SPHERES OF INFLUENCE

Audio-book Revie
By Chet Yarbrough

(Blog:awalkingdelight)
Website: chetyarbrough.blog

Destined for War (Can America and China Escape Thucydides’s Trap?

By: Graham Allison

Narrated by Richard Ferrone

Graham Allison (Author, American political scientist, Professor of Government at Harvard.)

Allison briefly reviews the history of war to reinforce an argument about its causes.  He suggests wars come from the rise of competing hegemonic powers. A quibble one may have with Allison’s argument is that it diminishes reasons beyond power that led to WWII. The rise of Hitler may not have occurred if reparations for WWI had not been excessive.  However, his main point is that cultural differences are seeds from which power and conflict grows.  Allison suggests, when nation-state’ cultures are different, countries competing for political and economic power incline toward war. He gives many relevant and convincing examples.

Graham Allison suggests the cause of war is defined by Thucydides (Greek Historian of the Pelopnnnesian War, Born 460-455 B.C., Died 400 B.C.) in the fifth century BC. 

The “Thucydides’s trap” is when one country achieves a competitive level of political power it challenges existing hegemonic powers, leading to conflict and probable war. 

Allison argues that war is not inevitable but that to avoid it requires acceptance of spheres of influence.  This is not a new concept.  The terms “sphere of influence” became legally significant in the 1880s when Africa was being colonized by European countries.  It was meant to explain a colonizer’s political claim for exclusive control of a particular area of the world.

Allison notes that China’s Chairman Xi is, in a singular respect, the same as America’s Ex-President, Donald Trump.  That “sameness” is Xi’s goal of making China “Great Again”.  In no other respect, does Xi seem comparable to the bombastic Trump. 

Allison explains China is culturally unique based on its history, reaching back to 1600 B.C.  Like Ancient Egypt (3400-3200 B.C.), China is as culturally different as any nation-state in the world.  Allison offers a highly intelligent and informative analysis of how different Chinese culture is from American culture.

To avoid war, Allison argues America, the current hegemon of the world, must couch its political behavior and power in ways that acknowledge cultural difference between itself and rising hegemons of the world.

Allison recalls the history of England’s dealings with America after the 1776 revolution.  England reluctantly accepted America’s eventual rise to hegemon of the world. (Some would argue, England’s decision to remove itself from the European Union accelerates that decline.)

The United Kingdom’s economic, military, and political power (its sphere of influence) diminishes as America’s flourishes.  England remains a power in the world, but its sphere of influence steadily declines.

Russia struggles with their sphere of influence because of the collapse of the U.S.S.R.  In 2021-22 Russia may invade Ukraine, just as they did Crimea in 2014, to re-expand its sphere of influence.  Russia maneuvers to politically enlist China as an ally to accomplish that end. Putin undoubtedly cultivates China’s objection to America’s attempt to expand its sphere of influence in the far east.

The issues of Ukraine and Georgia are more precarious for Russia than the rest of the world. Putin’s demand to expand Russia’s sphere of influence renews a cold war that will inevitably become hot. The only question is where the heat will lie.

Robert Kagan reveals the fundamental mistake made by Putin in a May-June 2022 “Foreign Affairs” article. History reveals mistakes of great nations like France, Great Britain, Germany and Japan in thinking they could remain or become world hegemons by force.

Kagan’s point is Great Britain adjusted to its changed role from hegemon to a nation among nations. England prospered and maintained its integrity as an independent nation, capable of improving the lives of its people without falling on the sword of its hegemonic past.

Ukraine and Georgia will become Putin’s Vietnam. It is a war that can only be resolved at the expense of many Russian’, Ukrainian’, and Georgian’ soldier’s lives. The most other countries can do is support Ukrainian and Georgian resistance while pursuing a diplomatic solution that respects sovereign independence.

