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TO American eyes the Far East is a scene of rapid and bewildering change. Three times within the last four years Japan has revised her foreign policy in ways which would have been considered revolutionary if followed by the United States.
On November 25, 1936, Japan became a party to the Anti-Comintern Pact. Her relations with Soviet Russia had been going from bad to worse because of her undercover penetration of China. She had common strategical interests with Germany vis-à-vis the Soviet which made ideological rationalizations unnecessary. It was a "natural" alignment. Until the eleventh hour Americans expected Japan to play a part (no one knew how active) on the Axis side in the oncoming European war.
The expectation was not fulfilled. Instead, Germany made her deal with Russia, and Japan left the Anti-Comintern Front in a panic. This deal (the Ribbentrop-Molotov agreement of August 23, 1939) not only sent a Japanese cabinet toppling; it caused the next cabinet to adopt a more friendly policy toward England, France and the United States. The sincerity of the spirit underlying this new policy may be open to doubt. It nevertheless lasted as long as there was any possibility of negotiating, as between England, France, Japan and the United States, a mutually profitable and viable understanding.
Exactly when the possibility vanished, or why it never developed, is known to the statesmen in London, Paris, Tokyo and Washington. Their colleagues in Berlin and Chungking might also do some explaining. At all events, Japan on September 27, 1940, rejoined her old Axis partners, this time in a ten-year military alliance, and let it be known that a rapprochement with Russia was in the tea leaves.
Such an opportunist trafficking in alliances is the rule rather than the exception in Far Eastern politics. The scene has changed many times in that part of the world during the past half century, but the players remain the same and the plot consistent. Plus ça change, plus c'est la même chose. Japan's frequent shifts of allegiance have all been means toward a single end. It is western diplomacy, not Japanese, that has been inconsistent and erratic, and for one basic reason. The European Powers, Russia and the United States have all treated the Far East as a sphere of interest subordinate to Europe or Africa or India or the Near East or the Americas, as the case might be. Their Far Eastern policies have been as variable as the ulterior, non-Far Eastern motives by which they have been governed. Hence the periodic swapping and dickering in the Far East, as these Powers bargained there to save what they would not place on the counter elsewhere.
During this process, the balance of power in the Far East has depended upon the balance of power in Europe. Japan has needed every bargain she could strike. Only when her rivals were divided against themselves could she hope to rule, even in her own hemisphere. Western harmony, or a balance of power which gave supremacy and freedom of action to a given combination of western nations, always spelled danger to Japan. She has never forgotten, for example, the Triple Intervention of 1895, when Russia, France and Germany denied her access to the continental foothold she had wrested from China. With France allied to Russia, and the latter a willing stooge of Germany, Japan had to wait until the European disbalance frightened England into an alliance with her before she could resume the effective pursuit of her continental goal. Then, as England built the alliance into an anti-German coalition which included France and Russia, Japan discovered more formidable limits to her continental ambitions than the decrepit Tsarist military power which she had smashed in 1905. Only the First World War, which immobilized all of these nations in Europe, gave Japan the free field she really desired. Nor did she have this to herself for long. American participation in the war and the resultant Allied victory confronted her with a formidable combination of mobilized naval, military and economic power. It forced her, in the Washington Treaties, to apply the brakes once more. Not until this combination had first been weakened by the depression, and then put on the defensive by Italy and Germany, were the brakes released.
Conversely, it should be noted that Japan has exerted little influence on the balance of power in Europe. It is true that the Anglo-Japanese Alliance rescued England from her "splendid isolation" in 1902 and helped pave the way for the Entente Cordiale with France of 1904 and the Anglo-Russian Entente of 1907. But when the hour of trial came for England in 1914, far from relying on Japan's assistance, Sir Edward Grey tried to persuade the latter to stay out of the war. Japan made no contribution to her ally's war effort in Europe. On the contrary, as is well known, Japan's war against Germany consisted of seizing as many of the latter's Far Eastern possessions as she could get away with, badgering China with the Twenty-One Demands, and overrunning northern Manchuria and part of Siberia.
