It’s only three weeks into Russia’s murderous assault on its neighboring country, but Ukraine fatigue is already setting in. If you are one of those Americans, ignorant of that region’s geography and history and feeling sorry for the Russians killed in Ukraine’s resistance, this brief piece will not untangle your confusion. It may prod you to some research, though, and that will be to your benefit.
What will the world look like geo-politically in a few years? Keep in mind that the crisis of today, the situation that is just so wrong that we must rush to the “negotiating table” and invoke “diplomacy” (an absurd word if there ever was one) — today’s crisis becomes a scab on a wounded earth for a generation and then the scab crumbles and falls off. Those who will be opinion-makers twenty years from now are still in diapers today. To them, Russia’s reconquest of Ukraine will be a fact, a nasty scar, not a travesty that should have been prevented or that must be undone.
The news-packaging industry will drop Ukraine not when the war there ends, for it will not end, but when Americans show by what they pay attention to on social media and tweet about that they’re more interested in the next baseball strike or the next actress offended by a scarcity of gasoline or cosmetics. Ukraine’s desperate struggle will be overshadowed when Russia turns its tanks and missiles on its other neighbors; Georgia and Kazakhstan are easy marks.
For the present — the next two to five years, here’s where we are headed.
China will divert the hand-wringers’ attention to Taiwan. This is the island in the western Pacific Ocean, about the size of Switzerland but with three times the population, that has been a country independent of totalitarian China since 1949. At first, as the “cultural revolution” was winding down, Taiwan called itself China and insisted that its leadership was the real government of China. This was no more effective than it is for China to call itself a “republic.” Mao Tse-tung insisted that his was the real government and, besides, he occupied the mainland.
In recent history, seventy-five years has been long enough for worldwide acceptance of a country’s independence. Two of my grandparents were out of diapers seventy-five years after the War of 1812 (which lasted until 1815) and no one was suggesting that the United States was still a territory of Great Britain. Taiwan is a free, independent country. China isn’t buying that.
China cannot move tanks into place, alerting the world weeks in advance of its pending takeover. Instead, a swift air-and-sea assault, calculated to succeed almost overnight, will overwhelm the island nation. Weeks later the United States, pledged to defend Taiwan to the death, will be scrambling to suggest a city in a neutral country where a negotiating table might be set up. But Taiwan will be won and China won’t deign to “negotiate.”
China’s next objective will be to annex Outer Mongolia, a country whose constitution was introduced in 1992 after representatives visited the United States to learn about our Constitution. An arrangement may be offered that is similar to its relationship with Tibet, affirming China’s sovereignty but granting Mongolia a parody of autonomy. Annexing this independent country will cause some friction with Russia, but China will make none of the mistakes that Russia has made in its imperialist aggressions of the past 40-50 years, beginning with Afghanistan.
The United States will “object strongly” to China’s conquests. China knows how easily it can weaken the United States. Right now it relies on its American customers, who are as dependent as addicts to China’s products. But China takes a long-range view. China also knows that its greatest ally for raw materials and ultimately for customers is the Russian empire.
China also knows that Vladimir Putin is finished. Putin will be punished within his own country for his blunder in Ukraine. Ukraine will fall to the Russians, but Russia will step out of that quagmire with a new emperor, and probably one who can project the charm of a Volodymyr Zelensky while concealing the ambitions that ruined Putin.
A new Russian president will understand Russia’s deepened isolation from western Europe and so will relinquish his country’s century-old pretenses of unity with Europe. He will embrace the overtures from China toward a vision for a strong European Union-style cooperative in central Asia.
China’s long-term strategy will be to turn its back on its markets far away from Asia, for it can see that it has already bled most of the available wealth from the United States. Its products have been cheap for 50 years, since Richard Nixon’s bold but naïve rapprochement with Mao Tse-tung.
Nixon may not have been foresighted so much as he facilitated the result in this country. As China began demonstrating its ability and willingness to produce whatever Americans wanted, the United States began virtuously to outlaw manufacturing. Agencies were created and regulations written in this country seemingly to assure that production would be shifted not only to China but to any country where workers earned pennies in worthless currencies against the dollars that were once paid to Americans, where workers have no protection from hazards, where there are only pretenses of concern for the natural environment, where industrial waste is flushed away untreated or piled in agricultural and forested land, where the skies are a permanent yellow-gray, where the oligarchs grow rich, just like the oligarchs in the U.S. Congress and regulatory agencies.
We want the luxuries that such manufacturing makes possible but we have made certain that its horrible side-effects are visited on other countries whose individual citizens don’t matter to us.
It’s a very sinister future if it unfolds this way. This, though, is the best we can hope for. We have given away our best technology and we cannot replicate its products here. When China turns its back on us we will be left without the ability to manufacture anything of consequence and with laws that prevent the building of anything resembling a factory. Just writing the environmental impact statements for a paper mill can provide half a career’s work for an army of lawyers. And perhaps that is as is should be. Perhaps we should not be wreaking such havoc on our world as it takes to give seven billion people all the luxuries that Americans enjoy today. But then, perhaps we should all go back to living as my grandparents did in the 1880s, which is not far removed from the way most of the world’s population still lives today.
Vladimir Putin may still believe that a wave of victories will secure him a place above Lenin in Russian history. Ukraine, though, is frustrating him. The near future, the next generation or so, will follow a path very much like that outlined above if Putin retains his delusions and fails to identify his Brutus. If he becomes angry, though, the world faces the reaches of his wrath, which will not manifest itself in his face or his speeches. Provoked enough he will use so-called tactical nuclear weapons in Ukraine to hasten their surrender, risking “severe economic and diplomatic sanctions” from Europe and America. If any NATO country intervenes in any way, all NATO countries are susceptible to a nuclear pushback.
If Putin strikes anywhere outside Ukraine with anything worse than a tactical nuclear weapon, the future as surmised in the earlier part of this article is out the window. A nuclear attack anywhere in the rest of the world has only two possible consequences: Total worldwide capitulation to Russia (presumably to Putin, if he is still in charge), or nuclear annihilation. How the United States responds to a nuclear missile attack will depend upon our leadership when it happens. Waiting for the senate to approve the names of candidates to attend the negotiations with Russia after a Russian nuclear attack will only assure our surrender. And perhaps that is as it must be. The only conceivable defensive response would be for the nuclear-armed NATO countries to launch, within seconds, or at the latest within minutes of an initial Russian nuclear strike on a member nation, all missiles needed to completely destroy Russia’s nuclear offensive arsenal. Militarily, tactically, politically that is the only alternative to surrender. I believe we have neither the procedures in place to do that nor the will.
I’m glad I studied Russian intensively when I was young. I have retained much of it. It looks as though it will come in handy before long.
=David A. Woodbury=
For more about the painting illustrating this article, see this post.