Category: Brandon J. Weichert

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Putin and Xi Are Not Embracing Each Other (Yet)


The Vostok-2018 war games are underway.  Understandably, the world is watching with grave concern.  After all, it is the largest military exercise between the Russian and Chinese (and Mongolian) militaries since the Cold War.  The exercises themselves involved nearly 300,000 troops, 1,000 aircraft, 80 warships, and 36,000 armored vehicles, according to Bill Gertz of The Washington Times.  Many strategists in the West worry that Vostok-2018 is a portent of a new strategic alliance between two of the largest powers in all of Eurasia against the United States.

This would be the nightmare scenario.  The landmass known as Eurasia encompasses a majority of the world’s natural resources – potable water, oil, natural gas, metals – and is home to most of the world’s population.  For much of its history, though, Eurasia has been defined more by its regional divisions than its similarities. Many attempts at creating either a regional hegemon or a concert of powers to dominate this rich region have failed.

Changing Times

There are seismic shifts occurring in the global political order.  Since the 1990s, foreign policy thinkers such as Joseph S. Nye, Jr. have warned American leaders about the dawn of a multipolar world order.  Other thinkers, such as the historian Paul Kennedy, have worried that the United States is a power in relative decline suffering “imperial overstretch.”  The leaders of Russia, China, and various European states (like Germany and France) have pined for the birth of a multipolar world order where there are many centers of power, as opposed to only Washington, D.C.

Since the Great Recession of 2008, while the United States has recovered economically, long running negative trends in both the economic and military realms have undermined America’s once unquestionable global dominance.  For the duration of the Obama administration, American elites spoke openly about managing America’s relative decline.

Countries like China have worked to build the “new silk road” aimed at linking as much of Eurasia together under Chinese control as possible. It was a policy designed to empower Beijing and weaken American influence in the region.  Analysts, such as Michael Pillsbury of the Hudson Institute, have warned of China’s plan to become the world’s hegemon by 2049 (the hundredth-year anniversary of the Chinese Communist Party’s victory in the Chinese Civil War), thereby replacing the United States.

The Vostok-2018 military exercises have been followed on by announcements from Beijing that the Chinese are preparing to ask the World Trade Organization to sanction the United States for anti-dumping duties that Washington has imposed on Chinese goods.  Moscow reportedly supports Beijing’s request to the WTO in order to “protect global trade.”  For its part, the WTO settlement dispute body is set to take up Beijing’s request on September 21, just four days after the Sino-Russo-Mongolian Vostok-2018 exercises conclude.

What’s more, both China and Russia have renewed discussions to move away from the U.S. dollar as being the world’s reserve currency.  Recently, Russian foreign minister Sergei Lavrov met with his Turkish counterpart (Turkey is upset over the Trump administration’s sanctions imposed that country for its unfair treatment of an American pastor) and announced that Turkey would be joining with Russia, Iran, and China in relying on their own national currencies to conduct international trade (as opposed to using the U.S. dollar).  This comes a year after China got Saudi Arabia to allow for a small amount of oil to be traded on China’s currency as opposed to the U.S. dollar.  The limited trade went gangbusters for investors.  There will be greater levels of such trades conducted over the next five years, according to Beijing.

This is not the first time that both China and Russia have attempted to undermine the U.S. dollar as the world reserve currency.  During the 2008 Great Recession, Moscow attempted to get Beijing to dump their combined shares of Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac in an attempt to devastate the American economy.  China refused only because the economic blowback on China would have been great.

After 2008, Beijing argued that the world’s overreliance on the U.S. dollar is what precipitated the Great Recession.  Until 2010, both Moscow and Beijing – as well as a litany of European states – wanted to create a new international reserve currency to conduct global trade.  All of these agitations for a new world reserve currency went away after the Obama administration made an historic nuclear arms limitation agreement with Moscow.  While Obama’s New START weakened America’s nuclear posture relative to Russia’s, it did have the salutary effect of redirecting Moscow’s attention away from the West and toward its east (at least until Russian president Vladimir Putin became convinced that Washington was trying to prevent his return to the Kremlin in the highly corrupt Russian presidential election of 2012).

Trump should, therefore, make a deal with Russia.

The More Things Change, the More They Stay the Same

There is no doubt that Russia, China, Turkey, France, Germany, and a host of other powerful countries are looking to limit what they view as the damage of the Trump administration’s “America First” trade and foreign policies.  Plus the advent of the Chinese Belt-and-Road Initiative has prompted many of these countries to begin working closer together than ever before.  Yet, for all of the rhetoric about a new Eurasian anti-American alliance, nothing truly substantive has changed geopolitically.  And large gaps exist in China’s proposed “new silk road.”

Most states will realize they need the U.S. for trade more than any other country.  China still relies on the United States for a disproportionate level of trade; Russia remains skeptical about Chinese intentions along its eastern border; Germany and France remain concerned about Russian revanchism in Eastern Europe.  As secretary of defense James Mattis commented to Bill Gertz about the Vostok-2018 military exercises: there “is little in the long term that aligns Russia and China.”

Similarly, financial analyst Charles Wallace has written in Forbes that the ubiquity of the U.S. dollar as a reserve currency means that no alternative will be crafted anytime soon.  While Putin likes being seen with China’s President Xi Jinping, he understands that China’s ultimate goal is to cleave the Russian Far East away from Moscow and place it under Chinese control.  Both China and Russia are looking for better deals from Washington.  President Trump must continue with his efforts to deal with Russia, while standing firm against China on trade.