Japan's membership in the Anti-Comintern Pact evidently was not enough to insure Hitler's eastern front in the Second World War. What other reason was there for the Ribbentrop-Molotov Agreement in August 1939? And now, even with Japan a full-fledged military ally of the Axis and a Russo-Japanese treaty in process of negotiation, it is doubtful if Hitler can expect much effective Japanese assistance in Europe. While Japan might contribute indirectly to an Axis victory by diverting American or Russian attention from Europe, the point to be made here is that, until the outbreak of the present war, the Far Eastern balance of power has always been determined by the balance of power in Europe, and never vice versa.
The war and the new alliance raise the question as to the state of this inter-continental balance today. How much of it, if any, remains? Since 1931, western and Russian influence combined has been insufficient to deter Japan from pressing forward her invasion of China, nor to call into question her naval supremacy in the Japan, Yellow and China Seas and adjacent waters. It has barely sufficed to hold in check a process of overseas expansion which has long seemed imminent and may, with the invasion of French Indo-China, actually have begun. With England fighting for her life, France and the Low Countries under the German yoke, the United States preoccupied with the defense of an entire hemisphere and the survival of England, how much of this restraining influence remains today? Can it be strengthened, and, if so, how? Is the latest scene-shifting just one more in the old Far Eastern political drama, or is it the curtain-raiser to a New Order? Let us seek answers to these questions in the recent policies of the five principal Powers currently interested in the Far East: Germany, Soviet Russia, Great Britain, Japan and the United States.
The world has forgotten Germany's lost colonies in the Pacific, and Hitler, to placate his Japanese ally, has not pressed his claim to them. The Marshalls and Carolines, German Samoa, German New Guinea, Tsingtao, Kiaochow and the Shantung Peninsula were all once outposts of German empire, trade and missionary work. Germany came out of the Great War having been harried from her islands by Japan, Australia and New Zealand, pushed out of Shantung by Japan, and with her business men rounded up and deported from China by the British.
Starting from behind scratch, Germany then proceeded to build up a thriving trade with China and Japan and to rehabilitate her political influence in both countries. In China, German officers organized and trained the armies of Chiang Kai-shek. They were not recalled from that mission until the spring of 1938. Germany's political relations with Japan improved in direct ratio to the worsening of the latter's relations with the Soviets. This accounts for the fact that German neutrality was more benevolent to Japan than to China during the present Sino-Japanese conflict. After a half-hearted, or at all events unsuccessful, effort to mediate peace in 1937, Germany -- already associated with Japan in the Anti-Comintern Pact -- recognized Manchukuo. Loans and barter agreements with both Manchukuo and Japan followed; Hitler called home the last military experts from China; and the foundation of the recent triple alliance was completed. It was so strong a foundation that Hitler evidently believed it would survive the shock of his deal with Stalin, and time has proved him right.
In addition to her commercial and political interests in China and Japan, Germany has considerable trade interests in the East Indies. This trade has consisted mostly of imports of tin, rubber, tobacco, oil and bauxite. While Germany's dependence on the East Indies for these resources is by no means as great as Japan's, it is great enough to stimulate her concern for the future of the islands. In a purely negative sense, it might be of value to Germany to deny unfriendly powers access to them, to use them for bargaining purposes. Moreover, the Australians have discovered rich gold deposits and are on the trail of oil in what was once German New Guinea. With these economic incentives, what more logical price might Germany demand for the evacuation of Holland than the return of her former colony and substantial concessions in the Dutch East Indies? For the time being, Hitler is content to use Japan as a scarecrow in that cornfield. His victory in the war would place him in a position to dictate to his ally, and the rich East Indies is a possible sphere of conflict between the two. But though Germany's economic interests in the Far East are significant, and though Hitler is advised by his official prophet of Geopolitik, the mystical Haushofer, not to overlook the Raum of the Pacific, Germany's present interests there are chiefly political and wholly subservient to her interests in Europe.
Nothing points more clearly to this conclusion than the recent Triple Alliance of the Axis partners and Japan. The timing of this coup indicates German rather than Japanese initiative and European rather than Far Eastern objectives. In the first place, two of the three signatories are European Powers, primarily concerned with winning a European war. It is easy to read in the terms of the alliance a warning to the United States to stay out of this war as well as the one in the Far East. Article Three pledges the signatories "to assist one another with all political, economic and military means when one of the three contracting powers is attacked by a power at present not involved in the European war or in the Chinese-Japanese conflict." It is less easy to see a similar warning to Russia. Article Five expressly states that "the aforesaid terms do not in any way affect the political status which exists at present as between each of the three contracting parties and Soviet Russia."
