There is a possibility that Russia is going to invade Ukraine and China invade Taiwan at more or less the same time, and even that the two attacks might be coordinated in order to increase their chances of success.
This is an extremely dangerous situation and not only for Taiwan and Ukraine, but for the whole world. Military action always has unforeseeable consequences, and the situation now is, if anything, even more complex than it was in 1914 when the world, more or less inadvertently, became involved in a catastrophic conflict.
In 1914, most of the world was ruled by three despots: the Kaiser in Germany, the Czar in Russia and the emperor in Austro-Hungary. This meant that just three minds were available to manage the drift toward conflict. Unfortunately, none of them were particularly good and none could foresee the consequences of their decisions. Again, in 1939, the concentration of power in a single individual, Aldolf Hitler, led to a situation in which a single human mind was making all of the critical decisions about what would become the most devastating conflict in recorded history.
By contrast, there was no direct conflict during the Cold War because Russia was managed by a committee, the Politburo, and the American president could not act without the support of his cabinet and congress. In other words, the leaders of both countries had powerful advisory bodies that they had to consult before taking any precipitate steps. The result was, while general conflict was at times threatened, it never got that far.
Now just two minds control the decisions, that of Vladimir Putin of Russia and that of Xin Jinping of China. Of course they have advisors, but in terms of making final conflict decisions, they are both alone. In the US, Joe Biden has his cabinet and the US Congress to answer to, not to mention the voters. If the country is attacked, his powers are limitless, but initiating conflict is, for him, a complex social and political act.
To make matters worse, Putin has gained extraordinary influence in the west due to his acquisition of the Jeffrey Epstein tapes. This means that he holds hidden sway over a unknown group of western leaders, some of whom might be very prominent people. I say this for two reasons: first, there have been no prosecutions since Jeffrey Epstein was exposed. Second, the reason for this is most likely that Epstein’s notorious tapes have ended up in the hands of Vladimir Putin. I say this because a man in possession of copies of these tapes, former Palm Beach Deputy Sheriff John Mark Dugan, defected to Russia in 2015 with 478 of them in his possession. He did this after meeting with Putin crony and power broker Pavel Borodin.
This means that an unknown number of powerful western political and business leaders are liable to blackmail by Putin. How this may affect the US ability to fight a war with him is unknown, but to assume that there would be no connection is naïve.
Joe Biden is not among the compromised people on those tapes, nor is anyone of influence around him. I know this because Biden openly called Putin a killer. This statement further galvanized anti-Putin forces in Russia and made it essential for Putin to kill Viktor Navalny before the October parliamentary elections, or risk losing control of parliament. This is because Navalny has a tactic of not announcing his parliamentary choices until election day, making it impossible for the Kremlin to interfere in its own electoral process. Without such interference, Putin cannot win, and this will prove to be true despite the polls that show him to be a popular leader. Would you tell a pollster something negative about the dictator of your country? Only if you were really fed up, and the fact that the polls are as close as they are means that a lot of people are just that: really fed up. Putin knows this and he also knows that an appeal to nationalism prior to the October elections might help him. Therefore, if he is going to move, he can be expected to do it toward the end of summer. This will presumably help him at the polls and compromise NATO’s ability to respond, if it can do so, by the fact that the invasion would be complete just as winter is setting in.
At present, Russian troops are massing on the Ukrainian border. If they are going to invade, it is likely to happen either soon, or somewhere in late July-August, if I am right about weather being part of the strategic equation.
Putin senses his own vulnerability not only at home but among the electorates of Poland, Hungary and the Czech Republic. It is essential that these three countries refuse to allow NATO forces to cross their borders if he is to secure Ukraine. This is why he has worked so hard to install compliant regimes there. He needs to act while the regimes in those countries are still intact and before the October elections, which will, if Navalny does not die of neglect in prison prior to that time and he hasn’t got the Ukrainian feather in his cap, be a disaster for him.
Jinping has a different motive and ambition for taking Taiwan. He wants to do this to spur nationalism in a country that is, like Russia, quietly losing faith in the validity of his government. He has recently turned China back into a dictatorship. To consolidate his power, he needs the full backing of the military. He needs to evoke a nationalist spirit among the Chinese people, especially the urban population, which, despite appearances to the contrary, almost certainly views him with suspicion and distaste.
Russia’s solution in the Ukraine is not as challenging as China’s in Taiwan. While the Russian army consists of a brittle shell of elite divisions and paramilitaries, its rank and file soldiers are not loyal and will fight only because they must. They are badly led, ill-trained and poorly equipped. But if they can sweep across Ukraine before NATO can react, then the west will be faced with the problem of dislodging an entrenched enemy, never a welcome prospect, especially when, if he is losing, that enemy might well be tempted to use the small-scale nuclear devices with which Russia has been equipping its army for years.
