including Bolsonaro, the leader of Brazil, and to some extent, Boris Johnson, the British prime minister, among others.

The comparison between China and the United States, current leadership aside, suggests some important differences. The most important difference relates to the role of the central government, and in China’s case, the state. China has more of a unitary system in which policy is set in Beijing for the entire country. In the United States, the reality of federalism means that all 50 internal states enjoy a measure of autonomy, which results in diverse responses to the COVID challenge, some following the approach taken by Trump while others following health guidelines and produce overall better results.

In general, it is possible to suggest that the role of the state is more effectively and efficiently deployed in China in response to COVID, although exhibiting a disturbing disregard for the freedom of citizens and their human rights, especially with regard to political dissent and peaceful opposition. The extraordinary success of the Chinese economy over the course of the past 50 years, confirms the importance of providing centralized guidance in promoting technological innovations and in managing the allocations of capital investment in rapid and sustainable patterns of development. 

The U.S. has long suffered from the effects of massive over-investment in military capabilities, which has led to a series of costly foreign policy failures going back to Vietnam, compounded by a refusal to adapt to a global setting in which the politics of national resistance prevails over the superior weaponry of the United States, producing endless wars with unfavorable political outcomes for the intervening. So far China has avoided this trap, expanding through reliance on a variety of soft power instruments, but whether it can maintain this posture in the face of the U.S. current disposition toward confrontation and the initiation of a second cold war is not clear.

The U.S. also suffers from ideological inhibitions that are leftovers from the Cold War rivalry with the Soviet Union. Any reliance on government to perform roles relating to health, education, and social protection are labeled as ‘socialism,’ which is treated as such an evil mode of governing as to foreclose serious discussion. The result has been disinvestment in the social justice agenda, which is compounded in bad effects by the continuing over-investment in the militarist agenda.  

  • Liberal order after World War II, with Trump coming to power, became more and more threatened, and Trump weakened the institutions and organizations that were the manifestation of economic liberalism; Like the World Trade Organization. China, meanwhile, is currently benefiting from a liberal order in the international arena. What is the reason for this?

This is a crucial question. There is no doubt that neoliberal globalization led to a surge in international trade and investment, fueling sustained economic growth, but it also led to great inequality of benefits from economic development, sharpening class tensions, and in the American case caused acute alienation among workers and rural communities. The Trump phenomenon arose as an ultra-nationalist impassioned backlash to these negative domestic impacts of liberalism. Trump’s insistent call for ‘America First’ coupled with a rejection of all phases of globalism resonated with many Americans. Such a strident outlook struck heavy blows against global cooperation and hospitality to asylum-seekers and refugee, and even immigrants, at the very time these more cosmopolitan behavioral patterns were most needed to address such serious challenges as climate change and migration flows that could not be handled satisfactorily by states acting alone. In some respects, this retreat behind borders worked politically and economically for Trump until the unanticipated COVID pandemic came along. Trump missed no opportunity to boast about the stock market reaching historic highs, low unemployment figures, and somewhat rising wages for workers. The down side of Trump’s approach led to repudiations of the authority of international economic institutions, produced accelerating inequality, and was accompanied by ugly reactions against immigrants and people of color who were denied the full benefits of citizenship and were treated as hostile threats to nationalist identities of supremacy claimed by discontented white Americans who felt understood, energized, and supported by the Trump leadership.

In contrast, China was able to benefit from market forces while simultaneously overcoming the impoverished condition of more than 300,000,000 of its citizens and rapidly building an efficient modern market society on the largest national scale ever known. China’s state-guided public investment policies have seemed very well coordinated to develop an economy that is not only remarkably productive in industrial era manufacturing, but has started to dominate the technological frontiers that have military and reputational implications as threatening to the West as was post-1945 decolonization. China managed to combine taking advantage of liberalism while avoiding most severe forms of domestic alienation, and found win/win ways to help with infrastructure development of less developed countries without seriously interfering with their sovereign rights or political independence, thereby raising its status internationally. From a human rights perspective, China built an impressive record with respect to economic and social rights, while limiting political and civil rights rather severely, and imposing an unacceptably discriminatory regime on the large minority Uighur population in Xinjiang province. 

  • The Biden team is set to amend the World Trade Organization’s constitution to make trade more profitable for the United States. They seem to be looking to make tariff changes and a kind of economic protectionism so that China does not benefit much from free trade. What is your assessment?

The Biden approach to China reflects a bipartisan, and largely mistaken, view that China has taken unfair advantage of world economy through improper subsidies of exports and by way of strict regulation of imports and foreign investment in China, including with respect to technology. I am not equipped to assess the reasonableness of these grievances, nor of the Chinese concerns with unfair responses to their activities in global markets. There is a danger arising from this attempt to control Chinese economic behavior that it will lead China to retaliate and give rise to the sort of protectionism that caused the Great Depression of the 1930s, characterized as a ‘beggar thy neighbor’ ethos in foreign economic policy. There is also present an impression that the United States is neglecting its own economic shortcomings by shifting blame to China rather than making reforms such as a more prudent allocation of resources and a more effective and equitable public allocation of public sector revenues to promote research and development in non-military projects. The U.S. political taboo preventing even discussion of the shrinking the military budget and the worldwide network of overseas bases is more explanatory of American decline than are accusations of improper behavior directed at China. The U.S.’s military budget is larger than the combined military expenditures of the next ten countries, and yet the U.S. has never felt more insecure throughout its entire history. It is these realities that are at the root of the relative world decline in the economic sphere, and the overall crisis confidence, currently besetting  the United States.

  • Fifteen Asia-Pacific economies formed the world’s largest free trade union, an agreement backed by China that does not include the United States. The Economic Partnership brings together the 10-member Association of Southeast Asian Nations, China, Japan, South Korea, Australia and New Zealand. The pact came as the United States withdrew from the Trans-Pacific Partnership. The pact that Obama believed would establish the Asian trade order in the 21st century and would not allow China to do so. China is now shaping the Asian order with a new treaty. What is your assessment?

