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[Rory Medcalf, Indo-Pacific Empire. China and the Contest for the World's Pivotal Region (Manchester: Manchester University Press, 2020) 310 pp].
review / Salvador Sánchez Tapia
In 2016, Prime Minister Abe of Japan and his Indian counterpart, Narendra Modi, took a trip on the bullet train between Tokyo and Kobe to visualise the birth of a new era of bilateral cooperation. On the basis of this anecdote, Rory Medcalf offers the reader a reconceptualisation of the world's most dynamic region that leaves behind the one that, due to American influence, has for some time dominated under the label 'Asia-Pacific', and which does not reflect a broader geopolitical reality.
The degree scroll of the book is somewhat misleading, as it seems to allude to eventual world dominance from the Indo-Pacific region, and the struggle of China and the United States for it. This is not what the book offers.
For Medcalf, an Australian who has spent many years working in his country's foreign service, "Indo-Pacific" is an alternative geopolitical concept that encompasses a vast and eminently maritime region comprising the Pacific and Indian Oceans, through which most global maritime trade flows, as well as the coastal territories connected by both seas. At the centre of this immense and diverse space are Australia, acting as a sort of hinge, and the area of Southeast Asia that includes the Strait of Malacca, a vital maritime passage.
The proposed geopolitical approach serves as an argument for articulating a regional response to China's growing and increasingly threatening power that does not involve confrontation or submissive capitulation. In the author's words, it is an attempt, made from a liberal point of view, to counter China's desire to capitalise on the region to its advantage.
In this sense, Medcalf's proposal is about the region's middle powers - India, Australia, Japan, Korea, Indonesia, Vietnam, etc. - achieving greater coordination to shape a future that takes into account China's legitimate interests, but in which these powers effectively balance Beijing's power. The future of the region must be designed with China, but not imposed by China. Nor by the United States, which is nevertheless recognised as an actor core topic in the region, and whose support the author is counting on to flesh out the idea.
The book follows a chronological storyline with three distinct parts: past, present and future. The first part sets out the historical reasons for considering the Indo-Pacific as a region in its own right, and sample the shortcomings of the "Asia-Pacific" view.
presentation The present block is descriptive in nature and briefly describes the main actors on the Indo-Pacific stage, China's growing military power, and how China is using it to return, reminiscent of the time of the Chinese navigator Zheng He, core topic to the Indian Ocean, which has now become an arena of geo-economic and geopolitical confrontation, as well as an important part of China's economic growth as a route for the resources the country needs, and as a maritime part of the global project of the new Silk Road.
As for the future, Medcalf offers his proposal for the region, based on a geopolitical outline in which Australia, of course, occupies a central place. On a scale ranging from cooperation to conflict, through coexistence, competition and confrontation, the author argues for the coexistence of the Indo-Pacific players with China, and proposes actions in the three areas of promoting development in the countries most vulnerable to Chinese influence - and in some cases Chinese extortion; Deterrence, in which the United States will continue to play a central role, but which cannot be based exclusively on its nuclear power, but rather on the growth of the military capabilities of the countries in the region; and diplomacy, exercised at various levels - bilateral, multilateral, and "minilateral" - to generate mutual trust and establish norms that avoid an escalation towards confrontation and even conflict.
These three instruments should be accompanied by the internship of two principles: solidarity and resilience. The former seeks a greater capacity to manage China's rise in a way that promotes a balance between balancing power and rapprochement, avoiding the extremes of containment and accommodation to the giant's designs. Second, the region's states are becoming more resilient to China's power and more capable of recovering from its negative effects.
There is no doubt that this geopolitical approach , which follows in the wake of Japan's "Free and Open Indo-Pacific" policy, is made from a distinctly Australian perspective and that, consciously or not, it enhances the role of this continent-nation, and serves its particular interests in defining its place in the world and maintaining a secure and stable environment in the face of an increasingly threatening China.
While recognising this motivation, which is a logical consequence of applying the old concepts of realism, the proposal vision is not without merit. For one thing, it allows China to be conceptualised in a way that captures the interest in the Indian Ocean as integral to China's view of itself in relation to the world. For another, it serves as a wake-up call, both to the many Asian middle powers and to the small Pacific island states, about the Chinese threat, offering the manna of an alternative to conflict or uncritical submission to the Chinese giant. Finally, it incorporates - at least conceptually - the United States, together with India and Japan, into a multinational effort capable, given the economic and demographic weight of the participants, of balancing China's power.
If the intention of the concept is to foster awareness in the region of the need to balance China's power, then it can be argued that the overly Australian-centric proposal completely omits China's land dimension, and the desirability of incorporating into that balance other regional middle powers that, while not among the maritime powers, share with them a fear of China's growing power. Similarly, although the coastal nations of Africa and the Americas might be thought to form an integral part of the entity defined by the Indo-Pacific basins, they are conspicuously absent from the geopolitical design , with the exception of the United States and Russia. References to Africa are rare; Central and South America are simply unnamed.
It is, at final, an interesting work that addresses an important global issue from a novel, realistic and considered perspective, without falling into doomsday scenarios, but opening a door to a somewhat hopeful future in which a China that is dominant but whose power, it is argued, may already have reached its peak, can give rise to the flourishing of a shared space at the heart of a reconnected world in a way that the ancient navigators could not even have imagined.
[Barack Obama, A Promised Land (discussion: Madrid, 2020), 928 pp.]
review / Emili J. Blasco
A president's memoirs are always an attempt to justify his political actions. Having employee George W. Bush used less than five hundred pages in "Decision Points" to try to explain the reasons for a more controversial management in principle, that Barack Obama used almost a thousand pages for the first part of his memoirs (A promised land The fact that no US president has ever required so much space in this exercise of wanting to tie up his bequest.
