April 20, 2008

Too powerful?

In a comment on my previous post It's the analysis, Nitin makes the point that we should distinguish between a government and the citizens of a country. So while Indian citizens "should be free" to protest against China, the Indian government should not antagonize "more powerful" China, because this is "not in India's interest."

This is, he says "a Realist interpretation of international relations."

A previous comment on the same post made much the same point, putting it this way: "The fact is that China is too powerful, too big, and too important for countries to risk confrontation with it."

Two responses:

  • What is a government, especially in a democracy, except an expression of the country's citizens? What else do any number of citizens' groups do, with protests and petitions and meetings with their elected representatives, except try to influence the actions of their government? It would be a foolish government that tried to act in ways counter to its citizens' aspirations.

    Besides, let's say huge numbers of Indian citizens follow their conscience and protest against China, which is what Nitin says they should feel free to do. Would China ignore such protest, distinguishing between government and citizenry? If the Indian government told China the protest was only citizens expressing themselves, would China sit back mollified?

    I don't see the distinction Nitin makes.

  • In 1938, aware of the growing sabre-rattling by Hitler in his demand for German lebensraum, the British Prime Minister Neville Chamberlain made a trip to Munich to meet him. He returned to London with a piece of paper, the "Munich Agreement" between him and Hitler that "gave" the Czech province of Sudetenland to Germany. This appeasement of a powerful and important state, and not confrontation, was what Chamberlain famously claimed would bring "peace for our time".

    The Munich Agreement did not slow down Hitler's aggression. Not only did Germany occupy the Sudetenland, it also overran Poland, and within a year, Europe was in another great war.

    Luckily, England found a leader with more backbone only months into the war, one who didn't mind "risking confrontation" with "more powerful" Germany, and eventually won a terrible war. His name: Winston Churchill.

    Seems to me it was Churchill -- and not Chamberlain who tried not to "antagonize" Germany -- who was the realist. Seems to me that rather than subsiding behind "they're too powerful", standing up for what you believe is realism.

    Sidhusaaheb said...

    Ever since the development of nuclear weapons, the equations between countries have changed considerably, I believe, and that is another factor that has to be taken into account.

    I don't think that even the 'big and powerful' China can afford a prolonged conventional war with India now that India also has a nuclear arsenal.

    The fact that China is one of India's most prominent trading partners is perhaps of greater significance now, therefore, than the balance of military power between the two countries.

    Anonymous said...

    This could setup an interesting discussion. I hope it does.

    I guess the govt will move in the direction indicated by resolving myriad differently directed different sized vectors of various agitating groups.

    If we extrapolate and include costs considerations into it, ie. a citizen's group says something on these lines:

    - this is what we feel should be done
    - X are the costs we know can be exacted upon us for so doing
    - Y are the costs we are willing to bear
    - A are the costs our actions will impose on others here who may or may not agree with our course
    - B we think are the costs they may be willing to bear
    - we recognize we have no way of knowing B exactly but work actively towards getting it equal to Y.
    - we recognize scope for error in all parameters above and are open to re-strategizing dynamically.

    I for one would advise a govt I was part of to take them more seriously into formulating policy.


    PS: Used to be some old rule that bringing in Hitler / genocide / holocaust was like automatic defeat for the POV that took it. But now observed more in the breach, across several blogs. Looks like things have changed.

    Vivek Kumar said...

    @jai: The rule simply says that the longer an internet discussion goes on, the higher is the probability that someone would invoke a comparison with Hitler in the discussion. The rule does not say anything about the validity of such comparisons.

    More here.

    Dilip D'Souza said...

    For what it's worth, and if it makes any difference, my comparison was with Chamberlain. Not Hitler.

    Anonymous said...

    Thanks Vivek and Dilip. When we set opinion X up as Chamberlain's, we do get Hitler into the picture, one way or the other.

    But I agree the comparison of Sudetenland/ Tibet is very apt. While I still dont think there is a similar threat here (China 2008 vis-a-vis Nazi Germany 1938), it could be more based on hope than realism and perhaps a feeling that no state today can go to that extent.

    PS: BTW my earlier list on cost-aware agitations is my general peeve with all agitations.

    Destination Infinity said...

    What I don't understand in the analysis of the run-up to the second world war is: What was Britan's need to get involved in the affairs of central Europe?. Why Britan forced a war on Germany, when Hitler was not intent on fighting the British? (The consequences being good or bad is totally a different issue). Maybe we would have got rid of Stalin, whose crime rate is no less than Hitler. Only he killed more and more his own people directly or through his policies.

