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Deconstructing De Borchgrave

Published on 08 April 2012
Updated on 05 April 2024

At age 85 and counting, Arnaud De Borchgrave (DB) is still writing (in the moon[1]-revered Washington Times) with the authority that once accrued to Gromyko after 40 years at the helm of Soviet foreign policy. With Gromyko DB he shared a dour Cold War view of the world.

DB has recently come out with a Commentary: Asian Finlandization[2], which I have had fun deconstructing. It is an excellent text for a young diplomat to sharpen his analytical teeth on. Here the result – in its main lines[3].

The author asks (and answers) the rhetorical question: Is Finlandization also spreading to the South China Sea? A report by the Center for a New American Security describes “American interests (as) increasingly at risk (there) due to the economic and military rise of China and concerns about its willingness to uphold existing legal norms.”

Finlandization anyone?

Finlandization (Finnish: suomettuminen; Swedish: finlandisering; German: Finnlandisierung) is a term used to describe the influence that one powerful country may have on the policies of a smaller neighboring country[4].

This definition is inexact. While Russia expected Finland (and Austria) to be free of military entanglements, it did not obligate them to be economically in its orbit. Both countries became members of EFTA and integrated economically within Western Europe.

Given the definition, one wonders, what is the network of military (and economic) treaties tying countries in Asia from Thailand to Japan to the US? DB admits the “American interests are increasingly at risk”, so these treaties are not selfless gesture – they are part of a US-designed Finlandization policy (albeit somewhat at a distance from the US).

DB praises “plucky” Finland for fighting the Russian Bear. Would he call Vietnam “plucky” for refusing to enter the American sphere of interests in to ‘50s and 60s – in short to be Finlandized? And where does DB leave the secret wasting of Laos under Kennedy and beyond, or the smiting of Cambodia?

It would seem as if DB uses history selectively – he calls on its authority when it suits his argument only.

Where is the danger?

“The South China Sea, says the report by Patrick M. Cronin and Robert D. Kaplan, “functions as the throat of the Western Pacific and Indian Oceans — a mass of connective economic tissue where global sea routes coalesce … the demographic hub of the 21st-century global economy.”

Let’s look at a map of the overall area. The South China Sea is in the upper right corner:

south china sea control1

One is attracted to the imagery the throat of the Western Pacific and Indian Oceans”; the amorfous “a mass of connective economic tissue”; or the breathless hype: “demographic hub of the 21st-century global economy.” “Throat” elicits the fear of China “going to the jugular” – never mind that the South China Sea – though important – does not in any way connect directly or exclusively with the Indian Ocean. The “mass of economic tissue” is even better – since when can a sea lane be defined in such a way? And finally the ultimate (and sure-fire) scare: “demographic hub”. The exact meaning of this term is left floating in alluring imprecision. By all reasonable accounts the demography in that region is hardly going to be a “hub” in the global economy, not any more than other parts of the world. The only notable thing would be the likely export of up to 80 million low-paying jobs from China into i.a. South East Asia. Is this “strategically dangerous”, at least compared with a world-wide population topping 9 billion?

What danger – what response?

The South China Sea will be a geopolitical test case for the Finlandization process. Countries that border this sea — Vietnam, Malaysia, the Philippines — “face ‘Finlandization’ by China if U.S. naval and air power diminishes”

China is certainly flexing its economic muscle world-wide. This reflects China having become the “industrial producer of last resort”; the millenary Chinese tradition of migration toward economic opportunity[5] also plays a significant role. The article is silent as to China’s military expansion. It does mention “cyber-war” and “cyber-espionage” – but that threat is global, not regional.

What does the article propose? More ships, and yet more planes in the region. The author gives no clue as to how 11 (rather than 9) carrier task forces might stop China’s economic advance, or fight a war in cyber-space. In reading the article one is reminded of Abraham MASLOW’s adage: “”I suppose it is tempting, if the only tool you have is a hammer, to treat everything as if it were a nail.”

Meanwhile pundits, parrots, and prophets paint the China Peril on the wall. Maybe one should read C. P. Kavafy (I apologise for the poor rendering in this blog):

Waiting for the Barbarians

What are we waiting for, assembled in the forum?

The barbarians are due here today

Why isn’t anything happening in the senate?

Why do the senators sit there without legislating?

Because the barbarians are coming today.

What laws can the senators make now?

Once the barbarians are here, they’ll do the legislating

Why did our emperor get up so early,

and why is he sitting at the city’s main gate

on his throne, in state, wearing the crown?

Because the barbarians are coming today

and the emperor is waiting to receive their leader.

He has even prepared a scroll to give him,

replete with titles, with imposing names.

Why have our two consuls and praetors come out today

wearing their embroidered, their scarlet togas?

Why have they put on bracelets with so many amethysts,

and rings sparkling with magnificent emeralds?

Why are they carrying elegant canes

beautifully worked in silver and gold?

Because the barbarians are coming today

and things like that dazzle the barbarians.

Why don’t our distinguished orators come forward as usual

to make their speeches, say what they have to say

Because the barbarians are coming today

and they’re bored by rhetoric and public speaking

Why this sudden restlessness, this confusion?

(How serious people’s faces have become.)

Why are the streets and squares emptying so rapidly,

everyone going home so lost in thought?

Because night has fallen and the barbarians have not come.

And some who have just returned from the border say

there are no barbarians any longer.

And now, what’s going to happen to us without barbarians?

They were, those people, a kind of solution.

[1] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Washington_Times The newspaper belonged to Rev. Moon until 2010, and then was incorporated in Murdoch’s News Corporation empire.

[2] https://m.upi.com/m/story/UPI-43541326799160/

[3] I am deliberately avoiding refutation of the arguments – it would be a spitting match. For those interested in the subject matter see: Taylor FRAVEL (2012): All Quiet in the South China Sea. Why China is Playing Nice (For Now). Foreign Affairs March 22, 2012.

[5] Ronald SKELDON (1996): Migration from China. Journal of International Affairs, Winter 96, Vol. 49 Issue 2, p.434

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