This question points to another major deficiency in the global turn toward economic nationalism and away from economic multinationalism during the Trump presidency. China has taken intelligent advantage of the U.S. withdrawal from the Trans-Pacific Partnership, which incidentally excluded China reflecting Obama’s interest in containing China’s regional outreach. China has helped fill the cooperation vacuum by adopting a multilateral framework designed to facilitate Asian growth of trade and investment. Trump’s preference for ‘transactional’ bilateral deals over negotiated cooperative frameworks seems ‘ is very shortsighted, and is almost certain to be rejected as an approach during the Biden presidency. But it is probably too late to reverse these regional developments by U.S. inclusion unless Biden’s leadership moves away from confrontation and toward accommodation, which seems unlikely. This China-led 10 country Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership includes Japan, South Korea, Singapore, Vietnam, Cambodia, Philippines, Thailand, Australia, New Zealand, and Brunei is off to an impressive start. This arrangement has been under negotiation since 2012, and just now formally endorsed by member governments. India had been expected to become a member, withdrawing recently because the expected lowering of tariffs was thought to harm Indian producers. As it is this Asian bloc comprises 30% of the world’s population, and just under 30% of the world’s GDP. 

  • With Biden coming, it seems that we will see a kind of limited liberalism in the international system. What is your assessment?

I anticipate a double movement with regard to the world economy: one movement would be toward restoring the spirit and substance of market driven transnational agreements and frameworks designed to encourage trade and investment within a rule governed framework that is mutually beneficial and inclusive; the second movement is more ideologically delimited, seeking frameworks that are ideologically and geopolitically more closely aligned, excluding China, and possibly Russia. This post-Cold War restructuring was somewhat anticipated by the Obama ‘Asia reset’ that deliberately excluded China from the TPP, and Biden is likely to go further in Asia, and possibly joining with India in adopting a new containment approach to foreign policy and world order. It is difficult at this stage to know how China will react if it is faced with geopolitical encirclement and a more exclusionary economic atmosphere. It is possible that China, which is more pragmatic and opportunistic than the West, will do its best to encourage a less conflictual new phase of economic globalization, which would spread benefits worldwide, is also responsibly concerned with the global public good, which translates into greater support for clean energy, environmental protection, human rights, denuclearizing initiatives, and a more equitable distribution of benefits of economic growth. 

  • Trump received over 70 million votes. This is almost equal to Biden, especially if Biden’s big margin in California is discounted. That means almost half of American voters like Trump. That is, his views on nationalism in all its dimensions, and his economic protectionism and unilateralism, are popular with the American people and are tied to the interests of the people. How can Biden balance the values of liberalism, of which globalization is a manifestation, with this demand of Trump supporters at the domestic level?

Biden’s efforts to find a consensus on foreign economic policy will definitely pose a crucial test for his presidency. If he seeks to act on the basis of domestic unity, policymaking will likely be paralyzed, especially if Republicans remain able to put roadblocks in the path of Democratic proposed initiatives. If Biden decides to ignore the priorities of this lingering large Trump support he will be confronted by resentment and disruption. It is a dilemma no recent American president has faced. Whether the dilemma can be overcome also depends on whether Trumpist Republicans retain control of the U.S. Senate, and that seems to rest on the Georgia reruns of the two senatorial elections, which will be decided in early January. Unless the Democrats win both races, the Republicans will control the Senate, and as they did with Obama’s second term, be in a position to obstruct and block most legislative initiatives that are seen as antagonistic to the Trump approach. Biden’s pledge to be president for all Americans sounds good, but whether it will be a successful governing style remains in doubt. My understanding is that most Trumpists want power not compromise or responsible government. In this regard, restoring civility to the American political scene will be welcomed even by some Trump supporters, but to uphold his policy goals it may well be necessary to confront Republicans and mobilize the support of the citizenry. With the recent election revealing the depth of polarization, further revealed by the Trump refusal to accept the outcome as certified by the long reliable voting schemes operative in the 50 states, including those presided over by Republican officials, there are many signs of domestic trouble ahead for Biden whether he gives way on his policy agenda or tries to have it fulfilled. Biden may have more success in reviving the bilateral consensus on foreign policy that existed during the Cold War, and would be now focus on restoring European alliance relations and challenging China regionally in South and East Asia, and globally with regard to a U.S. oriented revision of rule-governed globalization. Again, much depends on the degree to which the Biden leadership with continues to address global security through a militarist optic. Early indications suggest that the demilitarization of the American political and moral imagination will not be forthcoming in the near future whoever is president. 

  • If Biden wants to deviate from the principles of free trade in order to contain China, he has deviated from one of the main principles of economic liberalism. This means that liberalism has faced a serious challenge in practice, especially at the international level. What is your opinion?

Again, I think the way to consider such a departure from global scale, inclusive liberalism is to reevaluate the operation of the world economy during and after the ending of the Cold War in the early 1990s. On the basis of my prior responses is a return to a modified Cold War orientation toward foreign economic policy. Unlike the Soviet Union, China’s participation in the world economy is indispensable for world stability and sustainable development, which creates a realization of mutual benefits. There is no realistic prospect of resurrecting the ‘Washington consensus’ shaped by the Bretton Woods institutions as projecting American values onto the global stage as the more legitimate future than that projected by Moscow. What might be feasible is some reform within the neoliberal framework that gained certain concessions from China but more or less retained the inclusive structures of neoliberal globalization that have controlled the world economy since the Soviet collapse in 1992. Thinking optimistically, we might even witness an upgrading the quality of Chinese participation. If reform fails and geopolitical confrontation occurs, then a lose/lose future for the entire world looms as the likely outcome, which could work more to the disadvantage of the West than to China. It needs to realized that China has been adapting its public investment priorities in light of expanding the economic performance of its huge domestic market, including satisfying rising consumer demand, as well continuing with the largest international/transnational development in world history, The Road and Belt Initiative or One Belt, One Road (OBOR), a new Silk Road adapted to the circumstances of the present. As Deepak Nayyar has shown in his breakthrough book, Asian Resurgence (2019), China is no longer dependent on Silicon Valley and Europe for technological progress, but the West, including the United States, may increasingly look to China for the latest technological innovations. Undoubtedly, part of the rising tension with China reflects the threatening reality that the country has graduated from its non-threatening role as ‘the factory of the world’ to becoming dominant on some of the most dynamic technological frontiers, which is a symbolic as well as a substantive blow to America’s reputation and leadership credentials, and possibly even to its dominance with respect to innovations in military technology.  

8. Given that liberalism is not in America’s best interests internationally, and theorists such as Prof. John Mearsheimer warn the US government against pursuing liberalism globally, what do you think will replace the current liberal order?

John Mearsheimer has long intelligently stressed the geopolitical dimensions of world order, which inevitably emphasizes patterns of conflict between major actors. As an extreme realist he regards ‘liberalism’ as naïve, and a sign of weakness, which invites cynical adversaries to take advantage economically and diplomatically. Mearsheimer is convinced that history is shaped by those political actors that prevail militarily, and as adjusted for present realities, the first priority of foreign policy should not be cooperation with rivals but their deterrence. He has gone so far as to credit nuclear weapons with the avoidance of World War III during the Cold War.

