Realism and Geopolitics. World Conquest Or World Association. The U.S.A. And The U.S.S.R
The war has entered on its final stage in Europe and the Nazi power collapses before the advancing armies in the east and west. Paris, that lovely and gracious city, so tied up with freedom’s struggle, is itself free again. The problems of peace, more difficult than those of war, rise up to trouble men’s minds and behind them lies the disturbing shadow of the great failure of the years that followed World War I. Never again, it is said. So they said also in 1918.
Fifteen years ago, in 1929, Mr. Winston Churchill said:
It is a tale that is told, from which we may draw the knowledge and comprehension needed for the future. The disproportion between the quarrels of nations and the suffering which fighting out those quarrels involves; the poor and barren prizes which reward sub-lime endeavour on the battlefield; the fleeting triumph of war; the long, slow, rebuilding; the awful risks so hardily run; the doom missed by a hair’s breadth, by the spin of a coin, by the accident of an accident—all this should make the prevention of another great war the main preoccupation of mankind.
Mr. Churchill should know, for he has played a leading part in war and peace, led his country with extraordinary courage at a time of distress and peril and, in victory, nursed great ambitions on its behalf. After World War I, British armies occupied the whole of western Asia from the borders of India across Iran and Iraq and Palestine and Syria right up to Constantinople. Mr. Churchill saw then a vision of a new middle eastern empire for Britain, but fate decided otherwise. What dreams does he cherish now for the future? ‘War is a strange, alchemist,’ so wrote a gallant and distinguished colleague of mine, now in prison,
and in its hidden chambers are such forces and powers brewed and distilled that they tear down the plans of the victorious and vanquished alike. No peace conference at the end of the last war decided that four mighty empires of Europe and Asia should fall into dust—the Russian, the German, the Austrian, and the Ottoman. Nor was the Russian, the German, the Turkish revolution decreed by Lloyd George, Clemenceau, or Wilson.
What will the leaders of the victorious nations say when they meet together after success in war has crowned their efforts? How is the future taking shape in their minds, and how far do they agree or differ between themselves? What other reactions will there be when the passion of war subsides and people try to return to the scarce-remembered ways of peace? What of the underground resistance movements of Europe and the new forces they have released ? What will the millions of war-hardened soldiers, returning home much older in mind and experience, say and do? How will they fit into the life which has gone on changing while they were away? What will happen to devastated and martyred Europe, and what to Asia and Africa? What of the ‘overpowering surge for freedom of Asia’s hundreds of millions,’ as Mr. Wendell Wilkie describes it? What of all this and more? And what, above all, of the strange trick that fate so often plays, upsetting the well laid schemes of our leaders?
As the war has developed and the danger of a possible victory of the fascist powers has receded, there has been a progressive hardening and a greater conservatism in the leaders of the United
Nations. The four freedoms and the Atlantic charter, vague as they were and limited in scope, have faded into the background, and the future has been envisaged more and more as a retention of the past. The struggle has taken a purely military shape, of physical force against force, and has ceased to be an attack on the philosophy of the Nazis and fascists. General Franco and petty or prospective authoritarian rulers in Europe have been encouraged. Mr. Churchill still glories in the conception of empire. George Bernard Shaw recently declared that: ‘There is no power in the world more completely imbued with the idea of its dominance than the British empire. Even the word “empire” sticks in Mr. Churchill’s throat every time he tries to utter it.’*
There are many people in England, America and elsewhere who want the future to be different from the past and who fear that unless this is so, fresh wars and disasters, on a more colossal scale, will follow this present war. But those who have power and authority do not appear to be much influenced by these considerations, or are themselves in the grip of forces beyond their control. In England, America, and Russia we revert to the old game of power politics on a gigantic scale. That is considered realism and practical politics. An American authority on geo-politics, Professor N. J. Spykman, has written in a recent book:
The statesman who conducts foreign policy can concern himself with the values of justice, fairness, and tolerance only to the extent that they contribute to, or do not interfere with, the power objective. They can be used instrumentally as moral justification for the power quest, but they must be discarded the moment their application brings weakness. The search for power is not made for the achievement of moral values: moral values are used to facilitate the attainment of power.
