– Updated March 22, 2023
Unit 4: Nationalism & Imperialism
The world as we knew it, and I taught it, changed on Feb. 24, 2022. Ultra-nationalism and imperialism made a comeback thanks to Vladimir Putin and Russia.
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 history played key roles in Vladimir Putin’s push to a grave miscalculation – assume Europe was so dependent on his energy, metals, and cereal grains that NATO would weaken and possibly divide.
With backing of the Orthodox Church, Putin declared war on liberal western values, restored traditional Russian beliefs, and began exporting disinformation, populism, and white nationalism. The former KGB thug slowly undermined Russia’s fledgling democratic republic, independent court system, free press, and media, and distorted the market 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 based on submitting an invoice for twice the amount of costs and reasonable profit margins, a kleptocracy that fueled mega-yachts, foreign mansions, and secret bank accounts in Switzerland, Panama, London, the Isle of Jersey and elsewhere.
Hubris overtook Putin who believed he had built a powerful army needed to realize his grand project. He listened to those who told him Ukraine would collapse and be occupied easily. Apparently, very 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 would 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.
Putin failed to take major cities Kiev, Kharkov, and Lvov then retreated from the country’s northwest to regroup his beleaguered forces in the Russian-controlled Donbas. Russia annexed the Donbas and attacked civilian population centers; apartment buildings, hospitals, schools, shopping centers, and basic infrastructure.
Putin, on March 16, 2023, was designated a war criminal because of his army’s murderous behavior. He was charged for kidnapping tens of thousands of Ukrainian children to be adopted and reeducated as Russians. Presidents Biden and Zelensky have accused him of genocide too.
Much of the world has embraced Ukraine and its people in its fight for freedom, national determination, and peace. Ukraine believes if given the arms it needs to fight the Russians, it can win – 89% will not concede sovereign land.
Russia has been using its superior size and firepower to cement control of the Donbas. Ukraine has fought hard and is readying a Spring offensive with more advanced Western missile and artillery systems.
This slog of a war, particularly in Bakhmut, has ground on for over a year. Perhaps 100,000+ Russian soldiers are dead and 200,000+ have suffered casualties. Ukraine is supposedly facing 50,000+ dead and 100,000+ casualties.
Ukraine is determined to take back the Donbas and Crimea – Putin is determined to hold them to stave off defeat. Both sides are being pushed to negotiate an end. Neither is willing yet to concede anything.
Unit 5: Collective Security – NATO’s Successful Response to the Ukraine Invasion
If 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.
Wrong, NATO, led by President Joe Biden and Secretary of State Anthony Blinken rallied the members to give Ukrainians the aid and arms it needs to defend itself and possibly even defeat Russia. If Donald Trump had won the 2020 election, he might 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 views NATO’s eastward expansion as a creeping threat to Russia, a nation that has traditionally felt encircled by unfriendly nations and reacted by subjugating them. Of course, subjugation, past and present, is why all surrounding nations are historically unfriendly towards Russia.
Putin’s imperial intentions so gravely worried neutral Finland and Sweden – who border with Russia – that they applied to join NATO. Turkey has temporarily delayed Sweden’s candidacy for domestic political reasons.
Putin started this war to push NATO back from his borders and wound up adding two more on his door. Russia warned both countries that membership would lead to placement of troops and even nuclear weapons in their region. This threat has been met by NATO nations beefing up their forces, and the EU possibly inviting Ukraine to join with NATO admission in the near-future.
Putin’s invasion is bringing about the outcomes he is fighting to stop, another embarrassing failure. Even the Swiss government and banks are honoring the US and EU sanctions designed to strangle the Russian economy which is in default.
The war caused artificially high energy and food prices that temporarily eased Russian citizens economic crunch – the sanctions though have taken a toll.
Ukraine has helped the Baltic Republics finally view themselves as sharing a common destiny. The President of Poland, whose nation has valiantly housed millions of Ukrainian refugees, and the leaders of Estonia, Latvia, and Lithuania have come together and jointly met with President Zelensky to show generous support.
Even Germany has increased military spending by $105 billion and has also shut down the Nord stream pipeline. Germany, in thirteen months, amazingly weaned itself off Russian gas, oil, and coal.
The British and the EU, after Brexit friction, are jointly giving Ukraine intelligence reports, weapons systems, and have sanctioned oligarch bank accounts and are seizing their properties too.
The scale and scope of the sanctions far exceed any similar initiative in my seventy-seven-year lifetime. 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 7: International Trade – The Global Economy’s Great Re-Configuration
Russia has been largely removed from global banking and international trade. World markets, still recovering from the Pandemic, were shaken again but tenaciously scrambled to recover.
Warring Ukraine and Russia play large production roles in basic energy, fertilizer, and grain and food commodities. Price increases reached serious inflationary levels rife with possible political and social consequences before subsiding a bit. The Federal Reserve has aggressively raised interest rates to tamp inflation down.
Regardless, the democratic US – EU alliance has remained strong and appears determined to remake the global economy over the next ten years. Russia must be isolated, tamed then slowly brought 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 and at some point, they may be sanctioned by the US and EU.