It is true that Obama has a taste for the pen, with some previous books in which he has already demonstrated good storytelling, and it is possible that this literary inclination has won him over. But probably more decisive has been Obama's vision of himself and his presidency: the conviction of having a mission statement, as the first African-American president, and his ambition to bend the arc of history. As time goes by and Obama starts to become just another in the list of presidents, his book vindicates the historic character of his person and his achievements.
The first third of A Promised Land is particularly interesting. There is a brief overview of his life before entrance in politics and then the detail of his degree program to the White House. This part has the same inspirational charge that made so attractive My Father's Dreams, the book that Obama published in 1995 when he launched his campaign for the Illinois Senate (in Spain it appeared in 2008, following his campaign for the presidency). We can all draw very useful lessons for our own self-improvement staff: the idea of being masters of our destiny, of becoming aware of our deepest identity, and the security that this gives us to carry out many enterprises of great value and transcendence; to put all our efforts into a goal and take advantage of opportunities that may not come again; in final, to always think outside the box (when Obama saw that his work as senator of Illinois had little impact, his decision was not to leave politics, but to jump to the national level: He ran for senator in Washington and from there, just four years later, he reached the White House). The pages are also rich in lessons on political communication and election campaigns.
But when the narrative begins to address the presidential term, which began in January 2009, that inspirational tone drops. What was once a succession of generally positive adjectives towards everyone begins to include diatribes against his Republican opponents. And here is the point that Obama is unable to overcome: giving himself all the moral credit and denying it to those whose votes in the congress disagreed with the legislation promoted by the new president. It is true that Obama had a very frontal civil service examination from the Republican leaders in the Senate and the House of Representatives, but they also supported some of his initiatives, as Obama himself acknowledges. For the rest, which came first, the chicken or the egg? Large swathes of Republicans were quick to jump on the bandwagon, as the Tea Party tide in the 2010 midterm elections soon made clear (in a movement that would eventually lead to support for Trump), but Obama had also arrived with the most left-leaning positions in US politics in living memory. With his idealistic drive, Obama had set little example of bipartisan effort in his time in the Illinois and Washington Senate; when some of his reforms from the White House were blocked in the congress, instead of seeking accommodation - accepting a politics of the possible - he took to the streets to pit citizens against politicians who opposed his transformations, further entrenching the trenches of one side against the other.
The British historian Niall Ferguson has pointed out that the Trump phenomenon would not be understood without Obama's previous presidency, although the bitter political divide in the United States is probably a matter of a deep current in which leaders play a less central role than we might suppose. Obama saw himself as ideally suited, because of his cultural mix (black, but raised by his white mother and grandparents), to bridge the widening rift in US society, but he was unable to build the necessary ideological bridges. Bill Clinton faced a similar Republican blockade, in the congress led by Newt Gingrich, and made compromises that were useful: he reduced ideological baggage and brought an economic prosperity that relaxed public life.
A Promised Land includes many of Obama's reflections. He generally provides the context necessary to understand the issues, for example in the gestation of the 2008 financial crisis. In foreign policy he details the state of relations with major powers: animosity towards Putin and suspicion of China, among other issues. There are areas with different possible ways forward where Obama leaves no room for a legitimate alternative position: thus, in a particularly emblematic topic , he charges Netanyahu without admitting any mistakes of his own in his approach to the Israeli-Palestinian problem. This is something that other reviews of the book have noted: the absence of self-criticism (beyond admitting sins of omission in not having been as bold as he might have wished), and the failure to admit that in some respects perhaps the opponent might have been right.
The narrative is well-paced internally, despite the many pages. The volume ends in 2011, at a random point in time determined by the anticipated length of a second submission; however, it has a sufficiently strong climax: the operation against Osama bin Laden, for the first time told in the first person by the person at the highest level of command. Although the Degree involvement of other hands in the essay of the work is unknown, it has a point of lyricism that connects directly with Los sueños de mi padre (My Father's Dreams) and which financial aid leads us to attribute it, at least to a large extent, to the former president himself.
The book contains many episodes of the Obamas' domestic life. Obama's constant compliments to his wife, admiration for his mother-in-law and constant references to his devotion to his two daughters might be considered unnecessary, especially as they recur, in a political book. Nonetheless, they give the story the tone staff that Obama has sought to adopt, as well as giving human warmth to someone who has often been accused of having a public image of being cold, distant and overly reflective.
[Lilia M. Schwarcz and Heloisa M. Starling, Brazil: a biography (discussion: Madrid, 2016), 896 pp.]
review / Emili J. Blasco
Presenting the history of a vast country such as Brazil in a single volume, albeit an extensive one, is no easy task, if one wants to go into sufficient depth. "Brazil. A Biography" (for this review we have used Penguin's English edition, from 2019, somewhat later than the publication of the work in Spain; the original in Portuguese is from 2015) is an account with the appropriate lens. "Brazil is not for beginners", say the two authors in the introduction, expressing with that quotation of a Brazilian musician the way they conceived the book: knowing that they were addressing an audience with generally little knowledge about the country, they had to be able to convey the complexity of national life (of what constitutes a continent in itself) but without making the reading agonising.
