Sun Tzu on War

When going into war, or when fighting one, Sun Tzu says we should always take into account the five ‘Heads of War’ in our deliberations, so as to seek to determine the conditions obtaining in the field:

1. The Moral Law: these are our guiding values and moral principles. You need to be on the right side of them.

2. Heaven: night and day, cold and heat, times and seasons. I always think of my mountain climbing (including guiding) experiences here: one must constantly evaluate the snow and weather conditions and respect them. Sometimes they work against you, and then you just have to patiently wait.

3. Earth: distances, danger and security, open ground or narrow passes, the chances of life and death. I think of this as ‘situational awareness’ – tactics (as opposed to the more strategic evaluation of the factors of Heaven).

4. Our Commanders  and their virtues: wisdom, sincerity and good faith, benevolence and humanity, courage, and strictness (self-respect, self-control or ‘proper feeling’).

5. Method and Discipline. That needs no further explanation. It is related to practice. Wisdom and knowledge are good (otherwise you do not know where you are or where you want to be next), but only practice gets you what you want and to the place where you need to go next.


I will let the reader judge, but I think the US scores well on method and discipline only. The US scores very poorly on all else – especially on situational awareness: satellites, spy operations and in-country presence (even massive presence, such as in Afghanistan) do not substitute for (human) intelligence.

Also, if even 99-year old Kissinger sees a dangerous lack of strategic purpose in US foreign policy, then you know the US cannot possibly be on the right side of the all-important Moral Law.

Finally, even US generals who once inspired confidence – I am thinking of General Powell and General Petraeus here – have admitted they lied on behalf of their political administration or, in the case of Gen Petraeus, that their job was just to implement serious mistakes made by their political bosses without questioning them. So I do not see much virtue in any of the US commanders.


As for the EU, we score very poorly on all of the five heads which, Sun Tzu reminds us, “determine life and death, a road either to safety or to ruin.” No more needs to be said.

We are in a hot war with Russia, and in a cold war with China now. The cold war with China is likely to spiral into a hot war too. Next year or even earlier. For all practical purposes, our side is led by the Sovereign of the US (Mr. Biden) and his Commanders. I would and will not fight for them. I do not trust neither their intention and judgment, nor do I trust their preparation. Also, our Sovereign(s) should embody the Moral Law and inspire. Mr. Biden or Ms. Pelosi do not. EU leaders do not, either. [Of course, I do not trust Russia’s or China’s leaders either, but at least they are more predictable, which is at least one advantage to consider when trying to make sense of the current post-modern dash towards what I refer to as the old new world order: it is effectively pretty much like the 1960s and 1970s (cold war, with some hot proxy and not-so-proxy wars thrown in as well).]

Post scriptum: I am appalled by the black-and-white logic of the vocal minorities who call for total defeat of Russia. What do they mean by that? A roll-back of the 2014 events? A regime change? Total destruction of Russia’s economy? What is the goal? Sun Tzu’s wise council also says this: the goal of war is to defeat the enemy militarily. The goal is not destroy a country or its people. On the contrary, we should try to win hearts and minds. Mao Zedong used that to defeat the much more powerful Kuomintang army, and this principle has also consistently been applied by other guerilla armies against powerful armies. A lot of would-be analysts of what is currently going on and of what is in the works should study history a lot better than they do.

As for the factors of Heaven, my experience and instinct (I have been in war theaters: Afghanistan mainly and, briefly, in Ukraine) tells me they are definitely not on our side now. If they are not, we should not move and get back to safety. If the factors of Heaven are not on your side on a dangerous mountain climb, you should return to base camp. Immediately. Few casual observers appreciate the fact that these things are effectively matters of life and death. All questions regarding war and peace are. We are not discussing some new limit on speed on EU highways or other mundane political issues that our governments have been dealing with over the past 20 or 30 years.


What I do not understand at all is why the US wants to provoke China. A trade, tech, business or – worse – a real war with China is the last thing we need. We must collectively tackle global issues such as climate change, lingering poverty and hunger (especially in Africa, which is all but a forgotten continent now), and, yes, freedom and democracy in many countries, but not necessarily China or Russia. Why not focus on EU-internal issues? There are many issues inside of the EU that need to be addressed when it comes to rights and freedoms. Do we also want to focus away from them by creating our own external enemies, just like the US is doing now? The terrorist threat is out of fashion, so now we are back to demonizing the good old Russians, and the good old Chinese? The reds, and the Yellow Peril.

I cannot believe that humanity has come so far on the road to enlightenment, through science and rational decision-making, but that many of us now suddenly feel a need to collectively engage in plain warmongering and emotionalism. Social, economic, political and historical complexity is reduced to two categories: good versus bad, West versus East, fascist versus democratic or free. I can go on. We are either in or out, pro or against war, or pro or against the Russians or the Chinese. These are extremely simplistic classifications feeding negativity – much worse: plain hatred – between people and countries. That is, quite simply, not what intelligent men and women should stand for. It is what led to the world wars of the 20th century. We should not burden our children with the consequences of another conflagration. The stakes are too high. We should all cool down, calmly take another look at things, and see what we can do to restore normalcy.


Lest I be misunderstood, I am not calling for appeasement with Russia. I am calling for engagement. As I explained in previous posts, any comparison to Chamberlain’s policy vis-à-vis Germany is unfounded. The US responded militarily (thereby turning the original David-versus-Goliath geometry between Russia and Ukraine on its head), and the EU applied sanctions (some sensible, others not so sensible or outright counterproductive). As I wrote in my previous post, the frontlines have stabilized, and Russia’s military has been weakened considerably. Now is a time to negotiate a settlement: not peace (that is not possible anymore because of the escalation) but a ceasefire and practical arrangements to stop the bleeding and start reconstruction.

The conflict will then just become one of the many frozen conflicts of Eurasia, and we can all focus again on what we should be focusing on: work, family, fun. We should do it now because we are in a position of strength vis-à-vis Russia. The winter will weaken our position. Russians are used to surviving long winters. We are not, and surely not, ready to go into five or ten cold winters, which is what the Belgian prime minister is telling us Belgians to prepare for. The average Belgian is sensible and will, quite simply, vote him and all of his coalition partners out when they can, which is in 2024 at the latest. He should return to base camp as soon as possible. I recognize too many symptoms of altitude sickness, including emotional speech and non-rational behavior. Other politicians seem to suffer from the same.

Energy and the stupidity of sanctions

The invoices for gas and electricity have tripled or quadrupled, and may rise to ten times what household and industries in Europe used to pay for energy a year ago. The price differential of the gas price in the US and Europe – also a factor ten – is likely to anger voters in the coming years: are these smart sanctions? Why would Europe pay more for economic warfare with Russia than the US?

The truth is: not importing gas from Russia is ineffective and counterproductive. First, a military agression should be countered with military action. Sanctions on a country – on its economy and its people – should be used as a last resort. Sun Tzu wrote about that in his ‘Art of War‘: the objective is not to destroy a country or its people but to defeat its army if and when it threatens your sovereignty.

Second, if sanctions are deemed to be necessary, they should not hurt your own economy too much, but the economy of the enemy. Sanctions on this or that country on finished products (say, electronics, cars or consumer goods) are logical: you can, quite simply, procure these from another source. Let us suppose we would be at war with Japan, for example: we would just stop buying Japanese cars and electronics and switch to American, European or Chinese products. That is an effective or smart sanction: it hurts Japan but it does not diminish our purchasing power, resources or wealth.

With energy or raw materials, one cannot switch easily: these are inputs. Demand for them is inelastic, supply cannot be increased in the short run, and, therefore, the shortage or mismatch between supply and demand will drive prices up very quickly (with factors ten or even a hundredfold, as we are seeing for the raw gas price now). It will hurt your economy more than the country you want to punish and may, therefore, be labeled as pure and simple masochism.

I remember talk in the newspapers here in Brussels about how not importing Russian gas would not hurt the Belgian economy because Russian gas had only a very small share in our gas imports. That misses the point completely: even for such small share, we have to find other suppliers, and these other suppliers do get very large demand from countries which were very dependent on Russian gas, such as Germany. Hence, even small customers suffer from extraordinary price rises as supply gets cut on a market that was already tense.

The only way out is to roll back our self-imposed ban on Russian gas, but Europe’s political leaders lack the guts to (1) admit their mistake and (2) to do something about it. Why it is so difficult? Most EU countries reversed their stance on nuclear energy over the past few months. Why not take this logical step too? We can, quite simply, just decide to import gas from Russia again. It will fix the root cause of the huge problem we are facing. Will this disappoint people more than the decision to go for nuclear energy again? I do not see why that should be the case. It is a very necessary step: it is the only way to prevent the total meltdown of the European economy that we are currently witnessing (make no mistake here: it is a lot worse than the 1970s energy crisis, so we have to act).

It will also prevent a swing to extremist right-wing or left-wing political parties (such as Rassemblement National (formerly Front National) in France). These may have extremist views on migration and other topics but they have far less extremist views on Russia than the current political parties at the center. The center is, therefore, no longer a center when it comes to what concerns most voters now: the war with Russia, and the prospect of deepening and worsening it by also entering into a cold war with China.

President Macron scraped through for the second-term (10 and 24 April 2022) presidential elections: the voting in two rounds (typical of France) saved him. I do not think he and other moderate leaders will be so lucky next time. It’s the economy, stupid! Policies that destroy industry and reduce lower- and middle-class families to poverty are sure to get you where you do not want to be in politics.

Also, it is the first time in my life that I would like Belgium to dissociate from the EU’s foreign policy: a von der Leyen and a Borrell are non-elected, and the mandate of EU institutions for foreign policy and defense is very limited. They surely do not have the right to declare war on behalf of the sovereign nation-states within Europe. Also, Russia blew up its dialogue with the EU as a multilateral forum almost two years ago (I wrote about that at the time, anticipating a lot of events and trends that we see happening now). If Finland or the Baltic states want to go much further in sanctioning the Russian people, let them go ahead. Belgium’s leaders and people should not be seen to be part of what is, clearly, just plain warmongering for no good reason.

The frontlines have stabilized, and Russia’s military has been weakened considerably. Now is a time to negotiate a settlement: not peace (that is not possible anymore because of the escalation) but a ceasefire and practical arrangements to stop the bleeding and start reconstruction. The conflict will then just become one of the many frozen conflicts of Eurasia, and we can all focus again on what we should be focusing on: work, family, fun. We should do it now because we are in a position of strength vis-à-vis Russia. The winter will weaken our position. Russians are used to surviving long winters. We are not.

Not deepening or dragging out war – especially because the energy crisis is causing a rapid disintegration of our industrial base (not to mention pushing lower-class households into poverty) – should be a priority now. A matter of life and death, so to speak (sorry that sounds so bitter in this context), rather than about a selection of one single country where the values of freedom or democracy abroad matter more to us than, say, in Syria or in Afghanistan. Also, I repeat we should stay clear of demonizing the Russian people with measures such as visa bans, labelling every Russian resident in the EU as a potential spy (and, worse, calls for systematic checks on them) rather than target Mr. Putin, his regime and the Russian military directly. That is a lesson we Europeans should have learnt from the world wars.

