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THE difference between British and American approaches to the problems of the Far East is not the creation of fanatics or scoundrels but of geography and history. Though it offers the most recent menace to the solidarity of the free world, it is not new. It is still in essentials the difference between Vasco da Gama and Columbus. After all, the shape of the continents and oceans has not changed in 500 years, and even now that travel by air has traversed the limits between sea and land, it remains decisively important whether one goes east or west to reach the Indies. The Englishman traveling to Tokyo goes by "ports"--Suez, Colombo and Singapore--or by an air route via Cairo and Karachi; the American goes by sea or air directly across the Pacific from San Francisco or Seattle. This is no mere matter of convenience in getting from one place to another; it corresponds to a permanent difference of national location and to divergent habits of mind developed over centuries.
The very term "Far East" indicates the European approach to East Asia. For the ancient Greeks and Romans the lands of silk and spice, the Seres and the Sinae, the Golden Chersonese and Cattigara, belonged to the furthest east; the theoretical geographers said that one could reach them by sailing west, but nobody had ever gone that way. With the revival of geographical science and the urge for exploration in the fifteenth century, it was the lure of the Orient that drew on the caravels to new discovery; Prince Henry the Navigator looked south towards the tropic seas from his observatory on Cape Sagres and hoped to outflank the Moslem possessors of Egypt by finding a way round Africa to India. When Columbus set out to cross the Ocean Sea, the Portuguese had already established themselves in Guinea and had passed the Cape of Good Hope. But Columbus was less interested in India than in the riches of Cathay described by Marco Polo and in the fabled gold of Cipango concerning which he had reported on the unreliable authority of Kublai Khan's intelligence service. Cipango was to be reached not by going round Africa, but by sailing west from the Canaries. Had it not been for certain miscalculations of distance and the obstructive interposition of the American continents, Columbus might well have drunk tea as the guest of the Japanese Shogun in the Golden Pavilion of Kyoto.
It was Magellan, however, who accomplished what Columbus had intended; ships of Spain under his command passed South America and crossed the Pacific, arriving in those Asian waters which the Portuguese had already reached by way of the Indian Ocean. Spain alone among the maritime Powers of Europe regarded her Asian possessions as a Western extension of her empire. With the settlement of Oregon and California the United States became the heir to Spain in the Pacific and successor to the tradition of the Acapulco galleons. Americans took the initiative in opening Japan to foreign intercourse because for them it was not a terminus beyond China, as it was for the European traders, but a country on the way between San Francisco and Shanghai.
In the eighteenth century, trade with China was carried on by the East India Companies of European nations. The British, who became predominant in the trade at Canton, regarded it as an extension of their commerce with India, and in so far as the East India Company did not itself directly do business in China, the market was left to the so-called "country" ships sailing under license from India. Politically, India with her sea approaches became the pivot of Britain's policy as an oceanic and imperial Power. In so far as Britain looked beyond Europe in diplomacy and strategy, India and the Indian Ocean occupied the foreground of the picture; China, Japan and the Pacific belonged to the remote background.
True, by the beginning of the twentieth century Britain had acquired a very substantial economic stake in the Far East and for a few years Far Eastern affairs became of cardinal importance for British foreign policy. The Russian penetration of Manchuria after 1895 aroused fears in London that China was about to fall under Russian domination, and Britain made her first definite departure from "splendid isolation" in world politics by concluding an alliance with Japan to check Russia's Far Eastern expansion. But it has to be remembered that Anglo-Russian rivalry in the Far East at this time was only an extension of a conflict of policies which already involved Turkey, Persia and Afghanistan, and the alarm about China was primarily due to the British sense of weakness in that region of the world. The Anglo-Japanese alliance was intended to redress the regional balance of power, otherwise strongly in favor of Russia, by giving support to a nation able and willing to act locally against Russia. In the event, Russia was curbed by the war of 1904; but thereafter Japan in turn began to show aggressive tendencies, and Britain, increasingly preoccupied with the new tensions arising in Europe, was compelled more and more to turn a blind eye to Japanese actions damaging to British interests in China. In 1914 the Japanese alliance still paid dividends to Britain, for Japan entered the war against Germany and cleared German commerce-raiders from the western Pacific. But in 1915, locked in mortal combat with her European enemy, Britain had to tolerate without protest the "Twenty-one Demands" which came near to imposing a Japanese protectorate on China.
