27 August 2012

Winds shifting over the borderlands (and other news)

Another Ukrainian election is looming, and the current president and leader of the centrist, federalist Party of Regions, Mr Viktor Yanukovich, is turning his sights toward the east, notably seeking for his country observer status within the Shanghai Cooperation Organisation (SCO), a loose economic federation which includes Russia, China and several Central Asian nations. This should not really come as any surprise; despite the complicated love-hate relationship between the heirs to the Principality of Kiev and to the Principality of Rostov-Suzdal and Grand Duchy of Muscovy, and the often-infuriatingly retrenched language politics (see also here for the opposing view) endemic to Eastern Europe, the Ukraine and Russia see eye-to-eye more often than not. It is practically a form of sibling rivalry: though a few Ukrainians might gripe about the ‘Muscovites’ and their ways, opinion polls show a (perhaps grudging?) mutual respect between the two old principalities and their people; and many Ukrainians still prefer the old, familiar rival on their doorstep to the even more foreign EU and NATO powers.

There have also been a couple of very worthwhile China articles this past week: one by Maj Gen Chen Zhou on how the ABM programme (not quite my area of expertise) is actually a detriment to global (and to American) security; and by Mr James Traub on Foreign Policy (by his own emphasis, not an old China hand) on how the US needs to get serious about infrastructure planning, and on how China is an instructive example in this case. Though China’s infrastructure planning itself has problems, the lesson should be well-taken that the United States should return to its emphasis on making, building and producing things, notably things of lasting value (meaning, not missiles, but rather steel and silicon consumer manufactures, real food, schools and libraries, bridges and trains), and it should be building them here. We should regain, or begin building from scratch, an appreciation for ritual and tradition. We should place more faith in soft power than in the instruments of political and economic sabotage, coercion and war. We should cease denigrating all forms of public service and begin appreciating the value of job security. We should recognise that, though each individual human being is fallible enough, human beings in general are resources for the Earth as well as consumers.


  1. The opposition to infrastructure spending in the U.S. is very odd since it has such a long and successful history in this country. One explanation might be that some rentier interests desire to see more infrastructure privatized so that they can extract tolls, fees, etc. from ownership. If the government acted to improve the infrastructure under public ownership, people might oppose privatization. Perhaps I am wearing my tinfoil hat too tightly, but I can’t think of other explanations.

  2. I do wonder. A lot of infrastructure maintained at public expense (like the highways) serves as an indirect subsidy for (among other things) big-box retail, given that they have a network for toll-free shipping. They do want to see that infrastructure maintained, as long as they don't have to pay for it themselves. But infrastructure that would benefit small businesses, small communities, the working class? Forget about it. There is a disconnect between the way we think about military investment (or justify other forms of spending on the basis of national defence), and the way we think about any other form of public investment; the trick is to make people aware of that disconnect.

    I think it was very clever of Jon Stewart, for example, to argue for universal health care on the basis that it would mean our soldiers, policemen and firefighters are treated more humanely. A militarily patriotic argument for economic patriotism.