However, let me get back to the point here: when considering economic sanctions, cold economic and political analysis should be used to evaluate and decide whether to implement them and continue them. If the analysis shows they produce the opposite effect (polls show that Mr. Putin’s popularity as a war leader popularity keeps increasing), they should be rolled back. Blindly sticking to things that do not work and hurt ourselves more than the enemy is not wise: if you find yourself in a hole, stop digging, right?

Again, most countries reversed their decision – taken decades ago – to phase out nuclear energy, and this measure to tackle the energy crisis has not met with popular resistance. On the contrary, polls show support in Belgium. Why is it that leaders show no willingness to roll back the decision to no longer import Russian gas? If it is about human rights or whatever, then we should scrutinize our energy imports from countries like, say, Saudi Arabia as well. But banning such imports would not be effective either, right? Gas, oil, rare earth minerals and all the other things that are routinely imported to produce consumer or industrial goods tend to be produced in countries that we do not necessarily like. A consistency check is always a good lens to look at whatever it is that you are trying to decide.

Post scriptum: I have been quite vocal on my Twitter and LinkedIn accounts, and I got a lot of flak for it. At one point, I even got censured on LinkedIn, and I was very surprised about that because my pro-peace comments were everything but inflammatory. I looked at the identities and origin of the angry reactions and I note that a lot of them come from nationals from EU countries that have traditionally different views on Russia and, I must assume, other geopolitical questions too (think of China here) only because of their recent history.

Again, I am surprised that reasonable people act so emotionally on what should be analyzed rather coldly. When talking economic sanctions, cold economic and political analysis should be used to evaluate and decide whether to continue or, in the opposite case, roll them back. That is the point of view that I am defending in this post and on social media. In any case, to get away from personal attacks and emotional one-to-one tits-for-that, I should present something objective on public opinion on these questions. So I quickly googled and found this survey: It is a bit dated (June) but it shows how divided public opinion in the EU actually is on the question. It also shows – I am happy about that in light of all the flak I have been getting for being pro-peace – that my views are actually not a minority view. On the contrary, in many of the older EU countries (except the UK, perhaps, but they walked out of the EU so we should not take them into account), people are clearly more rational about this and do consider our current stance to be way out of whack. When the EU Commission and our government leaders start ignoring majority opinion, and when vocal minorities shut down debate on peace and war questions, we are in very deep trouble as a democracy. Not only US democracy but Europe’s democracy as well has become a bit of an international joke. :-/

To end on a happy note, I am a fan of American culture (do not be surprised: I like culture in general). Especially music (I like action hero movies too but the apocalyptic element in many of these looks frightening real now). Two songs that come to my mind right now is Coolio’s Gangsta’s Paradise and Where Is The Love from the Black Eyed Peas. A quote from the latter song: “The truth is kept secret, it’s swept under the rug; If you never know truth then you never know love.” And just one line from the first: “Tell me why are we so blind to see that the ones we hurt, are you and me?” :-/ I am now going to focus on life and fun again. Politics – both national as well as international – are too depressing to follow lately. 🙂

Red lines

My recent posts and tweets on the hot war with Russia and on the cold war between the US and China (let us see what European governments will say and do about that over the coming weeks and months) attracted some attention. Nothing much: a few hundred views over a couple of days (but, yes, growing). Not going viral. No likes so far. Probably because my comments go against majority viewpoints.

It reminds me of a few other things I did in life, about which I never wrote. They wrecked the career I then had: I was a Belgian diplomat from 1997 to 2009, but went against the flow. I will now write about them because it may help the reader to know where I stand.

1. When I was a diplomat in New Delhi (India), I signed off on end user certificates (EUCs) on Belgian sensitive exports to both India as well as Nepal. The exports to Nepal were most sensitive: machineguns. The exports had always been politically sensitive, with ministers resigning over them and, ultimately, led to the regionalization of decisions to export weapons, ammunition and associated dual-use technology and equipment.

I refused to sign EUCs for the delivery of Belgian combined rocket machine gun pods to India, which would then use these to up-armor and re-export British helicopters to Nepal. [India, the UK and – yes – the US publicly criticized Belgian arms exports to Nepal but, privately, encouraged them (their parliaments had blocked them: Belgium was the only source of arms to Nepal then) because they thought China was supporting the insurgents (an accusation for which there was no evidence whatsoever).] If the sale would have gone through, it would have brought the violence to a whole new level. That did not happen, and it was – to a great extent – because of my refusal. I documented my refusal in a confidential cable, which got leaked to the press (I had nothing to do with that). The leak annoyed then Minister Louis Michel, because he was in charge then, and the defense industry around Liège is/was one of this political constituencies. He made a great career at the European level afterwards: first, European Commissioner for Science and Research and then European Commissioner for Humanitarian Aid and Development. From support to gun exports to aid? I always thought of that as very incongruent.

Belgium was, then, the only country supplying arms to Nepal, and the crisis over this sensitive export brought an end to it. I cannot help thinking the end of all arms supplies to Nepal helped bring the end to the insurgency by making it clear to all parties that a military victory on either side was not possible, and that negotiations were the only way forward. These negotiations ultimately led to the 2006 comprehensive peace accord.

2. While in India also, I reported on the discussions which ultimately led to the nuclear deal between India and the US. How and why did I get involved? My knowledge of all things nuclear is at par with that of specialists (my own independent research on quantum physics got me a RI score in the top 30% bracket of RG members), so I was rather good at identifying what fuel cycles were interesting in terms of proliferation of sensitive technology and what efforts are/were needed to counter it.

Back to the deal. I was against it because it was quite obvious this agreement was part of an overall attempt to better arm India against what both India and the US saw as an increasingly expansive China. I only saw a rapidly growing economy, doing what India did not manage: bring its people – all of them – out of abject poverty. I argued this deal would, therefore, create more regional nuclear arms races.

What happened with Iran, which never got such exception or special treatment, in the years that followed, proved me right. Also, this deal predictably brought all talks on international nuclear disarmament to a completely standstill, which continues till this day: if the US starts making exceptions based on perceived regional power balances, then there is no hope for multilateralism anymore.

3. Ultimately, I went on to become Belgium’s chargé d’affaires in Kabul, Afghanistan from 2007 to 2009. I was there when Belgium expanded its military presence as part of NATO’s International Security Assistance Force. It was because there were few other candidates and, maybe, because people within my ministry did prefer someone who would be fully independent (read: not aligned to any political party or particular point of view). I took a career break after two years of service, as the job was quite exhausting. Another two years later, I could return but I did not want to because the head of personnel would not offer me anything interesting (read: an ambassadorship or, at least, a director-level position within the ministry).

I do not regret that decision. I have done well ever since and, seeing my former colleagues, I think I might be a happier person. I have been working as a consultant on systems, IT and organizational projects since 2009, and I am still in that business. However, memories from the past do come back sharply with all of the international turmoil now. I am not sure why I should feel so concerned or emotional about it. I guess I wanted to tell my children a better story, but they are grown up too now and they will make their way. The only advice I can give them is this: stay on the right side of Sun Tzu’s Moral Law. It made me a happy person. Happiness is more important than wealth or power.

If US political leaders – Republican or Democrat – and diplomats and other foreign service staff want to preserve (moral) legitimacy abroad, they should act fast. Anti-US protests in Korea, new or old anti-US peace movements growing stronger in Europe (both independent, as well as left- and right-wing EU MPs counter the NATO discourse strongly and reasonably), in Australia (the anti-AUKUS) and in Africa (here is a CSIS article on that which predates current international developments), are real. Very real. I hope they tilt the current balance. More than that: I hope they finally turn the tide, towards world peace and true security rooted in acceptance of multipolarity (many countries, different systems), stronger multilateralism and true multiculturality again.

Many EU countries will face elections over the coming years, and I do not think the current anti-Russia or anti-China rhetoric strikes a chord with true Europeans. I am not talking about conversion to this or that camp here: that is (probably) futile. Social media campaigns do not make people switch opinion or change their deep-rooted convictions. That will not happen. What has happened, however, is that the symbolism of Pelosi’s visit displayed an American arrogance that does not go down very well here in Europe and, surely, not in Asia. Koreans and Japanese may not like the Chinese but when it comes to sympathy for an Asian neighbor who loses face for no reason whatsoever, I think Asian wisdom wins from modern antagonism. And Europe does look East, if only because of its geography: it has to.

One more personal note: back in March, I went spontaneously to Ukraine to join the volunteer International Legion. That is documented into several news reels, including this one made by one of the most prominent news channels: I am the not-so-anonymous Belgian in the video. I mean it: the US should not have taken over from the EU or NATO here. Yankee, go home! Please.

Post scriptum: Looking back and reflecting on what triggered the hot war with Russia, and the new cold war with China, I have come to the conclusion it is the need of weak leaders to shore up domestic credibility by provoking adversaries. Mr. Zelensky is guilty of that too. It was not right to go to Washington DC in September last year: it was clear he was pushing for Ukraine to join NATO and, in the absence of such membership, to secure a military commitment from the US, which he got (the war in Ukraine is, to a large extent, not a war between Europe and Russia, but a war between Russia, Ukraine and the US). We should remind ourselves of the fact that Mr. Zelensky approval ratings were extremely poor before all this talk about a war started to dominate (barely 30% in December 2021, when the Russian threat was already clear).

To put it bluntly, in the mind of Mr. Putin, this state visit of Zelensky in early September last year, is the symbolic equivalent of Ms. Pelosi’s visit to Taiwan, and its repercussions are of the same nature as the now very frosty relations between the US and China (not a hot war but a cold war that is, possibly, even more damaging to the world economy). It was provocative, and it definitely changed the geopolitical status quo: in just one or two days, Ukraine was part of the Western sphere of influence – politically and militarily.

It was this new alliance between Biden and Zelensky which led to Mr. Putin to build up troops at Ukraine’s borders and, after getting some kind of reassurance from Beijing just before his invasion, to become the war president that he is now. Hence, looking back, one might look at all this as something that could be foreseen: it was written, plain for all to see, in the psychology of Mr. Zelensky, Mr. Putin, and Mr. Biden. When domestic support is low or drops sharply, these leaders turn to war by creating new or reinventing old enemies. It is a sad thing, especially because European leaders – all those calling for further destroying Russia’s economy and antagonizing the Russian people with visa bans and all that – seem to fall into the same trap now. No matter whether or not you trust or distrust China, one thing that stands out about Mr. Xi Jinping is that he does not need an external enemy to appease criticism or look strong in the eyes of his own people.

