Monday, February 26, 2018

We've Still Got Ten Months to Get Through

Here we are, two months into the year.

There are plenty of signs that 2018 will be a tumultuous year. I can't imagine Canada not remaining a civil society into 2019. That seems one of the safest bets for this year.

The future of America isn't so clear. The country is being torn apart into two mutually hostile and distrusting camps. It has a president who nurtures his Gullibillies, inflaming their passions and appealing to every base instinct within them. Reconciliation does not seem in the cards. There may be some low grade civil war only without the musket balls and grape shot.

The Americans have their mid-term elections this year. And some sketchy groups, foreign and domestic, are gearing up to manipulate the outcome. Anything to undermine the last and tattered vestiges of American democracy and sow chaos.

America's rise from a frontier country to an agrarian state to an industrial and economic giant with the world's largest, most broadly based and robust middle class was the stuff of dreams. Those dreams are gone. Americans have stopped believing and they're angry for it.

Berkley prof and former Clinton advisor, Robert Reich, looks at how the American belief in the "common good" has dissolved and the Herculean task that lies ahead to restore it.

Climate change will continue to worsen. The existing levels of atmospheric greenhouse gases ensure continual heating and, until we come up with some means and the will (i.e. taxes) to implement some effective programme to suck that greenhouse gas out of the sky, continual heating is locked in. Of course we also need to reverse the excessive acidification of our oceans. We do have our work cut out for us don't we? Fortunately we have finally come to our senses and decided to shut down the fossil fuel industry, right? What, no? Oh dear.

As I pointed out last week, no matter what part of the world you're in, you're living with some climate anomaly. You're already living in an altered climate that differs from one region to the next. Here on the Pacific coast we're living in an altered climate - spring arrives sooner, the forest fire season is longer, species, especially marine life, are migrating into our waters. It's a marked departure from even what it was 20 years ago. Canadians in central Canada have their own climate anomaly. Maritimers have theirs too. Look at the Arctic where, in the pitch black of the Arctic winter they're getting temperatures 20 even 30 degrees Celsius above normal, temperatures above the freezing mark. Think that's not an anomaly? Remember, these are just the early onset impacts.

As a rule, Canadians don't follow global military developments very closely. It's not a big thing with our media. We hear a bit about North Korea and Syria, that sort of thing, with a spattering of stories of Afghan atrocities.  Military affairs is one area where ignorance is bliss.   I don't think Canada is on anybody's primary target list. We're not really "first strike" material. Not to say we wouldn't get swept up in some larger conflagration. We surely would, eventually.

Around the world nations are gearing up for war. Rearmament is all the rage at the moment. Submarines are the "must have" accessory in the Asia Pacific region. Nuclear weapons and operational theory are hot in South Asia - Pakistan and India.Tensions are again building up along the Chinese-Indian frontier. Both sides are deploying more forces to the border. China now frets about the "Quad." It's a fairly informal cooperative relationship by Australia, the U.S., India and Japan. It's not a mutual defence pact like NATO but those nations are collaborating on how best to confine China and who will have which areas of responsibility. Even the Swedes are looking at doubling their military budget by 2030-2035 and announced, months ago, plans were announced to dust off the country's 65,000 Cold War bomb shelters and build perhaps half again as many new shelters to handle population growth in recent decades.  The Swedes don't have much confidence in this NATO build up in the Balkans on Russia's borders. Can't imagine why.

Then there's China and the United States. This is where it gets real personal. There's a transition underway. It's not so much that American power and influence are in decline, although they are. It's that Chinese power and influence are growing and spreading rapidly through Asia, Africa, the Middle East, even Monroe Doctrine territory, South America.

The world has seen half a dozen or so of these superpower transitions. A minority of them have been peaceful. Two out of three have not. When the United States displaced Britain it was peaceful but, then again, we were all allies, all part of the Anglosphere, all liberal democracies. The Brits were good losers, even grateful to have someone else do the heavy lifting.

I'm not seeing signs of a similar goodwill building between Washington and Beijing. I read a remarkable essay in the proceedings of the US Naval Institute wherein an active duty officer was verklempt at the very idea that America could be overtaken by China "without a fight."  From what I've read about China's officer corps, they're also itching to settle some old scores. They've got this thing called their "century of humiliation" that's a burr under their saddle. Great time for America to have a chip on its shoulder.

It's hard to imagine how this all gets sorted out. Just as WWI began with the assassination of Archduke Franz Ferdinand in Serajevo a scuffle between China and India on their frontier could light the fuze for a greater war that would drag in the U.S., Russia, even NATO. And, with the possible exception of Israel, all the members of the nuclear club would be at the party.

Back in 2014 the leading German financial paper, Handelsblatt, warned that the peoples of the West were being "mentally mobilized" for war.  We were then and have been ever since. Now we've got Russia rearming - new and improved missiles, warheads and submarines. The United States wants to field a new generation of easier to use, lower-yield nukes. China, seeing what's going on in the States and Russia, is working on a modernized and much larger nuclear arsenal of its own.

We haven't paid them much heed but the experts in war studies have been giving plenty of warnings that the next major-power war is likely to be inadvertent, unintended, even unwanted. Just like WWI. In a world of MAD or mutually-assured destruction only a mad man would deliberately launch a global nuclear war. It's far more likely to begin with a horrible mistake or a miscalculation.

Might this happen in 2018? No one can tell. However, like climate change, it is part of our new, daily reality.

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