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Three cheers for Balkanization!

By Bruce Walker
web posted April 30, 2001

Balkanization is a geopolitical shibboleth conjured up to ward off vague dangers to all that is good in the world. The term was used incessantly during the post-war years, and as often by Cold Warriors like me as by people on the political left. Now it seems that Balkanization is seldom bad and often very good. The alignment of nations and peoples serves mankind best when it encourages the diffusion of power.

The dreaded Finlandization of Europe which I condemned as much as anyone during the 1970s now, in hindsight, might well have been benevolent. Here, for those untutored in the Cold War, is the thrust of Finlandization: Finland, which was not invaded by Stalin when the Axis collapsed, agreed not to diplomatically oppose the Soviet Union on much of anything, and not to ally itself with the victorious Allied Powers of the West.

If America did not defend West Germany, Denmark, Greece, and Italy, then those nations might also be Finlandized, and taken off the geopolitical chessboard as assets for the democracies. The quarrel was not with Finland at all, which was a free, tolerant, neutral democracy with cordial relations with America and other democracies. The issue, rather, was what would happen if the Red Army began to dictate to West Germany what its policies should be.

Hindsight suggests that West Germany and Italy were almost certainly proof against such intimidation. Austria was the other "Finland" in Europe (part of the Axis forces that was not retained as part of the Soviet dominated nations of Eastern Europe), and Austria, like Finland, was free, democratic, neutral and friendly towards America.

Switzerland and Sweden, which were not contiguous to the Soviet Union or allied with the Nazis, did not appear at all intimidated by Stalin or his successors, even though both nations were neutral and modestly sized. The combination of inoffensive foreign policy, and a polite but clear intention by both nations to fight kept Sweden and Switzerland out of two world wars and the Cold War. Though truly neutral, neither nation was pacificist at all: Switzerland's National Guard was trained, equipped, and psyched to fight in hours; Sweden's armaments and NCOs were the best in Europe.

Josip Broz Tito Charles De Gaulle
Tito and DeGaulle

Marshal Tito in Yugoslavia and General DeGaulle in France both showed that tough minded leaders of European nations - men who had fought long wars against Hitler - were proof against threats of intimidation by Stalin. Whether those leaders liked us, loathed us, or ignored us was relatively unimportant to the interests of freedom and peace.

The strongest argument for Finlandization was that West Germany was the linchpin of Europe, and without the armies and air forces of many nations, the half of Germany unoccupied could not resist Warsaw Pact pressure. Probably not. Taiwan, South Korea, and Israel have each faced very lopsided opposition, and although each received help from America, each also relied primarily upon strong defensive forces and political will (much like Sweden and Switzerland).

Germany formally neutral and non-aligned, but as prepared to fight a war as Switzerland or Sweden, was the second worst Soviet nightmare. The worst? A unified Germany which would be the richest and most scientifically advanced Communist nation in the world and the natural leader of Europe (pretty bad nightmare for us, too).

Our preoccupation with Finlandization meant that those natural reserves which have insured that freedom survives - the islands and hemisphere areas protected from Eurasia - began the front line troops in the Cold War. Thanks to many good, stout people - Maggie Thatcher, Solzhenitsyn, Gipper, Pope John Paul II, Afghan rebels, Polish workers - we defeated the Communist Tsars.
Why, then, even think about "Finlandization"? Because if we again do not let freedom be obtained by the oppressed peoples themselves, then the strongholds of liberty and peace will again become the front line troops in our new Cold War with China, and with other odious regimes.

America and the other wealthy and benevolent democracies protected by seas and oceans from China, India, Russia, and Islamic fanatics should built up very powerful military forces, but those forces should be naval, aerospace, aviation, missile defense and the like. The foot soldiers in the war against these remnants of old, bad empires must be indigenous, and Balkanization is the key.

Balkanization refers to the fragmentation of that unhappy quadrant of Europe long oppressed by degenerate Ottoman rulers. The Balkans needed to be Balkanized. The peoples of the Balkans, like the Jews after the Holocaust, understand how possession of a state - however small (Israel is not too big) - allows an ethnic, religious, or racial group to live in peace and freedom, often not easily, but freedom and peace always have a price.

Balkanization after Versailles kept the Commissars of Moscow from threatening others, and when democracies allowed the nations once owned by the Tsars - Ukraine, Georgia, Armenia, and the Moslem states - to be re-conquered by Red Tsars not only increased Soviet power, but took away the natural allies against Soviet aggression.

