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Opinion: Understanding The Hypocrisy Of Geo-Politics

Hypocrisy and war have always been a part of geopolitics but those beating their war drums today seem to be forgetting one crucial difference: the next great war will feature multiple nations armed with nuclear weapons.

Hypocrisy and war have always been a part of geopolitics but those beating their war drums today seem to be forgetting one crucial difference: the next great war will feature multiple nations armed with nuclear weapons.

I recently tried to write an essay about hypocrisy in the Muslim world. I began by looking in the dictionary which defines hypocrisy as behavior that shows one’s stated moral principles or beliefs are not sincere. As I read these words the first example that came to mind had nothing to do with Muslims. I immediately thought about America’s weapons sales to nations that flagrantly violate the human rights it claims to care about so deeply.

Hypocrisy also allows America to vilify the human rights abuses of its adversaries while ignoring those of its allies like Israel’s apartheid policies or India’s repression of its Muslims. Israeli and Indian policies are themselves rooted in their own hypocrisy. Israel was created as a homeland for Jews by depriving the Palestinians of their homeland. India claims to be the world’s largest democracy but denies Kashmiris their democratic rights.

Muslim rulers often complain about the double standards and hypocrisy that characterizes today’s Western-dominated international system and their complaints are certainly justified. However, part of the reason these complaints are often met with skepticism is that these same rulers are unbelievably hypocritical in their own ways.

Leaders in Pakistan, Iran, Afghanistan, and Turkey advocate on behalf of Kashmiris and/or Palestinians while violently oppressing their own people and ignoring both Russian and Chinese crimes against other Muslims. For its part, China complains about the world’s neo-colonial security structure but has violently pursued its own colonial ambitions in Tibet and Xinjian. As its power grows it seems to have no problem strong-arming its neighbors just like Europe’s colonial powers once did to it.

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This contradictory behavior makes it difficult to understand the world or develop a coherent narrative that can explain these inconsistencies. For those of us who are not experts, there are three books necessary to understand these geopolitical oddities and their repercussions.

The first is Samuel Huntington’s book The Clash of Civilizations. Be warned, this is a controversial book. According to Huntington, the world is divided along tribal lines that correspond to its major civilizations. Part of the reason no one likes to talk about Huntington’s ideas is that we do not like what they say about our tribal tendencies. His ideas are both a sad reminder of how unevolved we are as a species and the easiest way to understand geopolitics. Huntington’s theories do not mean that civilizations must clash. They just help us to understand why different nations view each other with suspicion, why certain countries will align with each other against others, and what can happen if these issues are not dealt with constructively.

Huntington explains that the West represents a distinct civilization that is in the process of splitting between its English-speaking parts, a German-Franco-dominated bloc in continental Europe, and a mostly Spanish-speaking offshoot in Latin America. The West is breaking under the weight of its success. The Western powers conquered nearly the entire world, colonizing radically different parts of the globe such as North and South America and Australia that do not have a history of interconnectedness. The divisions taking shape today such as France’s exclusion from AUKUS reflect these trends.

The world has also developed unique Japanese and Indian societies. Russia is the preeminent power of the Slavic world, while China represents another civilization. The Islamic world has fractured along multiple fissures due to the legacy of European conquests. The Muslim world decisively lost its war with Europe and has yet to fully regain its freedom or rebuild itself. Lastly, sub-Saharan Africa is just starting to recover from the scars of colonialism and slave raids financed by both Western and Islamic civilizations. These blocs represent the world’s major tribes, though each contains many fault lines and sub-tribes.

China’s rise is causing uncertainty and fear much like Germany did during the 19th and 20th centuries. As its growing power changes the dynamics that have held since the Soviet Union’s collapse, government reactions are largely following the civilizational contours predicted by Huntington with different tribes aligning with each other to deal with these new challenges. The English-speaking Western nations of Australia, America, and the UK have allied themselves to Britain’s former colonial subjects in India, as well as Japan and South Korea. Mainland Europe does not seem as interested in China or war in general but its vulnerability to Russian aggression (China’s ally) will likely keep it in the Western camp for the foreseeable future.

China is developing alliances within the Muslim world with Russian backing, but these are also shaped by Islam’s many internal divisions. Most of the Arab states have sold themselves to the West in return for continued support for their dictatorships. Pakistan and Iran are firmly in China’s camp while Afghanistan is certain to join them. Europe’s refusal to accept Turkey (largely due to their civilizational differences) will eventually place it in this camp too.