The inference one draws from Allison’s book is that America must recognize the cultural difference between itself and China to avoid war.  Like the United Kingdom, France, Spain, and other hegemons of world history, America must gradually adjust its behavior as a hegemon of the world.  America, like all hegemonic powers, effectively operates within a sphere of influence. America’s sphere of influence is being challenged in the Far East by China.

Allison’s view of the world gives weight to Putin’s great concern about Ukraine’s independence and implied wish to join NATO. The fear Putin has is a reminder of even Gorbachev’s opposition to western encroachment on eastern bloc independence.

The sense one draws from Allison’s insight about culture is that no country in history has ever treated its citizens equitably.  In America, the stain of slavery and native Indian displacement remain festering wounds.  When and if those wounds heal, America’s sphere of influence will either grow or diminish.  In China, it may be the wounds of Uighur discrimination and Han superiority that wounds its future as a hegemon.  In Afghanistan, the unfair treatment of women may doom its sphere of influence.  In Russia, it will be the mistakes Putin makes in violating the sovereignty of Ukraine and Georgia.

Every nation’s sphere of influence is affected by internal cultural errors and external cultural influences.  Only a state that adjusts to the demands of its culture will survive.  Culture is not exportable, but it has weight.  Foreign cultures can only be an influencer to other countries.  A culture imposed by force will fail as both America and France proved in Vietnam.  Cultural change must come from its own citizens as it did with the U.S.S.R. in 1991. 

Spheres of influence evolve.  They are not static. 

America’s goal should be to understand other cultures.  In that understanding, there must be acceptance of a competitor’s sphere of influence. Allison is not suggesting America withdraw from the world stage, but that engagement be along the lines of a containment strategy like that proposed by the former ambassador to Russia, George Kennan, in the 1950s.  Kennan’s long memorandum is born of an intimate understanding of Russian culture.

Allison argues America should pursue a policy of minimizing conflict while promoting democracy to citizens who seek freedom and equality. 

Allison recommends engagement with rising hegemonic powers with an eye on their respective cultures.  Allison argues, only with understanding of cultural difference is there a way to avoid Thucydides’ trap.

One cannot deny the economic success of China.  At the same time, anyone who has visited China in recent years knows of dissidents who object to communist monitoring and control of citizen freedom.  Tiananmen Square remains a rallying point for mainland China resistors.  Hong Kong continues to demonstrate against Xi’s influence on the lives of local business owners. Taiwan objects to Xi’s intent to repatriate their island country. Tibetans are denied their rights as followers of Buddhist belief.

In sum, one comes away from Allison’s book with the hope of a future without war.  Hegemonic powers will rise, and fall based on the evolution of their respective cultures.  History suggests governments that rely on the “rule of one” in modern times will not last.  Adding population demographics and ecological threats, China’s “rule of one” suggests the best policy for American democracy is acceptance of spheres of influence with a policy of Kennan-like’ containment. 

Chairman Xi is mortal, and mortality is the penultimate harbinger of change. In the long run, freedom and equality will change the nature of even the oldest cultures.

FORMULA FOR PEACE

Audio-book Review
By Chet Yarbrough

(Blog:awalkingdelight)
Website: chetyarbrough.blog

The Anatomy of Peace

By: The Arbinger Institute (Third Edition: Resolving the Heart of Conflict)

Narrated by: Kaleo Griffith

The Arbinger Institute was founded in 1979 by Dr. C. Terry Warner.  He co-authored “Leadership and Self Deception”.  In 1967 he received his Ph.D. from Yale University and is a professor at Brigham Young University. 

          The Arbinger Institute offers leadership training and consulting to organizations, families, and individuals around the world.   

              In “The Anatomy of Peace” a story is told about an Israeli and Palestinian who run a  youth camp for troubled children.  One presumes this is a story, not an actual event, that is designed to advise reader/listeners of the “…Institutes” beliefs.

“The Arbinger Institutes” objective is to identify the causes of human conflict and how it can be resolved.

