In Defence of Realism

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Frank Lee

Ratification of the Treaty of Westphalia 1648

One of the unstated and extant features of the post-modern age has been the demise of the Westphalian Treaty. This arrangement had in times past regulated the relationship and clashes of interest among the great powers.

We should remind ourselves that the key precepts of the system were preceded by the carnage of the 30 years’ war of 1618-1648, and eventually agreed upon at the Treaty of Westphalia in 1648 – an arrangement which brought an end to the wars of the Reformation, agreed upon and binding on all parties. These precepts were:

  1. A recognition of the existence of sovereign states within their own clearly defined borders and sphere of influence.
  2. Each states sovereignty being recognised by others.
  3. Principles of non-interference in the internal affairs of sovereign states.
  4. Toleration of religions between states (catholic and protestant).
  5. States might be monarchies or republics.
  6. Permanent state interests or raison d’etat was the organizing principle between different nations.
  7. War was not completely eliminated but it was mitigated by diplomacy and balance-of-power politics.
  8. The object of this balance-of-power was to prevent one state becoming so powerful that it could conquer others and destroy the world order.

This system had collapsed throughout WW2 for obvious reasons.

However, in general terms, this Realist geopolitical fait accompli became evident during the first Cold War being ushered in by Churchill’s ‘Iron Curtain’ speech at Fulton Missouri in 1946. This de facto resuscitation during Cold War 1 gave rise to the standoff between the US/NATO and the USSR/Warsaw Pact.

This post-WW2 arrangement included elements of the Westphalian system, e.g., statehood, sovereignty and diplomacy. But this should always be understood as an occidental pact, China at this time being largely excluded.

Furthermore, this was a pact whereby the unstated rules of engagement between the rival blocs were – with perhaps the exception of the Cuban missile crisis – understood and adhered to.

However, the global south was up for grabs; and in this arena the proxy struggle between the northern powers and the global south continued unabated.

In this latter context, the US and its vassal empire had the wherewithal in terms of money, influence, military power and a global reach to pursue an imperial strategy involving dominance and control of the major global landmasses of Latin America, Africa, the Middle-East and South-West Asia which the Soviet bloc lacked. The period in question was really more about annexation by the western alliance against the southern hemisphere, a West-South confrontation.

Cold War I lasted until the break-up of the USSR in 1991. This was manna from heaven for the imperial juggernaut who saw a game-changing opportunity to push ahead with its global hegemonic agenda whilst Russia was entering the Yeltsin disaster years. This was made perfectly clear in a groundbreaking directive issued by then US Under Secretary of Defence for Policy at that time (neo-conservative) Paul Wolfowitz.

This was to become known as The Wolfowitz doctrine – Not intended for initial public release, it was leaked to the New York Times on March 7, 1992. It read:

Our first objective is to prevent the re-emergence of a new rival, either on the territory of the former Soviet Union or elsewhere, that poses a threat of the order of that posed formerly by the Soviet Union. This is a dominant consideration underlying the new regional defence strategy and requires that we endeavour to prevent any hostile power from dominating a region whose resources would, under consolidated control, be sufficient to generate global power.”[1]

In short: Me Tarzan, you Jane.

The US and its satellites were top of the pile and would remain so. Other potentially hostile states will be surrounded, threatened and intimidated into accepting their subaltern status. This was described by Senator Edward Kennedy as “a call for 21st century American imperialism that no other nation can or should accept.”[2]

And just to rub salt into the wound the US and its vassal states expanded NATO to include former Soviet republics and ex Warsaw pact states and pushed right up to Russia’s western borders.

Suffice it to say this geopolitical arrangement involved a complete rejection of Westphalian principles and has imposed global liberal practise of hegemony and interventionism under the command of the principal global hegemon, the United States.

This pursuit of global hegemony represents the implementation of the belief in America’s so-called ‘Manifest Destiny’ – a divine providence to spread the liberal-democratic global order to the rest of the planet and usher in a global Shangri-La of peace, prosperity … and so on and so forth.

Of course, this puts the world on a permanent war footing.

This has been instanced by wars waged by the empire against Iraq, Libya, Yugoslavia and Syria with more in the pipeline as well as a cyber-attack on Iran – the Stuxnet attack – and a number of colour revolutions paid for and organized by the US, Georgia and Ukraine being the most obvious and well-known. But the big prize is and always has been the Eurasian bloc.

This, of course, may well involve a nuclear exchange, but hey, America’s intentions are noble and worth fighting for are they not? It should be understood that the United States is the indispensable, exceptional nation, the shining city on the hill. Blah, blah, blah.

What is particularly disturbing is that this absurd and dangerous doctrine has become akin to a religious orthodoxy. Comparable perhaps to the fanaticism of Wahhabist cults in parts of the Muslim world.

It is suggestive of an infantile mindset which views international relations as a Manichean struggle between good and evil. Whether the non-adult proponents actually believe in this doctrine is a moot point.

But the pervasiveness of this cult is all but total; this is a 21st-century inquisition complete with heresy hunts and a fanatical priesthood of the media and their security handlers in the deep state, in their attempts to close down any other or any independent counter-narrative.