Balkanization is also the reason why Russia has remained unthreatening to the world, in spite of much corruption: The continued independence of the twelve non-Russian nations carved out the Soviet Union reduced the size of any new Tsar by half, and the stronger independence of satellites multiplies that benefit.

What worked with the Tsars will work with the Mandarins of the corrupt Chinese Empire, which is no more a nation than were the Ottoman, Hapsburg, or Romanov dynasties. What we call "China" is a vast empire than encompasses over 1.25 Billion human beings. Although the royal language of China is Mandarin, fewer than two out of every three subjects of the Chinese Empire even speak Mandarin. Several other Chinese languages have tens of millions of native tongues within the empire, and these are no more one language than are Portugese, Romanian, and French (each a Romantic language) or Swedish, English, and Flemish (each a Germanic language).

The linguistic fractures of this last, vast empire are greater than just those that separate French from British and Italians. The primary language on the island of Hainan, where our spy plane was forced to land, was not even a Chinese language, but one of the six other families of languages within China which include Turkic, Tibetan, and other family of languages which are the principal language in most of the geographical areas of the Chinese Empire.

Western China is also home to persecuted Moslems, who have brethren in the relatively new nations of the former Soviet Union. Northern China is home to Mongolians, whose countrymen on China's northern border live in an independent Mongolia. The south of China is speckled with peoples who speak non-Chinese languages and who have tribesmen in Burma, Laos, and Vietnam.
These oppressed peoples are our natural allies in the new Cold War. What if China throws this back at us? Well, Quebec can leave the rest of Canada, and independence is openly debated. Scotland recently acquired something akin to independence from the United Kingdom. Czechs and Slovaks had a "velvet divorce" and Flemish and Walloon groups bicker in Belgium. Tiny Denmark has forcefully rebuked the vague European Union. In short, free peoples will debate, grouse, harangue, and whine about oppressed cultures, peoples, races, languages, and so on precisely because they are free. And that, of course, defangs the very power of the argument.

But China cannot allow an open debate of real and ancient grievances. India, another menace around the corner, is in the same shape: The subcontinent is nothing more than a hodgepodge of peoples who share not language, religion, or race living in forced union with others. Indonesia, the largest Moslem regime, is he most linguistically fragmented nation in the world - indeed, the term "nation" as applied to this sprawling archipelago reflects only its common bond as a name once given to a colony of the Netherlands. Iran? Full of Baluchi, Kurds, and others. Look almost anywhere where we have enemies, and you will find large numbers of unhappy subject minorities.

Is there danger to a strategy of encouraging "Balkanization" or "separatism"? No. We who love liberty want precisely "separatism" in our lives. All this means is the right to relate to one another on terms we choose, not terms dictated by old men in Beijing, Moscow, Istanbul, or Jakarta. Did the separation of America or Canada from Britain mean international anarchy, or rather the development of truly loyal friends and allies when bound (as often so) by shared values?

The logic of the variety of markets (economic, cultural, social) insures that free peoples can compete and choose without coercing and crushing. The cumulative effect of these myriad personal choices will also determine the optimum natural size for states, just as treaties or terms of confederation will determine the best balance of rights.

Ronald Reagan had a simple strategy for our Cold War with the Communist Tsars: We win; they lose. They lost, and they have not come back. Why? Let me count the ways: Ukraine, Georgia, Khazikistan, Uzbekistan, Armenia, Estonia, Lithuania, Kirghiz, Lithuania, White Russia, Azerbaijan, Turkmenistan, and Moldova.

Let us plan now on a free Tibet, free Mongolia, free Yunnan, free Sinkiang, free Hainan, and free Canton. Let us begin to speak now about the rights of the Sikhs in India, the Moslems in Kashmir, the West Bengali (who live in India and not in Bangladesh). What is true of China and India is true of every other nasty regime that might threaten us: Indonesia, Iran, Iraq - you name it! All these bad guys who threaten freedom and peace have a common pattern: Oppression begins at home.

This course will not make us friends, but now is the moment in history to act. Anglo-America, democratic Europe, and the emerging market democracies of Latin America hold the upper hand. Let us, right now, befriend the oppressed and force those bosses whose method of ruling is as old as Assyria to change their ways.

Freedom begins in different ways. Sometimes the impetus is economic. Sometimes it is religious. Sometimes it is nothing more complicated than culture and language. Freedom is inherently "non-ideological" and so when we nurture in around the world, we do not nurture it because we love Tibetan Buddhists or Tamil separatists, but because we love freedom. This is the vehicle, and now is the moment.

Bruce Walker is a frequent contributor to The Pragmatist and The Common Conservative.




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