              As the world knows, the Israeli/Palestinian conflict continues to rage without any evidence of resolution.  Some argue the solution is splitting the area into two states.  Others insist only one state is necessary with representation by resident voters.  “The Anatomy of Peace” argues neither solution addresses the fundamental cause for conflict, nor will it result in peace.

              Before explaining the camp leader’s histories in the middle east, the story begins with a young girl arguing with her family about being left at the camp for two weeks.  The young girl refuses.  The camp is in Arizona where temperatures rise well above 100 degrees in the summer.  This young girl runs away with no shoes on her feet.  She is followed by two young people who were once miscreates enrolled at the camp but are now employees.  They follow her, and catch up after several hours of flight to find her feet bloody and burned.  One of the two camp employees offers the shoes she is wearing to the runaway.  The runaway refuses.  Both employees choose to take their shoes off and continue running after her.  When she stops in a shopping center where she sees a friend of hers, they all come together.  The runaway looks at the camp employees and is shocked to see her pursuers had taken off their shoes.  The runaway agrees to stay for two weeks at the camp.  Her reason for staying is symbolic.

              The troubled children’s camp is run by an Israeli and a Palestinian who are at peace with each other despite the conflict in their home country.  Both have lost their fathers because of war.  In their younger adult lives, both harbored hate for their enemies, the killers of their fathers and countrymen.  Their respective stories are about how each overcomes their hate.  It is same as the story of the runaway.  They recognize each other as human beings.  They refer to Martin Buber who wrote the book “I and Thou” which recognizes the importance of reverencing the humanness of all human life.

Martin Buber (1878-1965, Author, 20th century philosopher.)

              The point is made that all people conflict with themselves when they treat others as objects rather than fellow members of humanity.  The principle of meditation is raised to get in touch with yourself, to understand yourself, to realize that in-common humanness is what must be recognized for peace to come among combatants.

              What the authors argue is that humans create boxes that carry the weight of who they are–which is not who they really are or mean to be.  In knowing oneself and the boxes we create for ourselves, we act in ways that defy the truth of all people’s humanness.  This idea is old.  It is the same idea that ancient Greeks spoke of when saying “know thyself”.  The Institute teaches that in self-understanding (knowing what boxes one is in) and realization of all people’s humanness, one can find peace. 

              The idea is to stay out of boxes that define you. This seems too simple. However, it is not simple or easy because of our inability to break out of boxes that have been formed over years of experience.   The first step is to not objectify other human beings.  Human labeling puts one in a  box.  The box creates someone who is an object, not a fellow human being.  The second is to know yourself and understand your boxes.  The last step is to get rid of the boxes.  Have empathy and do the things that make you feel good about your humanness.

The author makes the point that many things in life are beyond our control but those thoughts and actions that are within our control should be done in ways that make us feel good about ourselves.

                They argue you are in a box if you do not feel good about what you do.  Self-awareness sets one free to find peace.  There is a great deal to offer leaders and managers of other people in the teachings of the Arbinger Institute. A skeptic may find the Arbinger Institute’s formula for peace Pollyannaish. It will only change those who choose love and self-understanding in the face of human nature’s desire for money, power, and prestige.

The Arbinger Institute’s formula for peace seems to have no application in the realpolitik of Russia’s interest in Ukraine and Georgia.

WINNERS AND LOSERS

Audio-book Review
By Chet Yarbrough

(Blog:awalkingdelight)
Website: chetyarbrough.com

Embracing Defeat
By John W. Dower

Narrated by Edward Lewis

JOHN W. DOWER (AMERICAN AUTHOR, HISTORIAN)

Victory is sweet; defeat is bitter.  Victory engenders responsibility for the defeated; defeat demands fealty to a victor. Fealty is not the goal of a victorious leader who seeks lasting peace.

Peace among nations has a price. John Dower’s reflection on WWII and Japan holds lessons for today’s American leadership.

