Posts Tagged ‘United States’

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Seventy-three years ago today marked the beginning of a new era in world history.

After what President Franklin Roosevelt called a “dastardly attack” on our naval fleet at Pearl Harbor, the United States went to war with Japan. For the next four years, young Americans fought some of the most brutal air, sea and land battles in the nation’s history against a hardened and vicious enemy. Young Americans had to push Japanese soldiers off of the islands they had occupied from Wake Island and Midway to the Philippines and Iwo Jima. In Okinawa alone, more than 50,000 Americans were killed and wounded. Japanese casualties were more than twice that.

Fast forward 73 years and the future of the American relationship with Japan is again entering a new era.

Once the war ended after the emperor’s surrender in August 1945, the enemies in war became allies in building a new East Asia. The Japanese recognized that their effort to dominate the region had failed, and they turned to the United States for assistance in rebuilding their country. Americans recognized that a vibrant and democratic Japan was crucial for world peace and the containment of communism, promoted by the Soviet Union.

Japan became the anchor for capitalism in Asia. American investments financed new factories for automobiles, electronics and computers. The American military ensured Japan’s security and its access to food and industrial materials mostly acquired from neighboring Asian countries. Oil and other energy resources came from all over including Texas, Indonesia and the Middle East.

By the 1970s and 1980s, Japan emerged as the first “Asian tiger.” Its citizens were highly educated, productive and peaceful. They exported more to the United States and Western Europe than they imported, and they used their balance of payments surplus to invest abroad. In fact in the 1980s, many Americans worried that Japan was buying too much New York real estate. There were also concerns that they were unfairly “dumping” their electronic products on the American market, undercutting U.S. companies such as Texas Instruments.

For all these economic tensions, however, American and Japanese citizens entered the new millennium as close partners, committed to joint prosperity through increased trade and cooperation.

That partnership has now changed radically.

With the opening of China to the international economy coupled with the precipitous decline of Japan, China has become the largest producer and consumer in all of Asia at breakneck speeds. Japan has fallen behind because of poor investment choices, corrupt government and population decline. Japan’s population is aging rapidly, and its closed immigration policies prevent the arrival of young and innovative people from abroad. Simply put, the center of Asian entrepreneurship has shifted to China.

Because of this, our relationship is markedly different from how it was during the decades after the Pearl Harbor attack. So what does the future hold?

Japan will remain a major producer of automobiles and high-end electronic items for the United States, and Japanese citizens will continue to purchase American products. But future growth for American businessmen is not in Japan. Nor does the security of Asia revolve around Japan. U.S. economic interests in China, along with India and Vietnam, will continue to grow, and Japan will get less American attention. The Japanese know this, and their government’s greater military assertiveness in recent years is an effort to become more self-reliant.

That does not mean the relations between the two former World War II adversaries will worsen. Americans will continue to trade with Japan and visit that country in large numbers, but more of these activities will include China and South Korea too. The special bilateral partnership between the United States and Japan will become a looser regional relationship with neighboring countries involved. There will be more independence, more compromise and tougher bargaining for all business and security deals between the U.S. and Japan.

If the 73 years of U.S.-Japanese relations since Pearl Harbor have been intensely close, the next few decades will be more distant and multilateral. That should still be good for business and democracy not only in Asia, but in the wider world.

 

 This article originally appeared in the Houston Chronicle on 7 December 2014.

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Effective policy-making begins by accurately assessing adversaries. Americans have a tendency to assume that their opponents are either pathetic pip-squeaks, ranting like irrational madmen, or enormous evil-doers, bent on Hitler-like world domination. Russian President Vladimir Putin fits neither of these character types. The pattern of Russian regional aggression, dating back to Moscow’s invasion of the Georgian Republic in 2008 (when George W. Bush was still president), reveals a different kind of adversary.

Fascism: History and Present

Putin is an early twentieth century fascist, ruling a twenty-first century country that possesses middling international power, but still maintains aspirations to greatness and deep-seated resentments against the societies, especially the United States and the European Union, that are allegedly keeping it down. Putin is ruthlessly realistic. He recognizes that he cannot challenge the United States across the globe. He seeks, instead, to assert Russian power by beating up on weak neighboring societies, thumbing his nose at the foreigners who criticize his actions, and mobilizing his own suffering citizens with the promise of national strength. He used the Sochi Summer Olympics this year to display Russian physical prowess, just as he uses the annexation of Crimea and intervention in Eastern Ukraine to assert that Russians are superior among the other Slavs. The bombast, muscle-flexing, and aggression are designed to manifest Russian ethnic and cultural rejuvenation after decades of decline and humiliation. Putin promotes nearby aggression to redeem Russian politics; he defines the authenticity and greatness of his nation by its ability to bring violence on lesser peoples.