A complementary view to that of Mearsheimer has been influentially formulated by Graham Allison in his book Destined for War: Can America and China Escape the ‘Thucydides’s Trap’ (2017), which puts forward the thesis that high risks of war occur when the hegemonic hierarchy is challenged by an ascending actor in international relations. The present ascendant political actor that perceived a rising challenge from below is likely to provoke war rather than give way, which according to Allison is what has almost happened throughout world history.

Whether such abstractions should be given much weight considering several factors:

–the globalizing adaptations in the post-COVID world, giving increased role to WHO, and UN

Generally, as offset by persisting ultra-nationalist governance trends, despite defeat of Trump;

–a growing anxiety about global warming producing climate change with many harmful effects, including dangerous erosions of biodiversity;

–the Chinese challenge to American global primacy arising in a manner unlike earlier geopolitical confrontations, most notable with respect to economic performance, technological ascendancy, and soft power expansionism rather than by way of military challenge and territorial ambitions;

–U.S. relative decline globally, reflecting a continuing over-investment in military capabilities, a militarized permanent bureaucracy entrapped in an outmoded political imagination with a disposition that exaggerates security threats and under-invests in domestic infrastructure and social protection of its citizenry;

–a resulting intensification of uncertainty about the future of world order, some recovery of functional multilateralism under Biden leadership accompanied by increased reliance on coercive geopolitics involving relying on military ‘solutions’ for political problems. 

NAPF: To Rid the World of Nuclear Weapons

24 Jan

 

[Prefatory Note: The statement below was drafted and endorsed by participants in a symposium held in Santa Barbara, CA in October 2017 under the auspices of the Nuclear Age Peace Foundation. It brought together for two days of discussion some leading peace thinkers and activists, many of whom are listed in the note at the end of the text. I have long been associated with NAPF, and took part in the symposium. The discussions started from several premises: that the dangers of nuclear weapons are real, and increasing; that the public in this country, and around the world is oblivious to these dangers; that it is feasible to achieve total nuclear disarmament by way of negotiated treaty that proceeds by stages with reliable mechanisms for assessing compliance and with provision for responses in the event of non-compliance; that nuclear weapons states, especially the United States, have obstructed all efforts to achieve nuclear disarmament; that the International Court of Justice issued an Advisory Opinion in 1996 that unanimously concluded that nuclear weapons states had a good faith treaty obligation to seek disarmament with a sense of urgency.

 

[Significantly, since the symposium was held the President of China, Xi Jinping, speaking on January 18th at Davos during the World Economic Forum, indicated in the course of his remarks that “nuclear weapons should be completely prohibited and destroyed over time to make the world free of nuclear weapons.” If this assertion is followed up by credible efforts it could create new opportunities to move forward toward the goal of nuclear zero. Barack Obama early in his presidency made a widely acclaimed speech in Prague endorsing the vision of a world without nuclear weapons, but during his presidency he was unable to convert his visionary rhetoric into a meaningful political project. It may take a movement of people around the world to overcome the inertia, complacency, and entrenched interests that have for decades insulated nuclear arsenals from all efforts to rid the world of the menace of nuclear war.]

 

NUCLEAR AGE PEACE FOUNDATION

 

Committed to a world free of nuclear weapons

wagingpeace.org

THE FIERCE URGENCY OF NUCLEAR ZERO*

Humanity and the planet face two existential threats: environmental catastrophe and nuclear annihilation. While climate change is the subject of increasing public awareness and concern, the same cannot be said about growing nuclear dangers arising from worsening international circumstances. It’s time again to sound the alarm and mobilize public opinion on a massive scale. Our lives may depend on it.

 

More than a quarter of a century since the end of the Cold War, some 14,900 nuclear weapons, most an order of magnitude more powerful than the Hiroshima and Nagasaki bombs, 93% held by the U.S. and Russia, continue to pose an intolerable and increasing threat to humanity and the biosphere. Recent studies by atmospheric scientists show that a nuclear war between India and Pakistan involving 100 Hiroshima‐size atomic bombs dropped on cities could produce climate change unprecedented in recorded human history. A drop in average surface temperatures, depletion of the ozone layer, and shortened agricultural growing seasons would lead to massive famine and starvation resulting in as many as two billion deaths over the following decade. A full‐scale nuclear war between the U.S. and Russia would result in a “Nuclear Winter,” triggering a new Ice Age and ending most complex life on the planet.

 

The danger of wars among nuclear‐armed states is growing. There is hope that such wars can be avoided, but that hope, while the essential basis of action, is not sufficient to end the nuclear threat facing humanity and complex life on this planet. Hope must give rise to action.

 

The United States is poised to spend one trillion dollars over the next 30 years to modernize its nuclear bombs and warheads, the submarines, missiles and bombers to deliver them, and the infrastructure to sustain the nuclear enterprise indefinitely. The other nuclear‐armed countries – Russia, the United Kingdom, France, China, Israel, India, Pakistan and North Korea – are modernizing their nuclear arsenals as well.

 

 

RISING TENSIONS

 

Tensions between the United States/NATO and Russia have risen to levels not seen since the Cold War, with the two nuclear giants confronting each other in Ukraine, Eastern Europe, and Syria, and an accelerated tempo of military exercises and war games, both conventional and nuclear, on both sides.

 

The U.S., the only nation with nuclear weapons deployed on foreign soil, is estimated to have 180 nuclear weapons stationed at six NATO bases in Belgium, Germany, Italy, the Netherlands, and Turkey. In June 2016, the largest NATO war games in decades were conducted in Poland. The exercises came weeks after activating a U.S. missile defense system in Romania and ground breaking for another missile defense system in Poland. Russian President Vladimir Putin warned that there would be “action in response to guarantee our security.” In October 2016, Russia moved nuclear‐capable Iskander missiles into the Kaliningrad territory bordering Poland and Lithuania, signaling its response to NATO, while claiming it was a routine exercise. Russian officials have previously described the role that the 500 km‐range Iskander system would play in targeting U.S. missile defense installations in Poland. In mid-December 2016, the Obama administration announced plans to deploy troops in Poland, the Baltic states and Romania. According to the U.S. Commander, this would send “the very powerful signal” that “the United States, along with the rest of NATO, is committed to deterrence.” In Syria, with perhaps the most complex war in history raging, the U.S., Russia and France are bombing side-by side and sometimes on opposing sides.