Trump can win in separating Russia from China.  In fact, Russia is begging for a better deal from the United States.  In poker terms, Beijing is running a full house off a pair on trade.  Or, in the words of Allianz corporations chief economic adviser Mohamed El-Erian:

One of the upside risks [to the trade war] is that you may end up changing the global landscape in a way that favors the U.S.  Because countries will realize, if we slip into a trade war, while everybody suffers, [the] U.S. does better in relative terms.  The rest of the world is less solid than the U.S.

Despite appearances to the contrary, the Sino-Russian alliance is not solidified.  Moscow and Beijing just want a better deal from Washington.

The Vostok-2018 war games are underway.  Understandably, the world is watching with grave concern.  After all, it is the largest military exercise between the Russian and Chinese (and Mongolian) militaries since the Cold War.  The exercises themselves involved nearly 300,000 troops, 1,000 aircraft, 80 warships, and 36,000 armored vehicles, according to Bill Gertz of The Washington Times.  Many strategists in the West worry that Vostok-2018 is a portent of a new strategic alliance between two of the largest powers in all of Eurasia against the United States.

This would be the nightmare scenario.  The landmass known as Eurasia encompasses a majority of the world’s natural resources – potable water, oil, natural gas, metals – and is home to most of the world’s population.  For much of its history, though, Eurasia has been defined more by its regional divisions than its similarities. Many attempts at creating either a regional hegemon or a concert of powers to dominate this rich region have failed.

Changing Times

There are seismic shifts occurring in the global political order.  Since the 1990s, foreign policy thinkers such as Joseph S. Nye, Jr. have warned American leaders about the dawn of a multipolar world order.  Other thinkers, such as the historian Paul Kennedy, have worried that the United States is a power in relative decline suffering “imperial overstretch.”  The leaders of Russia, China, and various European states (like Germany and France) have pined for the birth of a multipolar world order where there are many centers of power, as opposed to only Washington, D.C.

Since the Great Recession of 2008, while the United States has recovered economically, long running negative trends in both the economic and military realms have undermined America’s once unquestionable global dominance.  For the duration of the Obama administration, American elites spoke openly about managing America’s relative decline.

Countries like China have worked to build the “new silk road” aimed at linking as much of Eurasia together under Chinese control as possible. It was a policy designed to empower Beijing and weaken American influence in the region.  Analysts, such as Michael Pillsbury of the Hudson Institute, have warned of China’s plan to become the world’s hegemon by 2049 (the hundredth-year anniversary of the Chinese Communist Party’s victory in the Chinese Civil War), thereby replacing the United States.

The Vostok-2018 military exercises have been followed on by announcements from Beijing that the Chinese are preparing to ask the World Trade Organization to sanction the United States for anti-dumping duties that Washington has imposed on Chinese goods.  Moscow reportedly supports Beijing’s request to the WTO in order to “protect global trade.”  For its part, the WTO settlement dispute body is set to take up Beijing’s request on September 21, just four days after the Sino-Russo-Mongolian Vostok-2018 exercises conclude.

What’s more, both China and Russia have renewed discussions to move away from the U.S. dollar as being the world’s reserve currency.  Recently, Russian foreign minister Sergei Lavrov met with his Turkish counterpart (Turkey is upset over the Trump administration’s sanctions imposed that country for its unfair treatment of an American pastor) and announced that Turkey would be joining with Russia, Iran, and China in relying on their own national currencies to conduct international trade (as opposed to using the U.S. dollar).  This comes a year after China got Saudi Arabia to allow for a small amount of oil to be traded on China’s currency as opposed to the U.S. dollar.  The limited trade went gangbusters for investors.  There will be greater levels of such trades conducted over the next five years, according to Beijing.

This is not the first time that both China and Russia have attempted to undermine the U.S. dollar as the world reserve currency.  During the 2008 Great Recession, Moscow attempted to get Beijing to dump their combined shares of Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac in an attempt to devastate the American economy.  China refused only because the economic blowback on China would have been great.

After 2008, Beijing argued that the world’s overreliance on the U.S. dollar is what precipitated the Great Recession.  Until 2010, both Moscow and Beijing – as well as a litany of European states – wanted to create a new international reserve currency to conduct global trade.  All of these agitations for a new world reserve currency went away after the Obama administration made an historic nuclear arms limitation agreement with Moscow.  While Obama’s New START weakened America’s nuclear posture relative to Russia’s, it did have the salutary effect of redirecting Moscow’s attention away from the West and toward its east (at least until Russian president Vladimir Putin became convinced that Washington was trying to prevent his return to the Kremlin in the highly corrupt Russian presidential election of 2012).

Trump should, therefore, make a deal with Russia.

The More Things Change, the More They Stay the Same

There is no doubt that Russia, China, Turkey, France, Germany, and a host of other powerful countries are looking to limit what they view as the damage of the Trump administration’s “America First” trade and foreign policies.  Plus the advent of the Chinese Belt-and-Road Initiative has prompted many of these countries to begin working closer together than ever before.  Yet, for all of the rhetoric about a new Eurasian anti-American alliance, nothing truly substantive has changed geopolitically.  And large gaps exist in China’s proposed “new silk road.”

Most states will realize they need the U.S. for trade more than any other country.  China still relies on the United States for a disproportionate level of trade; Russia remains skeptical about Chinese intentions along its eastern border; Germany and France remain concerned about Russian revanchism in Eastern Europe.  As secretary of defense James Mattis commented to Bill Gertz about the Vostok-2018 military exercises: there “is little in the long term that aligns Russia and China.”

Similarly, financial analyst Charles Wallace has written in Forbes that the ubiquity of the U.S. dollar as a reserve currency means that no alternative will be crafted anytime soon.  While Putin likes being seen with China’s President Xi Jinping, he understands that China’s ultimate goal is to cleave the Russian Far East away from Moscow and place it under Chinese control.  Both China and Russia are looking for better deals from Washington.  President Trump must continue with his efforts to deal with Russia, while standing firm against China on trade.

