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The Enemy of My Enemy is My Friend .... and then what?


Fair Scunnert WASP.
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Henry Kissinger and Niall Ferguson are of the opinion a new cold war is in the offing - 45 years after Kissinger thought he had "solved" the last one.

Nevertheless, for Kissinger, of all people, to acknowledge that we were in the opening phase of Cold War II was remarkable.

Since his first secret visit to Beijing in 1971, Kissinger has been the master-builder of that policy of U.S.-Chinese engagement which, for 45 years, was a leitmotif of U.S. foreign policy. It fundamentally altered the balance of power at the mid-point of the Cold War, to the disadvantage of the Soviet Union. It created the geopolitical conditions for China’s industrial revolution, the biggest and fastest in history. And it led, after China’s accession to the World Trade Organization, to that extraordinary financial symbiosis which Moritz Schularick and I christened “Chimerica” in 2007.

How did relations between Beijing and Washington sour so quickly that even Kissinger now speaks of Cold War?

The conventional answer to that question is that President Donald Trump has swung like a wrecking ball into the “liberal international order” and that Cold War II is only one of the adverse consequences of his “America First” strategy.

Yet that view attaches too much importance to the change in U.S. foreign policy since 2016, and not enough to the change in Chinese foreign policy that came four years earlier, when Xi Jinping became general secretary of the Chinese Communist Party. Future historians will discern that the decline and fall of Chimerica began in the wake of the global financial crisis, as a new Chinese leader drew the conclusion that there was no longer any need to hide the light of China’s ambition under the bushel that Deng Xiaoping had famously recommended.


Bipolar.  Two poles.  The old Cold War was always portrayed as a two sided battle between Russia and America.  Everyone else played a bit role.  Something that irked many.  China was amongst those irked.

Kissinger saw China playing the same role in the Cold War between America and Russia that Russia had played in the Hot War between America and Germany.  (And, for some Americans the same role the Germany played in the Long War against Britain - but that is a digression too far at this point).

The problem with the Enemy of My Enemy is My Friend strategy occurs when the mutual enemy is defeated.  The tension that keeps a three legged stool in balance is destroyed and you are left with a teetering two-legged stool under constant tension and in danger of imminent collapse.  Perhaps this is the ultimate problem with the "End of History" theory.

Since the collapse of the USSR in 1991 we heard nothing but the rise of the Unipolar world.  China didn't rate.  It didn't even get a mention in its contribution to the downfall of the USSR - if nothing else it  kept a massive chunk of the USSR's armed forces and attentions away from the Iron Curtain.  Just as in 1945 the US saved the world all on its own.  Largely through the agency of brilliant "Leaders of the Free World" like Jimmy Carter and LBJ.

The thing is that until Kissinger, Nixon and Trudeau pulled China away from its developing tight alliance with Russia the world was constantly on edge with missile crises and invasions of countries like Hungary, Czechoslovakia and Poland.  Have you ever sat on one of those folding three legged stools.  They aren't comfortable if all three legs are collapsed into a single point of contact.  Your legs do all the work to make three points.  Even extending one leg, giving two points of contact, doesn't give balance and stability.  In fact it can become even more uncomfortable.  You can only really relax, take a load off, when you have three legs solidly planted on the ground and actively working against each other.  Developing tension of which you can remain blissfully unaware.

Western society is built on competition.  And that is a good thing.  I detest the idea of a unipolar world as I detest trusting to a fearless leader.  Everybody is always wrong.  ;D ;D ;D  At least some of the time.

But you can't build a life constantly in struggle.  Which is what you get in a world where it just you and your neighbour competing.  That is exhausting.  Takes up too much energy from both and entropy wins when you're not paying attention.

As noted, you need a third player in the league to generate stability.

So, if three is magic why not four, five.....infinity.  Because the more points of contact the more tensions, the more fracture zones, the more uneven and constantly shifting the surface.  You can't relax.

So, for me, three IS magic.

Peace can only be sustained for a period of time if a triangular association of Frenemies can be sustained.  If people can exercise civility while detesting each other.  At least in International Affairs.

So, who is going to play the Third Leg in the Future?  And how quick can they deploy and build that useful tension?

The EU is desperate for the job - but their they're in a crap state.  Britain and the Commonwealth are possibles as well but in no better shape than the EU.  India would like the job but it isn't their there yet.  Vladimir thinks Russia needs to get the job back but he is too focused on collapsing the American leg to be able to build and deploy his own leg. 

And thus we teeter.

Edited for rookie grammar.

Very interesting view.  Thanks for posting, Chris.

Britain at least is back "outside" of Europe, which historically was always to Europe's benefit.  No guarantee that it will be as beneficial this time, but Britain is still relatively powerful.
Curious, why would you say that the EU is in a crap state in regards to being a '3rd leg' in the magic of 3?

350 million citizens, most of whom have consuming power.  Several decently large economies.  And while not as potent of a military as the US (As the US puts firepower & killing the enemy on the battlefield as one of it's top priorities, which is something they and we should be doing also) -- the EU does have substantial military assets to be taken seriously if given the political direction to act.

I'd respectfully suggest that geography plays a part also.  China was able to draw Soviet forces away from the Iron Curtain because of shared borders with the USSR.  The EU could serve a similar purpose given some of it's members (and northern NATO members) proximiity to modern Russia. 
CBH99 said:
...the EU does have substantial military assets to be taken seriously if given the political direction to act.

Doubtful.  When did Eurocorps do anything on its own?
CBH99.  I think you and G2G have it.

Europe isn't sufficiently homogeneous (despite "everybody" being white  :whistle: ) to have a common purpose.  Geography, language, culture, religion, outlook are too disparate to bring them together.  And assorted hegemonies since 5000 BC have done little to change that. 

In fact all that has happened is that Europe has caught up to that island of stability known as the the Middle East - demonstrating its coherence since they built Gobekli Tepe in 9600 BC, the end of the last Ice Age.  Or China with its 13 dynasties and 12 anarchies  since 2070 BC.

Liberalism is a problem.  Since the Brits got tired slaughtering each other over whether to stand or kneel, whether you needed a cross in the kirk or no', roughly about the time that the Scots went broke in 1700 and took to the road, the Whiggish maxim has been to go along to get along.  Generally that works well enough until you run into somebody like Louis XIV or Xi Jinping.  And then you have to find some Tory traits in you and decide to push back.

My problem is that I don't think there is enough steel in either EU or Britain, and certainly not Canada nor the US State Department, to create the counter to Xi's China. We just don't do that sort of thing anymore, donchano?

On the other hand there are places where people feel strongly enough about their beliefs that they are willing to take each other on with bamboo canes, spiked clubs and lahtis and push each other off cliffs.  Or fight for the possession of their streets. The barbarians - believers one and all. 

I think it is far more likely that India and Singapore will pull Australia, Britain and the US into a discussion with China over Hong Kong and Kashmir than it is that the Euros, or even the Brits, or the Yanks will do anything other than buying robots so they don't have to worry about getting blood on their sneakers.

And Canada?  Europe with an inferiority complex.

And yes, I am feeling particularly cynical these days.

Despite what I said earlier, about India not being ready, they might yet be the best bet, ready or not.