Tag Archives: Cold War

HELMUT KOHL delivered German reunification and the Euro

Former German chancellor Helmut Kohl arrives for the unveiling of a bust at the interior ministry in Berlin, June 26, 2013. REUTERS/Thomas Peter

By Noah Barkin
June 17, 2017

BERLIN (Reuters) – A towering figure of post-war European politics, Helmut Kohl pushed through German reunification and was a driving force behind the creation of the euro during a 16-year reign as German chancellor that spanned the tumultuous final decades of the 20th century.

Kohl died on Friday morning at his home in Ludwigshafen, according to German media. He was 87.

A bear of a man whose provincial accent and unvarnished folksy style led opponents to underestimate him in his early years, Kohl was a passionate advocate of European integration whose outlook was shaped by the two world wars that ravaged Europe and claimed the lives of his brother and uncle.

Together with French President Francois Mitterrand, the enigmatic socialist with whom he developed an unlikely personal bond, Kohl helped steer a peaceful course for the continent during the twilight years of the Soviet Union, when the foundations of Europe’s post-war order crumbled and had to be reset.

By committing to anchor Germany within Europe under a common currency, he overcame resistance to reunification from Mitterrand, Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev and Margaret Thatcher, the British prime minister who feared the return of a powerful, united Germany.

In a 2012 tribute, former U.S. President Bill Clinton described Kohl as one of post-war Europe’s defining statesmen. “His vision helped to usher the global community into the 21st century, to build bold and lasting relationships that endure to this day,” Clinton said.

For all his accomplishments as chancellor, Kohl’s life was tinged by controversy and personal tragedy after he left office in 1998 as Germany’s longest-serving leader since Bismarck.

In 2000, he was forced to resign as honorary chairman of the Christian Democratic Union (CDU), the party he had led for 25 years, after admitting to receiving $1 million in illegal cash donations during his time as chancellor, which he doled out to local party organisations at his whim.

He refused to reveal where the money had come from, saying he had given the donors his “Ehrenwort”, or word of honour, not to disclose their names. The scandal made him a virtual pariah in his own party for years.

Angela Merkel, the shy physicist from communist East Germany whom Kohl had plucked from obscurity to join his cabinet after the November 1989 fall of the Berlin Wall, turned on him at a crucial moment during the scandal, ensuring his exile. Ties between the two had been frosty ever since.

A year after he was dropped by the CDU, Kohl’s first wife Hannelore, who suffered from a debilitating allergy to light, committed suicide.

Former German Chancellor Helmut Kohl sits next to Christian Democrat party (CDU) leader Angela Merkel during celebrations to mark the 10th anniversary of German unification in Berlin September 27, 2000. REUTERS/Michael Urban/File Photo

SHAPED BY WAR

Kohl was born on April 3, 1930, the youngest of three children, in Ludwigshafen on the Rhine, a centre for the chemicals industry and one of the German cities most bombed during World War Two.

His father Johann, who worked in the local tax office, fought in both world wars. Returning from the front in Poland in 1940, he told his children: “If we ever get paid back for what we did there, we will never have anything to laugh about again.”

Kohl’s parents are described in Hans-Peter Schwarz’s 2012 biography as sceptical of the Nazis in the early years of the regime and quiet critics later on. As practicing Catholics, they opposed Adolf Hitler’s rejection of religion and persecution of minorities.

World War Two cast a dark shadow over Kohl’s youth. He recalled the death of his older brother Walter, killed in an aerial attack in Normandy in 1944, as a “life-changing experience” that shook the family.

Walter had been named after an uncle who died in World War One. Years later, when Kohl decided to give his first son the same name, his mother asked whether he wasn’t tempting fate.

“Mother, I promise you that he will not die in a war between European states,” Kohl recalled telling her. He often described his push for a united Europe as his way of delivering on this pledge.

Just 15 when the war ended, Kohl was drafted into the army and served briefly in a military training camp near Berchtesgaden but never saw combat.

He returned to devastated Ludwigshafen and began history and law studies. In 1959 he was elected to the regional assembly in Rhineland-Palatinate and a decade later, at the age of 39, he became premier of the state.

In 1973, Kohl was elected chairman of the CDU, Germany’s largest conservative party, and, after narrowly losing in his first attempt in 1976, he became chancellor of West Germany in 1982 when the ruling coalition of Social Democrats (SPD) and Free Democrats (FDP) under Helmut Schmidt collapsed.

At first, Kohl was ridiculed as a country bumpkin lacking the sophistication of predecessors such as Schmidt and Willy Brandt. Cartoonists depicted him as a giant pear, giving rise to his nickname “Birne”. But Kohl soon showed himself to be a skillful tactician.

Defying the leftist German peace movement, he and his foreign minister, Hans-Dietrich Genscher, backed the deployment of U.S. intermediate-range nuclear missiles in Germany, winning friends in Washington.

Kohl became known for wearing his opponents down by ignoring them, a strategy known in German as “aussitzen”, which has been mimicked by Merkel since she became chancellor in 2005.

Former British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher waves to well wishers as German Chancellor Helmut Kohl (L) looks on during Thatcher’s visit to Germany in this undated file photo. About 60.5 million eligible Germans are called to vote for a new parliament in general elections on Sunday September 27.

FINEST HOUR

Kohl’s finest hour came in the months after the fall of the Berlin Wall, when he was able to overcome the hostility of Western allies to unify the communist east and capitalist west.

The breaching of the Wall on Nov. 9, 1989, caught the West German political establishment and the rest of the world off-guard.

Kohl was getting ready to sit down for a banquet dinner in Warsaw when he was alerted to the dramatic events by his office in Bonn. He flew to Berlin the next day and, sensing the euphoria at home, soon began work on a 10-point plan for German unification that he presented to the Bundestag on Nov. 28.

The speech, typed by his wife Hannelore on a typewriter at home to prevent leaks to the media, came as a total surprise to Germany’s allies. U.S. President George H.W. Bush was supportive, but European partners seethed.

“Your friend Kohl, your partner, is a hick from the countryside!” fumed Gorbachev in a private meeting with Mitterrand in Kiev a week later.

Thatcher was also furious. “Kohl is capable of anything,” she told France’s ambassador to Britain.

Like the British leader, Mitterrand, a former prisoner of war under the Nazis, was worried about how far German ambitions might go.

Five years earlier in 1984, the French president had linked hands with Kohl on the battlefield near Verdun where Kohl’s uncle had died in the First World War and Mitterrand had been taken prisoner in the Second, creating an iconic image of European reconciliation reprinted in countless history books.

German reunification was another matter.

For decades, French policy had been guided by Nobel prize-winning author Francois Mauriac’s adage: “I love Germany so much I’m glad there are two of them.”

Nevertheless, Kohl was able to win over Mitterrand.

At a summit in Strasbourg a month after the Wall fell, described by Kohl as the most “tense and unfriendly” he had ever attended, he agreed to start serious negotiations on European monetary union, setting the stage for the creation of the euro.

Kohl’s commitment to anchor a united Germany within Europe, and his pledge months later to accept the Oder-Neisse line, the German-Polish border set after World War Two, ensured French support for unification. To convince Gorbachev, Kohl pledged billions of marks to pay for the withdrawal of Soviet troops from East Germany and the costs of resettling them at home.