Trump can win in separating Russia from China.  In fact, Russia is begging for a better deal from the United States.  In poker terms, Beijing is running a full house off a pair on trade.  Or, in the words of Allianz corporations chief economic adviser Mohamed El-Erian:

One of the upside risks [to the trade war] is that you may end up changing the global landscape in a way that favors the U.S.  Because countries will realize, if we slip into a trade war, while everybody suffers, [the] U.S. does better in relative terms.  The rest of the world is less solid than the U.S.

Despite appearances to the contrary, the Sino-Russian alliance is not solidified.  Moscow and Beijing just want a better deal from Washington.



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Putin is Here to Stay, and the Russian State Will Die with Him


Vladimir Putin arose to power in Russia when he was 47 years old.  He is now 66.  Putin’s first two terms in office were generally successful: he presided over an expansion of the Russian economy; the military was modernized; and he even – more controversially – had successes in Russia’s longstanding conflict with Chechen rebels and with NATO observing member Georgia.  All of these actions, taken together, made Putin a popular leader among the Russian electorate.  He was, to play on a popular phrase, making Russia great again after the chaotic decade following the collapse of the Soviet Union.

However, in the immortal words of The Dark Knight‘s Harvey Dent, “You either die a hero, or you live long enough to see yourself become the villain.”  This is precisely what has transpired in Russia today (though, in this case, the term “hero” when describing Vladimir Putin is entirely subjective).  Putin could have left office in 2008 as a generally good leader (according to Russian standards, at least). Yet, he transmogrified himself into a steely autocrat.  Putin temporarily removed himself from the presidency to become prime minister.  But this was less out of a Washingtonian sense of fidelity to the constitution and more of a Machiavellian move to trick foreign observers, and to allow for him to rewrite the constitution.

What Constitution?

Putin once again returned to the Kremlin in 2012 – after a terribly contentious election, in which large swathes of Russians (backed by Western non-government organizations, in many cases) protested Putin’s return.  Since that time, Putin has been on the warpath.  He has aggregated increasing levels of power toward himself and his allies in Moscow; he has engaged in an overtly antagonistic military campaign against the West (again, the West is not entirely innocent in the creation of these circumstances); and he has systematically crushed all domestic opposition.

In 2018, Putin was elected again to the presidency.  Under the current Russian constitution, President Putin must leave office by 2024.  By that point in time, Putin will be 72.  Despite the fact that the average lifespan for a Russian male today is 66, Mr. Putin appears to be in perfect health – a notion reinforced by Putin’s incessant need to ride bareback in the Russian Far East and to display his judo skills at the drop of an ushanka.

In other words, Vladimir Putin will likely be alive and well in 2024 – and quite possibly ready to stay on for another term as the president of Russia.  Besides, even if Putin did not want to stay, it is unlikely that any potential successor could keep Russia together.  Even today, as Putin increases his grasp on power, the country continues fraying along its periphery.  It is only the silnaya ruka – the iron fist of centralized power – that keeps the vast expanse known as the Russian Federation together.  Increasingly, that centralized power is Vladimir Putin’s.

Putin’s reign has long emulated the reign of fellow post-Soviet leaders, such as those of neighboring Belarus and Kazakhstan.  Following the autocratic ethos of one-man rule, Putin has purged Russia of any potential successors to his reign.  The one time he attempted to choose a successor – Dmitri Medvedev – he was deeply disappointed.  Viewing the young Russian attorney as far too friendly toward the West, by the middle of Medvedev’s single term as president, Putin had hollowed out Medvedev’s power.

Not a Deep Bench

Looking forward, Russia is in a difficult position in terms of presidential successors.  The younger generation of leaders are all Putin lackeys.  Like Medvedev, they are unimaginative, and, aside from holding power in Russia, these folks are unexceptional.  The same was said by many of Vladimir Putin when Boris Yeltsin chose Putin to be his successor.  However, the difference is that Yeltsin was a weak and somewhat benign leader, whereas Putin is an autocrat who jealously guards his power.  Whatever might be said about the system under Yeltsin, it allowed for some leaders to rise.  Putin’s autocracy has neutered Russia of any competent leadership for after he leaves office.

The closer we get to 2024, I expect Putin to alter the Russian constitution as he did before the 2012 election, allowing for him to remain in office indefinitely.  Once that occurs, you can start timing how long it will take for Russia to move toward collapse.  After all, whatever comes after Putin will not be a democracy as we understand it (any more than post-Saddam Hussein Iraq became a democracy).  Given the weakness of potential autocratic successors to Putin, Russia will likely break up along its constituent parts.  It will become a chaos state, armed with stores of nuclear – and other – weapons of mass destruction.

Not only are the younger Russian leaders likely incapable of keeping all of Russia’s constituent parts together in a post-Putin political system, but the older generation is as well.  They are either too brutal or will simply be too old when Putin leaves office.

Dear Pentagon: Prepare for Russian Collapse and Loose Nukes

Therefore, I propose that the Pentagon and America’s allies begin planning for the point when Putin is no longer in power.  How would Western officials secure potential loose Russian WMD?  After Putin, it is unlikely that Moscow will be able to maintain central control over its military.

The Pentagon needs to start working out loose nuke scenarios today – how to contain them, whom in Russia to secretly buy off to stop WMD proliferation, etc.  Washington’s priority must be to prevent widespread proliferation of WMD from Russia.