But consider the time scheme. Hitler's air attack on England had not produced the desired results. It was burning up German oil. For every day that the British stood up and struck back under the hammerings of the Luftwaffe, Axis prestige declined. Some complimentary editorials on the R. A. F. appeared in the controlled Soviet press. Autumn was approaching, a season considered less favorable for continuing the Battle of Britain and more favorable, perhaps, for beginning the Battle of the Near East. As Hitler and Mussolini planned their thrusts into Rumania and Greece they undoubtedly employed all the diplomatic means at their disposal to insure their flank against Russian attack. The tepid phrases of the Ribbentrop-Molotov Agreement were not enough; and Italy had no pact with Russia. There was no assurance that "the political status which exists at present" as between the Axis and Russia should continue to exist. What more expeditious means of achieving this end than a revival of the old Anti-Comintern Pact with real military teeth in it and a pious exemption for Russia? Under these circumstances Stalin could either be bought off with a Russo-Japanese non-aggression treaty backed by Hitler's guarantee, or fought off on two fronts if he refused the deal and intervened in the Near East. It is true that the alliance followed hard upon an American embargo of scrap steel; but it was itself immediately followed by an Axis invasion of the Balkans rather than a Japanese attack on Hong Kong or the East Indies. Again the time scheme is worth noting. That the Alliance is dominated by Germany and intended by Germany for European use may be inferred even in its Far Eastern application. American assistance to Britain is one of the chief obstacles in the Axis' path, and there could be no more effective way of cutting this off than by diverting it to a conflict with Japan in the Pacific.
In short, Hitler follows a combination of the policies of Bismarck and the Kaiser. Like Bismarck, he seeks to stay on good terms with Russia. Like the Kaiser he presses hard on Russia's Near Eastern sphere of interest and overlooks no chance to encourage (or embroil) her in the Far East. Now, as in the past, Germany draws opportunistically on her Far Eastern deposits of influence to finance more important ventures closer to home.
The same can be said of Russia. Though foreign observers have tried to make her an oriental nation, and European statecraft has sought to encourage her interest in the Far East, Russia has gazed much more intently through Peter the Great's window on the west, eyed the Bosporus more hungrily than Tsushima, and dreamed the Pan Slav dream, not the Pan Asiatic. This has been true throughout her history, and it is true today. The Russo-Japanese War and Soviet activities in China have made Americans forget Russia's many wars with Sweden, Poland and Turkey, and the part she played in the Napoleonic, Crimean and First World Wars. They have made them forget the alliance with France and Soviet support of the Spanish Loyalists.
The high water mark of Russia's eastward expansion was reached when a pioneer movement not unlike the American had carried her political influence across Siberia and down through Manchuria into Korea. Since Japan rolled back these frontiers in 1905, Russia has made no serious effort to extend them again. Before the Great War she concluded no less than four secret "appeasement" treaties with her former foe. After the war, though her agents carried a short-lived ideological imperialism into China, and though in 1929 she was the first nation to defy the Kellogg Pact and make war on China in Manchuria, she withdrew before the Japanese advance to the empty spaces of Sinkiang and Outer Mongolia, and the forts and blockhouses north of the Amur. She sold out her share in the Chinese Eastern Railway. And though from 1931 to 1937 she was involved with Japan by actual count in 2,400 border disputes, many of which caused bloodshed and some severe loss of life, she chose to make none of them a casus belli.
This is not to say that Russia's present interest in the Far East is negligible. Since the beginning of the "China Incident" Russia has loaned China more money and rendered her more direct and effective military assistance than the rest of the Western Powers combined. Yet Russia's desire for an independent China has not prevented her from concluding a truce in the border warfare with Japan and from placing in negotiation with that nation a still more comprehensive settlement of boundaries, spheres and economic and political issues. Neither has it prevented Stalin from reaching first, through his window on the west, into Poland, Finland, the Baltic States and Bessarabia, before moving an inch from his Amur blockhouses in Eastern Asia. He has double-tracked the Trans-Siberian Railway and along the Manchurian border he has concentrated a self-sustaining army and air force which could strike Japan a heavy blow. But the offensive potential of these troops depends upon the plans which Stalin has for them, and these plans are being resolved right now, not in eastern Asia, but in Rumania, Turkey and along the Greco-Albanian frontier. It is what happens in the path of Hitler's Drang nach Osten, not American shipments of machine tools, which in the last analysis will determine Russia's policy in the Far East.