“Throughout 1989 and 1990, Helmut Kohl showed uncommon vision and courage when he seized on the fall of the Berlin Wall to work for German unification,” Bush said decades later.

German Chancellor Helmut Kohl waves from a Leopard tank during a visit to German and British troops in northern Germany September 17, 1986. REUTERS/Michael Urban/File Photo

“FLOURISHING LANDSCAPES”

The fall of the Berlin Wall and the march towards unification were a political boon for Kohl, whose popularity had been slumping, forcing him to fight off a putsch attempt by CDU rivals in early 1989.

Ignoring warnings from the German Bundesbank, he rammed through a 1-to-1 conversion rate of east German wages and pensions into west German marks, and easily won re-election in 1990 as “the chancellor of unity”.

Kohl promised east Germans “flourishing landscapes” but the “Aufschwung Ost” – or eastern economic recovery – proved far slower and more painful than he had imagined. The conversion rate increased unemployment in the East, pushed up inflation in the West, and led to higher interest rates across Europe as Germany borrowed massively to finance reconstruction.

The economic hangover from unification and policy inertia in the decade that followed had, by the end of the millennium, turned Germany into the “sick man of Europe”.

Kohl tried to win a fifth term in 1998 instead of making way for his groomed successor Wolfgang Schaeuble, who polls suggested had a better chance. He lost the election to Social Democrat Gerhard Schroeder, who was forced to introduce far-reaching reforms in response to Germany’s economic woes.

A year later, the party funding scandal erupted and Kohl was pushed out as honorary chairman of the CDU. His wife’s suicide the following year exposed him to accusations of neglect, including from his eldest son Walter, who later wrote a tell-all book about the family.

Kohl suffered a bad fall in 2008 and from then on was confined to a wheelchair, and had trouble speaking. He rarely appeared in public and his second wife, Maike Kohl-Richter, was criticised in the German media for zealously shielding him from his sons and old friends.

Kohl’s biggest achievement, German reunification, looks more of a success today than it did in its first decades. Eastern Germany still lags behind the west in many economic measures, but the gap is narrowing and cities such as Leipzig and Dresden are thriving. Twenty-seven years after east and west merged, Germany is prosperous and increasingly influential on the international stage.

Kohl’s other landmark accomplishment, pushing through the euro despite widespread public reservations, was hailed as a triumph in the currency’s first decade, but now looks less glorious after years of crisis.

Some in Germany now blame Kohl for pursuing the euro without insisting first on closer political and fiscal integration – a decision Merkel has denounced publicly as an epic mistake.

In his 2014 book “Out of Concern for Europe”, Kohl blamed the single currency bloc’s woes on Schroeder’s decision to let Greece into the euro zone and his watering-down of EU budget rules.

In an appearance at the German Historical Museum in Berlin in 2012 to mark 30 years since he became chancellor, Kohl reminded his audience of why he had championed European unity and urged EU leaders to continue on the path of closer integration despite the crisis of the euro.

“Europe can never sink into war again,” he said. “We need to press ahead with the unification of Europe. Let’s make good use of the time we have.”

Copyright Reuters 2017

(Additional reporting by Erik Kirschbaum; Writing by Noah Barkin; Editing by Kevin Liffey/Mark Heinrich)

Related on F&O: Focus on the Berlin Wall, November, 2014: Germany, and much of the world, marked the 25th anniversary of the fall of the Berlin Wall.

 

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Putin, Grand Master of the Great Game, awaits next opponent

JONATHAN MANTHORPE: International Affairs
October 1, 2016

Russian President Vladimir Putin (R) shakes hands with Syrian President Bashar al-Assad during a meeting at the Kremlin in Moscow, Russia, in this October 20, 2015 file photo. REUTERS/Alexei Druzhinin/RIA Novosti/Kremlin/ Files

Russian President Vladimir Putin (R) shakes hands with Syrian President Bashar al-Assad during a meeting at the Kremlin in Moscow, Russia, in this October 20, 2015 file photo. REUTERS/Alexei Druzhinin/RIA Novosti/Kremlin/ Files

When the new United States president moves into the Oval Office early next year, at the top of her foreign policy priorities will be what to do about Vladimir Putin.

Forget the various manifestations of Islamic extremism. Their outrages may be dramatic, but they are, when all is said and done, only irritants committed by a small bunch of mad mullahs and their deranged followers.

Forget the demented Teletubby in North Korea. Kim Jong-un’s tottering regime will implode or be swatted out of existence before it becomes a real danger.

Even concerns about China’s Xi Jinping and his fantasies about recreating the glory days of the Middle Kingdom surrounded by obsequious vassal states can be put on the backburner for the moment. The most pressing concerns for China’s president are the faltering economy and a citizenry ever more willing to take to the streets to display its unhappiness with the terminally corrupt Communist Party.

In contrast, the Russian President is a clear and present danger.

Every now and then the fog of daily life lifts and there is a clear picture of our moment in history. This week is one such.

Two events have brought into sharp relief what many have known about Putin, but which many others – Donald Trump springs to mind – have preferred to overlook.

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The purposeful bombing of hospitals and relief operations in the besieged Syrian city of Aleppo shows the value Putin puts in the strategic use of terror and brutality.

And Moscow’s response to evidence presented this week by investigators showing Russia’s involvement in the July 2014 shooting down of Malaysia Airlines flight MH17 is the latest example of Putin’s mastery of disinformation and capitalising on the weaknesses in the western media.

Putin has every reason to feel emboldened by his dealings with the North Atlantic Treaty Organization, the European Union and recent U.S. Presidents. In every confrontation he has either forced a stalemate or won a significant victory.

Putin came to power in Russia in August 1999, and used the eight years of the George W Bush presidency to quietly stabilise the country internally, reassert state Kremlin control of the oligarch economic tsars, and begin to rebuild its military power after the chaos of the collapse of the Soviet Union. In this he was aided by the ease with which Bush was flattered into silence, and the Washington administration’s preoccupation with Islamic extremism and the ill-fated invasion of Iraq after the 2001 terrorist attacks.

Putin also had his own Islamic problems in Chechnya, where he honed his predilection for the strategic usefulness of unrestrained brutality in the crushing of the capital Grozny in 2000. In 2003 the United Nations called Grozny “the most destroyed city in history.” But with the West’s attention fixed on Osama bin Laden and Saddam Hussein, no one was ready to push the point with Putin.

Bush was halfway out the door in 2008 when Putin made a move that directly confronted the U.S. and NATO. The Black Sea republic of Georgia, a former Soviet satellite, was leaning heavily towards joining the EU and NATO when, early in 2008, two predominantly ethnic Russian enclaves, South Ossetia and Abkhazia sent a request to Moscow to have their independence recognized. Tensions increased and Georgian President Mikheil Saakashvili unwisely inflamed the situation in the apparent hope of engaging NATO in the sqabble.

NATO and Bush did not bite. Putin – now taking a temporary and constitutionally-required break from the presidency as Prime Minister – invaded Georgia. Saakashvili’s troops were easily overcome and the West did nothing. The two enclaves remain Russian reserves.