However, once the ideological stranglehold on policy has built up momentum it becomes very difficult to change course. In the language and ideology of neo-con exceptionalism, diplomacy is akin to appeasement, the West is threatened, Russia-Putin is on the rampage, proof (sic) of this was his “invasion” of Ukraine.

China also is becoming a threat to the western way of life; Carthage must be destroyed. Of course, every one of these assertions is extremely contentious and could/should be countered, but of course, they are not; the dominant narrative shall not be profaned or challenged.

As the US and its vassals, therefore, prepare for war, its populations must be conditioned to believe and accept such an inevitable outcome. The propaganda machine has been stepped up to unprecedented levels. The message is simple. Our side = good, Their side = bad. Our side does good things, their side does bad things. Thus, the media – now an asset of the deep state – pays an essential role of propagating this political construction among the populations of the Anglo-Zionist heartlands.

All of which is very reminiscent of Orwell’s short novel Animal Farm. After the Animal Revolution and the eviction of Jones the Farmer, the sheep were instructed by the ruling group – the pigs – into reciting the goodness of the animals and the badness of humans. The short bleat of the sheep went as follows: “Four legs good, two legs bad,” repeated endlessly.

That is about the level of western foreign policy. Good guys, bad guys, white hats, black hats, no compromise, no surrender. Result war.

The question we must now ask is has this menacing process gone too far to go into reverse?

This, of course, remains an open question. But the thrust of neo-conservative foreign policy would suggest this war would be a logical outcome. Either that or the whole thing is a bluff.

Up to this point the US performance in attacking recalcitrant weak states has not been a roaring success. The same goes for Israel. Bombing countries with no air defence or shooting Palestinian kids with sniper rifles is easy-peasy. Taking on Iran is a different matter entirely. The irresistible force seems to be meeting its immovable object.

From a realist as opposed to a neo-conservative foreign policy the idea of an American world empire is frankly deranged. Pursuit of this pipedream can only result in mutually assured destruction; yes, M.A.D. still applies.

The United States and its minions might not like it, but it will have to learn to live with other great powers. Russia, China have legitimate spheres of influence and this should be respected. This will involve an end to the gross provocations in the South China Sea and in Poland, Romania, and the Baltics, not to mention the series of colour revolutions.

This is true in spades with regard to Israel – a country of a mere 8 million souls with an ambition to create a greater Israel from the Euphrates to the Nile.

This objective, involving a ruthless ethnic cleansing has been unremittingly pursued since the British left Palestine. According to one David Ben-Gurion about how to deal with Palestinians in their midst:

There is a need for strong and brutal reaction [to Palestinian opposition]…We need to be accurate about timing, place and those we hit. If we accuse a family, we need to harm them without mercy, women and children included, otherwise this is not an effective reaction … there is no need to distinguish between guilty and not guilty.”[3]

This of course has been par for the course since the late 1940s. But Israel, like its American sponsor, must learn to live within its own sphere of influence and not tempt fate by embarking on a Zionist crusade against its near neighbours. It would do well to remember that the Crusades were in their neck of the woods for nearly 200 years, but the invaders were finally driven out in 1291.

The liberal-imperialist Anglo-Zionist regime change ideology is supplemented by the appeal to ‘human rights’ and Responsibility to Protect – R2P. Human Rights apparently override national sovereignty. According to one Francis Fukuyama:

‘’Dictators and Human Rights abusers like Serbia’s Milosevic could not hide behind the principle of sovereignty to protect themselves as they committed crimes against humanity particularly in multi-ethnic states like Yugoslavia where the borders of the sovereign state in question were themselves contested. Under these circumstances outside powers, acting in the name of human rights and democratic legitimacy, had not just the right, but the obligation to intervene.”[4]

There you have it. The ‘intervention’ a 78-day bombing offensive by NATO resulted in the deaths of in excess of 5000 civilians in Serbia and elsewhere. But of course, this was not a crime against humanity.

Doublethink!? Of course, the glaring anomaly in the regime change R2P ideology lies in its inconsistency.

But this is to be expected. It should always be borne in mind that the mission of the AZ-Empire is world domination, not coexistence or democracy. This, however, must never be openly admitted. The veneer of a crusade to make the world a Garden of Eden, is simply a cover for imperial aggrandisement.

Liberal democracies have little difficulty in conducting diplomacy with illiberal states when they are acting according to realist dictates, which is most of the time. In those circumstances, liberal democracies do whatever is necessary to maximize their survival prospects, and that includes negotiating with authoritarian leaders.

They sometimes even support or form alliances with murderous dictators as the US did in WW2 when it worked with Joseph Stalin to defeat Nazi Germany, or when it cooperated with Mao Zedong after 1972 to contain the Soviet Union.

Occasionally they even overthrow democratic regimes [all over Latin America – FL] which they perceive as being hostile. Liberal democracies go to great lengths to disguise such behaviour with liberal rhetoric, but in fact they are acting contrary to their own – professed – principles.”[5]

However, this unstable combination of outward authoritarianism and domestic democracy has inbuilt destabilising forces. Long ago it was pointed out by the Greek historian Thucydides that Empire and Democracy cannot co-exist in the long-term. Moreover, the methods of empire would be brought home to deal with the destabilising effects of empire on the state.

