Fairfax Press Fail: Donald Trump Is Not Like Germans, Nazis

AN EXTRAORDINARILY GROTESQUE attempt by the Fairfax press to liken Republican presidential hopeful Donald Trump to World War I-era Germans and to Nazis should be sneeringly dismissed; Trump is many things, and some conservatives view his right wing populism with contempt. Even so, Trump’s pitch is grounded in a revolt against the US liberal Left. Fellow travellers in Australia — and at Fairfax — would do well to heed the warning signs.

To date, as readers know, I have declined to comment on the early stages of the 2016 US presidential race being played out ahead of the primary season that kicks off early next year; for one thing, this point in the US political cycle is little more substantial than the silly season now descending on our own polity; for another, and with an eye to the farce that played out on the Republican side four years ago, I’m reticent about declaring anybody to be a frontrunner: last time, just about every starting candidate in the field had their five minutes at the top of the pack before sinking into obscurity, withdrawal and/or disgrace.

However, the likelihood that property and media billionaire Donald Trump will emerge as the GOP nominee for next year’s presidential election — and, potentially, as President of the United States — is growing, and it seems no matter what he says (and no matter what his opponents, both within the Republican Party and elsewhere, throw at him), his popularity among likely voters is proving far deeper and more durable than 2012 flameouts such as Rick Perry, Herman Cain, and the candidate I originally supported, former Speaker Newt Gingrich.

With that in mind, I note the shrill and increasingly panicked denunciations Trump is eliciting from an alarmed liberal* press across America and, indeed, around the world; and it is on account of a particularly insidious piece by Martin Flanagan in The Age today that I find myself commenting on the Republican presidential primary season rather earlier than I had intended.

It seems to be a stock tactic these days, of left wing political parties across the world, to accuse conservative contenders of being likely to start wars; in the US, eventual 2012 Republican nominee Mitt Romney was pilloried for remarks that bluntly stated Russia was America’s greatest strategic and military threat, and subjected to a diatribe that boiled down to World War III and Armageddon being a mere vote for Romney away; I don’t believe for a minute that Romney would have initiated military conflict with Russia, but subsequent events have shown that his judgement of the threat posed by Russia under Vladimir Putin was deadly accurate.

Similar sentiments were articulated about John McCain in 2008; closer to home, of course, Kevin Rudd baselessly proclaimed in 2013 that an Abbott government would result in a war between Australia and Indonesia (it didn’t).

In this vein, the attempt to liken Trump to Kaiser Wilhelm II — the German ruler who presided over his country’s disastrous military confrontation with Allied forces, at the cost of millions of German and Allied lives — and Adolf Hitler’s Nazi Party is grotesque, and an unforgivable transgression of the bounds of fair comment by a supposedly professional Australian journalist.

It isn’t hard to ascertain the reason for the latest wave of anti-Trump hysteria among the global left wing commentariat: his recent edict that all immigration to the USA by Muslims would cease if he were elected President in November; the Left has become complacent in lecturing and prescribing social positions aimed at destroying the values and foundations of Western liberal civilisation, and accustomed to having its brilliant pronouncements accepted and implemented, verbatim, as the creeping slither of hard state socialism continues its odious infiltration and undermining of the free world.

Any concerted resistance the Left faces must, it follows, be slapped down at almost any cost, and the more damage it inflicts on its enemies in the process, the better.

But the problem is that all too often, the Left overreaches, and when it does — far from contriving to destroy the opponents of its ugly world view — its ridiculous and sometimes downright dangerous utterances are most damaging to itself.

So it is beginning to prove in the case of Donald Trump.

Likening Trump to the figures responsible for initiating the two most destructive and catastrophic conflagrations in human history should and will backfire, and I would be interested to know whether Flanagan — in compiling his silly and offensive piece — was egged on or otherwise provided with fodder by his counterparts in the USA.

There seems to be a chain of inferences and insinuations that are not explicitly spelt out in Flanagan’s piece, which I gather the reader is intended to play “connect the dots” with, and to heed the dog whistle it constitutes. The concept of Social Democrats as the enemy. Talk of the Kaiser becoming a rabid anti-Semite. The introduction of the Kaiser’s war of “Slavdom against Germandom” as a casual method of accusing Trump of racism. The focus on Hitler and on Fascism as the endpoint of this progression, with the clear implication Trump might as well have a swastika tattooed to his forehead.

There is also the small matter of Trump’s ancestry — his great-grandparents were German immigrants to the USA — that Flanagan doesn’t bother to mention (or if he did, would in likelihood simply present as further “proof” of his case against Trump); this is just too subtle an omission to allow to go unnoticed, and illustrates one of the great hypocrisies of the Left: its enemies are to be excoriated for lumping all Muslims into the category of “terrorists,” for example. But as Trump is of German descent, he is basically a German, and therefore as bad as Kaiser Wilhelm II and Adolf Hitler. The fallacious logic and cavalier malice in such blatant double standards are breathtaking.

(Flanagan even sneaks in mention of the Left’s favourite Australian hate figure, Tony Abbott, baselessly and perhaps libellously — in the context of the tone of his article — calling him “another World War I figure” and suggesting he would send soldiers to pointless slaughter just for the hell of it. It is beneath despicable).

Flanagan equates the Kaiser’s “scorn for democracy” with “the way Trump scorns political correctness as an impediment to clear thinking and immediate solutions:” this facile statement is based on a false premise, for Trump — far from attempting to circumvent the ballot box — is seeking to win the potential votes of hundreds of millions of registered voters; the Kaiser Wilhelm II was a hereditary monarch. The real meat in the assertion is that Trump is an enemy of political correctness (read: the prescriptive state socialism of the hard Left) who must be smashed by the clenched fist of the global Left.

Frankly, anyone who stands against such insidious and doctrinaire positions is to be lauded; it remains to be seen whether Trump is electable, but at the very minimum no-one can accuse him of pliability where the anti-Western forces of the leftist junta are concerned, and for that much at least, he warrants a hearing.

It is true that Trump, as voting in the first state primaries draws near, has said things that are outrageous, provocative, and designed to maximise the publicity he attracts, but rather than dismiss him as a lunatic (as the Left is wont to do) a more considered view than idiot-simple rants of the kind Flanagan has engaged in today suggests a shrewd, calculated and intelligent pitch — highly organised and professional, even — that has identified a coalition of voters the Trump camp believes can propel it into the White House, and upon which it has been singularly focused.

Equating him to the historical enemies of the West who systematically raped, gassed and slaughtered millions of innocents is not only offensive, but likelier than not to drive even more American voters into Trump’s embrace. Then again, I did make the point that the Left’s approach to what it believes is the enemy — its own enemies — is more often than not counterproductive, and I daresay Flanagan is simply following the trend.

