World War III?


Sunday, August 10, 2014

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"WHEN you think it's peace and safety, it's sudden destruction!" How profoundly true that that adage resonates in the present circumstances of global events, which as the quote implies, can simply overturn years of hope and assiduous planning in a mere moment.

The recent downing of Malaysian Air flight MH17 has further aggravated the issues of sanctions and sabre-rattling between the West and Russia over Ukraine. This latest unfortunate incident broadened the unease by drawing Malaysia, the Netherlands, Australia, etc, into the radius of this crisis in Eastern Europe.

In addition to these incidents in Europe, there are the tensions between China and the US-Japan alliance in the East. The situation in the East joins an even more complex set of sensitivities and interests, over Sino expansionist ambitions within the Pacific rim. The reality of this concern was evidenced recently with a rather reckless Chinese confrontation with its traditional ally Vietnam, arising from the movement of an oil-drilling platform into a disputed section of the South China Sea.

Those with a bit of knowledge of the historical makings of World Wars I and II will be quietly uneasy as I am with these happenings in Eastern Europe and in the South China Sea. That disquiet comes from the cognisance that the wide interconnectivity of the nations related to these crises spots can have the chain-reaction to literally explode into the long-feared apocalyptic "Third World War".

Globally, we have just commemorated the centenary of WWI. And those skilful pens that wrote the history for us didn't exactly tell us that the two world wars were hegemonic struggles between imperialist ambitions, and didn't point to the protagonists.

In the case of WWI, the underlying trigger was the Anglo-Frank effort to hedge-in and contain well-accomplished German industrial development, which resulted in that country emerging as a major supplier of premium machinery and equipment onto the world stage, and as a competitor for raw materials, which could have impacted the Anglo-Frank status quo.

With WWII, it was the same set of players in Europe (with the Germans determined to re-emerge after defeat), and US actions in the Pacific to challenge and hedge-in the emerging Japanese industrialisation and imperialist ambitions that were occurring within Japan's natural geographic sphere. Of course we were taught otherwise as to who were the "aggressors" in the Pacific.

The current efforts of the West to contain both Russia and China are therefore reminiscent of the precursory situations to the two catastrophic world wars. And, having only read of these historic events, I am appalled to think that I might likely be witnessing the igniting of the "war of all wars". As with all conflagrations, it only needs one stupid spark that we cannot retract.

The real concern and dilemma for us here in Jamaica, however, is that, irrespective of whether or not these global tensions explode into actual war, the polarisation and hegemonic actions which are occurring are almost certain to impact us negatively.

It will affect the hopeful resurgence of our bauxite-alumina industry from our Russian-owned plants. It is useful to remind ourselves that these investments came in at a time of low Western demand and interest in Jamaica's bauxite-alumina industry. Since aluminum is a strategic (war) metal, and with Russian bauxite-alumina interest here in Jamaica, the US-dominated West might just choose to place sanctions on supplies coming out of our region to that country, in a rehash of the Monroe Doctrine. It is not unthinkable therefore, that Russian cargo ships could in casualty be "blockaded" from Jamaican ports. And I hope never to see us drawn into a scenario of expropriating Russian property assets here.

The other vital issue, is the much-needed prospective Chinese investment in the logistics hub that we have worked so tirelessly to attract, and on which we hedge so much -- irrespective of whether or not the final site is Goat Islands. As noted, a subtle deterioration is taking place in the relations between China and the US, over America's support for Japan. These confrontations are stirring deep underlying rifts that are difficult to ameliorate in the short term in order to maintain the earlier trade levels.

This emerging re-polarisation will no doubt affect strategic thinking. The US is on an obvious plan for global economic resurgence, leveraging its new shale-oil capacity. Production expansion of shale-oil has given the US both energy independence and new export ambitions, particularly into Europe and to Japan, with their desperate energy needs.

The US can thus afford to be more assertive and essentially more reckless in the geo-politics of these two regions, with the awareness that it will be the certain economic and strategic beneficiary.

China, on the other hand, now has lucrative exploits in Africa and South East Asia for both raw materials and markets. The Chinese may well regard that they have already exploited over two decades of massive sales into the US market, from which they accrued enormous trade surplus and foreign reserves.

Hence, they may reckon that they can perhaps now substitute for the US market elsewhere in these emerging regions. Plus, China has a new focus on developing its home market, with less of a dependence on the US market. Access to the US market must have been the primary objective for the Chinese in their search for a Caribbean hub.

If the overall situation deteriorates significantly, the US may also apply protectionist measures as part of the strategy to restore American consumer industries. Plus, the US knows fully well that it can historically tease and ramp up its "war economy" to help boost economic recovery.

As a response, China could de-emphasise market and geo-politcal interest in the Caribbean Basin and strategically head for South America. Such a shift is not unfounded, particularly with Brazil's involvement in the recent formation of the BRICS development bank and Argentina's default situation aptly strengthening the influence of Sino assistance on the South American continent. The summary issue is that such a scenario will lessen Chinese interest in setting up a logistics hub in Jamaica.

Whew! I hope that all those reflections are just alarmist imagining on my part and never a reality, whether in regard to our domestic economic interest or for the cloud of global apocalypse. And if readers will permit me one last fearful imagining, it is that if the worse happens, and a new world war indeed comes, that it will not this time escape the Americas.




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