Putin learned from his Georgia escapade that the West’s trip wire for intervention is set very high – in part because of the debacles in Iraq and Afghanistan, and more recently in Libya. There is plenty of room closer to the ground for Putin to pursue his objectives of securing Russia’s borders and re-establishing its influence without triggering any meaningful push-back from the West.

Barack Obama came to the U.S. presidency in 2009 with a predilection to get his country out of the wars in which it had been embroiled by Bush. Obama was therefore just as determined to avoid embarking on new ones. With that mindset, it was foolish of him to box himself into a corner in the early months of the Arab Spring in 2011 by saying that any further use by the regime of President Bashar Assad of chemical weapons against rebels would be a “red line” demanding outside intervention. When Assad tested Obama’s resolve with further gas attacks, and Washington backed down, the message echoed around the Middle East, and nowhere louder than in the Kremlin.

The stage was set for Russian intervention in the Ukraine.

In February 2014, protesters in Kiev who wanted closer ties to Europe and NATO forced the resignation and flight of pro-Russian president Viktor Yanukovych, who had been democratically elected in 2010. Almost immediately, Moscow began organizing armed groups among the pro-Russian and ethnic Russian populations in the Crimea peninsular and eastern Ukraine. This was the first outing of the “little green men,” the heavily armed and well-trained groups without any national insignia, but who it is now certain are Russian special forces. In mid-March a referendum was held in Crimea, which backed becoming part of Russia. The international community has not approved Russia’s takeover of Crimea, but that is now an established reality.

So is the Russian presence among the anti-Kiev rebels in eastern Ukraine. There is now yet another de facto buffer state in the chain created by Putin to protect Russia from the eastward push of the EU and NATO. At the eastern end are the two enclaves in Georgia. In Moldova is Transdniester, an enclave occupied by Russian troops. This territorial dispute effectively blocks any moves towards EU or NATO membership by the Chisinau government.

No wonder then that NATO allies are now focussed on the Baltic States of Lithuania, Latvia and Estonia, where there are also large Russian minorities from these countries’ days in the Soviet Union. Troops are being deployed from other parts of NATO to these countries to deter Putin from again using his skills at asymmetrical warfare to create another buffer zone along Russia’s north-western border.

For the moment, Putin is more interested in Syria, where he sent forces last year to back besieged President Assad. Putin’s campaign is going well. It now seems inevitable that any political settlement will involve Assad, and that he will probably remain in power, at least in the western and economically most important part of Syria. Indeed, the battle for Aleppo, Syria’s largest city and commercial hub when the country is functioning, suggests Assad and his Russian and Iranian allies may well win outright the war against rebels backed by the U.S. and its Gulf State allies.

Two weeks ago Putin and the Obama administration agreed on a ceasefire to allow humanitarian aid to be delivered to rebels holed up in the eastern part of Aleppo. But it soon became evident that Putin, Assad and Iran only intended the pause to be a piece of psychological warfare and an opportunity for their forces to prepare for the final assault.

The demoralising effect on the besieged rebels can only be imagined. They knew the United Nations had relief columns all lined up, that they were prevented by Damascus from proceeding, and that one was destroyed by Russian or regime warplanes.

Then came the purposeful bombing of hospitals and relief organizations by regime or Russian bombers. UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon was incandescent with rage this week. He called the attacks “war crimes” and said “such attacks are often deliberate to aggravate suffering and force people from contested territory.”

That is indeed the purpose, and in all likelihood it will work within the next few days. Putin knows he can do whatever he likes without any serious repercussions, especially not from the U.S. He no longer bothers to portray Russia as a mediating force in the Syrian conflict. U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry has flatly admitted that there is no point now in trying to negotiate a ceasefire process with Moscow.

Putin’s willingness to use the most brutal methods of warfare against civilians to achieve a strategic aim has been matched by plunging levers into another weakness in Western society.

That fissure was described succinctly by Edward Lucas, a senior editor at The Economist magazine. “Russia has really grasped the post-truth environment,” he wrote. “And they will lie about things absolutely brazenly. They understand the weakness of our media in the post-Cold War environment: that we prioritize fairness over truth.”

(Putin’s great fan, Donald Trump, has also recognized the value of the brazen lie and that the media, especially the U.S. media, is so dedicated to fairness and balance that it would not call him out. In the final days of the presidential campaign, that seems to be changing.)

Putin comes from the culture of the old Soviet secret police and intelligence service, the KGB, of which he was an officer. KGB officers were masters of disinformation and spreading confusion by the planting of fabricated, but marginally plausible stories.

These old skills have been relearned and redeployed under Putin. On the allegations that in July 2014 Malaysia Airlines flight MH17 was downed killing all 298 people on board by a Russian 9M38 missile fired from a Buk anti-aircraft system stationed in rebel-held eastern Ukraine, Moscow has mounted a massive disinformation campaign. It has put out doctored photographs and satellite images, trying to make the case that the airliner was either shot down by a Ukrainian fighter jet, or by an anti-aircraft missile fired from territory controlled by the Kiev government. Dutch investigators – they headed the inquiry because the flight originated at Amsterdam’s Schipol Airport – conclusively exposed the Russian duplicity this week. The Buk system was tracked coming over the border from Russia into eastern Ukraine and then being taken back after downing the Malaysia Airlines plane. The only remaining questions are who exactly oversaw the operation, which may well have been a mistake. The real target was probably Ukrainian air force cargo planes. The Dutch have the names of 100 suspects.

Yet even with this evidence Moscow continues with its denials. Foreign Ministry spokeswoman, Maria Zarkharova, said in response to the report: “The conclusions of the Dutch Prosecutor’s office confirmed that the investigation is biased and politically motivated.”

Putin is using the same retort to charges that Russia is involved in the bombing of hospitals and relief organizations in Syria. Russian spokesmen have denied that either their or Syrian warplanes have been involved in the destruction of relief convoys or medical centres, even though it is only their planes that have been operating in those areas.

Putin’s spokesman, Dmitry Peskov, has sown more confusion by blaming the U.S. and its allies for derailing the ceasefire. Peskov said the breakdown was caused by the U.S. failure to separate the so-called “moderate” rebels, backed by Washington and the Gulf States, from extremist groups such as Jabhat Fateh al-Sham (formerly Jabhat al Nursa), which recently shifted allegiance from al-Qaida to the Islamic State group.

This is nonsense. A major problem in attempts by Washington to co-ordinate with Russia attacks on the extremist Islamic State group and its allies has been that Moscow and Assad see all the rebels as terrorists and are indiscriminate in trying to slaughter them.

Putin would undoubtedly be delighted to see Donald Trump in the White House; a man with whom he appears to share attitudes towards the truth.

And then there’s all those unanswered questions about how much Russian oligarch money is propping up the Trump real estate empire, if such an empire actually exists. Trump’s disdain for NATO and most U.S. allies is also a great boon for Putin. He won’t have to sow confusion in the ranks of Russia’s adversaries if the President of the United States is willing and able to do it for him.

Hilary Clinton will be an entirely different challenge for Putin. From her record, she is a more willing interventionist than Obama. And when one looks at the record of women who have risen to government leadership in democracies – Golda Meir, Indira Gandhi, Margaret Thatcher – they can be more willing to back their country’s interests with military might than their male counterparts.