I’m in two minds about the suitability of Donald Trump as President of the United States — part of me thinks he’d be brilliant, and part of me thinks he’d be bloody awful — but his business nous, his connections, and his undeniable patriotism mark him at the very least as someone with some of the tools required to discharge the post if successful. With 11 months until the votes are counted, there remains plenty of time to ascertain what defects might accompany those virtues, and how deleterious they might prove if Trump is elected: if, that is, he manages to secure the Republican nomination in the first place.

I do, however, think the prospect Trump will prevail is growing more probable, and especially if the Democratic nominee, as expected, is Hillary Clinton: one is the champion of just about everything the liberal Left stands for, and the other the polar opposite of it. Right now, if pressed to pick the winner between the two, I’d expect Trump to defeat Hillary.

With growing evidence in most Western countries that people at large are tiring of being told what to say, what to think, what to do and who to unquestioningly defer to, a candidate like Trump comes to this contest with a rich seam of public anger to tap into.

Former President Richard Nixon used to speak of the “silent majority” in America — it’s also a phrase I have used from time to time in tearing into the same insidious claptrap the Left propagates here in Australia — and it is this constituency of ordinary Americans, disaffected and shunned by the Left’s mission to turn the world into some open-border, wealth redistributing, thought-dictated and tightly controlled illiberal ecosystem that Trump is trying to harness.

Whether the Left likes it or not (and irrespective of who is right and who is wrong) people, broadly, are fed up with attempts to legislate their thought, speech and behaviour out of existence.

They are fed up with having pre-determined positions on issues imposed on them as “fact” — irrespective of the moral, ethical, legal or actual veracity of those positions — and then abused and publicly humiliated as “deniers, “skeptics,” “flat-Earthers,” and other accusations of heresy to paint them as ignorant reprobates and figures of ridicule.

They are fed up with being told their countries are international embarrassments and moral abominations by the Left when its own agenda is to destroy forever the fabric and values that underpins those countries in the first place.

They are fed up with governments that make little secret of their prioritisation of third world countries and sometimes murderous despots over the people who already live in their countries, and their welfare: the first responsibility of any elected government is to its own people, not to someone else, and the will in democratic countries to ensure that responsibility is honoured is growing stronger.

And ordinary people are fed up with a narrow band of chattering elites, drunk on Chardonnay and shaking their fingers at anyone or anything that moves in a contrary direction, telling them that their views, aspirations, and even their existence is meaningless compared to the “superior” agenda they seek to enforce.

America might or might not elect Donald Trump as its 45th President.

Whether it does or not, the popular uprising that buoys Trump’s current public standing is unlikely to be an isolated phenomenon. The “silent majority” — in the US, in the UK, here in Australia and elsewhere — is fed up with the drivel the Left is trying to impose on the free world.

If nothing else, Trump’s rise serves potent notice on the Left that its time is passing, and passing fast; all over the world, those who either seek to spread the Left’s agenda directly or who cheer it on from the sidelines — in a stupid opinion piece in the Fairfax press, for example — would do well to heed the warning signs currently emanating from the Republican nominating contest.

When the “silent majority” turns, its strike will be savage and swift; and the moral poseurs of today will become society’s pariahs tomorrow unless they abandon their seditious subterranean campaign to destroy it.

That is what Trump really represents, and it is why the likes of Flanagan and his brethren across the world are jumping all over him. Their panic is real, and their need urgent. They can hardly say they haven’t been warned.

 

*I use the word “liberal” today, of course, in its classic left-of-centre context, as it applies in US political discourse, and which has nothing to do with our own Liberal Party here in Australia.

 

Putin’s Russia: The Nuclear Red Line In Ukraine

AS THE UNITED STATES considers supplying so-called “lethal military aid” to the pro-Western regime in Ukraine, Russia’s nuclear sabre rattling goes on: now taking the form of “warnings” by retired Russian generals relaying “messages” from Moscow. As threats of war continue, and treacherous American dogs blame Washington for “nuclear aggression,” the Cold War — irrespective of whether it leads to any shooting — is well and truly back on.

Taking a little time to myself as I am this long weekend — a vicious brawl on Twitter with union stooges notwithstanding, which I may comment upon later — this morning’s post is intended only as the briefest of follow ups (for now) on a subject we touched on in cursory terms a fortnight ago.

I refer those readers who did not see my post in March about threats from Russia based on the circumstances in which it would launch nuclear strikes against NATO (which was most readers, actually: nobody is interested in the threat of nuclear war when it gets waved around these days, which is actually part of the point) to read it now, for even if nothing ever comes of the sabre rattling and menacing posture that is Russia today, little will in fact be achieved by simply ignoring it, or — worse — allowing political “leaders” to appease Russia and, in so doing, embolden it.

And as I have several times now when the subject of a prospective third world war comes up, I urge (nay, beseech) readers to watch this movie which, despite being a mere fiction, is realistic enough and adequately considered to drive home the point that even if actual nuclear war is not in prospect, every effort ought to be made to stop the likes of Russian President Vladimir Putin using it as an almost dismissive conversational piece and veiled threat.

The reason for this fairly short post (and I will be back again later today, probably in the afternoon) is simply to share with those who haven’t seen it an article carried in The Australian on Thursday that relays the disturbing message of a group of retired military specialists from Russia that not only is Putin apparently serious with his nuclear bluster, but that from a cultural perspective the Russian people seem to actually believe and expect it.

One might say it’s the obvious path for an autocrat playing to nationalistic fervour domestically to cover the (voluble) flaws in his government to pursue.

But my point in raising this again today is that talking about nuclear warfare — implicitly threatening nuclear strikes for this-and-that (and in scenarios far more plausible than, say, North Korea’s idiotic bluster about “nuclear wars erupting at any moment”) — all feeds into the notion of lowering the threshold for the use of nuclear weapons; generally you don’t hear nuclear-armed powers going around threatening to nuke anyone who pisses them off because of the inherent risk that someone else might strike first, fearing the threats are not bluster.

We now know — from this report, and others like it published in Europe — that had NATO opted to intervene directly in Ukraine, Russia was prepared to respond with nuclear weapons.

In a likely pointer to Putin’s next acquisition targets, we are told that any Russian exercise in the Baltic states that meets with military interference from NATO will result in Russia using its nuclear armaments against NATO.

And where this becomes more than a little worrisome centres on the plan — still unfinalised, thankfully — being mulled by Barack Obama to supply “lethal military aid” to Ukrainian forces fighting Russian-backed insurgents and guerilla fighters on Ukrainian soil, for this too has been singled out by the Russians as possible grounds for a non-conventional retaliation against the United States.