From there, European leaders will have to contemplate how best to respond to the inevitable refugee flows that will emanate from a completely collapsing Russia.  Meanwhile, Asia will have to brace for the time when China takes the lion’s share of natural resources and land from Russia’s Far East.  At that point, China will not only be an economic juggernaut, but will overnight become a natural resources superpower, thereby making it a true challenger to the United States.

World leaders should begin courting the leaders of the various Russian oblasts, so as to have direct linkages with those who would likely arise to rule whatever new states grow out of the ashes of a disintegrating Russia.

The United States cannot hope for the best in Russia.  Policymakers must assume that Putin will retain his grip on power and continue atomizing Russian society.  If that’s the case, then the Russian state will die with Putin.

Vladimir Putin arose to power in Russia when he was 47 years old.  He is now 66.  Putin’s first two terms in office were generally successful: he presided over an expansion of the Russian economy; the military was modernized; and he even – more controversially – had successes in Russia’s longstanding conflict with Chechen rebels and with NATO observing member Georgia.  All of these actions, taken together, made Putin a popular leader among the Russian electorate.  He was, to play on a popular phrase, making Russia great again after the chaotic decade following the collapse of the Soviet Union.

However, in the immortal words of The Dark Knight‘s Harvey Dent, “You either die a hero, or you live long enough to see yourself become the villain.”  This is precisely what has transpired in Russia today (though, in this case, the term “hero” when describing Vladimir Putin is entirely subjective).  Putin could have left office in 2008 as a generally good leader (according to Russian standards, at least). Yet, he transmogrified himself into a steely autocrat.  Putin temporarily removed himself from the presidency to become prime minister.  But this was less out of a Washingtonian sense of fidelity to the constitution and more of a Machiavellian move to trick foreign observers, and to allow for him to rewrite the constitution.

What Constitution?

Putin once again returned to the Kremlin in 2012 – after a terribly contentious election, in which large swathes of Russians (backed by Western non-government organizations, in many cases) protested Putin’s return.  Since that time, Putin has been on the warpath.  He has aggregated increasing levels of power toward himself and his allies in Moscow; he has engaged in an overtly antagonistic military campaign against the West (again, the West is not entirely innocent in the creation of these circumstances); and he has systematically crushed all domestic opposition.

In 2018, Putin was elected again to the presidency.  Under the current Russian constitution, President Putin must leave office by 2024.  By that point in time, Putin will be 72.  Despite the fact that the average lifespan for a Russian male today is 66, Mr. Putin appears to be in perfect health – a notion reinforced by Putin’s incessant need to ride bareback in the Russian Far East and to display his judo skills at the drop of an ushanka.

In other words, Vladimir Putin will likely be alive and well in 2024 – and quite possibly ready to stay on for another term as the president of Russia.  Besides, even if Putin did not want to stay, it is unlikely that any potential successor could keep Russia together.  Even today, as Putin increases his grasp on power, the country continues fraying along its periphery.  It is only the silnaya ruka – the iron fist of centralized power – that keeps the vast expanse known as the Russian Federation together.  Increasingly, that centralized power is Vladimir Putin’s.

Putin’s reign has long emulated the reign of fellow post-Soviet leaders, such as those of neighboring Belarus and Kazakhstan.  Following the autocratic ethos of one-man rule, Putin has purged Russia of any potential successors to his reign.  The one time he attempted to choose a successor – Dmitri Medvedev – he was deeply disappointed.  Viewing the young Russian attorney as far too friendly toward the West, by the middle of Medvedev’s single term as president, Putin had hollowed out Medvedev’s power.

Not a Deep Bench

Looking forward, Russia is in a difficult position in terms of presidential successors.  The younger generation of leaders are all Putin lackeys.  Like Medvedev, they are unimaginative, and, aside from holding power in Russia, these folks are unexceptional.  The same was said by many of Vladimir Putin when Boris Yeltsin chose Putin to be his successor.  However, the difference is that Yeltsin was a weak and somewhat benign leader, whereas Putin is an autocrat who jealously guards his power.  Whatever might be said about the system under Yeltsin, it allowed for some leaders to rise.  Putin’s autocracy has neutered Russia of any competent leadership for after he leaves office.

The closer we get to 2024, I expect Putin to alter the Russian constitution as he did before the 2012 election, allowing for him to remain in office indefinitely.  Once that occurs, you can start timing how long it will take for Russia to move toward collapse.  After all, whatever comes after Putin will not be a democracy as we understand it (any more than post-Saddam Hussein Iraq became a democracy).  Given the weakness of potential autocratic successors to Putin, Russia will likely break up along its constituent parts.  It will become a chaos state, armed with stores of nuclear – and other – weapons of mass destruction.

Not only are the younger Russian leaders likely incapable of keeping all of Russia’s constituent parts together in a post-Putin political system, but the older generation is as well.  They are either too brutal or will simply be too old when Putin leaves office.

Dear Pentagon: Prepare for Russian Collapse and Loose Nukes

Therefore, I propose that the Pentagon and America’s allies begin planning for the point when Putin is no longer in power.  How would Western officials secure potential loose Russian WMD?  After Putin, it is unlikely that Moscow will be able to maintain central control over its military.

The Pentagon needs to start working out loose nuke scenarios today – how to contain them, whom in Russia to secretly buy off to stop WMD proliferation, etc.  Washington’s priority must be to prevent widespread proliferation of WMD from Russia.

From there, European leaders will have to contemplate how best to respond to the inevitable refugee flows that will emanate from a completely collapsing Russia.  Meanwhile, Asia will have to brace for the time when China takes the lion’s share of natural resources and land from Russia’s Far East.  At that point, China will not only be an economic juggernaut, but will overnight become a natural resources superpower, thereby making it a true challenger to the United States.

