Michael Eriksson's Blog

A Swede in Germany

Et tu, socie!

with one comment

Over the last few years, I have increasingly suspected that much of international politics goes back to attempts to hinder potential competitors—even when these are not known hostiles; maybe, even when they are outright allies.

This especially when we move from mere hard competition to cheating a la Dick Dastardly: Various acts can be classified based on the degree that they have a “good for me” or a “bad for you” intention, and the degree that they amount to “fair play” or “unfair play”. Having a better motor in a car race is “good for me” and (if within the rules) “fair play”;* sabotaging the motor of the main competitor is “bad for you” and “unfair play”. The main point of this text is the underlying intent of preserving or creating an own power advantage; however, this only truly becomes notable when one or both of the “bad for you” and “unfair play” components is/are strong.

*And that various countries try to gain equivalent advantages, in order to “win” in international politics/trade/whatnot, borders on a given—just as it borders on a given that a racing team will try to get the best motor that rules, budget, time, and whatnot allow. The point of this text goes beyond that.

In some cases, such as the U.S. and the USSR during the Cold War, between two clear enemies, there is nothing unexpected and this text would border on the pointless, were that all there was. The same applies if we look at e.g. Rome and Carthage or two rivaling cities in ancient Greece. Even looking at the current U.S. and the current China, strong rivals and borderline enemies (or, maybe, “enemies waiting to happen”), this is not truly remarkable.

However, consider the U.S. and Russia in the era after the Cold War. Technically, they are not (pre-Ukraine, at least) enemies, Russia is too weak to realistically challenge for number one,* and they have much to gain from trade and cooperation. But say that the U.S. wants to keep a future strong competitor down, especially with an eye at a potential strengthening of inter-BRICS cooperation, an outright alliance between Russia and e.g. one of the other BRICS countries, or a re-expansion of Russia to include more of the old Soviet territory. Now view the unusually large involvement of the U.S. and allies in the Ukraine in this light. (Both with regard to the current war and the events leading up to this war.) Suddenly, it is much easier to understand, even for those sceptical to the rhetoric.** Similarly, the general drift to expand NATO (even after the disappearance of the Warsaw Pact) to almost anyone willing, except for Russia, is easy to understand under the premise that Russia is to be prevented from growing in power.***

*At least, within the even remotely foreseeable future. Its landmass and natural resources are enormous, but the population is considerably smaller than the U.S. one, while China’s is several times larger than the U.S. population. China might gain the upper hand through a mixture of improved productivity and superior numbers, even should that productivity remain well below U.S. norms. Russia does not have that option.

**In terms of intent. Whether it actually achieves that intent might be disputed.

***However, another angle to this is that NATO would border on the pointless, if everyone, or even just everyone powerful, was a member.

Other examples can be more subtle. I have, for instance, heard speculation that the U.S. would have been deliberately manoeuvring the EU and/or Germany into making poor decisions, with an endgame of preserving U.S. dominance, even in light of a growing EU.* There are certainly oddities in the U.S. behavior towards the declining British Empire post-WWII, including during the Suez crisis. Said British Empire** vs. colonial India might be another example: India is one of the cases*** where colonialism almost certainly did more harm than good, and there is reason to believe that this was not just a side-effect of exploitation but involved a deliberate strategy of holding back, maybe even disabling, a country**** that, looking at size and stage of development, might have grown into a global competitor.

*But note that I, here and elsewhere, am open to other explanations that cover a similar set of observations, including that too many politicians are too incompetent.

**The largest culprit, at any given time, would likely tendentially be the strongest power (or the strongest power within a certain sphere). The repeated references to the U.S. above should not necessarily be taken to imply that the U.S. is particular Dastardly in its character—it might well be a case of having the influence and the opportunities to implement a strategy that e.g. Sweden could not. Go back a bit and the British Empire was the strongest power around.

***Leftist propaganda likes to claim that colonialism did great damage without exception, but this simply does not match reality.

****It might be simplistic to view the India of yore as a single country in terms of “political entity”, but the general idea still holds.

One of the seemingly* greatest puzzles of history is why the Brits and the French originally declared war on Nazi-Germany but left the Soviet Union alone (indeed, later were allies with the Soviet Union against Nazi-Germany). Half of Poland was swallowed by the Soviets; the Soviets had been similarly expansive to and, until that date, more oppressive and genocidal than the Nazis; and the rest of 20th-century history shows that Communism almost certainly was a larger threat to humanity than Nazism was. With hindsight, it would have been better or much better, had the Brits and French sided, at least for the time being, with the Nazis to take out Communism instead of with Communism to take out Nazism.

*For those seeing through the more than eighty years of propaganda that the Nazis were an unparalleled evil, never seen before or after. Evil, yes. Unparalleled? Sadly, no. Stalin, Mao, Pol Pot, and their respective regimes immediately spring to mind—and there are plenty of others.

However, if we assume, which was likely plausible at the time, that Germany was seen as a greater threat in terms of being a rival “Great Power”, with an eye at international clout, military strength, and, likely, above all industrial potential, this seems less mysterious. Factor in the greater physical proximity,* which made Germany a more urgent competitor, and the mystery grows even smaller. (Of course, other factors that are off topic for this text might also be relevant, notably the 19th-century conflicts between France and Germany resp. the resulting animosity.)

*Mostly, in terms of homelands, obviously, but even in terms of current and potential future colonial areas, there was almost certainly less proximity between the French and the Soviets, and likely even the Brits and the Soviets.

An important political lesson is that we can never take the risk to consider another country more than a temporary ally. If in doubt, today’s true and genuine friend* might cease to be so tomorrow, even through something as trivial as a change in rulers after the next election.

*And even with true and genuine friends, as in real life, it is important to remember that there might still be strong differences in opinions and interests, where the one might act contrary to the interests of, or be upset over actions by, the other. Even the famed Thatcher–Reagan friendship had its stumbling blocks, e.g. Grenada.

Another lesson is that we must not be naive about the intentions of other countries, or their willingness to act cooperatively and in good faith. Trust can be a good thing up to a certain point, but it most not turn into the type of naivety that turns us into patsies.

Excursion on other areas:
Similar observations, if on a lesser scale, hold in many other areas, notably business and national politics. Cheating in the manner of Dick Dastardly in car racing, however, is unlikely to be much of an issue, as the chance of being caught is large and the consequences of being caught could be career ending. (A more subtle or more indirect version of Dick Dastardly might or might not have some chance at success, e.g. one who does not sabotage a motor but who manages to hit the competition on the business level.)

A key original idea was the manipulation and/or sabotage of nominal allies/friends. As I realize during proof-reading, I have undershot the mark and to a too large part given examples between more obvious rivals. (In part, because obvious examples are inherently easier to find and involve less speculation.) For reasons of time, I will not attempt to rework the text.


Written by michaeleriksson

December 18, 2022 at 1:35 pm

One Response

Subscribe to comments with RSS.

  1. […] I said in a footnote to my previous text, “note that I, here and elsewhere, am open to other explanations that cover a similar set of […]

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: