It has the mark of a really gripping film script. A
ranting demagogue wins the US presidential election thanks to the covert
intervention of the Russian KGB, in league with the FBI. He quickly insults
the other major world power
-- China -- by casting doubt on an agreement that has lasted for 40 years. Who
is working with whom? Does it mean peace or war? The CIA is baffled: it is
definitely time to call in Jack Ryan.
In some respects Donald Trump's putative pro-Putin
tilt is not so surprising: the great power triangle between the US, the Soviet
Union/Russia, and China has seen this sort of upheaval several times before. In
the 1950s Washington and Moscow combined -- in spite of their mutual hostility
-- to keep Beijing in the cold and out of the UN. In the 1970s an unlikely
US-China thaw was led by Richard Nixon and patently directed against the Soviet
Union. Since then the US has wavered between regarding either power as a
collaborator| or as a competitor in the new globalised world.
Are we now heading for another shift of the
kaleidoscope along the lines so brilliantly forecast in Orwell's 1984?
Oceania was at war with Eurasia and in alliance with Eastasia, until
one day Oceania was at war with
Eastasia and in alliance with Eurasia --
and no one was supposed to notice the change.
In the end it may all turn out to be much less
dramatic, and forecasts by international relations experts differ widely on
what we may expect. A Washington Post
analysis at the start of January asked "Will Putin and Trump transform the
globe?", noting that "US and Russian officials and experts are deeply
divided" in their opinions. The question was whether Trump and Putin would
find "fulfilment or disappointment once face-to-face reality
China experts are also divided. Those in touch with official thinking
Beijing have so far played down Trump's remarks about Taiwan (though warning
that it would be very different if US policy no longer recognised that
"there is only one China" -- the formula reached by Nixon in 1972).
The future of US-China relations "may not be so bleak as it looks",
says one Chinese analyst: after all, Trump sees the relationship with China as
one of economic rather than strategic rivalry. And on the US side, some argue
that "China is the future, Russia is the past", and that Trump in the
White House will soon realise this.
Yet it is a sign of the unstable nature of
international politics today that we now anticipate or fear that "anything
could happen" -- Trump's
victory and Brexit are proof enough
of this already. While we should not
follow those who argue that the world was safer in the cold war age (the Cuban
crisis alone disproves that) it is certainly true that events are moving ever
faster and more unpredictably. The predictions that there will be no great
upheaval in US-Russia or US-China relations are based on the supposition that
all sides will always behave rationally. Can we be sure that Trump will not act
impulsively if he is thwarted by either Beijing or Moscow? Or that Xi Jinping
will refrain from some military demonstration in the Taiwan Straits if the US
seems to favour Taipei? Or that Putin will not decide that it is time for
another assertion that Russia is still a great power?
The Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament's [CND] necessary task is to remind the public that in
an age of international instability, nuclear weapons continue to add an
additional factor of danger, magnifying the consequences of
miscalculation. If Trump unravels the
Iranian nuclear deal, the long-hovering prospect of a nuclear arms race in the
Middle East can only increase. If China
suspects US intentions in East Asia, it is even less likely to co-operate in
restraining North Korea. Nuclear arsenals continue to be modernised, and the
risk of accident is always there.
On 23 December the UN General Assembly passed --
almost unnoticed in the British press -- a historic resolution to launch
negotiations in 2017 on a treaty to prohibit nuclear weapons. It is needed more