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The International Writers Magazine

Dean Borok

One of the reasons people in Los Angeles speak English instead of Spanish is that in the first three hundred years of its modern history, Mexico never considered it important to populate its northern territories.  As pressure in the United States grew for expansion to the Pacific Ocean, one of the justifications for annexation of the Mexican territories under the doctrine of “Manifest Destiny” was that the land was desolate and going to waste.  Abraham Lincoln joked that the Mexicans never did anything with the land and after less than three years we had discovered gold in California.

If the lands from Texas to California had been populated by thriving towns and cities and productive agricultural areas, annexation by the Americans would have been much harder to achieve both militarily and in the court of domestic and American world opinion.
Nature abhors a vacuum, and that is why sparsely populated countries like Canada, Australia and Brazil have historically maintained such liberal immigration policies to discourage potential foreign incursions into their sparsely populated territories.
Ninety percent of Canada’s thirty million inhabitants live within a day’s drive of the U.S. border, and with its immense natural resources and strategic location Canada has a great deal to protect, particularly in its vast, unpopulated northern territories, rich in petroleum, gold and diamonds and protected by only a few icebreakers patrolling the Northwest Passage to assert sovereignty by showing the Canadian flag.
At this writing, the American consciousness, distracted by the Iraq war and left-leaning regimes in Latin America, is not yet focused on our charming neighbors to the north, but that could change from one day to the next in light of Quebec’s vast supplies of fresh water (one-seventh of the world’s total supply) and its huge hydroelectric generating facilities.
All it would take to focus American attention on Canadian hydroelectric resources would be a breakdown in our hydroelectric grid, or a drought, or both.  Then you would see how fast the good neighbor policy would vanish with the extinctive speed of the Patagonian Wingtip Booby.  The Canadians depend on us to protect them (as if they had a choice!) but who will be there to protect them from the loving embrace of their protector?  That is a question that is yet to be proposed in polite society.
Another world region that is almost a mirror image of this situation is Russian Siberia adjacent to China.  With Russia’s vast natural resources on one side and China’s impoverished masses on the other, this scenario would seem to be a likely laboratory for my theory about hungry populations moving in to fill a vacuum the way the Turkmen inhabited ancient Anatolia.
Mindful of the vast resources they had to protect, the Russian czars and then the Soviet Communists made settlement of Siberia a priority, and sometimes mandatory, policy.  The Trans-Siberian Railroad served much the same purpose as the Union Pacific in the States, to facilitate settlement between the Urals and Vladivostock and the transportation of resources to western manufacturing centers.  Settlers who were willing to move east under the Soviet system were afforded privileged treatment in the form of cash bonuses, modern apartments and yearly Black Sea vacations.
But even at its zenith under the Soviet empire, the combined population of all the republics peaked at just 250 million souls.  With the breakup of the constituent republics, the number of inhabitants in the present Russian Federation numbers no more than 150 million, few of whom are inclined to immigrate to Siberia for a couple of measly kopecks or an apartment.
So, filling up a geographical area the size of Siberia, stretching 12 time zones and encompassing a gigantic area stretching from Kazakhstan to the North Pole is a pipedream.  The population needed to populate an area that size would be more than China and India combined.
Meanwhile, as China’s population explodes and such resources as it possesses rapidly deplete, the attention of the Chinese population must inevitably focus on the huge, rich, barren territories to its north.  Currently growing at a rate of 11% a year, China is a voracious devourer of resources, at its current level of industrial development.  What its needs will be in 20 years’ time at its current rate of growth is anybody’s guess, and the sparsely populated region of Russia’s far east must tantalize Beijing’s policy planners even now.  Russia has a huge nuclear arsenal to prevent Chinese penetration, but with China now a nuclear power too, can a Sino-Soviet standoff over the Russian far east be far in the future?
American strategists fly into a rage every time the French bring up the subject of a multi-polar world, but the French, with their miniscule military presence and symbolic nuclear “force de frappe,” represent no threat to anybody except as the inspirers of European social and technical innovation.  Nevertheless, multipolarity already exists between America, with its economic and military power; Russia, with its energy and mining resources; and China, with its huge population and manufacturing capacity.  To suggest otherwise would be to turn a blind eye to reality.