The book follows a chronological order; however, the fact of starting with some general considerations and building the first chapters around certain social and political systems generated successively by the sugar cane plantations, the enslavement of the African population and the search for gold means that Brazilian life advances before our eyes without having the sensation of a mere shifting of dates. Later comes the 19th century, which for Hispanics is of interest to see the negative side of the history we know about the Spanish American colonies (in contrast to the Spanish case, during the Napoleonic wars the entire Portuguese Court moved to Rio de Janeiro and independence did not result in various republics, but in a centralised monarchy of its own). And then a 20th century that in Brazil was a good compendium of the political vicissitudes of the contemporary world: from the Estado Novo of Getúlio Vargas, to the military dictatorship and the restoration of democracy.
The work by Schwarcz and Starling, professors at the University of São Paulo and the Federal University of Minas Gerais, respectively, focuses on political processes, but always with the parallel social and cultural processes that occur together in any country. The volume provides a wealth of information and bibliographical references for all of Brazil's historical periods, without disregarding some in favour of others, and the reader can focus on those moments that are of greatest interest to him or her.
Personally, I have been more interested in reading about four periods, relatively distant from each other. On the one hand, the attempts by France and Holland in the 16th and 17th centuries to set foot in Brazil (they were not permanently successful, and both powers had to settle for the Guianas). Then the emergence and consolidation in the 18th century of Minas Gerais as the third vertex of the Brazilian heartland triangle (Rio de Janeiro, São Paulo and Belo Horizonte). Then the description of the life of a European-style court in the circumstances of the tropical climate (the monarchy lasted until 1889). And finally the experiences of mid-20th century developmentalism, with Juscelino Kubitschek and João Goulart in a tour de force between democratic compromise, presidential personalism and the undercurrents of the Cold War.
Reading this book provides numerous keys to a better understanding of certain aspects of Brazil's behaviour as a country. On the one hand, how the immensity of the territory and the existence of areas that are difficult for the state to reach - the Amazon is a clear example - gives the army an important role as guarantor of the continuity of the nation (the success, perhaps momentary, of Bolsonaro and his appeal to the Armed Forces has to do with this, although this last presidency is no longer included in the book). On the other, how the division of territorial power between mayors and governors generates a multitude of political parties and forces each presidential candidate to articulate multiple alliances and coalitions, sometimes incurring in a "buying and selling" of favours that generally ends up having a cost for the country's institutionality.
The book's essay was completed before the collapse of the Workers' Party government era. That is why the consideration of the governments of Lula da Silva and Dilma Rousseff is, perhaps, somewhat complacent, as a sort of "end of history": since the end of the military dictatorship in 1985, the country would have evolved in the improvement of its democratic and social life until the time crowned by the PT. The "Lava Jato case" has shown that "history continues".
[Francisco Cancio, Enmienda: una revisión de la causa y el actuar argentino en la Guerra de las Malvinas (Náutica Robinsón: Madrid, 2020), 406 pages].
review / Ignacio Cristóbal
This is an excellent book that analyses some of the controversial issues of the Falklands War (1982). The author, Francisco Cancio, is an expert on the subject and has made a conscientious search for information over the years during his visits to Argentina and the UK.
This is not a book on the history of the Falklands War; there are other manuals that explain it very well, but here the author has tried to do something else. Whoever opens the book should either have some knowledge of what happened in the South Atlantic, or else acquire it before delving into its pages.
In my case, it was not difficult to get "hooked" by reading the book. From the data the author gives, he had similar experiences to mine. I, too, watched the news in the spring of 1982 sitting next to my father, a military man; for our generation it was our first war. And like him, who on his trips to the UK, I imagine to practise his English language , used to dive into British bookshops in search of documentation, I too found out about the Falklands when I was there perfecting my English, going to museums and bookshops and the barracks in Colchester, the town where I spent two summers, to talk to veterans of the conflict. You will be forgiven, therefore, for this involvement staff, for letting my sympathy for the Argentine side go somewhat, while admiring the professionalism shown by the British troops.
The Falklands War was a full-scale war from a military point of view. There were air and naval engagements; submarine and satellite intervention; landing and ground operations by special operations units, as well as unit actions at battalion level. It is very welcome that the first chapter, graduate "Genesis", while introducing the conflict begins to "prick balloons" about the real reason for going to war.
And the chapters go on to deal with issues such as the "Super Etendart and the Exocet", where we imagine the Argentine naval pilots training in Brittany, France, and leaving the flag flying high, as it should have been. Interest is heightened when the author delves into the intelligence operations to "arm", without an "instruction book", the missiles that were already in Argentina. The French government played a complicated role in the conflict, but the diplomatic (it was a member of NATO) took precedence over the commercial. It was the French technicians who were sent to Argentina who did the "do de pecho" by siding with Argentina and juggling to avoid creating more problems in the international balance.
The chapter on land operations is excellent and makes a strong case for the Argentine forces who had to contend with the enemy and the lack of logistical support from the mainland. In those days there was a discussion in public opinion about the dichotomy of "conscript army" versus "professional army". The chapter makes clear the damage the Argentines inflicted on the reconquistadors, but also their adverse status : the lack of basic means for resistance, counterattack and, why not say it, hunger and cold.
The naval part is dealt with in two interesting chapters that tell the story of the submarine "San Luis", which was bothering the British fleet throughout the war. If there had been no war, this submarine would have stayed in port. This is the standard of those brave submariners. The other chapter is about the failed meeting, due to lack of wind, of the two fleets. It is possibly one of the most critical moments of the battle. Had there been wind, the Argentinean Navy's A-4 Skyhawks could have driven the British fleet back to their home ports.
