Great analysis Noah. I might add the report today about possible FSB document leaked discussing Xi's intention at invading Taiwan this past fall. It's incredibly relevant, if true. Especially to myself, as I'm situated in Taiwan.

Keep up the great work, cheers.

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Xi looks likely to push China down the strongman route. It’s the rare authoritarian who doesn’t get high off their own supply. Sad (and, frankly, irrational) as that may seem.

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"As for Xi Jinping, he seems to have been getting a bit high on his own supply of propaganda"

I fear that most American and western leaders have fallen into the same trap. Mr. Smith's foreign policy analysis certainly mirrors the viewpoint of every western leader I've seen.

To start: Mr. Smith's description of the "liberal global order" ought to show why China has never bought into it.

* China has never had a respect for universal human rights; historically it has supported a strong government as a bulwark against chaos and warlordism. If respect from "the world" requires respect for human rights, China is willing to live without it.

* Rightly or wrongly, it sees "inviolability of national borders" as a recent and selectively applied value, applied when serving Western interests and ignored when inconvenient. We see most of the post-1990 border changes (German reunification, collapse of Soviet Union, collapse of Yugoslavia, partition of Serbia) as voluntary and therefore good, but China probably views these as the march of Western supremacy against its rivals.

* The "taboo against wars of choice" should be seen as risible, even outside China. The US and our allies have embarked on wars of choice (either openly or by proxy) in Egypt, Cuba, Vietnam, Grenada, Panama, Nicaragua, El Salvador, Afghanistan, Iraq, the former Yugoslavia, Libya, and Syria (maybe others, but I think this is enough to make the point). Whether or not you think these interventions were justified, they make a mockery of the claim that the liberal order, or international leadership, demands renouncing military action.

* "Preference for democracy as a system of government" has certainly been an explicit and implicit part of American foreign policy, and more broadly Western foreign policy. This is one reason that leaders of China and Russia, as well as smaller authoritarian states, are convinced that our goal is to overthrow their governments.

* "The right of small nations not to be dominated by big ones" is mainly honored in the breach. Aside from the military examples above, Western countries haven't been bashful about using military and economic means to coerce other countries to do things in our interests.

I don't say any of this to defend China, or to criticize the US. The US has generally done what is in our interest (also, I believe, in the interest of most of the people of the world). But Chinese leaders don't see a world dominated by rules, morality, and legality, and they're not wrong - this world exists only in the imaginations of Western elites. One of John Mearsheimer's videos on YouTube mentions conversations he had several years ago with Chinese foreign policy scholars about China's relationship with the US, and the advisability of China's maintaining good relations with the US; these scholars' view was that, no matter what China does, the US is coming after them next.

The most unfortunate thing about the current international situation is that Russia is our natural ally against China, but our arrogant idealistic hegemonism has pushed Russia and China together.

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There was no way for Russia to be our natural ally when it is ruled by an authoritarian who invades a democratic country in Europe.

And the US wouldn't come after China if they were a liberal democracy. Even now that it isn't, the US wouldn't come after China so long as China doesn't invade a liberal democracy.

You make a lot of decent points, but I don't consider democracy and authoritarianism to be either morally equivalent or equivalent in strength (note that only one of the China/US has capital controls because they're afraid their citizens will expatriate all their wealth to somewhere outside their country if the capital controls were not in place). The world is indeed splitting up between liberal democracies and authoritarian regimes, so which one would you choose to be in?

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You are fully right about the fact that Russia and the USA can't be allies.

It's not really because Russia is an authoritarian state - Saudi Arabia is in several respects more authoritarian and it's very close friends with America.

It's because there's too much bad blood both historically and presently, and there's nothing Russia has to offer America in any kind of alliance.

And saying it helps against China doesn't count. International policy is not like a school playground where cliques are everything. Plus I find nothing frightening about a China-Russia alliance for America: it might even weigh China down.

Where we have to disagree is in saying the US wouldn't come after China if it were a liberal democracy.

That's simply not true. The USA would be worried about any China-level threat regardless. The nature of the worry may be a bit different ( perhaps, less existential. Perhaps.), but every country on top cares about its most powerful challenger. As an example, the British and the dutch in their heydays had a lot in common, but engaged in all kinds of wars at the time to defeat the other.

And when Japan was almost overtaking america in the eighties, there was a lot of American concern despite a very deferential Japan.

And there's nothing bad about that: it's simple human nature.

But don't pretend like America would suddenly just be like oh, you are a democracy, well, I guess it's okay to lose then.

It's never ever like that.

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Yes, you can find hysteria at many places and times, but nobody other than a few wackos thought the US and Japan would go to war during the '80's. And the US rose in place of the UK peacefully, IMO, because both were liberal democracies at that point.