Just to muddy the waters, a quick Google search is all it takes to find a mountain of articles by treacherous anti-US American crackpots (like this and this) who either directly accuse the Obama administration — defective as it is — of actively seeking to foment all out nuclear conflict with Russia, and/or who seek to propagate all manner of anti-American conspiracy theories (such as the recent Germanwings tragedy, which is portrayed as a failed missile test rather than the pilot suicide it was).

What this rubbish proves, starkly, is that the old Cold War practices of infiltration, disinformation and deception are well and truly alive.

I remain reasonably sure that nothing will come of any of this, and that Putin’s bluster and unsubtle threats of nuclear retaliation for any Western meddling in Russia’s military and territorial aspirations are just that: bluster.

Even so, in such a fraught context, the last thing America should be doing is arming the Ukrainian military with lethal munitions to fight Russian-backed soldiers; the closeness of such an action to an outright armed confrontation with Russia itself makes such an action unforgivable in its potential to trigger some kind of escalation that could easily get out of hand.

The Russians, for their part, should hold off on the open threats of nuclear retaliation; as we have observed previously, they don’t help anyone or achieve anything.

Yet whichever way you cut it, the Cold War has well and truly recommenced: and it is why, whilst I am not worried in any immediate sense as to where that might lead, it amazes me that of all the traffic that comes through this site the articles dealing with strategic balance and the situation between Russia and its allies and the West receive the fewest visits of anything published in this column.

Overt Threats Of Nuclear Attack By Russia Help No-One

AN ISSUE OVERDUE for discussion involves Russian President Vladimir Putin’s remarks that had Russia been confronted militarily over its annexation of Crimea or its mischief in Ukraine, it was ready to use nuclear weapons; now, Russia threatens nuclear attacks on Denmark if it aligns more closely with NATO. These brash declarations may be bluster, but the only wise conclusion to draw is that Putin is capable, literally, of anything.

One of the issues I alluded to a week ago that I would have to come back to when time permitted has, in fact, returned on its own, and whilst tonight’s article is big on links for further reading, I’m going to keep the commentary portion of it fairly succinct: clearly this is something that isn’t going to go away, and it seems certain we’ll be talking about Vladimir Putin and his thousands of nuclear warheads again — and probably sooner than anyone might like.

The revelation by Vladimir Putin (reappearing in public after seemingly vanishing into thin air for a week and a half) that Russia would have responded to any military confrontation over Ukraine and/or Crimea with nuclear weapons is ominous enough, even if such a declaration could be ascribed to the chest-thumping bluster of a notoriously macho shithead.

But — lest anyone make the mistake of dismissing these veiled nuclear threats as isolated — I have been motivated tonight to publish the post I meant to write a week ago by the news that Russia’s ambassador to Denmark, Mikhail Vanin, has stated that his country would target Danish warships with nuclear warheads if the Scandinavian nation joins NATO’s missile defence shield, a US-led venture to safeguard against nuclear missiles launched by “rogue states” (read: North Korea and Iran), which Putin has long believed is aimed explicitly against Russia.

30 years ago, former British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher — alarmed that Ronald Reagan went within a whisker of signing away the West’s nuclear deterrent in response to a proposal by USSR chief Mikhail Gorbachev that both sides unilaterally eliminate their stockpiles of warheads — famously observed that you could no more disinvent nuclear weapons than you could disinvent dynamite: despite the best will in the world, nuclear weapons and the technologies that enable them are with us forever.

The irony of course is that Gorbachev was probably the one Soviet or Russian leader in the last 70 years the West had no reason to fear. But the warmer relations it enjoyed with Gorbachev soon turned chill under Boris Yeltsin, and have become positively icy on Putin’s watch.

On one level, Putin’s well-known desire to restore Russia to the glory of its Soviet heyday as an economic and military superpower is understandable.

But the ridicule once attracted by Russia’s military as a decaying reserve of infrastructure and obsolete weaponry overseen by a contingent of manpower that was shrinking as quickly as its members could desert it has given way to the realisation — that those of us with an interest in such things knew — that all the while, Russia was rearming; that whilst the West (and the present occupant of the White House in particular) was signing new deals with Russia to make steep cuts in nuclear stockpiles, Russia was lying to its “partners” in the West, testing new weapons, overhauling old ones, and restoring its strategic forces to a position of superior strength.

Now — against a backdrop of nationalist fervour whipped up in Russia by master propagandist Putin — Russia is slowly but surely beginning a faltering advance aimed at “safeguarding” its “people abroad” (think the Russian-speaking peoples of Ukraine, and Belarus, and the Baltic states) and reclaiming its “historical sovereign territory” (think Crimea, whose annexation was legitimised by a “referendum” widely believed to have been fixed and universally regarded in the West as illegal under international law).

Now, we have Russia asserting its right to station nuclear missiles in Crimea — bringing all of Western Europe into much closer range — at a time of belatedly heightened international alarm over Russia’s motives and in apparent response to naval exercises in the Black Sea that infuriated Russia.

We have Russian military drills of their own, involving 45,000 troops and dozens of warships in the Arctic, which the Kremlin is openly telling any Western media outlet that cares to listen are all about getting the Russian military to a state of “combat readiness.”

We have reports that Russia is testing what sounds suspiciously like a neutron bomb, or similar, the intended purpose of which is ominously obvious.

We have ongoing attempts to decouple Europe from the United States with propaganda and misinformation — the old Soviet playbook — which should surprise nobody, given Russia has spent the past 20 years trying to get Europe addicted to supplies of Russian gas as a way of guaranteeing the dependence of the EU on Russia and detaching it from American influence.

We have reports of Russian attempts to station nuclear missiles near the Polish border and/or plans to invade or otherwise attack Poland; doing so would almost certainly draw in Germany, and with it NATO: and once the question of active warfare is one of NATO versus Russia, that — to use the vernacular — is tantamount to the whole powderkeg going “kaboom.”

And all this comes several years after Russian nuclear bombers resumed long-range patrols in international airspace and, more recently, as its fighter planes have repeatedly made incursions into European airspace, particularly around Britain, as they apparently seek to test the combat readiness of the Royal Air Force: flying up the English Channel and close to Britain’s south-west coast, forcing civilian passenger aircraft to take urgent evasive action and/or for flight paths to be re-routed, these are not the actions of a country seeking to minimise or mitigate against the prospect of a deadly and incendiary accident.