 

Adding to the conflicts among nuclear-armed states, the U.S., with its “pivot” to the Pacific, is facing off against China in seas where other Asian nations are contesting Chinese territorial claims. India and Pakistan remain locked in a nuclear arms race amid mounting diplomatic tensions, border clashes and rising military budgets. And North Korea, refusing to heed strong international condemnation, continues to conduct nuclear weapons tests. It has even announced an intention to test an intercontinental ballistic missile capable of reaching the United States.

 

These potential nuclear flashpoints are ripe for escalation. An accidental or intentional military incident could send the world spiraling into a disastrous nuclear confrontation. A great danger is that the rulers of one nuclear-armed state will miscalculate the interests and fears of another, pushing some geopolitical gambit to the point where economic pressures, covert actions, low-intensity warfare and displays of high-tech force escalate into regional or general war. This vulnerability to unintended consequences is reminiscent of the circumstances that led to World War I, but made more dangerous by U.S. and Russian policies of nuclear firstuse, keeping nuclear weapons on hair-trigger alert, and launch-on-warning.

 

 

 

THE TRUMP PRESIDENCY

 

During the Presidential campaign, Donald Trump’s nuclear weapons rhetoric was cavalier, suggesting deepignorance. No one knows what he’ll do in office, but U.S. national security policy has been remarkably consistent in the post-World War II and post-Cold War eras, despite dramatically changed geopolitical conditions and very different presidential styles. The threatened use of nuclear weapons as the “cornerstone” of U.S. national security policy has been reaffirmed by every President, Republican or Democrat, since 1945, when President Harry Truman, a Democrat, oversaw the atomic bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki. According to the Trump transition website: “Mr. Trump will ensure our strategic nuclear triad is modernized to ensure it continues to be an effective deterrent….” This is essentially a continuation of the Obama administration’s policy. Trump’s ominous December 22, 2016 tweet – “The United States must greatly strengthen and expand its nuclear capability until such time as the world comes to its senses regarding nukes”– seemed to indicate an intention to increase the level of reliance on the nuclear threat. While Trump’s conciliatory tone towards Russia offers a glimmer of hope for lowering tensions between the two nuclear-armed giants, the firestorm raging around U.S. government assertions that Russia manipulated the U.S. election to help Trump win have immeasurably compounded the difficulties in predicting what will happen next. Trump’s stated aim to tear up the Iran nuclear deal reveals his deficient understanding of international relations, indicating a lack of awareness that this is a multilateral agreement involving all five permanent members of the Security Council plus Germany, and that Russia and Iran are engaged in cooperative military operations, including against ISIS. Trump’s belligerent attitude toward China, a strategic ally of Russia, and his threat to upend the decades-long U.S. “one China” policy, is another cause for serious concern. In his farewell address to the nation in 1961, President Dwight Eisenhower warned: “In the councils of government, we must guard against the acquisition of unwarranted influence, whether sought or unsought, by the military industrial complex. The potential for the disastrous rise of misplaced power exists and will persist.” An earlier version of his warning referred to the “military-industrial-congressional complex.”

 

We now face the likelihood of a far more military-industrial Presidential cabinet. The specter of a Trump presidency with a right-wing Republican House and Senate, as well as a compliant Supreme Court, is chilling to an unprecedented degree. Trump’s appointments and nominations of reactionary, hardliner ex-generals, billionaire heads of corporations, and climate-change deniers are cause for grave concern in both the domestic and foreign policy arenas.

 

The Cold War concept of “strategic stability” among great powers, although itself never an adequate basis for genuine international security, is foundering. The Cold War and post-Cold War managerial approach to arms control must be challenged. Addressing nuclear dangers must take place in a much broader framework, takinginto account the interface between nuclear and non-nuclear weapons and militarism in general, the humanitarian and long-term environmental consequences of nuclear war, and the fundamental incompatibility of nuclear weapons with democracy, the rule of law, and human well-being.

 

 

GROWING CRISES

 

In 2009, former Soviet President Mikhail Gorbachev warned, “Military superiority would be an insurmountable obstacle to ridding the world of nuclear weapons. Unless we discuss demilitarization of international politics, the reduction of military budgets, preventing militarization of outer space, talking about a nuclear-free world will be just rhetorical.” Nuclear arms control has ground to a halt and the world is backsliding. The growing crises among nuclear armed states must be defused and disarmament efforts put back on track. Nothing is more important now than to counter the notion that collaborative security with Russia is to be regarded as treasonous or somehow more dangerous than confrontational geopolitics. Peace is an imperative of the Nuclear Age. Starting with the U.S. and Russia, the nuclear-armed states must sit down at the negotiating table and begin to address Gorbachev’s agenda.

 

It is essential at this time to assert the credibility and the necessity of a transformational approach to nuclear disarmament. We should do our utmost to marshal public discourse to counter the militarization of governments’ imaginations. The use of military force should always be the last option, not just in rhetoric, but in diplomatic practice. There has never been a greater need for imaginative diplomacy. The cycle of provocation and response must be halted. Nuclear threats must cease. Nuclear weapons modernization programs must be terminated. Military exercises and war games must be curtailed and conducted with great sensitivity to geopolitical conditions. The U.S. should withdraw its nuclear weapons from NATO bases and, at a minimum, stop NATO expansion and provocative deployments. Policies of nuclear first-use, hair-trigger alert, and launch-on-warning must be ended. In the longer term, military alliances should be dismantled and replaced by a new collective security paradigm. All nations, first and foremost the U.S., by far the largest weapons exporter, should stop the sale and supply of arms to conflict regions.

 

CHANGING THE DISCOURSE

 

Changing the discourse involves both language and processes. We need to take seriously our human role as stewards of the earth and talk about nuclear dangers in terms of potential omnicide. Nuclear weapons are incompatible with democracy. They place vast unaccountable power in a few leaders’ hands, unchecked by the millions of voices that true democracy depends on. We must reject notions of U.S. exceptionalism that exempt this country from respect for the rule of law and the authority of the United Nations. Further, we must revitalize the U.S. Constitution by reintroducing checks and balances into decision‐making about war and peace. Indeed, much of the world does seem to be coming to its senses regarding nuclear weapons. Deeply frustrated by the lack of progress on nuclear disarmament, in December 2016 the United Nations General Assembly voted by a large majority to hold negotiations in 2017 on a treaty prohibiting nuclear weapons, leading to their elimination. The vote represents an historic global repudiation of the nuclear weapons status quo among the vast majority of non‐nuclear weapons states. None of the nine nuclear‐armed nations supported the resolution, and it is unlikely that any nuclear‐armed states will participate in the negotiations.