This may not be representative of American thought, but it certainly represents a powerful section of it. Mr. Walter Lippman’s vision of the three or four orbits encompassing the globe —the Atlantic community, the Russian, the Chinese, and later the Hindu-Muslim in South Asia—is a continuation of power politics on a vaster scale, and it is difficult to understand how he can see any world peace or co-operation emerging out of it. America is a curious mixture of what is considered hard-headed realism and a vague idealism and humanitarianism. Which of these will be the dominating tendency of the future, or what will result from their mixing together? Whatever the mass of the people may think, foreign policy remains a preserve for the experts in charge of it and they are usually wedded to a continuation of old traditions and fear any innovations which might involve their countries in new risks. Realism of course there must be, for no nation can base its domestic or foreign policy on mere good-will and flights of the imagination. But it is a curious realism that sticks to the empty shell of the past and ignores or refuses to understand the hard facts of the present, which are not only political and economic but also include the feelings and urges of vast numbers of people. Such realism is more imaginative and divorced from today’s and tomorrow’s problems than much of the so called idealism of many people.
Geopolitics has now become the anchor of the realist and its jargon of ‘heartland’ and ‘rimland’ is supposed to throw light on the mystery of national growth and decay. Originating in England (or was it Scotland?), it became the guiding light of the nazis, fed their dreams and ambitions of world domination, and led them to disaster. A partial truth is sometimes more dangerous than a falsehood; a truth that has had its day blinds one to the reality of the present. H. J. Mackinder’s theory of geopolitics, subsequently developed in Germany, was based on the growth of civilization on the oceanic fringes of the continents (Asia and Europe), which had to be defended from pressure from land invaders from the ‘heartland,’ which was supposed to be the centre of the Eurasian block. Control of this heartland meant world domination. But civilization is no longer confined to the oceanic fringes and tends to become universal in its scope and content. The growth of the Americas also does not fit in with a Eurasian heartland dominating the world. And air-power has brought a new factor which has upset the balance between sea-power and land-power.
Germany, nursing dreams of world conquest, was obsessed by fears of encirclement. Soviet Russia feared a combination of her enemies. England’s national policy has long been based on a balance of power in Europe and opposition to any dominating power there. Always there has been fear of others, and that fear has led to aggression and tortuous intrigues. An entirely new situation will arise after the present war, with two dominating world powers—the U.S.A. and the U.S.S.R.—and the rest a good distance behind them, unless they form some kind of bloc. And now even the United States of America are told by Professor Spykman, in his last testament, that they are in danger of encirclement, that they should ally themselves with a ‘rimland’ nation, that in any event they should not prevent the ‘heartland’ (which means now the U.S.S.R.) from uniting with the rimland.
All this looks very clever and realistic and yet is supremely foolish, for it is based on the old policy of expansion and empire and the balance of power, which inevitably leads to conflict and war. Since the world happens to be round, every country is encircled by others. To avoid such encirclements by the methods of power politics, there must be alliances and counter-alliances, expansion, and conquest. But, however huge a country’s domination or sphere of influence becomes, there is always the danger of encirclement by those who have been left out of it, and who, on their part, fear this abnormal growth of a rival power. The only way to get rid of this danger is by world conquest or by the eliminations of every possible rival. We are witnessing today the failure of the latest attempt at world domination. Will that lesson be learnt or will there be others, driven by ambition and pride of race and power, to try their fortunes on this fatal field?
There really seems no alternative between world conquest and world association; there is no choice of a middle course. The old divisions and the quest of power politics have little meaning today and do not fit in with our environment, yet they continue. The interests and activities of states overflow their boundaries and are world-wide. No nation can isolate itself or be indifferent to the political or economic fate of other nations. If there is no co-operation there is bound to be friction with its inevitable results. Co-operation can only be on a basis of equality and mutual welfare, on a pulling-up of the backward nations and peoples to a common level of well-being and cultural advancement, on an elimination of racialism and domination. No nation and no people are going to tolerate domination and exploitation by another, even though this is given some more pleasant name. Nor will they remain indifferent to their own poverty and misery when other parts of the world are flourishing. That was only possible when there was ignorance of what was happening elsewhere.
