Monday, May 19, 2014

Russia’s 21st Century Began in 1991. By Richard Lourie.

Russia’s 21st Century Began in 1991. By Richard Lourie. Moscow Times, May 18, 2014.


As the year 2000 approached, two of the main topics of conversation were: Could the world's computers handle the switchover, the so-called Y2K problem, and when did the 21st century actually begin, in 2000 or 2001?

Numerical nitpicking aside, it is clear the 21st century began in 1991 with the collapse of the Soviet Union. The political, ideological and military confrontation that had defined the second half of the 20th century was done.

What's taking its place is only gradually becoming evident. At first there was a sort end-of-history euphoria in the West, the belief that people would devote themselves to computers and consuming. That giddiness lasted a decade until Sept. 11, 2001, when a new element of the 21st century made itself dramatically known.

History had returned — this time taking the form of anti-modernist Islamic terrorism, the Koran and Kalashnikov versus the laptop and the mall. The resulting wars in Afghanistan and Iraq changed warfare. Massed standing armies and nuclear stockpiles were revealed as antiquated overkill. Drones, intel and special forces were the new hot thing.

The financial debacle of late 2007 was the next stroke in the 21st century's emerging portrait. The crisis highlighted the vast disparity between the superrich and everyone else.

A bank may be too big to fail, but no homeowner is. All countries now have their own version of the 1 percent — whether it is corrupt Chinese officials who have to rent apartments to hold the cash bribes they have received, Russian oligarchs buying Western sports teams like Chelsea or the Nets, or top U.S. hedge fund managers who make a million dollars an hour when the minimum wage cannot make it to $10.

The Russian annexation of Crimea and the subsequent turmoil in Ukraine is another key feature in the portrait. The process that had begun with the real beginning of the 21st century in December 1991 had now come full circle. A Russia humiliated by the Soviet failure and by the triumphalism of the West was now back with a vengeance. With the $50 billion Olympics behind it, the Russia of 2014 was not about to allow a failing Ukraine slip into the Western camp. That would mean Russia would be outflanked by NATO from the Baltic to the Black Sea which itself would become a sort of Lake NATO.

Russia was immediately criticized for not acting in a 21st-century fashion — that is, modern, rational and civilized. But it was the West that was deluded with fantasies of order and decorum when perceived vital interests were being threatened. As Robert D. Kaplan, chief geopolitical analyst for Stratfor, put it with blunt concision: "In geopolitics, the past never dies, and there is no modern world."

The countries of Eastern Europe were less surprised, remembering all too well that it was in Yalta, Crimea that they were sold out by the "Big Three" in 1945.

The most important immediate effect of the Ukrainian crisis is that Russia and the West have called it quits. The West has rejected Russia for rejecting Western ways. Russia is now pivoting east toward Central Asia and China — and north to the riches of the Arctic. Russia has sheared off from the West like one of those glacial ice masses whose melting will no doubt flood coastal cities worldwide as the 21st century ends, completing its portrait.

Before that happens, though, there will be other defining strokes. Some may come soon near specks of islands for which the Japanese have one name and the Chinese quite another.

Geopolitics and the New World Order. By Robert D. Kaplan

Geopolitics and the New World Order. By Robert D. Kaplan. Time, March 20, 2014. From the March 31, 2014 issue. Also at Press Survey EN.


Geography increasingly fuels endless chaos and old-school conflicts in the 21st Century.

This isn’t what the 21st century was supposed to look like. The visceral reaction of many pundits, academics and Obama Administration officials to Russian President Vladimir Putin’s virtual annexation of Crimea has been disbelief bordering on disorientation. As Secretary of State John Kerry said, “It’s really 19th century behavior in the 21st century.” Well, the “19th century,” as Kerry calls it, lives on and always will. Forget about the world being flat. Forget technology as the great democratizer. Forget the niceties of international law. Territory and the bonds of blood that go with it are central to what makes us human. 