Copyright Jonathan Manthorpe 2016

Contact, including queries about syndication/republishing: jonathan.manthorpe@gmail.com

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Manthorpe B&WJonathan Manthorpe is a founding columnist with Facts and Opinions and is the author of the journal’s International Affairs column. He is the author of “Forbidden Nation: A History of Taiwan,” and has been a foreign correspondent and international affairs columnist for nearly 40 years. Manthorpe’s  nomadic career began in the late 1970s as European Bureau Chief for The Toronto Star, the job that took Ernest Hemingway to Europe in the 1920s. In the mid-1980s Manthorpe became European Correspondent for Southam News. In the following years Manthorpe was sent by Southam News, the internal news agency for Canada’s largest group of metropolitan daily newspapers, to be the correspondent in Africa and then Asia. Between postings Manthorpe spent a few years based in Ottawa focusing on intelligence and military affairs, and the United Nations. Since 1998 Manthorpe has been based in Vancouver, but has travelled frequently on assignment to Asia, Europe and Latin America.

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Déjà Vu All Over Again

JIM MCNIVEN: THOUGHTLINES
February, 2016

This 18th year of the Second Cold War is, simultaneously, the 40th year of the Muslim equivalent of the Christian Thirty Years’ War in the 1600s.

The First Cold War lasted 45 years, from 1945 to 1990. It was over once the Soviet system of States collapsed, due in great part to the inability of that system to manage a competitive, modern economy. The Chinese, Indians and others began to realize that a global economy was forming under the leadership of the United States and have adjusted accordingly. The Russians and others, including the Arab States, have had a more difficult time making that adjustment. The United States itself is now also having to adjust to its success in creating an increasingly interconnected world, largely of its own making, where it constitutes only about 4-5% of the global population. But, that is another story.

In 1618, the Holy Roman Emperor of the time decided to begin forcing all the subjects in lands under his nominal control to behave like Catholics. Since a large number of them had been practicing Protestants for nearly a century, this did not go down well. The resulting conflicts and revolts among the multitude of German States and principalities drew in other, foreign players such as France, Holland and Sweden. The War ended some 30 years later and left Germany exhausted and destroyed. There was no equivalent to the Marshall Plan to revive Germany at this time and the area remained a disunited ‘geographical expression’ for most of the next 2 ½ centuries.

The Muslim version of the Thirty Years War began with some inter-Arab States meddling in each others’ business, followed by a civil war in Lebanon, mostly along religious-ethnic lines. As the war dragged on, it dragged in the Cold War adversaries along with the neighboring Israelis. It took 14 years, from 1975 to 1989 for the parties to exhaust themselves and to encourage a political relationship that more equitably allocated legislative seats to Christians, Sunnis, Druze and Shia Muslims. By then, Shias elsewhere had become more aggressive following the Iranian Revolution of 1979 and, in reaction, the Iraqi leadership, with a Sunni dictator controlling a country that was majority Shia, began the Iraq-Iran War that lasted from 1980-88. As that petered out, the Iraqis invaded their smaller neighbor, Kuwait, bringing an American-led coalition that threw the Iraqis out.

Sunni extremism flowered as part of the distribution of Wahabi doctrine from Saudi Arabia, along with subsidies for mosques and imams worldwide. It was also helped along by active American support for the Afghan resistance to the Soviet occupation of their country. Once the Soviet Union collapsed in 1989, these occupiers had withdrawn and some of the veterans on the Afghan side, especially from other Muslim States, began to consider the possibilities of carrying the fight to other Muslim countries in Africa and Asia. The bombings of American embassies in Africa in 1998 began the Second Cold War.

But what about the core Muslim areas and the Thirty Years War there? The probability is that before it ends in exhaustion, the Arab States in Asia will have all been devastated. So far, only Jordan, Saudi Arabia and the Gulf States have been spared, but serious pressures and conflicts that could lead to war also affect them. Yemen, Iraq, Syria, Lebanon have been torn apart by violence and overlapping ethnic and religious communities have been set against each other, not unlike Germany in the 1600s.

All kinds of outside States are involved, sometimes allied and sometimes at odds. Communities of believers outside the area of direct conflict have been drawn in, especially in terms of ‘foreign fighters’ joining a new player, the Sunni extremist ISIL, which has taken territory from both Syria, whose Shia-supported leadership is entangled in a civil war with the majority Sunni population and Iraq, with its Shia government, which has succeeded in alienating the Sunni Arabs in the south. Both countries have also lost control of the areas inhabited by Sunni Kurds in the north.

It is commonplace to note that 75-80% of Muslims globally are Sunni, not Shia, but in the immediate zone of conflict, that is not relevant, as most Sunni States, with the exception of Turkey, are far distant. The major Arab player, Egypt, is blocked from direct intervention by the location of Israel, though it could still come to the aid of Saudi Arabia. The major player on the Shia side, Iran, is not Arab, though somewhat bigger than Egypt and, even under international sanctions, is probably more formidable. The Turkish interest is focused on the Sunni Kurds who have carved out a State for themselves in Iraq and northern Syria and have muted ambitions in eastern Turkey. Finally, the largest community of Muslim believers is a minority within the vast numbers of Indians.

Most likely, the endpoint will come with the sad removal of large and small pockets of Sunnis and Shia from their ancient communities, along with the uprooting of Christians and others who will become another wave of refugees from ethnically cleansed pockets. I take as a model the traumatic and bloody ‘exchange of populations’ between Greece and Turkey in 1922-3.

The Middle East will become more uniform, with two hostile camps watching each other. This will come at a price. The United States has learned that one of its most vital sources of creativity has come from the waves of people pushed out of places like Ireland, Germany, Eastern Europe, Mexico and China. The diversity is valuable, but difficult to manage. The uniformity so popular elsewhere leads to, well, dullness.

As to that Second Cold War, Year 18 corresponds to about 1963 in the First Cold War. That was the year the United States began to ‘get serious’ about supporting South Vietnam. No boots on the ground yet, but a lot of advisors and air support. Of course, there had been no real American combat since the Korean War had ended a decade before, but then we are now a decade since the beginning of the Iraq campaign.

So, is the United States likely to re-engage in terms of Islamic State or the resurgent Taliban? I doubt whether the Second Cold War will end any sooner than the first, which argues that the conflict will drag on until the 2040s. By then, like Germany after the 30 Years War, the Arab East will be a real mess and like Vietnam, it will make its peace with American business and (possibly) will develop a new relationship with some former enemy in the face of a new one. By then, the emerging global culture will be too strong to resist.

The lessons I would draw from these historical events is not to bet against whatever side the United States is on in a long-run Cold War situation. It is the acknowledged ‘champion’ of Cold Wars and will not give up its place in the face of Wahhabi/ Salafi/ Al Queda/ Taliban/ Islamic State, etc. pressure any time soon. As well, unlike the threat from the Soviets, this new opponent does not have the backing of a nuclear-armed, large-economy State. The United States will not abandon its globalization project no matter how much some elements in countries dreaming of alternatives, religious or socialist, would like to see this happen.

