TIME FOR KAPLAN TO COME IN FROM THE COLD WAR"From Stettin in the Baltic to Trieste in the Adriatic, an iron curtain has descended across the Continent"- Winston Churchill" Power flows from the barrel of a gun and that gun must never slip from the grasp of the Communist Party "- Mao ZeDong
Harsh words from the age of the Cold War. The words however are for that age and not for ours. We have an entirely different enemy today and our war is not the Cold War redux. If we were to follow the advice offered by Robert D. Kaplan
in the pages of The Atlantic
we would be propelled into the wrong fight at the wrong time with the wrong enemy, which China is not unless we choose to make her so. By counseling as he does, Mr. Kaplan indicates that he not only does not understand China, he clearly doesn't understand the Cold War either.
This is not an argument that China is a friend or ally of the United States. It is not. Nor will I argue that China's economic and geopolitical rise does not represent a shift in the global order and a strategic challenge for American policy makers. It does. What I will illustrate is that China in 2005 is not the Soviet Union of 1945 and that to base our strategic policy of how to relate to China as " Cold War II" is to create a self-fulfilling prophecy.
One crucial difference that Mr. Kaplan does not seem to be aware of is that the fundamental economic and foreign policies of China today and the Soviet Union circa 1945-1949 differ by approximately 180 degrees.
Josef Stalin's strategy was to hermetically seal off the Soviet bloc from not only Western but all foreign influences, including independent Communist voices such as Tito's. Stalinist trade policy promoted autarky, preferring barter agreements to cash exchange whenever possible and even aid - whether for famine relief or the Marshall Plan was decisively rebuffed. Eastern Europe had Communist satellite governments imposed upon them and miniature Terrors executed that killed hundreds of thousands of Polish, German, Bulgarian, Romanian, Hungarian and Czechoslovak intellectuals, religious believers and " reactionaries".
When after Stalin passed from the scene in 1953 - though not until after Blockading Berlin and sanctioning the Korean War - his successor Nikita Khrushchev made support for " Wars of National Liberation"the cornerstone of Soviet policy in the Third World. This policy remained unchanged up until the USSR began collapsing in 1990. Khrushchev - who compared to Stalin can be regarded as a " moderate" - also brought the world to the brink of nuclear war, invaded Hungary and erected the Berlin Wall.
Where or how does China represent anything close to that order of threat magnitude to the United States ? Outside of Taiwan, which remains a true potential flashpoint, have the Chinese in recent decades resembled in their behavior toward their neighbors , the Soviets of the 1940's ? Or even the Soviets of the 1970's and 1980's ?
These are not differences of degree but of kind.
What Kaplan does not realize is that Containment worked well in part because the USSR's own paranoid totalitarianism complemented our strategy by isolating themselves from all forms of connectivity. Watching any " flows" of people, ideas or force across the Iron Curtain became a simple surveillance task for our intelligence services and multilateral alliances alike.
How well would George Kennan's grand strategy have fared if the Soviets sought not isolation but integration ? Not conquest and domination but connectivity, influence and markets ?
The supreme irony of Mr. Kaplan's argument is that even if
China is an enemy, using a Cold War model strategy might doom us to defeat. Different opponent with different objectives who presents a completely unique and primarily longitudinal set of challenges. Few of which are military in nature and none of which are as imminent as the War on Terror that Kaplan has waved away as a " blip".
Geopolitics is not a cookie-cutter operation Mr. KaplanRELATED LINKS:Curzon
at Coming Anarchy
- defending Robert D. Kaplan against Dr. Barnett
.Thomas P. M. Barnett
- Burning BridgesNadezhda
at Liberals Against Terrorism
- sees Kaplan as a self-fulfilling prophet as well