Geography hasn’t gone away. The global elite–leading academics, intellectuals, foreign policy analysts, foundation heads and corporate power brokers, as well as many Western leaders–may largely have forgotten about it. But what we’re witnessing now is geography’s revenge: in the East-West struggle for control of the buffer state of Ukraine, in the post–Arab Spring fracturing of artificial Middle Eastern states into ethnic and sectarian fiefs and in the unprecedented arms race being undertaken by East Asian states as they dispute potentially resource-rich waters. Technology hasn’t negated geography; it has only made it more precious and claustrophobic. 

Whereas the West has come to think about international relations in terms of laws and multinational agreements, most of the rest of the world still thinks in terms of deserts, mountain ranges, all-weather ports and tracts of land and water. The world is back to the maps of elementary school as a starting point for an understanding of history, culture, religion and ethnicity–not to mention power struggles over trade routes and natural resources. 

The post–Cold War era was supposed to be about economics, interdependence and universal values trumping the instincts of nationalism and nationalism’s related obsession with the domination of geographic space. But Putin’s actions betray a singular truth, one that the U.S. should remember as it looks outward and around the globe: international relations are still about who can do what to whom. 

Putin’s Power Play 

So what has Putin done? The Russian leader has used geography to his advantage. He has acted, in other words, according to geopolitics, the battle for space and power played out in a geographical setting–a concept that has not changed since antiquity (and yet one to which many Western diplomats and academics have lately seemed deaf). 

Europe’s modern era is supposed to be about the European Union triumphing over the bonds of blood and ethnicity, building a system of laws from Iberia to the Black Sea–and eventually from Lisbon to Moscow. But the E.U.’s long financial crisis has weakened its political influence in Central and Eastern Europe. And while its democratic ideals have been appealing to many in Ukraine, the dictates of geography make it nearly impossible for that nation to reorient itself entirely toward the West. 

Russia is still big, and Russia is still autocratic–after all, it remains a sprawling and insecure land power that has enjoyed no cartographic impediments to invasion from French, Germans, Swedes, Lithuanians and Poles over the course of its history. The southern Crimean Peninsula is still heavily ethnic Russian, and it is the home of Russia’s Black Sea fleet, providing Russia’s only outlet to the Mediterranean. 

Seeing that he could no longer control Ukraine by manipulating its democracy through President Viktor Yanukovych’s neo-czardom, Putin opted for a more direct and mechanical approach. He took de facto control of pro-Russian Crimea, which for all intents and purposes was already within his sphere of influence. Besides, the home of Russia’s warm-water fleet could never be allowed to fall under the sway of a pro-Western government in Kiev. 

Next, Putin ordered military maneuvers in the part of Russia adjoining eastern Ukraine, involving more than 10,000 troops, in order to demonstrate Russia’s geographical supremacy over the half of Ukraine that is pro-Russian as well as the part of Ukraine blessed with large shale-gas reserves. Putin knows–as does the West–that a flat topography along the long border between Russia and Ukraine grants Moscow an overwhelming advantage not only militarily but also in terms of disrupting trade and energy flows to Kiev. While Ukraine has natural gas of its own, it relies on Russia’s far vaster reserves to fuel its domestic economy. 

Putin is not likely to invade eastern Ukraine in a conventional way. In order to exercise dominance, he doesn’t need to. Instead he will send in secessionists, instigate disturbances, probe the frontier with Russian troops and in other ways use the porous border with Ukraine to undermine both eastern Ukraine’s sovereignty and its links to western Ukraine. 

In short, he will use every geographical and linguistic advantage to weaken Ukraine as a state. Ukraine is simply located too far east, and is too spatially exposed to Russia, for it ever to be in the interests of any government in Moscow–democratic or not–to allow Ukraine’s complete alignment with the West. 

Back to a Zero-Sum Middle East 

Another way to describe what is going on around the world now is old-fashioned zero-sum power politics. It is easy to forget that many Western policymakers and thinkers have grown up in conditions of unprecedented security and prosperity, and they have been intellectually formed by the post–Cold War world, in which it was widely believed that a new set of coolly rational rules would drive foreign policy. But leaders beyond America and Europe tend to be highly territorial in their thinking. For them, international relations are a struggle for survival. As a result, Western leaders often think in universal terms, while rulers in places like Russia, the Middle East and East Asia think in narrower terms: those that provide advantage to their nations or their ethnic groups only. 

