Friday, October 02, 2015

When History Kind of Rhymes

I've long said that we seem to be living in an era with a disturbing inter-war (that is, pre-World War II) vibe. But let's not be Euro-centric about this.

I haven't been shy about comparing Russian actions today to German actions before World War II (with World War I variations). Is Ukraine's Crimea the new Rhineland and their Donbas the new Sudetenland?

But despite the grief Russia is giving us lately in Europe and the Middle East, apart from their Spetsnaz and nukes, Russia isn't that strong. They simply have weak targets.

But if we are living in an inter-war world, we have to seriously consider whether Putin's Russia is playing the role of Germany.

What if Putin has the supporting role of Mussolini?

What if Putin's Russia is playing the role of Italy under Mussolini?

If so, who plays the role of Germany as the real threat to world peace?

With China's military leaders convinced they can win a short and sharp offensive war and with China's people pretty much assuming war with Japan is inevitable, is Japan the "Poland" in Asia that China would strike as China demands their own "Senkaku Corridor" to the western Pacific?

And does Russia also get to play the role of the USSR by agreeing to split Japanese territory with China--with China recognizing Russia's ownership of territory that Russia seized from Japan in world War II?

How I sleep well at night is beyond me.

If that is so, China gets the role of prime threat to world peace despite all the noise that junior partner Russia is making. Ukraine might be the new Ethiopia and Syria is the new Spain.

I think Taiwan gets the role of Poland. Not as a direct comparison of the original. But as the act of aggression that finally triggers the beginning of a bigger war after a series of localized aggression.

Taiwan certainly doesn't indicate that it wants to give up any kind of Danzig Corridor by accepting the premise that Taiwan must be part of China:

Taiwan President Ma Ying-jeou said on Thursday the island was not ready to discuss unification with China, sending a firm message to an increasingly assertive Beijing eager to absorb what it considers a renegade province.

Which means that this type of diplomacy is a good thing:

On September 29, U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry hosted the foreign ministers of Japan and India for the first ever trilateral ministerial meeting on the sidelines of the United Nations General Assembly in New York.

The event was no doubt a significant development. While the United States, Japan, and India have been meeting at the assistant secretary level over the past few years, this meeting between their foreign ministers represents an official elevation of the trilateral dialogue.

If Russia is just the new Italy despite all the noise (sorry Putin, best wrestle another tiger to feel better) and China is the new Germany, then India gets to be the France while Japan is the new Britain newly committed to their continental friend with a common foe.

Although I confess I worried that Japan is the new Poland where China and Russia can formally grab territory of a common victim (East China Sea and Senkaku Islands, respectively).

But Japan is probably too powerful for that role. And Japan is stepping up:

On September 19, Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe's government succeeded in passing legislation revising pacifist interpretations of his nation's post-WW 2 constitution. The U.S.-imposed document placed limitations on Japanese military forces. Imperial Japan was the aggressor who started World War 2 in Asia. In essence, the law restricted Japanese forces to defending Japanese territory from immediate attack.

No more. Japanese forces may now conduct operations abroad, when approved by parliament. They can more easily conduct military operations with allies to defend common interests. They can aid allied forces even if Japanese territory does not suffer armed attack.

These changes have immense strategic significance. That's intentional. Asia has changed. It's 2015, not 1945.

And this is the Pacific Century and not the era of European hegemony. So any analogies may need to pivot to Asia.

Remember, while it has been a mistake to discount Russia, I think there is a difference between being a geopolitical foe, a current enemy, and a potential enemy with great power.

Although Russia is moving from the first to the last, it seems--but at second banana level.

So South Korea gets to be the new Low Countries which Japan cannot allow to fall to enemy control.

Perhaps the South China Sea is Austria and offshore territories of the Philippines play the role of Czechoslovakia's Sudetenland.

We still get to be America. May we play our role well.