And it comes as the US — “led” by its most strategically dangerous and insignificant President since Jimmy Carter — mulls plans to arm the Ukrainian military against Russian-backed insurgents fighting against it in parts of Ukraine, with the attendant risk that doing so may provide the pretext for a direct Russian military response that could lead to God only knows what.

I do not post this evening to appear alarmist, inflammatory or to sound frightened, for I am none of these things.

But the simple fact is that over the past few years the accrual of evidence of a belligerent and confrontational Russia is overwhelming; its footprint is everywhere, and Russia’s fingerprints extend too far and too thoroughly across the Eurasian region now to suggest anything other than a bellicose Putin prepared — literally — to do anything in order to reclaim the lost lands of the USSR, and willing to risk the consequences of doing so.

Russia is not a friend, or a partner, or an ally: it is the enemy of freedom, and the sooner more people realise this basic truth of 21st century politics, the better.

And its antics can hardly be ascribed to bluster any more, or the mere trifle of a few military exercises that nobody should worry about.

Any nuclear attack launched by Russia on any country or countries in the Western hemisphere will be met with overwhelming nuclear retaliation against Russia by the United States and Britain; nobody should suffer from the delusion Putin appears to suffer from that nuclear force would not be responded to in like kind.

Those in the UK who seek to question the future of Britain’s Trident nuclear deterrent — in the context of the election campaign underway in that country at present, and with the Labour opposition struggling to fend off an assault on its Scottish seats from the irresponsible and criminally populist SNP, which is campaigning on a pledge to remove nuclear submarines from the River Clyde — would do well to consider that without Trident, Russia could simply level the UK without resistance if it chose to do so, the threat of retaliation from the Americans notwithstanding.

And in fact, the disarmament daydreams of Barack Obama are likely to see his successor in the White House (preferably a Republican) make the reinvigoration and restoration of US strategic forces an urgent priority. The beaten Republican candidate in 2012, Mitt Romney, claimed during that campaign that the West would face the risk of nuclear blackmail and perhaps nuclear attack from Russia — and was laughed at. Romney was right, and this column acknowledged as much at the time (and I elicited much derisive comment and accusations of conspiracy theorism for my trouble). Nobody is laughing now.

But with or without Britain’s Trident nukes, if the Russians start shooting — and the US responds — the ensuing apocalyptic episode will render considerations of general elections, military alliances and even planning as far as the following week forever redundant.

Any reader who has not seen this chillingly credible depiction of nuclear warfare previously should spend the requisite couple of hours doing so: in what is unquestionably a fresh Cold War between Russia and the West, it’s high time this kind of thing once again sears the collective conscience of those faced with nuclear blackmail or, even worse, the existential threat of a general nuclear war and the hundreds of millions (if not billions) of lives it would terminate.

I’m going to leave it there, for the purpose of this article is to get a reasonable chronicle of recent events regarding Russia and its warlike behaviour — to say nothing of its loose and provocative nuclear rhetoric — onto our radar; this is the first time we have discussed such matters for some time, but I’m sure it won’t be the last.

And at some point we might have a look at the handling of Russia by the West since the fall of the Soviet Union, for just as Putin is depicted in some quarters as a madman and a lunatic, not all of the fault for the developing crisis and return to Cold War conditions lies with Russia: the West has made mistakes in its treatment of the Russians ever since the Berlin Wall came down, and as immeasurably superior to a life under Communism as the free world might be, there are some — the first President Bush being a case in point — who simply couldn’t resist poking the Russian bear in the eye with the very sharp stick of triumphalism.

But in the end, those men who fail to learn from history are doomed to repeat it: it is not too late to avert a disaster, and it is not too late for Russia to reach an accommodation with the West that does not stink of appeasement by the latter, or include ambit and unreasonable demands from the former.

But the trend of escalation is now clearly to be seen, in full view, with the apocalyptic threat of a nuclear war made in stark and blunt terms for the first time in decades. It isn’t a set of circumstances to be taken lightly, diminished with propaganda, or simply to be ignored.

“Don’t Mess With Us:” Putin Threatens Nuclear War

AS WESTERN CONSENSUS concludes that Russia has now invaded Ukraine — with 1,000 of its troops crossing the border into the neighbouring, disputed region of that country — its President has for the first time made an explicit threat of nuclear retaliation against Western governments who intervene and engage Russia militarily in response. This ominous rhetoric, in likelihood, is posturing, but the possibility that it isn’t cannot be ignored.

I’m going to keep this brief as I have been up all night (it’s 6am in Melbourne as I start writing this) attending to my 18 month old son; the things you keep abreast of when the day is unfolding on the other side of the world can be remarkable, and so is this: for all the wrong reasons.

The incursion of about 1,000 Russian troops into the disputed part of Ukraine that has seen insurgent activity now for months — Russia calls them “separatists” — has been the subject of much discussion internationally, and it seems that the product of that process has been to conclude that after seemingly threatening to do so for months, the troop movement does in fact constitute “an invasion.”

In addition to the thousand or so troops that have already entered Ukraine, there are reports of tens of thousands more that are massed along the border between the two countries, and who could join the conflict at virtually a moment’s notice.

The issue of what to do about Russia and Putin — not least in the aftermath of the atrocity of Malaysia Airlines flight MH17, blasted out of the sky by insurgents armed with Russian-supplied weaponry, for which Putin denies all responsibility — has proven fraught, with sanctions brought against Russia by various Western governments having no apparent effect other than to embolden the Russians to continue along the provocative course they seem to have embarked upon.

Indeed, our own Prime Minister Tony Abbott is weighing whether to bar Putin from entering Australia later this year to attend the G20 conference; my sense is that whilst it would send the right message to the international community, whether or not Putin attends a talkfest is largely immaterial in the bigger scheme of things.

Already, Putin is threatening to cut gas supplies to an EU that is surprisingly gung-ho in its intent to retaliate against Russia; this was blamed in advance on Ukraine siphoning supplies destined for the EU as a way of circumventing restrictions placed on its own supplies. And just last night, it was announced that Germany would weigh an even tougher sanctions regime against the Russians.

But perhaps mindful of the fact Western leaders (despite the distraction of ISIS in the Middle East) give every appearance of turning their collective minds to dealing with Russia punitively for its part in fomenting the destructive events and loss of life on its doorstep, Putin has sounded another — and far more ominous — warning.

Speaking yesterday to a pro-Kremlin youth camp, Putin raised the spectre of retaliating with nuclear weapons against any powers who chose to engage in “large-scale conflicts” with Russia: “it’s best not to mess with us,” he rather euphemistically told his audience.

It is highly likely that in raising the prospect of nuclear conflict, Putin is merely posturing, playing as much to domestic audiences at whom his strongman image is directed as to the US, the UK, and leading European countries like Germany.