World leaders should begin courting the leaders of the various Russian oblasts, so as to have direct linkages with those who would likely arise to rule whatever new states grow out of the ashes of a disintegrating Russia.

The United States cannot hope for the best in Russia.  Policymakers must assume that Putin will retain his grip on power and continue atomizing Russian society.  If that’s the case, then the Russian state will die with Putin.



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The Germans Will Never Learn


German foreign minister Heiko Maas of the German Social Democratic Party believes that Europe must unite to form a “counterweight” to the United States when it “crosses the line” in its dealings with Germany.  Maas believes that Germany and France should forge a stronger bond in order to diminish American freedom of action – whether it be in imposing sanctions on Iran (which would harm European business interests) or in forcibly renegotiating longstanding (bad) deals with Europe (specifically, Germany) on trade and mutual defense.

But the idea that Germany, France, or any other European country could strengthen the fraying unity within the European Union – in order to “balance” against the United States, no less – is an absurdity that only a European liberal like Maas could countenance.  Europe is not a united entity, and it will never act as a counterweight to the United States (at least not by itself).  This is especially true of the European Union.

Such sentiments are hardly new.  Throughout the 1990s, various German leaders expressed similar attitudes on the need to distance their country (and Europe) from the United States since the Cold War was over.  Infamously, former German chancellor Gerhard Schröder of the Social Democratic Party led the charge against the United States in the run-up to the Iraq War of 2003.  He was joined in that feckless crusade (to stop another hapless campaign – George W. Bush’s war of choice in Iraq itself) by French President Jacques Chirac and, naturally, Russian president Vladimir Putin.

E.U.-topia

Since the 1990s, German elites – particularly those on the left – have called for a multipolar world order in which the United States is but one of many powerful actors alongside the European Union.  Postmodern German leaders deluded themselves into believing that the E.U. could be anything other than a paean to Europe’s traditional love of big government.  But, as years of European politics in the post-Cold War era have shown, the E.U. is a paper tiger on its way out.

Don’t take my word for it.  Just read the words of George Soros, the doyen of European integration, who argued earlier this year that the E.U. is experiencing an “existential crisis.”  Soros went on to predict that unless drastic actions were taken (which, given the nature of the divisions within Europe, such actions will not be taken), the European project would soon collapse.  In today’s world, where there are challenges to the E.U.’s legitimacy both from within Europe and from without, the European response to these threats has been haphazard.  In Soros’s own words, the E.U. morphed away from what it was meant to be – a voluntary coalition of equal partners – and into a “relationship between creditors and debtors” that is “neither voluntary nor equal.”

As I said, such a union cannot act as a counterweight to the United States.

Never Forget: Germany Needs the U.S.

With nationalism and populism on the rise in much of Europe today, and with the E.U. apparently unable to break its corrosive structure, Heiko Maas’s plan for Germany to strengthen the E.U. is laughable.  I suspect that even Heiko Maas and his fellow left-leaning German elites know this to be true.  After all, Maas’s ode to European integration is couched in the rhetoric of nationalism.

As Maas writes:

“Europe United” means this: We act with sovereignty at those points where nation-states alone cannot muster the level of power a united Europe can. We are not circling the wagons and keeping the rest of the world out. We are not demanding allegiance. Europe is building on the rule of law, respect for the weaker, and our experiences that show that international cooperation is not a zero-sum game.

Further, Maas’s calls for a closer alliance between the economically dynamic Germany with the militarily powerful France (by continental standards, at least) implies that even Maas recognizes the limits of relying on a “Europe United.”  This gets us back to the Russo-Franco-German strategic triangle that has been building since the dark days of the Iraq War of 2003.  Such an alliance is historically feasible; however, as history has proven, this precise alliance will not last for very long.  It cannot.  Despite their agreement on such things as the need for a multipolar world or their close trade over energy, there are broader cultural and political disagreements that will – over time – destroy whatever alliance may exist among Moscow, Berlin, and Paris.

For her part, outgoing German chancellor Angela Merkel of the right-of-center Christian Democratic Party, has all but shot down Maas’s article.  But, given the fact that Maas was likely writing on behalf of a larger swathe of German of elites who are tired of what they view as American priggishness over issues such as trade and mutual defense – as well as Germany’s need to do business with neighboring Russia or Iran – Maas’s view will likely hold out.

Let Maas’s new world order of multipolarity and balance ring out.  It’d save America much money and many lives, being able to hand off some responsibilities to capable allies.  Unfortunately, though, the Germans are kidding themselves if they believe they’ll be able to achieve this in Europe – not without a great power backing their play (and that great power is not France).  They will be forced to choose between the United States and Russia.  I suspect that Berlin will ultimately end up in the United States’ camp.

History is returning to Europe.  And history is doomed to repeat itself…something that the Germans are incapable of learning.  The U.S. must continue protecting its own interests, always reminding Berlin that we stand ready to receive them as friends…so long as they pay their fair share.

Brandon J. Weichert is a geopolitical analyst who manages The Weichert Report: World News Done Right and is a contributor at The American Spectator, as well as a contributing editor at American Greatness.  His writings on national security and Congress have appeared at Real Clear PoliticsSpace News, and HotAir.com.  He has been featured on CBS News.comthe BBC, and the Christian Science Monitor.  Brandon is a former congressional staffer who holds an M.A. in statecraft and national security affairs from the Institute of World Politics in Washington, D.C. and is currently working on his doctorate in international relations.