A separate chapter is "La guerra en los cielos" (The war in the skies), which covers some of the most courageous operations of the Argentinean pilots in those days. The author puts us in the cockpits of the fighter planes whose images still make our hair stand on end. Without wanting to give anything away to the reader, the interview with the former head of the Argentine Air Force in those days is for me the best part of the book. It should not be forgotten that he was a member of the military board and the data he reveals about the "Russianfinancial aid " are very interesting and unknown.
And finally, the long-awaited chapter "The Attack on the Invincible", which deals with probably the most compromising wartime action of the entire war. The author scrupulously analyses the operation to attack one of the two British aircraft carriers, the Invincible, with a clarity that makes it clear that something happened.
"Amendment" is therefore a highly recommendable book for those who already have some knowledge of the Falklands War knowledge , but at the same time it can also arouse the curiosity of others who, without being initiated in this conflict, can help themselves in their reading by consulting basic information available on the internet. It was a unique contest, in which a country in the southern part of the world put the second NATO power in check, aided by the first and a neighbouring country. As Admiral Woodward, commander of the British fleet, said in his memoirs, "people don't know how close Britain came to losing the war". A fine final epitaph from a military professional who surely recognised the professionalism, courage and bravery of the enemy.
* Expert in military affairs
[Iván Garzón, Rebeldes, Románticos y Profetas. La responsabilidad de sacerdotes, políticos e intelectuales en el conflicto armado colombiano ( Bogotá: Ariel, 2020) 330 pp].
review / Paola Rosenberg
The book "Rebeldes, románticos y profetas" written by Iván Garzón sample the role played by priests, politicians and intellectuals in the internal armed conflict in Colombia and the responsibility they had in it. A war that marked the country politically, economically, socially and ideologically. Revolutionary movements in Latin America were characterised by the use of violence and the employment use of arms to come to power; more or less strong depending on the country, guerrilla groups had a great influence on the course of events in the region during the second half of the 20th century. The essay by Garzón, professor of Political Theory at the Universidad de La Sabana, focuses especially on the role of the Catholic Church in the different movements and on the contradictory ideas and actions that sustained the conflict over time [this is how he sums up his purpose in this article video].
"Rebels, Romantics and Prophets" questions and criticises the responsibility of these groups for the resource of violence and the use of arms to achieve social change in Colombia. Iván Garzón challenges the participants of the armed conflict in Colombia to reflect on their role in the conflict and to assume their responsibility to build a better society. In addition, the book aims to open a discussion on the past, present and future of the role and influence of the Catholic Church and intellectuals in society.
The revolutionary waves in Latin America in those years were strengthened by the Marxist ideas of the time. Those ideas defended that the economic development of the Third World countries was not possible without a break-up of the capitalist market; due to social inequality and class struggle. Therefore, the use of violence had to be advocated in order to come to power. After the triumph of the Cuban revolution in 1959, guerrilla ideas spread rapidly throughout Latin America. Cuba proved that revolution was possible: through armed struggle and Marxist ideas a social development could be achieved. This is how strong revolutionary movements began to emerge in these countries. Colombia was definitely no exception.
One of the young and main protagonists mentioned in the book is Camilo Torres, who was swept up in the revolutionary waves in Colombia. Also known as "the guerrilla priest" or the "Che Guevara of the Christians", Torres was a very influential leader in Colombia in the second half of the 20th century. A guerrilla priest, a hero to some, but a villain to others. Aged just 37, he died in a troop clash on 15 February 1966, a year after joining the National Liberation Army (ELN) guerrillas. Willing to sacrifice his life and take up arms for his country and social change, Torres asserted that revolution was inevitable and had to be contributed to. Different intellectuals assess his figure in the book: some criticise the priest for his "failure" and his incorrect decision to take up arms, others justify him by pointing out that he submitted to a "just war".
Camilo Torres represents the group of the rebels, whom the author describes as the "warriors of a failed revolution". They used arms out of an often religious commitment. They justified violence and saw it as a representation of honour, bravery and submission. The rebels decided to take up arms, go out into the bush and join the guerrilla in order to make the Christian faith effective and help the poor. Many of these rebels like Torres focused on Christianity's primary mandate to love one's neighbour. They felt an obligation to help bring about radical change in the political, economic and social Structures of the country. They wanted a more just society and sacrificed their lives to achieve it, no matter what the means. Many came to the conclusion that the only way to achieve this change was through violent struggle. Their actions sample how the dominant ideas of the time justified the use of violence, going against purely Christian ideas.
In the conflict there was also the group of the "romantics", those who approved of the cause, respected it, but did not get their hands dirty. They were priests, politicians and intellectuals who intervened in the moral and intellectual discussion to justify the reasons for the revolution. They were the passionate ones, the minds behind the acts that directly influenced the warriors who went into the bush to fight.
Finally, there were the "prophets": the priests, politicians and intellectuals who were completely opposed to armed struggle and the use of violence to bring about change in society. The prophets refused to make a pact with the devil and betray the moral values of the Church. They believed that there were other means to achieve social justice; peaceful and bloodless means. In the end, these were the ones who were right; it was a futile, costly and unwinnable struggle.
In conclusion, both the rebels and the Romantics found in their moral and political visions a full justification for the use of violence. The prophets never approved of this cause, but criticised it by emphasising its secularised and contradictory character. Iván Garzón aims to open a discussion on the legitimacy or illegitimacy of the use of violence as a political means to achieve justice.
