"If you want to read a blog to get a sense of what is going on in Hong Kong these days or a blog that would tell you what life was like living in colonial Hong Kong, this blog, WALTER'S BLOG, fits the bill." Hong Kong Blog Review
"Maybe there is another way to describe things; we are reverting to the old world order of conflicting interests as globalisation erodes."
In case you haven’t noticed, Putin has reset the rules of the geopolitical game back to a different era. He’s taken a page straight out of Machiavelli’s playbook 'The Prince' — “...it’s better to be feared than loved.” In the process, he’s again made nuclear weapons the must-have item for any national leader to be taken seriously.
He’s reinforcing a status that North Korea, Israeli and Iran understand. Meanwhile, those small counties in the Balkans that gave up their nukes when the Soviet Union collapsed must regret that they went along with the decommissioning programme.
As the Iron Curtain came down, encouraged to surrender their weapons by the U.S. and others, Ukraine handed 1,700 warheads to Russia. At the time, that looked like a worthy move. But, unfortunately, it is not looking so clever now.
Because, of course, having given up the ultimate ticket to the top table, it will prove extremely hard to get back that coveted position. Dr Fiona Hill, former Senior Director for Europe and Russia at the U.S. National Security Council, eloquently makes the case.
There are other profound consequences of Putin’s actions. He’s galvanised the West, re-energising NATO to affirm that the old Cold War conflicts that we’d assumed had passed into history are alive. So, another nail in the coffin of Francis Fukuyama's 'end of history' narrative.
At the same time, Putin has killed off the extremist end climate change movement, given that energy supplies are now firmly in the national security box. Poland is the first to be cut off by Putin, while Germany fears they could be next.
So, zero-carbon, anyone? We can consider that once we’ve secured indigenous or overseas energy supplies from a trusted source. No doubt Germany regrets its rundown of the nuclear industry, while Britain is going full steam ahead with new reactors.
It is hard to think of anyone less relevant at this time than the slightly bonkers Greta Iceberg. Her tenure as a prophet of climate doom looks limited when the threat of nuclear war is re-emerging. After all, getting out the guitar to sing ‘Kumbaya’ is a hollow gesture against the roar of a hypersonic missile. When the wolf is at the door, we can hardly indulge Greta.
That the West turned a blind eye to the fascist elements fighting for Ukraine demonstrates that principles and values only go so far. Then again, the U.S. had no qualms about taking Nazi rocket scientists after WWII to further its space programme despite evidence they’d engaged forced labour and starved their workers. Such niceties as scruples do fall away at times.
Putin’s attack on Ukraine has other remarkable lessons. President Volodymyr Zelenskyy schooled us all in the mantle of genuine leadership rather than the insipid variety we get from Boris Johnson and Biden. He’s galvanised his people against the odds, affirming what is possible when highly motivated citizens come together. In the process, he’s stalled Putin’s ambitions.
And, no doubt, the Chinese are watching with interest. That the Russian military proved ineffective must raise eyebrows while prompting serious reflection on the ability of modern armies that have been not tested in the field.
For the Russians, part of the problem appears to be a rigid command and control system with the absence of a well-trained, empowered NCO cadre who can take charge of front-line tactical moves. Further, deep corruption appears to have eroded military readiness.
In the big picture, maybe there is another way to describe things; we are reverting to the old world order of conflicting interests as globalisation erodes. The most visible manifestation of that is collapsing supply chains driven forward by Covid and a realignment of trade. Is that temporary? Only time will tell.
Well, what is being done to calm the situation? Not much. In truth, the opposite. Liz Truss, probably the least qualified foreign Secretary in British history, is busy pouring fuel on the fire. She already demonstrated a lack of basic knowledge, and diplomatic skills, while her obsession with curating an image smacks of nihilistic behaviour. Check out her Instagram feed.
More seasoned politicians, such as former Australian PM Paul Keating, aren’t impressed; he describes Truss as ‘demented’. That may be so, but Truss, an ugly marriage of confidence and ignorance, would do well to reign in her bluster.
Yes, Putin must be confronted and constrained. And yet given the precarious situation he finds himself in, direct uncompromising challenges need moderating with nuance. Unfortunately, Truss looks incapable of such finesse — like an unconvincing Thatcher tribute act without a hinterland or gravitas.
While Truss is likely playing to a U.K. audience, she forgets that Putin weighs everything she says in public. In effect, she is giving him an excuse to mount attacks well beyond the borders of Ukraine by openly signalling this is a conflict between NATO and Russia.
During the Cuban missile crisis, nuclear war was averted because there were responsible people in charge, people who, behind the scenes, worked on a compromise. These days the U.K. has Johnson and Truss when sensitive diplomacy is needed.
No surprise there because, as journalist Peter Hitchens recently observed, “Our current Parliament is a care home for nonentities, unmatched in our long history for mediocrity, ignorance and dimness.”
Except that Truss’s double-down stance may push Putin deeper into a corner. And with failure not an option for him, a slap down to NATO — what the military calls a ‘kinetic response’— may appear appropriate. He has various options available.
Experts are openly discussing his options. For example, a high attitude air-burst of an electromagnetic pulse nuclear weapon would send an unambiguous message. The collateral damage would be minor if deployed over a remote NATO base, but the severe psychological impact could derail the West. And yet, Putin wouldn’t need to go that far.
He could opt to hit NATO assets near his borders. For example, a strike against one of the many surveillance drones or planes skirting Russia is an option. After all, NATO has not attempted to hide these activities on Flightrader24.
Is all this talk of nuclear options bluster? It is hard to say, except that Putin and the Kremlin are pumping up the rhetoric. Also, never forget this man had his agents release Novichok in Salisbury.
Plus, it is crucial to understand Russian nuclear doctrine — “shall reserve the right to use nuclear weapons in response to the use of nuclear and other weapons of mass destruction against it and/or its allies; and in the event of aggression against the Russian Federation.” That last part is open to broad interpretation.
In the end, Putin needs an ‘exit ramp’ because, as Christopher Chivvis, the director of the American Statecraft Program at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, points out, none of the war-gamed options that escalate to nuclear weapons ends well. Let’s hope someone has given Truss sight of these findings.
Walter De Havilland was one of the last of the colonial coppers. He served 35 years in the Royal Hong Kong Police and Hong Kong Police Force. He's long retired.