All this seems obvious, and yet the long record of past happenings tell us that the mind of man lags far behind the course of events and adjusts itself only slowly to them. Self-interest itself should drive every nation to this wider co-operation in order to escape disaster in the future and build its own free life on the basis of others’ freedom. But the self-interest of the ‘realist’ is far too limited by past myths and dogmas, and regards ideas and social forms, suited to one age, as immutable and as unchanging parts of human nature and society, forgetting that nothing is so changeable as human nature and society. Religious forms and notions take permanent shape, social institutions become petrified, war is looked upon as a biological necessity, empire and expansion as the prerogatives of a dynamic and progressive people, the profit motive as the central fact dominating human relations, and ethnocentrism, a belief in racial superiority, becomes an article of faith and, even when not proclaimed, is taken for granted. Some of these ideas were common to the civilizations of east and west; many of them form the background of modern western civilization out of which fascism and Nazism grew. Ethically there is no great difference between them and the fascist creed, though the latter went much further in its contempt for human life and all that humanism stands for. Indeed, humanism, which coloured the outlook of Europe for so long, is a vanishing tradition there. The seeds of fascism were present in the political and economic structure of the west. Unless there is a break from this past ideology, success in war brings no great change. The old myths and fancies continue and, pursued as of old by the Furies, we go through the self-same cycle again.
The two outstanding facts emerging from the war are the growth in power and actual and potential wealth of the U.S.A. and the U.S.S.R. The Soviet Union actually is probably poorer than it was prior to the war, owing to enormous destruction, but its potential is tremendous and it will rapidly make good and go further ahead. In physical and economic power there will be none to challenge it on the Eurasian continent. Already it is showing an expansionist tendency and is extending its territories more or less on the basis of the Tsar’s Empire. How far this process will go it is difficult to say. Its socialist economy does not necessarily lead to expansion for it can be made self-sufficient. But other forces and old suspicions are at play and again we notice the fear of so-called encirclement. In any event the U.S.S.R. will be busy for many years in repairing the ravages of war. Yet the tendency to expand, if not in territory then in other ways, is evident. No other country today presents such a politically solid and economically well-balanced picture as the Soviet Union, though some of the developments there in recent years have come as a shock to many of its old admirers. Its present leaders have an unchallengeable position, and everything depends on their outlook for the future.
The United States of America have astonished the world by their stupendous production and organizing capacity. They have thus not only played a leading part in the war but have accelerated a process inherent in American economy and produced a problem for themselves which will tax their wits and energies to the utmost. Indeed it is not easy to foresee how they will solve it within the limits of their existing economic structure without serious internal and external friction. It is said that America has ceased to be isolationist. Inevitably so, for she must now depend to an extent on her exports abroad. What was a marginal factor in her pre-war economy, which could almost be ignored, will now be a dominant consideration. Where will all these exports go to, without creating friction and conflict, when production for peace takes the pace of war production ? And how will the millions of armed men returning home be absorbed? Every warring country will have to face this problem, but none to the same extent as the U.S.A. The vast technological changes that have taken place will lead to very great over-production or to mass unemployment, or possibly to both. Unemployment on any major scale will be bitterly resented and has been ruled out by the declared policy of the United States Government. Much thought is already being given to the absorption of the returning soldiers, etc., in gainful employment and to the prevention of unemployment. Whatever the domestic aspect of all this may be, and it will be serious enough unless basic changes take place, the international aspect is equally important.
Such is the curious nature of present-day economy in these days of mass production, that the U.S.A., the wealthiest and most powerful country in the world, becomes dependent on other countries absorbing its surplus production. For some years after the war there will be a big demand in Europe, China, and India for machinery as well as manufactured goods. This will be of considerable help to America to dispose of her surplus. But every country will rapidly develop its own capacity to manufacture most of its needs, and exports will tend to be limited to specialized goods not produced elsewhere. The consumption capacity will also be limited by the purchasing power of the masses, and to raise this fundamental economic changes will be needed. It is conceivable that with the substantial raising of the standard of living all over the world, international trade and exchange of goods will prosper and increase. But that raising itself requires a removal of political and economic fetters on production and distribution in the colonial and backward countries. That inevitably involves big changes with their consequent dislocation and adaptation to new systems.
