USSR 2.0 claim and Ukraine-Taiwan nexus are both balderdash

And much more: Adam Creighton interviews John Mearsheimer on China, Australia and Ukraine.
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10 Responses to USSR 2.0 claim and Ukraine-Taiwan nexus are both balderdash

  1. C.L. says:

    John Mearsheimer, a professor of political science at the University of Chicago, has been a controversial figure in foreign policy debates for decades, a champion of what’s known as the ‘realist school’.

    Almost alone in the early 2000s he forecast China’s economic rise would empower it to become a military threat, rather than a stable peaceful democracy.

    Mearsheimer, who has taught at Chicago since 1982, opposed the Bush administration’s war in Iraq in 2003, arguing it would end in destabilisation and terrorism in the Middle East, ultimately earning praise from the Western foreign policy establishment.

    But more recently he has been attacked over his take on Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, arguing Vladimir Putin’s invasion was predictable and provoked by the West’s desire to incorporate the former Soviet state into NATO.

    His 2015 lecture, Why Ukraine is the West’s Fault, in which he predicted Ukraine would be ‘wrecked’ by Russia if it pushed for NATO membership, has been viewed 29 million times.

    Mearsheimer, derided by the New Statesman last month as “the world’s most hated thinker”, is due to give an address in Brisbane later this month at the invitation of the Centre for Independent Studies.

    He sat down with The Australian for an interview last week. Below is a transcript, edited for length and clarity.


    You have been quite prescient about the tragic developments in Ukraine, how likely do you think it is that China ultimately invades Taiwan?

    It‘s highly unlikely that they will try to do so. First of all, the Chinese would have to launch an amphibious operation, which is among the most difficult military operations, and their military has not fought a war since 1979.

    Second, the Americans would definitely defend Taiwan: the United States would have plenty of warning and would make it an almost impossible task.

    But there‘s one major caveat: if the Taiwanese were to declare their independence, then the Chinese are likely to attack Taiwan.

    And why would Taiwan do that?

    Well, there‘s no question that inside of Taiwan, there are lots of people who do want to declare independence. And if the US were to commit itself to defend Taiwan no matter what, the Taiwanese might think they could get away with it.

    Do you think that the US could lose interest in Taiwan if it manages to ‘re-shore’ Taiwan’s high end chip manufacturing capabilities. The US is trying to do this now in a big way.

    I don‘t think the chips matter very much at all. What matters is that Taiwan is of enormous strategic importance to the US and to the Japanese. If you’re interested in deterring China, it’s imperative that the US not let Taiwan go under, and there are two specific reasons for that.

    First, if the US were to abandon Taiwan, it would send a terrible signal to its other allies in East Asia, and they would lose confidence in the US, It would be a hammer blow to the credibility of America‘s alliance structure.

    The second reason is, if you‘re interested in bottling up the Chinese navy and air force inside the First Island Chain, it’s essential to control Taiwan.

    How do you think the US views Australia’s role in this containment strategy? Are we the loyal deputy in the Pacific?

    The US is interested in putting together a balancing coalition to deter China. And in the event there is a war to fight against China, Australia is an important ally, and the US definitely would want Australia to be part of that balancing coalition.

    There‘s no doubt that the US will dominate that coalition simply because the US is so powerful relative to every other country in East Asia. The US does not want to have to deter by itself, it wants as many allies as it can find.

    Do you think the AUKUS submarine deal, the US generously giving Australia its nuclear technology, is a kind of quid pro quo, that Australia would need to be part of any US military confrontation?

    I agree with that. To put it in slightly different terms, I think the US is trying to weave together a close strategic relationship between Australia so that if the US gets involved in a fight, the Australians will have little choice but to be involved in that fight themselves.

    This basic logic applies to other countries in the region as well, but it‘s less of a problem inducing them because they are already frontline states, Japan, South Korea and the Philippines. But Australia is much further away, so it’s a trickier issue.

    Looking at AUKUS from Australia‘s point of view, rather than that of the US, do you see the deal as a sensible, pragmatic move by Australian governments, to enmesh themselves in this way?

    Australians have a deep seated interest in working with the US to deter China. It would not be in Australia‘s interest if China dominated Asia, and there’s no question in my mind that the Chinese want to.

    They want to be a regional hegemonic and I don‘t blame them one bit. If I were running foreign policy in Beijing, I’d want to dominate Asia too.

    I fully understand that almost all Australians miss the ‘unipolar moment’ when there was no China threat and Australia could deal extensively at the economic level with China. That was, of course, fuelling Australian prosperity, but now we’re in a world where there is a serious security threat from China and that threatens to undermine economic intercourse between Australia and China, which is obviously not in Australia‘s interest.

    The fact is that when prosperity and security clash, security invariably wins.

