CANBERRA, Australia (April 1, 2020) — Under current CV19 lockdowns, there is much quiet time at home in which to reflect on how dramatically the virus is even now changing our familiar New Cold War world, and how such changes will gather force as the weeks of crisis unfold.
Australia is a good place from which to reflect: an excessively obsequious minor member of the US-led anti-Chinese and anti-Russian Western strategic alliance, Australians are also conflicted by our need to earn a living and our obvious economic dependence on our major trading partner and Asia-Pacific strategic neighbor China. Two contradictory imperatives are gnawing at the minds of thinking Australians.
Meanwhile, the 120-year old Australian federal system is under strain: a symptom of world politics also under strain. The federal Prime Minister Scott Morrison, with the task of protecting as much as he can of the shrinking national economy, failed like President Donald Trump and Prime Minister Boris Johnson to take the hard lockdown decisions early enough.
It has been a case of too little too late, with the state premiers finally this week seizing the baton from him, locking down and isolating their states to preserve their populations’ lives — with the federal government following belatedly behind.
Only today, a leading Australian mining-industry oligarch, Andrew Forrest, announced that the public interest, charity arm of his company, Fortescue Minerals, had negotiated with the Chinese government to secure ample supplies for his home state Western Australia of desperately sought Chinese-made personal protective equipment (PPE) which will be essential to combat the virus as it expands into WA.
Minutes earlier, WA Premier Mark McGowan had warned the federal Australian government in tough public language to rapidly move the Covid-19 quarantined German cruise ship Artania away from Perth, and away from Western Australian coastal waters. He asserted that his primary duty was to protect West Australians from CV19, and he would not let Perth become known as a safe haven for homeless, stricken cruise ships. The matter remains unresolved.
Changing How We Think
Around the world, borders are closing down to all but essential travel. Online, we still seem to be one world. I can, thank goodness, easily plug in to what people in Beijing and Moscow, as well as in Washington and London, are saying. But globalization is rapidly becoming anachronistic (in its original literal Greek meaning — “in the wrong time”) in terms of mass global flows of people and, increasingly even, of goods and services themselves.
For instance, it is hard to see the (largely American-created) massive cruise ships industry, or mass airborne global holiday tourism, recovering quickly — or even, ever — from CV19. For a long time, people are going to want to stay closer to home and avoid such risky disruptions in their and other people’s lives. The globalization model is broken.
The pandemic’s brutal, erratic course around the world — from China to Korea and Italy, thence to Spain, the U.K. and worst of all to the USA, is rapidly changing the way we will think about the world and about our respective countries’ and elites’ participation in it. CV19 is a disease with our rich elites’ fingerprints all over it: their privileged globetrotting lifestyle, serviced by armies of Third World serf labor, is in an ugly spotlight now.
Old Ideologies Dissolve
One cannot predict what the world will look like after this pandemic runs its course. One certainty: it will be very different from the world before CV19, with the knowledge of other such viruses potentially to come.
Let’s look at the de-coupling of supply lines: a concept first touted by US strategic thinkers before CV19 struck, as part of warfighting Cold War Redux. Western governments wanted to reduce dependence on superstar firms like Huawei, to “de-couple” strategic Western industries from the risk of Chinese sabotage. The plan was to reduce markets for Chinese suppliers of key information technology, despite Chinese mastery of the lowest-cost capitalist production mode.
Now the boot is on the other foot. Goaded by sanctions and other Western interference, China and Russia are well on the road to research, industrial and agricultural self-sufficiency for the Eurasia-centered heartland. Meanwhile the US, caught at the end of global supply chains that all seem to start in China, is begging for much-needed ventilators and PPE: in competition with people like Andrew Forrest, who know how to deal with China.
Two groups of people in our Western societies are finding it particularly hard to get their heads around the rapid dissolving of old ideological certainties.
First, the brave and bold radical movements in the West. Used to exposing a constant diet of disinformation from Western Deep State sources, they find it hard to believe that CV19 can be more than another propaganda trick by the Deep State to strengthen its control over society. They refuse to see the real threat CVI9 poses to decent human societies, by the fact of its extreme virulence, delayed visible symptoms, and generation-sensitive lethality. They cling to their familiar worlds of friends and enemies, and lose sight of medical and epidemiological realities. They try to rationalize CV19 away.
More significant here is the Western strategic community, caught now in a similar, increasingly anachronistic world of familiar friends and enemies. Cold War Redux, which by one measure began around 2013 with Western-instigated anti-Russian violent regime change in Ukraine, Russia’s vulnerable underbelly, is now so deeply embedded in Western strategic thinking that even the most thoughtful Western strategists find it hard to see beyond its familiar boundaries of thought and policy.
US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo continues to fulminate thoughtlessly and vindictively, threatening ever-crueler sanctions against Iran and Venezuela. The White Helmets continue to foment false chemical warfare allegations, in the war against the legitimate Syrian government, which their side are losing. NATO continues automaton-like to arm and exercise against the imagined Russian threat.