Yet as the article from Britain’s Telegraph newspaper that I have linked this morning notes, even during the Cold War it was rare for Soviet leaders to openly reference the country’s nuclear arsenal, let alone rattle the nuclear sabre.

The comments echo a far more oblique threat of Russian nuclear retaliation a couple of years ago, when Putin’s Prime Minister, Dimitry Medvedev, suggested a nuclear conflict was not out of the question if the US attacked Iran, or later remarks by a Russian emissary who suggested a similar escalation could result from American attacks on insurgent positions in Syria.

Iran and Syria, of course, have long been Russian protectorates: as recent events in Syria at least have shown with the emergence of the ISIS menace, perhaps the Russian bluff ought to have been called on that occasion.

Putin’s remarks yesterday, however, make those earlier instances of nuclear posturing seem trivial.

Putin is no fool and no madman; he is fully aware that remarks of the kind he made yesterday will only be interpreted in Western circles as a clear and direct threat of a nuclear response.

The message is, very simply, that America and its allies should butt out of what is occurring in what Russia regards as its sphere of influence.

The great risk, of course, is that Russia uses the cover of what amounts to nuclear blackmail — on a calculation that the West, fearful of the consequences, will not intervene — to engage in a brutal slaughter designed to achieve its ambitions in Ukraine, in total disregard and contempt of any outcry or objection its actions provoke further afield.

And it goes without saying that even if Russia is permitted by an uneasy Western alliance to do what it pleases in Ukraine, the obvious question is who comes next: Putin is committed to his grand objective of reviving the Soviet Union, and like the advancing German menace in the late 1930s, appeasing Russia now — under the threat of existential consequences — will only encourage and embolden Putin to engage in more of the same behaviour as his expansionist agenda is pursued.

There is also the prospect that at some stage the Putin Soviet restoration project will advance into NATO territory; if and when it does, then all bets are off — threats of Russian nuclear strikes or not.

Whichever way you cut it, Putin has drastically escalated both the explosive situation in the disputed Ukraine region and the icy relations between Russia and the West it has created.

He has made it far more difficult for Western and NATO leaders to respond, and elevated the stakes insofar as a misstep by either side might trigger a wider conflict.

I’ll keep an eye on this and I encourage readers to do so as well. But just as Putin may be grandstanding, there is also the prospect that he isn’t.

And that — however probable or otherwise — means the situation on Europe’s eastern flank has just entered an apocalyptically dangerous new phase.

 

MH17 Disaster: Is Russia “The Monster At The Bottom Of The Abyss?”

THREE DAYS after the criminal atrocity of Malaysia Airlines flight MH17, the finger of world condemnation is pointed directly at Russia, whose denials of all responsibility over the incident have also attracted the full force of international fury; amid reports of looting and stealing evidence by Russian-backed separatists at the crash site, and with the risk of military confrontation real, is it the case that Russia is the monster at the bottom of the abyss?

I have to admit that when I first posted on this matter on Friday, I took great care not to prejudge Russia in seeking to lash out at a scapegoat; it does seem — based on the millions of words printed and broadcast on the subject since then in the mainstream media, and elsewhere in the commentariat — that I needn’t have bothered to be circumspect.

From the moment news broke that MH17 had been shot down over Ukraine it seemed inconceivable that anyone else could be blamed for what increasingly appears to have been the state-sanctioned butchery of nearly 300 Western civilians, and I’m sorry if readers misinterpreted caution as confusion.

Those who’ve been with me for the long haul know, however, that I have never had any faith in “democratic” Russia, nor in its purported bona fides as a responsible and honourable international citizen. Something like this was always going to happen, unfortunately, and whilst what has transpired is and will be horrific for the families and friends of the deceased to now have to deal with, one has to wonder exactly where this will all lead — and what, at the end of the day, Russia might do next.

I want to start this morning by sharing something with readers; it’s an article by American scholar Jeff Nyquist, whose area of speciality is strategic geopolitics and, specifically, examining modern Russia through the prism of its Soviet past in order to understand, interpret and anticipate how it might behave in the future. Some of what Nyquist writes has a distinctly conspiratorial whiff about it, just to be clear. But the vast bulk of it is right on the money, and it is important to remember that when Nyquist talks of something that is “near” or “close,” or which might happen “tomorrow,” he isn’t necessarily speaking literally.

Back in October 2008, Nyquist posed the question of “the monster at the bottom of the abyss;” remembering the context — the global financial crisis was unfolding, and Russia’s activities in Georgia and South Ossetia had shocked the world — the article is obviously historical in nature viewed in connection to current events. Yet some of the points he makes (and even the issues at play even then) are chillingly salient.

For one thing, the strategic Russian objective of splitting Europe from its march in lockstep with the United States is arguably more advanced today than it was in 2008; for another, Germany is central to the European response to the MH17 tragedy and in this context, the outrage it expresses toward Russia is telling. Further, Nyquist speaks of the Russian tactic of using energy security (or the threat of withholding it from Europe) as a means with which to advance its agenda, and as we all know, Russia has readily done so where its eastern European “partners” — read, reunification targets in Vladimir Putin’s USSR reconstruction project — are concerned.

He does reference “President Medvedev,” the puppet quisling exploited by Putin to circumvent constitutional term limits on the Russian presidency, although no-one should be fooled as to who was really running Russia during the so-called Medvedev years. And perhaps most importantly, Nyquist has (rightly) been a trenchant and resolute critic of the Obama presidency in the USA, calling out its weakness, and ripping into the Obama agenda of American nuclear disarmament at the very time Russia has modernised and upgraded its strategic forces.

(I published an article dealing with that last point — which also touches on the Ukraine issue — in April, that can be accessed here).

For me, the killer passage in this article lies in the lines that read “Everyone knows that Russia is dangerous. Partnering with Russia is like playing with fire.” And it is there — right there — that I draw the link back from the contemporary events Nyquist discusses in his article to the travesty that took place on Friday morning, Melbourne time. The global community — and the West in particular — has contrived to “partner” with Moscow. Now that push is beginning to come to shove, it seems the West is destined to be burned for its trouble.

Prime Minister Tony Abbott has labelled Putin’s dismissal of any responsibility for MH17 being shot down, and for the lives of murdered innocents, as being “deeply, deeply unacceptable;” in return, Putin has delivered Abbott a tongue lashing of his own. His contention that the rocket that downed the Boeing 777 was either supplied by the Ukrainian government directly or stolen from it by pro-Russian separatists defies and beggars belief on many levels, but the bottom line is that Putin will not tolerate criticism from those he deems to rank beneath him, even among his peers.

