Sunday 12 July 2020

Cuba, Novichok, HK law and Galwan ( Sunday Guardian)


Hong Kong security law has ensured that Xi has joined Putin in the list of leaders with whom real compromise with the US and its allies is no longer possible.

Most of us wish to believe what we wish to believe. Even after the invasion of Poland by Nazi Germany in 1939, and the subsequent conquest of Belgium and the Netherlands, both as Prime Minister and later as a member of the War Cabinet, Neville Chamberlain and several others in the highest rung of the Conservative Party believed that Hitler could be trusted to agree to an honourable settlement with London. From the start of his interaction with Hitler, Chamberlain’s obsession was to save the British from another world war, and to keep the hope for this alive, he (along with the French) lost opportunity after opportunity to prevent Hitler from plunging Europe into conflict by defeating his forces when they were still vulnerable to a crippling first strike. Of course, it may be argued that the British and French people were weary of war, and may not have been happy if hostilities were initiated by the Anglo-French alliance. However, the reality is that the fact of war (once launched) becomes a self-perpetuating elixir of excited aggression among the population. Had Chamberlain been of the same mind as Winston Churchill so far as the Nazis were concerned, he would have educated the British public on the depravity of “Der Fuehrer” and prepared them for a battle that would have in 1936 (the Rhineland) or in 1938 (an attack by France and the UK in coordination with the defence of their country by the Czechs) led to the humiliation of the Wehrmacht and the downfall of Hitler, who would have entered the history books as just another windbag. More, much more, than the absorption of the Sudetenland by Germany, it was the subsequent occupation of the now helpless rump state of “Czechia” (as Hitler termed it) which convinced ordinary people in the UK (though possibly not in the much more inward-looking France of the time) that Hitler was not to be trusted. That he was a tyrant. From that time, Chamberlain’s tenure as Prime Minister was doomed, with only the grandees in his party refusing to acknowledge it. More and more, not just ordinary people but the middle class and finally a growing section of Whitehall believed that Churchill was right in warning about Hitler and pointing to the need to stop him in his tracks, if needed by force. And that Chamberlain was wrong in his almost pathetic efforts at seeking an “honourable” accommodation with the dictator of Germany, a man who for most of his life regarded the concept of honour as excess baggage.

Although CPSU General Secretary Nikita S. Khruschev’s climb-down in the 1962 Cuba missile crisis may have prevented a military showdown with the US (which would almost certainly not have crossed into the nuclear zone, given the knowledge both Khruschev and President John F. Kennedy had about the consequences of such a war). However, the fact that the impression grew exponentially in the US that the USSR had been within an inch of unleashing a hail of nuclear-tipped missiles on the US, ensured that from that time onwards, the constituency within the US in favour of seeking cooperation with the Soviet Union, rather than a Cold War, shrank and shrank again. Thus was launched the arms race and the containment of the USSR, a strategy that in several particulars continues to be followed by the NATO allies despite the dissolution of the Soviet Union in 1992. But what was the spark that ensured the renewal of the Cold War between Moscow and the bigger countries of West Europe? More than the retaking of the Crimea or the further carving up of the Ukraine by effectively detaching a Russified zone from the country as a riposte to Kiev seeking to integrate into the EU and NATO through street-induced regime change, it was the attempted murder of Sergei Skripal in early 2018 that poisoned relations between Vladimir Putin and the US and UK establishments. It was not expected that the custom of sparing an agent who had been exchanged for another in a swap would be broken in such a diabolic manner. It may be that President Vladimir Putin himself had no role in the Skripal attempted murder, but it has been difficult to find an individual who does not believe his was the order that sent the poisoners to Salisbury on their mission. From that time onwards, barring Donald J. Trump (who seems in awe of the muscular judoka), the leaders of several countries regard Putin as an individual who can resort to anything, and hence to the conclusion that the world would be better served were he to somehow be removed from office. If President Putin once had a chance to be a friend of the Atlantic Alliance, the Skripal attempted assassination snuffed that out, leaving him with no option but to fasten his colours to the mast of CCP General Secretary Xi Jinping.

Again despite the gushing admiration for Xi expressed so often and so fondly by Donald Trump, leaders of the Atlantic Alliance regard him much as they do President Putin, as an individual who they can never really reconcile with. The moment when this perception hardened into concrete was 1 July, the day when the Hong Kong security law came into force in the former British colony. As in the other instances of such a definitive change of mood, much of it is driven by popular feelings about Xi and the determined manner in which he has been seeking solutions entirely—repeat, entirely—favourable to his perception of Chinese interests in disputes with several countries, as distinct from the more emollient outcomes favoured by the previous hyper-powerful Chinese leader, Deng Xiaoping. The transfer of the judicial system of Hong Kong to the PRC model rather than retaining its own has ensured that Xi has joined Putin in the list of leaders with whom real compromise with the US and several of its allies is no longer possible. And on 15 June 2020, the loss of twenty courageous Indian soldiers may ensure that from now onwards the Russia-India-China triumvirate is comatose. While Russia-China is strong, especially with Putin and Xi at the helm, and Russia-India beats strongly in the hearts of many in the Lutyens Zone, who see scant difference between the 1970s and 2020 where Moscow is concerned, the dream of Chindia or India-China may have fallen through the crevices of the Galwan attack.

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