Today, the word revolution is still linked to violence because of the many traumatic conflicts experienced by many Latin American nations. In Colombia, as in many other countries, the revolutionaries won ideologically, but not in practice. For this reason, it can be concluded that in general, violent internal conflicts only lead to the destabilisation of countries and the loss of innocent lives. The book attempts to make religious and intellectual participants in armed conflict reflect on their responsibility or guilt in the armed conflict. This discussion between criticism or justification of the armed struggle is still necessary today because of the constant threat to democratic institutions in Latin America.
[Peter Zeihan, Desunited Nations. The Scramble for Power in an Ungoverned World (New York: Harper Collins, 2020) 453 pgs]
review / Emili J. Blasco
The world seems to be heading towards what Peter Zeihan calls "the great disorder". His is not a doomsday vision of the international order for the mere pleasure of wallowing in pessimism, but a fully reasoned one. The retreat of the United States is leaving the world without the ubiquitous presence that secured the global structure we have known since the Second World War, forcing other countries into more insecure intercontinental trade and to seek their livelihoods in an environment of "disunited nations".
Zeihan has long been drawing consequences from his seminal idea, set out in his first book, The Accidental Superpower (2014): the success of fracking has given the US energy independence, so it no longer needs Middle Eastern oil and will progressively withdraw from much of the world. In his next book, The Absent Superpower (2016), he detailed how US withdrawal will leave other countries unable to secure important maritime trade routes and reduce the proliferation of developed contacts in this era of globalisation. The latter has now been accelerated by the Covid pandemic, which came as a third volume, Desunited Nations (2020), was about to be published. Zeihan did not have time to include a reference letter to the ravages of the virus, but there was no need because his text went in the same direction in any case.
Zeihan, a geopolitical analyst who worked with George Friedman at Stratfor and now has his own signature, looks this time at how the different powers will adapt to the 'great disorder' and which of them have the best prospects. The book is "about what happens when the global order is not only crumbling, but when many leaders feel that their countries will be better off tearing it down". And it's not just about the Trump administration: "the push for American retreat did not start with Trump, nor will it end with him," says Zeihan.
The author believes that, in the new outline, the United States will remain a superpower, China will not achieve a hegemonic position and Russia will continue its decline. Among other minor powers, France will lead the new Europe (not Germany; while the British are "doomed to a multi-year depression"), Saudi Arabia will give more concern to the world than Iran and Argentina will have a better future than Brazil.
To focus on the US-China rivalry, it would be good to pick up on some of Zeihan's arguments for his scepticism about the consolidation of China's rise.
To be an effective superpower, China needs greater control of the seas. The problem is not to build a large, outward-facing navy, but, since it is already difficult to sustain such a huge effort over time, it must also simultaneously have "a huge defensive navy and a huge air force and a huge internal security force and a huge army and a huge intelligence system and a huge special forces system and a global deployment capability".
For Zeihan, the question is not whether China will be the next hegemon, which "it cannot be", but "whether China can even hold together as a country". The impossibility of feeding its entire population on its own, the lack of sufficient energy sources of its own, strong territorial imbalances and demographic constraints, such as the fact that there are 41 million Chinese men under the age of 40 who will never be able to marry, are all factors that work against China's ability to remain united.
It is not uncommon for American authors to predict a future collapse of China. However, episodes such as the coronavirus, initially seen as a serious stumbling block for Beijing, have never really cut short the forward march of the Asian colossus, even though China's economic growth figures have naturally been moderating over the years. This is why many people's bad omens can sometimes be interpreted more as wishful thinking than realistic analysis. Zeihan certainly writes in a somewhat "loose" manner, with blunt assertions that seek to shake the reader, but his geopolitical axioms seem to be generally endorsed: if you boil down what he says in his three books, you have a clear notice of where the world is supposed to be going; and that is where it is indeed going.
[Richard Haas, The World. A Brief Introduction (New York, NY: Penguin Press, 2020), 378 p].
review / Salvador Sánchez Tapia
During a fishing workshop on Nantucket with a friend and his son, then a computer engineering student at the prestigious Stanford University, Richard Haass, president of the Council on Foreign Relations, engaged the young man in conversation about his programs of study, and asked him what subjects he had taken, apart from the strictly technical ones. To his surprise, Haass realised how limited issue of these he had taken were. No Economics, no history, no politics.
Richard Haass uses this anecdote, which he refers to in the introduction to The World. Education A Brief Introduction , to illustrate the general state of higher education in the United States - which is, we might add, not very different from that of other countries - and which can be summed up in this reality: many students in the country that has the best universities in the world, and which is also the most powerful and influential on the planet, which means that its interests are global, can finish their university-level training without a minimal knowledge - let alone understanding - of the world around them, and of its dynamics and workings.
The World. A Brief Introduction is a direct consequence of the author's concern about the seriousness of this important gap for a nation like the United States, and in today's world, where what he calls the "Las Vegas rule" - what happens in the country stays in the country - does not work, given the interconnectedness that results from an omnipresent globalisation that cannot be ignored.
The book is conceived as a basic guide intended to educate readers - hopefully including at least some of the plethora of uneducated students - of different backgrounds and levels of knowledge, on the basic issues and concepts commonly used in the field of International Office.
By the very nature of the work, informed readers should not expect to find in this book any great discoveries, revolutionary theories or novel approaches to contemplate the international order from a new perspective. Instead, what it offers is a systematic presentation of the essential concepts of this field of knowledge that straddles history, political science, sociology, law and geography.
The book avoids any theoretical approach. On the contrary, its goal is eminently practical, and its aim is none other than to present in an orderly and systematic way the information that the average reader needs to know about the world in order to form a criterion of how it works and how it is articulated. It is, in final, to make him or her more "globally educated".