In the meantime, there is ample evidence that directly or indirectly, the blame for what happened on Friday lies squarely at the feet of Russia and its master.

Global news broadcasters showed footage last weeks of shipments of arms and other materials continuing to be transferred across the Russia-Ukraine border and into the willing hands of Russian-backed insurgents even as Putin himself was giving US President Barack Obama assurances he would do everything to de-escalate the explosively tense situation in Eastern Ukraine.

Ample evidence has been presented in the mainstream media that instruction and training in the use of weapons such as the Soviet-built BUK surface-to-air missile system believed to have been used to bring MH17 down was provided to the insurgents by Russian forces, as have intercepted recordings of telephone conversations between the insurgents gloating about their success in “hitting” a passenger plane. (There are reports of intercepted telephone conversations between insurgents reporting back to Moscow, too, although these remain, at time of writing, unverified).

Since the ill-fated MH17 crashed, it seems insurgent forces have looted the wreckage at will: everything from the aeroplane’s black box flight recorders to debris from the crash, and to the passports and valuables of its passengers — and even, in one report I saw, dead bodies — has been a free for all for these barbarians, and where and/or to whom the materials taken is unknown. Yet Russia, in explicitly backing the insurgent forces and almost overtly partnering in their campaign — going so far as to claim the Russian Army uniforms it supplied them had been stolen — lies at the core of every aspect of the disaster that has cost nearly 300 innocent lives to date.

The eventual cost, of course, is unknown, and not just measured in the lost lives Russia obviously judges to herald no value.

In the spirit of sharing news articles on this issue, here and here are a couple of the better ones doing the rounds this morning.

I said on Friday that there was a possibility that the shooting down of MH17 and the senseless slaughter of civilians posed the prospect that World War 3 might have started; nobody has laughed, and nobody has dismissed the carefully nuanced suggestion out of hand. In fact, here in Australia, both the Fairfax and Murdoch press have also opined, explicitly, in similar terms over the past few days.

What might have been paranoid conspiracy theory a week ago certainly isn’t that now, and whilst the enduring hope that sane and rational heads prevail still carries with it the probability that they will, there is too much “grey” in the Russian response to what it endeavours to dismiss as a black and white portrait fashioned entirely in the brush strokes of others — even when the fingerprints of Russian complicity are all over the painting, and visible to anyone who cares to look at it.

What went on in Georgia and South Ossetia entailed the loss of thousands of lives, as has Russia’s protracted and ill-fated misadventure against insurgents in Chechnya.

But Putin’s objectives in South Ossetia at least were realised, and whilst Georgia might not have been such a success for the Russian leader, a question of strategic priorities would suggest Georgia and South Ossetia were a trial run for the more serious (and potentially more lucrative) undertaking that Russia, by proxy, is now attempting to prosecute in Ukraine.

A key question is what comes after Ukraine. Nobody knows. But it seems decreasingly likely that if Putin gets what he wants in Ukraine — using, it seems, any or all means possible — that the Russian juggernaut would simply stop.

Remember that Russia has variously suggested nuclear responses to any Western attempts to intervene in Libya and Syria; it has been linked to multiple political assassinations over the past decade on British soil; it has provided sanctuary to the seditious US traitor Edward Snowden; it has proven willing to use non-military means to achieve political objectives (like turning off European gas supplies during winter) with the implicit threat of actual force to back them; and in Ukraine at least, it has been seen to arm and abet militia forces bent on realising the objectives of Moscow in defiance — and at the intended cost — of the West.

There is of course a litany of other “incidents” Russia is suspected to have been involved in that have never been proven, including a theory Nyquist has in the past explored that the September 11 attacks on the US in 2001 were — ultimately, and at deliberate arms’ length — the work of the KGB/FSB. But even to look beyond those, that first list — coupled with the fact Moscow under Putin has assembled economic and military co-operation pacts with Brazil, India and (ominously), China, the picture that emerges is an unpleasant one indeed.

If the shooting down of MH17 proves to be the catalyst for events to spiral out of control and to trigger a global conflagration, it’s a fair bet that unlike the first two such wars, Russia will not be fighting on the “Allied” side.

In fact, recent events, considered alongside the recent past, warrant the question Nyquist first asked.

Is Russia the monster at the bottom of the abyss?

 

 

Malaysia Airlines Ukraine Crash: A Spark To A Powderkeg

THE CRASH OF A MALAYSIA AIRLINES Boeing 777 over Ukraine — with all 295 passengers and crew killed — could very well be the spark that ignites the smouldering powderkeg in the uneasy confrontation between Russia and Ukraine; already, accusations and counter-accusations are flying, with both sides denying involvement. Depending on who shot the plane down, and whence the missile was launched, World War 3 may have started this morning.

For now, what we know has transpired overnight (Melbourne time) is that a Boeing 777, owned by Malaysia Airlines and operating flight MH17 from Amsterdam to Kuala Lumpur, has crashed in Ukraine airspace, 56km east of Donetsk and 40km from the Ukraine-Russian border.

All 280 passengers and 15 crew aboard the 777 — their identities and nationalities presently unknown — are believed to have been killed. It goes without saying that I minute my deepest sympathies and condolences to the families, colleagues and friends of those who have perished. The crash of a commercial aircraft is an horrific event and can entail a terrible loss of life, and this event, clearly, is very much that.

But it seems clear these people have been murdered; at the time of writing (just after 3am in Melbourne, about an hour after the crash) the consensus of analysts and commentators is that the aircraft was shot down, most likely with a surface-to-air missile, and the ominously chilly situation between Ukraine and Russia lies at the heart of the disaster.

It is too early to draw any conclusions as to who may have been responsible, or even the type of weaponry used, although this incident follows the shooting down of a Ukrainian cargo plane some days ago — allegedly by pro-Russian separatists operating on Ukrainian soil — and the shooting down of a Ukrainian fighter plane the day before, allegedly by a missile fired from the Russian side of the Ukraine-Russia border.

The Boeing 777 was being tracked by air traffic control radar and was flying at 33,000 feet before the incident; the consensus among government and military analysts being featured in the overnight news feeds is that any missile capable of shooting down an aircraft at that altitude would need to be “a very sophisticated system;” The Telegraph in the UK is reporting the missile was a Soviet-era BUK surface-to-air missile, and if this is confirmed it raises questions as to who supplied it, where it was fired from, and by whom.

A shoulder-launched missile has been ruled out: such a weapon would have neither the range nor the accuracy to hit a target at such a high altitude.

Already, the Russians are blaming the Ukraine government in Kiev for the string of aviation incidents; the Ukraine government is blaming Moscow; and the role of the pro-Russian separatists remains unclear, although I have just seen US Senator John McCain on CNN pointing out that the head of the “separatists” in Ukraine is, in fact, a prominent Russian figure with links to the FSB.