The pattern of British Far Eastern policy between 1905 and 1918 has since been twice repeated, first in relation to Japan between 1931 and 1941, and again in relation to Communist China since 1949. Its basic principle is to avoid, even at the cost of great sacrifices of interest and prestige, any involvement in a Far Eastern conflict which would require diversion of British power from regions of more vital importance.
British foreign policy and strategy are ultimately based on a scale of priorities which sets Europe and the Mediterranean first, the Middle East and the Indian Ocean second, and the Far East by a long way third. If in a time of crisis certain interests have to be thrown overboard to lighten the load, those which are located beyond Singapore must be the first for sacrifice, and those from Suez eastward must be next; but the needs of security in Europe can never be sacrificed because the very existence of Britain as a nation depends on it. The fall of Singapore in the last war did not finish Britain; even Rommel's entry into Cairo would not have been a mortal blow; but had Hitler's army been able to cross the Channel in 1940, that would have been the end of everything for the British people.
The American scale of priorities is necessarily different. Situated between two broad oceans, the United States has never had to face the same kind of problem of strategic security as that which has been a condition of British foreign policy, and until very recently most Americans thought that isolation was a safe and profitable course for America to follow in world affairs. But in so far as America has emerged from isolation and become involved in the course of history beyond the oceans, the involvement has been as much trans-Pacific as trans-Atlantic. Indeed, it has been even more, for, although the Pacific is wider than the Atlantic, the American acquisitions of Hawaii and Alaska and four decades of sovereignty in the Philippines have brought America closer to Asia than to Europe. If there was one part of the world in which Americans, generally speaking, took little or no interest, it was that region comprising the Middle East, India and the Indian Ocean, which to the British was, and is, so much more important than the countries bordering the Pacific.
The experience of the last war simply confirmed and accentuated the divergence between the two angles of vision. For the British, the war against Japan was a sideshow as compared with the struggle in Europe. For the Americans, the two wars were approximately equal in scale and significance; if the Chiefs of Staff always maintained the strategic priority of the European fronts, American popular emotions were more deeply committed in Guadalcanal and Okinawa than in Sicily or Normandy. For the British, victory in Europe was the real end of the war, especially as rockets were still falling on London in the last days of the fighting; but for Americans the surrender of Germany taken jointly by the four Allied Powers could never be such a triumph as the capitulation of Japan received on board an American battleship by an American Supreme Commander. Indeed, the circumstances of the conclusion of World War II, which left the United States participating with Britain, France and Russia in the control of Germany and Austria, but with virtually sole responsibility in Japan, meant that America was more profoundly involved as a nation in East Asia than in Europe.
Another difference separating British and American policies in Asia and closely connected with the basic difference of geographical approach was the focus of view on India and on China respectively. Neither the characteristic British concern about India nor the equally characteristic American concern about China can be explained simply in terms of material interest or power politics; there is additionally in each case an emotional fixation, a sense of responsibility and a sentimental attachment which craves for reciprocal affection. The historical relations are indeed at first sight strikingly different in the two cases, for whereas the British governed India as an imperial Power, the Americans are not merely innocent of any former ruling authority in China but are the only nation among the Great Powers of the West which has never annexed or leased territory from China. Nevertheless, the concentration of American idealism on China, represented by intensive missionary and philanthropic activity over a long period, produced in America an attitude not unlike that formed in Britain by generations of imperial tutelage in India.
The respective predilections appeared in the difference of opinion during the war about the desirability of according China Great Power status as one of the Big Five in the United Nations and the anticipated peace conferences. The American Government was very anxious to give China this status (and eventually got its way), but the British did not consider that any useful purpose would be served by laying an exceptional international responsibility on a nation which had not really succeeded in creating a unified modern state before 1937 and had since then suffered shattering disorganization through the Japanese invasion. If, on the other hand, population were to be taken as the criterion of Great Power rank, the British were inclined to urge the claims of India which (at that time including what is now Pakistan) had a population almost equal to China's and a more developed industry and administration. The Americans, for their part, regarded the Indians as a colonial people who had not yet won their Yorktown, not in any way to be compared to the glorious, unconquered Chinese.
An observer of the international scene in 1945 would quite reasonably have judged the future prospects of American-Chinese relations to be far brighter than those of British-Indian relations. In India there was extreme tension, the Congress Party was in non-violent insurrection against a British Raj apparently unwilling to abandon the residue of its power, and in the opinion of many the situation was drifting towards a great catastrophe. In China, on the contrary, the National Government was about to return to its capital after complete victory over the Japanese invader--a victory gained with the decisive aid of the United States--and an era of the closest and most friendly coöperation between Washington and Nanking seemed about to begin. Yet the next five years reversed both prospects. In India, Britain finally ceded sovereignty without bloodshed to two independent successor states, very friendly relations were established with both of them, and both of them chose voluntarily to remain within the free association of the Commonwealth. In China, a civil war meanwhile brought to power a party which as a cardinal principle of its political faith was bitterly hostile to the United States.
