By Nebojsa Malic
18 May, 2020
Amid growing pressure to end the coronavirus lockdowns, British authorities are being advised by foreign policy ‘experts’ to brace for Chinese hegemony or a Russian invasion, with the only cure being more American Empire.
That is the crux of an article that appeared in The Atlantic on Monday, worrying about the “geopolitical second wave,” as it dubs the political fallout of the pandemic.
Among the biggest fears of experts advising 10 Downing Street? That Russian President Vladimir Putin may lash out and invade someone in order to compensate for the economic fallout of the pandemic and the oil price war.
I try not to argue on this website, but this back-of-the-envelope "coronavirus may make Putin invade another country" stuff, which is reportedly being briefed to No 10 officials, really makes me angry. https://t.co/85NLNCP3H0 pic.twitter.com/tVVSO6Ogpz
— Alex Nice (@AlexNicest) May 18, 2020
At least that’s what author Tom McTague claims is the position of Robert Kaplan, the American foreign policy expert who was recently called in to give Boris Johnson a piece of his mind about geopolitics. The Atlantic doesn’t actually quote Kaplan on this issue, however – merely about how he thinks Covid-19 will “come to be seen as a chapter break” in history books.
Kaplan’s supposed point is left to someone who did not actually advise 10 Downing Street: Michael Clarke, a professor at King’s College London described as a former government adviser who remains ‘plugged into’ the foreign policy establishment.
“Putin’s aggressive opportunism will probably get worse,” the article quotes Clarke. “The nature of Putin’s leadership is that he can’t stand still; he has to keep pushing forward. This makes him more volatile.”
Even Mark Galeotti – a veteran Russia fabulist and inventor of the ‘Gerasimov doctrine’ – found Clarke’s line of reasoning a bit too much to swallow.
Oh dear. This is really bonkers. And dangerous.
— Mark Galeotti (@MarkGaleotti) May 18, 2020
It ought to be said that Kaplan is the infamous author of ‘Balkan Ghosts,’ a book about the former Yugoslavia that was said to have informed US President Bill Clinton’s approach to its dissolution – with disastrous consequences that continue to bedevil the region to this day. If this is the caliber of experts who advise 10 Downing Street, it’s hardly surprising that Britain has been lurching from one foreign policy fiasco to another in recent years.
To be fair, the Atlantic’s author also featured an opposing but equally outlandish take from Portugal’s former Europe minister Bruno Maçães, who theorized that the pandemic would weaken Russia so much, it would be ripe for a Chinese takeover.
Britain, however, is too broke to do anything about any of this, its military a shadow of its Iraq War glory days – let alone the Empire from a century ago – so the burden would fall on the US. Except, as McTague argues, the America of Donald Trump is “already unwilling to take the lead” in the world.
Insofar as Trump is mentioned in the article, it is to ascribe his 2016 election to the 2008 financial crash, and lament the difficulty of European countries that rely on US military hegemony to maintain economic ties with Beijing in light of “the Trump administration’s anti-China rhetoric.”
Notably absent in the entire article is a course of action for 10 Downing Street to pursue, leaving only the implicit hope that a different president in Washington would deal with the situation better.
While gaming out possibilities is the job of policy advisers, to be of any actual use they ought to be at least tangentially anchored in reality. Assumptions about Russian economic collapse seem more like a case of psychological projection, given the numbers currently coming from the UK or the US.
Arguably, these fantasies might be far more profitable to their authors, and definitely less harmful to world politics, were they to market them as fiction to entertain the millions of their countrymen, still stuck in their homes due to the lockdowns maintained by their overzealous governments.
* Nebojsa Malic is a Serbian-American journalist, blogger and translator, who wrote a regular column for Antiwar.com from 2000 to 2015, and is now senior writer at RT. Follow him on Twitter @NebojsaMalic