When the UK and Dutch fought, the UK wasn't really a democracy/republic yet while the Netherlands were to a larger extent but still not fully.

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Japan's wet dream is to become a western country so yes, no one was worried about any war. But that's not my point: my point is power transitions are not smooth. They always come with a crisis or two, either human made or otherwise, that finally signals the end of an era.

With regard to the USA and UK transition, there was the small matter of world war 2 that signalled the end for Imperial Britain. So while there wasn't a direct war between the two countries and they were famously allies in the war, the transition was far from peaceful. They usually never are.

The USA hasn't played second fiddle on the international stage for a century. It wouldn't give that up so easily for the sake of another liberal democracy. Anyone who thinks that is making a severe miscalculation.

And even if china were a liberal democracy, which is laughably unlikely, China is still a different kettle of fish to every other rival.

It is not European for a start. It has the world's largest population. It has an extremely intelligent populace. It has competent leadership and it has a powerful economy.

Plus, it has an axe to grind: China used to rule the world so it doesn't feel like a lucky upstart. It feels like a birthright thing. Plus there's all that legitimate resentment from the century of humiliation.

So even a liberal and democratic China is a level of rivalry that is unmatched in American history. And that for the sake of basic human nature alone, would be concerning to America

Not least other reasons as well.

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So why did the UK give up supremacy to the US?

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Mar 16, 2022·edited Mar 16, 2022

I don't think you understand just how damaging the two world wars were to British hegemony. UK in 1945 was broke, spent and completely unable to hold onto their empire. When they tried to throw some weight around during the Suez crisis, they were slapped down like schoolchildren by the US.

This wasn't an exclusively British phenomenon, WWII basically wrecked Europe and turned them into either American or Soviet proxies. Some, like France in Indochina, tried to hold on a bit longer, but they couldn't stem the tidal wave of decolonization. The world had fundamentally changed.

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The UK didn't "give up supremacy" - they recognized US supremacy. US supremacy in economic and military potential was clear by 1910; World War 2 established US military supremacy as well - although the Soviets had a supremacy of their own based on land power.

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The UK didn't have a choice. World war 2 was the transition, and while the US and the UK actually fought together in the war, anyone who calls world war 2 a peaceful transition has revealed a stunning lack of acquaintance with not only history but the English language.

Transitions are rarely if ever peaceful. Countries don't just say well, hey, I'm second now. And the UK didn't immediately take its new role happily either. There was a lot of resentment and nostalgia at the time.

Plus, both the USA and the UK had a more important problem in Nazi Germany, so really, it was one of the few times in human history where fighting together is an obligation for survival.

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"And saying it helps against China doesn't count. International policy is not like a school playground where cliques are everything."

This isn't entirely true. Russia has a great deal to offer China, especially in military and aerospace technology. If Russia were our friend, and worried about China, they'd help us keep China from getting this technology.

If Russia were our friend, and not using most of their resources to defend their position in Ukraine, they'd be much more active shoring up their position in Central Asia, which would be a challenge for China.

By defining a Western-oriented Ukraine as the greatest issue in Europe, if not in the world, we've closed off cooperation with Russia, to China's benefit.

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A lot of that military and aerospace technology rely on chips that come from liberal democracies. Yes, Russia offers some stuff, but really not a ton to China.

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Mar 16, 2022·edited Mar 16, 2022

China can't build a jet airplane (commercial or military) that doesn't rely on western design, western engines, and western avionics. Russia can. Russian engines and avionics aren't equal to Western, but they can build complete airplanes. If China wants an air force, they can't rely on buying one from the west, and they can't build one themselves. Chips or not, China needs a lot of what Russia offers.

I'm not as familiar with tanks, but I expect Russia can offer a lot in this field as well - sophisticated ammunition and reactive armor at least.

Does Russia use western chips in their missiles or other military hardware? If so, which hardware, and what are their sources?

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It's easy to forget that save perhaps 5G, western technology is still distantly superior to everyone else's, which has always been one of my crucial points.

If America fixed its own problems, and there are several of them no doubt, no one else will still be able to compete.

But rather than do so, the country is still largely caught up in bipartisan wars, monopoly worship, and an accelerating economic divide, among others.

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Russia doesn't produce any chips so pretty much everything electronic relies on the West right now. Including planes, missiles, etc. (excluding ancient Soviet cr*p).

Yes, China also produces chips, but their top ones aren't as good as top Western (Taiwan/SK) ones.

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Yes, a crucially understated dependence we are all coming to appreciate more and more now.

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Hmmm. Thank you for the thoughtful reply. I don't think Central Asia ranks highly on Russia and China's priorities though. Yes, there's the Belt and Road initiative but China sees Northeast Asia as its sphere of influence & predominant territorial concern and Russia clearly sees Eastern Europe in the same light.