We can see this disconnect in the Middle East, which is unraveling in ways that would be familiar to a 19th century geographer but less intuitive to a Washington policy wonk. The Arab Spring was hailed for months as the birth pangs of a new kind of regional democracy. It quickly became a crisis in central authority, producing not democracy but religious war in Syria, chaos in Yemen and Libya and renewed dictatorship in Egypt as a popular reaction to incipient chaos and Islamic extremism. Tunisia, seen by some as the lone success story of the Arab Spring, is a mere fledgling democracy with land borders it can no longer adequately control, especially in the southern desert areas where its frontiers meet those of Algeria and Libya–a situation aggravated by Libya’s collapse. 

Meanwhile, Tripoli is no longer the capital of Libya but instead the central dispatch point for negotiations among tribes, militias and gangs for control of territory. Damascus is not the capital of Syria but only that of Syria’s most powerful warlord, Bashar Assad. Baghdad totters on as the capital of a tribalized Shi’ite Mesopotamia dominated by adjacent Iran–with a virtually independent Kurdish entity to its mountainous north and a jihadist Sunnistan to its west, the latter of which has joined a chaotic void populated by literally hundreds of war bands extending deep across a flat desert terrain into Syria as far as the Mediterranean. 

Hovering above this devolution of Middle Eastern states into anarchic warlorddoms is the epic geographic struggle between a great Shi’ite state occupying the Iranian Plateau and a medieval-style Sunni monarchy occupying much of the Arabian Peninsula. The interminable violence and repression in eastern Saudi Arabia, Bahrain and Sunnistan (covering both western Iraq and Syria) are fueled by this Saudi-Iranian proxy war. Because Iran is developing the technological and scientific base with which to assemble nuclear weapons, Israel finds itself in a de facto alliance with Saudi Arabia. Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu can be defined by his zero-sum geographic fears, including that of the tyranny of distance: the difficulty of his relatively small air force to travel a thousand miles eastward, which bedevils his search for an acceptable military option against Iran. This helps make him what he is: an obstinate negotiating partner for both the Palestinians and the Americans. 

Pacific Projection 

Then there is the most important part of the world for the U.S., the part with two of the three largest economies (China and Japan) and the home of critical American treaty allies: the Asia-Pacific region. This region too is undeniably far less stable now than at the start of the 21st century, and for reasons that can best be explained by geography. 

In the early Cold War decades, Asian countries were preoccupied with their internal affairs. China, under Mao Zedong’s depredations and Deng Xiaoping’s economic reforms, was inwardly focused. Vietnam, the current territory of Malaysia and to a lesser extent the Philippines were overwhelmed by internal wars and rebellions. Singapore was building a viable city-state from scratch. And South Korea and Japan were recovering from major wars. 

Now these states have consolidated their domestic affairs and built strong institutions. They have all, with the exception of the poverty-racked Philippines, benefited from many years of capitalist-style growth. But strong institutions and capitalist prosperity lead to military ambitions, and so all of these states since the 1990s have been enlarging or modernizing their navies and air forces–a staggering military buildup to which the American media have paid relatively scant attention. 

Since the 1990s, Asia’s share of military imports has risen from 15% to 41% of the world total, and its overall military spending has risen from 11% to 20% of all global military expenditures. And what are these countries doing with all of these new submarines, warships, fighter jets, ballistic missiles and cyberwarfare capabilities? They are contesting with one another lines on the map in the blue water of the South China and East China seas: Who controls what island, atoll or other geographical feature above or below water–for reserves of oil and natural gas might lie nearby? Nationalism, especially that based on race and ethnicity, fired up by territorial claims, may be frowned upon in the modern West, but it is alive and well throughout prosperous East Asia. 

