The International Writers
One of the reasons
people in Los Angeles speak English instead of Spanish is that in
the first three hundred years of its modern history, Mexico never
considered it important to populate its northern territories.
As pressure in the United States grew for expansion to the Pacific
Ocean, one of the justifications for annexation of the Mexican territories
under the doctrine of Manifest Destiny was that the
land was desolate and going to waste. Abraham Lincoln joked
that the Mexicans never did anything with the land and after less
than three years we had discovered gold in California.
If the lands from
Texas to California had been populated by thriving towns and cities
and productive agricultural areas, annexation by the Americans would
have been much harder to achieve both militarily and in the court of
domestic and American world opinion.
Nature abhors a vacuum, and that is why sparsely populated countries
like Canada, Australia and Brazil have historically maintained such
liberal immigration policies to discourage potential foreign incursions
into their sparsely populated territories.
Ninety percent of Canadas thirty million inhabitants live within
a days drive of the U.S. border, and with its immense natural
resources and strategic location Canada has a great deal to protect,
particularly in its vast, unpopulated northern territories, rich in
petroleum, gold and diamonds and protected by only a few icebreakers
patrolling the Northwest Passage to assert sovereignty by showing the
At this writing, the American consciousness, distracted by the Iraq
war and left-leaning regimes in Latin America, is not yet focused on
our charming neighbors to the north, but that could change from one
day to the next in light of Quebecs vast supplies of fresh water
(one-seventh of the worlds total supply) and its huge hydroelectric
All it would take to focus American attention on Canadian hydroelectric
resources would be a breakdown in our hydroelectric grid, or a drought,
or both. Then you would see how fast the good neighbor policy
would vanish with the extinctive speed of the Patagonian Wingtip Booby.
The Canadians depend on us to protect them (as if they had a choice!)
but who will be there to protect them from the loving embrace of their
protector? That is a question that is yet to be proposed in polite
Another world region that is almost a mirror image of this situation
is Russian Siberia adjacent to China. With Russias vast
natural resources on one side and Chinas impoverished masses on
the other, this scenario would seem to be a likely laboratory for my
theory about hungry populations moving in to fill a vacuum the way the
Turkmen inhabited ancient Anatolia.
Mindful of the vast resources they had to protect, the Russian czars
and then the Soviet Communists made settlement of Siberia a priority,
and sometimes mandatory, policy. The Trans-Siberian Railroad served
much the same purpose as the Union Pacific in the States, to facilitate
settlement between the Urals and Vladivostock and the transportation
of resources to western manufacturing centers. Settlers who were
willing to move east under the Soviet system were afforded privileged
treatment in the form of cash bonuses, modern apartments and yearly
Black Sea vacations.
But even at its zenith under the Soviet empire, the combined population
of all the republics peaked at just 250 million souls. With the
breakup of the constituent republics, the number of inhabitants in the
present Russian Federation numbers no more than 150 million, few of
whom are inclined to immigrate to Siberia for a couple of measly kopecks
or an apartment.
So, filling up a geographical area the size of Siberia, stretching 12
time zones and encompassing a gigantic area stretching from Kazakhstan
to the North Pole is a pipedream. The population needed to populate
an area that size would be more than China and India combined.
Meanwhile, as Chinas population explodes and such resources as
it possesses rapidly deplete, the attention of the Chinese population
must inevitably focus on the huge, rich, barren territories to its north.
Currently growing at a rate of 11% a year, China is a voracious devourer
of resources, at its current level of industrial development.
What its needs will be in 20 years time at its current rate of
growth is anybodys guess, and the sparsely populated region of
Russias far east must tantalize Beijings policy planners
even now. Russia has a huge nuclear arsenal to prevent Chinese
penetration, but with China now a nuclear power too, can a Sino-Soviet
standoff over the Russian far east be far in the future?
American strategists fly into a rage every time the French bring up
the subject of a multi-polar world, but the French, with their miniscule
military presence and symbolic nuclear force de frappe,
represent no threat to anybody except as the inspirers of European social
and technical innovation. Nevertheless, multipolarity already
exists between America, with its economic and military power; Russia,
with its energy and mining resources; and China, with its huge population
and manufacturing capacity. To suggest otherwise would be to turn
a blind eye to reality.