Russia’s Premier Putin has already manifested his intention to exert iron-fisted control over the country’s energy resources, abrogating extraction agreements with foreign oil companies operating in the Sakhalin peninsula and using oil and gas exports as leverage to gain advantage against former Soviet republics and Western Europe.  The Chinese are cannily using their leverage as our most important supplier of manufactured goods (whose fault is that?) to control the foreign exchange rate to their advantage and to further their foreign policy objectives in Asia and further afield.  These levers are at least as important as that of military superiority, which may be shown to be to a certain extent overrated in light of the Iraq experience.
In preparation for this article I consulted with one of my foreign policy experts, a cocktail waitress named Cindy at Peggy O’Neill’s Sports Bar in Coney Island.  When I asked her opinion about petroleum extraction in Russia’s Sakhalin peninsula, she reflected at length and then gave me her considered opinion, “As long as it’s good for us.”  Whether the interests of Chevron Texaco and BP exactly mesh with those of American society at large is open to debate, but for the purpose of this article I shall assume that they do.  Other countries support the efforts of their national oil companies, whose practices are no less predatory than our own.
We need oil, and our oil companies are being shut out of market after market as countries wise up and assert control over their own resources.  For many years we held all the cards, pulled all the strings and cracked all the whips.  We were so loaded that we were able to eschew the necessity for a competent diplomatic service or intelligence service.  Now we are sorely feeling the need of those facilities.  The Chinese are playing a nuanced game, gaining terrain a millimeter at a time, and all those millimeters are starting to add up.  The Russians have a long tradition of intellectual and philosophical erudition and are the world’s greatest chess players.
This country’s blatant contempt for diplomacy and “foreign entanglements,” as they are disdainfully called, is most blatantly characterized by the awarding of strategically crucial ambassadorships to social climbing political campaign contributors and society mavens, a system that may have been relatively benign when we were so strong that it didn’t matter, but now that we are facing more effective adversarial competition for world resources and markets it may have to be reevaluated – if we possess the capacity and will to change.
American diplomacy has had one coherent diplomatic strategist that I can think of: Henry Kissinger, though his efforts were wasted in pursuit of nonsense.  Kissinger’s thinking can still be referenced since, like a ghoul, he refuses to do us the honor of dying like his boss, Nixon.  He’s no genius, but he pursues a step-by-step approach to diplomacy and he adheres to historical precedent.  His approach to a resolution of the Iraq war? A multilateral convention, which this writer has advocated for years.  Never mind that.  Kissinger is knowledgeable about the historical processes of diplomacy and diplomatic alliances.
He long ago formulated a policy of triangulation, playing the Russians against the Chines in pursuit of American interests.  This was at a time when relations between those countries were already tense, following an ugly border incident in 1968 that astonished a world conditioned to believing in monolithic communism – as though the kinds of contradictions that cleave two capitalistic countries couldn’t replicate across communist borders.  Kissinger understood that historical realities don’t get obliterated with a transient change of regimes or ideologies, and he set a course of playing the two countries against each other in order to achieve American purposes.  The problem is: the goals he strove for, outlined by his boss, Nixon, were at best illusory and at worst pernicious.
But Kissinger’s unholy alliance with evil in order to satisfy his overweening personal ambitions does not negate the soundness of his thinking.  Kissinger is amoral.  He would have gone to work for anybody.  Who knows?  If a respectable statesman had given him employment he might have ended up doing real good for the country as well as himself.
His strategy of triangulation deserves to be revisited and studied, to see if it can gain us access to Russia’s natural resources and some leverage of control over China’s massive balance of payments surpluses, as well as that country’s growing military influence over Asia.  To put it in oversimplified terms, which are the only ones I can understand, Russia needs alliances to help it protect its Siberian resources, China needs access to those same resources, China also borders India and Pakistan, which both possess nuclear weapons and depend upon American markets.  There is a lot of room for American diplomacy to play triangulation here if it can define rational, realistic goals.
That’s impossible under the current administration.  Bush is still playing the old game, wherein we throw our weight around without regard for the consequences.  I am anticipating a Clinton administration (unless Bush is impeached and it’s Pelosi).  Hillary Clinton is a much more professional person, and her husband did a quite successful job of administrating American diplomacy, in addition to which he had his own effective techniques of triangulation.
Maybe they could even bring back Kissinger in some capacity, like a zombie.

© Dean Borok July 14th 2007
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