England’s economy has been based in the past on a big export business, on investments abroad, on the City of London’s financial leadership, and on a vast maritime carrier trade. Before the war Britain depended on imports for nearly 50 per cent of her food supplies. Probably this dependence is less now owing to her intensive food-growing campaign. These imports of food as well as raw materials had to be paid for by exports of manufactured goods, investments, shipping, financial services, and what are called ‘invisible’ exports. Foreign trade and, in particular, a large volume of exports were thus an essential and vital feature of British economy. That economy was maintained by the exercise of monopoly controls in the colonial areas and special arrangements within the empire to maintain some kind of equilibrium. Those monopoly controls and arrangements were much to the disadvantage of the colonies and dependencies and it is hardly possible to maintain them in these old forms in future. Britain’s foreign investments have disappeared and given place to huge debts, and London’s financial supremacy has also gone. This means that in the post-war years Britain will have to depend even more on her export business and her carrier trade. And yet the possibilities of increasing exports, or even maintaining them at the old level, are strictly limited.
Great Britain’s imports (less re-exports) in the pre-war years 1936-38 averaged £866,000,000. They were paid for as follows:
|Income on foreign investments||£203|
Instead of the substantial income from foreign investment there is going to be a heavy burden of external debt, due to borrowings in goods and services (apart from American Lend-Lease) from India, Egypt, Argentine, and other countries. Lord Keynes has estimated that, at the end of the war, these frozen sterling credits will amount to £3,000,000,000. At 5 per cent this will amount to £150 million per annum. Thus on a pre-war average basis Britain may have to face a deficit of considerably over £300 millions annually. Unless this is made good by additional income from exports and various services, it will lead to a marked reduction in living standards.
This appears to be the governing factor in Britain’s post-war policy, and if she is to maintain her present economy, she feels she must retain her colonial empire, with only such minor changes as are unavoidable, only as the dominant partner of a group of countries, colonial and non-colonial, does she hope to play a leading role, and to balance, politically and economically, the vast resources of the two giant powers—the United States of America and the Soviet Union. Hence the desire to continue her empire, to hold on to what she has got, as well as to extend her sphere of influence over fresh territories, for instance over Thailand. Hence also the aim of British policy to bring about a closer integration with the Dominions, as well as some of the smaller countries of western Europe. French and Dutch colonial policy generally support the British view in regard to colonies and dependencies. The Dutch Empire is indeed very much a ‘satellite empire’ and it could not continue to exist without the British Empire.
It is easy to understand these trends of British policy, based, as they are, on past outlook and standards and formulated by men tied up with that past. Yet, within that past context of a nineteenth century economy, the difficulties facing Britain today are very great. In the long run, her position is weak, her economy unsuited to present-day conditions, her economic resources are limited, and her industrial and military strength cannot be maintained at the old level. There is an essential instability in the methods suggested to maintain that old economy, for they lead to unceasing conflict, to lack of security, and to the growth of ill-will in the dependencies, which may make the future still more perilous for Britain. The desire of the British, understandable enough, to maintain their living standards on the old level and even to raise them, is thus made dependent upon protected markets for British exports and controlled colonial and other areas for the supply of raw materials and cheap food. This means that British living standards must be kept up even at the cost of keeping down at subsistence level or less hundreds of millions of peoples in Asia and Africa. No one wants to reduce British standards, but it is obvious that the peoples of Asia and Africa are never going to agree to the maintenance of this colonial economy which keeps them at a sub-human level. The annual purchasing power (pre-war) in Britain is said to have been £97 per capita (in the U.S.A. it was much greater); in India it was less than £6. These vast differences cannot be tolerated, and indeed the diminishing returns of a colonial economy ultimately affect adversely even the dominating power. In the U.S.A. this is vividly realized, and hence their desire to raise the colonial peoples’ purchasing power through industrialization and self-government. Even in Britain there is some realization of the necessity of Indian industrialization, and the Bengal famine made many people think furiously on this subject. But British policy aims at industrial development in India under British control with a privileged position for British industry. The industrialization of India, as of other countries in Asia, is bound to take place; the only question is one of pace. But it is very doubtful if it can be fitted in with any form of colonial economy or foreign control.
