On Being a Great Power

There used to be two Super Powers, the USA and the Soviet Union.  Then with the breaking up of the Soviet Union into its constituent parts only one was left..History like time never stands still and as the Soviet Union fell it was inevitable that sooner or later another power would rise up to replace it.

Though the replacement of the Soviet Union was not instant it was soon very clear who the new kid on the block would be. Though calling China, which means middle kingdom because its emperors believed it was the centre of the world, a new kid hardly gives credit to its thousands of year old civilisation and culture. So as the Soviet sun set in the West the Chinese star rose in the East.

Like the British Empire before it and the Americans after it China has all but conquered the world through trade. Where trade goes the military often follow. Now China has joined the space race, built its first aircraft carrier, while the British share one with the French, and increased defence spending to record levels.

At the same time China has announced it has no military ambitions. Well the cynic would reply they all say that don’t they?  What we do know is that China is the second power in trade having sometime ago eclipsed its bitter local rival Japan. Now it has the United States in its sights. Some say it will take twenty years others thirty before it catches and passes the States. Others say because of the problems its huge population presents it will never happen.  We also have to consider how much longer China will be allowed to manipulate its currency for its own benefit or blatantly steal patents from Western manufacturers. That probably won’t stop until like the Japanese they start developing products of their own rather than manufacturing others under license.

If you notice thus far I have been careful to refer to the United States military and ideological rivals as Super Powers rather than Great Powers. Military Might may well make you Super but it will never make you Great. It is my contention that there has only ever been one Great Power and that was and still is the United States. As long as it remains true to its core values and economically strong it will remain the Great Power even if measured by trade China one day forges ahead.
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To be a Great Power you must exercise more than self interest. You must not only pay lip service to freedom and democracy but put your weight and power behind these ideals at the cost of apathy, or even opposition, from your friends and the deaths of your own military personnel in pursuit of what is right..

This great Power status was first demonstrated by the United States at the end of the Second World War. The introduction of the Marshal Plan gave a broken and broke Western Europe a fresh economic beginning thanks to the untold millions of dollars it poured in to kick start their post war economies.  This was in contrast to those countries occupied by the Russians in their unstoppable sweep to Berlin. Poland and all the countries east of it became client States officially embracing communism while at the same time their people loathed it.  Their centrally controlled economies barely creaked along and when the people rose up in protest the bullet and death was the Russian answer.

Meanwhile in the cosines and safety of the West a politically motivated section of the population organised marches and demonstrations against the “war mongering and militarist” Americans which many of the naïve and gullible joined. When years later massacres occurred in the newly independent Balkan countries of Muslims it was the “ Great Satan,” America who intervened without a United Nations resolution  because as President Clinton put it at the time “ I could not stand aside any longer and watch these people be massacred.” The Russians stood back and let matters take their course. They did the same in Kosovo and in the original United Nations coalition against Iraq in the first Gulf War. In the streets of Western Europe no one marched to stop the Balkan massacres but they came out in force against the US in its two wars with Iraq.

The second Gulf War ,as the perceived wisdom now says, was a war for oil. Nowadays few politicians will admit having been in favour of the war. Yet at one time polls n the UK showed a majority for the war and even the leaders of those countries against such as France believed Saddam Hussein possessed weapons of mass destruction .In fact it has even been suggested that Saddam Hussein himself believed Iraq possessed them.

Because of the freedoms we enjoy we can happily trash the reputation of men like Tony Blair, the leader who more or less single handed modernised Britain. He introduced the minimum wage, ended official discrimination against Gays as well as a raft of other social legislation  now taken for granted.  Meanwhile protesting against the system in China takes real bravery and dissenters unlike in the West find themselves in prison or financially ruined.

With the coming of the Arab Spring China and Russia have not just sat on the sidelines while vile massacres are perpetrated by their friends they have vetoed UN resolutions designed to stop them.  I am puzzled why the streets of Europe’s capitals are not filled with demonstrators. The only demonstrations, it seems, are in the streets and alleyways of Syrian towns where the people are mown down by Russian supplied guns and bullets. Only the cry of “Free Palestine” seems guaranteed to bring a rent a crowd  on to the streets.

Up and coming powers like India and Brazil have acted little differently. Not surprising when in the main their leaders were brought up on what was the prevailing ideology of Russia and China.