German foreign minister Heiko Maas of the German Social Democratic Party believes that Europe must unite to form a “counterweight” to the United States when it “crosses the line” in its dealings with Germany.  Maas believes that Germany and France should forge a stronger bond in order to diminish American freedom of action – whether it be in imposing sanctions on Iran (which would harm European business interests) or in forcibly renegotiating longstanding (bad) deals with Europe (specifically, Germany) on trade and mutual defense.

But the idea that Germany, France, or any other European country could strengthen the fraying unity within the European Union – in order to “balance” against the United States, no less – is an absurdity that only a European liberal like Maas could countenance.  Europe is not a united entity, and it will never act as a counterweight to the United States (at least not by itself).  This is especially true of the European Union.

Such sentiments are hardly new.  Throughout the 1990s, various German leaders expressed similar attitudes on the need to distance their country (and Europe) from the United States since the Cold War was over.  Infamously, former German chancellor Gerhard Schröder of the Social Democratic Party led the charge against the United States in the run-up to the Iraq War of 2003.  He was joined in that feckless crusade (to stop another hapless campaign – George W. Bush’s war of choice in Iraq itself) by French President Jacques Chirac and, naturally, Russian president Vladimir Putin.

E.U.-topia

Since the 1990s, German elites – particularly those on the left – have called for a multipolar world order in which the United States is but one of many powerful actors alongside the European Union.  Postmodern German leaders deluded themselves into believing that the E.U. could be anything other than a paean to Europe’s traditional love of big government.  But, as years of European politics in the post-Cold War era have shown, the E.U. is a paper tiger on its way out.

Don’t take my word for it.  Just read the words of George Soros, the doyen of European integration, who argued earlier this year that the E.U. is experiencing an “existential crisis.”  Soros went on to predict that unless drastic actions were taken (which, given the nature of the divisions within Europe, such actions will not be taken), the European project would soon collapse.  In today’s world, where there are challenges to the E.U.’s legitimacy both from within Europe and from without, the European response to these threats has been haphazard.  In Soros’s own words, the E.U. morphed away from what it was meant to be – a voluntary coalition of equal partners – and into a “relationship between creditors and debtors” that is “neither voluntary nor equal.”

As I said, such a union cannot act as a counterweight to the United States.

Never Forget: Germany Needs the U.S.

With nationalism and populism on the rise in much of Europe today, and with the E.U. apparently unable to break its corrosive structure, Heiko Maas’s plan for Germany to strengthen the E.U. is laughable.  I suspect that even Heiko Maas and his fellow left-leaning German elites know this to be true.  After all, Maas’s ode to European integration is couched in the rhetoric of nationalism.

As Maas writes:

“Europe United” means this: We act with sovereignty at those points where nation-states alone cannot muster the level of power a united Europe can. We are not circling the wagons and keeping the rest of the world out. We are not demanding allegiance. Europe is building on the rule of law, respect for the weaker, and our experiences that show that international cooperation is not a zero-sum game.

Further, Maas’s calls for a closer alliance between the economically dynamic Germany with the militarily powerful France (by continental standards, at least) implies that even Maas recognizes the limits of relying on a “Europe United.”  This gets us back to the Russo-Franco-German strategic triangle that has been building since the dark days of the Iraq War of 2003.  Such an alliance is historically feasible; however, as history has proven, this precise alliance will not last for very long.  It cannot.  Despite their agreement on such things as the need for a multipolar world or their close trade over energy, there are broader cultural and political disagreements that will – over time – destroy whatever alliance may exist among Moscow, Berlin, and Paris.

For her part, outgoing German chancellor Angela Merkel of the right-of-center Christian Democratic Party, has all but shot down Maas’s article.  But, given the fact that Maas was likely writing on behalf of a larger swathe of German of elites who are tired of what they view as American priggishness over issues such as trade and mutual defense – as well as Germany’s need to do business with neighboring Russia or Iran – Maas’s view will likely hold out.

Let Maas’s new world order of multipolarity and balance ring out.  It’d save America much money and many lives, being able to hand off some responsibilities to capable allies.  Unfortunately, though, the Germans are kidding themselves if they believe they’ll be able to achieve this in Europe – not without a great power backing their play (and that great power is not France).  They will be forced to choose between the United States and Russia.  I suspect that Berlin will ultimately end up in the United States’ camp.

History is returning to Europe.  And history is doomed to repeat itself…something that the Germans are incapable of learning.  The U.S. must continue protecting its own interests, always reminding Berlin that we stand ready to receive them as friends…so long as they pay their fair share.

Brandon J. Weichert is a geopolitical analyst who manages The Weichert Report: World News Done Right and is a contributor at The American Spectator, as well as a contributing editor at American Greatness.  His writings on national security and Congress have appeared at Real Clear PoliticsSpace News, and HotAir.com.  He has been featured on CBS News.comthe BBC, and the Christian Science Monitor.  Brandon is a former congressional staffer who holds an M.A. in statecraft and national security affairs from the Institute of World Politics in Washington, D.C. and is currently working on his doctorate in international relations.



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China's Marathon to Take Over America


The Chinese are intent on rehabilitating their old empire.  Once Beijing has achieved this lofty goal (which it is closer to achieving than any care to admit), the Chinese hope to displace the United States as the world’s dominant power.  Many analysts – particularly Western ones – scoff at this notion.  Whatever China’s ultimate intentions are, it is clear that China intends to radically reshape the world order to benefit the Chinese.  This is the nature of international relations.

Looking at the growth of China from its beginning to the present time, one sees that China has ceaselessly expanded from beyond its cradle along the Yellow River to encompass a large chunk of territory in eastern Eurasia.  Initially, Chinese expansion emanated outward from the Yellow River area, moving north and west.  Slowly, Chinese expansion pivoted and began moving south, toward the ocean.  It now stretches from Afghanistan to North Korea.