The accusations and counter-accusations, finger-pointing, and apportioning of blame and denial that will now ensue is a fraught stage of what is a deadly escalation of an already dangerous situation — and a period in which any miscalculation or inflammatory gesture could provoke even more lethal consequences.

US President Barack Obama and Russian President Vladimir Putin spoke earlier in the day in relation to the first two planes shot down; at the time of writing it is not known what the two Presidents discussed. It is, however, widely speculated that Obama chided Putin over the vast quantity of Russian-made armaments that continue to flow across the border into Ukraine, and into the hands of the pro-Russian insurgents.

It was also made public at the weekend that some kind of terrorist attack in the region was being anticipated “imminently.”

But it is known that the West has been close to announcing a far tighter sanctions regime against Moscow in retaliation for its support for the pro-Russian insurgents in Ukraine, and it had been widely speculated that even before this latest incident with the Malaysia Airlines plane, the situation between Ukraine and Russia has degenerated in recent weeks to now border on all-out war between the two countries.

Questions are being asked about why civilian airlines were continuing to operate passenger flights through a region so clearly at risk of posing dangers to the integrity of their aircraft; in the post-Soviet era many airlines have operated through Ukrainian airspace to cut some time off the journey to Europe and the UK, and one can only presume a misplaced sense of the risk factors involved is the explanation. Since the demise of MH17 Lufthansa has announced it will no longer fly through Ukrainian airspace and is set to be followed by similar announcements from a slew of other Western airlines, but I would make the observation that the horse has very clearly bolted on this issue.

The fact foreign civilians have now been murdered adds a new dimension to the Ukraine-Russia standoff, and adds a more ominous and sinister consideration to any military repercussions that might follow.

As I have noted, the nationalities of those on board MH17 is presently unknown; if there were Americans or Britons aboard the development would further strain already fraught relations between Russia and the West, and add to calls for the US and its allies to intervene despite Ukraine not being a member of the NATO bloc.

And whilst I am being deliberately circumspect as to who might have been responsible for this latest atrocity, or who I might believe to be so — it is too soon to make such pronouncements — if the investigations that have already started tie the Russian government to either the commission of the act of shooting down MH17 or supplying the weaponry and/or support to insurgents to enable them to do so, those fraught relations between the West and Russia will potentially escalate to boiling point.

Certainly, current reports are that the US military is already looking at the evidence available in relation to the shooting down of the Boeing 777 to ascertain whether responsibility for the act can be sheeted home to Russia in any way.

I will watch this over the next couple of days, and post again if and when I think it appropriate; I suggest readers keep an eye on my favourite mainline UK news sites here and here, both of which are providing a number of rolling, updating feeds on the plane crash and the political situation in Eastern Europe more broadly. There are, of course, plenty of other available resources, and I’m flipping between CNN and Sky UK on Foxtel as I write this as well.

It is to be hoped that whatever the washout from this disaster, that cool heads prevail; readers should make no mistake that the Ukraine/Russia flashpoint is one of the most dangerous military standoffs in the world today, and how this plays out very much has the potential to spiral out of control and into something very, very nasty indeed.

Simply stated, World War 3 might have started this morning; and whilst we are fervent in our hope that things never progress to something like that, it does now seem inevitable that at the very minimum, the situation between Ukraine and Russia is set to escalate into conflict. Any involvement of the USA in such a conflict just became a hell of a lot more probable.

 

 

China vs Japan, And Australia: Independence And Isolation Not The Same Thing

PRIME MINISTER Tony Abbott has enjoyed favourable press this week, with Japanese PM Shinzo Abe visiting to sign off on the free trade agreement between Australia and Japan; the visit has been interpreted by some through the prism of potential confrontation with China, and what consequent course of action would best serve this country. Independence and isolation are not the same thing; if Japan and China come to blows, a choice will have to be made.

I’ve been reading an article from yesterday’s Fairfax press by its resident international affairs columnist (and prominent academic) Hugh White; his basic premise is that in striking free trade agreements with Japan and signalling increased co-operation with the Japanese in a range of areas including trade, defence and investment Australia risks damaging its relations with China, and needless to say this is presented with a distinct undertone of suggestion that these developments are a very bad thing indeed.

Perhaps unsurprisingly (we are talking about Fairfax, after all) it is also presented with a distinct “Tony Abbott is stupid” flavour to it, too. I’m not criticising White for his views, mind; we’ve certainly discussed his material here in the past and whilst I disagree with him from time to time I also do concur just as frequently. On this occasion, however, I beg to differ.

My remarks will be somewhat more cursory than I would usually devote to such a complex issue; I’m writing this piece after 3am (Melbourne time) and for a raft of reasons haven’t had as much time for posting content in the past week, as readers will already know. So do forgive me if some of my points are a little simplified — the thrust of my case will remain clear enough.

I have long believed that at some stage, China and Japan will come to blows and that when they do, that conflict will pose a very real risk of escalating into a global war — possibly involving the use of nuclear weapons — rather than, say, a regionally contained naval spat over the disputed Senkaku/Diayou Islands. Such a conflict is the last thing I would wish for, and any escalation is the last thing I (or anyone else with their sanity intact) would ever want to see.

Much has been made recently of the centennial anniversary of the outbreak of World War I in 1914 and purported similarities between the political climate that existed across Eurasia at that time and the climate that exists there now, with the ongoing spat between Russia and Ukraine portrayed in some quarters as a potential ignition point for a conflict that could spiral out of control and drag the world to war again; I think that whilst anything is possible (and I’m not being flippant about it), those who concern themselves with such worries would be better advised to refocus their attention onto the situation that is unfolding in north-east Asia.

The parallels between the anniversary of the first World War and the current situation in the Pacific are striking, and not least because they involve a peace that has existed since the end of the second World War that, to be candid, has grown to appear a little wobbly, to put it diplomatically. Hugh White is absolutely correct in his assessment of the situation: China in recent years has started to throw its weight around in the region, and Japan — understandably, and perhaps predictably — has begun to move away from its post-war pacifism toward a military and security posture that allows for the active use of force in its own defence.

The Japanese occupation of parts of China between 1895 and 1945 — and the atrocities the occupying forces committed — continue to burn in the Chinese national psyche; on the Japanese side of the equation (as elsewhere in the world) the generation with direct memory of the second World War is ageing and literally dying. Even so, these two countries continue to regard each other with mutual suspicion and distrust, and whilst they will remain powerhouses economically for the foreseeable future, the military rise of China is unquestionable and that, too, will continue indefinitely.