— With acknowledgements to Yogi Berra

 Copyright Jim McNiven 2016

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Next, read Jim McNiven’s column The Cold War 2.0 from our 2014 archive:

For 40 years, one big contest played out in the world. It was a kind of arm-wrestling match between the Soviets and the Americans. I use the word ‘Soviets’ to distinguish one contestant from its successor of sorts: today’s Russians. Eventually, the Soviets could not keep their end of the game going and walked away from the table, into history. The last decade of the century was one where there was but one superpower — and it wanted to party. The attacks on America on September 11, 2001, brought that party to a halt. It signified a new game was beginning; not one of two superpowers engaged while the rest of the world largely stayed out of the way, but one where arm-wrestling was replaced by a kind of hide-and-seek. … continue reading The Cold War 2.0

Jim McNiven’s latest book is The Yankee Road: Tracing the Journey of the New England Tribe that Created Modern America. www.theyankeeroad.com

Jim McNiven

James McNiven has a PhD from the University of Michigan. He has written widely on public policy and economic development issues and is the co-author of three books. His most recent research has been about the relationship of demographic changes to Canadian regional economic development. He also has an interest in American business history and continues to teach at Dalhousie on a part-time basis.

 

 

 

 

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China’s island building in defence of nuclear missile submarines

“China is clearly militarizing the South China Sea, and you’d have to believe in the flat Earth to think otherwise” —  Adm. Harry Harris

SOUTH CHINA SEA (Jan. 15, 2016)  The Arleigh Burke-class guided-missile destroyer USS Curtis Wilbur (DDG 54) conducts a live fire gunnery exercise with its 5-inch .54-caliber gun. Curtis Wilbur is on patrol in the 7th Fleet area of operations in support of security and stability in the Indo-Asia-Pacific. (U.S. Navy photo by Lt.j.g. Jonathan Peterson, Public Domaine

SOUTH CHINA SEA (Jan. 15, 2016) The Arleigh Burke-class guided-missile destroyer USS Curtis Wilbur (DDG 54) conducts a live fire gunnery exercise with its 5-inch .54-caliber gun. Curtis Wilbur is on patrol in the 7th Fleet area of operations in support of security and stability in the Indo-Asia-Pacific. (U.S. Navy photo by Lt.j.g. Jonathan Peterson, Public Domain

JONATHAN MANTHORPE: International Affairs
February 26, 2016

Southeast Asia

Southeast Asia/Wikimedia commons

It has been a long and expensive quest, but Beijing has now found a way out of Washington’s straightjacket aimed at blocking China from becoming an imperial power.

For the last 30 years or more, the barrier to China being able to project naval power into the Pacific and Indian oceans has been the control by the United States and its allies of the chain of islands and archipelagos stretching from northern Japan to the Philippines. This “first island chain” has effectively hemmed in Beijing’s navy by keeping eagle eyes on its every move.

Now Beijing has found a way around that barrier by first claiming sovereignty over most of the South China Sea, and now constructing islands with military installations and airstrips in maritime territory claimed by Vietnam, the Philippines, Malaysia, and Brunei.

When Beijing first began making claims to own 90 per cent of the South China Sea, claims that clearly had no legal or historical merit, the immediate calculation was that China lusted after the submarine oil and natural gas reserves, and the abundant fish stocks. The claim has generated strong push-back from Washington, which insists on the right of free passage across the sea, which carries some 25 per cent of global maritime trade worth over $5 trillion each year.

But the massive program in the last two years of dredging, island building, and military construction on previously untenable shoals and islets right down to Indonesia – about 1,200 kilometres from Chinese territory – has put a whole different complexion on this enterprise. Admiral Harry Harris, commander of the U.S. forces in the Pacific, this week told America’s House Armed Services Committee that China has created more than 1,200 hectares (3,000 acres) of artificial land in the last two years. At least half a dozen of the man-made islands have military bases, most with airstrips, and at least one is home to a squadron of fighter aircraft.

“China is clearly militarizing the South China Sea, and you’d have to believe in the flat Earth to think otherwise,” said Adm. Harris. The admiral added that in order to match China’s increasingly capable naval and air power the U.S. needs “weapons systems of increased lethality that go faster, go further and are more survivable.” He said he is only able to deploy 62 per cent of the attack submarine patrols he needs to be sure of keeping the Chinese forces under control.

A key piece of the puzzle of deciphering Beijing’s intentions came this week with the discovery that China had built a high-frequency radar station on Cuarteron Reef, in the Spratly Islands and midway between southern Vietnam and Malaysia’s Borneo states. Cuarteron Reef is about 1,000 kilometres (600 miles) from the nearest undisputed Chinese territory at Hainan Island.

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Chinese dredging vessels in the waters around Mischief Reef in the disputed Spratly Islands in the South China Sea. U.S. Navy photo, Public Domain

Chinese dredging vessels in the waters around Mischief Reef in the disputed Spratly Islands in the South China Sea. U.S. Navy photo, Public Domain

The supposition is that China is preparing to enforce an air defence identification zone (ADIZ) over the whole of the South China Sea. It has already done this in the East China Sea as a tactical move in its spurious claim to Japan’s Senkaku Islands.

What is emerging is that Beijing is constructing a network of military bastions in the South China Sea to protect its base for its fleet of nuclear missile armed submarines at the southern tip of Hainan Island. The base at Yulin is in massive caves constructed in the sea cliffs and is capable, according to U.S. and Indian intelligence estimates, of housing 20 Type 094, or Jin Class submarines, each carrying 12 intercontinental ballistic missiles. The nuclear missile submarines, known as SSBNs, are able to leave and return to the base submerged, making it hard to spot them from U.S. patrol aircraft or spy satellites.

By taking military control of the South China Sea and attempting to cow the other littoral states, Beijing is trying to ensure it can deploy its SSBNs into the Pacific and Indian oceans without them being detected by the U.S. and its allies.

The South China Sea offers several deepwater passages into the Western Pacific, the major one being the Luzon Strait between Taiwan and the Philippines. But there are others between the Philippines and Malaysia and Indonesia. To get to the Indian Ocean remains more of a problem. The most direct route is through the Malacca Strait, which is well guarded by Washington’s ally, Singapore. To cut the number of times its warships have to transit the Malacca Strait choke point, Beijing has sought port visit privileges, including for its submarines, with Sri Lanka and Pakistan.

China’s naval ambitions are alarming several of its neighbours and driving them into the arms of the U.S. Much to Washington’s delight, China’s rampant military expansion has given Japan’s Prime Minister, Shinzo Abe, the reason he wanted to water down the country’s “pacifist constitution,” imposed after the Second World War. The re-interpretations and amendments to the constitution allow Japanese forces to play a far more assertive role in partnership with allies.

In Southeast Asia, the Philippines, Malaysia, Thailand and even old enemy Vietnam are boosting their military relations with Washington as a bulwark against what looks to them like Beijing’s dream of imperial expansion. However, Beijing has been clever at exerting divide-and-rule pressure among the 10 countries of South East Asia. China has used its economic and political muscle on Laos and Cambodia in particular to ensure that the countries of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) have been unable to develop a common front against Beijing. U.S. President Barack Obama hosted the ASEAN leaders at a landmark summit in California on February 15 and 16. The hope was to develop a united front on the South China Sea issue, and to solidifying economic ties as the group forms a common market modelled on the European Union, and as the Trans- Pacific Partnership free trade agreement approaches completion. Progress on the economic issues was solid, but less so on political matters.

