Walter Russell Mead: China in the Kaiser's Footsteps





[Walter Russell Mead is Henry A. Kissinger senior fellow at the Council on Foreign Relations and author of Special Providence: American Foreign Policy and How It Changed the World. He blogs at The-American-Interest.com.]

Is China the best friend of American power?

Beijing’s recent missteps in Asia — moving ahead with reactor sales to troubled Pakistan and crudely threatening Japan over the arrest of a Chinese fishing captain — are swiftly solidifying America’s Asian alliances. The new Japanese government came into office hoping to rebalance Japan’s foreign policy and reduce tensions with China. That dream is now dead. And China’s deepening relationship with Pakistan, intended in part as a counter to America’s nuclear opening to India, is driving Asia’s other emerging nuclear power closer than ever into the arms of America (and Japan). South Korea, once drifting peacefully toward China, has moved back towards the United States following China’s support for Pyongyang after the sinking of a South Korean naval boat.

In all this there is one clear theme. America isn’t containing China. China is containing itself. As China’s economy grows and its military develops new capacities, it is looking for ways to turn that potential power into actual power over events. In the past, China has tried to attract its neighbors into its orbit with sweeteners like trade deals and aid.

But these measures apparently strike a new generation of Chinese policy makers as unsatisfactory. China is too great a power to play nice, they think. So they assert their territorial claims more and more boldly, and blow up disputes with Japan out of all proportion.

The last great power to make this shift was Imperial Germany. Once Wilhelm I had put his empire together (defeating Napoleon III in the Franco-Prussian War), he and his brilliant chancellor Otto von Bismarck realized that Germany’s greatest danger was to unite the surrounding powers against it. It was time for sweet talk and flowers, or as the last generation of policymakers in Beijing used to put it, “peaceful rise”. Wilhelm and Bismarck were nice to everyone who might join a coalition against them: Russia, England, Austria, Italy, the Ottoman Empire, America — and even France. This was an exhausting policy and German foreign policy sometimes looked like a French bedroom farce as Bismarck hid Austria in the closet when Russia stormed into the bedroom. Nevertheless, it worked. Germany rose peacefully after 1871; it overtook Britain in manufacturing and its exports filled the world. German financial firms developed a world reach and Germany even built up a colonial empire with dependencies in Africa and the Pacific.

But the old Wilhelm died and a new Wilhelm (Wilhelm II) brought a new generation of Germans into power. Firing the elderly and crotchety Bismarck, Wilhelm read Admiral Mahan’s Importance of Sea Power in History and dreamed of the blue water navy that would turn Germany into a true Weltmacht, world power. Moreover, ‘Willi’ was sick and tired of deferring to all the neighbors. Enough of this insipid “Dreikaiserbund“, the complicated three-way alliance between Russia, Germany and Austria! And enough of this being nice to France. The French were losers, has-beens. It was time they were made to feel it. Germany was the greatest power in Europe and it was high time people accepted this fact.

Wilhelm’s new policies led to series of unsettling crises in Europe and to the shocking development of a firm alliance between staunchly republican France and the arch-conservative Russians. The unthinkable happened; the autocratic Tsar of all the Russias stood for La Marseillaise (the bloody-minded French revolutionary hymn that his ancestors had once banned) and the Republic and the Tyrant joined forces against the Bully.

That was only the start; German ambitions ultimately turned this odd couple into an even unlikelier ménage à trois; first the French and then the Russians composed their differences with the hated Brits to form the Triple Alliance — the only combination of powers that could possibly thwart German ambitions. Germany was left with the most decrepit and useless European powers: the imploding Ottoman state, the ramshackle Austrian monarchy and (temporarily) the disorganized but appealing mess known as the Kingdom of Italy.

Chinese policy today seems bent on following Wilhelm’s road to ruin...


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Arnold Shcherban - 9/30/2010

The US/UK coalition has just recently launched two aggressions against and occupations of Iraq and Afghanistan, regularly kills Pakistanis on their national territory (by all international measures constituting one more war), plus together with Israel driving closer to military strike (actual war) on Iran, but it is China who on absolutely legitimate reasons protested the illegal actions of Japanese authorities, or helped Pakistanis (who is the US official ally and already has nuclear weapons, getting them with help of the American allies) to built one more nuclear reactor, whose ultra- aggressive, at least uncivilized foreign policies that drives the world to war and Chinese nation to disaster...
Paramount of Hypocricy, indeed.