Where I disagree with White — and remember, I’m an opinion writer on these matters, not an academic — is the unspoken but nonetheless undeniable suggestion he makes that somehow, Australia’s best interests would be served by not building closer ties to Japan, and remaining independent in the event of any conflict between Japan and China, as well as some of the other overt contentions he makes that conspire to show his position as a dangerous one indeed where considerations of the national interest are concerned.

And I’m not going to dignify his inference that Abbott is either too stupid or too incompetent to have “thought through” the implications of deeper ties with Tokyo with a rebuttal; such a cheap and baseless jab from a reputable figure doesn’t merit a response.

It is true that our country has almost limitless opportunities for trade with China. Almost every country does; China accounts for one-sixth of the world’s 7 billion people, and the sheer weight of numbers dictates that it has a large appetite for everything it can’t produce itself (which is most of what its people actually need to survive). This extends far beyond mineral ores to food, oil, motor vehicles, services like education, and beyond.

Even so, in peacetime I think it’s dangerous to “safeguard” opportunities with one country — irrespective of how lucrative the opportunities it appears to present might be — by limiting those with others. In the trade and bilateral relations sense, Japan is no different to other countries in the region with which Australia has burgeoning opportunities, such as Vietnam, Malaysia, South Korea and the Philippines.

Coincidentally or otherwise, these are also countries with which China is engaged in a series of dangerous territorial spats as it lays claim to most of the South China and East China Seas, and specifically to disputed lands, speculated oil fields and other resources these areas are believed to contain.

I don’t think Japan — in building stronger ties with Australia — is looking, as White contends, to gather allies to Japan’s side to join it in any future conflict with China; it doesn’t have to, for the United States is obliged to defend Japan should it ever come under military attack, just as it is to defend Taiwan, South Korea, the Philippines and (let’s be blunt about it) Australia.

This leads to his other contention — that America appears reluctant to confront China on Japan’s behalf — which is true in the sense that America has no incentive, as at today’s date, to do anything of the kind.

America is faced with the same endless opportunities for trade and bilateral ties with China that most countries are: there is no point in Uncle Sam cutting his nose off to spite his face in the name of a pre-emptive warning over military mischief and sabre rattling that has amounted, in precise terms, to absolutely nothing to date.

China can indulge itself with belligerent gestures and bellicose rhetoric, vague threats of this or that, or even ridiculous gestures of passive aggression (such as its attempt to enforce an air exclusion zone over parts of the territory it disputes with Japan) to its heart’s content. America, and other interested countries, will rightly monitor these activities and develop contingencies against a range of potential escalations or outcomes. But until a nuclear-armed country with more than a billion people actually commits an act of aggression against a US protectorate like Japan, the Americans aren’t going to lift a finger. And, to be clear, nor should they.

White bemoans the “division of Asia into hostile blocs” and rhetorically asks whether it is in Australia’s interests to contribute to that. The fact is, however, that Asia is already divided into hostile blocs — basically, China in one bloc and the rest of the region, with a few exceptions, in the other — and nothing Australia does will alter or influence that. We need to remember that whilst Australia is respected on the world stage as a “middle power,” others will make their own strategic decisions in their own interests . China is the clearest example of this the world has seen for a very long time.

Whilst I have commented on these matters before I am generally reluctant to do so, because the last thing I want to be is either alarmist or to sound like a conspiracy theorist: I am neither. But when discussions such as this arise, they do warrant a hypothetical consideration of what the course of events might look like if the worst case scenario were to materialise.

None of this matters, in a literal sense, for as long as the security balance that currently exists remains unchanged. But for the sake of the conversation, what would happen if China were to occupy the Senkaku Islands?

This would, in fact, constitute an act of war and an attempt to seize the territory of Japan; it may or may not in itself lead to an outbreak of hostilities, but to make the point I wish to make, let’s assume it does.

In this eventuality, the US’ “reluctance” to confront China will immediately move from “perceived” to non-existent. As the US becomes entwined in the conflagration it will be dependent on facilities it shares with Australia that are based on our own soil for its military machine to operate effectively, accurately, and to minimise US and Japanese battle casualties.

And — as I have pointed out in the past — Russia is likely to come to China’s aid militarily, especially if the latter is faced with the prospect of nuclear conflict: China may possess nuclear weapons but their use is largely limited to its own neighbourhood, meaning in this case, Japan. Its capacity to hit US targets is limited to its submarine forces. But the involvement of the Russian strategic forces changes the equation completely.

And in that event, the importance of facilities such as Pine Gap to the US military would be absolutely critical — not that they wouldn’t be so at a far lower level of military engagement.

Yes, this is a doomsday scenario and a nightmare prospect, but the point is that a conflict over a few lumps of rock could easily escalate into exactly this situation. World War I was ignited by a peasant assassinating an aristocrat in Serbia. To dismiss the Senkaku/Diayous as worthless specks of granite that are too insignificant to start a war over is to ignore that a single political assassination 100 years ago provided the spark that set Germany at war with the rest of the world. And the generation of Japanese who directly remember what such a conflict (and its consequences) was like to endure is decrepit and dwindling in number.

If this scenario were to materialise, who would care about trade relationships with China? There would be no point worrying about offending China because we would be at war with it anyway — unless misguided pacifism and misplaced ideas about “independence” manage to stop Australia honouring its treaty commitments to the US.

Independence and isolation are not the same thing; it is one thing to desire that wars do not happen — I think we all hope for that — but another matter altogether to think that when they do, it is appropriate to run out on our mates and hide in the toilet while all hell breaks loose outside the bathroom.

If such a conflict were to erupt, we would need the Americans to defend us; this is a fact dictated by our small, conventional military forces weighed against the might of the Chinese and Russian goliaths. The presence of US military forces on Australian soil makes any pretence of neutrality or “independence” moot. We would be a target.

And provided there was actually a world left once the shooting had stopped, we’d need the US to guarantee our safety — for the same reasons. Proclaiming our “independence” and doing nothing is a recipe for post-war isolation, and if it ever came to pass would leave Australia vulnerable to invasion and conquest.

As unpalatable as it might sound, if China and Japan come to blows, this country will have to choose: China or America. This is what it boils down to. And if the choice (God forbid) ever has to be made, then the only logical side to take is the side of the USA, Japan, and like-minded partners and allies across the free world — irrespective of the riches that otherwise beckon as fruits of trade relations with a China that we remain mute to avoid offending.

And in turn, this is why what Abbott and his government have been working towards on trade with Japan — irrespective, but cognisant, of the peripheral issues and their attendant risks — is not only the right thing to do, but it should be encouraged, not chastised.