At the gates of war, the arguments are always the same. Those in favor of war shout louder, beat their chests and ask for the noise of tanks and the roar of planes. Those against are branded weak, appeasing and defeatist. When the trumpets and drums of war sound, reason disappears and takes cover.
The visit to taiwan by Nancy Pelosi, the speaker of the US House of Representatives, was so blatantly provocative that it’s hard not to see it as an electoral strategy for the upcoming mid-term legislative elections. “It is essential that the United States and its allies make it clear that we will not give in to authoritarian governments,” Pelosi said. China’s big response is a classic example of rapid escalation.
When Joe Biden assured that the United States would defend Taiwan militarily, the president’s office immediately changed its mind and reiterated its policy of “strategic ambiguity.” The point is that nobody really believes that the United States is going to go to war over Taiwan. Until now.
An identical ambiguity pervades the West’s attitude toward Russia in relation to Ukraine. The United States and Great Britain reiterate that Russia “must fail and be seen as the loser”. But can one really trust that Russia will tolerate an ever-increasing destruction of its weaponry without expecting an escalation? The West seems hell-bent on keeping Ukraine to a draw, hoping to postpone a penalty shootout that would be horrific. The only thing Russia can do is commit more atrocities to keep their own team in the game. What if it escalates to something else?
It is the same uncertainty that overwhelmed European diplomacy in 1914. Rulers dithered while generals strutted about brandishing sabers. Flags flew and newspapers were filled with weapons counts. Negotiations failed and ended in ultimatums. While help was requested from the battlefront, poor who proposed to reach an agreement.
During the two nuclear crises between East and West during the Cold War, in 1962 over Cuba and in 1983 over a missile false alarm, disaster was averted thanks to informal channels of communication between Washington and Moscow. It worked. Those channels supposedly no longer exist. The eastern bloc is led by two despots with a secure position internally, but paranoid about their borders.
The West is plagued by weakened and failed leaders who are eager to raise their approval ratings by fomenting conflicts abroad. What is new is the conversion of the old western imperialism into a new order of “interests and valuesWesterners, ready to be summoned to support any intervention.
Such an order has become arbitrary and knows no limits. Despite what Pelosi says, the West “gives in” when it suits them, intervening or not. Hence the capricious policies regarding Iran, Syria, Libya, Rwanda, Myanmar, Yemen, Saudi Arabia and others. Britain abandoned Hong Kong to China and handed over Afghanistan to the Taliban. The futility of this last intervention was demonstrated last week with the assassination with drones of the Al-Qaeda leader in Kabul.
Never in my life has the Ministry of Defense had to defend the country from a remotely plausible external threat, much less from Russia or Chinese. Instead, under the guise of “interests and values” he has murdered thousands of foreigners in my name, for virtually no benefit.
Now, with the threat of a serious confrontation between East and West looming ever closer, the least we should expect from Britain’s likely future prime minister, Liz Trussis for him to put aside his clichés and clearly articulate what he sees as Britain’s goals, if any, in relation to Ukraine and Taiwan.
None of these countries is a formal ally of Britain and none is critical to its defense. The horror at the Russian aggression justified military aid for kyiv, but that was a humanitarian response, not a strategic one. Probably the best we can do for Ukraine be to assist them in the return of their exiled workforce and help them rebuild their destroyed cities. Similarly, Taiwan deserves sympathy in its historic battle against China, but its status vis-à-vis Beijing poses no military threat to Britain. Its population has long settled for an ambiguous relationship with China, knowing that, in the long run, it is at its mercy.
The Shipping of the aircraft carrier Queen Elizabeth to the South China Sea by Boris Johnson last year was a senseless act of vanity.
Russia and China they suffer disputes at their borders like those that occur in many corners of the world. Third States rarely intervene in its resolution. The days when Western powers could command the spheres of interest of states like China and Russia are rightly over, as was recognized during the Cold War. Since that conflict ended, the West’s global interventions have become travesties of imperial capability, especially in the Muslim world. With few exceptions, neither China nor Russia have shown a comparable desire to own the world, but instead have wanted, however ruthlessly, to own their ancestral neighbors.
The destinations of Ukraine and Taiwan they deserve full diplomatic support, but they cannot be allowed to lead to global war or nuclear catastrophe. This can reduce the (always exaggerated) effect of nuclear deterrence and make them vulnerable to blackmail. But it is one thing to declare yourself “dead before red” and another is to force others to make that decision.
One day a global war, like global warming, may lead the world to a catastrophe that it will have to face. For now, liberal democracy surely owes it to humanity to avoid that risk and not provoke it. Both sides are flirting with disaster. The West should be ready to withdraw and not consider it a defeat.
Translation of Patricio Orellana