Nowhere is this more an ever-present fact than in the great hegemon, the United States itself.

It would appear that the United States polity has, at every level, descended into a variety of collective insanity. Witness Rachel Maddow, I know it’s difficult, but bear with me, asserting with complete conviction and sang-froid, night after night, that Donald Trump is a Russian agent! What made this worse was that no-one challenged this idiocy!

Ms Maddow’s rant can be compared to the ‘two minutes hate’ in 1984 (only, unfortunately, it lasted for more than 2 minutes) and of the level of a latent pathology in the media in particular and the body politic more generally.

Speaking of Orwell, his essay Notes on Nationalism nailed this particular political phenomenon. He firstly made it clear that what he meant by nationalism was a more general description of particular religious, or political outlooks.

By ‘nationalism’ I mean first of all the habit of assuming that human beings can be classified like insects and that whole blocks of millions or tens of millions of people can be confidently labelled ‘good’ or ‘bad’ – But secondly – and this is much more important – I mean the habit of identifying oneself with a single nation or other unit, placing it beyond good and evil and recognising no other duty than that of advancing its interests.

Thus Neo-Conservatism, Pacifism, Political Catholicism, Zionism, and curiously enough, Anti-Semitism, are all types of nationalism, broadly understood.

Of course, the unprepossessing Ms Maddow is a virulent specimen of this type of mental aberration. The nationalist has to perform the most intricate forms of mental gymnastics in order to believe that their particular beliefs are true and will not tolerate profanation. As Orwell writes:

The nationalist does not only disapprove of atrocities committed by his own side, but he has the remarkable capacity of not even hearing about them …All nationalists have the power of not seeing resemblances between similar sets of facts. A British Conservative will defend self-determination in Europe but oppose it in India with no feeling of inconsistency.

Actions are held to be good or bad, not on their own merits, but according to who does them, and there is almost no kind of outrage – torture, the use of hostages, forced labour, mass deportations, imprisonment without trial, forgery, assassination, the bombing of civilians – which does not change its moral colour when it is committed by ’our’ side … Some nationalists are not far from clinical schizophrenia, living quite happily amid dreams of power and conquest, which have no connexion with the physical world…”

Not far from clinical schizophrenia! I would say well ahead.

And there’s the rub. Realist foreign policy was often cruel and callous but rational, cold and calculating and unlike neo-conservatism it was at least generally non-ideological, which is to say, sane.

Nazi Germany, Stalinist Russia, were ideological projects and Western Imperialism, particularly of the white settler variety, the US, UK Israel, Australia, NZ, were openly racist and murderous in both practise and theory.

In the present geopolitical configuration, it is difficult to assess the outcome of the Anglo-Zionist crusade against the Eurasian bloc. Russia and China are reading from a Westphalian text, the US is reading from a neo-conservative playbook, with its European allies being reluctantly dragged along.

In this situation, it is difficult to know how this titanic struggle will pan out and to whose benefit.

One of the problems which besets any appraisal lies in the fact that the Westphalian system depended upon dialogue with rational actors. These have become a rare if not extinct species in the western centres of power.

The US and its reluctant allies will seemingly not give up on its strategic objective of world domination and Russia and China are going to defend themselves. Something has to give, but what?

[1]Defence Planning Guidance for the 1994–99 Fiscal Years (dated February 18, 1992)

[2] Orlando Caputo Leiva and Marlene Medrano- Latin American Perspectives – Vol. 34, No. 1, The Crisis of U.S. Hegemony in the Twenty-First Century (January 2007), pp. 9-15

[3]Quoted in Pappe, – Ethnic Cleansing of Palestine – p.69. For background on Ben-Gurion’s comment, see Ibid, 61-72. Quoted in – The Israel Lobby – John J Mearsheimer and Stephen M Walt p.99, fn.95

[4] Francis Fukuyama – State Building, Governance and World Order in the 21st Century – p.131.

Other US Realist Diplomats saw things somewhat differently. Commenting on the expansion of NATO into Eastern Europe In 1996, the 92-year-old veteran US geopolitical realist, George Kennan, warned that NATO’s expansion into former Soviet territory was a “strategic blunder of potentially epic proportions.”

“I think it is the beginning of a new cold war … I think the Russians will gradually react quite adversely and it will affect their policies. I think it a tragic mistake. There was no reason for this whatsoever. No one was threatening anybody else. This expansion would make the Founding Fathers of this country turn over in their graves. We have signed up to protect a whole series of countries, even though we have neither the resources nor the intention to do so in any serious way. NATO expansion was simply a light-hearted action by a Senate that has no real interest in foreign affairs.”

[5] John J Mearsheimer – The Great Delusion, Liberal Dreams and International Realities – p.157.

Frank Lee left school at age 15 without any qualifications, but gained degrees from both New College Oxford and the London School of Economics (it’s a long story). He spent many years as a lecturer in politics and economics, and in the Civil Service, before retirement. He lives in Sutton with his wife and little dog.

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