Matching Capabilities to Intentions

The reason so many China-watchers have been skeptical about China’s intention to become a great power – a truly global empire – is that China’s capabilities have not been commensurate with such a goal.  For most of China’s history, the country has been a continental power.  China eschewed major military commitments at sea (with the notable exception of Zheng He’s Treasure Fleet in the 15th century).  The skeptics assume that this will always be the case in China.

In other words, China is a continental power, like Russia.  Therefore, China will remain dominant on land and weak at sea.  Yet, unlike Russia, China has a long coastline touching highly important waterways.  Its wealthiest provinces disproportionately benefit from maritime trade.  Besides, the notion that a continental power, like China, could never pivot and become a maritime force is absurd.  After all, the United States did just that!

As a settler nation, the United States began its existence as a predominantly continental force.  Sure, America had a navy and a long coastline touching the Atlantic Ocean (and it relied heavily on global trade to sustain the country economically).  However, from the time of the American War of Independence until the Spanish-American War, the United States was concentrated on expanding – and controlling – the entirety of the North American continent.  This was, by definition, a continental policy.  Inevitably, the country pivoted and became a naval force used to push out the Spanish Empire, which had long controlled the small island-nation of Cuba to the south of the United States.

What began as a somewhat unbelievable effort to warp the American military away from a continental force – focused on protecting settlers in the frontier – eventuated in the creation of a magnificent navy.  The U.S. navy was able to assist in the invasion of Cuba (and the toppling of the Spanish Empire’s position in the New World).  It also resulted in the United States taking over Spanish colonies in the Philippines – thereby making the United States a key player in the world from then on.

Necessity is the mother of all innovation.  The United States believed it had conquered the continent by the close of the 19th century.  Rather than simply demobilize its small military force, Washington repurposed it for maritime-heavy operations and began looking farther afield.

This is precisely what the Chinese are doing today.  Should Beijing dominate its near abroad, it will turn its gaze toward America’s sphere of influence.

Chinese Imperial Ambitions  

Where China was once a continental power, Beijing is methodically enhancing the country’s naval capabilities.  Just like the United States before it, the Chinese naval expansion is meant to displace what Beijing perceives to be a hostile, foreign empire (the United States) supporting an island that has menaced China – since 1949 – from within China’s purported sphere of influence.  In this instance, Taiwan is to the budding Chinese empire what Cuba in 1898 was to the United States.

Observers are quick to point out that even at its height, the Chinese Empire was only ever a regional power.  What few understand is that globalization – and China’s sheer size – has led to China becoming a key player in the international system.  In fact, since the Sino-Soviet split in the 1970s and the subsequent entente between the United States and China, American money and knowledge has been used to effectively build up China into a major player today.

At one time, the Chinese-American relationship was dubbed “Chimerica.”  Ever since the 2008 Recession, however, it appears as though the two groups have suffered a divorce (or at least a separation).  As old rivalries are inflamed, many soothe themselves with notions that China can never be a threat to the pre-eminent United States.

It is true that China is staring down some major problems: demographic woes, slowing economic growth rates, fallout from an overly centralized government.  However, with the exception of demographic woes, China has long suffered through cycles of stagnating economic growth and political turbulence.

Somehow, China has persisted over the centuries.  China’s return to the world stage as not only a great power, but potentially the greatest power should rouse even the most apathetic American to the nature and extent of the threat.

Unfortunately, like the Spanish Empire in 1898, the United States is ignoring significant threats to itself.

Toward the Chinese Century?

One thing is clear: the Asia-Pacific is a key component of the world economy, and America must have a serious presence there.  For decades, China has indicated its intention to harm American interests while empowering itself.  That alone is reason to build up America’s presence in the Asia-Pacific and to align other states in the region against China.

We continue telling ourselves that China’s military threat will never materialize the way some (like myself) fear.  However, at each moment, the Chinese threat matures.  Westerners said we could impart our industrial capabilities onto Beijing because the West would spearhead the next “knowledge” economy.  Not only did the Chinese absorb our industry (that we willingly gave them in exchange for trinkets), but China also (in the last decade) began pivoting to dominate the knowledge sector as well – which it is doing.

My friends on Wall Street maintain that the Chinese economy will implode.  Maybe.  We’re all still waiting for this to happen.  Even if China’s economy did implode, that would not mitigate the threat.  It would merely change it.  After all, an unstable, decentralized China riven with nationalism is possibly even more dangerous than a united quasi-communist one.

For the first time in decades, the United States is competing against a rival whom, in many respects, it has fallen behind.  First, American leaders must fully acknowledge the threat.  Then the U.S. must move to do what the Spanish failed to do to the rising United States: challenge it early enough to head off any real threat.

Time is not on our side.

Brandon J. Weichert is a geopolitical analyst who manages The Weichert Report: World News Done Right and is a contributor at The American Spectator, as well as a contributing editor at American Greatness.  His writings on national security and Congress have appeared at Real Clear PoliticsSpace News, and HotAir.com.  He has been featured on CBS News.comthe BBC, and the Christian Science Monitor.  Brandon is a former congressional staffer who holds an M.A. in statecraft and national security affairs from the Institute of World Politics in Washington, D.C. and is currently working on his doctorate in international relations.

The Chinese are intent on rehabilitating their old empire.  Once Beijing has achieved this lofty goal (which it is closer to achieving than any care to admit), the Chinese hope to displace the United States as the world’s dominant power.  Many analysts – particularly Western ones – scoff at this notion.  Whatever China’s ultimate intentions are, it is clear that China intends to radically reshape the world order to benefit the Chinese.  This is the nature of international relations.