 

To realize the full value of a “ban” treaty, we must demand that the nuclear‐armed states recognize the existing illegality of the threat or use of nuclear weapons under international law protecting civilians and the environment from the effects of warfare. The governments of these states must finally act to meet their disarmament obligations under Article VI of the nuclear Non‐Proliferation Treaty and customary international law, and participate in good faith in the negotiations as unanimously mandated by the International Court of Justice in its 1996 Advisory Opinion. The media have narrowed the boundaries of debate, and the public has virtually no feasible means to engage decision‐makers on disarmament imperatives. Yet the need for such discourse has never been more urgent. We reject the apocalyptic narrative and summon the imaginations of people everywhere to envision a vastly different future. There is no inevitability to the course of history, and a mobilized citizenry can redirect it toward a positive future.

 

 

 

 

AN ETHICAL IMPERATIVE

 

There exists an ethical imperative to work for the elimination of nuclear weapons. The survival of the human species and other forms of complex life requires acting upon this imperative. We will need to successfully reach out to constituencies and organizations outside the peace and disarmament sphere to inspire and engage millions, if not tens of millions, of people. Education and engagement of both media and youth will be

critical for success. Hope must be joined with action if we are to abolish nuclear weapons before they abolishus. The alarm is sounding.

 

*******************************************************************

 

 

*This document reflects the discussions at the symposium “The Fierce Urgency of Nuclear Zero: Changing the Discourse,” held in Santa Barbara, California, on October 24‐25, 2016, and also takes into account the changed political landscape in the U.S. following the election of Donald Trump, which occurred two weeks after the symposium.

 

Endorsers of this statement include: Rich Appelbaum, Jackie Cabasso, Paul K. Chappell, Noam Chomsky, Daniel Ellsberg, Richard Falk, Mark Hamilton, Kimiaki Kawai, David Krieger, Peter Kuznick, Robert Laney, Judith Lipton, Elaine Scarry, Jennifer Simons, Daniel U. Smith, Steven Starr, and Rick Wayman. The symposium was sponsored and organized by the Nuclear Age Peace Foundation.

 

A full list of symposium participants, along with videos, audio and transcripts of presentations, are available at

 

http://www.wagingpeace.org/symposium‐fierce‐urgency.

January 20, 2017

Kissinger: A Hero of Our Time

20 Sep

[Prefatory Note: The essay on Henry Kissinger’s World Order (2014) below was initially published in Millennium: Journal of International Studies 2015, Vol. 44(1) 155–164. For me, Kissinger was the anti-hero, somehow available to justify the unjustifiable, and situate himself in a tradition of statecraft that celebrated the European invention of modern international relations in the 17th-19th centuries. This self-styled realist tradition marginalizes law and morality, posits a fatalistic sense of human destiny, and is dismissive of the pursuit of peace and justice. In Kissinger’s case he climbed to the pinnacles of American state power, and was far from the worst advocate of global primacy based on military superiority. The fact that he owed his prominence to setting forth an argument supporting the feasibility of limited nuclear war branded him with the mark of Cain while still making his way behind the ivy of Harvard University. At the same time, we should not neglect Kissinger’s worldview just because it is antipathetic, especially as he has some important observations about how China’s rise to prominence in world history contrasts with the way in which Europe gained ascendancy.]

 

 

 

 

Henry Kissinger: A Hero of Our Time

 

“A Hero of Our Time, my dear readers, is indeed a portrait, but not of one man. It is a portrait built up of all our generation’s vices in full bloom. You will again tell me that a human being cannot be so wicked, and I will reply that if you can believe in the existence of all the villains of tragedy and romance, why wouldn’t you believe that there was a Pechorin? If you could admire far more terrifying and repulsive types, why aren’t you more merciful to this character, even if it is fictitious? Isn’t it because there’s more truth in it than you might wish?”

Mikhail Lermontov, Preface, A Hero of our Time

 

Combining the features of savant and war criminal, as well as renowned the world over as master statesman, Henry Kissinger deserves the dubious accolade of being ‘a hero of our time’ in the fully ironic sense meant by the Russian novelist, Mikhail Lermontov. Kissinger seems indictable for a series of offenses that deserve accountability in a law-abiding world: deliberate killing of civilians in Indochina; overt complicity in relation to mass killing in Bangladesh; positive association with plan to assassinate a major official in Chile; involvement in conspiracy to kill the head of state in Cyprus; incitement to genocide in East Timor; and direct involvement in plans to kidnap and kill a journalist living in Washington DC.[1] That Kissinger remains not only at large, but the object of reverence the world over, tells us quite a bit about the degree to which geopolitical celebrity trumps accountability and justice when it comes to status and reputation on a global scale.

 

Additional to Kissinger’s apparent criminality associated with his role as a governmental official developing and implementing American foreign policy in a variety of crucial settings was his earlier assertions of influence as a policy oriented intellectual at a leading American university. Kissinger, as a Harvard professor of international relations, skillfully professed views that proved useful to men who coveted and exercised power on behalf of the United States. Even before he entered government as Richard Nixon’s expert on foreign policy, the Council on Foreign Relations, a gatekeeping venue for the highest echelons of government, otherwise known as ‘the establishment,’ had bestowed stardom on Kissinger in recognition of these contributions to the policy forming community. His initial notoriety rested on an early book arguing the case for accepting the prospect of limited nuclear war as a means of offsetting Soviet superiority in conventional warfare in Europe.[2]

 

 

Later when serving as National Security Advisor and Secretary of State, Kissinger exerted an enormous influence on the development of American foreign policy. He managed to surround his undertakings with an aura of the invincible maestro of realpolitik, a contemporary counterpart of his own illustrious mentors, Machiavelli and Richelieu.[3]

 

A weird part of Kissinger’s claim to heroic stature was his extraordinary capacity to be repeatedly wrong about almost every major foreign policy decision made by the United States Government over the course of the last half-century, and yet manage continually to enhance his reputation and influence as the nation’s wisest guide on how the country should shape its role and behavior overseas when facing the next crisis. Kissinger was a supporter of the Vietnam War from start to finish, he even favored the disastrous Iraq War, and of course, the Afghanistan War. To leave us in no doubt as to his deepest inclinations, Kissinger even goes out of his way in this book to laud the presidency of George W. Bush by affirming his “continuing respect and personal affection for President George W. Bush, who guided America with courage, dignity, and conviction in an unsteady time. His objectives and dedication honored his country even when in some cases they proved unattainable within the American political cycle.” [324-25]. Phrase by phrase this is a remarkable encomium considering the degree to which Bush’s core policies turned out to have been such a disaster by almost any measure, with the 2003 attack and subsequent occupation of Iraq being a major contributing cause to the regional turmoil that has brought such massive suffering and political chaos to the Arab world, as well as seriously compromising U.S. goals in the region. To give his blessings to such a failed presidency is mystifying unless one takes into account of Kissinger’s worshipful attitude toward the high and mighty in the conservative American political establishment, and his extraordinary Teflon protective coating that has inoculated him over the years against the normal consequence of policy failures and ugly misdeeds.

