– Updated October 21, 2023
Unit 4: Nationalism & Imperialism
The world that I taught changed on Feb. 24, 2022. Thanks to Vladimir Putin and Russia, ultra-nationalism and imperialism returned with a vengeance
Autocratic Russia invaded democratic Ukraine to subjugate the EU and NATO-leaning nation and permanently pull it into Putin’s orbit. The Russian leader, believing that the 1990 Soviet break-up was the greatest tragedy of the 20thCentury, pledged to restore the empire and started wrecking Ukraine.
Nationalism and a cock-eyed view of history played key roles in Vladimir Putin’s grave miscalculation; crush Ukraine with Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania, Poland, Slovakia, and the Czechs likely next in his sights. Putin gambled that Europe was so dependent on his energy, metals, and cereal grains, NATO would weaken and possibly divide.
Putin came to power with backing by the Orthodox Church. He declared war on liberal western values, restored traditional Russian beliefs, and began exporting disinformation, populism, and white nationalism. The former KGB operative slowly undermined Russia’s fledgling democratic republic, independent court system, and media and free press while distorting the economy that was gaining traction.
Putin-appointed oligarchs took over entire industries on the basis they did some of the governments dirty business too. The oligarch-reward game was submitting invoices for twice the amount of costs plus exorbitant profit margins. The new kleptocracy bought mega-yachts and foreign mansions with their secret bank accounts in Switzerland, Panama, London, the Isle of Jersey and elsewhere.
Putin mistakenly believed that Ukraine would collapse and be easily occupied. Little attention was given to logistics, supply lines, and number of troops needed to occupy a country of forty-four million and the size of Texas.
Putin scraped together 150,000 to 190,000 troops, most poorly trained; an estimated 880,000 were needed to invade and occupy a people who hate them. He declared the invasion a Special Military Operation and forced Russians to believe at risk of arrest.
A forty-mile-long convoy was formed in autocratic, neighboring Belarus and headed towards Kiev as if they’d be greeted with bread and salt. Instead, Ukraine’s army, trained and armed by NATO nations, broke the convoy down with Stinger, Javelin, and British NLAW missiles.
The turning point of the war was Putin’s failing to take major cities Kiev, Kharkov, and Lvov and retreating from the country’s northwest to concentrate his beleaguered forces in the Russian-controlled Donbas for annexation. Russia tried to crush Ukraine’s spirit by attacking civilian population centers; apartment buildings, hospitals, schools, shopping centers, and basic infrastructure.
That led to growing documentation of his army’s murderous behavior. The ICC has designated Putin a war criminal and threatens to arrest him if he travels anywhere they can arrest him. Presidents Biden and Zelensky have accused him of genocide too.
Much of the world has embraced Ukraine’s fight for freedom, national determination, and peace. Ukraine believes it can win; 89% will not concede sovereign land.
Russia used its superior size and firepower to cement control of the Donbas. Ukraine has fought hard and pushed the Russians back a bit. A counter-offensive has begun with more advanced Western missile and artillery systems on the way.
This slog of a war will grind on until Ukraine routs Russian defenses, seizes Crimea, and wins. Or Russia’s stalemate strategy causes the US and EU nations to start balking at the ongoing cost and even lose interest leading to a compromise settlement.
Unit 5: Collective Security – NATO’s Extraordinarily Successful Response to the Ukraine Invasion
Putin’s first great miscalculation was believing Ukraine would fold militarily in a week or two. The second was thinking NATO would crack and let him get away with it.
NATO, led by President Joe Biden and Sec. of State Anthony Blinken, rallied members to give Ukrainians the aid and arms it needed to defend itself and possibly even defeat Russia. Thank God Donald Trump lost the 2020 election for he would have pulled the US out of NATO letting Putin overrun Ukraine and threaten the rest of Europe.
Biden, in contrast, has made NATO stronger than ever. Putin viewed NATO’s eastward expansion as a creeping threat to Russia, a nation that historically felt encircled by unfriendly nations and subjugated them.
Putin’s imperial intentions so gravely worried neutral Finland and Sweden, who border with Russia, that they joined NATO. Putin started this war to push NATO back from his borders and wound up adding two more on his door. The eventual border line with Ukraine will land a third NATO nation on his front step, a disastrous loss in his mind.
Russia warned both countries that membership would lead to placement of troops and even nuclear weapons in their region. This threat was met by NATO nations beefing up their forces, and the EU ultimately inviting Ukraine to join NATO soon.