The best historical analogy for Putin is neither Adolf Hitler nor Joseph Stalin. The Russian president does not have the messianic world conquering vision of the German Führer, and he does not possess the universalistic ideology of his Russian predecessor. Putin is more of a “classical” fascist, on the model of Benito Mussolini in early twentieth century Italy or Francisco Franco, who ruled Spain after the country’s bloody civil war. Mussolini and Franco built their dictatorships on the promise of greatness, the display of force, and the myth of a savior figure who would carry a fallen people back to the top of the international pyramid of power. They asserted near total control over their societies for the purpose of bringing total transformation. Most of all, they exploited opportunities for attacking vulnerable citizens (especially Jews) and weaker neighbors (especially in North Africa.)  Conspicuous assertions of Italian and Spanish physical superiority served to galvanize followers and generate apparent greatness.

Fascism has come to Russia because of current international conditions, echoing many of the circumstances in the 1920s and 1930s. The gap between the “haves” and “have-nots” in the world has grown, and many Russians feel unfairly deprived and disrespected. The allure of democracy has faded due to the evidence of ineffectiveness, stalemate, and corruption within many of its chief exponents, including the United States. Perhaps most significant, the many lingering wars and conflicts of the last decade have brutalized the image of politics in Russia and other societies. If violence and related forms of coercion are acceptable elsewhere, why shouldn’t Russians use the same behaviors in areas close to home? When Americans and Europeans reject this claim on grounds of international law and human rights, Russians point to the hypocrisy of recent interventions in Iraq, Libya, and Afghanistan. Their argument about Western inconsistency has some merit.

Fascist Lessons

The history of fascism in Italy and Spain, and now in Russia, offers some helpful guidance in considering American and European responses to Putin’s military meddling. First, Putin’s domestic legitimacy is deeply connected to his international aggression. We should not expect him to back down or change course anytime soon. We should anticipate more acts of intervention in the region around Russia.

From this observation follows a second expectation. Putin’s popularity, like that of other fascists, will remain strong at home as long as he can show “victories” in bullying opponents, dominating neighbors, and standing up against foreign opponents. His domestic power will grow as he defiantly flaunts loud international condemnation. Economic sanctions will hurt the Russian economy, and its citizens, but Putin will rally his population around his conspicuous displays of physical courage and national strength.

The third and most important historical insight is that this fascist aggression will only cease when it confronts firm external resistance. Fascists are opportunistic bullies who will turn away from fights they cannot win. They enjoy their positions of power too much to risk losing everything. Hitler is the exception to this historical analysis, of course, and we should recognize that he is not a guide for thinking about Putin or most other dictators.

Containment

How, then, should Americans and Europeans encourage external resistance to Putin’s fascism? For sound reasons, citizens in the United States and the European Union are not prepared to go to war with Russia over Ukraine. Americans and West Europeans held to a similar position during the Cold War, when the Soviet Union dominated Eastern Europe. What worked in the Cold War, and what is feasible today, is a policy of forceful containment in this region. That involves increasing the readiness of the Western alliance (the North Atlantic Treaty Organization) to combat Russian military moves. It also requires the aiding and arming of local forces in Ukraine, Georgia, and other states most vulnerable to Russian attack.

The United States and its European allies must do everything they can to create native fighting forces that can resist Russian aggression. Although local armies might not be able to defeat Russian soldiers immediately, they can raise the human and financial costs for Russia. They can make the bully in Moscow consider the risks of extended warfare on his borders, rather than the quick interventions and land grabs that he obviously prefers.

Containing Russian fascism is not ideal. It will contribute to a further militarization of the region around Russia. It requires working relationships with many less-than-democratic groups that oppose Putin. It cannot reverse recent Russian gains, at least not immediately. Containment, nonetheless, offers a strategy that plainly recognizes the nature of our fascist adversary, diminishes his aggressive opportunities, and allows for effective American and European action that is sustainable in the current political environment. Containment is a credible way of combating fascism in Russia today. Leaders in Washington, Berlin, Paris, and London should coordinate their efforts behind this strategy, and they should start soon.

 

This blog post originally appeared at http://globalbrief.ca

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About Jeremi Suri
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Jeremi Suri holds the Mack Brown Distinguished Chair for Leadership in Global Affairs at the University of Texas at Austin. He is a professor in the University's Department of History and the Lyndon B. Johnson School of Public Affairs. Professor Suri is the author and editor of nine books on contemporary politics and foreign policy. Professor Suri's research and teaching have received numerous prizes. In 2007 Smithsonian Magazine named him one of America's "Top Young Innovators" in the Arts and Sciences. His writings appear widely in blogs and print media. Professor Suri is also a frequent public lecturer and guest on radio and television programs.

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