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.
There are benefits to the US 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 cannot be secured solely from overseas.
A pullback of sorts 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.
The genius of global markets is that countries and companies that combine low price and high quality for goods and services should prosper. And China and India both have in manufacturing and services along with Russia in commodities.
An apparent Achilles heel in the global economy is that a rogue nation can leverage world dependence on a critical product by 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 war will continue until Russia stops or an eventual economic collapse forces the Nazi-like war machine to end.
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 has been wiped out. Over 1,000 western companies have left Russia – McDonalds sold its 874 units to a Russian oligarch – no more Golden Arches or Big Macs.
Perhaps a million well educated Russia programmers and young professionals have fled to surrounding nations and anywhere else that will 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. This new diaspora may exceed the one created by 1917 Bolshevik Revolution in scale and scope.
Russia’s main exports of oil, gas, coal, metals, wheat, and barley are grinding to a halt – markets are closing and financing is drying up. Shortages are causing worsening inflation that is held down by the government’s expensive ruble support program.
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 is being decimated. The Ukrainian army has so decimated Russia that it has used convicts and mercenaries to fight,
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 pay Ukraine and spend to regain Russia’s place in the world?
The US and NATO, while managing to stay on the sidelines, are reducing the Russian military threat to surrounding countries. Russia has become a pariah state and increasingly viewed as a Nazi country with a lot of willing executioners for Putin.
If the war is lost and Putin overthrown, who will be in-charge of over 6,000 nuclear weapons and how will they be controlled?
The West is attempting to engineer a Russian defeat, hopefully replace Putin’s government, help install a liberal democratic regime and support it until stability is achieved.
All this without engaging in direct combat and starting WW III. Good luck with that.
China: No steps forward and some 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 the city-state into a comfortable middle-class country.
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 a 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
China, with use of voice and face recognition software, has expanded domestic controls to full totalitarian level. Permanent, total control of nearly 1.5 billion people appears to be at the core of Xi’s vision for Chinese society.
The late psychologist BF Skinner’s book Beyond Freedom and Dignity mirrors China’s management by security apparatus experts. The Communist Party views its giant population as a threat to its monopoly on power since 1949 – total control keeps a lid on exposing the crimes of Mao.
Hong Kong, formerly a free-wheeling center of global investment, has been politically beaten down by Beijing, a mistake that invites economic and social stagnation. Many of the best and brightest have left for Singapore, 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 has appeared to move closer to Russia to conveniently 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.
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’s insurgent Russian oil purchases places it at risk.
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, who allegedly was considering invading Taiwan to reclaim it, should have serious second thoughts after watching a smaller, faster reacting Ukrainian army chop up a heavily centralized, inexperienced Russian military similar in structure and command to China’s. China’s last military engagement was Vietnam in 1979, a month-long battle that led to a bloody nose for the inexperienced larger force, and Tiananmen Square against 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 social and economic explosions by the powerless masses. See the American Revolution.
Xi apparently saw and recently retreated to let the Covid chips fall where they may.
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 who increasingly feel Modi diminishes and isolates them.
The country’s long history of dealing with direct British colonialism and perceived American hegemony has made it prickly in cooperating with the West. President Modi, therefore, has been resistant to end trade with Russia and is propping Putin up with increased oil and gas sales.
India 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.
If India continues to prop up the Russian economy, or help Putin avoid sanctions, or acts visibly resistant, Modi risks being on the wrong side of history and morality and his nation will pay for turning a blind eye towards aggression too.
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 his nation 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 Xi and Putin made a big show of friendship at the 2022 Beijing Winter Olympics. They both oozed faith in their autocratic systems as viable alternatives to America, Europe, and liberal democracy in producing well-being for their peoples.
They stood together acting out a phony bromance. The world’s balance of power was not altered away from the West despite appearances because Putin’s misguided invasion of Ukraine has placed Xi and China in a terrible bind. This was evident in their March 20, 2023 Kremlin meeting and staged bromance.
The White House, Pentagon, and NATO nations are giving 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 wages. Employment is literally full, 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.
Ukraine’s struggle initially gave Americans a sense of purpose and sacrifice that unified the country a bit. Populism and Trump fever are showing signs of waning a little; 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 – new Prime Minister Olaf Scholz has doubled military spending and is sending Leopard 2 tanks to Ukraine instead of the original helmets, canteens, and blankets.
Germany, after Hitler and WW II, did not trust itself with a strong army believing the best way to avoid a bad military outcome is to avoid militarism. Germans now realize that is a luxury they cannot afford anymore and are responsibly facing up to a new and surprising reality.
The country has a long history of Ostpolitik, 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’s 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 80 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, has experienced mixed feelings about past militarism. Japan was also close to pacifism and practiced only defensive military maneuvers. It too is worried about Russia and China, has moved closer to South Korea and the US, and started an offensive buildup.
From 1970 to 1990, Japan enjoyed astounding economic growth by making an array of high-quality products, especially cars. Japan has not grown economically since though its cars are still desirable and popular.
Japan’s industrial base, like the US’s, 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.