Wednesday, 1 October 2014

"My enemy's enemy is also my enemy"

In the unipolar world celebrated by Francis Fukuyama in The End of History (a 1992 book expanding on a 1989 essay), the author postulated that after the fall of communism, liberal democracy will rule the earth for ever more and that will be the end of History.

Sadly, 9/11 proved the well-meaning Mr Fukuyama wrong; Muslim fundamentalism is hell-bent on destroying our liberal democracy, while Vladimir Putin is keen to return to a world in which two nuclear superpowers once more strive for supremacy. And in Asia, China has advanced from being a third-world country to being the world's second-largest economy - one that could swallow Siberia whole should it chose to do so.

Last month, the Islamic State threatened Mr Putin for his support of the Assad regime in Syria and Russia's presence in Chechnya. Today, we read that 100,000 Muslims in the Kaliningrad enclave have been denied the right to build a mosque there*. And China, flexing its military muscle in the Pacific Ocean, is having its own problems with Muslims in its north-west provinces.

The appearance of two potential foes that threaten the peace in the West causes a problem for policy makers and leader writers: the old saying 'my enemy's enemy is my friend' does not work when my enemy's enemy also happens to be my enemy. What to do?

Think back to WWII, when the West sided with the evil Stalin against the evil Hitler. Once the latter had been defeated, the West then had to face the evil Stalin and his heirs for another four and half decades. The West might have found taking on Stalin, Hitler and Tojo together too much of a burden; finding one to ally against the less palatable two made sense in 1941.

But today? Islamic State is ruthlessly murdering Western hostages (in tiny numbers) and Shiite Muslims (in vast numbers). Putin's army is present in eastern Ukraine and denying it, while in Hong Kong students are demanding democracy from China's communist rulers.

How should the West play this scenario strategically? Assuming there is a West, and not a very loose coalition of self-interested states, all of whom are too busy looking after themselves to see a bigger threat...

Should the West cooperate with Putin against Islamic State? Or allow the Islamic State to carry out its threats against Putin's Russia, even if Western intelligence agencies are in possession of information that an IS attack against Russia is imminent?

The difference between IS and Putin is that the former are utterly uncompromising and will not rest until every man, woman and child subscribes to their particular and warped version of Islam - or is dead. There's nothing to negotiate for with these people. Putin, on the other hand, is hell-bent on restoring the Soviet - or even Imperial Russian - Empire - but will fall back tactically when the pressure is put on him. Putin, like Stalin, respects might, and acts rationally when sufficient resolve is shown. Unlike the mad dog Hitler.

The West needs to show concerted resolve in the face of Putinist Russian chauvinism. Up your defence spending to 2% of GDP (as the Polish premier promised to do today), carry out regular military exercises, demonstrate the readiness, size and capability of your armed forces - and Putin will grudgingly respect you. As for IS - terminate with extreme prejudice.

China vs Russia is more interesting. As I wrote here five years ago, this is likely to be the real geopolitical tectonic grind-point of the 21st Century. Russia - full of vast expanses of lebensraum and raw materials; China overpopulated and lacking in mineral wealth. Russia has proved itself eminently capable of defending itself against the West. But could Moscow organise the defence of Siberia at such a huge distance, with only two railway tracks and a dirt-road connecting the capital to the Amur? Should the West support Russia against China? Or China against Russia? I'd say - keep the two guessing.

*Odd that. Apparently, the Kaliningrad Oblast is home to 942,000 people, so one-in-ten are Muslim?

This time three years ago:
Cadillac Eldorado convertible cruises through Jeziorki

This time four years ago:
A whiff of the past

This time six years ago:
Ul. Poleczki finally finished
[Gosh! It's six years already! I'd have said four... time flies!]

This time seven years ago:
Early autumn moods, Jeziorki

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