Great Britain's wartime relations with the Far East hinge so obviously on her success in withstanding the German air siege and preserving her sea power as to require little discussion here. But in the background of the present situation we can discern a trend in the Far Eastern policy of Britain which is often overlooked. The fact is, that British sea power has been on the decline in the Far East ever since the Great War, and perhaps longer. As Japan gained naval command of the Yellow and China Seas, Britain (and the United States too, for that matter) lost it. England recognized this fact, as was evident in her desire to renew the Anglo-Japanese Alliance in 1921. Her Pacific Dominions concurred in the wish, believing this to be the only way to protect themselves against the rising power of Japan. But all three, the mother country and Australia and New Zealand, were thwarted by Canada and the United States. The Alliance was terminated. Britain thereupon fell back on the Washington Treaties as a poor substitute for the Alliance, on Singapore as the surest bulwark of her Pacific defenses, and on the naval coöperation of France, Holland, Australia and New Zealand to reënforce it. In addition, she hoped that the American fleet, based in the Pacific while she kept her fleet in the Atlantic, would act as a deterrent to Japanese incursions into Australasia or the East Indies. Thus, while Britain continued to share equally with Japan three-quarters of all foreign investments in China, and to endorse with the United States the principles of the Open Door and the territorial integrity of China, her postwar policies were primarily aimed at defending India, Malaya, the East Indies and the Dominions rather than her stake or her principles in China.
Since British sea power has not for a long time been adequate, either alone or in friendly conjunction with American sea power, to command the China and the Yellow Seas, its survival in the present war is not likely to augment British influence in the Far East beyond its pre-war limits. These limits have included the defensive security of the islands and possessions already mentioned, and control of the sea routes thither. But they have not included the maintenance of the Open Door and the territorial integrity of China. This was clear in the Manchurian Crisis ten years ago. Since the beginning of the present Sino-Japanese War, British diplomacy has waged a rearguard action against the advancing Japanese, doing much to support the Chinese currency, suffering the indignities of the Tientsin blockade and the virtual blockade of Hong Kong, clinging doggedly to the old points d'appui in China and, most recently, reopening the Burma Road. But there is no talk in London of restoring British influence in the Far East to its nineteenth-century peak, when Lord Salisbury took Weihaiwei as "cartographical consolation" for the Russian seizure of Port Arthur. There is no hope of forcing Japan to abandon her campaign in China. There is only a desperate effort to prevent that campaign from sweeping down along the Chinese littoral until it cuts off Singapore from the rear. The Japanese are already based in Indo-China, less than 700 miles from Singapore by sea. They are speaking loudly in the councils of Thailand. Let them cow Thailand, or bribe her into submission, and not only will they have cut off Singapore by land, but they will have placed themselves virtually on the shores of the Indian Ocean and the edge of the Burma Road. It is only 300 air miles from Bangkok to Rangoon, the port that feeds the Burma Road, and the road already is under Japanese bombardment at other points. The reopening of the Burma Road may slow the Japanese momentum; it can stop it only if Britain survives to keep the road open.
Meantime, all roads lead to London, even those of the Dominions most in jeopardy from Japan. Australia and New Zealand have a combined population of less than nine million, and though they are responsible for contributing to the active defense of Singapore they are concentrating on the training of fliers and troops for service in England and the Near East. They are likewise building up their territorial defenses. But their primary concern is that England, and the British Navy, come through their present ordeal. And even the restoration of British influence in the Far East on an ante bellum scale promises them such a precarious security that they are turning, hopefully, to the United States. The last diplomatic scene-shifting in the Far East, Japan's alliance with the Axis, has had little effect upon these basic, long-term trends of British policy.