It is only when one understands the tribal nature of geopolitics that the inconsistencies referenced above start to make sense. America and Israel are from the same tribe, thus American leaders ignore or downplay Israel’s racist policies. America and India may represent different tribes, but they are allies against China which means Indian abuses in Kashmir are swept under the rug. Likewise, the passionate concern Muslim leaders have for Palestinians and Kashmiris does not extend to the Uighurs due to their alliance with China.

It can be tempting to view this competition and the resulting alliances as a reflection of the political institutions that govern each country. That would be a mistake. The narrative of democracy versus autocracy may be popular in the West, but it is a superficial and, given the available data, inaccurate way to interpret these dynamics. Democratic India, for example, has often found itself aligned with authoritarian Russia. Autocratic Saudi Arabia and Egypt are important American allies whereas China’s key Muslim ally, Pakistan, features a quasi-democratic system. America’s allies in Taiwan and South Korea only transitioned to democracy in the late 1980s and it was no less friendly to either nation when they were governed by dictators. During the Cold War, America courted China as a counter to Soviet Russia even though both featured authoritarian political systems.

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Conflict between America and China is not one between democracy and authoritarianism but between an established, dominant power versus a rising one. Peter Frankopan’s book The Silk Roads puts this competition into its proper historical context by explaining that the world has been playing this game for a long time. Hypocritical jockeying for geopolitical position and competition over trade routes has defined world politics for millennia. Shifting alliances and the inconsistent policies they create reflect these age-old tensions which have erupted into war many times. Reactions to China’s ascent could easily do the same.

Rather than provide neutral and impartial analysis that can reduce tensions, academics and journalists inflame them as they gleefully cheer for their own tribes while condemning similar behavior by those outside their tribes. This hypocrisy allows a supposedly liberal website like foreignpolicy.com to publish an article arguing America should substantially increase its military assistance to Israel in anticipation of large-scale hostilities with Iran and its various regional allies while fretting over China’s military assertiveness towards Taiwan. It also explains why FP supports America’s attempts to stop Iran’s nuclear program while it lauds plans to equip Australia with nuclear submarines or ignores Israel’s nuclear weapons entirely.

Articles warning against China’s naval build-up have been a feature of Western publications for years. Unsurprisingly, they rarely analyze China’s ambitions with reference to America’s powerful fleet which has twenty of its own aircraft carriers and a network of forward bases that allow it to deploy its military all over the world. Instead, FP recently published an article arguing America must counter China’s growing Navy by expanding its fleet to over 400 ships. Rather than asking who will control the seas, these publications should be asking how we can all share them, but our tribal international system and its enablers seem incapable of doing so.

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Tensions in the Pacific are themselves driven by the legacy of previous conflicts. America has been at war with either Germany and its allies, the Soviets, or the Muslim world for most of the past 80 years. As a result of these conflicts, it has developed a hyper-militarized political economy that has a hard time compromising or viewing problems as anything other than a nail in need of hammering. As such, the idea of allowing China to reign supreme even in its own backyard is anathema to its elite.

China has become so determined to re-assert itself after being conquered by the West and Japan that it has adopted many of their tactics. It spent decades patiently building its economic and military power and now that it has developed advanced military abilities and senses America’s vulnerability, it is flexing its muscles.

According to Paul Kennedy’s work The Rise and Fall of the Great Powers, it is overestimating its strength. Kennedy explains that modern wars featuring multiple belligerents are won by the coalition with the greater combined industrial and scientific capacity to wage war. Consequently, China and its Muslim and Russian allies are at a distinct disadvantage vis-vis the Western alliance.

Hypocrisy and war have always been a part of geopolitics but those beating their war drums today seem to be forgetting one crucial difference: the next great war will feature multiple nations armed with nuclear weapons.

To make matters worse, the next few decades will witness the development of nanotechnology, AI, and automated weapons. In other words, the next world war will make the last one look like a walk in the park. The coalitions forming today have the potential to drag nearly the entire world into a war that could destroy civilization as we know it.

Climate change, unstable political situations in America and China, populations that are exploding in some areas while shrinking in others, and excessive military spending are all going to make managing global tensions a lot harder. The multi-polar world that is emerging will only remain peaceful if the interests of each of its main blocs are respected. The Western world, as the declining bloc, will have the hardest time accepting this.

But developing a modus vivendi between all the world’s major tribes is the only realistic path forward. The best way to do that is to ensure no civilization can be dominated by the others and that the interest of each is respected. Instead of constantly pushing for war, we need to start talking about peaceful solutions that can deal with the challenges ahead.

This article was originally published here, and re-shared on TMV with the author’s permission. 

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