It might have been supposed that, as British capital investment in China was still greater than American, and as the new "anti-imperialist," Russia-linked régime threatened not only these investments, but also Hong Kong and less directly Malaya, Britain would have been more shocked and alarmed than America by the Communist victory in China. The fact was just the opposite, and the reasons for it are not far to seek. For a decade Britain had been becoming more and more disengaged from the affairs of China, and America more and more involved in them. The Americans were conscious of having been involved in a great war primarily because of their refusal to abandon the cause of China's independence. If the United States had been willing to allow Japan to dictate terms of peace to a China which had already lost all her principal cities to the invader, there would probably not have been any Japanese-American war at all. When war broke out, its strategy, as far as America was concerned, corresponded to the basic war aim of liberating China. Whereas for Britain the war against Japan meant primarily the defense of India and the recovery of the conquered British territories of Burma and Malaya, the island-hopping advance of the American forces across the Pacific was directed towards the East China Sea. When the Americans captured Okinawa, they were nearer to Shanghai than to Tokyo. Meanwhile, the only relief to blockaded China came from American supplies transported in American aircraft (even though flying from British territory), and the Chinese Generalissimo was provided with an American Chief of Staff. In the event, of course, no American campaign on Chinese soil ever took place, and the capitulation of the unbeaten Japanese army in China, except for Manchuria, was brought about by the blows struck by American air power at Japan herself. But the United States undoubtedly played the decisive part in the liberation of China, and on the day of Japan's surrender it would have been incredible to any American that within half a decade Chinese schoolchildren would be taught that the overthrow of Japan had been accomplished by Chu Teh's guerrillas in conjunction with the invincible army of the Soviet Union.
The conclusion of the Pacific war did not end American involvement in China, but increased it. The United States had undertaken to give war-ravaged China economic and military aid in the postwar period, and in particular to transport Chinese Government troops by sea and air to take over Japanese-occupied areas; on the other hand, the American Government was anxious not to be mixed up in the civil war which was breaking out between Chiang Kai-shek and the Communists. The desire to stop the civil war, however, led America to plunge far more deeply into Chinese internal affairs than if she had merely supplied the recognized Government of China with arms and allowed it to get on with the job of suppressing internal revolt. It is irrelevant in this context to inquire whether the Marshall mediation, together with the imposed truce and the subsequent arms embargo, were entirely due to a humane aspiration to bring about peace in China or whether they reflected in part a surreptitious Communist influence on American foreign policy at that time. For the historian the essential fact is that America did assume responsibility for settling the affairs of China, and the disastrous sequel to these efforts could not but leave the American people with a strong sense of frustration and humiliation.
Even though American action at the end of 1945 had had the effect of depriving the National Government of its only chance of victory, the final outcome of the civil war appeared to both Chinese and Americans as a Communist triumph not only over the Kuomintang but also over the United States, and the cup of defeat has been all the more bitter for Americans to swallow because of the traditional special friendship between the two countries. The fact that for the last two and a half years a Chinese army has been killing American soldiers has hurt the American nation as a whole less than the outrageous misrepresentation of the American record in the Far East and the denunciation of past generosity in medicine and education to a backward China as "cultural aggression." The Chinese Communists are not merely a Marxist-Leninist party which has gained power in yet another country; they are, above all, an anti-American faction which has alienated the affections of the Chinese people from China's best friend. For this reason, America is basically unwilling to accept what happened in China as an irreversible decision or to admit that the "People's Republic" represents China as a nation. The British, on the other hand, do not share this attitude, and on account of their different relation to China in recent years have great difficulty even in understanding it. The British have viewed China since 1945 with the matter-of-fact detachment of a spectator who feels himself quite outside the game. They have no sense of failure because they have not tried to achieve anything; they are not greatly disappointed because they never expected postwar China to be stable; they do not like the new régime, but they think it has come to stay and hold that it must be accepted as an accomplished fact.