The mere fact that the summit happened underlines the reality that Asia and the growing confrontation with China will loom ever larger on the radar screen of whomever takes over the White House from Obama. It is to be hoped that when the U.S. votes later this year its citizens have in mind the real challenges for the next president. Forget the Islamic State group and the quagmire of the Middle East. Asia and the confrontation with China is where the real threat to North American interests lie. Indeed, the situation is fast approaching something that looks strikingly similar to the Cold War with the Soviet Union.

Washington’s attack submarines are already engaged with the Chinese navy in “The Hunt for Red October” cat-and-mouse games they used to play with the Soviets under the North Atlantic. Those tensions will only increase as Beijing tightens controls over the sea-lanes to Hainan Island and deploys more and more nuclear missile SSBNs.

The situation is all the more dangerous because Beijing’s belligerence is a sign of the weakness of the regime. Weak regimes make mistakes.

Since it gave up the spiritual draw of communism three decades ago, the Chinese regime has relied almost totally on economic growth for its political legitimacy. That period has come to an end because the ruling Communist Party refuses to make the fundamental political and administrative reforms necessary for the economy to move forward. Those reforms require the party to give up its exclusive hold on power by accepting such things as the rule of law, and effective oversight of the administration. Instead, the party appears ready to go down with the ship rather than plug the leaks and repair the engine while there is still time.

To keep itself afloat, the Communist Party under President Xi Jinping is using two lifeboats. One is a massive expansion of authoritarianism. Chinese people have not been subject to the same kind of repression and restrictions since the days of Mao Zedong. And Xi is nothing if not an equal opportunity dictator. Foreign non-governmental organizations and even foreign companies investing in China are finding their China operations under increasing restrictions and bans.

Xi’s other lifeline is that age-old last refuge of a scoundrel: nationalism. Since he came to power as Communist Party boss and President over the winter of 2012, Xi has pursued an assertive and sometimes aggressive foreign policy aimed at convincing China’s 1.3 billion citizens that they belong to a powerful nation whose footsteps make the ground shake and other nations tremble. His first efforts were to goad Japan, China’s historic enemy. This was an obvious target because Chinese schoolchildren are indoctrinated at an early age with hatred of the Japanese, even though it was Japanese investment and technology that has made China’s “economic miracle” possible.

But supplanting the U.S. as the arbiter of peace and security in Asia has become Xi’s dream for China.

What we are seeing now has developed from another of Beijing’s imperial territorial ambitions; to take possession of the island nation of Taiwan and its 23 million people. But the U.S. has domestic legislation requiring it to aid the defence of Taiwan if the island is attacked. Thus for about 25 years China’s military planners have worked on the premise that in order to successfully invade Taiwan, they must first be able to deter or defeat any rescue bid by U.S. forces.

China’s building of a large fleet of attack submarines — now thought to number over 60 – is a major element in trying to make the seas unsafe for U.S. warships. Even more effective and a lot cheaper has been China’s development of a whole range of anti-ship missiles, which make elements like U.S. aircraft carrier battle groups very vulnerable.

The Chinese military planners could not go very far down this road, of course, before having to take into account that both China and the U.S. are nuclear powers. China insists it would never be the first to use nuclear weapons, though only useful fools, fellow travellers and agents of influence would believe that pledge to be of any real value. But China’s problem is that if it were to be attacked by nuclear weapons, it has not had a serious second-strike capability. This phrase will be familiar to those who lived through the Cold War, but what it means is the ability to deter a nuclear attack because the enemy will know for sure you will have enough nuclear weapons that survive to be able to strike back.

China has worked hard to remove this weakness by making its nuclear weapons highly mobile and building safe sanctuaries for them in mountainsides. The most effective second-strike nuclear weapons, however, are on ballistic missiles in SSBN submarines. The dream of Chinese military planners has been to ensure the U.S. will never attack them with nuclear weapons because the Pentagon will know that lurking somewhere in the waters off California or New England are Chinese SSBNs.

When China first started developing SSBNs they were part of the Northern Fleet and based at Xiaopingdao in the Bohai Gulf. The problem with this location was that in order to go on patrol the submarines had to go through the shallow waters of the Yellow Sea, where they could be detected by the U.S. and ally South Korea. The other route was to go through the East China Sea, which is also shallow, and to risk detection by the Americans and Japanese allies on the Ryukyu Islands.

Hence the move to Yulin on Hainan and the push to turn the islets and reefs of the South China Sea into a network of bastions to protect the base.

Washington and its allies will now have to try to check Beijing’s South China Sea move, unless, of course, the U.S. administration is prepared to see itself overshadowed in Asia and its allies put at risk of Beijing’s tantrums.

Adm. Harris said this week he wants more submarines and better weapons to be able to keep the Chinese in check. Another development already underway is much closer military relations between Washington and Manila. This is essential if effective surveillance of the Luzon Strait is to be maintained. That will also require closer co-ordination with the Taiwanese military. It will probably work in Washington’s favour that Tsai Ing-wen has been elected President of Taiwan at the head of a majority Democratic Progressive Party government. The previous government of President Ma Ying-jeou, the Kuomintang whose ideology was dominated by Chinese who fled to the island in 1949 when the communists captured China, was far too interested in creeping into favour with Beijing to be trustworthy. Tsai and her party are dedicated to maintaining Taiwan’s independence, and can be expected to see a stronger partnership with the U.S. as a guarantee of that hope.

Other U.S. allies in Asia are beefing up their navies in order to be effective partners. Australia, for example, this week published a defence white paper envisaging a large increase in its air, land and sea forces, including 12 submarines and nine anti-submarine frigates. This move is bold because China has become Australia’s largest trade partner, especially as a buyer before the latest recession of Australian natural resources.

A Chinese government spokesman said Beijing regretted the Australian plans, which she said reflected “a Cold War mentality.”  She may be right, because that seems to be the appropriate frame of mind.

Copyright Jonathan Manthorpe 2016

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Jonathan Manthorpe is the author of “Forbidden Nation: A History of Taiwan.”

Contact: jonathan.manthorpe@gmail.com. Please address queries about syndication/republishing this column to jonathan.manthorpe@gmail.com

References and further information:

Watch:  U.S. Navy P-8A Poseidon flies over new islands in South China Sea — U.S. Navy video

Watch: Asia Maritime Transparence Initiative, Center for Strategic & International Studies video

 

 

From F&O Archives:

China’s war for Asian domination going well, JONATHAN MANTHORPE: International Affairs
April 2, 2015

China manufactures islands to back its sovereignty claims. JONATHAN MANTHORPE: International Affairs
September 10, 2014

Beijing takes another major step to control the South China Sea, JONATHAN MANTHORPE, International Affairs, May 23, 2014

Facts and Opinions is employee-owned and relies on the honour system: enjoy one free story. If you value independent, no-spam, no-ads,expert journalism, support us with a minimum of .27 per story, a $1 day site pass, or $20 per year. Donate below. Details here.