The more interesting benefit would be in exchanging aerospace and military technology. But the Chinese won't be eager to purchase that technology given how ineffective they've largely proved to be in this invasion. So, any significant trade deal on those lines would require some incredible marketing skills on the Russian side.

There may be psychological boosts to the alliance and at least a promise to support each other in the event of international opprobrium. But if that's all the alliance is good for, and that is all I suspect it is good for at the end of the day, then there's nothing remotely worrying about that for America and its allies.

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We've had authoritarians as allies many times in the past. And Russia wouldn't have invaded Ukraine if we hadn't worked so hard over so many years to draw Ukraine out of Russia's sphere of influence, and into ours. If we had acquiesced in a Russian sphere in the former Soviet states (aside from the Baltics), Ukraine could probably have been peaceful, prosperous, and relatively free. Russia had announced as far back as 2008 that it would never tolerate a Western-oriented Ukraine; our determined courtship (along with our allies) provoked the Russian response.

If morality ruled, the people of Ukraine would have the absolute right to a government of their choosing, pursuing military and economic relations as they choose. However, morality has never ruled on such issues, and our encouragement of Ukraine to break from Russia has unleashed death and destruction; most of the suffering will be done by Ukrainians.

The US announced at the beginning of the Obama administration that we would be going after China - that's what the "pivot to Asia" was all about. You could argue that we wouldn't do so if China were a liberal democracy - should Xi Jinping take comfort in that? Should he conclude that he should abolish the Communist government in order to win favor from the US?

I certainly don't consider democracy and authoritarianism to be morally equivalent. I am profoundly grateful that I was born in the greatest liberal democracy of all. I just don't think we should be spending too much of our limited influence in the world trying to remake it in our image - the effort will cost too much to us, unleash too much suffering in the world, and ultimately fail. We'd be much better off managing the world to minimize conflict and maximize prosperity, while protecting our relative strength.

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And the difference between you and me is that I am not anywhere as pessimistic as you. I see Ukraine ultimately triumphing in protecting their freedom. Ask the Chinese if they would have been better off not resisting the Japanese during WWII. Many fewer Chinese would have died if they had not resisted. Would you not resist an invader of your liberal democracy even if it meant a lot of death and destruction in doing so? I also don't believe Ukraine would have been any more peaceful, prosperous, and free than Belarus is now if they had allowed themselves to be dominated by Putin (BTW, it wasn't mostly because of the West that Ukraine decided to opt for a Western-style liberal democracy, but because of the majority of Ukrainians). Ask Belarusians if that prefer living in their current country or struggling for their freedom as the Ukrainians are doing now.

As for China, no, Xi should not feel secure, but there is no way to make him feel secure. It's living in fantasyland to think that the US could preserve it's freedoms and liberal democracy while still being a leading power without eventually having to face off against an authoritarian Communist China. Read Lyman Stone.

Also, it's costing the US and the rest of the West almost nothing to be an arsenal of democracy and wreck the army of a leading authoritarian regime.

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We certainly don't see the situation the same - you're right about that.

It's possible that Ukraine would have gone the way of Belarus if we hadn't helped (or instigated) the ouster of Yanukovych in 2013. But Belarus was oppressive and poor ever since 1992, and Ukraine hadn't been, and wasn't clearly headed that direction.

Different situations are different. China had no good options for dealing with Japan - Japan wasn't even interested in extracting concessions, but wanted to occupy and exploit China. So, China's best choice was to resist.

I'll offer another comparison: Finland. Finland chose to resist Soviet territorial demands in 1939, and fought a heroic and inspiring war to protect their country. In the spring of 1940, though, they faced defeat and negotiated a peace that gave the Soviets what they wanted. When Germany invaded the Soviet Union in 1941, the Finns joined as a German ally, hoping to reclaim what they had lost. When the war turned against Germany, Finland was able to negotiate another peace that gave only small additional territory to the Soviets, in addition to war reparations. They kept their independence, and were able to move to liberal democracy, at the cost of maintaining strict military neutrality. This arrangement has been referred to since as "Finlandizing".

I submit that Ukrainians would have been better off if they had accepted Finlandizing in 2008, rather than following US and NATO calls to move more toward the west. They may still be able to get this outcome, but it's tragic that they were induced to fight a war that will cause so much death and destruction.

We are certainly helping to destroy the Russian army. I'm not sure that's a good thing for us. Again, death and destruction, in order to weaken a country that should be our ally. Even though Putin is a nasty authoritarian, he may be better than any alternative that could come.