 

It is fair to wonder at this point why I should be writing a review Kissinger’s ideas if I regard him as a disreputable public figure. My answer centers upon an appreciation of the man as an emblematic representative of global leadership in our historical era, and hence of Kissinger as truly ‘a hero’ worthy of our attention. It is not that his ideas are sympathetic, compelling, or even innovative, but rather that despite his long record of wrongdoing, Kissinger’s words continue to be taken seriously as policy guides entitled to the utmost respect by opinion-makers around the world.[4] Beyond this, his comprehensive presentation of the contours of past, present, and possible future world orders, while pretentious and superficial, does provide a helpful commentary on policy choices of immense significance, offering readers a useful platform for dialogue as to the global political future. Despite my reservations, the World Order offers a good basis for seminar discussions in an international relations course or for a reading group of attentive citizens who gather on a monthly basis to ponder the state of the world.

 

Kissinger is something more than a public figure that has guided and advised some of America’s most influential world leaders. He is also a student of international relations with a rare combination of diplomatic experience at the highest level, a broad historical knowledge of the conceptual underpinnings of statecraft in the modern world, and a street smart talent for gaming the system to his personal advantage. In this respect, the book under consideration, World Order, is likely to be treated as the culminating expression of Kissinger’s worldview and intellectual legacy.[5] And while it is devoid of empathy for the vulnerable or an appreciation of the ecological dangers facing humanity, it does frame debate on global policy in this post-colonial, post-Cold War setting in some useful ways if account is taken of its limitations.

 

Kissinger’s diagnosis of the present historical situation poses an intriguing puzzle that adopts an unexpected outlook, given its source. For this sage who earlier believed that the European West had evolved a diplomacy that reflected the eternal verities of statecraft it is now surprising to find Kissinger at the start of this book issuing a dire warning to his readers: “Our age is insistently, at times almost desperately, in pursuit of a concept of world order.” Such a sentiment is followed by a haunting question that obviously worries Kissinger: “Are we facing a period in which forces beyond the restraints of any order determine the future?” (2) Kissinger can be read as saying that the dangers posed are a result of the failure of the major world political actors not to have on their own recognized and implemented the Westphalian logic within their own civilizational and religious spheres of influence. Such a lament is conditioned by the realization that in this post-colonial era a belated embrace of some kind of global Westphalian system of world order, while the best we can hope for, cannot happen without its spontaneous adoption by non-Western political actors doing what seems best to achieve their goals in ways that correspond with the deeply embedded cultural values.

 

What troubles Kissinger most is the disorder that exists in the post-colonial world where the West can no longer run the global show by itself. He believes that the present challenge is to blend “divergent historical experiences and values” into “a common order.” (10) In his view “[a] reconstruction of the international system is the ultimate challenge to statesmanship in our time.” (371) Without this challenge being met Kissinger envisions a “struggle between regions” that might turn out to “be more debilitating than the struggle between nations has been.” (371) He is also worried by the challenges associated with the rise of non-state political actors that do not fit within the template of the only world order that Kissinger knows, the one constituted by the interplay of territorial sovereign states.

 

In setting forth the nature of this defining quest Kissinger posits several requirements that he never reconciles. He insists that a new global order to be successfully established requires that its central rules and limit conditions are the result of a participatory, non-hegemonic process of relevant actors. Kissinger asserts that only by way of such an existential bonding process will a re-framing of world order have the legitimacy to engender commitment and adherence in a historical situation where the West has lost its dominion over the non-West. In Kissinger’s words: “Any system of order, to be sustainable, must be accepted as just—not only by the leaders but also by citizens. It must reflect two truths: order without freedom, even if sustained by momentary exaltation, eventually creates its own counterpoise; yet freedom cannot be secured or sustained without a framework of order to keep the peace.” (8) This passage is illustrative of the degree to which throughout this text the abstractions of language provide Kissinger with a useful comfort zone of obscurity. In over 400 pages we look in vain to find out what ‘freedom’ means beyond a vague affirmation of the American political experience. (e.g. 235-36).

 

The tone and message of World Order rests in the end on an affirmation of American exceptionalism as interpreted by Kissinger. The opening lines of the book describe a visit of homage made in 1961 to Harry Truman while Kissinger was a “young academic.” Truman was of course the former American president that took over from Franklin Roosevelt at the end of World War II and then did his part to launch the Cold War. Kissinger admiringly quotes Truman to disclose the distinctive essence of America’s political character: “That we totally defeated our enemies and then brought them back to the community of nations. I would like to think that only America would have done this.” (1)

 

With the blinkered vision of a true believer, Kissinger adds his own gloss: “All of Truman’s successors have followed some version of this narrative and have taken pride in similar attributes of the American experience.” (1) Such a portrayal of the American global role inflicts a notorious distortion on innocent readers. The truth is that United States has often been vindictive in the aftermath of wars and often not at all willing to help adversaries recover from devastating wartime experiences. For instance, in the lengthy negotiations ending the Vietnam War conducted on behalf of the United States by Kissinger, the reparations agreed upon were neither paid nor any subsequent effort made by Kissinger or the White House to have Congress uphold this clear diplomatic promise, which also was a recognition of a simple moral duty. In the aftermath of the First Gulf War (1991) the United States imposed a punitive peace on Iraq that included maintaining strict sanctions against a people that reportedly cost an additional several hundred thousand Iraqi civilian lives. And historically, the punitive peace imposed on Germany after World War I was undertaken with the deliberate intention of doing the opposite of what Truman claimed for American diplomacy after World War II. In part Truman’s postwar diplomacy represented his effort to avoid repeating the mistakes of Versailles that had earlier contributed to the rise of Hitler and the onset of a major war, as well as gave rise to a severe global economic depression. The disruption, oppression, and extremism that is now the tragic destiny of the Middle East can also be blamed on a ‘peace’ diplomacy one hundred years ago that distributed the spoils of war on the basis of colonial ambition rather than the wellbeing of peoples. How Kissinger, the purported student of history can overlook these features of the American role over its lifetime as a country, can be partly explained by his tendency to obtain historical impunity by invoking abstractions that have no discernible connection with the concrete realities that are supposedly encompassed by this overarching narrative of America’s global benevolence.

