Gorbachev: “It All Looks as if the World Is Preparing for War” (24/02/2017)

 Thakur points out the risk of falling victim to the Thucydides Trap, while Hasegawa warns the continued defiance of Kantian imperative and freedom will lead to armed conflict.

(Source: Polity Press)

 In his opinion article in the January 26 edition of TIME Ideas, Mikhail Gorbachev, former President of the Soviet Union noted that “It All Looks as if the World Is Preparing for War” with the militarization of politics and the new arms race becoming more urgent. Nuclear threat seems once again real as NATO and Russian forces and weapons are now deployed so close to each other. Gorbachev suggests we must break out of this situation by resuming political dialogue aiming at joint decisions and joint action. To avoid confrontations among major powers, they should indeed focus first on fighting terrorism and then on preventing war among them by phasing out of arms race and reducing weapons arsenals.

 Noting Gorbachev`s warning, Ramesh Thakur of the Australian National University points out in his Japan Times article of 24 February 2017 the risk of falling victim to the Thucydides Trap, whereby most power transitions end in war. China and the United States are elbowing each other to assert primacy in the crowded Asia-Pacific region. Thakur sees the possibility for China to step into the leadership vacuum as the stabilizing power in the Asia-Pacific region and the custodian of the global commons in efforts to check the pace and impacts of climate change.

 Gorbachev suggests the Security Council meet at the level of heads of state and adopt a resolution that nuclear war is unacceptable and must never be fought. But Thakur considers Trump is openly hostile to and ready to cripple the UN system by threatening to cut funding to international organizations by up to 40 percent.

 According to my view, Trump`s disdain of multilateralism will induce him first to negotiate with Putin and Xi bilaterally only to find little sustainable results in any unilateral implementation of his vision. He may then recognize the merit of the United Nations and multilateral approach. But, if Trump continues his defiance of multilateralism and the Kantian imperative, he will not attain full freedom from himself and will end up igniting armed conflict. Gorbachev may indeed be right that the world is moving toward a global war if the leaders choose to ignore the lessons learned from the first and second world wars. To achieve sustainable peace, Hasegawa insists that the global leaders need to change their mindsets and visions of the world to allow mutual accommodation with full respect for the dignity of individuals regardless of race or religion. They must observe the obligations arising from treaties and international law and respect the diversity of mankind as called for in the Charter of the United Nations.

24 February 2017

Sukehiro Hasegawa
Global Peacebuilding Association

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 Please see below the full texts of the articles contributed by Gorbachev to TIME Idea and Thakur to the Japan Times.

TIME Ideas, Friday, Jan. 27, 2017
Mikhail Gorbachev: ‘It All Looks as if the World Is Preparing for War’
BY Mikhail Gorbachev

 The world today is overwhelmed with problems. Policymakers seem to be confused and at a loss.
But no problem is more urgent today than the militarization of politics and the new arms race. Stopping and reversing this ruinous race must be our top priority.
The current situation is too dangerous.

 More troops, tanks and armored personnel carriers are being brought to Europe. NATO and Russian forces and weapons that used to be deployed at a distance are now placed closer to each other, as if to shoot point-blank.

 While state budgets are struggling to fund people’s essential social needs, military spending is growing. Money is easily found for sophisticated weapons whose destructive power is comparable to that of the weapons of mass destruction; for submarines whose single salvo is capable of devastating half a continent; for missile defense systems that undermine strategic stability.

 Politicians and military leaders sound increasingly belligerent and defense doctrines more dangerous. Commentators and TV personalities are joining the bellicose chorus. It all looks as if the world is preparing for war.

It could have been different

 In the second half of the 1980s, together with the U.S., we launched a process of reducing nuclear weapons and lowering the nuclear threat. By now, as Russia and the U.S. reported to the Non-proliferation Treaty Review Conference, 80% of the nuclear weapons accumulated during the years of the Cold War have been decommissioned and destroyed. No one’s security has been diminished, and the danger of nuclear war starting as a result of technical failure or accident has been reduced.

