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TOM ENGELHARDT ON AMERICA’S AGE OF DENIALPAGES 4-5
Russia gets its act together
The question of responsibility for the hostilities in the Caucasus shouldn’t worry us too much. Less than a week after Georgia’s invasion, two well-known French commentators said it was old stuff. An influential neo-conservative from the United States backed that view: knowing who started things “is not very important”, wrote Robert Kagan. “This war did not begin because of a miscalculation by Georgian president Mikheil Saakashvili. It is a war that Moscow has been attempting to provoke for some time” (1). One hypothesis deserves another. If, on the day of the opening ceremony of the Beijing Olympics, somebody else than Saakashvili, a graduate of New York’s Columbia Law School, had started a war, would western capitals and their media have been able to contain righteous indignation at such a symbolic act? History is easier to follow when goodies and baddies are decided in advance. The goodies, such as Georgia, have the right to defend their territorial integrity against the separatist struggles of their neighbours. The baddies, such as Serbia, must accept the self-determination of minority communities or expect to be bombed by Nato. The moral of this story is even more enlightening when, to defend his country’s borders, the charming pro-American Saakashvili repatriates some of the 2,000 soldiers he had sent to invade Iraq. On 16 August President George Bush, speaking with gravity, rightly invoked the “Security Council resolutions of the United Nations” including the “sovereignty and independence and territorial integrity” of Georgia whose “borders should command the same respect as every other nation’s”. Only the US has the right to act unilaterally when it decides (or claims) that its security is at stake. In reality, events have followed a simpler plan: the US plays for Georgia against Russia; Russia plays for South Ossetia and Abkhazia to “punish” Georgia. Two Pentagon position papers have indicated a desire to prevent the resurgence of Russian power ever since 1992, when it was in ruins. To ensure that US hegemony, which began with the first Gulf war and the disintegration of the Soviet bloc,
INSIDE THIS ISSUE
Georgia fails to get away with its advance into South Ossetia page 2
Financial crisis leaves US economy out of credit page 3
How Israel forgot its history page 6
Iraqi refugees find that Syria is not such a safe haven page 7
SECOND CHANCEAT COMMAND OF THE OCEANS
China’s naval ambitions
FRANKKUPKA – Diagonal plans (1931)
became permanent, the Pentagon announced that it would be necessary to “convince likely rivals that they no longer need aspire to a greater role”. If that didn’t work, the US would know how “to dissuade” them. And the main target was Russia, “the only power in the world which could destroy the US”. So can we chide Russian leaders for bristling against western help for the “colour revolutions” of Ukraine and Georgia, the inclusion of former members of the Warsaw Pact in Nato and the prospect of US missiles on Polish soil – all of which were elements of the old US strategy to weaken Russia, whatever its regime or its politics? “Russia has become a great power, that’s what’s so worrying,” admitted Bernard Kouchner, France’s foreign minister (2). Zbigniew Brzezinski, the architect of the US’ risky strategy in Afghanistan, recently explained the other part of the US grand design: “We have access through Georgia... to the oil and soon also the gas that lies not only in Azerbaijan but beyond it in the Caspian sea and beyond in Central Asia. So, in that sense, it’s a very major and strategic asset to us” (3). He can’t be accused of inconsistency: even in the days of Boris Yeltsin, when Russia was still floundering, he advocated driving it from the Caucasus and Central Asia so that energy flows to the West could be guaranteed (4). Nowadays Russia is doing better, the US is doing less well and oil prices have taken off. Victim of its president’s provocative actions, Georgia has just been hit from three directions. SERGE HALIMI TRANSLATED BY ROBERT WATERHOUSE
(1) Bernard-Henri Léévy and Andréé Glucksmann, Libéération, 14 August 2008, and Robert Kagan, Washington Post, 11 August 2008. (2) Interview in the Journal de Dimanche, Paris, 17 August 2008. (3) Bloomberg News, 12 August 2008. (4) Zbigniew Brzezinski, The Grand Chessboard , Basic Books, New York, 1997.
