Monday, August 16, 2004

An important article in Foreign Affairs argues that the short-term focus on the Middle East obscures the adjustment required by the West towards the rise of Asia. The rise of the demographic giants, India and China, draws the economic balance of the global economy towards the East. Both, nationalistic in orientation, have rapidly converted their rapid economic growth to military power and projection within their own "near abroads". Such brittle and fragile giants raise the risk for wars comparable to those seen in the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries between the European empires:

Each of the Asian aspirants is involved in explosive territorial conflicts, and each has varying internal stresses: dislocated populations, rigid political systems, ethnic strife, fragile financial institutions, and extensive corruption. As in the past, domestic crises could provoke international confrontations.

The three major flashpoints, derived from the frozen conflicts of post-imperial Asia are Kashmir, North Korea and Taiwan. However, all three regions may be triggered through nationalistic conflict warred by conscription armies between unstable states including an unnerving option to escalate to a regional nuclear war.

Asia will provide one of the final issues that uncouples the old alliance between the United States and Europe. The United States maintain strong strategic alliances within the region and provides a defence guarantee to Taiwan, South Korea and Japan. Europe does not share in these commitments and underestimates the potential for sovereign states to war against each other threatening their own declining global influence. Any major war within the region would divide an impotent Europe urging peace talks from the United States carrying a big stick.

This would provide a difficult call for the United Kingdom. After the problems with the post-Iraq invasion, it is unlikely that any British government could deploy troops to aid the United States (within three years a token effort may be impossible, anyway). Moreover, the Blair doctrine has failed to extend its remit towards security issues but remains wedded to humanitarian headlines (once Darfur hit the news, it was time to send the troops). Its ideological underpinnings do not include defending democracy, one of the doctrine's significant departures from its nineteenth century liberal antecedents. By default, the rise of Asia will visibly hasten Europe's decline, and with our current security relationships, Britain will be included in this dangerous whirlpool of impotence.

(23.10, 16th August 2004)


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