 This was made possible, above all, by the awareness of the leaders of major nuclear powers that nuclear war is unacceptable.

 In November 1985, at the first summit in Geneva, the leaders of the Soviet Union and the U.S. declared: Nuclear war cannot be won and must never be fought. Our two nations will not seek military superiority. This statement was met with a sigh of relief worldwide.
I recall a Politburo meeting in 1986 at which the defense doctrine was discussed. The proposed draft contained the following language: “Respond to attack with all available means.” Members of the politburo objected to this formula. All agreed that nuclear weapons must serve only one purpose: preventing war. And the ultimate goal should be a world without nuclear weapons.

Breaking out of the vicious circle

 Today, however, the nuclear threat once again seems real. Relations between the great powers have been going from bad to worse for several years now. The advocates for arms build-up and the military-industrial complex are rubbing their hands.
We must break out of this situation. We need to resume political dialogue aiming at joint decisions and joint action.

 There is a view that the dialogue should focus on fighting terrorism. This is indeed an important, urgent task. But, as a core of a normal relationship and eventually partnership, it is not enough.

 The focus should once again be on preventing war, phasing out the arms race, and reducing weapons arsenals. The goal should be to agree, not just on nuclear weapons levels and ceilings, but also on missile defense and strategic stability.

 In modern world, wars must be outlawed, because none of the global problems we are facing can be resolved by war — not poverty, nor the environment, migration, population growth, or shortages of resources.

Take the first step

 I urge the members of the U.N. Security Council — the body that bears primary responsibility for international peace and security — to take the first step. Specifically, I propose that a Security Council meeting at the level of heads of state adopt a resolution stating that nuclear war is unacceptable and must never be fought.

 I think the initiative to adopt such a resolution should come from Donald Trump and Vladimir Putin — the Presidents of two nations that hold over 90% of the world’s nuclear arsenals and therefore bear a special responsibility.

 President Franklin D. Roosevelt once said that one of the main freedoms is freedom from fear.

 Today, the burden of fear and the stress of bearing it is felt by millions of people, and the main reason for it is militarism, armed conflicts, the arms race, and the nuclear Sword of Damocles. Ridding the world of this fear means making people freer. This should become a common goal. Many other problems would then be easier to resolve.

 The time to decide and act is now.

Mikhail Gorbachev was the president of the Soviet Union and is the author of The New Russia.

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The Japan Times, Thursday, Feb. 23, 2017
Trump’s assault on the liberal international order

 CANBERRA – There is considerable skepticism about U.S. President Donald Trump’s commitment to uphold the post-1945 liberal international order crafted under American leadership and underwritten by U.S. military power, economic heft and geopolitical clout. Trump’s pre-election statements on trade, immigration, alliances and nuclear policy in particular seemed to question these four critical pillars of established U.S. policy.

 While some lament “The End of the Anglo-American Order,” others are trying to discern the outlines of Trump’s new world order. Former Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev, jointly responsible for the peaceful end of the Cold War, thinks “the world is preparing for war.”

 Clearly, history likes irony: The president with the least previous foreign policy interest and experience could end up having the biggest impact on global affairs in a century.

 Trump’s election proved that a self-confident person can take on and win, despite near-unanimous opposition from the city-based mainstream media, by connecting directly with the voters in the hinterlands: a lesson that all Western politicians terrified of the 24-hour news cycle should heed. Trump took to heart and exploited the public’s 90 percent contempt for Congress and 85 percent distrust of the national press.

 One way or another, the world order — especially its post-1945 normative, security, trade and immigration architectures — is at an inflection point. Although early indications suggest that relations with Russia could normalize, the risk of falling victim to the Thucydides Trap, whereby most power transitions end in war, could increase as China and the United States elbow each other to assert primacy in the crowded Asia-Pacific region.

 China will step into the leadership vacuum as the stabilizing power in the Asia-Pacific region and — in another historical irony — as the custodian of the global commons in efforts to check the pace and impacts of climate change. Yet a question remains. International systems are more stable when the dominant power underwrites global public goods that many others access as free riders. In supporting the post-1945 order, the U.S. government functioned as the de facto world government in writing and policing global rules.