Coronavirus patients at the Imam Khomeini Hospital in Tehran, Iran. (Fars News Agency)
A ‘Pitiful, Helpless Giant’
CV19 is collapsing this dangerously illusory world. Let’s look first at military logistics. Spectacular news broke on Tuesday that the captain of the US nuclear-powered aircraft carrier USS Theodore Roosevelt, on station near Guam, has requested the immediate evacuation of 90 percent of his crew of 4,000 into individual quarantine after the carrier reported an outbreak of CV19 on board. Over 70 crew members have tested positive for C19 and in cramped ship conditions the disease is spreading fast. The captain recommends a skeleton crew of 400 be left on board, to safeguard the ship’s weapons and reactors while it is quarantined and sanitized.
More contradictions: The US has been forced to suspend a planned attack on pro-Iranian Shia militia in Iraq, because of spreading CV19 in US bases in Iraq. Planned massive NATO maneuvers this summer on the Russian border have had to be scaled back severely due to CV19 risks. Faced by horrendous mortality facts and projections in New York, Trump is forced to send the US Navy’s largest hospital ship there to bolster local overstretched medical resources. China and Russia — the putative enemies — are flying much-needed medical relief supplies in to the US
The US may be sliding towards becoming the “pitiful, helpless giant” which Richard Nixon warned against in 1970.
The familiar diplomatic fabric of our former world is also under intense pressure now. The UN and the UN Security Council, for long theaters for ritualistic Cold War games, is being energized by the CV19 world crisis. UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres has denounced the anachronism and cruelty of wars and sanctions by powerful countries in the new CV19 world. He has called for a “ceasefire.” His call was supported by the Pope, Russian President Vladimir Putin, Chinese President Xi Jinping and so far 53 UN member nations.
More and more, the US and its NATO allies look like a resentful and recalcitrant rump of ill-wishers. The US blocks a motherhood UN Security Council resolution calling for unified world action against CV19, because China and Russia reject draft resolution language claiming that the virus originated in China.
The Dark Web
Let’s look at that troubling question. In what country did the CV19 virus first break out? In wet wild animal markets in Wuhan, or in germ warfare laboratories? Did it break out accidentally or was it deliberately released? The Dark Web is full of disturbing allegations and counter-allegations. So far, none of the major powers have dignified any such allegations at the level of official government statements. The ships of states sail on, but there is angry gossip just below decks.
Trump, Putin and Xi would undoubtedly know of these ugly stories. It is no coincidence that in recent days the three leaders are again talking cordially. Trump’s Cold War hawks in Washington have been silenced for now. Trump knows he has to maintain civility towards his partner leaders who are now helping his stricken country. He needs them. And they are too professionally gracious to humiliate or reprimand him in America’s hour of need. All three will observe the courtesies, whatever the Dark Web is alleging.
Let me draw this together: the pre-CV19 economic, strategic and diplomatic world is starting to unravel in myriad ways which are not yet clear. In its death throes, the dying Cold War world will take casualties: NATO, conceived as a Euro-American aggressive military alliance against Russia; the war-mongering Pompeo and the US fondness for economic sanctions against its enemies.
What Might We Expect?
In the new diplomatic landscape, which can as yet only be dimly seen, old verities going back to 1945 will be rediscovered. The UN Security Council will again find its proper role as a collective instrument of world solidarity against aggression by any — any — powerful nation that goes rogue. The US will learn again how to practice real diplomacy based on nations’ sovereignty and mutual respect, instead of crude great power bullying. Russia and China will generously put their past hurts behind them, secure in their new strength after Putin’s establishment of an invulnerable, nuclear MAD deterrent and the nightmare experience of CV19.
In this model future — I will admit, an optimistic model, but not grossly so– the world will begin to recover its sanity. We will gradually step back from the precipice of nuclear devastation on which we have teetered for at least the past seven years. We will work together to build less environmentally destructive systems of global trade and travel, armed with the new knowledge that having survived CV19 lockdowns will bring.
We will concentrate on rethinking societies, and on rebuilding public order and confidence and respect for all classes in Western societies after the terrible wounds CV19 is inflicting on the weak and poor as I write. We will work together to put in place more resilient, less fragile systems of global trade and cooperation.
I argue here, in sum, that the US and its obedient allies cannot go on fighting an anachronistic Cold War Redux against China and Russia, while the world struggles to defeat CV19, this stealthy new common enemy.
And that when this war is won — as it will be won: to then go back to Cold War Redux will seem increasingly distracting and pointless. I think Trump, for all his faults, dimly gets this already. As Xi and Putin certainly do.
Tony Kevin is a former Australian senior diplomat and the author of six published books on public policy and international relations. The views expressed are solely those of the author and may or may not reflect those of Consortium News.
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