Mr. Xi Jinping is apparently to go to Riyadh, and part of the discussions are, apparently, on ending the preeminence of the dollar as the preferred international currency for trade. That would not be bad: the US has abused its historical seigniorage rights for much too long now. China could easily sink the dollar by selling its US Treasury debt, which adds up to close to one trillion US$ ($967.8 billion in June, to be precise), but that would leave China a lot poorer too, so the new scheme – a gradual switch rather than an outright dump – sounds more logical and, therefore (one of the advantages of the Chinese system is that, unlike US foreign policy, it is quite predictable), much more likely. 

The concept of Eurasia

Geographically, Europe and Asia are part of the same continent: Eurasia. Of course, geopolitically, we speak of two continents: Europe and Asia. Or, thinking of Russian or Slavic or Turkish culture, and also of the Indian subcontinent and other large geopolitical realities, perhaps we should think of four or five subcontinents, right?

If you are reading blogs like this, then you must know a thing or two about influencers such as Zbigniew Brzezinski. He was a Polish diplomat before WW II: he was in Canada when Germany and Russia invaded Poland in 1939, and went on to study in the US. He was a counselor to US President Johnson (1966-1968), and went on to become President Carter’s National Security Advisor (1977-1981). He was in favor of ‘peaceful engagement’ with the Soviet Union (and China) at the height of the Cold War but he wrote this in his 1997 book, titled The Grand Chessboard: American Primacy and Its Geostrategic Imperatives:

“… how America “manages” Eurasia is critical. A power that dominates “Eurasia” would control two of the world’s three most advanced and economically productive regions. A mere glance at the map also suggests that control over “Eurasia” would almost automatically entail Africa’s subordination, rendering the Western Hemisphere and Oceania geopolitically peripheral to the world’s central continent. About 75 per cent of the world’s people live in “Eurasia”, and most of the world’s physical wealth is there as well, both in its enterprises and underneath its soil. “Eurasia” accounts for about three-fourths of the world’s known energy resources.”

His thesis was, basically, that no Eurasian challenger should emerge that can dominate Eurasia and challenge what he (and other US advisors and strategists) referred to as ‘US global preeminence’. I do not believe the US has achieved ‘global preeminence’: not before the writing of this book and also not since it was written, i.e. in this unexpectedly troublesome and volatile 21st century.

However, the US did achieve to transform what should have been a limited war between Europe and Russia into a global conflict, pitting the US, Europe and NATO on one side against what remains of the old Communist enemy: Russia. Russia is still the largest country (I am talking its landmass now, not its people or economy) on the Eurasian continent and in the world: 17 million km2. To make you appreciate this fact, think of this: the distance from Saint Petersburg (a city, by the way, that is larger than Berlin or Madrid) to Vladivostok is about 10,000 km. That is almost twice the distance between Norway’s North Cape and Gibraltar. Another fact that helps to appreciate this immensity is this: Russia, despite the loss of its satellites after the disintegration of the Soviet Union, is still about 70% larger than the second-, third-, and fourth-largest countries in the world: Canada, China and, yes, the US. [Despite its huge population, India is relatively small: its 3.2 million km2 amounts to about half of the territory of, say, Brazil or Australia.]

The strange visit of Ms. Pelosi, the US Democrat Party’s second-most senior leader after President Biden, to Taiwan has also heralded the start of a new Cold War with China. As a result, we may say that Eurasia, for all practical purposes, now consists of three geopolitical entities (and their respective spheres of influence) which should work together rather than blindly follow America’s ‘divide and rule’ tactics: Europe, China and Russia. Europe is not taking much of a lead in this (and Mr. Putin obviously cannot do anything at all) but China’s Xi Jinping seems to be serious about it. His talk about a new Era and rejuvenation – not only of China but for all countries who believe in multipolarity, multiculturalism, and peaceful coexistence – does not sound empty to me. We Europeans would be foolish to dismiss it out of hand as propaganda, and even if you think of it as propaganda: it is propaganda that, unlike former Soviet propaganda, is now changing the world, so we had better accept it as a reality. Terminology does not matter: facts speak louder than words nowadays.

What I write above may sound strange to those who know me, and understand for what I stand or stood: the end of ideology indeed, based on mutual respect and liberal or basic social-economic freedoms (it is futile and counterproductive to try to impose our concepts of Westminster-style democracy on the rest of the world), but I do believe it is the only way forward:

1. Europe must end the hot war with Russia, together with the UN and countries such as Turkey and, yes, China. The US is not interested in ending this war because its Army has a new outpost now in Ukraine, right in the heart of Eurasia. It is a far more convenient (and far more strategic) location than Afghanistan.

2. Europe must also not enter the new Cold War between the US and China. That is not in our interests. On the contrary, the time and prospects for cooperative long-term engagement with China have never been better. We must not keep Chinese companies like Huawei out of European tech markets. We should invest more in scientific and technological cooperation with China. We should talk more about our common interests at all levels – business and official – as US-China talks on issues like climate change, disarmament and other global challenges have broken down completely.

What I write above is not ideological. It is plain common sense. When everything is said and done, we need to prepare for the future of our children and our planet. If the US is not interested in doing that, then we Europeans should cut the umbilical cord with the US and move on with others. China’s Xi Jinping shows leadership (he is likely to be elected for a third term as President later this year) and its government officials say all of the right things. Why would we not believe them? There is no historical reason whatsoever to not trust China.

Post scriptum: I was born in an age where one could still bike across the southern and central parts of the Eurasian continent as a worry-free cyclist. Countries such as Iraq, Iran, Afghanistan and others were not democracies but they were all peaceful and fun to travel in. The much revered Lonely Planet guidebooks have their origin in such travels. It is sad these countries are all off-limits now. Most of Europe’s Sunni and Shia belt is now not very accessible or open. Why? Read their history: their instability often starts with the kind of stuff that we see happening in Ukraine now. If US interventions are well-intentioned (which you may still think to be the case), it is worth remembering an old wisdom: The road to hell is paved with good intentions.

I understand why Cold War thinkers such as Brzezinski (his name is Polish-Jewish, by the way) thought of ideologies such as Nazism, fascism or communism as ideologies that were evil and had to be destroyed: these ideologies effectively destroyed his home and family. However, when the Berlin Wall came down, such thinking no longer had its use, and it has become destructive in its own weird way: what is the difference between cultural or geopolitical hegemonic thought and fascism? I have used the term ‘moral fascism’ before, and it was censored on LinkedIn.

I am not taking it back: the lense that is used by pro-NATO thinkers and politicians in Europe amounts to moral fascism: we think of ourselves as inherently better than Russians or Chinese or whatever other people from countries whose systems we do not like or do not resemble ours. That is sure to lead to confrontation. The difference, this time around, is that we can no longer be sure to win whatever confrontation or conflict we wanted to start or join. In fact, I think we are very likely to enter a very different era, indeed! I am saying this based on my study of Sun Tzu. Sun Tzu starts his treatise on the Art of War by reminding the reader of the first principle of war: the Moral Law needs to be on your side. The US – and the EU, as it applauds America’s belligerent attitude vis-à-vis Russia and China now – can no longer claim to have the Moral Law on their side. That will backfire hugely. Most western observers laugh Xi Jinping’s talk about a new era away. I do not. There is toughness in most of the recent statements of Chinese leaders nowadays: I do not blame them.

I have quoted much eastern wisdom in this and other posts. Let me – just to show I also do know my own cultural roots, which are Christian – adapt a saying from the Bible, from the same era in which historians place Sun Tzu (and that is an era long before a Jesus or a Mohammed or other prophets created the religions many of us now believe in – religions which, unfortunately, ended up dividing those who are often referred to as the People of the Book): “For we sow the wind, and we shall reap the whirlwind. If the standing grain has no heads, it shall yield no flour. If it were to yield, strangers will devour it.” (Hosea 8:7) :-/

What is commonly referred to as the East and the West (vague concepts, but they have their use) have more in common than what sets us apart. Europe and China share a common desire for peace and prosperity. We should build on that. Let us not be like “the blind leading the blind.” It is time for Europe to look East again. Beyond the Ural mountains which are said to form a natural border between Europe and Asia. There is no natural border between Europe and Asia. The ocean that divides us from America would qualify as such natural border. Rivers and mountains are there to be crossed and climbed. That is what inspired the conquests of Alexander The Great, most of which were done through marriage (marrying himself or marrying off his generals to create satrapies), by the way. Europeans may also be warriors at heart (all men probably are, biologically speaking, right?) but, if we are, I think of us as smart warriors – smarter than the US, in any case (but that is not very difficult if you look at the mess since WW II, I guess). 🙂

Beyond Mariupol and the Krim

The battle for Mariupol resembles the WW II battle for Stalingrad both in its strategic as well as symbolic significance. For the Russians, it turned the tide after the frontal assault on major Ukrainian cities, including Kiev itself, stalled and, ultimately, turned into defeat and a full and complete withdrawal of Russian troops from the center and west of the country. They turned all of their military might to the east of Ukraine. Mariupol was the last city they had to take to clear the land corridor to the Krim and the Black Sea which – it would be foolish to deny this – is historically Russian. It also allowed Mr. Putin to effectively claim a victory on neo-Nazis, because the ideology of the Azov Regiment was effectively very right-wing – and that is a euphemism. It is also foolish to deny the support it got – since its creation in 2014 – from extremist groups abroad, and from the US in particular.

However, just a few days after the Russian Army could finally clear the Azovstal bunkers (19 May, to be precise) after rather enormous military efforts, Mr. Biden’s pushed a US$40 billion package through the US Congress – mainly military assistance. The initial David versus Goliath geometry between the Ukrainian and Russian armies has now been reversed completely: such packages are of the order of Russia’s entire annual defense budget. Another comparison to put these US$40b or 50 US$b figures into perspective is this: Belgium’s government decided – also as a result of what is seen as the new Russian threat – to invest about 10 billion Euro to replace its outdated defense equipment, but this investment program covers 10+ years (it runs till 2030) – so it amounts to about €1b per year. In contrast, the US delivers this immense support now, in just one go.

It amounts to this: in just a few months, the US has turned the Ukrainian army into one of the most modern and powerful armies of the world: Ukraine is now – for all practical purposes – a strong US ally outside of NATO and outside of the EU right in the heart of Asia. From a geopolitical point of view, its strategic location is even better than Afghanistan. Is that we Europeans wanted? I do not think so.

Yesterday (16 August), Putin accused the US to ‘drag out’ the war in Ukraine. I do not agree with most of his statements – and, to be fully clear, of course I condemn Russia’s invasion – but Mr. Putin is right here. Yesterday also, Finland – NATO’s new poster boy – imposed limitations on tourist visas for Russians, further antagonizing not Mr. Putin but ordinary Russians. Politicians all over the EU – but most vocally those from former satellites of the Soviet Union – call for tougher economic sanctions. Why? Economic warfare hurts us more than Russia, and reinforces Mr. Putin’s only appeal in his own country – which is that of a tough but reliable leader in very tough times (which is, by the way, the same image which Mr. Biden and Ms. Pelosi try to cultivate with their own constituencies back home now).