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People have agency. Why do you assume 1. Putin even wants to be our ally? 2. That Putin wouldn't have manufactured a crisis/war even if Ukraine had Finlandized? Read Kamil Galeev, who's very insightful: https://mobile.twitter.com/kamilkazani/status/1504103672019513345

Putin has always manufactured wars/crises before to gain power. Same as Hitler. Because appeasement worked as well on Putin as on Hitler. Do you think that if Poland had "Finlandized", Hitler wouldn't have invaded?

Galeev explains clearly why your mode of thinking (appeasement of dictators all the time) is tragically wrong-headed.

In fact, the West should have stood up to Putin earlier, before Ukraine, instead of keep on appeasing him.

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Mar 16, 2022·edited Mar 16, 2022

As you said, we certainly don't see things the same way.

I can't think of anything the US or our European allies have done that could be called appeasement, unless you mean allowing trade is appeasement.

On the breakup of the Soviet Union, we welcomed all the former Warsaw Pact countries into NATO (and the EU) - Putin declared at the time that this was provocative. We welcomed Lithuania, Latvia, and Estonia into NATO and the EU - Putin declared that this was provocative. In 2008, we declared that Ukraine and Georgia "would" join NATO - Putin declared that this was intolerable. To show what "intolerable" meant, he invaded Georgia.

We engineered a coup in Ukraine to replace a Russia-friendly Yanukovych with a Western-friendly government. Putin responded by taking control of Crimea - he absolutely would not allow the crucial Russian naval base at Sevastopol to be controlled by an unfriendly power.

We worked with the Ukrainian government to provide military training and equipment; the only conceivable purpose would be strengthen Ukraine against Russia. This led to the current invasion.

I don't say any of this to justify Putin's actions. As I said, he's a nasty autocrat, and I sure wouldn't want to live in his country. But he is the head of a large country that is still powerful. We initiated the provocations, not him.

As I said elsewhere, if justice ruled, the Ukrainians could have the government of their choice, pursue the international relations of their choice, and live secure within their own borders. But justice has never ruled in international relations, and the Ukrainians are paying for our actions.

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Here's Stone's Twitter thread on the subject: https://mobile.twitter.com/lymanstoneky/status/1398297580795314179

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OK - I think we agree that confrontation between the US and China is inevitable. All indications are that the Chinese agree. Which seems to disagree with your earlier claim that "we wouldn't come after China so long as China doesn't invade a liberal democracy."

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I don't see a contradiction there. If China doesn't attack a liberal democracy, we'll have a cold war with China. Otherwise, we'll have a hot war. But no, we wouldn't attack China if they didn't attack a liberal democracy. We wouldn't even have a cold war with China if they didn't threaten the liberal democracies around it.

Confrontation with China is inevitable only because China threatens the liberal democracies around it.

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The idealistic hegemonism, as you term it, that has fostered that mindset among many authoritarian governments around the world comes from the US neoconservative project. Both in how grandiose and arrogant it actually was (and how motivated by a sense of purposelessness and ennui among those neocons in the '90s) and in how non-Middle Eastern, non-majority Muslim national leaders interpreted it as referring to them.

It was a grand(grandiose) theory of the ideal world order, but specifically one put forward by militarists in political coalition with Christian fundamentalists who want to outlaw abortion, scare LGBT folks back into the closet, put Christian prayer back into schools, and above all hold an intense fantasy of the prophesies of the Book of Revelation coming true in their lifetimes.

Therefore, it matters to those theocrats and the neocons in coalition with them that various Middle Eastern countries had called for Israel's destruction. Whatever North Korea or China did mattered (and matters) dramatically less, unless they start doing that specific thing.

But how is anyone outside the US supposed to understand white evangelicals and their Left Behind mindset? So, like a lot of US leftists do, the authoritarian leaders of these places looked for other motives, or just took the post-Bush US at its word. How are US national leaders who are not in that coalition supposed to communicate its nature to our allies, frankly, let alone our rivals/opponents?

As for Russia being a natural ally for the US, this is an idea that both some right wingers and Matt Stoller hold to. It's not completely off base in the sense that historically, *Tsarist* imperial Russia was a pretty good mediator and broker with the 19th century US against Britain.

But it's not 1813 or 1868 now. And Putin has what motive or desire, exactly, to ally himself with the US?

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Wow. That's a lovely take. Hypocrisy is in many ways like bad breath: you can usually only be aware when it's not your problem.

A lot of western ideals do not guide a lot of western actions. Philosophy is a mode of justification; it is not a guide for action. People will respond based on incentives, emotions, and the attributes of that situation, not based on lofty concepts enshrined in their constitutions.

The frank truth is the only reason the West are so surprised at what's going on in Ukraine is because they assumed wars of choice are not supposed to be conducted against democracies.

The inviolability of national borders is really the inviolability of western borders.