Japan has the advantage of all the Powers under discussion in that her interests in the Far East, unlike theirs, are direct and primary. We are not concerned here, however, with a minute analysis of these interests but with Japan's position in the changing balance of world power. Her fundamental goal today differs little from her goal during the First World War. Nor are her policies very different. She is ready, quite free from moral or ideological scruples, to associate herself with the winning side in the war in Europe. If she succeeds in doing this she will have a reserved seat at the Peace Conference, a chance to pick up crumbs from the tables of the mighty. Her alliance with the Axis means that she has bet on the Axis to win. Or, if we accept the thesis that the Triple Alliance sprang from German initiative, she has bought a premium from the high-pressure Nazi insurance salesman. In either case, it is hard to see how Japan can contribute directly to an Axis victory in Europe, e.g., by dispatching thither her troops, planes, warships or munitions. She did not do this in the First World War. With the "China Incident" still on her hands, she is even less free to do so now. Nor does the Axis need or expect that kind of help.
As already indicated, Japan can make her contribution to an Axis victory in indirect ways. She could embroil the United States in the Pacific, and that would divert American energies from assistance to England. She can help Hitler kill Stalin with kindness. Whether or not the Russian dictator acquiesces by treaty in the New Order in both the Near East and the Far East, the military potential of the "natural" German-Japanese alignment vis-à-vis Russia continues to exist. That Stalin understands this would be proved rather than confuted by his adherence to the Triple Alliance. No doubt Japanese diplomats have been telling their Soviet colleagues that the Alliance is intended against the United States and their American colleagues that it is intended against Russia. Both of the statements are true, especially the second.
Japan does not need to fight either America or the Soviet in order to make some minor, though by no means insignificant, contributions to her allies. Merely by threatening the Dutch East Indies, Malaya, Singapore, the Philippines, Australia and New Zealand, she anchors the American Navy in the Pacific, and draws to the Philippines American bombers that might otherwise be doing service over Germany. A Japanese invasion of the Dutch East Indies alone would not strike either Britain or the United States a mortal blow. In the first place, it would be no easy task for Japan to dominate a land area of 734,000 square miles, extending 3,200 miles from west to east on both sides of the equator. Here is a theatre of war in which the Dutch, British and Dominion naval and air defenses, though small, could harass the invader indefinitely. Secondly, Japan could not cripple the British nor prevent an American war effort by stopping the flow of oil and rubber from the Dutch East Indies. Both nations have abundant alternate sources of oil. Their dependence on East Indian rubber sources is greater, the United States obtaining upwards of 25 percent of its rubber imports from these islands. But both England and the United States are far more dependent for this commodity on the Malay States (from which the United States draws nearly 70 percent of its supply), a region under perhaps greater danger from Japan than the more conspicuous East Indies.
Should Japan occupy both territories, or put herself in position to control the sea routes to and from them, Britain and the United States could still get rubber from Ceylon, their third largest source, and sustain themselves on reserves, substitutes and reclaimed stocks. But the practice would be expensive and hence would constitute a Japanese tax levied on Britain's defense against Hitler and on American assistance to Britain in that task. It is possible, moreover, that Germany and Japan could exploit this rubber hoard either by bartering it between themselves and their allies or by selling it at monopoly prices to their enemies. The mere possibility has already given a powerful stimulus to the American development of rubber plantations in South America and of substitutes at home. Neither of these sources could supply the normal, non-emergency, industrial needs of the United States, at costs to which the American market is adjusted. A sevenyear period is required for a rubber tree to mature and begin to yield. Satisfactory substitutes might conceivably be produced more quickly, at as reasonable costs and in as adequate volume as the Malaysian plantations or their prospective successors in South America. Meantime, the capacity of Japan or Germany to use rubber as an economic weapon against both England and the United States depends upon the British Navy's control of the Atlantic and Indian sea-lanes to Singapore; and this in turn rests on the girders of the political house-that-Jack-built, the foundations of which are under German air bombardment.
If it is true that Japan will make no direct contributions to the Axis cause in Europe, it is also true that Germany and Italy will make no direct contribution to Japan in her war on China. The Russo-Japanese relationship works both ways. Hitler can aid Japan indirectly by merely continuing to do what he is already doing in the Balkans. He can hobble Stalin with non-aggression pacts or admit him to partnership in the New Order. He might even compel Stalin to abandon his support of Chiang Kai-shek and dictate a Sino-Japanese peace which would free Japan for an outright assault on the British Empire. The idea has certainly crossed his mind. The more his prestige feeds on success in Europe, the easier it will be of execution. Moreover, by keeping his armadas in the air over England, he attracts in that direction American resources which otherwise might be employed against Japan. But unless and until he breaks the British blockade, the R. A. F., and the morale that sustains them both, he can inflict no serious injury on the United States. So long as Britain survives, the American fleet can remain at Pearl Harbor, the one last western counter in the Pacific scales of power.