What is rather remarkable is that Mr. Putin did not see this coming: his own visit to Beijing just before his invasion (in February this year) was preceded by Mr. Zelensky going to Washington DC in September last year, purportedly sounding out the chances of Ukraine joining NATO. Mr. Putin cannot say he did not notice that because it was what led to him stationing and building up troops at Ukraine’s borders. Hence, looking back, one might look at all this as something that could be foreseen.

So what is next? I am not sure. Sun Tzu was a very wise general: one of the principles of his Art of War is that, in a war, the purpose is to defeat the enemy militarily. The objective is not to try to destroy him. That is exactly what we are trying to do now. It will fail, and it does nothing to work towards long-term peace on the European continent. There is hope, however. Little hope but whatever hope is there, we must highlight:

1. The UN Secretary General and Turkey are actively involved and working with Mr. Zelensky (and, hopefully, Mr. Putin) to work towards solidifying the grain exports deal and – hopefully – a ceasefire agreement. Rumors – credible rumors – have it that, in September or October, Russia will organize referenda in the areas that it currently is holding. Hopefully, Mr. Zelensky will see that it is in the interest of his country to work towards a ceasefire agreement before that happens. Mr. Putin has clearly signaled that he wants to talk: his 9 May public speech at the occasion of Russia’s national Victory Day was not belligerent. On the contrary, independent media analysts rightly marked it as “far from triumphant.”

2. Gerhard Schröder – one of the very few sensible great European politicians who is old enough to remember the Cold War back in the 1980s – has not been expelled from his party and is becoming increasingly vocal. He is right: the current madness must stop. Europe is not, and should not be, at war with Russia. We may not like it, but Russia is our neighbor, and we cannot move away from it. It is time for hawks to back off and tone down. The belligerent voices of a von der Leyen or a Josep Borrell do not represent what Europe – or NATO – should stand for: we are not at war with Russia. Ukraine is at war with Russia and, because of its huge military support, the US is now at war with Russia too. The EU must cut its umbilical cord with the US when it comes to this hot war and – more recently – the new cold war with China.

Yankee, please go home. Now! The US should not be barging around in the world as we Europeans did during colonial times. The Black Sea is Russian. The China Sea is Chinese. They must, of course, remain open and free for all trade and to all people – and both the East and the West should work together to ensure they remain that way. But we live in a multipolar and very multicultural world, with different political systems and very different relations and a very different distribution of geopolitical power now.

Not accepting that amounts to a new moral fascism which Europe and Europeans, having learned what it learned through the painful experiences of two 20th century world wars (the second following the first because we did not go for a genuine people-to-people peace with Germany), should not accept. I’ve used such strong wording a few times already and I got censured for it on LinkedIn, but I do not retract it. The US keeps investing in hard power. It is about time we start investing in soft power: brains, respect, and truly liberal (or, if you prefer that term: Western) values.

I am happy to see that Mr. Fukuyama now also sees his much proclaimed ‘end of ideology‘ cannot be imposed by the US. I quote one of his recent comments: “Expect more violence before America returns to sanity.” I hope more violence can be avoided. Hot or cold wars are the worst thing now as truly bright global citizens are trying to address much more important issues to avoid long-term disaster and the end to civilization and mankind as we know it – first and foremost things such as climate change and the rapid exhaustion of natural resources that do not belong to this but to future generations.

We all know the golden rule for people and states to avoid war: si vis pacem, para bellum (if you want peace, prepare for war). Today we should turn that on its head, in line with Sun Tzu’s advice: if you are at war, prepare for peace. It is about time that Europe’s politicians start doing that. I have no hope that America’s politicians will ever do that. We can only hope the Republicans take US Congress again in November’s mid-term elections and that we will see a bit more of a lame duck government in the US. That would be good for the world.

However, even that we cannot hope for: the praise of Republicans for Pelosi’s rash visit to Taiwan – which triggered this new Cold War with China – and the fact that both Democrats and Republicans overwhelmingly vote for further increases of US military expenditure and more arms shipments to Ukraine confirms US politicians are all on the same line when it comes to warmongering and creating new enemies. As such, they have – what irony of history – much in common with what is currently providing legitimacy for Mr. Putin: a rather recent survey (May-June) finds that over 75% of Russians now support Putin’s Ukraine war. That is an increase as compared to when the war started. I have no doubt the economic sanctions were very counterproductive in that way. The new sanctions, which target people-to-people exchanges such as tourism, will only cause further alienation, and a further increase in the above-mentioned numbers. If, as Mr. Biden did not imply just once but several times already, American support to Ukraine would also aim at some kind of regime change in Russia, what he and loyal allies are doing is producing exactly the opposite effect.

Post scriptum: We do need a new peace movement in Europe. I have read both Oppenheimer’s excellent biography (American Prometheus) as well as General Groves’ account of the Manhattan project (Now It Can Be Told: The Story Of The Manhattan Project), so what recently declassified reports on the nuclear bombs on Hiroshima and Nagasaki bombs (6 and 9 August 1945 – yes, another sad anniversary this month) reveal does not come as a surprise. Oppenheimer – after having turned into a anti-nuclear weapons activist (with other eminent scientists such as Einstein) – died a miserable death as a victim of McCarthyism in the 1950s.

General Groves received a Distinguished Service Medal and went into business, becoming part of what Eisenhower, in his rather alarming farewell address as President to the nation, referred to as the military-industrial establishment. A lot of old people start speaking up. One of them is the 82-year old Australian journalist, writer, scholar, and documentary filmmaker John Pilger. I warmly recommend watching his latest contributions to the debate. Yes: Yankee, please go home. And please take the nuclear weapons that have been stationed in Europe for too long now with you. :-/

We have anti-war and anti-US protests in Korea now as the US are about to launch their own military exercises close to China now. Where is the peace movement in Europe?

Innovation, prosperity and markets

My latest post and recent Tweets – on why and how the West is rapidly losing the right to talk about propaganda and moral values in any meaningful way – make me realize that my readers think I may be going nuts. In fact, that is a euphemism: you must think I am way beyond nuts. You are right, and not. I am not. Why not?

Because I believe in very obvious and down-to-earth things. What things? Innovation, prosperity and markets. That’s it. And that is all what current world news is about so I must be right. That is also what makes me feel optimistic about the future (OK – please do put lots of salt on your table now to make sure that everything that I write below can be taken with the required ‘pinch of salt’):

1. The war with Russia is bad. And sad. Exceptionally bad. And exceptionally sad. Yes. American and British experts had warned us: it would happen. We were sleeping in continental Europe. You were right. Still, I will not agree with the next Doomsday prediction – and that is that this war cannot be ended any time soon.

Sure, I suffer from exaggerated optimism: I am optimistic, always (otherwise I would have been dead already). I do think smart European politicians (not the warmongers – who dominate now, unfortunately – led by a von der Leyen (I did like her initially, if only because I thought she would put German genius and leadership back on the map, which she did not manage to do) or a Josep Borrell Fontennes – who, sadly, did not learn nothing from Spanish separatist movements and, as a result, has alienated himself from a very natural constituency in Southern Europe: smart locals who think in terms of multi-layered identities rather than in grand European ideas) will turn it around and find ways to prepare for peace not based on antagonism but true people-to-people exchanges. [I should create my own political party here – together with some second- or third-generation immigrants – to prove myself wrong on this point: foreign policy does mobilize voters, and I will be proud of the few hundred votes I will probably get. It is easy to create a political party in Belgium, and so I will fully enjoy that little adventure of mine.]

2. The war with Russia will do what 20 or 30 years of green subsidies have failed to do, and that is to push economic actors – both households as well as industry – to invest in energy-poor and environment-friendly consumption and production wholeheartedly. All economists knew that is how the long-term externalities that our energy addiction brings with it (climate change) should be addressed. They knew it since the 1970s. It takes a market shock. Huge price rises – like those we had in the 1970s (but which were not seized upon by politicians to come up with a truly new economic-political-societal model, either).

Subsidies only create bureaucracies and vested interest groups. The EU Commission criticizes the Belgian budget not because our debt-GDP ratio has gone up to 100+ percent again, but because the budget for subsidies is 6 times (yes – six times) that what it is for true investment expenditure. [Do not get me started on that: I will demolish whatever arguments you have. Politics may not be my number one competency or field of expertise, but economics is.]

We have too many energy subsidies now, and they unfortunately keep pushing the wrong buttons: we must go nuclear again. Sorry for hurting your feelings, but scarcity and market shocks is what triggers behavioral change. Do not count on good intentions. Did good intentions ever change your own life? Shock (and awe?) is the only thing that works (I did learn something from my experience with the likes of General Petraeus) so, yes, shock and awe is there now. And, yes, we finally, see behavioral change happening now.

3. The new Cold War with China shows what superpower competition is all about now: it is about brains and technological assets. Taiwan is the technological equivalent of what the Suez canal is/was in geopolitics. Current tension in Asia is not about keeping sea lanes, shipping routes or economies open to all of the world. The world’s future digital and, therefore, economic revolution depends on Taiwan’s microchips and the related nanometer industries. That is what it is all about, and why Taiwan must effectively remain open to all who want to advance the world economy. China’s military exercises may look worrying but – based on my 20+ years of experience in Asia – I can confidently state that China is keeping its cool. Very much so, in fact. That is good: some experts in the US and Europe seem to lose it completely. [I am pretty damn serious here: I’ve been in a few situations where I literally had to order people with guns to hold their guns. This feels – eerily – very much the same, except that no guns are out now. But the safety on the guns did get switched off, which scares me.]


I have always been fascinated and enthusiastic about IMEC. Because it is a fine Flemish/Belgian company, of course ! But – more than being fiercely proud as a Belgian – I do believe its business model is truly unique and leading the way for the most urgent need of the day, which I mentioned above: applied technology is effectively what is going to avoid long-term disaster and allow us to live happily.

When I was born back in 1969 (a year which you may associate both with men landing on the moon as well with Nixon’s escalation of the Vietnam war – your choice), the world’s population was (a bit less than) half of what it is now: 3.6 billion, as opposed to an estimated 8 billion today. We will likely be close to the 10 billion mark in 2050, after which the UN does project some kind of leveling because most countries will have made the usual demographic transition that prosperity inevitably brings with it: instead of producing children as a productive asset to protect us against insecurity and old age, we will just want to reproduce and invest in their future – rather than our own. You will wonder: this has nothing to do with my story about microchips and IMEC, does it?