The British Empire, as it is today, is not of course a geographical unit; nor is it an effective economic or military unit. It is a historical and sentimental unit. Sentiment and old bonds count still, but they are not likely to override, in the long run, other more vital considerations. And even this sentiment applies only to certain areas containing populations racially similar to the people of Britain. It certainly does not apply to India or the rest of the dependent colonial empire, where it is the other way about. It does not even apply to South Africa, so far as the Boers are concerned. In the major Dominions subtle changes are taking place which tend to weaken their traditional links with Britain. Canada, which has grown greatly in industrial stature during the war, is an important power, closely tied up with the U.S.A. She has developed an expanding economy which will, in some respects, come in the way of British industry. Australia and New Zealand, also with expanding economics, are realizing that they are not in the European orbit of Great Britain but in the Asiatic-American orbit of the Pacific, where the United States are likely to play a dominant role. Culturally, both Canada and Australia are progressively drawn towards the U.S.A.
The British colonial outlook today does not fit in with American policy and expansionist tendencies. The United States want open markets for their exports and do not look with favour on attempts by other powers to limit or control them. They want rapid industrialization of Asia’s millions and higher standards everywhere, not for sentimental reasons but to dispose of their surplus goods. Friction between American and British export businesses and maritime trade seems to be inevitable. America’s desire to establish world air supremacy, for which she has at present abundant resources, is resented in England. America probably favours an independent Thailand while England would prefer to make it a semi-colony. These opposing approaches based, in each case, on the nature of the respective economy aimed at, run through the whole colonial sphere.
The aim of British policy to have a closer integration of the commonwealth and empire is understandable in the peculiar circumstances in which Britain is placed today. But against it is the logic of facts and world tendencies, as well as the growth of dominion nationalism and the disruptive tendencies of the colonial empire. To try to build on old foundations, to continue to think in terms of a vanished age, to dream and talk still of an empire and of monopolies spread out all over the globe, is for Britain an even more unwise and shortsighted policy than it might be for some other nations; for most of the reasons which made her a politically, industrially, and financially dominant nation have disappeared. Nevertheless Britain has had in the past, and has still, remarkable qualities —courage and the will to pull together, scientific and constructive ability and a capacity for adaptation. These qualities, and others which she possesses go a long way to make a nation great and enable it to overcome the dangers and perils that confront it. And so she may be able to face her vital and urgent problems by changing over to a different and more balanced economic structure. But it is highly unlikely that she will succeed if she tries to continue, as of old, with an empire tacked on to her and supporting her.
Much will inevitably depend on American and Soviet policy, and on the degree of co-ordination or conflict between the two and Britain. Everybody talks loudly about the necessity for the Big Three to pull together in the interests of world peace and co-operation, yet rifts and differences peep out at every stage, even during the course of the war. Whatever the future may hold, it is clear that the economy of the U.S.A. after the war will be powerfully expansionist and almost explosive in its consequences. Will this lead to some new kind of imperialism ? It would be yet another tragedy if it did so, for America has the power and opportunity to set the pace for the future.
The future policy of the Soviet Union is yet shrouded in mystery, but there have been some revealing glimpses of it already. It aims at having as many friendly and dependent or semi-dependent countries near its borders as possible. Though working with other powers for the establishment of some world organization, it relies more on building up its own strength on an unassailable basis. So, presumably, do other nations also, in so far as they can. That is not a hopeful prelude to world co-operation. Between the Soviet Union and other countries there is not the same struggle for export markets as between Britain and the U.S.A. But the differences are deeper, their respective viewpoints further apart, and mutual suspicions have not been allayed even by joint effort in the war. If these differences grow, the U.S.A. and Britain will tend to seek each other’s company and support as against the U.S.S.R. group of nations.