The US and EU sanctions are strangling the Russian economy which is in default. The war caused artificially high energy prices that temporarily eased Russian citizens economic crunch. The sanctions though bit hard and worsen labor shortages and inflation caused by massive printing of rubles to finance the war.
Ukraine helped the Baltic Republics come together in sharing a common destiny. Poland has valiantly housed millions of Ukrainian refugees and joined the leaders of Estonia, Latvia, and Lithuania in generously supporting President Zelensky.
Even Germany has increased military spending by $105 billion, shut down the Nord stream pipeline, and nearly weaned itself off Russian gas, oil, and coal. The British and the EU, after Brexit friction, jointly give Ukraine intelligence reports and weapons systems. They have also sanctioned oligarch bank accounts and seized their properties.
The scale and scope of the sanctions now include disrupting military supply chains and capping gas prices. Perhaps the only relative truth out of Putin, who claims Ukraine does not exist and has always been a part of Mother Russia, is that his own country has been essentially canceled.
Unit 6: International Trade – The Global Economy’s Great Re-Configuration
Russia, in a span of fifty-five days, was largely removed from global banking and international trade. World markets, still recovering from the Pandemic, were shaken but tenaciously scrambled to deal with warring Ukraine and Russia’s large production roles in basic commodities; energy, fertilizer, grains. Price increases reached serious inflationary levels rife with possible political and social consequences before easing.
The democratic US – EU alliance strategy is to isolate Russia, tame it, then slowly bring it back into the family of nations. A moral line in the sand has been drawn and offending nations ignore it at their peril.
China and India, the two largest nations by population, are walking a tightrope with Russia, trying not to appear too close while quietly not cutting off trade and applying sanctions. China and India have been the two largest purchasers of discounted Russian oil and gas. Chinese cars have gone from a tiny fraction of the Russian market to nearly half of all sales today.
Did Putin place a belief in China’s Xi and India’s Modi’s heads that large nations are not bound anymore to the norms of international law and are beyond sanctioning? If so, Russia is proving that false.
The US is benefitting from the new configuration. The Pandemic revealed strains in the global supply chain as understaffed foreign factories led to shortages in critical components such as microchips. Products important to US military and consumer production should not be secured solely from overseas.
A pullback has started with governments and multinationals rethinking national security needs. Intel, for example, is constructing a $5 billion dollar plant in Ohio to make micro-processors and chips.
An apparent Achilles heel in the global economy is that a rogue nation can leverage world dependence on a critical product while ruthlessly invading a peaceful neighbor like Ukraine. A global belief that international trade binds nations together and can render war outdated is rooted in President Woodrow Wilson’s Fourteen Peace Points making up the 1919 WW I Treaty.
Russia, having violated global trust and norms built up over a century, saw the world forcefully respond with a massive movement of trade and economic activity away from it. The economic and political war will continue until Russia stops or an eventual economic collapse forces the end of the Nazi-like regime.
Unit 7: Russia, China, India, US, Germany & Japan – A 2023 Comparison
Russia: Thirty years of economic and market development down the drain.
Putin has made Russia a 21st Century version of Nazi Germany 1935 to 1945. Pundits are saying that Putin has wrecked two countries; Ukraine and his own.
Thirty years of economic development and cultivation of markets was wiped out with over 1,000 western companies leaving Russia. McDonalds sold its 874 units to a Russian oligarch; no more Golden Arches or Big Macs.
Over 300,000 well educated Russia programmers and young professionals fled to surrounding nations and anywhere else that would take them in. This brain drain of stupendous proportions will cost Russia dearly for a decade or two, especially in the fast-growing information and financial technology industries.
Russia, already fascistic, has become a totalitarian state that fully manages reality. Russians are told the invasion is just a special military operation and imprisoned for up to fifteen years if questioning that or publicly protesting. Putin has turned his nation in to a gulag that will grow poorer.
Putin has also wrecked his military. Despite an economy the size of Texas, Putin spent an estimated trillion dollars on a military buildup that was easily decimated.
Russia, with a shrunken economy, is likely to be levied a half-trillion-dollar indemnity or more for a Ukraine reconstruction bill when the fighting stops. How will Putin or his successor pay Ukraine and spend to regain Russia’s place in the world?
The US and NATO, while managing to stay on the sidelines, degraded the poorly led Russian army’s war-making capacity and reduced it as a military threat to surrounding countries and the world. Russia has become a pariah state and increasingly viewed as a Nazi country with a lot of willing executioners for Putin, a 21st Century Adolph Hitler. If the war is lost and Putin overthrown, who controls over 6,000 nuclear weapons?