It does. IMEC’s model is about access to technology to all. IMEC works with more than 5,000 expert scientists from over 95 countries – including countries that China cannot or does not want to work it, and countries that the US (and now the EU) cannot or does not want to work with. IMEC also connects an ecosystem of more than 600 world-leading industry partners and a global academic network which US-based companies or, conversely, Chinese companies cannot knit together. Why? Because Flanders is very small and innocent, because Belgium is very complicated and very innocent too (we are just a weird and funny multicultural chocolate-and-beer country around Brussels, right?) and – most importantly – because people like Luc Van den Hove and Luc Sels (I could mention others but I saw him speak at the occasion of the graduation of both my daughter and my son, and I was hugely impressed) are – without any doubt to me – among the smartest people in the world.

I am an old man. Perhaps not in years: 50+ is nothing (right?) and I am quite fast on the bike and – yes – very quick in a personal fight if you’d look for one. 🙂 But, yes, old – quite old: I survived an aggressive cancer last year and – I will be honest – it was my very last fight. [OK – I had to go to Ukraine to personally see what was happening there but that was the last, even if I cannot completely rule out that there might be some other thing I do not want to see on TV and, hence, go witness by joining personally. I am no couch potato and will not die in bed.]

I am happy and tired now and I want all people from my generation on this planet to be as happy and tired as I am. I am pleased to see we are getting there. At several occasions – most notably on my management blog (yes – I write provocatively on almost anything, including quantum physics and math) – I lashed out against postmodernism, nihilism and Doomsday thinking in general. Times are tough but great:

1. We are witnessing a new Schumpeterian restructuring of the world economy. Painful, but it will do what it must do: homo sapiens is not an obsolete algorithm. I totally disagree with popular thinkers such as Yuval Noah Harari here. The contrary is true: homo sapiens is rocking and rolling. If anything, homo sapiens moved away from catering to immediate needs (a homo economicus) to a world of adventure, play and culture (homo ludens). Man has never been in more control of destiny as now

2. Europe is no longer ‘the Evening Land’ – even if that is the first thing I would say to Russian or Chinese friends when meeting them. My opening line to Chinese tourists (my GF is Chinese and she brings quite a few) is usually something like this: “This is a place that has nothing to offer but wisdom from past mistakes. I am sure you will see it as such and distinguish us from the ‘rest of the West’. The buildings and museums here are very wonderful. I am sure you will enjoy them.”

As far as I can see, they do. They enjoy them just as much as other casual visitors from Asia (the continent where I spent most of my life and, yes, I admit it: I am totally biased because of that) who come back to see me here in Brussels. If someone would want to murder or poison me (extremely unlikely but I do watch out after a rather adventurous life), it would be the Russian state apparatus (they should not after all that I wrote above: Russia is not our enemy but an attack on Europe cannot be tolerated) or – strangely – some idiot in some CIA unit. He will not kill or poison but just make my life as a professional one-man company as difficult as he can. I am not worried about that. We’re finally talking, right? 🙂

Innovation, prosperity and how markets – political or economic – actually function. That is always a good topic to talk about. The Chinese state apparatus offers much better food for thought for that lately than any other state apparatus currently does. A friend asked me lately: yo would not want to live in China, do you? I was completely honest in my reply: I am happiest here in Brussels – but I would not mind to retire in China. I know Chinese propagandists would probably look at that as a very poor answer, but I actually mean it: what is wrong with a strong state providing for, and deeply respecting, elderly people like me? I am ready to forgive any other state sins China has committed and, without the slightest trace of doubt, will keep committing.

China is polluted, busy, hectic, random, dangerous and whatever other bad epithet you would want to add. I agree. I’d rather retire there than in Washington DC. Full stop. [I repeat: I’ll retire in Brussels, of course. There is no place like home.]

Yes. However. To Europe: please start talking to companies like Huawei on 5G and – more generally – how the EU and China can work together. The new Digital Markets Act is going to be challenged anyway by the Googles and Microsofts from the US. Why not talk somewhat more seriously to companies such as IMEC (here at home) or – more risky, perhaps, but surely worthwhile – Huawei? Huawei is not giving up on Europe. Why would they? The Chinese market is sufficiently large for them, but then it is not about that, is it? I honestly believe Huawei’s senior management team has a vision, and that its vision is as mature as that of a Luc Van den Hove or a Luc Sels.

The thing that has kept me alive through all of my troubles in my adventurous life is this: I recognize people who are smarter than me. I can count those people on the digits of my hand. Still: they are smarter than me. Full stop.

Post scriptum: I got a message from LinkedIn just now (only five hours after me stating my protest on perceived censorship) stating that my rather forceful comment on an post pleading for a ban on Russian tourism is back online. The link to the post did not work so I am not quite sure, but it is sufficient to restore my confidence in LinkedIn as one of the very few open social media in this rather bizarre world of social media and public discourse. I did learn my lesson, though: I will try to refrain from posting messages that go against the grain of sentiment. It is – quite simply – not very productive.

Post scriptum 2: One hour later, I got a message that LinkedIn re-reviewed their decision. I copy below. What the hell?

Reference # 220815-003288 Status: ClosedView your case(s) on our Help Center You may reply to this case for up to 14 days

Response (08/15/2022 13:16 CST)

“After taking a second look, we confirmed your content goes against our Professional Community Policies, We understand that this might not be the response you wanted, but we work to apply our policies in a fair and consistent way for all of our members. Thanks again for being part of the LinkedIn community.”

The new Cold War with Russia and China (and censorship on social media)

One man’s terrorist is another man’s freedom fighter. Russia and China engage in propaganda. The West, of course, does not. We only write about truth and peace and democracy. What nonsense! I reacted strongly – on my LinkedIn account – against what I perceive to be a new Cold War with Russia and China and – more to the point – how wrong it is to demonize not only leaders or systems but also people. Indeed, the Russian or Chinese people are not inherently bad and sanctions should, therefore, not be applied to people-to-people contacts, such as a ban on Russian tourism in Europe – which is currently being advocated by some European politicians (I am thinking of two new hawks here – both young, pretty and very woke, on the surface, at least).

My post was removed. See the screenshot below. It will not make me change my mind. On the contrary: I am someone who would rather defend or even exaggerate an unpopular view rather than adapt it to please the other side. It makes me feel that we live in dangerous times, and that free speech is under attack. Not only in the East but also in the West. This confirms what I wrote in previous posts. We are straight back where we were 50 years ago – right back to the old world order: a terribly Cold War. It is a Cold War with China, and a hot war with Russia too! I tell my children not to worry about it and just have fun but, deep inside, I feel very sad. It feels like this generation has failed on all fronts: climate change, peace, poverty, exclusion, etcetera. I hope the next generation will do better but, judging from what young and popular European politicians such as Kaja Kallas and Sanna Marin are pleading for, I have little hope.

They are supported very vocally by a majority of smart young business-minded people from former Eastern Europe as well as by very vocal Ukrainian migrants here. While I understand what they are saying, I would suggest they go back to their own country and make a difference there. We do not need more warmongering here in Europe.

As for social media censorship, some kind of regulation is obviously needed. We do not want senseless material to go viral. However, I feel the only way to keep it transparent is to do it like Twitter is doing it: they do not resort to trolling or patrolling threads and then randomly deleting tweets but just stick to clearly identify and labeling the source for what it is. For example: tweets by government officials (be they US, Chinese or Russian or whatever nationality) are clearly marked as such. Hence, exaggerated or weird claims are not being censored (removed) but their source is appropriately flagged. I like that. Facebook says it has policies in place that should filter things out but, whatever these policies are, they are not clear to me and I will, therefore, not use FB anymore for political comments.

I do not believe it is useful to try to actively filter out messages. Tracing and marking the source of a message should do. As far as I can see from my analysis while participating in Twitter discussion threads, Twitter is quite good at that. The interesting thing here is that both Russia and China have an official ban on Twitter but that the ban does not apply to government officials and that, in China and Russia itself, private users do circumvent the ban without too much trouble.

Elon Musk wrote that he was/is interested in acquiring Twitter because he wants to turn it into some kind of ‘absolutist free speech’ medium. Many people may think he cannot possibly be serious. Based on my (admittedly limited) experience with Twitter, I feel he has got a point. I like Twitter. As mentioned above, I feel that the regulation they have put in place is effective: clearly marking the nature of the source of a social media message is probably sufficient to make sure its readers read it with the “pinch of salt” that is required. I think the regulation of social media should be based on the Twitter model: one can write what he or she wants but you should identify yourself and what you stand for. The rest is for the reader to judge. We should not underestimate his or her intelligence and we should – surely – not judge in his or her stead.

You may not agree with my views above. That is fine. All that I am asking is that you question whatever would irk you and make you feel that I am totally wrong. If you come out of that exercise with a confirmation of your own views – even if they would be and remain diametrically opposed to mine – then that is fine. That is what rational discussion and finding a good middle ground through dialectical exchange is all about.

Post scriptum: You may think I should request a second look at the case from the LinkedIn editors. I did. I used their appeal procedure, and wrote this as justification for asking a review for the removal of my comments:

“I know my comment is a minority view but I wrote it because I feel it is true and because I feel I must go against the grain of sentiment here. I am one of few Europeans who have seen the horrors of war up close and who – unlike some of the people who may find it offensive – did not flee Ukraine but went to fight there. I came back. Alive and sane. Yesterday I was told some of my friends are dead or lost limbs. I think you should look at the Twitter model for weeding out comments. They label content as offensive or clearly mark the nature of the source. I wrote about that on my political blog just now: I am fine with clear feedback: perhaps LinkedIn is not the fora for such discussions. However, I do not see why there should be no equal treatment of majority and minority views.”

I am curious to see if they will reply and, if so, what they will do or write. As for now, I will refrain from further posts or comments on political issues on that channel. It is not good for my business anyway, so I should not bother and do what is right for me. 🙂

The end of ideology and the (ir)relevance of NATO

Shortly after the Berlin Wall came down, the US-led alliance of nations that is known as the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) pushed the eastern borders of its territory all the way up to what are now the western borders of Russia, Belarus and Ukraine. [Instead of NATO, I could have referred to ‘the West’ as a whole, but it is better to be precise when writing about these things.] It is a rather moot point whether or not such expansion was tacitly agreed with the leaders of what was then a rapidly disintegrating Soviet Union. In 2014, former Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev said that NATO’s enlargement was, quite simply, “not discussed at all” at the time, so we should probably leave the historical discussion at that.

One thing is quite clear, however: no one in Europe thought Ukraine was part of Europe until Mr. Putin decided to invade it. That is the number one reason why NATO refused to get involved in it: the ‘in’ or ‘out’ of area distinction is just a legal nicety which NATO (the US, I should say) uses as it pleases. Indeed, NATO went to Afghanistan so there is no reason why they should not go to some other area if NATO member countries would agree on going there. Personally, I think it is a very wise decision for NATO members to leave NATO out of the war between Ukraine and Russia. Furthermore, from the historical record, it may not be very clear that NATO would be pushing east, but one thing that is very clear is that NATO would not turn against Russia. So what is it that I want to say here?