This difference of attitudes is primarily a matter of feeling, but it corresponds to a contrast of strategic preoccupations more definable in terms of national interest. As a result of the Pacific war, America has acquired a strategic "frontier" in the western Pacific, running down from Alaska through the Aleutians, Japan and Okinawa to the Philippines, over against the Russo-Chinese power bloc on the mainland of Asia. This defensive system is the Pacific counterpart of the Atlantic-European system, with its frontier from Norway to Turkey, in which America participates as a member of NATO. In the event of a war between the Soviet Union and the NATO Powers there would inevitably be from the outset a fighting front in the northern Pacific as well as in Europe and the Atlantic. The situation now is quite different from what it was in World War II. There was then ultimately a Pacific as well as a European war, but they were geographically separate spheres of conflict; Germany had no territorial base in the Far East; and Japan, though engaged in hostilities in China, remained neutral in relation to the European war for more than two years after its outbreak. The Soviet Union, on the other hand, straddles Europe and Asia, so that any crisis which involved the United States in an armed conflict in Europe would mean also a Russo-American war on the other side of the world.
More specifically, there are three dangers against which American strategic planning has to provide. In the first place, Siberia is less than a hundred miles from Alaska at the nearest point, and this is the only area in which it would be practicable for Russia to attempt an incursion into the North American continent; such a move might have but little real military importance, but the psychological effect of "carrying the war into America" would be so great that it would be essential to meet the attack successfully. Secondly, even though Russia lacks sea power comparable to that of Japan in 1941, the Pacific would probably be infested with Russian submarines from Siberian bases, and long-range missile-bearing aircraft might strike from Kamchatka at Hawaii and Seattle. Thirdly, Russia would probably attempt an invasion of Japan in order to gain control of her industrial capacity and skilled labor for war purposes. The entire burden of defense against all these possible strategic threats (which are implied in a hypothetical war with Russia, whether China is a belligerent or not) must be borne by the United States and Canada, with local assistance from the Japanese National Safety Corps in defending Japan. On the Atlantic side, in contrast, Britain and France are in the first line for any conflict with Russia, and there is no Russian territorial base close to North America.
Thus, even though it may be argued among the NATO Powers that Europe would be the main and decisive theater of war, America is much more directly exposed to hostile operations on the Pacific than on the Atlantic side and has to provide for a Pacific front without any of the European nations, but only Canada, as an ally. This fact cannot fail to influence American thinking about the Far East, the more so as America's European allies are not merely absent in the northern Pacific but seem to be quite unaware that a strategic problem exists there. For Britain and France the Far Eastern danger in a general war would be the hostile belligerency of China involving attacks on Hong Kong, Hanoi, Saigon and Singapore; the Soviet Far East does not come into the picture at all, nor does anything east or north of Hong Kong, which has become an absolute terminus of strategic interest. For America, on the other hand, the hostile belligerency of China would signify in the first place a southward extension of the Siberia-Alaska-Japan war theater, and China would be dangerous, not only as a springboard for invasions of Southeast Asia, but also as a base for air raids and airborne landings against Kyushu, Okinawa and Luzon. It is in this context that Formosa is strategically important; it covers the approaches from the mainland of China to Okinawa and Luzon. It does not, however, in any way cover Hong Kong, Indo-China or Malaya, and its fate is therefore a matter of indifference in the limited Anglo-French view of Far Eastern defense.
In the world as seen from London or Paris the Far East is above all "far." It is further away than is to be measured by mere distance in miles on the surface of the globe, for there are many countries intervening, and a space occupied by crowded lands is psychologically much greater than an expanse of empty sea such as lies between Seattle and Tokyo. But the Soviet army on the Elbe is terribly near. Britain and France have endured a European war at close quarters twice within 40 years, and all their political and strategic thinking is conditioned by their experience. France has been twice invaded and partially or completely occupied by hostile forces; to all Frenchmen who are not Communists the prospect of a Russian conquest (which would also be in part an East German one) is indescribably horrible. Britain, though not actually invaded, has been endangered in both wars by submarine blockade and in the last war was heavily bombarded from the Continent by bomber aircraft, flying bombs and rockets. With the addition of atomic weapons to offensive armaments and the further development of rockets and guided missiles, Britain faces a prospect of appalling devastation in any future war in Europe, and the supreme aim of her strategy in hostilities against Russia must be to hold the front as near to the Elbe as possible, so as to prevent a break-through into Holland, Belgium and northern France. So vital is this purpose both for Britain and France that almost everything else in the world seems to them of quite minor importance. Their governments desire to achieve the maximum concentration of the defense forces available to NATO (including the American) against a possible Russian drive into Western Europe and are desperately anxious lest any conflict in some other part of the world should seriously divert these forces away from the European front. This has been the basic motive of the European, and particularly British, pressure on the United States to refrain from any extension of the Korean war by direct action against Communist China.