John Dower, in “Embracing Defeat”, endeavors to picture Japan’s condition; i.e. the state of its economy and its people, after surrender in WWII. 

History’s complexity is difficult to capture in words.  Dower makes an effort to explain the context of post war Japan by showing Japanese attitude in media reports and literature of the time.  The irony of Dower’s effort is that media reports and literature are censored by Allied forces, particularly the United States.

MICHINOMIYA HIROHITO (124TH EMPEROR OF JAPAN 1901-1989)
Dower covers the history of an American white wash of Hirohito’s war complicity and responsibility.  The American government uses Hirohito to make occupation and influence in Japan more acceptable to its population.  It became politically expedient to hide Hirohito’s true involvement in Japan’s war plans. 

Dower reports on post-war trials of Japanese military and government leaders; i.e. Dower writes about trial testimony of Japan’s WWII’ atrocities but his history shows that victor’ justice is not necessarily victim’ justice.

Hideki Tojo as hero and/or goat–tried and convicted; sentenced to a prison in which he dies. Tojo refuses to implicate the Emperor in his actions during the war.

In spite of (partly because of) American military occupation of Japan, financial aid is misdirected and food goods and material are stolen, a black market develops, gangs are formed, and corruption thrives. (Sounds like Iraq after America’s invasion.).  Prostitution became a way of making a living, and immoral behavior became semi-acceptable because of rising poverty.

NICOLAS MADURO (PRESIDENT OF VENEZUELA SINCE 2013)
A case in point today is the President of Venezuela, Nicolás Maduro. Are his actions a “crime against humanity” or is he fighting for his country’s independence?


Economic sanctions are as likely to punish the innocent as the guilty in countries that fight for their own identity. One’s interest is peaked by Japan’s experience after WWII because of the current Middle East muddle. 

Syria, Iraq, and Iran are challenged by domestic unrest and punitive actions by non-indigenous forces.  These three countries are particularly impacted by military and/or economic pressures from outsiders.  What is going to happen in those countries?  Are there any clues in the great change that occurred in Japan after WWII?

General MacArthur assumed the role of “Dear Leader”, treating the Japanese like 12-year-olds that were to be taught the ways of Democracy with a capital “D”.  This role by MacArthur in post war Japan is accepted by many Japanese because of centuries of Imperial control, exemplified by Emperor Hirohito.

BONNER FELLERS (U.S. ARMY OFFICER, SERVED AS A MILTARY ATTACHE IN WWII)
Dower also suggests that a large part of General MacArthur’s success is due to Major Bonner Fellers, a Japanese scholar that predicted Japan’s war several years before the attack on Pearl Harbor.  Major Fellers’ respect and understanding of Japanese culture and his influence contributes much to the success of American policy in post war Japan. 

Fellers recognizes Japan’s people, with new found freedom, are inwardly driven toward a capitalist philosophy inherent in democracy.  The Japanese did not abandon their ideas of production, the ideas of small business cooperation to achieve common goals.  Those ideas made them a military behemoth in the 1920s.  They redirected that belief system toward domestically driven capitalism. Japan became a dominant 20th century economic power. Japan’s experience suggests that freedom will not be denied but how it exhibits is a mystery wrapped in nation’s histories, beliefs, and practices.

Are there equivalents of “Major Bonner Fellers” to guide America’s policy toward other countries like Venezuela and the Middle East?

America can help or hinder a peoples’ drive for freedom but where it leads in Venezuela, Iraq, or Iran must be their peoples’ decision.

Nature abhors a vacuum (Spinoza).  The centralized governments and economies of Venezuela, Syria, Iraq, and Iran will be occupied democratically, autocratically, or some combination thereof, when domestic tumult subsides. 

Outside countries cannot mandate lasting peace within other countries; let alone their own country. Sovereignty should be recognized as an inalienable right. It is not America’s job to pick winners and losers.