I just want to illustrate such things are a matter of choice and, at the same time, question the relevance of NATO: if NATO is not there to defend us against potential Russian aggression, then what is its use? The only reasonable answer is: NATO is there to do whatever the US wants its European partners to do with it, and they can decide to go along with it or not to go along with it. If Europe is serious about European defense integration, then we should cut the umbilical cord with the US.

Think of it. Shortly after the Berlin Wall came down, political philosophers (read: ideologues) like Fukuyama mourned or, more likely, celebrated the ‘end of ideology’. Fukuyama, for example, wrote this: humanity has reached “not just … the passing of a particular period of post-war history, but the end of history as such: That is, the end-point of mankind’s ideological evolution and the universalization of Western liberal democracy as the final form of human government.” Thirty years later, history proved him wrong: unlike the Soviet Union, China did not disintegrate. It successfully suppressed the Tiananmen protests and it restructured its economic and political system, in a very unique model which you may or, more probably, may not want to qualify as liberal. I think of this as follows:

1. From an economic point of view, it is probably more liberal than any other system (just care about money, business and wealth production).

2. From a political point of view, the system is not what many casual observers think it is: China’s one-party system clearly allows for different opinions being expressed internally and fierce competition from within the system. Otherwise China would not be where it is now. Also, I have had the pleasure to interact with Chinese diplomats in Asia (12 years of diplomacy, which ended in Afghanistan) and I found they suffered less from the typical ‘groupthink’ problem that marks some other diplomatic corpses.

In any case, what is obvious is that its system is, by far, more successful than the Anglo-Saxon (US or UK) or European system, as evidenced by the fact that China, over the past decades, grew to become the largest economy in the world. Indeed, China’s GDP is now commensurate with its population: measured in purchasing power parity terms, it is the largest in the world. Back in 1989, China’s GDP was only ninth in the rankings. So are we or are we not witnessing the end of ideology or – worse – the end of history, or not?

The answer is rather obvious to me: history never ends (it was so foolish to write something like that) and, therefore, our views on how to manage our societies will also continue to conflict. In that sense, we are surely not witnessing any end to ideology. If anything, that is what the recent clash around the US and China is all about. Truly wise political philosophers should just observe current international realities: the world has, de facto, become multipolar. It is one interconnected world indeed, but it is comprised of many cultures and very different political and economic systems. Such diversity is good.

So, yes, while we are not seeing the end of ideology, we should move beyond ideology and focus on peaceful coexistence and finally be very serious about working towards “the greatest good for the greatest number”, as Jeremy Bentham – the father of liberalism, utilitarianism and pragmatism – said we should aim at above anything else. That means, among other things, working with rather than against China. And it surely means refraining from any aggression or interference in the internal matters of other countries – especially those countries that, through sheer hard work, have seen their wealth growth to levels that are at par of the wealth of the West.

Also, when war is inevitable – as it was between Ukraine and Russia this year – then one should respond firmly (as Europe and the US did) but one should also prepare for armistice and peace as soon as possible. That is not happening now: shipping US$40b arms packages to Ukraine is not what is needed now. For those who are not familiar with such numbers: the annual defense budget of Russia is about US$65b and most of that is spent on salaries: not on highly lethal offensive equipment. So, yes, such interventions totally reversed the initial perception of a David versus Goliath relation between Russia and Ukraine: Ukraine is now, by far, the most powerful army in Europe, and it is not because of NATO or European support. It is because the US took over. That is a fact. Do we want that? Possibly. We just need to be aware of it.

The frontlines are all but frozen now, and the US and Europe need to work with China to end the war. Through hard-nosed diplomacy rather than more sabre-rattling. More sanctions do not only hurt ourselves but – more importantly – risk alienating Russia (not only its leaders but – much more importantly – their citizens) to a point of no return. That is not what we want: Russia is and remains our neighbor, and – just like individuals – countries need to learn how to live with their neighbors. :-/

Post scriptum: When you are a European or an American reading this, you may be irked and think that I think of the Chinese way of living as, somehow, being superior to ours. I do not. I lived in Asia for a long time (20+ years), and I also lived in the US (Washington DC) for a couple of years (I was married to an American woman). Now I live in Brussels. In the country where I was born and grew up: Flanders, Belgium, Europe (Europeans have multi-layered identities, don’t they?). I think of it as the best place in the world, but that is probably because, yes, I was born and grew up here. There is no place like home and, yes, ‘home’ is, of course, a very different place for all of us – just like family is different for all of us. That is good. That is how it should be. That is why the world is such fun place and why wars should be avoided at all costs: war destroys homes and families. I have witnessed that in Afghanistan and in Ukraine. I have seen enough of it.

Just for the record, I add a personal note on why I think I should speak up in regard to the need to seek peace with Russia. I left for Ukraine as soon as President Zelensky made his appeal to European and other international volunteers to join the fight. I would have stayed on (many left after the terrifying strike on the Yavoriv base, but I did not) but, sadly, when seeing lots of idiot volunteers and private companies and militias from the US swamping in about a month after we had arrived, I thought it was no longer worth it: we are all ready to die for the right cause but if, I use Sun Tzu’s words here, you no longer find yourself on the right side of the Moral Law, then it is better to go home. From a practical point of view, the Ukraine-Russia war is now a war between Russia on one side, and Ukraine and the US on the other. It is no longer the war between Russia and Europe that our media pretend it to be. Here too, I do not mince my words: Yankee, go home. Please. We Europeans can and will deal with Russia. They are our neighbor. We will find a way. How?

Well, for starters, the EU’s relationship with the country that now has the most leverage on Russia (yes, China) has remained relatively unaffected. Let us bank on that to begin with. I also think Europe’s diplomats do not have the kind of ‘with or against us’ attitude that is so harmful in such situations. Let me be blunt here: European diplomats do not display arrogance and are not complacent. That is why Chinese and Russian diplomats will probably find it easier to talk to them. If your only tool is a hammer, then every problem looks like a nail. So, if your only tool is a gun, then… Well… Then everyone looks like your enemy, right? Europeans do not think like that. Why? History: this continent remembers its wars and has learnt from them. Unlike the US, Europe did not go to war again after WW II (except for the Korean war, perhaps, as part of the United Nations). The US has fought many wars in foreign lands since then, and participated in even more proxy wars during the Cold War. These wars have been everything but successful, and I see little or no learning from them at all. :-/

The old new world order

The current Taiwan Street crisis is not the first tense moment in the history of China’s difficult relations with the US. However, previous crises were triggered by China: this is is the first time that such crisis was triggered by the US. That is a fact, and it is what leaves observers like me totally baffled. Why? Why now? Regardless of whether or not Ms. Pelosi’s visit was coordinated with Mr. Biden and the US foreign affairs and security establishment, it is a fact that it trashed all credibility of the United States as a predictable and reliable partner for peace and stability in Asia.

With a war against Russia in our backyard (I am a Belgian living and working in Brussels) and the US acting irresponsibly in Asia (barely recovering from its disastrous 21st century wars in Iraq and Afghanistan and plenty of lesser adventures in Africa and elsewhere in their self-declared war on terrorism), Europeans are left wondering what will be next. Optimist hawks point to the new relevance of NATO with the joining of previously neutral Sweden and Finland. I am not so optimistic. Two points may be made here:

1. Such NATO expansion confirms Russia’s worst existential fears: NATO is not about coexistence with Russia (or China) but about further expansion of a US-led block that refuses to accept the fact that the world has, de facto, become multipolar: one world, many cultures, different political systems. Unlike China, the West refuses to move beyond ideology and focus on peaceful coexistence and work towards “the greatest good for the greatest number.” I am quoting the English philosopher Jeremy Bentham here. I am doing so very consciously: when talking liberal ideologies or democratic values and all that, it is always useful to go back to the original liberal and utilitarian views that inspired our societies rather than refer to some kind of new variant of it (think of the American Dream or other modern rephrasing of the values of democracy and freedom).

2. Ukraine no longer needs NATO. NATO is irrelevant: it is mainly the US that is providing the sophisticated multi-billion dollar weapon systems that Ukraine has been asking for. The Ukrainian Army is now one of the most powerful armies in the world (much behind the US but probably at par with European countries such as Germany, France and the UK). That is not because of European support, which is counted not in billions but in millions. That is also not because of NATO support (there is none). It is because the US decided to just take over. After its pull-out from Afghanistan, it is rather convenient to have the old enemy back again: Russia.

And now China is back as the number one enemy well. Good old bad China. And good old bad Russia. The war on terror became a bit difficult to defend domestically anyway. So we are back to the future. Or back to the past: a new Cold War with supposedly communist and dictatorial regimes that supposedly threaten our lifestyle, culture and freedom.

There are a few differences, however. Back in 1989, when the Tiananmen protests were suppressed and led to a profound restructuring of China’s economic and political system, China’s population was the largest in the world (as it is now, even if India, which did not manage to make the demographic transition, will soon have even more people to feed than China), but its gross domestic product (GDP) was only the world’s ninth largest. China’s GDP is now commensurate with its population: measured in purchasing power parity terms, it is now the largest economy in the world.  

A somewhat more relevant difference is that trust in the US acting as a benevolent protector of world peace and stability has been eroded. I do not have any statistics on this but I would not be surprised if confidence levels would now resemble those of Americans themselves: a 2021 Reuters-Oxford study shows less than 30% of US citizens trust what they are being told by their own media outlets. I quote: “The United States ranks last in media trust — at 29% — among 92,000 news consumers surveyed in 46 countries, a report released [last year] found. That’s worse than Poland, worse than the Philippines, worse than Peru. Finland leads at 65%.” Now that I look at it again, I see that the 2022 report is out. There is no improvement: “Only 26% of Americans trust news generally.” That is a 3-point decrease and still the lowest figure in the sample. If US citizens do not trust their own government and/or media, why would we?

I am not a China expert but, from what I read and know about the political system in China (and from discussions with Chinese friends here in Brussels), I have more trust in China’s one-party democracy than in the two-party cut-throat system in the US. Just for the record and to be clear on where I stand here: I do not have such trust in Russia’s political system: President Putin must end the war and Russia’s political system will have to change and evolve with the times. I am not talking regime change here: I am just talking plain sensible domestic reforms, just like what China does. Putin has got what he wanted: a large land corridor to the Black Sea which, yes, is vital to Russia’s interests (historically speaking, the Crimea is Russian). So, yes, now it is time for Mr. Putin to back off and for both sides to cut a painful but acceptable deal ending the killing and suffering.

I had hoped Mr. Biden and Mr. Jinpeng would have worked together to jointly convince Mr. Putin of such point of view, broker some armistice and freeze the conflict so as to stabilize Russia’s economy and stop hurting citizens on either side, but Ms. Pelosi’s unannounced and totally random visit to Taipei dashed all hopes in that regard. One can only conclude that Uncle Sam loves and hates the good old bad Russians so much that he is happy to be at war with them again. So where are we headed, then?