Russias Premier Putin has already manifested his intention to
exert iron-fisted control over the countrys energy resources,
abrogating extraction agreements with foreign oil companies operating
in the Sakhalin peninsula and using oil and gas exports as leverage
to gain advantage against former Soviet republics and Western Europe.
The Chinese are cannily using their leverage as our most important supplier
of manufactured goods (whose fault is that?) to control the foreign
exchange rate to their advantage and to further their foreign policy
objectives in Asia and further afield. These levers are at least
as important as that of military superiority, which may be shown to
be to a certain extent overrated in light of the Iraq experience.
In preparation for this article I consulted with one of my foreign policy
experts, a cocktail waitress named Cindy at Peggy ONeills
Sports Bar in Coney Island. When I asked her opinion about petroleum
extraction in Russias Sakhalin peninsula, she reflected at length
and then gave me her considered opinion, As long as its
good for us. Whether the interests of Chevron Texaco and
BP exactly mesh with those of American society at large is open to debate,
but for the purpose of this article I shall assume that they do.
Other countries support the efforts of their national oil companies,
whose practices are no less predatory than our own.
We need oil, and our oil companies are being shut out of market after
market as countries wise up and assert control over their own resources.
For many years we held all the cards, pulled all the strings and cracked
all the whips. We were so loaded that we were able to eschew the
necessity for a competent diplomatic service or intelligence service.
Now we are sorely feeling the need of those facilities. The Chinese
are playing a nuanced game, gaining terrain a millimeter at a time,
and all those millimeters are starting to add up. The Russians
have a long tradition of intellectual and philosophical erudition and
are the worlds greatest chess players.
This countrys blatant contempt for diplomacy and foreign
entanglements, as they are disdainfully called, is most blatantly
characterized by the awarding of strategically crucial ambassadorships
to social climbing political campaign contributors and society mavens,
a system that may have been relatively benign when we were so strong
that it didnt matter, but now that we are facing more effective
adversarial competition for world resources and markets it may have
to be reevaluated if we possess the capacity and will to change.
American diplomacy has had one coherent diplomatic strategist that I
can think of: Henry Kissinger, though his efforts were wasted in pursuit
of nonsense. Kissingers thinking can still be referenced
since, like a ghoul, he refuses to do us the honor of dying like his
boss, Nixon. Hes no genius, but he pursues a step-by-step
approach to diplomacy and he adheres to historical precedent.
His approach to a resolution of the Iraq war? A multilateral convention,
which this writer has advocated for years. Never mind that.
Kissinger is knowledgeable about the historical processes of diplomacy
and diplomatic alliances.
He long ago formulated a policy of triangulation, playing the Russians
against the Chines in pursuit of American interests. This was
at a time when relations between those countries were already tense,
following an ugly border incident in 1968 that astonished a world conditioned
to believing in monolithic communism as though the kinds of contradictions
that cleave two capitalistic countries couldnt replicate across
communist borders. Kissinger understood that historical realities
dont get obliterated with a transient change of regimes or ideologies,
and he set a course of playing the two countries against each other
in order to achieve American purposes. The problem is: the goals
he strove for, outlined by his boss, Nixon, were at best illusory and
at worst pernicious.
But Kissingers unholy alliance with evil in order to satisfy his
overweening personal ambitions does not negate the soundness of his
thinking. Kissinger is amoral. He would have gone to work
for anybody. Who knows? If a respectable statesman had given
him employment he might have ended up doing real good for the country
as well as himself.
His strategy of triangulation deserves to be revisited and studied,
to see if it can gain us access to Russias natural resources and
some leverage of control over Chinas massive balance of payments
surpluses, as well as that countrys growing military influence
over Asia. To put it in oversimplified terms, which are the only
ones I can understand, Russia needs alliances to help it protect its
Siberian resources, China needs access to those same resources, China
also borders India and Pakistan, which both possess nuclear weapons
and depend upon American markets. There is a lot of room for American
diplomacy to play triangulation here if it can define rational, realistic
Thats impossible under the current administration. Bush
is still playing the old game, wherein we throw our weight around without
regard for the consequences. I am anticipating a Clinton administration
(unless Bush is impeached and its Pelosi). Hillary Clinton
is a much more professional person, and her husband did a quite successful
job of administrating American diplomacy, in addition to which he had
his own effective techniques of triangulation.
Maybe they could even bring back Kissinger in some capacity, like a
© Dean Borok July 14th 2007
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