Over the past four years, NATO was damaged by US policy. It has never been weaker and can only get stronger, which is yet another motive that would be driving Putin to act now.
Meanwhile, for the last six months, China has been buying unprecedented amounts of American corn and soybeans. Why? Do they expect a devastating drought to hit the US and Canadian Midwest? They might: there is a LaNina climate structure in the Pacific, which leads to drought in the Great Plains. They would also know that, if they attack Taiwan, shipments of all kinds from the US are going to be cut off. Buy buying so much stock, China is, in effect, removing the danger that food needs could be used as a weapon against it by the US.
China will have to cross to Taiwan and execute a fast and large-scale invasion in order to succeed. It will be a perilous adventure, and the presence of extraordinarily powerful American carrier groups in the region could make such a crossing impossible.
Except that the carriers are vulnerable. Their situation now is very much like what happened to the British battle fleet in the Pacific in World War II and led to the fall of Singapore. HMS Prince of Wales and Repulse were sunk by Japanese planes because the battleships had no air cover. (The aircraft carrier deployed to protect them had not arrived due to an accident enroute, but they deployed into an area accessible to Japanese torpedo bombers anyway.)
The US carrier groups are equipped with every conceivable countermeasure, including some, I would assume, that are classified and very powerful. What is not clear is that they can successfully defend themselves against the type of smart cruise missiles or ballistic weapons that will be deployed against them by China. Just as Britain’s Force Z was a dangerously vulnerable concentration of warfighting power, a huge US carrier is, by definition, vulnerable for the same reason.
The loss of a carrier group deployed in defense of Taiwan would be an irrecoverable military catastrophe for the US. Unless it extended the battle to the Chinese mainland, it would almost certainly mean that Taiwan would fall.
The Chinese military will remember very clearly that the US declined both in Korea and Vietnam to expand the war theater into China, due to fear of a nuclear war becoming inevitable. The reason that this danger is so serious is very simple: the side that fires first is going to be the winner. This has always been the Achilles heel of modern aggressive war fighting. If you threaten the enemy too much, he might just push the button. Once that level of threat is in place, you have no choice but to push the button yourself, or you are going to lose. This is why, after the Cuban Missile Crisis, the US and Russia established the hotline that could link both leaders instantly.
Brinksmanship is not part of Chinese culture. Witness the Great Wall: Theirs is a defensive mentality. But witness also the invasion of Tibet and their successful preservation of influence on the Korean peninsula in the form of the absurd but potentially dangerous North Korean client state. Both of these successes relied on aggressive action, and so it can be said that the advent of Communism altered the traditional Chinese approach. And now they have violated their agreement with Britain and enveloped Hong Kong in the dictatorship. In this, they have been exactly as successful as Hitler was in taking the Sudetenland and Austria in 1938. There is a very real possibility that they have drawn the same conclusion that he did: that the democracies will always remain passive.
Still, I would not be so concerned about the threat of a Chinese invasion, except for two things: the first is that they are assembling a force capable of doing this. The second is that stockpiling of corn and soybeans. They would know that, the moment they attacked Taiwan, the US would freeze all food shipments to China. Just as the Japanese began stockpiling fuel oil (as best they could) prior to Pearl Harbor, I think that there is a real possibility that this current Chinese stockpiling may be related to planned military activity.
Whenever a single individual is given entire authority over something as complex as initiating a war, there is greater peril. Especially when they are desperate like Putin, or ambitious like Jinping, the danger is far greater than when countries are run by groups of people like Russian and China once were, and the western democracies still are.
I felt an increase in concern when I watched Joe Biden’s press conference. There is no question of his motivations. But when I saw him consulting notes and fumbling with his extemporaneous responses, I knew that the Russians, the Chinese and the Iranians saw that, too. This cannot but have encouraged anybody who wants to believe that they can win.
It’s possible that they are right and that the west will not act, but I don’t think so. I get back to Biden’s open statement that he thinks Putin is a killer. A man who isn’t ready to stand up to somebody is not going to say something like that. When I was a boy growing up in Texas, an accusation like that would have been considered fighting words—and being Texas and us being boys, a fight would have definitely followed.
Given that Biden heads a cabinet full of skilled and experienced people, and that he was so very blunt in his assessment of Putin, the Russians should probably consider him a much more dangerous adversary than they probably do. The same goes for the Chinese.
Hitler never imagined for a moment that Chamberlain would declare war after he invaded Poland. Tojo thought Roosevelt would back down. As a result of these miscalculations, both men ended up dead and took hundreds of millions of innocent people with them.
If either or both invasions take place, I can think of a number of scenarios, some of them with a high probability of developing, that would make escalation to nuclear conflict inevitable. If that happens, the age of human civilization that began with the Renaissance and has developed through the invention of free republics and expansive industrialism will be concluded.
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