Notice that all these disputes are, once again, not about ideas or economics or politics even but rather about territory. The various claims between China and Japan in the East China Sea, and between China and all the other pleaders in the South China Sea (principally Vietnam and the Philippines), are so complex that while theoretically solvable through negotiation, they are more likely to be held in check by a stable balance-of-power system agreed to by the U.S. and Chinese navies and air forces. The 21st century map of the Pacific Basin, clogged as it is with warships, is like a map of conflict-prone Europe from previous centuries. Though war may ultimately be avoided in East Asia, the Pacific will show us a more anxious, complicated world order, explained best by such familiar factors as physical terrain, clashing peoples, natural resources and contested trade routes. 

India and China, because of the high wall of the Himalayas, have developed for most of history as two great world civilizations having relatively little to do with each other. But the collapse of distance in the past 50 years has turned them into strategic competitors in the Indian Ocean and the South China Sea. (This is how technology abets rather than alleviates conflict.) And if Narendra Modi of the Hindu-nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party is elected by a significant majority in elections in April and May, as is expected by many, India will likely pursue a fiercely geopolitical foreign policy, aligning even more strongly with Japan against China. 

China, meanwhile, faces profound economic troubles in the coming years. The upshot will be more regime-stoked nationalism directed at the territorial disputes in the South China and East China seas and more rebellions at home from regionally based ethnic groups such as the Turkic Muslim Uighurs, in the west abutting Central Asia, and the Tibetans, in the southwest close to India. Can the Han Chinese, who inhabit the arable cradle of China and make up 90% of the country’s population, keep the minorities on the upland peripheries under control during a sustained period of economic and social unrest? The great existential question about China’s future is about control of its borderlands, not its currency. 

Practically anywhere you look around the globe, geography confounds. Burma is slowly being liberated from benighted military dictatorship only to see its Muslim minority Rohingyas suffer murder and rape at the hands of Burmese nationalist groups. The decline of authoritarianism in Burma reveals a country undermined by geographically based ethnic groups with their own armies and militias. Similarly, sub-Saharan African economies have been growing dramatically as middle classes emerge across that continent. Yet at the same time, absolute population growth and resource scarcity have aggravated ethnic and religious conflicts over territory, as in the adjoining Central African Republic and South Sudan in the heart of the continent, which have dissolved into religious and tribal war. 

What’s New Is Old Again 

Of course, civil society of the kind Western elites pine for is the only answer for most of these problems. The rule of law, combined with decentralization in the cases of sprawling countries such as Russia and Burma, alone can provide for stability–as it has over the centuries in Europe and the Americas. But working toward that goal requires undiluted realism about the unpleasant facts on the ground. 

To live in a world where geography is respected and not ignored is to understand the constraints under which political leaders labor. Many obstacles simply cannot be overcome. That is why the greatest statesmen work near the edges of what is possible. Geography establishes the broad parameters–only within its bounds does human agency have a chance to succeed.  

Thus, Ukraine can become a prosperous civil society, but because of its location it will always require a strong and stable relationship with Russia. The Arab world can eventually stabilize, but Western militaries cannot set complex and highly populous Islamic societies to rights except at great cost to themselves. East Asia can avoid war but only by working with the forces of ethnic nationalism at play there. 

If there is good news here, it is that most of the borders that are being redrawn–or just reunderlined–exist within states rather than between them. A profound level of upheaval is occurring that, in many cases, precludes military intervention. The vast human cataclysms of the 20th century will not likely repeat themselves. But the worldwide civil society that the elites thought they could engineer is a chimera. The geographical forces at work will not be easily tamed. 

While our foreign policy must be morally based, the analysis behind it must be cold-blooded, with geography as its starting point. In geopolitics, the past never dies and there is no modern world.

Of Nakbas, Fools and Fingers. By Lyn Julius.

Of Nakbas, fools and fingers. By Lyn Julius. The Times of Israel, May 19, 2014.

Placing the Colonial Boot on the Arab Foot. By Lyn Julius. NJBR, September 11, 2013. With related articles.