No doubt we will keep on moaning about America while we watch their films, eat hamburgers, drink Coke and munch popcorn and envy their life style.. Perhaps on occasion I might join the wingers and whiners. No one is right all the time and I value the right to be different.

But compare the chest and inside leg measurements of the other big players on the world  stage if you like. One or more might deserve the title of  super but  great, no way. That takes guts and blood and the willingness to stand by unpopular decisions and support democracy wherever it takes route. Beijing and Moscow take note.

All Greek to Me

The orators of ancient Greece were judged on their ability to put forward both sides of an argument at the same time with equally dexterity and aplomb. Most of the leading politicians of the West seem to be going through the same acrobatic contortions without even realising it.

On one side we have Afghanistan a washed up pre modern expanse of land, you  can hardly call it a State, ruled by corrupt  feudal warlords constantly fighting each other and anyone else if the money is right. United Nations forces have been given the impossible task of drag the country kicking and screaming into the 21st century.

On the other side sits Iran. Very much a unified state, all be it by terror, with a leadership driven by a messianic vision.. Despite the religious rule this is a modern State possessing military hardware which is the fear and envy of its neighbours.
It would now appear, despite denials, Iran is on the verge of developing nuclear weapons and as such threatening to turn the Dr Strangelove scenario from fiction to fact.

These are two intractable problems which on the surface would appear to require similar solutions. But wait a minute that’s not how Greek oratory works. Lets have a quick, and I mean quick refresher course, of why the West is in Afghanistan at all. Remember its now been more than a decade since Western troops under a United Nations umbrella invaded Afghanistan to route out Al Quada terrorists who planned and executed the Twin Towers bomb outrage. It killed more than 3000 people from all religions and none from all the world’s continents.. Just as important the troops went after those who gave the terrorists safe haven and training facilities, The Taliban. Deaths of Western soldiers over the past few years have become all but an every day occurrence which has almost ceased to shock the general public. Like rush hour trains never arriving on time or rain every day of your holiday.

The goal of decapitating Al Quada has long been achieved. Its leader Osama Bin Laden, and most of the founding hierarchy have been caught or killed.  The UN troops now face the Taliban, backed by sections of the Pakistani intelligence and military services, who continue to deny their involvement despite incontrovertible proof  to the contrary. The country seems firmly stuck in the seventh century, and has a Government, on whose behalf we are fighting that is both venal and corrupt. Its only saving grace is it is not the Taliban. It is really hard to choose the lesser of the two evils. But Greek Speak means we have chosen our side and here we stay until we go. A magic date has been set for 2014 when the politicians tell us the Taliban will be on its knees. But who is listening?

We seem to have moved from fighting terrorism to nation building.  If we stayed in Afghanistan for a thousand years I doubt it would turn out like Switzerland. If our fear is really of terrorism and we have genuine nightmares about the kind of people the Taliban might ask to share their country then there is an alternative solution.  It would not be the most difficult task to hermetically seal off it off from the outside world. Afghanistan is hardly an international hub, and we could use satellite technology, drones in the sky, and feet on the ground organising copious pay offs to protect the West from the worst they could throw at us. All this would be cheaper than the treasure of blood and human life being sacrificed now.

Now to Iran. This is a sophisticated country with an educated people. It has large towns a well developed hinterland and is rich in oil. The Mullahs undoubtedly have strong minority support but we must put the emphasis on the word minority. It is clear that most of the population are suffering under the yolk of the dictators and would like nothing better than to be part of the free world.

Non interference in the affairs of another State is one of the better rules of the United  Nations but there are exceptions to every rule.  The fact that the Iranian leadership appears ever closer to developing nuclear weapons seems in to have caused little real concern though much breast-beating in the capitals of the Western world. Sure there has been a lot of invective and bluster but its more akin to a parent telling off a naughty child who we believe in the end will grow up and see good sense.

Well this child shows few signs of growing up. In fact the more conciliatory and concerned Western Governments are to Iran the naughtier it becomes. We are again having talks about talks which in the end might lead to….talks. Will anything change though that’s the million dollar question.

I think I am beginning to understand the art of politics and diplomacy now. In the modern world what you do is wait for the enemy to turn their words in to deeds by igniting or being caught trying to blow you to Kingdom Come and then you act, as per Afghanistan.. Then once you have embarked on your mission by occupying the country and trying to reshape it in your own image you outstay your welcome until such time the local people turn against you and start killing your soldiers.