Also, people should stop excluding Russia from the West. Yes, Russia has always had a partly different cultural ancestry and alternating periods when it either wanted to embrace the West( Peter the Great) or carve its own way ( the Bolsheviks).

But even the ideas we commonly associated with Russia such as communism and autocracy are western ideas.

Communism is the brainchild of Europeans. Autocracy i.e the divine right to rule is one of the oldest political ideas in Europe.

There's nothing other or special about Russia.

It simply has out of favour western ideas, and they are out of favour for legitimate reasons, but we should stop pretending like Russia isn't part of the West.

It always was.

It still is.

It always will be.

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Yes, I believe invading democracies is bad. Is that a point you wish to contest?

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Of course, invading democracies is bad. The point is the West and the coterie of international organizations they mostly control act like national borders of every country are sacred inviolable things when they and other countries routinely invade and redraw them all the time.

The only time it's regarded as a problem is when it's a western or very pro-western democracy. Principles that are not consistently upheld are not principles. They are just conveniences. That's the point.

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What borders have been redrawn other than Israel and Ukraine? Or are you counting independence movements as “redrawing borders”?

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Hmmm. Intriguing question. Well, there are a couple. NATO was very active in the Yugoslavian crisis which ended up with Yugoslavia splitting into a number of countries.

The USA was also very supportive of Eritrea's independence movement among others.

And, then there are the invasions in Iraq, Afghanistan, etc.

And this is just the post colonialist era.

The whole deal of colonialism was redrawing boundaries in other parts of the world for the convenience of European powers.

Now, a few of these invasions had some positive consequences: weapons of mass destruction or not, a world without Saddam Hussein was and is a better world.

But most of them were disasters either in taking the territory, controlling the territory, or setting up an independent functioning system before departure.

The point is international boundaries are fictions. Useful fictions like money and language. But fictions nonetheless.

So, the Chinese are entitled to think that well, the West has done a lot of invading and conquering and redrawing not just throughout history, but even as we speak, right now.

So, why do they get to decide who participates in the great international power behaving badly game.

Especially when Taiwan was Formosa, and fully Chinese, not so long ago.

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I don’t think any of the examples you mention count. Yugoslavia and Eritrea were independence movements, but didn’t add any territory to an existing state. Iraq and Afghanistan led to regime change, but no change in borders. I have a lot of difficulty thinking of any actual *changes* in international borders other than those of Israel and Ukraine in the past several decades.

Some have suggested that the absorption of South Vietnam by the North should count, and surely the change in borders during the Korean War counts. But if you’re going that far back to find these changes anywhere in the world, then it’s clear that these past 7 decades have been interestingly different from world history prior to the end of the world wars.

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"weapons of mass destruction or not, a world without Saddam Hussein was and is a better world."

Not to defend Hussein in any way, but I think there are many Iraqis who would say that Iraq is worse (more violent, less prosperous) than it was under Hussein. Iraq's neighbors might also say they'd rather have a strong Iraq to counter Iran, rather than a weak Iraq that is manipulated by Iran.

We need to be very, very modest in assessing our ability to improve the world by wrecking things.

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What if the principle is "don't invade Western-style democracies"?

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Ohhh. Well, in that case then, that would definitely do a better job of describing recent history.

But there's nothing in the UN charter and other such agreements and declarations about only certain borders being inviolable, so it would still be hypocritical.

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Eh. So, I certainly think some realists like Mearsheimer have a poor grasp of reality, but I do believe in the realist assessment that actions speak louder than words. Words are just blather, but these days, it certainly seems as if liberal democracies in the Liberal Alliance are willing to defend each other.

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Great analysis as always. One or at most two "truths" in most writing. You are willing to put your logic on the line and connect the dots. Thank you.

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Mar 16, 2022Liked by Noah Smith

V good analysis, Noah. We do seem to be at important pivot point that will determine how the next few decades will go.

Couple of additional points:

a. Chinese policy chair Hu Wei offers his analysis on the choice for China and how balance of power will shake out following the Ukraine war. His conclusions, in short:

1. The US will regain leadership in the Western world.

2. China will become more isolated.

3. The power of the West will grow significantly.


b. Another challenge for China: demographics.

Change in working-age population:

Last 30 years: +30%

Next 30 years: -20%


(page 7)

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Hmmmm. I don't think it's an epic crossroads to be honest because by definition, epic crossroads are extremely rare. I recall when we called 2008 and 2020 epic crossroads as well: the chance for a great reset.

It didn't happen in either case. And while it might be too soon to judge with regard to the pandemic, all I can currently see is accelerated remoteness in work ( a good thing), relationships ( a bad thing), and businesses( it depends).

There will always be new crises and so there will always be new 'crossroads'.