 

Kissinger associates the American goals in the world with the well-intentioned global projection of his idealized image of constitutional democracy as it functions in the United States. He clarifies this image as embodying “an American consensus—an inexorably expanding cooperative order of states observing common rules and norms, embracing liberal economic systems, foreswearing territorial conquest, respecting national sovereignty, and adopting participatory and democratic systems of governance.” (1) Where has this man been? He makes no effort to disentangle myth from performance as it has played out as the American global story has unfolded. Any casual student of history would know that the United States, almost from its birth, has been intervening throughout the Western Hemisphere, and since 1945 has intervened covertly and overtly in many parts of the world, and often with the purpose of dislodging democratically elected governments as it did

in Iran (1953), Guatemala (1954), and Chile (1973), the latter while Kissinger was making policy from his White House office.

 

It is true that Kissinger does fault the idealistic tendencies of American foreign policy, which he believes reached the peak of unknowing during the latter years of Woodrow Wilson’s presidency. In appraising American political leaders Kissinger contrasts those he most admires (Truman, Teddy Roosevelt, and Nixon) with those he finds dangerously naïve (especially Wilson, but also Carter, Clinton, Obama). Essentially, Kissinger affirms those political leaders that share his belief that hard power is the main agent of historical change, as well as the capstone of stability and ‘peace’ (understood minimally as the absence of major war), and in this regard, he finds the ideas that were launched in 1648 by the Peace of Westphalia as the only workable foundation for international order. This Westphalian worldview in Kissinger’s presentation rests on two organizing principles: respect for territorial sovereignty and reliance on countervailing power as necessary to deter potential aggression. As indicated, Kissinger recognizes that this statist framework was European in origin, and if it is to work in a post-colonial era of globalization it will have to be endorsed by civilizational experiences that are quite different from that of Europe and North America. This is the challenge, as Kissinger sees it, of making the logic of Westphalia sufficiently attractive to China, India, and the Islamic community, so as to induce their governments to choose such a blend of respect of others with cooperation for mutual benefit as the one basis of 21st century world order that might work.

 

There are several problems with this formulation of the contemporary world order problematique. For one thing, it overlooks the vertical dimension of the Westphalian experience that has all along relied for order on the managerial roles of hegemonic claims and structures. This has been especially so for relations between the West and non-West, making it difficult for many countries and some regions to create political communities except through brute force. For another, Kissinger seems mostly blind to the fundamental challenge posed by nuclear weaponry and climate change, and hence sees no important role for international law or the United Nations.[6] In fact, one would look in vain for any sustained discussion by Kissinger of whether a global rule of law and strong central institutions are needed to protect the global interest against the predatory behavior of a world of national governments led by officials with very uneven endowments and perceptions.[7] There is absent any consideration of how to create global governance without the commitment of political actors to uphold human interests on the basis of species identity. Even more striking is the failure to discuss the viability of capitalism as means to achieve the desired ends of world order based on the recognition that sustainable order presupposes legitimate order.[8] One wonders how this market-based system can be deemed even potentially legitimate given the persistence of mass poverty, gross inequalities, widespread corruption, the predatory plundering of the resources of the planet, and increasingly dire expectations of water scarcities and multiple forms of ecological decay.

 

Overcoming such obstacles presupposes that the values of the main competing centers of regional civilizational identity can be embodied in the new world order. In Kissinger’s view this would now entail combining power and legitimacy on a worldwide basis, and not just offering to organize the world along pre-European Union lines. In the prior historic periods, there were distinct regional forms of order of which central attention is given to that evolved by China and the Islamic world. These are also alternative conceptions of world order to that developed by the West, although challenged and encroached upon by colonialism. Kissinger makes clear that he is particularly drawn to the Chinese soft power foundations of its national greatness, which enjoys the capacity to overwhelm others essentially by reliance on its cultural superiority and the sheer density of its demographic and geographic reality.[9] According to Kissinger, China has succeeded in neutralizing those barbarian forces that have from time to time penetrated its borders by sheer patience, and although it has expressed a defensive mentality by the immense undertaking of the Great Wall, and yet unlike the West, conquest and missionary belligerence has not been its style.

 

In contrast, Islam has a totalizing vision that associates its domain with peace and righteousness (‘dar al-Islam’), and all else as the domain of infidels and war (‘dar al-harb’). With its religious sense of political community as bases on the umma, the extension of the Western state system to the Islamic world has been problematic and hence illegitimate, especially for those states that are products of colonial ambition as in the Middle East and parts of Africa. Whether such states can even retain their current territorial boundaries is one of the unanswered questions. If not, the likely near term reality is the reemergence of ethnically and religiously bounded communities that either exist autonomously within existing borders or break away to form their own states. In effect, without historical or philosophical depth, Kissinger depicts the Arab world, in particular, as a region of ‘failed states’ for which there is no solution other than military containment and intervention to prevent the disorder spilling over as with the 9/11 attacks.

 

In the end Kissinger seems to hope that a form of global Wesphalian world order will emerge because states everywhere seek to preserve as much of their autonomy as possible while cooperating to promote common interests in trade and investment. This duality exhibits both a recognition of the realities of economic globalization as conditioned by the non-viability of major warfare given the existence of nuclear weaponry. Kissinger is fully conscious of the extent to which the European invention and development of the state system in the middle of the 17th century responded to distinctively European circumstances, especially an interest in overcoming deadly religious wars and the formation of political communities that were large and stable enough to support efficient economic growth. This Westphalian innovation cannot be globalized despite the intensifying functional imperatives to do so unless the other main political actors on the world stage can agree that such an order serves their interests and is consistent with their values. It also must be perceived as a joint undertaking, not a plan hatched in the West or a byproduct of the American reality as the world’s only global state. World order of global scope in its architectural phases becomes an inter-civilizational soft power project that contrasts with the earlier hard power structures imposed by the global reach of European colonialism. However for Kissinger, seeming unperturbed by contradiction, this new undertaking still presupposes the stabilizing reinforcement of hard power diplomacy and warmaking capabilities, with the United States acting in a meta-regional managerial role.