1. As mentioned above, as a European, you may think that NATO is relevant again and that our governments doubling defense spending will make things better but that is a mirage (meaning: an optical illusion). NATO is irrelevant. Us buying more guns or having more nuclear-tipped missiles on our soil makes zero difference in terms of posture or possible deterrence of any security threat that may or may not be out there.

2. The largest threats to world peace and security now are, without doubt, flashpoints in Asia. Such threats range from Iran over Pakistan and India (tensions between those two countries can also not be analyzed without taking China into account) all the way to the Pacific Ocean with, yes, the Taiwan Strait and North Korea as the most ‘clear and present danger’ to peace and stability in Asia.

I am not worried about these threats. To be blunt: they are none of our business. They may have been our business 30 years ago, back in the old days of this Cold War between East and West. Today, we are well into the 21st century and that is a entirely new era in which we should just tag along with whatever happens around us. To be extremely blunt and very clear on where I stand on this: there is absolutely no reason whatsoever why we Europeans would want to be dragged into the next war which, as outlined above, is likely to be in Asia. For example, why would we or our sons want to get killed in the defense of, say, Taiwan against a Chinese invasion? We only need Taiwan’s microchips, right? Why would we care if those are produced in China or in Taiwan or in some kind of new Greater China? Also, South Korea is well equipped to deal with a conventional challenge from the North. No reason for us to get involved.

Having said that, wars always have a tendency of spiralling out of control and that is why we should be worried. We can, therefore, only hope that China will effectively maintain the status quo and continue its long-held goals of peaceful coexistence – as it did when Hong Kong ceased to be a British colony and went back to the mainland as per the terms of the 1898 lease agreement between what was then Qing China and the United Kingdom (one country, two systems).

So what role is there for Europe and the US then? There is none. In my previous post, I wrote this: “It is about time that China, Korea and Japan find the peace they never had – still mourning the injustices of the second world war – a war that was not theirs to choose. This Taiwan crisis makes it clear that the US has outplayed its role in the East. The Europeans remain powerless in the middle (but Europe has plenty of brains and true multiculturality to offer). Peace in Asia will be peace for the world – and the only nations that can bring it to Asia are Asian countries.”

Two friends of mine (one Korean, one Belgian) told me such view is naive. So be it. I tell my kids not to worry about war in Africa or Asia. In contrast, war in Europe – as we have now – is an obvious worry, but dropping more and more multi-billion arms packages in there and refusing to talk to Russia (and China) – as the US Secretary of State did when he had a golden chance to talk to his Russian and Chinese counterparts but did not grasp it two days ago (at the occasion of the East Asia Summit) – is not a great way of starting to deal with it.

[I am polite and phrasing this very euphemistically. Think about it honestly: who was/is not talking to whom here? Also, if Ms. Pelosi would be serious about peace and democracy in Asia and, perhaps, want to talk about things she does not like about China, then why did she not want to see Xi Jinpeng himself and/or his much beloved (in China, that is) wife Peng Liyuan while flying around in the region there? Knowing a thing or two about protocol and hospitality in Asia, I am sure she would have been well received. Anyone who knows Asia, knows how important it is to respect protocol and, surely, how to avoid a loss of face, which is exactly what she caused: a loss of face for China. This is not going to be fixed or pardoned any time soon. Diplomacy is wasted now.]

In short, yes, it is back to the future, with one big difference: we should not trust the US to defend our interests anymore. We should do that ourselves. And we can do that by staying clear from irking large and powerful nations such as China and Russia: let them run their country the way they see fit. Let us accept to live in this multipolar but largely peaceful world and accept diversity: many cultures, different systems of governance, and all the richness that comes with it. We do not need a global cop. Especially not a global cop that keeps repeating the same line over and over again: “You are either with us or against us.” It may be a military principle (not part of Sun Tzu’s rather successful Art of War principles, however), but politics – national or international – simply do not work that way. We can self-regulate based on well-established international rules: territorial integrity, non-interference in domestic affairs, no extrajudicial killings in foreign lands, etcetera. Global cowboys have no place in such system. If the US would want to be constructive, it could, possibly, lead the way if it wants to by, for example, bringing its own defense budget closer to the NATO average rather than us ramping it up.

[…] Hey ! I like that idea ! That is a nice compromise to offer to the US telling us to arm up, isn’t it? We go up if you come down ! I really like that idea. It would make us feel safer. It would also make NATO look more like a true alliance. Consider this: when the US went to fight the Taliban in Afghanistan, they just dragged all NATO countries with them. It was qualified and justified as an ‘out of area’ NATO operation with, of course, most of the command and control done by the US. The NATO Council members were bullied into it and justified it legally to the taxpayers and other audiences by a reference to the war on terrorism which, as far as I know, has no real legal basis from an international law point of view. But that was it. I was there too for my own country (Belgium) and it was all very interesting. But so now we have a real war much closer to Brussels or Berlin or Paris and London but NATO shits in its pants and leaves the war to international volunteers and, yes, the US.

I went to Ukraine too, by the way. Unofficially, this time around. And only very briefly, back in March. As a volunteer fighter. Yes. Watch this newsreel if you do not believe me: I am featured in it, shortly after we went underground after a Russian missile strike on our training basis. I could see all those guns coming in after a month or so, plus a lot of other people who were either more naive or – the opposite – much more useful than me, and so I decided to come back home. Not because I got scared (I stayed much longer than others) but because I was not needed: there were enough guns coming in and, yes, more than enough other volunteers who, unlike me (I was just a diplomat in Afghanistan doing civ-mil cooperation as Belgium’s chargé d’affaires), had real combat experience and better reasons to not like the Russians. I think of the many Georgians joining the Legion, for example. And, yes, many crazy Americans with no knowledge of the law of war and no respect whatsoever for the enemy (they found it strange, for example, when I would remind them of the fact that Russian soldiers were also fathers or sons and were not at the front because they wanted to be at the front – unlike them trigger-happy American volunteers). :-/

OK. Let me get back to the point instead of talking personal stories. The point is this: if the Russian invasion of Ukraine is a clear and present danger but NATO does not want to get involved because it got cold feet after the failure of the Afghanistan operation (what were we doing there, anyway?), then what is the use of NATO? It is a bit hard to not conclude that it currently just serves as some kind of collective market for buying US defense equipment, right? That is another reason why I am against a rise in defense spending:

1. It does not make us safer (see above).

2. I do not think European taxpayer money should be used to enrich the shareholders of US defense companies and further strengthen what the great American general Eisenhower and then US President warned his own countrymen for back in 1961: the growing military-industrial complex and its influence on politics.

It is now clear that Eisenhower’s nightmare has become true: the US military-industrial complex is now a fully-fledged military-industrial-political complex. Democrats or Republicans make no difference any more, as evidenced from the GOP praise for Ms. Pelosi’s brinkmanship. All leading US politicians are anti-China and, therefore, there is little hope either of the two parties will contribute much to peace and stability in Asia. If, as is very likely judging from the polls, we will see a lame duck government in the US after the November elections (when Republicans are likely to take over US Congress), Republicans and Democrats are likely to agree on the following: keep increasing the already enormous US Defense budget, keep pestering China, keep the war in Ukraine going and, possibly, send troops to other flashpoints (there is plenty of choice in Africa, and no one really cares about that continent anyway – except for China, perhaps).

Does this sound arrogant? Probably. Most probably. Plain arrogant. You are right. However, having survived a suicide attack, multiple RPG barrages, cross-fire, and other hazards in Afghanistan as well as, more recently, a missile strike in Ukraine as part of the volunteer International Legion in Ukraine (that strike made hundreds of casualties but I was lucky, again), I think I have the right to speak up and repeat the core message of my previous post: Yankee, please go home. You are not helpful when it comes to avoiding, preventing, or mitigating conflicts, and you are surely not very helpful when it comes to trying to broker compromise and end conflict.

Yes, your army is more powerful than all other armies combined and does easily ‘win’ wars in true Blitzkrieg style (‘shock and awe’ tactics as you call it). However, you have demonstrated that you never ever win the peace that should necessarily follow. The Cold War was followed by a very cold peace, and now you have turned back into another Cold War. Worse, proxy wars have given way to a real war with Russia. Its start was Russia’s mistake, for sure. But the multi-billion dollar equipment packages and the trainers that come with it do not help in bringing it to an end. That requires hard-nosed diplomacy, and the Pelosi visit shows you do not want to use that. So please stay away then and stop fueling fires. Surely avoid starting new fires. It is simply too hot right now. Also, one of the many Afghan sayings I learned from my 12 years there (7 years permanently and 5 years on and off) is this: jangal ke dar gereft, khushk o tar mesoza. Literally translated it means this: “If a forest catches fire, both the dry and the wet will burn up.” We Europeans really do not want any forest to burn. Forest fires are hard to control. :-/

Yankee, go home!

I find China’s official statement on Pelosi’s visit to Taiwan and the comments of the Chinese Ambassador to the US reasonable and well-founded. There can be no excuse or reference to the separation of executive and representative branches (President versus Speaker of the House) within the US system of governance: Mr. Biden and Ms. Pelosi are jointly leading the governing political party in the United States of America and, hence, one cannot believe that these two leaders were not agreed on the visit.

Of course, you may have this rather obvious but totally irrelevant question: Ms. Pelosi should be able to visit Taiwan just like any other political leader, from the US or not – right? No. Wrong. Why now? What purpose did it serve? What issue or problem did it solve? None. This is not like you and me going wherever we would like to go. It was an official trip. You need an invitation, and it had better serve a purpose. What was the purpose here? What need was there to antagonize China – especially in light of the dreadful war with Russia that is currently harming the whole world, and in which China could possibly mediate?

Also, think practical here: if you must go somewhere – in person – but you need to take three warships and an aircraft carrier along to protect you (plus travel in a military plane with more military planes as escort), then it is pretty obvious that you are not very welcome and that you should send someone else (someone who does not need all that armor – a trusted representative, for example) to deliver whatever message you felt you had to deliver there. Right? I do not go to places where I would need a gun to feel safe. So why did Pelosi take so many guns with her? She now says she did not want to change the status quo? What a blatant lie! Her visit tried to do just that – change the status quo – just like Newt Gingrich’s visit back in 1997 tried to do!

The facts are the facts, and they are crystal clear to me: this visit was an American provocation on China. It was a very raw and very blatant intrusion into China’s national security sphere – if not physically (it was physical in terms of America’s ‘One China’ policy, right?) then – at the very least – it was a psychological and diplomatic intrusion. There are no other words that can possibly start to describe such foolish international brinkmanship. Ms. Pelosi literally behaved like a mad cowboy: shoot first, think later.

