Followers of international relations can take their pick of wars at present. There is a trade war brewing between Donald Trump and Xi Jinping, which could descend into a currency war with competing devaluations. We have a Russia waging a cyber war on the West, a Cold War in Eastern Europe and the Baltics, a proxy war in Yemen between Saudia Arabia and Iran, a frozen war in Georgia and Ukraine, and a hot war in Syria that threatens to escalate into a major confrontation between Russia and the West. On top of that we have Kim Jong-un trying to break into the big leagues by test-firing ICBMs over Japan. It’s a tough neighborhood.
The “peace dividend” that was supposed to follow the collapse of Communism is well and truly over. The next major ideological conflict is upon us. Democracy versus the Dictators. For the West to prevail it will have to engage in a coordinated muscular diplomacy over the next few decades. A good start would be Margaret Thatcher’s Statecraft: Strategies for a Changing World (2002):
Margaret Thatcher and Ronald Reagan in the oval office, 1988
“For my part, I favour an approach to statecraft that embraces principles, as long as it is not stifled by them; and I prefer such principles to be accompanied by steel along with good intentions.
…The habit of ubiquitous interventionism, combining pinprick strikes by precision weapons with pious invocations of high principle, would lead us into endless difficulties. Interventions must be limited in number and overwhelming in their impact.
….I should therefore prefer to restrict my guidelines to the following:
Don’t believe that military interventions, no matter how morally justified, can succeed without clear military goals.
Don’t fall into the trap of imagining that the West can remake societies.
Don’t take public opinion for granted — but don’t either underrate the degree to which good people will endure sacrifices for a worthwhile cause.
Don’t allow tyrants and aggressors to get away with it
And when you fight — fight to win.’
But the West also needs to clean up its own house and correct many of the abuses to which Capitalism has been subjected over the last few decades. Martin Wolf sums up the challenges in US-China rivalry will shape the 21st century:
‘The threat is the decadence of the west, very much including the US — the prevalence of rent extraction as a way of economic life, the indifference to the fate of much of its citizenry, the corrupting role of money in politics, the indifference to the truth, and the sacrifice of long-term investment to private and public consumption….’
Bold leadership is required. To fight the wars we have to but, more importantly, to resolve conflicts by other means wherever possible. That doesn’t mean avoiding conflict by retreating from red lines. It means establishing and vigorously enforcing new rules that benefit everyone. No one wins in a war. Whether it is a trade war, a cold war or a hot war. Everyone pays a price.
‘It must be thoroughly understood that war is a necessity, and that the more readily we accept it, the less will be the ardor of our opponents….’
~ Thucydides (circa 400 BC)