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). 🙂