But, Noah is extremely right about China experiencing an unprecedented moment of weakness. They have not handled the pandemic well in the long term, their real estate market has been at inflated prices for a long time, and Xi's crackdown on technology companies, while one of the few wise things he's done in my opinion, would definitely come with certain negative consequences.

But there are two things to point out: one, China and the West are very different. The West is obsessed with absolute freedom, property, and sovereignty. China is obsessed with reciprocal obligations, community, and hierarchy. So, the idea that China would simply discard its own cultural history for the sake of leading the way in the world is a ludicrous suggestion.

And nor should it do so. Westerners tend to believe that what worked for them will work for everyone else, which explains their consistent proselytization: they spread their religions, ideas, cultures, people, etc, often by violence.

But it's an untrue assumption to imagine that there's only one way. Solution space is always vast.

Two, China would be making a massive mistake if they bit the hands that fed them i.e globalization.

What I've found is that while previous Chinese regimes were very willing to learn from the West and discard what they felt should be discarded as was their right to, Xi's regime is unwilling to do any such thing, which is precisely the same arrogance on the other side of the divide.

But the West can afford that arrogance, and is in several respects, legitimately entitled to it. China can't, not yet and not soon for good measure.

Humility is a tiresome burden on the journey to succeed Xi's China have clearly discarded it.

A lost traveler in a desert who throws away his water bottles will definitely have a lesser burden to bear on the journey ahead.

But he most likely will not reach his destination.

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Thanks for the beautiful piece Noah. Hopefully reason will prevail.

But for all the risk of bad outcomes, there's something about the parallel to the 1930s that we should not forget. Back then the world's resources (oil et al.) were in the ground of European colonies. The view that force was the only way to get to them resonated strongly in Germany and Japan.

This in no way an excuse to their crimes, but just saying the situation is different today. Russia exports these resources. African or middle-eastern countries are free to sell to whom they whish. In the 1930s there were countries with growing populations and economies starving for resources, now the upcomers have stable or decreasing population and can access resources peacefully.

So the path to peace is hopefully more likely than a century ago. But of course, human stupidity has a habit of winning the day against all odds.

Little control on what happens in other countries. But for its part the west probably should restrain from using illegitimate means, even for good ends. Some of the sanctions like freezing countries' foreign reserves, or abusing dominant positions in financial transaction systems, may unfortunately give plenty of fodder for those screaming that things are unfair and only force can save the world. It would be far more legitimate that us European would just stop buying gas - more painful in the short run, definitely safer in the long run.

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In the end, power rules over all. People can scream all they want, but what are they screaming for? The ability to invade democratic countries without having your assets frozen? It's not as if, if Russia or China had the ability to strike financially against their foes with little cost to themselves, they would refrain from doing so.

Force does indeed rule the world. Disliking that doesn't make it less so. I'm just glad that the liberal democracies of the world, in total, still have more force than the authoritarian governments of the world. If democracies give up the use of force, that doesn't mean force will stop ruling the world, it would just mean authoritarian states would monopolize the use of force in the world. I don't see why you would cheer for such a state.

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Certainly wiser not to give up force if others don't. But I think an important takeaway from Noah's piece here is that force alone is weaker than force with justice, freedom and rationality clearly on your side. As Putin is finding out now - justice matters in wars. And as Xi may soon find out - freedom and rationality matter in economy.

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I'm afraid your note is a couple of decades late. The democracies (aside from the US, and the UK to a small extent) have already given up the use of force. German Chancellor Scholz has recently announced a significant and expensive commitment to rebuild German military capability, but it will take years to implement if followed through, and Germany in the meantime is incapable of responding to any threat more dangerous than an unruly crowd at the Austrian border (not that Austrians are unruly - I really like them).

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I think you've been reading too much propaganda. Yes, it will take time for the Germans to ramp up, but the liberal democracies in Europe are indeed rearming. In the meanwhile, they won't be threatened with the Russian army currently in the process of being completely wrecked. And the US not giving up the use of force is a big deal, no? By itself, it has enough to take on any of the most menacing authoritarian countries.

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Mar 16, 2022·edited Mar 16, 2022

I'm not sure what you mean by "take on". We do have more military strength than any other country, to be sure.

Could we commit enough to Ukraine to ensure a Russian defeat? Maybe, but Putin has made it clear he won't tolerate a defeat, and he does have the option to go nuclear. Even without that, would we commit enough force to defeat Russia and protect Ukraine for the long term? That would make us less capable to deal with anything else. And China remains the bigger threat, so I don't think that would be a wise use of American power.

When I served in Germany 35 years ago, we had a military alliance that could likely have defeated the Soviets, and plans and support systems in place to sustain the fight. If Russian tanks rolled into Warsaw tomorrow, we don't have forces in place, or allies with capability, to do much about it. As you said, the Russians aren't likely to invade Poland (let alone Germany), even if they weren't bogged down in Ukraine. But you can't base your foreign policy on rivals' intentions, unless you're willing to be at their mercy.