Where do the hundreds of millions of Asia and Africa come in this picture ? They have become increasingly conscious of themselves and their destiny, and at the same time are also world conscious. Large numbers of them follow world events with interest. For them, inevitably, the test of each move or happening is this: Does it help towards our liberation? Does it end the domination of one country over another ? Will it enable us to live freely the life of our choice in co-operation with others? Does it bring equality and equal opportunity for nations as well as groups within each nation? Does it hold forth the promise of an early liquidation of poverty and illiteracy and bring better living conditions ? They are nationalistic but this nationalism seeks no dominion over, or interference with, others. They welcome all attempts at world co-operation and the establishment of an international order, but they wonder and suspect if this may not be another device for continuing the old domination. Large parts of Asia and Africa consist of an awakened, discontented, seething humanity, no longer prepared to tolerate existing conditions. Conditions and problems differ greatly in the various countries of Asia, but throughout this vast area, in China and India, in south-east Asia, in western Asia, and the Arab world run common threads of sentiment and invisible links which hold them together.
For a thousand years or more, while Europe was backward and often engulfed in its dark ages, Asia represented the advancing spirit of man. Epoch after epoch of a brilliant culture flourished there and great centres of civilization and power grew up. About five hundred years ago Europe revived and slowly spread eastward and westward till, in the course of centuries, it became the dominant continent of the world in power, wealth, and culture. Was there some cycle about this change and is that process now being reversed? Certainly, power and authority have shifted more to America in the far west and to eastern Europe, which was organically hardly a part of the European heritage. And in the east also there has been tremendous growth in Siberia, and other countries of the east are ripe for change and rapid advance. Will there be conflict in the future or a new equilibrium between the east and the west?
But only the distant future will decide that, and it serves little purpose to look so far ahead. For the present we have to carry the burden of the day and face the many problems which afflict us. Behind these problems in India, as in many other countries, lies the real issue, which is not merely the establishment of democracy of the nineteenth century European type but also of far-reaching social revolution. Democracy has itself become involved in that seemingly inevitable change, and hence among those who disapprove of the latter, doubts and denials arise about the feasibility of democracy, and this leads to fascist tendencies and the continuation of an imperialist outlook. All our present-day problems in India—the communal or minority problem, the Indian princes, vested interests of religious groups and the big landowners, and the entrenched interests of British authority and industry in India —ultimately resolve themselves into opposition to social change. And because any real democracy is likely to lead to such change, therefore democracy itself is objected to and considered as unsuited to the peculiar conditions of India. So the problems of India, for all their seeming variety and differences from others, are of the same essential nature as the problems of China or Spain or many other countries of Europe and elsewhere, which the war has brought to the surface. Many of the resistance movements of Europe reflect these conflicts. Everywhere the old equilibrium of social forces has been upset, and till a new equilibrium is established there will be tension, trouble, and conflict. From these problems of the moment we are led to one of the central problems of our time: how to combine democracy with socialism, how to maintain individual freedom and initiative and yet have centralized social control and planning of the economics of the people, on the national as well as the international plane.
* It is clear that the British ruling classes do not contemplate the ending of the era of imperialism; at the most they think in terms of modernizing their system of colonial rule. For them the possession of colonies is ‘« necessity of greatness and wealth.’ The London Economist, representing influential opinion in Britain, wrote on September 16th, 1944: ‘The American prejudice against “imperialism”—British, French, or Dutch—has led many of the postwar planners to assume that the old sovereign-ties will not be re-established in south-east Asia and that some form of international control, or the transfer of the imperium to local peoples, will lake the place of the old authority exercised by the western nations. Since this attitude exists and is even backed by the most widely distributed American journals and newspapers, it is time that the future intentions of the British, the French, and the Dutch were frankly and fully explained. Since none of them has any intention of abandoning its colonial empire, but on the contrary regards the restoration of Malaya to the British, the East Indies to the Dutch, and French Indo-China to the French as an essential part of the destruction of Japan’s co-prosperity sphere, it would be inviting the worst sort of misunderstanding, and even accusation of bad faith, if the three nations allowed any doubt on the matter to continue in the mind of their American ally.’
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