 Will China follow Britain and America in accepting this burden and can the U.S. acquiesce to playing second fiddle?

 Reversing more than seven decades of American policy, Trump has indicated fierce opposition to free trade agreements: Apparently only he can be trusted to negotiate deals that protect American interests. Soon after being sworn in, Trump issued an executive order pulling America out of the Trans-Pacific Partnership.

 Free trade agreements have in fact turned out to be investor-friendly and worker-hostile deals that enrich a shrinking economic elite, with a sideways flow of benefits to political and bureaucratic elites, while leaving wages stagnant and shredding jobs. These include the North American Free Trade Agreement, which aimed to create an integrated market linking production and consumption in Canada, Mexico and the U.S. This explains the paradox of manufacturing output doubling over the past dozen years even while manufacturing jobs dwindled.

 Trump heavily criticized both NAFTA and the TPP during the campaign, but because both have in fact been enormously beneficial to the U.S. — automation leading to increased machine-driven productive efficiency has shed more jobs than globalization — many assumed Trump would backtrack from campaign promises once he became president. Instead he has given every indication of intending to keep all his promises — a character trait so radical in contemporary politicians that it has shaken the entire Western world.

 Trump has queried the costs and benefits of two decades of U.S. military interventions after the Cold War. NATO’s support in most has been less than decisive while it has become the institutional vehicle for multiplying U.S. liabilities in countries of no vital interest to America. Trump claims foreign industry has been subsidized by the American taxpayer “at the expense of American industry” and argues that the U.S. has “subsidized the armies of other countries while allowing for the very sad depletion of our military.” Trump’s dismissal of NATO as “obsolete” and the promise to put “America First” and force allies to pay for their own defense needs, translates in practice into a policy of disengagement and isolationism: Fortress America.

 Trump has reversed decades of U.S. support for an ever closer European Union, to predict and welcome its breakup instead as the death of an economic competitor to the U.S. He is openly hostile to the U.N. system and has threatened to cut funding to international organizations by up to 40 percent.

 Trump’s order to suspend and then severely reduce immigration and refugee intakes is a repudiation of international conventions and arrangements governing the movement of peoples in favor of unilateral policies — and equally a repudiation of the history of how America was built (he need only look at his current wife). Concepts like human rights, protection of civilians and climate change are alien to Trump’s vocabulary. With no moral compass to guide it the U.S. cannot provide global moral leadership.

 The tough rhetoric against the Iran nuclear deal and the tweeted promise to “greatly strengthen and expand (U.S.) nuclear capability” imply a rejection of the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty as the globally legitimate framework for regulating nuclear policy. Trump might prove receptive to the recommendation from a blue ribbon Pentagon panel to expand U.S. nuclear options by developing an arsenal capable of “limited” nuclear wars, which further undermine the NPT. But this would jeopardize the entire basis of the existing global nuclear order, from safety and security to nonproliferation and disarmament, for which the NPT is the normative anchor.

 Without the NPT, for example, Iran as a sovereign nation would have the same right to develop and test nuclear weapons and missiles as the U.S. Nor is increased bellicosity toward Beijing the most effective strategy for gaining Chinese cooperation to curtail North Korea’s nuclear program. There is also a total mismatch between Beijing’s minutely scripted utterances on any subject and Trump’s fondness for firing off tweets on impulse.

 Globalization rests on and deepens interdependence of security and prosperity. The U.S. has historically led efforts to manage the process through global governance institutions. Trump’s approach to foreign security and economic policies is transactional and zero-sum. The administration seems determined to keep even career diplomats at a distance, dismissing many with a curtness that slights their decades of professional service to America in favor of a “know nothing approach” to foreign policy.

 It is one thing to set out deliberately to try and bend the arc of history to one’s preferred direction. It is another not to know one’s history such that the world is compelled to relearn the worst lessons at great cost in general human misery.

Ramesh Thakur is a professor in the Crawford School of Public Policy, Australian National University.