When the war is over, there will be two Russias. Ukraine, the new Russia, will be part of Europe and the world will embrace it economically, politically, and culturally. Moscow, old Russia, in comparison, is degenerating into a stagnant backwater of hate and cruelty.
Putin manipulates schools, curriculum, media, and culture to push Russian traditional values, code words for illiberalism, homophobia, and ethnocentrism. The West hopes to engineer a Russian defeat, replace Putin’s government, install a liberal democratic regime, and strongly support it until stability is achieved.
All that without engaging in direct combat and starting WW III.
China: No steps forward and many big steps backward.
China was expected to follow the development patterns of East Asian neighbors Japan, Korea, Indonesia, Malaysia, Singapore, and Taiwan; quick development by means of authoritarian capitalism designed to keep wages low and profits high. Eventually, creeping market distortions and crony capitalist practices cause an economic collapse and are subsequently reformed into a fairer and more equitable society.
In Singapore, political reformers instituted honest corruption-free government and policed markets with regulations and laws. The government also pushed the public to work hard and smart, and in a generation transformed Singapore into a comfortable, middle-class state.
China, who needs to get rich before it gets old to fund Social Security for 600 million people, has not evolved into a market economy nor multi-party democracy. Instead, it has reverted to hyper-mercantilism tied to a controlling Hub and Spoke program designed to expand global influence.
Some dynamic Chinese entrepreneurs have been de-emphasized in economic and social importance and their enterprises increasingly forced to compete with well-funded state-run enterprises. Economic growth has slowed, real estate markets are under serious pressure, and thousands of young people are opting out of the grinding system by lying flat on their parents’ couches.
China, with use of voice and face recognition software, has expanded domestic controls to full totalitarian level. The late psychologist BF Skinner’s book Beyond Freedom and Dignity envisioned a society like Xi’s China, faceless minions managed by security apparatus experts.
Xi views China’s giant but shrinking population as a threat to the Communist Party’s monopoly on power since 1949. Total control keeps a lid on exposing the crimes of Mao and the Tiananmen Square massacre.
Hong Kong, formerly a free-wheeling center of global investment, was politically beaten down by Beijing, a mistake that invites economic and social stagnation. Many of the best and brightest have left for Singapore, Tokyo, London, and New York.
The Uyghurs, a large Turkic Muslim ethnic group in the northwest, have been singled out for a special forced assimilation into the 90% Han Chinese culture that appears fearful and intolerant of ethnic differences.
China appeared to move closer to Russia to counter growing US influence in Asia. Putin’s Ukraine invasion quickly made that a nightmare for Beijing who does not like to be viewed as abandoning neighbors when they become problems. See North Korea who is now militarily aiding Russia.
The US and EU have warned China about being on the wrong side of morality and history if they continue to help Putin avoid sanctions and obtain money and military supplies. China manufactures 28.7% of the world’s goods, ten percent more than the US, and trades globally.
China cannot afford to alienate the rich North American and European markets and depends to some degree on good will. Russia, in contrast, manufactures almost nothing the free world consumes permitting it to be belligerent and cruel.
China is considering invading Taiwan to reclaim it. Xi should reconsider after watching a smaller, faster reacting Ukrainian army chop up a heavily centralized, inexperienced Russian military similar in structure and command to Beijing’s. China’s last military engagement was against neighboring Vietnam in 1979, a month-long battle that led to a bloody nose for the inexperienced larger force, and the 1989 Tiananmen Square massacre of its own people.
The recent Shanghai Covid lockdown happened after much of the world learned to live with variants. The Chinese government, by ever tightening reins, set itself up for a social and economic explosion by powerless masses. See the American Revolution.
India: Modi, another man in the middle of messy Russian amorality.
India has often been called the world’s largest and perhaps most vibrant democracy. Modi’s concerning promotion of Hindu nationalism ignores the fact that one in seven Indians are Muslim and increasingly feel diminished and isolated. A recent alleged assassination of a rebel Sikh leader in British Columbia by supposed Modi operatives reflects the historic alienation in the Punjab.
The country’s long history of dealing with direct British colonialism and perceived American hegemony makes it prickly in cooperating with the West. India, however, has seen rapid growth in manufacturing, services, and tourism and enjoyed remittances from the nation’s huge global diaspora. Her economic well-being is dependent to some degree from good will extended to it by friendly nations.