 

Kissinger, not without reason, thinks that his world order scheme will only happen if China and the United States are able to make their relationship rest principally on the benefits of cooperation and partnership rather than rivalry and competition. In other words, not a second Cold War, but a new kind of geopolitical relationship that is sensitive to the importance of balancing and equilibrium, but without any ideological dimension of hostility toward the domestic public order system of the other. Kissinger is aware that wars often have broken out in the past when an emerging state seeks to revise the hierarchy of privilege and status that is encoded in the status quo or the hegemon threatened with displacement strikes before the challenger gets too strong. He wonders aloud whether the rising claims of China can be met without either ignoring their ambition or provoking a disastrous military confrontation.

 

Kissinger considers the United States, despite everything from Hiroshima to drones, as continuing to be the main benevolent force active in history over the course of the last hundred years, especially to the extent it is able to suppress its national proclivity to indulge idealistic temptations that ignore Westphalian parameters. Kissinger appears to believe still that only military capabilities can serve as the ultimate guardian of the public good. In this regard he sees the American leadership role as at once “indispensable” and “ambivalent,” caught between the unrealistic wishful thinking of Woodrow Wilson and the creative realism of Teddy Roosevelt or Richard Nixon, the poles of thought and action that characterize the American global role over the course of its existence as an independent state. Kissinger wants to reconcile these antagonistic energies, and above all he remains deeply opposed to any further American retreat from the responsibilities of global leadership—in contemplating the American role, he says “[w]hat is does not permit is withdrawal.” (370) Kissinger insists that in the interactive reality of the present global situation any renewal of American isolationism would be a self-destructive dead end, and more to the point, he argues that the world needs a globally engaged United States as an offshore balancer that alone can provide the countervailing force that is needed in all regions of the world as a check on dangerous types of expansionism.

 

In effect, what Kissinger would like to see emerge is a series of regionally based political orders in which the United States is involved as a balancing presence, including in China’s backyard of Asia. This kind of formula pretends to avoid any effort to establish regional hegemony in any part of the world, and disavows an American search for dominance. In this sense Kissinger is arguing for a Westphalian order anchored in the actuality of the United States as the first global state in world history. It is a global state by virtues of its already established military presence throughout the world, reinforced by the dollar as a global currency, English as a global language, and American popular culture and consumerism as influential behavioral constructs everywhere. What Kissinger is proposing with a good deal of commentary on the necessity of taking account of existing diversities linked to demands for participation in the construction of such a legitimate world order is a system of global scope that is neither centralized by law or power. In this way, he acknowledges the interplay between political decentralization and a variety of globalizing tendencies without succumbing to what he would regard as utopian or totalizing traps. Rather cunningly, there is no discussion of how, given its capabilities and assigned leadership role, the United States would be deterred or its ambitions neutralized, or even whether this is necessary. When surveying the terrain of American politics this is a disabling flaw as it is entirely plausible to imagine a militarist Republican president taking over in 2016 with a mandate for safeguarding the nation and the world by waging continuous wars.

 

 

[1] This enumeration follows the list of indictable crimes provided by Christopher Hitchens in the Preface to his important book, The Trial of Henry Kissinger (London, UK: Verso, 2001). Hitchens offers considerable evidence to back up these allegations, as well as a rationale for why such it is important to conduct this exercise in symbolic accountability, for the latter see especially p. xi.

 

 

[2] Nuclear Weapons and Foreign Policy (New York: Council on Foreign Relations by Harpers, 1957), appropriately written under the auspices of the Council on Foreign Relations, which was responsible for bringing Kissinger to the attention of the political elite in the United States. Kissinger with his Harvard credentials, conservative Cold War politics, and unsentimental approach to the pursuit of national interests on the basis of hard power was a valuable advisor for those of Republican Party persuasion who sought the highest political office in the country.

[3] There is a consensus that the most important scholarly contribution made by Kissinger was his initial book on the mechanisms of the balance of power as operative in 19th century Europe based on the interplay between military capabilities and dynastic legitimacy, as well as admiring portrayals of the statesmen who grasped the Hobbesian logic that made this system work to sustain the established order. A World Restored: Metternich, Castlereagh, and the Problem of Peace, 1812-22 (Boston, MA: Houghton Mifflin, 1957

[4] Illustrative of such influence is full page assessment of the controversial framework agreement tentatively reached in April 2015 with respect to the international regulation of Iran’s nuclear program. It is rare for the Wall Street Journal to devote its entire opinion section to a single article, and although George P. Shultz is listed as a co-author, the attention accorded to the article is a reflection of Kissinger’s unique stature as foreign policy guru. Kissinger & Shultz, “The Iran Deal and Its Consequences,” Wall Street Journal, April 8, 2015, A13.

[5] Such earlier books as Diplomacy (New York: Simon & Schuster, 1984) and On China (New York, Penguin Press, 2011) are part of his effort to write conceptual memoirs that argue the case for the rightness of his policies and even more so, for his understanding of how the world is organized and operates. All of Kissinger’s writing, carried on in tandem with his work as consultant to the rich and powerful throughout the world via his firm Kissinger Associates founded in 1982. These undertakings share a single minded devotion to self-serving efforts to nail down his reputation as the hero of the age. If mainstream media is to be trusted, which of course it is not, Kissinger has succeeded in becoming the iconic source of foreign policy wisdom for mainstream media audiences, his name being continuously invoked as the most authoritative commentator on foreign policy now alive.

[6] For nuclear weapons, Kissinger reduces the challenge to one of nonproliferation overlooking his own endorsement of abolition of such weaponry resulting from a perception that the nonproliferation regime is unlikely to be able to contain the spread of nuclear weapons in the future. (see 330-41). In an earlier article written in collaboration Kissinger does join in suggesting that the best way to stop further proliferation of nuclear weapons is to eliminate them altogether from military arsenals. See George P. Shultz, William J. Perry, Henry Kissinger, Sam Nunn, “A World Free of Nuclear Weapons,” Wall Street Journal, Jan. 4, 2007.

[7] Elsewhere Kissinger has been directly contemptuous of the role of international law and morality in the conduct of American foreign policy. See e.g. Diplomacy, note 5.

[8] For relevant discussion see Stephen Gill & A, Claire Cutler, eds., New Constitutionalism and World Order (Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press, 2014).

[9] Clearly Kissinger has through his own diplomatic experience and scholarly inquiry has developed a deep admiration of the achievement and durability of Chinese civilization as appraised from the perspective of world order. This discovery of Kissinger’s later life corrects his earlier insistence that Westphalian world order as the only game in town. See elaborations in his long book, On China, also discussion in chapters devoted to China(212-75).