Julius (Of Nakbas): 

Nakba week is over. The demonstrators have gone home. The Palestinian Authority have delivered their speeches and sounded their sirens. The Arab and “liberal” western press and media have duly commiserated.

But while Palestinians marked the 66th anniversary of the “catastrophic” mass flight of Arab refugees from Israel in 1948, the French historian Georges Bensoussan, on a visit to London, was focusing on a different nakba. He was asking a packed audience the rhetorical question: why do people, even when presented with incontrovertible proof, persist in their denial of the mass post-war exodus of Jews?

It was at the height of the second intifada in 2002, when two Jews a day were being beaten up on the streets of France, that Bensoussan decided to write about Jews from Arab countries. The antisemitism sweeping France then, as now, was being blamed on the Arab-Israel conflict. But Bensoussan, who left Morocco with his family as a six-year-old, had a nagging feeling that the problem had deeper root-causes.

Bensoussan spent ten years researching his 900-page book on the 850,000 Jews driven out of Arab lands in a single generation (Juifs en pays arabes: le grand deracinement 1850 – 1975). He chose not to base himself on unreliable memoirs, but on solid archival evidence.

The condition of Jews in Arab lands is not one of harmonious coexistence between Jews and Arab, shattered by the arrival of Zionism. Nor is it purely a lachrymose tale of woe. Yes, Iraqi Jews experienced the Farhud pogrom in 1941 – but next to the Ukraine, Iraq was paradise, Bensoussan contended. For 14 centuries, however, Jewish-Arab coexistence was laced with contempt: Muslims kept their non-Muslim minorities in a state of degradation and humiliation as dhimmis. Dhimmitude was most rigorously applied those parts of the Muslim world most remote from Ottoman influence – Yemen, Morocco, and Shi’a Iran. With western colonisation, the Arab world lashed out at its minorities. The word “fear” keeps cropping up in the archives in association with the Jews.

Jews were not uprooted from their 2,500-year existence in Arab countries by a few Zionist emissaries. Nor did their exodus begin after WW2. Jews were already leaving Morocco in the 19th century to found communities in Portugal, Brazil and Venezuela. Jews migrated from Iraq to India and China. (On the other hand, the Jewish population increased in Egypt).

Bensoussan traces the fault-line between Jews and their Arab neighbours to the onset of 19th century modernity and emancipation. The anti-Zionist Alliance Israelite Universelle schools network, paradoxically, created a Jewish people and prepared it for Zionism.

Whereas Ashkenazim chose between Judaism and secular Zionism, Sephardi/ Mizrahi Jews saw a continuity between the two, in spite of the initial weakness of the Zionist movement in Arab countries. But from 1929, Zionism also made Jews in Arab countries vulnerable to the repercussions of the conflict in Palestine. After 1948, Jewish communities were held hostage by Arab states.

Another cause of the mass exodus was the blood-and-soil nationalism which prevented Jews from becoming accepted as citizens of independent Arab states. The Arab world eagerly embraced Fascist youth movements and Black Shirts; the influence of the pro-Nazi sympathies of the Mufti of Jerusalem is well-known. His virulent radio propaganda broadcasts spread anti-Jewish hatred. And the Mufti was not the only pro-Nazi Arab leader.

But the key reason for the Jewish Nakba – not the only one but an essential factor – was a matter not of historical fact but deep-seated cultural mentality.

As dhimmis, Jews were despised as half-persons. They were feminised in the Muslim imagination. Like women, they were not allowed to carry daggers. Like women, they had to ride side-saddle.

“The more I studied the question, the more I understood that there was no solution to the Arab-Israeli conflict,” said Georges Bensoussan.

The truth is that the colonised can also be a coloniser, the victim of racism can himself be a racist, and the martyr an executioner.

Like intellectuals blinded to the Soviet regime’s crimes, people today cannot see the truth before their very eyes. There’s a Chinese proverb that says, “When the sage points at the moon, the fool looks at the finger.”

The Nakba: Perpetuating a Lie. By Moshe Arens.