As we trace out these various lines of European and Far Eastern policy we see one compelling implication for the United States. For more than half a century the Far East has been America's backdoor to Europe. Today Europe has become America's frontdoor to the Far East. This is not something that ought to be or ought not to be. It is what is. The pragmatic decision of the American Government has been made to concentrate whatever energies and resources it can spare from its own defense program on assisting England to withstand the German siege. This does not mean that the United States has turned its back on the Far East. Far from it. It does mean that no major decision of Far Eastern policy is taken in Washington without a preliminary appraisal of its costs or benefits to the British war effort.
How much latitude this rule of thumb permits for American diplomatic action in the Far East is a question compounded of many elements: the relative effectiveness of the Chinese and Japanese armies in their present theatre of war; the relative naval and air strength that the British, Dutch, Australians and New Zealanders could muster against the Japanese in East Indian waters; the 2,920 miles from Yokohama to Singapore and the 6,107 miles from Singapore to Pearl Harbor; the relative indispensability of East Indian and Malayan rubber to the United States and of American cotton, iron, steel, oil and tools to Japan. But these are as chips on the gaming table in comparison to the basic will of the American people regarding the rôle they intend to play in world politics. There is no doubt at all as to what rôle they would like to play. If all they had to do was to pull a lever, they would immediately bring peace and justice to both Europe and the Far East, which, practically speaking, would mean a free and independent England, France and China, the demobilization of the Axis legions and a universal restitution of human, i.e., civil liberties. How far they are prepared to go to accomplish this end in the difficult byways of world politics outside their own hemisphere is another matter. Nor has it been settled beyond the lines already indicated by the unprecedented third election of President Roosevelt.
Since the First World War, Americans have tried to banish from their minds the belief that war was an unavoidable or even a necessary part of civilization. They have listened eagerly to the prophets of peace, disarmament, international coöperation. They have clutched at the hope that their great economic wealth and sincerely peaceful intentions could in some way influence the outer world to share their views. One by one they have watched these ideals, beliefs and hopes go a-glimmering. Today, for the first time in their history, they have adopted peacetime conscription and appropriated the money for the greatest navy and air force on earth. Thinking of France, they have come with regret to adopt the prudent counsel of Machiavelli, who wrote:
Every one may begin a war at his pleasure, but cannot so finish it. A prince, therefore, before engaging in any enterprise should well measure his strength, and govern himself accordingly; and he must be very careful not to deceive himself in the estimate of his strength, which he will assuredly do if he measures it by his money, or by the situation of his country, or the good disposition of his people, unless he has at the same time an armed force of his own. For although the above things will increase his strength, yet they will not give it to him, and of themselves are nothing, and will be of no use without a devoted army. Neither abundance of money nor natural strength of the country will suffice, nor will the loyalty and good will of his subjects endure, for these cannot remain faithful to a prince who is incapable of defending them. Neither mountains nor lakes nor inaccessible places will present any difficulties to an enemy where there is lack of brave defenders. And money alone, so far from being a means of defense, will only render a prince the more liable to being plundered. There cannot, therefore, be a more erroneous opinion than that money is the sinews of war.
Until the United States has built its new army, navy and air force, this sense of prudence will probably continue to direct its major attention -- apart from that devoted to its own defense program -- to the defense of the British Isles. This will not preclude maintaining, and perhaps even strengthening, the moral and legal embargoes on the export of certain strategic war materials to Japan. Neither will it preclude Export-Import Bank credits and the continued sale of war materials to China, the concentration of bombers and submarines at Manila, the continuous mobilization of the fleet at Pearl Harbor, political arrangements for the use of British and Dominion bases in the Pacific, and opportune conversations with the Soviet Ambassador. Add all these probabilities to the Far Eastern capacities and propensities of the other Powers already itemized, and how much do they weigh? Enough to force Japan to evacuate China? Hardly. Enough to prevent Japan from sapping Britain's capacity to resist Germany from the rear? Perhaps. Enough to ensure the security of the Philippines? Probably. To bring the Far Eastern scales of power into balance? No. That can only be done in Europe.