    This is a situation that‘s not unlike the one that existed before World War One in Europe, where you had intense security competition between two alliances but at the same time, you had a huge amount of economic intercourse among all the countries of Europe.

    So any reduction in sovereignty that AUKUS causes for Australia, people can quibble about the extent, is a small price to pay, then, your view?

    There‘s no question it ties Australia to the US in ways that Australia would prefer not to have happened. Australia wants as much flexibility in the foreign policy realm as possible. That’s true of virtually every country. But you have to face up to the strategic environment that you’re in, and do what’s necessary.

    Is it the political nature of China‘s government, being an authoritarian system, that is the ultimate problem?

    I think China would be a threat regardless of whether it was a democracy or an authoritarian state. The US is a democracy and it is deeply committed to maintaining regional hegemony in the Western Hemisphere, and making sure that no other country on the planet becomes a hegemon.

    China is basically imitating the US in trying to establish regional hegemony in Asia the way the US has in the Western Hemisphere.

    There‘s no question that for purposes of garnering public support, both American leaders and Australian leaders will frame the competition with China as an ideological one.

    We will say we are the good guys, and they‘re the bad guys. This will sell well in the marketplace. But if you strip away that rhetoric, what you see is that this is an old fashioned competition over the balance of power.

    How do you assess Xi Jinping amid all the talk of power struggles within the CCP?

    In the foreign policy realm he‘s clearly rational, he has not done anything that I would describe as foolish.

    He‘s been trying to expand Chinese power in the South China Sea, and in the East China Sea, and he’s been putting significant pressure on Taiwan. And he’s also been putting significant pressure on India up in the Himalayas. He’s not a shrinking violet.

    What do you make of the argument the West needs to deter Russia in Ukraine so as to show our resolve to fight China over Taiwan?

    I don‘t think that argument makes much sense at all. The Chinese already understand that the US will go to enormous lengths to contain China; what happens in Ukraine is largely irrelevant.

    Actually, the Ukraine war weakens America‘s position in East Asia. First of all, we end up pinned down in a war in Europe, which makes it difficult for us to fully pivot East Asia.

    Russia is not a serious threat to the US. Indeed, Russia should be our ally to contain China.

    Second, we have pushed the Russians into the arms of the Chinese, which is a violation of balance of power politics 101. This is foolish. Those weapons that we‘re giving to Ukraine we should be giving to Taiwan.

    And great powers have limited bandwidth: Much of that time that we spend thinking about how to deal with the Russians in Ukraine, we could be devoting to thinking about how to deal with China in the state.

    These arguments haven’t resonated in Washington recently – will they?

    Yes. We believed initially that we could inflict a devastating defeat on Russia quite quickly, and put an end to the war, allowing us to pivot fully to East Asia. But it‘s now clear that this is going to be a long war, many years. And indeed, if it’s not a long war, it will end soon in a devastating defeat for Ukraine.

    The thought of us being pinned down for the long term in Eastern Europe has begun to dawn on American policymakers who understand this undermines, I don‘t want to overstate the case, our position in East Asia.

    So you’re expecting the US aid, military at least, to start winding down, for a mix of domestic political and the geopolitical reasons, as you discussed?

    No, I don‘t think it will come to an end. The US is so deeply involved in Ukraine now and has so committed its credibility to defeating Russia and preserving Ukrainian sovereignty that we will continue to back Ukraine for the foreseeable future.

    If we cut the cord on Ukraine, the Ukrainian military will quickly collapse because it’s almost wholly dependent on the west. That would be devastating not only for the US, but for NATO.

    The US is deeply infected with Russophobia, and it‘s hard for me to see us abandoning Ukraine. There’s no question if you look inside the Republican Party there are a large slice that who would like to cut and run. But I don’t think they will prevail.

    Why have Germany and France, especially the latter given its military pretensions, done so little to help Ukraine? They are a lot closer to the action.

    The European powers have a rich tradition of deferring to the US because they understand that the US provides its security. They don‘t have a lot of weaponry to send to Ukraine, and they don’t have an industrial base that can produce a lot.

    You see this most clearly with the Germans. The German military is remarkably weak. If the German military were forced to fight a war in Ukraine it would not fare well at all. The US of course, because it‘s addicted to war, has tremendous military capability.

    One of the aims of the US is also to weaken Russia, as the US defence secretary put it, especially its army. How has that panned out?

    A few points here. The Russian army is stronger now than it‘s been since the Cold War. It was quite small and weak when the war started in February 2022, but the Russians have significantly increased its size and quality.

    Last September they mobilised 300,000 troops, and over the course of this year, there are expected to be over 400,000 new enlistees in the Russian army.

    So by early 2024 they will have close to a million men, and well trained and well armed because the Russians have beefed up their industrial base, and they‘re producing massive numbers of weapons.

