The Millennium Generation – Generation Y, born after 1982 and before 2000 — is getting its first taste of Cold War. Missiles pointed at America. The terror of nuclear conflict. Crazy dictators in fancy uniforms reviewing marching troops. Jon Stuart laughs it up but this is serious business.
The current events remind Baby Boomers of the terrors of their youth. Teachers telling kids to hide under their desks. A US fleet sailing out to confront the Russians. Khrushchev banging his shoe at the United Nations. Air raid sirens announcing total annihilation at 2AM. Giant shell games in the desert.
- Last week’s events on the Korean Peninsula bear an uncanny resemblance to the First Cold War. A democratic capitalist country, South Korea, threatened with nuclear annihilation. The US rushing in bombers and fighters in a show of force. Missile batteries airlifted to a peripheral island to shield the region from missile attack.
- Ironically, the Second Cold War is starting exact where the first one started, on the 38th Parallel on the Korean Peninsula. The parallels to the First Cold War are disconcerting. An ascendant power, read China, asserting its hegemonic ambitions through a proxy state, read North Korea. Last time around, it was the Soviet Union, arming North Korea to push back the American military occupation in the South.
- Like the last Cold War, the emergent power is claiming a sphere of influence to buffer it from Anglo-American democracy capitalism.
China has drawn a line covering the China Sea – the body of water between China and Japan / the Philippines comprised of the South China Sea, East China Sea and Yellow Sea. Korea marks the northern border of this hypothetical sphere of influence. China wants to throw American power back to the Eastern Coasts of Japan, the Philippines, Indonesia and Korea and create a Chinese lake in its wake. Since World War II, America has camped at China’s doorstep with bases or proxies crowding its borders in Hong Kong, Taiwan, Japan and South Korea. The Seventh Fleet has ruled the China Sea, steaming back and forth through the Strait of Formosa with impunity asserting US power. The coast of Mainland China is only 77 miles from Taiwan and 200 miles from the South Korean coast. In terms of Taiwan, that is equivalent to the distance from Central Park to the Shinnecock Bridge, just beyond which Wall Street investment bankers vacation in the Hamptons. Or Union Square, San Francisco to Carmel where the tech millionaires of Silicon Valley party and play – at least golf at Pebble Beach. The distance between South Korea and the Chinese province of Shandong is the same as from Washington DC to New York. Traditionally, US warships have ventured within 15 nautical miles of the shore line of Shandong.
As you may recall last year North Korea shelled a South Korean island and killed four people just before a long-planned joint US and South Korean anti-submarine maneuver. The Chinese Government had protested the maneuver because it was aimed at the strongest element of its navy, its submarine fleet. This author has always suspected that the Chinese gave the order to shell the island as a way of gaining a concession from the US Navy. In the end that concession was granted in return for China reining in North Korea, the US American warships and jets stayed about 60 miles away from the Chinese coast line. The US Navy even provided the Chinese Navy with a photograph of the control room of the U.S.S. Washington (which the Chinese posted on their official military web site) showing that no American military assets had crossed the 100 kilometer line in the Yellow Sea. The photograph supplied to the Western media was taken from a different angle that didn’t show the line dissecting the Yellow Sea.
If you think about it, would the United States military tolerant a Chinese naval presence so close to New York or San Francisco unless we were completely powerless? How would America feel with a Chinese aircraft carrier 60 miles off the coast of Maryland? No, we would push them back with all our might, resources and guile. To expect anything less of the Chinese is naïve. While the Seventh Fleet still rules the China Sea today, those days are numbered.
My little brother, the oil geologist who has hiked the world, has warned me for years that Americans, Chinese and the Russians are basically the same. He tells me that they are all imperialists with deep-seated chauvinist traditions.
During the First Cold War, Russia extended a buffer zone around its ‘ethnic’ core. It created buffer states in Europe, Central Asia and East Asia to protect Mother Russian from Anglo-American power. This buffer zone was designed to put a proxy state between the Russian border and the American armies stationed all over the world after WWII.
Russian ethnicity and culture is distinct, nationalistic and deep-seated. The Soviets built gaudy subways in Moscow gilded like Tsarist palaces. Leonard Brezhnev began the re-creation the Amber Room in the Summer Palace in 1979 after it was purposely destroyed by Hitler in World War II even though the shops were bare in Leningrad and the Soviet Union was stagnating. Today, Vladimir Putin just spent $1 billion refurnishing the Bolshoi Theater back to its Baroque grandeur. He is reaching back into the chauvinist Russian playbook of benevolent Tzar, crooked aristocracy, Orthodox Church and Cossack farmer/thugs placating the Muslim border. The Russian chauvinism, not Communism, was the real foundation of First Cold War. Well, at least one-half of its foundation.
The other half was Anglo-American democracy and capitalism. The Anglo-American world is convinced that its ‘rule of law/property’ is destined to rule the world. Wherever it encountered weak opponents, it swept away the indigenous cultures and replaced them with its own. Anglo-American culture is driven by the same basal motive as the Russians, a chauvinistic sense of innate superiority – God is on our side. Because American had undisputed power after WWII, it could impose its will on most of the globe (Vietnam and Cuba got away) and contain Russia with a Cold War. Currently, the United States military is reported to have more than 700 military bases overseas. Russia has about 10 in the former Soviet Republics around its periphery and one overseas in Syria (uhmm). China has none.
On November 23, 2012, the Chinese Government took out a most curious advertisement in the Financial Times. Titled “LINEUP OF KEY PARTY BODIES”, it showed thumbnails of the new Chinese leadership and their names and titles. For the “Members of the Standing Committee of the Political Bureau of the CPC Central Committee”, it included short bios. Each bio included the phrase, “male ethnic Han”. Next to the name of only one person in the entire leadership group is the word (Mongolian) in parentheses. There is also only one woman.
A quick look at Chinese ethnicity indicates that apparently 91.6% of the Chinese consider themselves Han. Han culture originated in the north of China in the wheat and barley growing Yellow River basin and over the centuries absorbed ethnic groups in the rice eating south. Looking at Chinese linguistic groups, it is more likely that 67% of the Chinese population is pure Han, direct descendents from the original imperialist conquerors who came down from the Yellow River basin. The conquered ethnic groups have embraced Han culture as strongly as non-Anglo-Saxon immigrants to America have embraced English culture,
Consequently, Han ethnicity is a very important part of the Chinese psyche. Hans, like Americans and Russians, have a sense of manifest destiny and moral superiority – the non-Han peripheral provinces of Tibet, Xinjiang, Inner Mongolia, Yunnan and Gunagxi are their birthright. They believe as firmly as Americans and Russians that their culture is special and that spreading it to the rest of the world is a force for good. This national chauvinism is what makes the emergence of China as a world power so dangerous to world peace, especially because their adversary, the Americans, share an equal and opposite belief.
Looking at the latest crisis in the Second Cold War, North Korean threats of nuclear attack, will the Chinese actually let their client state attack the United States with nuclear weapons? No.
Will they use the tension to slowly expand their sphere of influence in the China Sea by gaining concessions from the Americans? Yes.
Will Secretary of State John Kerry have to give something to get something? It has already happened, though we don’t know the details. Kerry spoke last night of some vague new constraint on US military presence in the region.
The Chinese just pushed some element of the American military back a few more miles.
Welcome to the Second Cold War.