The only reasonable explanation for this visit – which, despite its obvious sensitivity and the potential for rapidly escalating conflict, was kept unannounced till it happened – are the polls in the runup to the US elections in November (all 435 seats in the House of Representatives and 35 of the 100 seats in the Senate are up for grabs). The US Democratic Party is not doing well in these polls (see an overview of them here) and, therefore, thinks it is wise to amplify Trump’s anti-China rhetoric or – an event that got less attention – fire missiles into the heart of Kabul to kill a US-listed terrorist (which is sure to be replaced and will only breed more terrorism). Mr. Biden can now also claim that he is not shy of personally authorizing the extrajudicial killing of a criminal, just like Mr. Donald Trump. One of the basic principles for justice – enshrined in both national as well as international law is this: the end (bringing a criminal to justice) does not justify the means (firing missiles into a country that you are not at war with, in this particular case).

Mimicking Trump’s anti-China talk and foreign policy is a poor idea, if only because the original in politics is always more convincing. It is an easy game, of course: China’s reaction is as predictable as Russia’s (predictability is at least one advantage of the leadership of these large powers). Fortunately, China and Taiwan (and Japan and Korea and other Asian countries as well) need each other more than they need the US. That is the only reason why I am confident the Taiwan crisis will not trigger yet another war.

The damage that has been done is of a totally different order: it has hurt US credibility as a predictable and constructive partner in a world that – since the restructuring of international politics when the Berlin Wall came down, followed by the Tiananmen protests and the subsequent restructuring of the Chinese political and economic system in the 1990s – has become truly multipolar. Most countries – more importantly, most of their citizens – accepted this: multiple political and economic systems coexisting peacefully alongside and accepting each other’s diversity. There is no place for ideology or senseless defence of meaningless ideals in this brave new modern world. [I always disagreed with the take of Fukuyama and other intellectuals on this: liberalism is, clearly, far from being the only viable or even most preferred system for organizing society. In addition, if liberalism is what the US stands for, I do not want it: it justifies gun ownership and other illiberal things threatening the freedom and safety of individual citizens there.]

Ms. Pelosi had a very distinguished career and has done a lot of good. I have always admired her – but now I find it sad she has become the person who delivered the final blow to US credibility as the wannabe Global Policeman in this new world. Such policeman is needed, but it cannot be the US. Not after this display of international brinkmanship and erratic behavior. I have worked on US contracts and with the best of US diplomats and military in Afghanistan, but now I must say: “Yankee, it is time to go home. Please take your nuclear weapons on Belgian soil with you.” [If you find the latter remark offensive, it may help to know that I briefly made myself a member of the Green Party in Belgium when I was young (so that was in the 1980s). Not because I am anti-nuclear (on the contrary: I am a firm believer in peaceful nuclear energy) but because their anti-nuclear position was rooted in the peace movement. It find it strange how the Left and green activists, de facto, moved away from their belief in a just international peace based on coexistence and global disarmament over the past decades – but that is a different story which is of no relevance here.]

So, the question is this: now that Biden and Pelosi look like old (possibly dementing?) but very dangerous random leaders fueling all flames they can possibly fuel, what non-American leader(s) – or what nations – can fill the gap? As for leaders, I honestly think that Xi Jinping has shown more leadership and wisdom over the past ten years than any other world leader. China fueled growth in the world over the past decades. China now plays a moderating role in the war with Russia. China engaged in climate talks – since a decade – and is serious about its green revolution. China invests more in infrastructure in poor African countries – still reeling from Europe’s colonial adventures – than any other country does. China engages seriously in international disarmament talks and nuclear safety. China shares technology. I can mention many more examples of constructive and predictable behavior. Chinese people abroad are generally proud and happy (I know quite a few here in Brussels). More than the typical American or European. Mr Biden and Ms Pelosi: can you please explain what it is that China is not doing right according to you? To my European friends: what exactly are you afraid of when you think of China? Frankly, I have no idea. You tell me. I lived in Asia and I also spent a few years in the US before coming back home here in Brussels. I might go back to Asia but I will never ever use my green card again.

As for countries, it cannot be China alone. For my Asian friends who are reading this: it is about time that China, Korea and Japan find the peace they never had – still mourning the injustices of the second world war – a war that was not theirs to choose. This Taiwan crisis makes it clear that the US has outplayed its role in the East. The Europeans remain powerless in the middle (but Europe has plenty of brains and true multiculturality to offer). Peace in Asia will be peace for the world – and the only nations that can bring it to Asia are Asian countries. You will say: what about North Korea and other political headaches? I personally think North Korea is as big a headache for China as it is for Korea (and other Asian countries). What can Xi Jinping do about it? Kill its leaders (like the Americans killing Al Qaeda leaders with missiles in the heart of Kabul – after their shameful withdrawal)? No. That is not an option. That is not how things should be done. Those are terror tactics and terrorism breeds terrorism. I know those are bold words but I am not mincing them. Asia’s leaders need to sit together and lead – not only to safeguard Asia’s future but the future of the world as a whole. And even if they can only safeguard Asia’s future, that will already be good: when everything is said and done, that is 60% of the world population already. 🙂

I am confident that Asian political leaders can sit together and jointly decide to accelerate the pace of growth in a better integrated Asia (and the world as a whole) by acknowledging the scars from past wars that were not theirs to fight and focus on economic, cultural and societal commonalities rather than political divisions. The graph below shows the lead of Chinese, Korean and Taiwanese firms in the 5G revolution that is driving Web 3.0 platforms – the current engine of growth in the world economy. [By the way, Qualcomm and Intel are listed as US companies but – just like Nokia and Ericsson – most of their factories are in China or Taiwan.]

The graph also shows why keeping Huawei (or other Chinese companies) out of European 5G and high tech markets is a bad idea. US tech is losing out. China has become so much more than just the ‘factory of the world’: China’s companies (and – yes – Taiwan’s hubs in nanometer tech manufacturing) are currently driving innovation in this brave new world. Starting a tech, trade or business war with China is probably the worst American idea ever, but then the US seems to be racking up patents on stupid ideas now: antagonizing China and dropping more and more multi-billion arms packages in Ukraine is not a great way to start dealing with the many crises that this world faces.

One last remark: I do not agree with Blinken’s remarks on China’s reaction to Pelosi’s visit being disproportionate. Anyone who lived or lives in Asia knows how important face is in Asia. Pelosi’s visit made China lose face. Diplomacy now is wasted. I do not justify the behavior from either side here, but I do understand how poor action can trigger even worse reaction. I hope the European Union will act wiser and work towards peace both with Russia and China. When everything is said and done, these two countries are neighbors and we have to live with them. The US, in contrast, is a long flight across the ocean.

[…] So, what is next? China’s military exercises are scheduled to end tomorrow, Sunday 7 August. It may or may not be the end of Chinese retaliatory action. That is up for Xi Jinpeng to decide. Some more practice may be needed. Mr. Jinpeng faces reelection himself and – just like Mr. Biden and Ms. Pelosi – he should do what he thinks his people want him to do as their leader. If that is to make the US or Taiwan pay some prize for the humiliation, then that is what it is. In fact, it is rather ironic but, if the US wanted change in Beijing, then this visit backfired on this front as well: Ms. Pelosi’s visit has strongly bolstered Mr. Jinpeng’s chances of an easy reelection to a third term as President of China. Just go on TikTok and look at the discussion threads there on the topic, and you will see that (lots of great cartoons there, by the way). When everything is said and done, not all is perfect in China, and Mr. Jinpeng’s handling of the COVID crisis in China had led to resentment. Now he is the Paramount Leader again, and rightly so: unlike Ms. Pelosi, he acted statesmanlike.

So, yes, Ms. Pelosi’s visit has offered Mr. Jinpeng a chance to demonstrate true leadership in difficult times, and he is doing that very well: he could have easily taken the Kinmen Islands, for example. He did not. That is wise. It is another reason why her Taiwan visit may well be qualified as the dumbest diplomatic idea and the worst international blunder of the US in the 21st century so far. Although it is hard to compare, of course: the illegal and unilateral US invasion of Iraq and the dragging of all NATO countries into Afghanistan (even if that was borderline legal) must rank pretty high on the list of America’s 21st century failures as well. :-/

Post scriptum: I do recognize a generation of American soldiers that is now gone paid a heavy prize for our European freedom, but my father and grandfather (both of whom are long dead now but would often talk about the sufferings of the world war) would always remind me of the prize which other countries paid when telling their stories about it. This is the ranking: the Soviet Union comes first (20 to 27 million dead), and then it is… […] China ! 15 to 20 million dead. Both China and the Soviet Union were wracked by famine and disease during the war, so some experts believe the countries’ civilian casualty numbers may actually be significantly underestimated. And yes, third is Germany itself, of course (6 to 7.4 million), followed by Poland (5.9 to 6 million), the Dutch East Indies – now Indonesia (3 to 4 million), Japan (2.5 to 3.1 million), India (2.2 to 3 million), Yugoslavia (1 to 1.7 million), French Indochina (Laos, Cambodia, (part of) Vietnam) (1 to 2.2 million) and, finally, France (600,000), the UK and the US (both lost well over 400,000 people in that war). It is an interesting historical perspective. In any case, the idea that we should trust the US to defend our freedom is totally gone now for me. I have seen them win wars – in Blitzkrieg style or, as the US military calls it, ‘shock and awe‘ tactics – but where did they ever win the peace that one would expect to follow? The world does not want the US to play the global cop. Come to think of it: did we ever? The title of this post refers to an immediate post-war sentiment: American soldiers were welcome but we did not ask them to stay on.

So, yes, yankee: please stay at home and let other countries and people get on with it. Also, if possible, please also refrain from firing missiles from ‘beyond the horizon’ into lands and territories that are not yours. What if China or Russia would start doing that? It is worse than some secret service poisoning someone, right? Start applying internationally lawful principles to try to get things done. Start respecting Sun Tzu’s very first principle of the Art of War: stay on the right side of the Moral Law, and that moral law has nothing to do with the American Dream or way of living. The method matters more than the goal now. Violence is not the way to go: any gunman knows that a gun draws a gun, so please stop using big guns to try to solve your problems – because you will draw other big guns. To put it differently: if your only tool is a hammer, then every problem looks like a nail. So, if your only tool is a gun, then… Well… Then everyone looks like your enemy, right? So, dear Uncle Sam, just stop thinking like that, please ! :-/ European soldiers fought alongside Americans in wars like the Korean one (1950-1953) and, recently, in Afghanistan. I doubt any European would want to fight another war in Asia now.

As for advice on how to possibly mend relations, I can only quote another simple truth: if you find yourself in a hole, stop digging. Stop adding insult to injury. Perhaps Ms. Pelosi could plan a trip to Beijing next time? If she is serious about democracy and peace in Asia, she should fly back to Asia and talk to Mr. Jinpeng too. Would he receive her now? I am not sure but – knowing a few things about Asia and China from my time spent there – I think he would. 🙂 They could exchange some presents like sashes and other decorative items and do some speeches too. Ms. Pelosi could also meet Mr. Jinpeng’s wife Peng Liyuan. She is a powerful woman too, perhaps even more powerful than Ms. Pelosi (I am not sure where both are on the rankings of powerful women but they should be pretty close). 🙂