From his vantage point as president of one of the world's leading global think-tanks, and with the experience gained from his years of service as part of the security establishment of the two Bush presidents, Richard Haass has made numerous important contributions to the field of International Office. In the case of the present book, the author's merit lies in the effort he has made to simplify the complexity inherent in International Office. In a simple and attractive prose, accessible to readers of all subject, Richard Haass, demonstrating a great understanding of each of the subjects he deals with, has managed to distil their essence and capture it in the twenty-six chapters of this brief compendium, each of which would justify, on its own, an enormous literary production.
Although each chapter can be read independently, the book is divided into four parts in which the author approaches status the current world and relations between states from different angles. In the first part, Haass introduces the minimum historical framework necessary to understand the configuration of the current international system, focusing in particular on the milestones of the Peace of Westphalia, the two World Wars, the Cold War, and the post-Cold War world.
The second part of the book devotes chapters to different regions of the world, which are briefly analysed from a geopolitical point of view. For each region, the book describes its status, and analyses the main challenges it faces, concluding with a look at its future. The chapter is comprehensive, although the regional division it employs for the analysis is somewhat questionable, and although it inexplicably omits any reference letter to the Arctic as a region with its own geopolitical identity and set to play a growing role in the globalised world to which the book constantly alludes.
The third part of the book is devoted to globalisation as a defining and inescapable phenomenon of the current era with an enormous impact on the stability of the international order. In several chapters, it reviews the multiple manifestations of globalisation - terrorism, nuclear proliferation, climate change, migration, cyberspace, health, international trade, monetary issues, and development- describing in each case its causes and consequences, as well as the options available at all levels to deal with them in a way that is favourable to the stability of the world order.
Finally, the last section deals with world order - the most basic concept in International Office- which it considers indispensable given that its absence translates into loss of life and resources, and threats to freedom and prosperity at the global level. Building on the idea that, at any historical moment, and at any level, forces that promote stable order operate alongside forces that tend towards chaos, the chapter looks at the main sources of stability, analysing their contribution to international order - or disorder - and concluding with what this means for the international era we live in. Aspects such as sovereignty, the balance of power, alliances and war are dealt with in the different chapters that comprise this fourth and final part.
Of particular interest to those who wish to delve deeper into these matters is the coda of the book, entitled Where to Go for More. This final chapter offers the reader a well-balanced and authoritative compendium of journalistic, digital and literary references whose frequent use, highly recommended, will undoubtedly contribute to the educational goal proposed by the author.
It is an informative book, written to improve the training of the American and, beyond that, the global public on issues related to the world order. This didactic nature does not, however, prevent Haass, at times, and despite his promise to provide independent, non-partisan criteria that will make the reader less manipulable, from tinginging these issues with his staff vision of the world order and how it should be, or from criticising - somewhat veiled, it must be said - the current occupant of the White House's international policy, which is not very globalist. Nevertheless, The World. A Brief Introduction offers a simple and complete introduction to the world of International Office, and is almost obligatory reading for anyone who wants to get started in the knowledge of the world order and the mechanisms that regulate it.
[Parag Khanna, The Future is Asian. Simon & Schuster. New York, 2019. 433 p.]
review / Emili J. Blasco
Parag Khanna's book can be greeted with suspicion from entrance because of the apparent axiomatic character of his degree scroll. However, the blunt assertion on the cover is softened when one begins to read the pages inside. The thesis of the work is that the world is in a process of asianisationnot of chinisationMoreover, this process is presented as another coat of paint on the planet, not as a colour that will be clearly predominant or definitive.
It is possible that the discussion over whether the US is in decline and will be replaced by China as the pre-eminent superpower obscures other parallel developments. Those watching Beijing's rise in the world order, writes Khanna, "have often been paralysed by two views: either China will devour the world or it is on the verge of collapse. Neither is correct. "The future is Asian, even for China," he asserts.
Khanna believes that the world is moving towards a multipolar order, which is also the case in Asia, even if China's size often dazzles.
The author's Indian background and also his time living in the United States may have influenced this judgement, but he offers figures to support his words. Of the 5 billion people living in Asia, 3.5 billion are non-Chinese (70%): China thus has only a third of Asia's population; it also accounts for slightly less than half of Asia's GDP. Other data: half of outward investment from the continent is non-Chinese, and more than half of outward investment goes to Asian countries other than China. Asia is therefore "more than China plus".
It is not just a question of size, but of wills. "A China-led Asia is no more acceptable to most Asians than the notion of a US-led West is to Europeans," says Khanna. He rejects the idea that, because of China's power, Asia is heading towards a kind of tributary system like the one ruled in other centuries from Beijing. He points out that such a system did not extend beyond the Far East and was based primarily on trade.
The author reassures those who fear Chinese expansionism: "China has never been an indestructible superpower presiding over all of Asia like a colossus". He warns that while Europe's geographical characteristics have historically led many countries to fear the hegemony of a single power, Asia's geography makes it "inherently multipolar", as natural barriers absorb friction. Indeed, clashes between China and India, China and Vietnam or India and Pakistan have ended in stalemates. "Whereas in Europe wars have occurred when there is a convergence in power between rivals, in Asia wars have occurred when there is a perceived advantage over rivals. So the more powerful China's neighbours like Japan, India or Russia are, the less likely they are to conflict with each other.
For Khanna, Asia will always be a region of distinct and autonomous civilisations, especially now that we are witnessing a revival of old empires. Asia's geopolitical future will not be led by the US or China: "Japan, South Korea, India, Russia, Indonesia, Australia, Iran and Saudi Arabia will never come together under a hegemonic umbrella or unite into a single pole of power".