Bosnia’s young turn their backs on democracy page 10
The Balkan Roma:underprivileged and under threat page 12
Towering energy concerns for highrise buildings page 14
A Starck appraisal
Five hundred years ago the obvious contender for dominance of the world’s oceans was the Chinese imperial exploration fleet,which was technologically centuries ahead of all its rivals.But the emperor decided to turn the nation’s back on the sea.The Chinese will not make the same mistake twice
BY OLIVIER ZAJEC
In 2006 China Central Television showed a documentary series, Daguo Jueqi(The rise of great powers) (1), which was immediately successful. It included interviews with historians and international leaders and was considered accurate enough to be bought by the History Channel and broadcast in the United States. The 12 50-minute episodes explained how the Portuguese, Spanish, Dutch, French, British, German, Japanese, Russian and American empires rose, prospered and fell. The man behind the idea, Beijing university professor Qian Chengdan, understands its popular appeal in his own country: “It’s because China, the Chinese people, the Chinese race, has been revitalised and is once again on the world stage” (2). Daguo Jueqilooks at the maritime achievements of the major powers in their rise to global dominance. Whatever the population, size or territory of the originating country, its strategy was always to open to the outside world, control the principal sea lanes and deep-water bases, and master technology, naval action and influence. Those are the Chinese government’s new priorities, laid down in the 2000 Maritime High Technology Plan and the parallel rise of the People’s Liberation Army Navy (PLAN).
Pragmatism and diplomacy
The documentary broke with decades of Chinese Communist Party historical ideology and revealed China’s current pragmatism as that of a rising power intent on avoiding the arrogant blindness that left it in a long period of weakness in the 19th century. To influence the world in a “harmonious and peaceful” manner (two key words used in current policy), to open China to the world – and the world to China – appears to be Hu Jintao’s present creed. In an unprecedented effort of naval diplomacy in 2007, Chinese warships visited French, Australian, Japanese, Singaporean, Spanish and US ports and took part in joint manoeuvres against the threat of piracy. China’s soft-power ambitions should be put in perspective against the regional backdrop. There are also two major issues. One concerns China’s territorial claims on Taiwan and the extent of Chinese territorial waters in its exclusive economic zone (EEZ). If China were to satisfy these ambitions it would gain free access to vast areas of the Pacific Ocean and Southeast Asian sea lanes beyond the Indochinese peninsula. The second issue, now that China has become the world’s second oil importer, is the protection of its energy corridors. The
territorial issue will be a determining factor for the present. Beijing has succeeded in settling land border disputes with 13 of its neighbours in a friendly manner (3). Only two neighbours oppose China openly: Bhutan and India. But, according to Loïïc Frouart, of the French defence ministry’s strategic affairs delegation, “those 14,500 km of maritime borders represent many possibilities for potential crisis or friction. There are many unresolved conflicts” (4). China is claiming full sovereignty over 4m sq km of water. The Chinese authorities would like to regain their hold on Taiwan “by force if necessary”. That remains the official stance, although the election in Taiwan of Ma Ying-jeou’s Kuomintang party has reduced tensions on both sides of the straits. Along with the rapid rise of the Chinese navy and the decline, however relative, in the tonnage difference with the US navy, China is using psychological as well as military means to accompany the developments that will lead to the peaceful return of Taiwan. That involves both dissuasion and enticement. The missiles aimed at the island, and the US attitude to them, prevent Taiwan from declaring independence, while the growing economic interdependence between Taiwan and the mainland is preparing citizens for a possible Hong Kong transfer. However, Taiwan is not the only stone in China’s vast game of maritime Go. China is also in conflict with Japan over the Diaoyu Islands (Senkaku in Japanese) near Okinawa, which house a US military base. Tokyo insists that its EEZ extends 450 km to the west of the archipelago, which Beijing contests by claiming the entire continental plateau that extends its own territory into the East China Sea. It is no coincidence that this area contains a potential 200bn cubic metres of natural gas. China is also in conflict with Taiwan, Vietnam, the Philippines, Malaysia, Brunei and Indonesia over the Spratly Islands (Nansha in Chinese) and the Pratas archipelago (Dongsha), and with Vietnam and Taiwan over the Paracel Islands (Xisha). China is contesting maritime borders in Japan and Vietnam and disputing fishing quotas with South Korea, Japan, Vietnam and the Philippines.
Longstanding naval ambitions
We tend to forget that China has always been active in the region. In the 1950s the Chinese navy took back most of the small coastal islands controlled by Chiang Kai Shek’s nationalists. In 1974 it took advantage of South Vietnam’s defeat to occupy the Paracel Islands, and in 1988 seized the Fiery Cross reef close to the Spratly archipelago from the
Olivier Zajec is a researcher at the Compagnie europééenne d’intelligence stratéégique (CEIS) in Paris
Continued on page 8