    The US and European nations have left the door open for Ukraine to join NATO, how does that impact the war?

    Every time some Western leader says that they are more committed than ever to bringing Ukraine into NATO that just gives the Russians greater incentive to wreck Ukraine. It gives the Russians greater incentive to take more territory and to turn Ukraine into a dysfunctional rump state.

    If the West was seriously interested in helping Ukraine get out of this war and keep as much of its territory as possible it would push Ukraine to become a neutral state, and sever all ties with Ukraine.

    If there‘s any hope of ending the war, Ukraine has to declare that it no longer has any interest in joining NATO. Sadly, we’re following exactly the opposite policy, and we’re doubling down and continuing to talk about and bringing Ukraine into NATO.

    Your analysis of the China-Taiwan dynamic, I would say has become conventional in mainstream media, it doesn’t ruffle feathers much. But your view of Ukraine and Russia generates a lot of anger. You presumably analyse the two situations through the same analytical framework – how do you reconcile this?

    I first started making the argument publicly that China could not rise peacefully in 2001. And until about 2017 most people thought that I was crazy. This was supposed to be ‘the end of history’, right? China was going to turn into a democracy and we would all live happily ever after. But it didn‘t happen that way, and I think it is obvious now I was correct.

    So people are not attacking me today on the China issue the way they once did, and I believe the same thing will happen with Ukraine.

    The principal cause of Ukraine war was not that Putin is some imperialist. It was that NATO expansion provoked the Russians to launch a preventive war.

    I‘ve been pilloried for arguing this, pretty much alone, since the start of this war. The West argues that he wasn’t provoked and he wants to create a greater Russia etc.

    There‘s no evidence to support that claim – in fact, there’s an abundance of evidence to the contrary. And I would note to you that Jens Stoltenberg, who is the head of NATO, recently said very clearly and quite comprehensively, that the principal cause of Ukraine war was NATO expansion.

    You’re well known as being the foremost proponent of ‘realism’ in foreign affairs – what does that mean, for the layman?

    Well, the driving logic is that states, governments, are principally concerned with how much power they have relative to the other states. And the reason that they care so much about the balance of power is there‘s no higher authority that can protect them. If you get into trouble, you want to make sure that you’re as powerful as possible.

    It doesn‘t matter whether a state is a democracy, or an authoritarian state or a communist state or a fascist state, they all act according to the same logic.

    Final question, so you‘re forecasting that Russia will ultimately prevail in Ukraine, but you don’t think that there’ll be a military confrontation between China and the US, because we are adequately deterring them?

    I think it‘s unlikely, but I want to be clear, there is a nontrivial chance of war. We focused on Taiwan before, but you don’t want to underestimate the potential for trouble elsewhere.

    I think one could make a case that it‘s more likely a conflict will arise in the South China Sea or the East China Sea. The Chinese are using their coast guard to throw their weight around the South China Sea, fuelling friction with the Philippines. That’s why it’s imperative that the US focus on East Asia and pay less attention to Eastern Europe.

  2. Jannie says:

    The US is deeply infected with Russophobia, and it‘s hard for me to see us abandoning Ukraine. There’s no question if you look inside the Republican Party there are a large slice that who would like to cut and run. But I don’t think they will prevail.

    But but but Trump has said he will end the war. Maybe he thinks Trump is just blathering or Trump cannot win, or be allowed to run. Even so, a lot of republicans and most US people seem to want out.

    So the war goes on until Russia surrenders. What Mearsheimer is saying is the Ukraine war goes on forever?

  3. Petros says:

    Yes Jannie. That’s how the MIC likes it. BTW doesn’t Mearsheimer speak logically and clearly? A pleasure to read, albeit with uncomfortable truth bombs thrown in. Let’s not forget that the West empowered China by letting them into the WTO. You reap what you sow. Thanks Bill Clinton and George Bush Jr. Maybe Chelsea Clinton can be deployed as a war-pig.

  4. Petros says:

    Kudos to Adam Creighton for asking good questions and following up on the answers. Others should learn from him.

  5. jupes says:

    If we cut the cord on Ukraine, the Ukrainian military will quickly collapse because it’s almost wholly dependent on the west.

    That’s how Trump ends the war. That’s if it hasn’t ended within the next year.

  6. Tom Atkinson says:

    “the world’s most hated thinker”

    Ah, so he must be the most accurate and most respected!

  7. Alfonso says:

    Adam Creighton has the intellectual capacity of a chipmunk. He has barely left his desk since he got to Washington, never reports anything from a factual basis and seems largely to rewrite junk from random sources.

  8. NFA says:

    Alfonso says:
    9 October, 2023 at 5:42 pm


    Not enough spittle left for NO voters?

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