There will not be, then, a Chineseisation of the world, according to the author, and the Asianisation that is taking place - a shift of the world's weight towards the Indo-Pacific - need not be seen as a threat to those who live elsewhere. Just as there was a Europeanisation of the world in the 19th century, and an Americanisation in the 20th century, we are witnessing an Asianisation in the 21st century. Khanna sees this as "the most recent substratum of sedimentation in the geology of global civilisation", and as a "layer" it does not imply that the world Withdrawal to what came before. "Being more Asian does not necessarily mean being less American or European," he says.
The book analyses the weight and fit of different Asian countries on the continent. Of Russia, he argues that it is strategically closer to China today than at any time since its communist pact in the 1950s. Khanna believes that geography leads to this understanding, as it invites Canada to maintain good relations with the United States; he predicts that climate change will further open up the lands of Siberia, which will integrate them more with the rest of the Asian continent.
As for India and China's relationship, Khanna believes that both countries will have to accept each other as powers more normally. For example, despite India's reluctance towards China's Silk Road and India's own regional connectivity projects, in the end the two countries' preferred corridors will "overlap and even reinforce each other", ensuring that products from inland Asia reach the Indian Ocean. "Geopolitical rivalries will only accelerate the Asianisation of Asia," says Khanna.
In assessing the importance of Asia, the book includes Middle Eastern oil. Technically, the region is part of the continent, but it is such a separate chapter with its own dynamics that it is difficult to see it as Asian territory. The same is true when label is used to refer to Israel or Lebanon. It can give the impression that the author is lumping everything together in order to make the figures more impressive. He argues that the Middle East is becoming less and less dependent on Europe and the United States and is looking more to the East.
Khanna is in a position to reasonably defend himself against most of the objections to his text. Most controversial, however, is his near-defensive justification of technocracy as a system of government. Beyond the descriptive attitude of a model that in some countries has received an important economic and social development , Khanna even seems to endorse its moral superiority.
[Bruno Maçães, History Has Begun. The Birth of a New America. Hurst and Co. London, 2020. 203 p.]
review / Emili J. Blasco
What if the United States were not in decline, but quite the opposite? The United States could actually be in its infancy as a great power. This is what Bruno Maçães argues in his new book, whose degree scroll -History Has Begun- In a certain sense, he refutes Fukuyama's end of history, which saw the democratisation of the world at the end of the 20th century as the culmination of the West. Precisely, the hypothesis of the Portuguese-born internationalist is that the US is developing its own original civilisation, separate from what until now has been understood as Western civilisation, in a world in which the very concept of the West is losing strength.
Maçães' work follows three lines of attention: the progressive separation of the US from Europe, the characteristics that identify the specific American civilisation, and the struggle between the US and China for the new world order. The author had already developed aspects of these themes in his two immediately preceding works, already reviewed here: The Dawn of Eurasia y Belt and RoadThe focus is now on the US. The three titles are basically a sequence: the progressive dissolution of the European peninsula into the Eurasian continent as a whole, the emergence of China as the superpower of this great continental mass, and Washington's remaining role on the planet.
As to whether the US is rising or not leave, Maçães writes in the book's introduction: "Conventional wisdom suggests that the United States has already reached its peak. But what if it is only now beginning to forge its own path forward? The volume is written before the coronavirus crisis and the deep unease in US society today, but even before that some signs of US domestic unrest, such as political polarisation or divergences over the direction of its foreign policy, were already evident. "The present moment in the history of the United States is both a moment of destruction and a moment of creation", says Maçães, who considers that the country is going through "convulsions" characteristic of this process of destructive creation. In his opinion, in any case, they are "the birth pangs of a new culture rather than the death throes of an old civilisation".
One might think that the United States is simply evolving towards a mixed culture as a result of globalisation, so that the influence of some European countries in shaping US society over the last few centuries is now being joined by Asian immigration. Indeed, by mid-century, immigrants from across the Pacific are expected to outnumber those arriving from Mexico and Central America, which, although steeped in indigenous cultures, largely follow the Western paradigm. Between the first European and the new Asian heritage, a 'hybrid Eurasian' culture could develop in the US.
Indeed, at one point in the book, Maçães asserts that the US is 'no longer a European nation', but 'in fundamental respects now seems more similar to countries like India or Russia or even the Republic of Iran'. However, he disagrees with this hybrid Eurasian perspective and argues instead for the development of a new, indigenous American society, separate from modern Western civilisation, rooted in new sentiments and thoughts.
In describing this different way of being, Maçães focuses on a few manifestations, from which he deduces deeper aspects. "Why do Americans speak so loudly?" he asks, referring to one such symptom. His theory is that American life emphasises its own artificiality as a way of reminding its participants that they are, at bottom, experiencing a story. "The American way of life is consciously about language, storytelling, plot and form, and is meant to draw attention to its status as fiction." An entire chapter, for example, is devoted to analysing the importance of television in the US. In the midst of these considerations, the reader might think that the reasoning has been drifting towards a cultural essay and out of the realm of International Office, but in the conclusion of the book the ends are conveniently tied up.