So here we are then .We stay in Afghanistan because it poses a threat to us and we stay out of Iran because it poses a threat to us. Oh how those ancient orators would have loved to have been around now.  As for myself, I am puzzled. Its all Greek to me.The orators of ancient Greece were judged on their ability to put forward both sides of an argument at the same time with equally dexterity and aplomb. Most of the leading politicians of the West seem to be going through the same acrobatic contortions without even realising it.

On one side we have Afghanistan a washed up pre modern expanse of land, you  can hardly call it a State, ruled by corrupt  feudal warlords constantly fighting each other and anyone else if the money is right. United Nations forces have been given the impossible task of drag the country kicking and screaming into the 21st century.

On the other side sits Iran. Very much a unified state, all be it by terror, with a leadership driven by a messianic vision.. Despite the religious rule this is a modern State possessing military hardware which is the fear and envy of its neighbours.
It would now appear, despite denials, Iran is on the verge of developing nuclear weapons and as such threatening to turn the Dr Strangelove scenario from fiction to fact.

These are two intractable problems which on the surface would appear to require similar solutions. But wait a minute that’s not how Greek oratory works. Lets have a quick, and I mean quick refresher course, of why the West is in Afghanistan at all. Remember its now been more than a decade since Western troops under a United Nations umbrella invaded Afghanistan to route out Al Quada terrorists who planned and executed the Twin Towers bomb outrage. It killed more than 3000 people from all religions and none from all the world’s continents.. Just as important the troops went after those who gave the terrorists safe haven and training facilities, The Taliban. Deaths of Western soldiers over the past few years have become all but an every day occurrence which has almost ceased to shock the general public. Like rush hour trains never arriving on time or rain every day of your holiday.

The goal of decapitating Al Quada has long been achieved. Its leader Osama Bin Laden, and most of the founding hierarchy have been caught or killed.  The UN troops now face the Taliban, backed by sections of the Pakistani intelligence and military services, who continue to deny their involvement despite incontrovertible proof  to the contrary. The country seems firmly stuck in the seventh century, and has a Government, on whose behalf we are fighting that is both venal and corrupt. Its only saving grace is it is not the Taliban. It is really hard to choose the lesser of the two evils. But Greek Speak means we have chosen our side and here we stay until we go. A magic date has been set for 2014 when the politicians tell us the Taliban will be on its knees. But who is listening?

We seem to have moved from fighting terrorism to nation building.  If we stayed in Afghanistan for a thousand years I doubt it would turn out like Switzerland. If our fear is really of terrorism and we have genuine nightmares about the kind of people the Taliban might ask to share their country then there is an alternative solution.  It would not be the most difficult task to hermetically seal off it off from the outside world. Afghanistan is hardly an international hub, and we could use satellite technology, drones in the sky, and feet on the ground organising copious pay offs to protect the West from the worst they could throw at us. All this would be cheaper than the treasure of blood and human life being sacrificed now.

Now to Iran. This is a sophisticated country with an educated people. It has large towns a well developed hinterland and is rich in oil. The Mullahs undoubtedly have strong minority support but we must put the emphasis on the word minority. It is clear that most of the population are suffering under the yolk of the dictators and would like nothing better than to be part of the free world.

Non interference in the affairs of another State is one of the better rules of the United  Nations but there are exceptions to every rule.  The fact that the Iranian leadership appears ever closer to developing nuclear weapons seems in to have caused little real concern though much breast-beating in the capitals of the Western world. Sure there has been a lot of invective and bluster but its more akin to a parent telling off a naughty child who we believe in the end will grow up and see good sense.

Well this child shows few signs of growing up. In fact the more conciliatory and concerned Western Governments are to Iran the naughtier it becomes. We are again having talks about talks which in the end might lead to….talks. Will anything change though that’s the million dollar question.

I think I am beginning to understand the art of politics and diplomacy now. In the modern world what you do is wait for the enemy to turn their words in to deeds by igniting or being caught trying to blow you to Kingdom Come and then you act, as per Afghanistan.. Then once you have embarked on your mission by occupying the country and trying to reshape it in your own image you outstay your welcome until such time the local people turn against you and start killing your soldiers.

So here we are then .We stay in Afghanistan because it poses a threat to us and we stay out of Iran because it poses a threat to us. Oh how those ancient orators would have loved to have been around now.  As for myself, I am puzzled. Its all Greek to me.