    The British, if you see, throughout the history of their existence, have always been interested in others affairs, than their own. So no wonder their cousins, are having the same interests (USA).

    Destination Infinity.

    Anonymous said...

    I have always been bothered by the version of history that Churchill had a backbone that Chamberlain lacked. If we review the events of 1939-40 we see that well after Churchill took over as premier, and well after the invasion of Denmark, Norway and Poland, the British and their French allies did precious little real fighting to stop the Germans. There were a few pitched naval battles in Norway, but nothing at all on the ground. Had the allies attacked Hitler while he was busy for six weeks in Poland, they would have almost certainly avoided the ignominy of the fall of the Maginot line in 1940. My point is that Britain under Churchill did not take the fight to the Germans at all. It was the Germans who forced the British and French into the war by directly attacking them in France and during the Battle of Britain. In short, Churchill did nothing proactive to stop Hitler. He fought a purely defensive war.

    What Churchill did give was a number of speeches that his compatriots found rousing. But is it really clear that the always superior British naval forces and the (by 1941) superior air forces would not have stopped Hitler anyway?

    Meanwhile the real job of putting Hitler on the defensive was carried out by the Russians, long before the Normandy landings. OK, there was some skirmishing in El Alamein, but that wasn't the psychological heart of the war. Hitler would have taken ten defeats like El Alameins if he had been granted victory in Volgofrad.


    Anonymous said...

    Sorry, that's Volgograd!


    Dilip D'Souza said...

    Ravi, thank you. I think history (and me in this case), has been a little unfair to Chamberlain. He will forever be linked with the word "appeasement".

    I've been thinking about it, and I think the reason I picked his example is that he was decidedly wrong in assuming that the Munich Agreement would stop Hitler. Chamberlain seemed to think that Britain should not antagonize this major power, and that was his mistake.

    Destination Infinity said...

    @Ravi: The French did little fighting! They were taken over by the blitzkrieg of the German Tankers and Luftwaffe. France was not able to do anything against that. I dont remember the name of the place, but almost a lakh of (mainly English) soldiers in France (there to help France in war) were allowed by Hitler to escape through the Sea when they were caught in a beach in Northern France, totally surrounded by the Germans.The Germans infact did not move in for two whole days. I dont see that provocative!

    Hitler never wanted to fight England. But he was sure that England would attack, if he directed all his energies towards Russia. That would have been fatal.France was a different matter altogether. Hitler infact, had a high opinion about the Nordic race, which the people of UK belong to and even indicates in Mein Kampf that England was a potential ally. Till the WAR MONGER Churchill stepped in. If Churchill had not declared a war against Germany, Hitler would not have attacked England. Lot of lives (On English) side would have been saved, and maybe they could have retained some of their colonies. Good luck for India, and bad luck for Hitler and Churchill.

    Destination Infinity.

    Anonymous said...

    The name of the place was Dunkirk in Belgium. The reason that the Germans did not attack the French and British on the beaches was that Herman Goering, the Luftwaffe boss persuaded Hitler that his airforce alone could finish of the ground forces. Meanwhile, bad weather for two days meant that the Luftwaffe was grounded. By the time Hitler woke up to the "miracle at Dunkirk" and sent his army in, the British had evacuated all their forces and more than half of the trapped French army.
    This particular escape was not because of Hitler's reluctance to fight the British.

    French courage and heroism have also been badly treated by history. The fact of the matter was that the French army leadership was badly outmanouevered by the Germans. They sent their armies rushing into Belgium, allowing the Germans to break through the Ardennes in the south. The French (and British) also did not realised the the World War I era fortified defences were obsolete in an air war. The Germans, having broken through cut off the French from France by racing to the English channel south of the French armies, trapping them in a pocket in Belgium. More remarkably, the French had kept no troops in reserve at all, a fact which dumbfounded Churchill who had assumed that they had some forces to fall back on.

    In spite of this debacle, individual French units did fight with great courage. They were simply overpowered by superior weaponry, tactics and numbers. Recall that in 1939 Germany had a population about 1.6 times that of France, so he (the Fatherland!) could always mobilise far more troops.

    This is a brief summary of the relevant chapter ("Blitzkrieg in the West") of William Shirer's "Rise and Fall of the Third Reich". I don't have access to the book, so I may be mistaken in some details, but I think that in the large, everything is OK.


    Anonymous said...

    Again, I am sorry to post an addendum, but that should read "Blitzkrieg in the West"? since I am not sure of the chapter title.


    Bharat Rajawat said...

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