 

Manthorpe B&WJonathan Manthorpe is a founding columnist with Facts and Opinions and is the author of the journal’s International Affairs column. Manthorpe has been a foreign correspondent and international affairs columnist for nearly 40 years. Manthorpe’s  nomadic career began in the late 1970s as European Bureau Chief for The Toronto Star, the job that took Ernest Hemingway to Europe in the 1920s. In the mid-1980s Manthorpe became European Correspondent for Southam News. In the following years Manthorpe was sent by Southam News, the internal news agency for Canada’s largest group of metropolitan daily newspapers, to be the correspondent in Africa and then Asia. Between postings Manthorpe spent a few years based in Ottawa focusing on intelligence and military affairs, and the United Nations. Since 1998 Manthorpe has been based in Vancouver, but has travelled frequently on assignment to Asia, Europe and Latin America.

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F&O’s CONTENTS page is updated each Saturday. Sign up for emailed announcements of new work on our free FRONTLINES blog; find evidence-based reporting in Reports; commentary, analysis and creative non-fiction in OPINION-FEATURES; and image galleries in PHOTO-ESSAYS. If you value journalism please support F&O, and tell others about us.

 

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Postcard from Poland as the Iron Curtain lifted

Old Town Square in Warsaw, in 2012. Photo by Eirik Newth via Flickr, Creative Commons

Poland was the first of the East Bloc countries to embrace democracy after the Berlin Wall fell in 1989. Above, Warsaw’s Old Town Square, in 2012. Photo by Eirik Newth via Flickr, Creative Commons

ROD MICKLEBURGH
November 09, 2014

As it happened, I was in the neighbourhood the day the Cold War’s most enduring symbol disappeared in a frenzy of exuberant East Berliners and belching Trabants streaming past the downed concrete.

Alas, however, I was not with the cheering masses, but stuck on a train from hell headed to Warsaw, idling in the East Berlin Bahnhof for a passport check, or some such thing. Gazing at the stolid, uniformed East German soldiers and railway attendants, I remember thinking: “The only country and system you have ever known is about to crumble. What can possibly be going through your minds?” Yet the cliché of stern, unsmiling, uniformed East German guards remained frozen in time. My “papers” were scrutinized with the same thoroughness that had been inflicted for years on Westerners travelling through their communist bastion.

Of course, I should have hopped off the train and witnessed history in the making. But, just as I chose to miss Dylan and the Band at Toronto’s Massey Hall in 1965, I let this opportunity slip by, too. Sigh. 

Rod Mickleburgh, 1989

Rod Mickleburgh, 1989

Still, being in Warsaw while East Germany teetered also had its fascination. Once it became clear that the Soviet Union, under Gorbachev, was no longer prepared to intervene in its so-called satellite states, Poland was the first of the East Bloc countries to embrace democracy, Recent elections had been won overwhelmingly by Solidarność. Many of their marvellous campaign posters featuring Gary Cooper in High Noon remained on walls and storefronts. 

Poland was in transition, its rigid state economy crumbling. As I worked on a radio documentary for Canada’s CBC radio Sunday Morning with the theme: ‘Can Poles make it through the winter?’, I visited crowded soup kitchens and poorly-stocked grocery stores. I vividly remember an old woman in tears over her small purchase of potatoes. “It’s all I can afford,” she wept, her meagre pension eroded by inflation. Shaken, my translator, a Solidarity activist imbued with the bright future of a non-communist Poland, quietly slipped her some money.

It was the dawn of the free market in Poland. An entrepreneur had set up the country’s first fledgling stock market on the second floor of the city’s ramshackle, old Fisherman’s Hall. A cab driver told me that now, for the first time, he could buy bananas. The independent, pro-Solidarity newspaper, Gazeta Wyborcza, had just been launched. I visited its offices in a former kindergarten in a leafy, residential area of Warsaw. The paper’s star columnist was ensconced in a cubby hole that was once a washroom. Almost everyone else worked on desks scattered about the ex-school’s large open area. It felt like a student newspaper. Today, the Gazeta Wyborcza is the second largest newspaper in Poland.

But I most remember my first night in Warsaw, when I walked into the darkened main square of its beautifully-restored Old Town. A couple of guys, clearly from the country, were selling cheese by candlelight from the back of an old van. There was such simplicity to the scene as money and cheese changed hands, only the low hum of their voices breaking the silence of the vast, empty square. I thought to myself: “Thus, capitalism begins in Poland.”

There’s still something about being on the ground floor of a revolution, even without the immediacy of East Berlin.

Poles, meanwhile, were transfixed by the joyous scenes in that long-divided city. At the press centre, the lone television was tuned to CNN. Employees watched non-stop. They couldn’t believe their eyes. Hardline East Germany, with the Stasi, the shoot-to-kill border guards and everything else, succumbing to the people? It didn’t seem possible. But in this case, the over-used, simplistic phrase was right. The tearing down of the hated Berlin Wall really did mark the end of the Cold War. Two weeks later, Czechoslovakia’s Velvet Revolution cranked up to take Havel to the Castle. Over Christmas, the odious Ceausescu’s were shot in Romania. Hungary consolidated its democratic advances. In no time, the once-mighty Warsaw Pact was history.

To think, when I headed to Europe in the fall of 1989 for a year’s stay in Paris, the big story was going to be the growing consolidation and unity of the EU. (That’s going well…..)

When my train passed through East Berlin on the way back from Warsaw, the guards were gone. A single station attendant checked my ticket and passport with all the attentiveness of a local transit guy.

A while later, I struck up a conversation with a friendly fellow from Oslo. He had boarded the train at East Berlin, and couldn’t stop talking about what it was like being among the hundreds of thousands of giddy Wall revelers. He told me that the moment he saw pictures of the Berlin Wall coming down, he booked off work, gathered up his two teenaged sons, and headed for East Berlin. “It is important for them to see history,” he said. “They will remember this for the rest of their life.”

A quarter of a century later, I would wager his prediction still holds.

Copyright Rod Mickleburgh 2014

November 11 in Poland is Independence Day. Poland regained independence in 1918, after 123 years of partitions by Austria-Hungary, Germany, and Russia. Its status was fleeting: after WW II it became the People's Republic, controlled by the USSR. Since the Iron Curtain fell in 1989, Poland has again celebrated its independence every November 11. Photo of 2009 parade by Magic Madzik via Flickr, Creative Commons

Since 1989 November 11 in Poland has been known as Independence Day. Poland regained independence in 1918, after 123 years of partitions by Austria-Hungary, Germany, and Russia. Its status was fleeting: after WW II it became the People’s Republic, controlled by the USSR. Since the Iron Curtain fell in 1989, Poland has again celebrated its independence every November 11. Photo of 2009 parade by Magic Madzik via Flickr, Creative Commons

 

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Children born just the Berlin Wall fell were lower achievers

Two sides of the Berlin Wall, in 2011. Photo by Osamu Kaneko via Flickr, Creative Commons

Two sides of the Berlin Wall, in 2011. Photo by Osamu Kaneko via Flickr, Creative Commons

By Arnaud Chevalier, Royal Holloway and Olivier Marie, Maastricht University
November 8, 2014

Germany and the rest of Europe are celebrating the 25th anniversary of the collapse of the Berlin Wall and the associated communist regimes in Eastern Europe.

This event had colossal repercussions in the economic development of the region but also, and maybe less obviously, on its demography. Following the collapse of the Communist regimes, fertility in Eastern Europe went into a sharp decline.