With that loose end out of the way, the book moves on to analyse the tug of war between Washington and Beijing. It recalls that since its rise as a world power around 1900, the US's permanent strategic goal has been to prevent a single power from controlling the whole of Eurasia. Previous threats in this regard were Germany and the USSR, and today it is China. employee Normally, Washington would resort to a balance of power, using Europe, Russia and India against China (using a game historically played by Britain for the goal to prevent a single country from controlling the European continent), but for the moment the US has focused on directly confronting China. Maçães sees the Trump administration's policy as confusing. "If the US wants to adopt a strategy of maximum pressure against Beijing, it needs to be clearer about the end game": is it to constrain Chinese economic power or to convert China to the West's model ?, he asks. He intuits that the ultimate goal is to "decouple" the Western world from China, creating two separate economic spheres.
Maçães believes that China will hardly manage to dominate the supercontinent, since "the unification of the whole of Eurasia under a single power is so far from inevitable that in fact it has never been achieved". In any case, he believes that, because of its interest as a superpower, the US may end up playing not so much the role of "great balancer" (given China's weight, it is difficult for any of its neighbours to exercise a counterweight) as that of "great creator" of the new order. "China must be trimmed down in size and other pieces must be accumulated, if a balance is to be the final product," he asserts.
It is here that the US character as a story and narrative builder finally comes back into the picture, with a somewhat flimsy argument. Maçães can see the US succeeding in this task of "great maker" if it treats its allies with autonomy. As in a novel, his role as narrator "is to bring all the characters together and preserve their own individual spheres"; "the narrator has learned not to impose a single truth on the whole, and at the same time no character will be allowed to replace him". "For the United States," Maçães concludes, "the age of nation-building is over. The age of world building has begun".
[Azar Gat, War in Human Civilization. Oxford University Press. Oxford (New York), 2006. 822 p.]
review / Salvador Sánchez Tapia
Among the many authors who have written on the phenomenon of war in recent decades, the name of Azar Gat stands out. From his Chair at Tel-Aviv University, this author has devoted an important part of his academic degree program to theorising on the war from different angles, a phenomenon that he knows directly from his position as a reservist in the Tsahal (Israeli Defence Forces).
War in Human Civilization is a monumental work in which the author sample his great erudition, together with his ability to deal with and study the phenomenon of war, combining the employment of fields of knowledge as diverse as history, Economics, biology, archaeology and anthropology, placing them at the service of the goal of his work, which is none other than that of elucidating what has moved and moves human groups towards war.
Throughout the almost seven hundred pages of this extensive work, Gat makes a study of the historical evolution of the phenomenon of war in which he combines a chronological approach, which we could call "conventional", with a synchronic one in which he puts in parallel similar stages of the evolution of war in different civilisations in order to compare cultures which, at a given historical moment, were at different Degrees of development and show how in all of them war went through a similar process of evolution.
In his initial approach, Gat promises an analysis that transcends any particular culture to consider the evolution of war in a general way, from its inception to the present day. The promise, however, is broken when he reaches the medieval period, for from then on he adopts a distinctly Eurocentric view, which he justifies with the argument that the Western model of war has been exported to other continents and adopted by other cultures, which, while not entirely false, leaves the reader with a somewhat incomplete view of the phenomenon.
Azar Gat dives into the origin of the human species to try to elucidate whether the phenomenon of war makes it different from the rest of the species, and to try to determine whether conflict is an innate phenomenon in the species or whether, on the contrary, it is a learned behaviour.
On the first question, the book concludes that nothing makes us different from other species because, despite Rousseaunian visions based on the "good savage" that were so in vogue in the 1960s, the reality sample is that intra-species violence, which was considered to be unique to humans, is in fact something shared with other species. On the second question, Gat takes the eclectic view that aggression is both innate and optional, a basic survival choice that is nonetheless exercised optionally, and developed through social learning.
Throughout the book's historical journey, the idea, formulated in the first chapters, that the ultimate causes of war are evolutionary in nature and have to do with the struggle for the survival of the species, appears as a leitmotif.
According to this approach, conflict would be rooted in competition for resources and better reproductive opportunities. Although the human development towards increasingly complex societies has eventually obscured it, this logic would still guide human behaviour today, mainly through the bequest of proximate mechanisms implied by human desires.
An important chapter in the book is the author's dissection of the theory, first advanced during the Enlightenment, of the Democratic Peace. Gat does not refute the theory, but puts it in a new light. If, in its original definition, it argues that liberal and democratic regimes are averse to war and that, therefore, the spread of liberalism will advance peace among nations, Gat argues that it is the growth of wealth that actually serves that spread, and that welfare and the interrelationship that trade fosters are the real drivers of democratic peace.
Two are, therefore, the two main conclusions of the work: that conflict is the rule in a nature in which organisms compete with each other for survival and reproduction in an environment of scarce resources, and that, recently, the development of liberalism in the western world has generated in this environment a feeling of repugnance towards war that translates into an almost absolute rejection of it in favour of other strategies based on cooperation.
Azar Gat recognises that a significant part of the human race is still a long way from liberal and democratic models, let alone the achievement of Degree of well-being and wealth, which, in his view, goes hand in hand with the rejection of war. Although he does not say so openly, it can be inferred from his speech that this is, nevertheless, the direction in which humanity is heading and that, the day it reaches the necessary conditions for this, war will finally be eradicated from the Earth.
Against this idea, one could argue the ever-present possibility of regression of the liberal system due to the demographic pressure to which it is subjected, or because of some global event that provokes it; or that other systems, equally rich but not liberal, will replace the world of democracies in world domination.
reference letter The book is a must for any scholar or reader interested in the nature and evolution of the phenomenon of war, and is a must for any scholar or reader interested in the nature and evolution of the phenomenon of war. Written with great erudition, and with a profusion of data that, at times, makes it somewhat harsh, War in Human Civilization is, without a doubt, an important contribution to the knowledge of war that is essential reading.