November 28, 2017
The ongoing US investigation into possible Russian involvement during last year’s presidential election cannot obscure the fact that the world has radically changed since the fall of the Berlin wall. Market economies are now the norm and democratic states, albeit not all of the liberal kind, have surpassed dictatorships and authoritarian countries in number.
In today’s world, business and political leaders – especially the ones wielding the most economic and military power – are in constant contact with each other, regardless of whether they are Russian, American, Chinese and so on. The case of Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross is only one such example. Unfortunately, many members of Western intelligence establishments, from the CIA on down, are still fighting yesterday’s wars. Consequently, they feel uncomfortable with the intensification of contacts between American political leaders and their former cold war-era enemies.
To be sure, the real problem is not that Rex Tillerson would like to promote Exxon’s business interests in Russia, or that Donald Trump is too friendly towards Vladimir Putin. That, given the current international situation, is only to be expected. Former cold war hawks from the CIA and allied services, however, are dragging their politicians and business elites through the mud, hoping that the US Congress will somehow stop history in its tracks and return the world to pre-1989 East-West confrontation.
Granted, the 1945 – 1989 period was a golden era for spooks everywhere, both in terms of professional status and pecuniary gain. This, however, is not a valid enough reason to try to reimpose cold war-era containment policies or to prevent America’s business and political elites from benefiting from the peace and economic cooperation dividends that followed the fall of communism in Europe and the implosion of the Soviet Union.
But let’s forget for a bit the alarmist assessments from the CIA. Maybe the best guide to the future is – today still – a highly influential book published in 1893: “National Life and Character, A Forecast” by British-born Australian historian Charles H. Pearson. This book made Pearson the most influential historian of the English-speaking world ever. Australian prime minister Barton quoted passages from it in the first session of the federal parliament and so did UK’s prime minister Gladstone. US President Theodore Roosevelt was greatly unsettled by the book and even wrote a commentary about it, which ultimately resulted in the building of the White Fleet and its subsequent show of force in the Pacific.
More than one hundred years ago, Pearson predicted the rise of China:
“Assume 50 years hence that China has taken its inevitable position as one of the great powers of the world”.
He even anticipated the advent of the Belt and Road Initiative:
“ Neither is it easy to suppose that the improvement, now tentatively introduced into China, will not soon be taken up and pushed on a large scale, so that railways will be carried into the heart of Asia”.
More importantly, Pearson cautioned the political leaders of his time against trying to stunt the rise to power of nations such as India and China, which he considered inevitable. Writing in a style that was not out of place in his own time, he regarded the loss in pre-eminence of the “white race” as a natural development, forecasting that the “coloured races” – the Chinese and Indians in Asia as well as the the Africans – would in time topple their colonial masters and substitute the latter’s economic and military power with their own.
The brilliance of Pearson’s forecast has been proven time and again by the latest evolutions affecting the international world order. Today’s American policymakers will be well advised to read this book carefully once more, disband the CIA and NATO, and reform the only post-world war II institution that can still play a useful role in maintaining a Westphalian world order, with the nation-state as its most important actor.Florian Pantazi