This was especially marked in East Germany which over a short period experienced a 50% drop in births (Figure 1) which was dubbed the “most substantial fall in birth rates that ever occurred in peacetime”.


Figure 1. Annual crude birth rate per 1,000 women from 1950 and 2008. Calculations from population data from the Federal Institute for Population Research. Arnaud Chevalier and Olivier Marie, Author provided

Economic uncertainty was one of the main reasons for the fertility drop. But who were the parents that, despite the distressing level of economic uncertainty, decided to have children? And does this parental selection matter to how their children fare later on?

Theoretically, an economic downturn has two opposite effects on the demand for children: it reduces household income (something called the income effect) but it also reduces the opportunity costs of having children (the substitution effect) where the prospects of finding a job are low, and being out of the labour market and raising a child is not as costly in terms of forgone earnings.

Which of these effects dominates is ambiguous. In fact, it is likely that the relative size of the substitution and income effect depends on family characteristics, which lead to differences in parental composition throughout the economic cycle. For example, for richer families the income effect is likely to be the more important while for less wealthy ones, the substitution effect is likely to dominate.

The fall of the Berlin Wall provides a unique “natural experiment” to study this question. In our research we defined the cohort of children born in East Germany between August 1990 (conceived just after the collapse of the wall) and December 1993 as the “children of the wall”. We provide evidence on parental selection based on the average criminal activity of these children as they grew up, their educational attainment and detailed individual-level data on both mother and child, regarding parental skills.

Using state-level statistics on contact with the police by age group over the period 1993-2011, we found that the arrest rates of these children were at least 40% higher when compared to older cohorts and to their West German peers. This is true for all types of crime and for both boys and girls.

Importantly, these differences in the frequency of contact with the police started appearing as early as six-years-old (Figure 2a). This is despite being part of a numerically smaller group, which is usually associated with positive outcomes and is indicative of a strong negative parental selection; the children of the wall are clearly behaving differently from their peers from a very young age.


Figure 2a: arrest rate per 1,000 population in East and West Germany age 6-7, from Federal Criminal Police Office data. Chevalier and Olivier, Author provided

Figure 2b: arrest rate per 1,000 population in East and West Germany age 10-11, from Federal Criminal Police Office data. Chevalier and Olivier, Author provided

Figure 2c: arrest rate per 1,000 population in East and West Germany age 16-17, from Federal Criminal Police Office data. Chevalier and Olivier, Author provided

Similarly, the children of the wall also had worse educational outcomes. Compared to their class peers who were conceived before the fall of the wall, they had lower scores in international tests such as the Progress in International Reading Literacy Study (2001) and PISA (2006), and were over-represented among low achievers. As such, they were 33% more likely to have repeated a grade by age 12, and 9% more likely to have been put into a lower track.

To explore if these negative outcomes are driven by differences in parental characteristics, we looked at very detailed survey data from the German Socio Economic Panel (SOEP) – a longitudinal survey of about 11,000 private households in the Federal Republic of Germany from 1984 to 2012, and eastern German states from 1990 to 2012 – and the Deutsches JungedInstitut survey (DJI).

We found that women who gave birth in East Germany just after the end of the communist regime were on average younger, less educated, less likely to be in a relationship and less economically active. Importantly, they also provided less educational input to their children.

In these surveys the children of the wall also rated their relationship with their mothers and the quality of parental support they received by the age of 17 much less favourably than their peers. Both children of the wall and their mothers were also more risk-seeking than comparable individuals who were not born in East Germany between August 1990 and December 1993.

While these results are in line with negative parental selection, they could also have been driven by biological factors in the timing of their birth: due to the economic turmoil prevalent at the time, these children may have experienced higher levels of maternal stress as a foetus and during early childhood, which may have shaped their future behaviour.

To find out more, we examined the same outcomes for the older siblings of the children of the wall. They also similarly reported having a poor relationship with their mothers and lower educational attainment. So this rejected the possibility that the children of the wall had worse outcomes due to being born in “bad times” and we instead concluded that the negative outcomes observed in this group was explained by the lower parenting skills, on average, of those who decided to have children during a period of high economic uncertainty.

A possible reason for this negative parental selection is that the fertility decisions of these women were not strongly swayed by changes in economic circumstances. Indeed, further analysis of the SOEP revealed that less educated mothers were far less likely than more educated ones to reduce their fertility when they perceived a bad economic environment (Figure 3).


Figure 3. The probability of having a child measured by economic worry and education level over period 1991-3. Chevalier and Olivier, Author provided

Our findings confirmed that parental selection may be one of the best predictors of the future outcome of a group, and that this most likely works through quality of parenting.

These conclusions have potentially important policy implications. First, the provision of public services should not only be based on the size of an incoming group of children – and more attention should be paid on its composition. And second, that interventions need to start from a very young age and should also aim at improving non-cognitive characteristics such as the risk attitude of expecting mothers or children.

Creative Commons

The Conversation

Arnaud Chevalier receives funding from The British Academy

Olivier Marie received a Veni research grant from the Netherlands Organisation for Scientific Research (NWO). In addition to his position in the Department of Economics at Maastricht University, he is also linked to the CEP at LSE, IZA, and CESif

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

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In the wake of the Berlin Wall — what if Francis Fukuyama was right?

Potsdamer Platz in the former East Berlin, in 1963. Photo by Roger Wollstadt via Flickr, Creative Commons

Potsdamer Platz in the former East Berlin, in 1963. Photo by Roger Wollstadt via Flickr, Creative Commons

A quarter century ago the Berlin Wall came crashing down, taking the post-WW II world order with it.

Beneath all the headlines, the predictions and recapitulations, recriminations and geopolitical events of the last 25 years can be found signals of profound change. Francis Fukuyama’s bold prediction that history had ended may have been overly optimistic, writes International Affairs columnist Jonathan Manthorpe. But here’s the thing: the game is not yet over yet. An excerpt of Manthorpe’s new column, History still waits for the Fat Lady to sing:

The world would be a different place if Francis Fukuyama had been right in the essay he wrote, shortly before the demolition of the Berlin Wall 25 years ago this weekend, arguing that the Soviet Union  collapse was indeed “the end of history.”

“What we may be witnessing,” wrote the Stanford University political scientist, “is not just the end of the Cold War, or the passing of a particular period of post-war history, but the end of history as such: that is, the end point of mankind’s ideological evolution and the universalization of Western liberal democracy as the final form of human government.”

That was a bold prediction to say the least, and Fukuyama has had to suffer a quarter century of guffaws over what appears to be one of the major misjudgements of modern times…. log in to read History still waits for the Fat Lady to sing (paywall*)

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Fright night?

At Halloween this year, Jim McNiven’s thoughts turned to his grandson – and a tour he took with the nine-year-old boy at a museum in the American Southwest.

The Titan Missile Museum – built during the Cold War to launch nuclear-armed intercontinental ballistic missiles at enemies of the United States – puts to shame the scary ghosts and goblins that prowl North America’s streets each October 31st.

Log in to read McNiven’s account of their adventure, available to monthly subscribers or with a $1 day pass to Facts and Opinions. 

 

Posted in Current Affairs, Gyroscope Also tagged , |