The US has cultivated Modi, hoping that India will stop propping up the Russian economy and become a manufacturing alternative to China. The BRICS are cultivating Modi too hoping to dent alleged hegemony. India has again pulled away from China because of border tensions.
Question for Mr. Modi: If the Russian invasion of Ukraine is unimportant to him and India, how would he expect the US and EU to react if some day India was aggressed by a powerful neighbor like China?
United States: Trump, unlike Biden, never grasped that the US remains the world’s most indispensable nation and NATO is critically important to our national security.
Autocracies are notoriously weak governments; democracies are stronger. The 20th Century is often called the American Century. I predict that at the end of the 21st Century, the title will remain. China and Russia will never become as strong as a national community of 330,000,000 free people.
For example, after two years in isolation from the virus, both President’s Xi and Putin made a big show of friendship at the 2022 Beijing Winter Olympics. The duo oozed faith in their autocratic systems as viable alternatives to America, Europe, and liberal democracy in producing well-being for their peoples.
Putin’s folly in Ukraine made life hard for Xi whose economy is facing a long overdue reckoning. The White House, Pentagon, and NATO nations have given Ukraine the weapons it needs to reduce Putin to less than the regional power he was before the invasion, and end all hopes for global superpower status too.
Five years of virtually no immigration due to Trump’s xenophobic policies, and a labor shortage shaped by the Pandemic dramatically drove up US wage rates. Employment is virtually full and anyone who wants a job can find one. Biden is using the power of government to reindustrialize the Middle West rust belt and repair the national infrastructure. See the Inflation Reduction Act.
Ukraine’s struggle initially gave Americans a sense of purpose and sacrifice that unified the country a bit. Populism and Trump MAGA fever are showing signs of waning; moderate progressivism is trending slightly upward. The Jan. 6 Committee and the DOJ are restoring the rule of law to a system battered by the corrupt and unfit Trump regime.
Germany: From near pacifism to doubling the military budget in one year; credit Putin.
Germany, 1933 – 1945, is always referred to as Nazi Germany. Modern Germany, in contrast, is a very democratic and peaceful country that elects bland, safe leaders and has twice kept them in power for almost two decades. See Kohl and Merkel.
The country is Europe’s most powerful economy, greatly influences continental monetary policy, and theoretically should be the military lynchpin of Europe. Not so; before Ukraine, Germany was on the verge of pacifism contributing 1.25% of its budget to defense and sending no military weaponry to allies in need.
Putin changed that literally overnight. New Prime Minister Olaf Scholz doubled military spending and began sending much more offensive equipment to Ukraine than the original helmets, canteens, and blankets.
Germany, after Hitler and WW II, did not trust itself with a strong army. They believed the best way not to repeat a bad military outcome is to avoid militarism. Germans now realize that’s a luxury they can’t afford anymore and are responsibly facing up to a new and surprising reality.
The country has a long history of Ostpolitik or looking eastward, from Willy Brandt to Angela Merkel who trusted Putin and Russia to become a reliable supplier of gas and oil. She hoped the revenue stream would bind Russia to Germany and Europe as peaceful, prosperous partners.
Just as they were ready to flip the switch on the Nord stream gas pipeline, Russia ruptured the relationship by behaving like Nazi Germany during World War II. Putin shattered his reputation as a dependable energy supplier, and his duplicity forced Germany to finally shed hesitancy and assume a bigger military role in Europe’s defense.
Ironically, Germany sees the rise of Nazi Russia as a depressing mirror of itself eighty years ago. The world allied to stop Hitler’s Germany in WW II. Germany is now a strong member of an alliance stopping Putin and Nazi Russia.
Japan: What leadership role does the Germany of Asia need to play in defending East Asia from Chinese ambitions of regional dominance?
Japan, like Germany, experienced mixed feelings about past militarism. Japan was also close to pacifism and practiced only defensive military maneuvers. It too is faced with playing a larger role and is slowly taking necessary steps with South Korea and the US to beef up northeast Asian defenses.
From 1970 to 1990, Japan enjoyed astounding economic growth by making an array of high-quality products, especially cars. Japan, for the most part, has not grown economically since though its cars are still desirable and popular.
Like America, Japan’s industrial base was hollowed out by cheaper production costs in China and Southeast Asia. The country has yet to find additional new stimulating product lines or special projects needed to regenerate earlier growth levels and make the country more vibrant and relevant again.
The Japanese attempted to burnish their image by hosting the 2020 Tokyo Olympics in 2021. Unfortunately, the country bungled its domestic vaccination program, the games had to be held in a bubble, and turned out to be a dud. The search for a spark continues.