This article was first published in the Australian Journal ‘Pearls & Irritations’ (A weekly publication that publishes articles diverging from the Australian Government’s viewpoint.)
WORLD AFFAIRS Blog 209
Will Australia spring the Thucydides trap?
The Thucydides Trap argument is that history demonstrates that war is practically inevitable between a rising hegemon, such as China, and a failing hegemon, such as the US.
This is the original article and things have moved on in the intervening year. article Today’s follow-up article takes the position that in this particular instance, belief in the inevitability of such a war is based on a grievous misunderstanding. Though war, as a self-fulfilling prophecy, will almost certainly develop should the majority of nations adopt the US leadership’s view of the situation, it is well within the power of those nations, all of which stand to be destroyed in any such conflict, to exercise self-discipline, and avoid such a debacle.
As a result of manipulation of the public media, historical and cultural accident, the American leadership and public have convinced themselves that the winning of this conflict is a matter of national survival. Note that this TED talk, discussing the concept, gives a very one-sided, Western supremacist interpretation of reality. That view is most unlikely to be shared by China and all the other, multiple nations that have been subjugated by the West (or have refused to be.)
The West now sees its military and economic superiority as being challenged by China’s idealistic, single party, statist/private enterprise hybrid. In particular, in his talk, the speaker equates the Chinese economic advance with the search for global suzerainty that such an advance would imply, were it the US, rather than China, that was proving so successful at the governance of a disciplined and industrious population. Though Biden famously announced that China was in the process of ‘stealing America’s lunch,’ the inescapable fact remains that the lunch is being grown and cooked in China – and there seems little the US can do about it except impose dietary penalties on itself and its allies.
The leaders of the US and the mainly white and western world, know only too well that their superior lifestyles and chances depend on the capital and multiple other advantages they accumulated as being the first nations to industrialise – together with a remarkable meanness of spirit when it came to sharing their good fortune with those they so effectively colonised and exploited. Of the thirty-seven wealthy nations, members of the exclusive OECD, all but four are white and Christian and all but one (South Korea) have a past history of colonial exploitation of other nations.
Though colonial conquest and capitalist exploitation is the traditional way in which the western nations have made their living, China is something completely different.
It is that asymmetry that gives reason for hope. In previous histories, the powers on fatal collision courses have been travelling in the opposite direction along the same track: Germany and Britain, or for instance, the US and Japan competing over the same (other people’s) resources, pursuing similar ideologies, making use of shared fields of military engagement and weaponising similar economic tools of conflict.
Assuming that neither party is up for an intercontinental nuclear war in the current confrontation, not only are China and the Western allies travelling along quite separate ideological and economic tracks but their potential fields of major military conflict are quite distinct and not readily approachable by the other.
To deal first with the ideological track: despite the hysterical claims emanating from western propaganda agencies and defence establishments, eager to increase their budgets and career opportunities, careful attention to Putin and Lavrov’s public announcements, would reveal Russia has no discernable global ambitions other than to consolidate its existing relationship with Eurasia and survive in the face of unjustified and almost universal western hostility and threats.
A similar study of China’s and CCP doctrine and their conduct of international relations likewise reveals they are on a totally different track to that of a west, still seeking to maintain a fast-vanishing white hegemony. China has gone to war with no other nation, invaded no other nation, dropped no bombs on any wedding parties, attempted to starve no other nations into submission, nor has it attempted to inflict it political system on other nations. The CCP’s mission is to ensure that China’s proud and ancient civilisation is never again humiliated and plundered by western barbarians. Through self-help, its clearly articulated goal is that the whole community will enjoy growing standards of health, welfare, education and life – but in contrast to the colonialist powers, not at the expense of any other nation. Those who write about China, repeating unproven allegations without bothering to research, understand or explain the enormous cultural differences, are criminally negligent.
Because the west has so unnecessarily (mindlessly?) adopted an anti-Russian obsession, it has driven China and Russia, despite their ideological and cultural differences, into each other’s arms. The significant factor here is Halford MacKinder’s Heartland Theory. The theory has now been overtaken by history. The Heartland is now an impregnable fortress occupied by two like-minded and well-armed allies and neither of which is obsessed, as was imperialist Mackinder, by the thought of world domination and building giant battle-fleets to girdle the Earth. The fact is that modern developments in missile technology, target acquisition and global surveillance are entirely on the side of the defender. The western nations can huff and puff and send expensive iron coffins to the South China Sea, but there is no way any surface ship would survive the first attempt of the peripheral nations to effect a military landing on the Heartland. (For the same reason, there is no cause to expect China to risk a military attempt to reunite Taiwan with the mainland.)
The Russians have an expression ‘to threaten a hedgehog with your bare bum.’ In the past three months, from an entirely defensive position behind its frontier, a mobilised Russian force well-illustrated this argument. Biden, Johnson and Erdogan all assured Zelensky that they had his back and encouraged him to be bold in his confrontation over eastern Ukraine. When push came to shove; with their command posts in the Black Sea and in the immediate vicinity all undeniably scheduled for demolition, they quietly and shamefacedly backed down.
The west shouldn’t have a problem with any of the above, but the Chinese system so clearly offers a successful precedent that it can be viewed as posing a threat to the West. The West’s non-wealthy and non-white allies, such as India, might grow discontented with their so frequently misgoverned lot and start looking to China as an example to be followed.
Consequently, the West has embarked on a determined propaganda campaign designed to slander the Chinese system and if possible, by decoupling China from the global economy, delay the progress of its economy. Looking at the relevant statistics, this is going to be a mission impossible. , There is indeed the real possibility of a serious miscalculation by frustrated western powers not fully appreciating the nature of what they are confronting.
It is here that other nations have a role to play. They have to resist the waves of Sinophobic propaganda emanating from the west. In the long-established American tradition, Biden’s administration is now set upon gathering together a lynch-mob. When sufficient shouts of outrage at genocides, systemic rapes, slave labour etc. are generally accepted as true in the West, the US administration, with its confidence boosted, might just feel that its lies are true and mob-solidarity is such that the time has come to take the risk.
The clincher will be the extent to which the mob leader has confidence in the solidarity of his allies – and in particular his Anglo-Saxon allies. In the past month, New Zealand has demonstrated that it does not intend to take part in the lynching. If only Australia could also realise that the national interests of the sophisticated economies of Washington and London do not coincide with those of remote and primary–based Australia, the chance of the Thucydides trap being sprung would be greatly reduced. Al l the think-tank jockeys, the posing, ignorant politicians and the media hacks mindlessly churning out the same propaganda rubbish about China, are guilty of incitement to a totally unjustified war, which might spell the end of life of Earth.
Hugh Steadman was commissioned from RMA Sandhurst into the British infantry in 1961, and served as an enthusiastic Cold War warrior in Europe and as a political intelligence officer in South Arabia. No longer believing in his country’s rights or wrongs, he resigned and took a Southampton University degree in Politics & International Relations and a post-graduate teaching degree at London University. After ten years in international business in UK, he emigrated to NZ in 1985. Hugh writes a blog at khakispec