Looking at the growth of China from its beginning to the present time, one sees that China has ceaselessly expanded from beyond its cradle along the Yellow River to encompass a large chunk of territory in eastern Eurasia.  Initially, Chinese expansion emanated outward from the Yellow River area, moving north and west.  Slowly, Chinese expansion pivoted and began moving south, toward the ocean.  It now stretches from Afghanistan to North Korea.

Matching Capabilities to Intentions

The reason so many China-watchers have been skeptical about China’s intention to become a great power – a truly global empire – is that China’s capabilities have not been commensurate with such a goal.  For most of China’s history, the country has been a continental power.  China eschewed major military commitments at sea (with the notable exception of Zheng He’s Treasure Fleet in the 15th century).  The skeptics assume that this will always be the case in China.

In other words, China is a continental power, like Russia.  Therefore, China will remain dominant on land and weak at sea.  Yet, unlike Russia, China has a long coastline touching highly important waterways.  Its wealthiest provinces disproportionately benefit from maritime trade.  Besides, the notion that a continental power, like China, could never pivot and become a maritime force is absurd.  After all, the United States did just that!

As a settler nation, the United States began its existence as a predominantly continental force.  Sure, America had a navy and a long coastline touching the Atlantic Ocean (and it relied heavily on global trade to sustain the country economically).  However, from the time of the American War of Independence until the Spanish-American War, the United States was concentrated on expanding – and controlling – the entirety of the North American continent.  This was, by definition, a continental policy.  Inevitably, the country pivoted and became a naval force used to push out the Spanish Empire, which had long controlled the small island-nation of Cuba to the south of the United States.

What began as a somewhat unbelievable effort to warp the American military away from a continental force – focused on protecting settlers in the frontier – eventuated in the creation of a magnificent navy.  The U.S. navy was able to assist in the invasion of Cuba (and the toppling of the Spanish Empire’s position in the New World).  It also resulted in the United States taking over Spanish colonies in the Philippines – thereby making the United States a key player in the world from then on.

Necessity is the mother of all innovation.  The United States believed it had conquered the continent by the close of the 19th century.  Rather than simply demobilize its small military force, Washington repurposed it for maritime-heavy operations and began looking farther afield.

This is precisely what the Chinese are doing today.  Should Beijing dominate its near abroad, it will turn its gaze toward America’s sphere of influence.

Chinese Imperial Ambitions  

Where China was once a continental power, Beijing is methodically enhancing the country’s naval capabilities.  Just like the United States before it, the Chinese naval expansion is meant to displace what Beijing perceives to be a hostile, foreign empire (the United States) supporting an island that has menaced China – since 1949 – from within China’s purported sphere of influence.  In this instance, Taiwan is to the budding Chinese empire what Cuba in 1898 was to the United States.

Observers are quick to point out that even at its height, the Chinese Empire was only ever a regional power.  What few understand is that globalization – and China’s sheer size – has led to China becoming a key player in the international system.  In fact, since the Sino-Soviet split in the 1970s and the subsequent entente between the United States and China, American money and knowledge has been used to effectively build up China into a major player today.

At one time, the Chinese-American relationship was dubbed “Chimerica.”  Ever since the 2008 Recession, however, it appears as though the two groups have suffered a divorce (or at least a separation).  As old rivalries are inflamed, many soothe themselves with notions that China can never be a threat to the pre-eminent United States.

It is true that China is staring down some major problems: demographic woes, slowing economic growth rates, fallout from an overly centralized government.  However, with the exception of demographic woes, China has long suffered through cycles of stagnating economic growth and political turbulence.

Somehow, China has persisted over the centuries.  China’s return to the world stage as not only a great power, but potentially the greatest power should rouse even the most apathetic American to the nature and extent of the threat.

Unfortunately, like the Spanish Empire in 1898, the United States is ignoring significant threats to itself.

Toward the Chinese Century?

One thing is clear: the Asia-Pacific is a key component of the world economy, and America must have a serious presence there.  For decades, China has indicated its intention to harm American interests while empowering itself.  That alone is reason to build up America’s presence in the Asia-Pacific and to align other states in the region against China.

We continue telling ourselves that China’s military threat will never materialize the way some (like myself) fear.  However, at each moment, the Chinese threat matures.  Westerners said we could impart our industrial capabilities onto Beijing because the West would spearhead the next “knowledge” economy.  Not only did the Chinese absorb our industry (that we willingly gave them in exchange for trinkets), but China also (in the last decade) began pivoting to dominate the knowledge sector as well – which it is doing.

My friends on Wall Street maintain that the Chinese economy will implode.  Maybe.  We’re all still waiting for this to happen.  Even if China’s economy did implode, that would not mitigate the threat.  It would merely change it.  After all, an unstable, decentralized China riven with nationalism is possibly even more dangerous than a united quasi-communist one.

For the first time in decades, the United States is competing against a rival whom, in many respects, it has fallen behind.  First, American leaders must fully acknowledge the threat.  Then the U.S. must move to do what the Spanish failed to do to the rising United States: challenge it early enough to head off any real threat.

Time is not on our side.

Brandon J. Weichert is a geopolitical analyst who manages The Weichert Report: World News Done Right and is a contributor at The American Spectator, as well as a contributing editor at American Greatness.  His writings on national security and Congress have appeared at Real Clear PoliticsSpace News, and HotAir.com.  He has been featured on CBS News.comthe BBC, and the Christian Science Monitor.  Brandon is a former congressional staffer who holds an M.A. in statecraft and national security affairs from the Institute of World Politics in Washington, D.C. and is currently working on his doctorate in international relations.



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