Tuesday, August 21, 2012

Some damn thing in the Senkakus

A long hiatus from blogging, although there has been much to write about. I was travelling across Europe at ground level, for a change, of which more in later blogs. 

One of the countries I travelled through was Germany, where despite the marvellous array of beautiful landscapes and quirky towns and villages with centuries of history to chose from, sooner or later one comes up against the appalling 12 years of Nazi rule. In the beautiful abbey of Quedlinburg we find that the sinister and creepy Heinrich Himmler expelled the church to build an absurd and horrible SS shrine around the grave of Henry the Fowler- the first king of East Frankia- that is proto-Germany, rather than West Frankia, which was proto-France. In Bamberg, an equally beautiful world heritage site, we find the "Bamberg Knight", the supposed archetype of the Aryan man- though to my eyes a rather effete looking piece

Nazism was a kind of death cult, and the symbolism of death's head and the glorification of war is undoubtedly genuinely scary. Yet, there is also a weird comedy in the blatantly un-Aryan looking Himmler and Goebbels demanding the Germans fully conform to some bizarre blond and blue eyed stereotype. The Nazis were a criminal organisation and as such it is almost too easy to dismiss Germany's previous incarnation- the Kaiserreich- as being similarly unworthy, since in the end it led to the monstrous evil of the Hitler gang. Yet, looking at the solidity of the buildings of the pre-World War I era, it is harder to consider that the country was in the grip of the same kind of criminal or irrational leaders that comprised the so-called Third Reich.

In fact the entry of Germany into the First World War seems as much a horrendous miscalculation about the impact of warfare as anything else. After the series of easy victories that created the German Empire in 1871, Germany had been pacific to a far greater degree than, for example, Britain. Whereas British troops had been in action in many places, not least in South Africa, German troops had not. Whereas British troops had already seen things, like barbed wire, snipers and even trench warfare, the Germans still had the illusion of the easy mobile victory. Thus the Germans also fatally underestimated the scale of what they were about to unleash. War for the Germans was an instrument of policy, and it took the horrors of Flanders to understand that it could also be an instrument of annihilation. 

Europe has been the cockpit of human history for nearly four centuries, but the exhaustion of the two world wars and the rise and fall of the twin evils of Soviet and National Socialism has forced Europeans to recognize that there is almost no peaceful course that can be worse than war itself. This is not, however the case in Asia. Of the wars of the twenty-first century so far, we have seen Asia, not Europe, become the point of contention as China, and to a lesser extent India achieve greater economic power. Wars have taken place in Iraq and Afghanistan of course, but also in Georgia and now Syria. Great power stress is now between China and the United States- that great Euro-Pacific behemoth- with other stress between China and Japan and indirectly, through Pakistan, with India. This is why the growing assertiveness of China concerning unfinished territorial disputes is now of increasing concern. The shaky legitimacy of the People's Republic of China remains internally challenged, but is also challenged by the existence of Taiwan as a standing rebuke to the Communist oligarchs. Yet the blue water claims of the PRC may now be enforceable, as China acquires far stronger military and naval forces.

Yet, as the riots in China show, there is not the same idea of war being the ultimate evil in Asia as in Europe. The destruction of anything Japanese- including cars, which were presumably owned by Chinese- could easily lead to the Chinese Communist leadership being backed into a corner by its own nationalism.

As in 1914 these are loose groups, rather than formal alliance structures: Japan and Taiwan do have formal alliances with the United States, but to a weaker extent the ASEAN countries are also associated with the United States, and also tend to regard China as a strategic and economic rival. The great unknowns are India and Russia, which presumably are antagonistic to or supportive of China respectively. Russia has its own dispute with Japan, whereas the days of Sino-Soviet tension are now firmly in the past, with Russia and China adopting common positions over the Arab Spring and other human rights issues.

For Europe, only Russia matters, for otherwise we do not have a dog in this game- yet of course if Moscow did form a pact with China, then NATO would be facing a strategic problem in its own back yard. The claims of Russia against their former satellites may be illegitimate, but they are just as real as China's claims against their neighbours- though without -so far- the real means of challenging NATO's interdiction.

The Senkakus are a potential flash point that is just as dangerous for world peace as Sarajevo was. We in Europe are not immune- facing as we do the unstable regime of Vladimir Putin. A global discussion on the contending issues of China's sea borders would be a far better means of defusing the issues than conflict- especially in the only continent, so far, where nuclear weapons have actually been used.

The miscalculation of Wilhelmine Germany led to the Great War, and the subsequent emergence of the untrammelled corruption of Hitler and Stalin. An Asian war on a similar scale could only lead to similar evil. Let us hope that there are global leaders of sufficient vision to understand the delicate and dangerous situation that humanity finds itself in again, just 98 years after 1914.

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