Saturday, July 25, 2009

On the Failure of Population Schemes

This blog usually discusses matters of security, but statecraft has other aspects as well. An article which caught my attention this morning underlined that point: "Shanghai calls on chosen couples to exceed China's one child limit".

The gist of the article is quite simple: China has too many old people and not enough young people, which will make taking care of the elderly a nightmare. "Shanghai is taking the dramatic step of actively encouraging residents to exceed China's famed 'one child' limit, citing concerns about the aging of its population and a potentially shrinking workforce," the Financial Times writes.

The only thing that prevents me from saying, "I told you so," is the fact that I wasn't around when the "one child" policy was first put in place in 1979. The problems that China is now or soon will be facing are the obvious consequences of their actions. "Shanghai's initiative follows campaigns to encourage more child bearing in other crowded Asian cities such as Hong Kong and Singapore, which had previously worked to promote small families only to see birth rates trail off..." Well, yes, contraception and abortion campaigns tend to have that effect.

In addition to creating a demographic and economic disaster, "China's decades-old one-child policy... remains a significant intrusion into private life." An added bonus.

What particularly tickles me about this story is that plenty of people pointed out the fact that these kinds of policies will backfire. In 1968 Pope Paul VI issued his highly controversial encyclical Humanae vitae, which articulated the argument that contraception runs contrary to the natural order. If that sounds a bit too philosophic for a statesman to worry about, let me point out that the true statesman must understand the order of nature before he can operate effectively within it. It is a basic test the Chinese leadership have failed.

Monday, July 20, 2009

Remembering the July 20 Plot - Again

Two years ago I wrote a post about the July 20 plot. This year, commemorating those who attempted to overthrow Hitler in 1944 is even more important to me.

This past semester, as part of my duties as a teaching assistant at Texas A&M, I led discussions on John Weiss' The Ideology of Death: Why the Holocaust Happened in Germany. Weiss' argument is easily caricatured: conservatives, traditionalists, big business and Christianity (in particular Catholicism) were responsible for the Holocaust. Only progressive, atheistic (or at least irreligious and relativistic) socialists are free of blame in Weiss' account.

The problems with The Ideology of Death are legion, too many to mention here. I shall concern myself with only one: Weiss all but ignores Colonel Claus von Stauffenberg (pictured left) and the July 20 conspirators. Why? Because Stauffenberg represents everything Weiss abhors: a Catholic, an aristocrat, a nationalist and a military officer.

Weiss dismisses the July 20 plotters as johnny-come-latelys. The socialists, he says, had been opposing Hitler from day one, whereas the army only turned against Hitler when it was apparent that defeat was in store. Besides the fact that authors such as Allen Dulles have shown that the army had grave misgivings about Hitler and his band of unprofessional thugs even before the war began, Weiss overlooks a key point: the socialists never came close to toppling Hitler. The July 20 conspirators did.

As if to add insult to injury, Weiss claims that Stauffenberg has been shunned by a nation of proto-fascist Nazi sympathizers in the modern Federal Republic of Germany. His case is weak, at best. Stauffenberg's son Berthold became a general in the post-war German army; another son, Franz-Ludwig, became an elected member of both the German and European parliaments. The members of Germany's elite Wachbataillon take their oath of service on July 20, at the Bendlerblock, where the July 20 conspirators met and were later executed. The street on which it sits has been renamed Stauffenbergstraße and the building now houses the Memorial to the German Resistance.

The modern German army, created in 1955, is keen to sever any connections with its Nazi predecessors. Thus, in addition to post-1955 innovations, there are only two legitimate sources of tradition in the Germany army. One source is the military reformers of the 19th century, men like Scharnhorst, Gneisenau, and Clausewitz. The other source are the lives and heroic deaths of the July 20 conspirators.

Stauffenberg and his coconspirators were not the only people within Germany to oppose Hitler; brave men and women such as Dietrich Bonhoeffer and the White Rose movement did likewise. We would do well to reflect on their sacrifices and defend their legacy against the likes of John Weiss.

This post first appeared on The Guild Review, a blog of art, culture, faith and politics.

Wednesday, July 15, 2009

Difficult Choices in an Era of Deficits: The British Military Budget

My beloved Financial Times carries four pieces on its daily Comment page. Always. In all the years I have subscribed I do not recall ever seeing it otherwise.

So when I saw this morning that there were only three, with Max Hastings' column"What Britain Must Give Up for the Soldiers It Needs," taking up almost double the usual space, I sat up and took notice. The piece is indeed sobering.

I have argued before in favor of retaining conventional military power, including air power. However, Hastings makes a compelling case that Britain's current attempts to maintain military power in all sectors - including a nuclear deterrent and first-rate air intercepting capabilities - come at the cost of failure and death in places like Helmand. In an era of staggering government deficits, expensive projects mean fewer boots on the ground. Rather than simply recapping Hastings' entire article, let me simply suggest that you read it.

While Britain's needs are somewhat different than America's, and her budgets considerably smaller, the basic issues at stake are the same for all the Atlanticist powers. (I have not heard much about the French military budget lately, but I suspect similar debates are at hand, or soon will be.) Thus, Americans would do well to take note of the cousins' concerns.

There are two footnotes I would add to Hastings' comments : While the details of current projects mean that reconfiguring carriers from a fighter complement designed for interception to a helicopter complement designed for ground support may be expensive, it seems to me there are possibilities here for dual-use platforms which may help bridge some of the gap between traditional peer competition and small wars capabilities.

My second comment is related. Hastings makes a strong case that the Trident capability, however desirable in its own right, is expensive and less necessary than other programs. Likewise the F-35. But carriers are another matter. They are useful for power projection around the globe, a veritable sine qua non of international engagement of the kind Britain would like to maintain. And whereas Trident missiles are only good for intimidating second-tier state powers, carriers are versatile - or at least can be - and thus capable of supporting both traditional and asymmetric uses of military power.