The Nakba: Perpetuating a lie. By Moshe Arens. Haaretz, May 19, 2014.


Only once the Palestinians recognize that wars and terrorism that they initiated are the root cause of their own suffering and the suffering of others will become possible to arrive at a true peace in the Middle East.

The Nakba is a bald-faced lie. No matter how many demonstrations are held in Israel and other parts of the world, no matter how many PLO flags are hoisted, no matter how many Israel Defense Forces soldiers are assaulted by rioters, it still remains a lie. The proof for all to see is the date that the Nakba demonstrators have chosen to mark the day − May 15. That is the day on which the armies of Egypt, Jordan, Syria, Lebanon and Iraq invaded Israel with the intention of destroying the nascent Jewish State.

More than the Arab rejection of the November 1947 United Nations resolution on the establishment of a Jewish and an Arab state in Palestine, more than the attack by Arab bands against Jews and Jewish settlements in Palestine that followed immediately upon the passage of the UN resolution, the combined attack of the regular Arab armies on that day − the day on which British rule in Palestine came to an end and Israeli independence was declared − proves beyond doubt that the Nakba, “the Catastrophe,” is a catastrophe that the Arabs brought upon themselves.

With all the sympathy that we can and should muster for the suffering of hundreds of thousands of Arabs in Palestine that resulted from the mistakes made by their leaders and the leaders of the Arab world, mistakes which the local Arab population supported without dissent, those who argue that we in Israel should recognize the Nakba, or even teach it in our schools, are lending a hand to perpetuating a lie and engage in Soviet-style manipulation of history.

George Orwell wrote in his dystopian novel 1984: “those who control the past control the future.” Make no mistake about it, those who perpetuate the Nakba lie are making an attempt to control the future by manipulating the past.

The Palestinian Arabs are not the only Arabs who have suffered as a result of their leaders’ mistakes. Just look at Syria, where the number of casualties and refugees by now exceeds by far the plight of the Palestinian Arabs. Recognition of these mistakes and their tragic consequences is an essential condition for turning a new page to a life of progress and peace.

Germans and Japanese, nations that were devastated by war initiated by their leaders, well understand that they themselves are the guilty ones, not only for the crimes they committed against those they considered to be their enemies, but also for the tragedies that they themselves suffered as a result. Victory in Europe Day, May 8, is not commemorated in Germany as the day of the German catastrophe, and Victory in Japan Day, August 15, is not commemorated in Japan as the day of the Japanese catastrophe. The Palestinians can take a lesson here.

But far more importantly, the recognition by the people of Germany and the people of Japan of their guilt for their own suffering and the suffering of others paved the way to peaceful relations with their former enemies. Peace could not have been achieved without it. The same is true for the Palestinians and the rest of the Arab World. It is only once they recognize that wars and terrorism that they initiated are the root cause of their own suffering and the suffering of others that it will become possible to arrive at a true peace in the Middle East.

The annual Nakba demonstrations are a clear indication that they still have a long way to go before they reach that point. Those who lend their support to the false Nakba narrative of history simply assist in laying obstacles on the path to peace in the Middle East. The Nakba is a lie and peace will not be built on a lie.

PM Netanyahu’s Remarks at the Start of the Weekly Cabinet Meeting., May 18, 2014.

Last week, the Anti-Defamation League issued a global report in which it compared levels of anti-Semitism among adults in various places around the world.

It seems that the place with the highest level of anti-Semitism is the Palestinian Authority, where 93% of adults hold anti-Semitic views. This is the result of the Palestinian Authority’s unceasing incitement, which distorts the image of the State of Israel and the Jewish People, as we have known in other places in our past. This finds expression in the fact that they hold parades to commemorate what they call the Nakba. They define the existence and establishment of the State of Israel as a disaster that must be corrected. This also finds expression in the increased activity that the Palestinians are allowing in Judea and Samaria for Hamas, which directly and openly calls for our destruction. Whoever sees the establishment of the State of Israel and its continued existence as a disaster does not want peace.