Unfortunately, by one of those political developments which bring together people of the most diverse aims and views in support of a single line of policy, the British determination to reduce the risk of strategic diversion in the Far East has got so mixed up with the sympathies for the new China prevailing in certain left-wing circles, wishful expectations that Mao Tse-tung will become a Tito, and hopes for a revival of trade with China, that many Americans cannot see anything in the current British attitude to Far Eastern affairs but pro-Communism and commercial greed. The record of Sir Winston Churchill should indeed be a sufficient guarantee for any open-minded American citizen that British official policy is neither made in the Kremlin nor dictated by the merchants of Hong Kong. But it is beyond question that the issue of relations with China has been the most serious cause of friction between Britain and the United States since the end of World War II. Fundamentally, in spite of the tendency (which is not new) for London and Washington to adopt different views on the international law of de jure recognition, there is no real conflict of principle; the essence of the matter is that the British instinctively feel that war with China is something which must be avoided or kept within limits, whatever the provocation, while Americans, convinced of the justice of their cause, have had no comparable sense of risk in seeking a victorious outcome to the struggle in Korea. When the Englishman thinks of the Yalu, he never forgets the Elbe; it is only too easy, in spite of NATO, for the American to forget it.
In so far as Britain is willing to make any substantial diversion of strength from Europe, it would be not to the Far East and the Pacific, but to the Middle East and the Indian Ocean. In 1940, while Britain was still in danger of invasion, Churchill took the risk of sending reinforcements to Egypt. Five of the independent members of the Commonwealth and several of the remaining territories of the British Empire are grouped round the Indian Ocean--Australia to the east, Malaya, Ceylon, India, Pakistan and the British Arabian protectorates to the north, Kenya and South Africa to the west. There are also the Middle East oil interests, complete loss of which would be a crippling disaster for Britain as a Great Power. This sphere of British policy is secondary to Europe, but has a priority far exceeding anything beyond Singapore. There is also as a diplomatic consequence of the British focus on the Indian Ocean a strong pull on British policy by India, which has been an additional factor of disturbance in British-American relations. Ever since India became independent there has been an effort on the side of Britain to adjust British policies in Asia to Indian views whenever possible and to avoid giving Delhi any ground for suspicion that India was not being regarded as a fully sovereign entity in the field of foreign affairs. In the United States, on the other hand, where there was formerly such widespread sympathy for Indian nationalism in its struggle to get rid of British rule, the policy actually pursued by an independent India has come as a very disagreeable shock and has been a cause of considerable annoyance. Mr. Nehru's ostentatious neutralism in the "cold war," the sympathetic attitude of India towards Communist China, and the Indian leadership of the so-called bloc of Asian and Arab states in the United Nations, all tend to produce tensions between India and the United States and these react on British-American relations because of the constant British desire to conciliate India and give full consideration to the Indian point of view. There is certainly a good case for arguing that this is, in any event, worthwhile in the general interest of the free world; thus, for example, the fact that the United Nations Assembly adopted the resolution on prisoners of war in Korea which was sponsored by India had the effect of morally isolating the Communist bloc on that issue. Nevertheless, the special association of Britain with the nation which of all non-Communist countries shows the greatest partiality for Communist China has obvious dangers for British-American harmony.
The history of the last five years shows that increases of Communist pressure in Europe tend to bring Britain and America closer together, while increases in the Far East tend to drive them apart. From the point of view of the Kremlin, the lesson to be drawn must, therefore, be to go slow in Europe but to keep the pot boiling in the Far East. There are some indications, even though it is still too early for any definite judgment, that the "new" Russian policy adopted since the death of Stalin has as its principal aim the separation of Britain and America, and that in so far as a real détente is intended it will be confined to Europe. If in the present political moods of Britain and America, Russian diplomacy concentrates on the explosive issue of the seating of Communist China in the United Nations, it will have a chance to wreck the whole structure of alliances laboriously built up for the security of the free world since 1947.
The most recent exchange of recriminations across the Atlantic must have made Stalin turn in his tomb in envy of his successor. It is certainly not going to be easy to achieve an adjustment of British and American policies over Far Eastern problems. But the more understanding there is in each country of the fundamental geographical and historical factors which determine the differing national approaches to these problems, the better will be the prospect of reaching agreement and of avoiding emotional reactions which take no account of the distinction between going east and going west to get to Cathay.