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You must not be following the war in Ukraine closely. The Russian army is getting wrecked there (by essentially a small-arms army that is below NATO standards), losing 0.5-1% of their invasion force (which was 75-80% of their frontline units and best equipment) in all aspects every day. At the rate this is going, they won't have much of a modern army left soon, with just a ton of Soviet relics (if they still even work) manned by poorly-trained reserves.

NATO would have mopped the floor with the Russian military even before their invasion of Ukraine. By now, any war with NATO would completely destroy the Russian military with little harm to NATO.

As for nukes, as I mentioned before, even if Putin has a death wish, I doubt the other Russians who have to sign off on a nuclear strike (including the peon who has to push the actual button) do.

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I've been following the war in Ukraine. The Russians displayed astonishing incompetence in the opening phase - I assume based as much on overconfidence as anything else. But even so, the state of training and organization is abysmal - it's unforgiveable that a column would be stuck for days on a road, and even more unforgiveable that the soldiers in the convoy didn't attempt to disperse a little and secure their immediate vicinity. It's inexcusable that the Russians would advance without even deploying air defenses. And so on.

Lately, though, there hasn't been much news about Russians killed or Russian equipment destroyed. I expect because the Russians have gotten better. What has been in the news is destruction in Ukrainian cities. Russians well understand how to deploy overwhelming firepower - they did it before in Donbas fighting. If they don't run out of ammunition, they can demolish Ukrainian cities, and there isn't much the Ukrainians can do about it.

You may say that Russia would be crazy to destroy the territory they want to capture. But I think you misunderstand. Putin doesn't want to capture Ukraine, and probably estimates the cost of installing and maintaining a puppet government would be too high. He wants to make it clear to Ukraine that they have more to fear from Russia than to gain from the West. I think he will succeed in this goal.

As for NATO - the US Air Force could almost certainly clear the skies of Russian planes and helicopters, and could probably deal with Russian air defenses without much loss. The Army could easily defeat 3 times their number of Russians, probably 10 times.

The rest of NATO, though, unilaterally disarmed. In 2014, when Russia took control of Crimea, NATO was worried that they might move against the Baltic states. Germany had less than a battalion of tanks operational, and had 3 heavy transport rail cars to move them. It would have taken 20 trains to move the small armored force that Germany had, if they could have deployed it and supported it with fuel and ammunition. Germany hasn't improved its status since, but Scholz has announced a plan to rebuild.

We, and our allies, have operated under the delusion that military strength simply wouldn't be used in Europe. The Ukrainians are paying the price, while we rebuild our capacity to defend our allies. And China won't have much to worry about for a while.

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Always fascinated when big picture observations like this exclude the accelerating climate crisis. How do multiple breadbasket failures in the coming years, accelerating sea level rise, sequential weather disasters, mass migration and more play into China’s Strategic choices ?

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All of us will be affected. In the end , we'll likely just end up shooting sulfur in to the sky.

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In terms of the Covid, I cant agree more about what you said.The fact is that the ordinary people cant go to work because of the pandemic prevention policy.Now Im in Jilin povince, above 1000 people are infected per day recently, so we cant go anywhere just stay at home. Thus many people get no income and lead a hard life. We are physically and mentally exhausted and really want to go back to normal life,but we cant. Because this is the order,we must obey.

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I'm an old school wargamer, and I've run any number of scenarios involving Taiwan. You'd flat have to be out of your mind to try and invade Taiwan. That would be like trying to invade Switzerland, if Switzerland were 100 miles offshore.

First, China would have to build a LOT of landing / transport ships which they don't have. Which takes a lot of time and puts everyone on notice that you're coming. And which are in range of shore batteries for hours as they close in waters infested by submarines from multiple nations.

Second, the Taiwanese have been expecting and planning for an invasion for 75 years. They've dug in like you can't believe. Think 'Okinawa' or 'Iwo Jima' in terms of digging in, only doing it for decades.

Third, their military is first rate and they have seriously good equipment. Plus they train with US and allied forces, so they're not going to make the kind of boneheaded errors like we're seeing with the Russians.

Fourth, the Chinese supply line for an invasion consists of the Strait of Formosa. Transport vessels are easy pickin's. Setting up an air bridge for resupply is not an option.

Fifth, there is only one landing beach on the whole bloody island, and it's their main port. Not to mention the terrain absolutely sucks for any kind of airborne assault.

And sixth, the Taiwanese will fight back just as hard as the Ukrainians. Only more so. They've got nowhere to go.

If China tries a grab with Taiwan, they'll pull back a bloody stump.

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IMO, an attempted blockade by China would be more likely than an attempted amphibious assault.

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Nice article. However you left out the most important item. Food. That weakness will require a good bit of attention in the coming years.

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Mar 19, 2022·edited Mar 19, 2022

Xi and others should step back and take a look around them. They would see that an awful lot of China resembles the West. They should know that if they had to rely only on what is original to their country and not what is made there, a lot of it would still look like it did at the start of the twentieth century. Mao's effort to change China was largely a repudiation of the old China. The CCP should also take note of the fact that everything China does not travel well in the world, and it never has and never will. It's an important distinction and one they dismiss at their peril.

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I would add that our liberal order has grown a lot less free. That our leaders look good next to Putin and Xi doesn’t make them good. And they use every crisis, be it war, recession or pandemic to grab more power.

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The inability of rising powers to bide their time and make nice seems to be a recurring theme. 21st century China is a lot like 20th century Germany. Grasping defeat from the jaws of victory. China’s military is much less tested than Russia’s and look at what a hash the Russians are making of things. An amphibious assault across 100 miles of contested water is a really complex operation. A lot could go wrong.

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Mar 17, 2022·edited Mar 17, 2022

I think China has already made the big choice, and subconsiously the US has as well.

Is Russia really the make-or-break here? The Uighur genocide (call it by a softer term if you insist) probably has a much larger death toll. China has border conflicts with half the neigbourhood, and the Party probably can't afford to withdraw from most of them. As for the US, countries have habits just like people. The US is used to its place, and will not let itself be quietly replaced by an illiberal state, and the Cold War script would have shown itself even earlier had America not been distracted by 9/11.

This, however, does not quite decide China's behaviour in the current crises. I suspect Xi is thinking this:

A) What Russia does for China is irreplaceable. Not merely guaranteed resource access, but control of most of Central Asia and a Northern route to Europe. Not merely an alliance, but bringing a few other (weak) countries with it.

B) This alliance probably requires a Russian regime like the current one. A liberal Russia would immediately join the West*. Trying to replace Putin while keeping the regime is too complicated, so China needs Putin, at least for now.

C) However, Ukraine is Putin's obsession, not Xi's. Putin can probably repress his way to stability given just enough success (whether imaginary or true success). Xi just needs Putin to keep his position. There's no need for an immediate crisis with the West, that should be done when China is ready.

What Xi probably wants is to give just enough support so Putin keeps his power, but enough to not completely alienate the West. I think this is doable? Removing Putin is not anyone's official wargoal. The West doesn't want to confront China now either. There are probably ways to give Russia just enough support while telling it to not press on too much. For example, there must be some leftover Russian-made weapons in PLA's warehouses, just say these weren't China's or blame corruption.

Now if Putin is headstrong, and Ukraine becomes a grueling stalemate, the calculus may change. Say the Russians can't advance but the Ukrainian army can't kick them out, while Russia keeps bombing cities. That would be a complicated situation, but China has levers.

* Leaving aside definitional questions of how the define 'West'.

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I'm not sure what good a route to Europe is when Russia is giving Europe good reasons to cut off Russia from Europe.

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Mar 17, 2022·edited Mar 17, 2022

As of now, goods not made in Russia passing via Russia can enter Europe. Europe is very unlikely to change this since this is so very economical for them.

Specifically, I was thinking of the 'silk railroad' or of the 'northeast passage' waters[1] (which are likely to be unlocked by global warming). There's no way for China to use the northeast passage without Russia's approval, yet I strongly doubt Europe would refuse passing ships merely because a part of the route passes above Russia.

[1] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Northern_Sea_Route

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It depends on whether China aids Russia in their war vs Ukraine. If China aids and abets Russia, I don't think it can count on the European markets being open to it's goods.

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I don't see the EU sanctioning their biggest trade partner because of low-level support. Russia has an oil exemption, so they'll be sanctioning China too? Just where do they think their 'energy transition' equipment is manufactured? This would tank European economic and foreign policy in a million ways.

So long as China doesn't do this 'in their face', China has good odds to avoid any sanction.

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I always find it interesting that questions about which path China should take are always posited as if they have a unilateral decision to make. China could become the “global leader of liberalism” without asking the next question “will America allow this?”. And, given the rhetoric coming from western nations, I feel confident in saying that the US will never allow this to happen. Their people will never allow a government to acknowledge “we’re number 2”.

So, it’s nice to state China has this option and its only because the chinese government is despotic and unenlightend and “getting high on their own propaganda”. Maybe the last five years of anti china actions have shown them that this really isn’t an option and therefore they are being rational actors.

Would be interesting to see you write an article about “America’s fateful decision” without an recognition of the impact chinese choices have on their thinking.

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