The Ice-cold War
Under that title, early in the Cold War an Ambassador posted to a certain S.E. Asian country told London about the odd combination of hard men and soft drinks in its coup-prone politics. One General had the Coca-Cola concession; his rival was with Pepsi. Woe betide a clueless Frank who asked for a Coke in a Pepsi domain! The despatch was classified hilarious and printed for Foreign Office and Whitehall distribution.
But now we are into a serious New Ice Cold War, from Arctic to Antarctic; particularly serious for the geo-strategic situation of Australia. It is being launched by Czar Putin with a series of provocative gestures, including the planting of a flag under the sea - in effect claiming the North Pole as Russian territory - and a military build-up like the one that bankrupted the USSR.
His blatantly militaristic challenge to America, Europe and Japan has the more subtle support of the fellow-Leninist, but increasingly Confucian Chinese. The scale of this emerging Beijing-Moscow axis/alliance makes the “Brutal Friendship” of Hitler and Mussolini look like a wrestling pair of street-corner thugs.
But today’s leaders of Russia and China do not forget Lenin’s dictum: support temporary allies "as the rope supports the hanged man". At present, it suits both to cooperate on excluding America from Central Asia and securing energy resources and pipelines. But later, and elsewhere?
Russia excels at chess, we know those rules. They say that Confucius wanted gentlemen, but he got players. Players of a different game, called weiqi (G0 in Japanese). It is best translated as besieging, hemming-in or strangling chess. It symbolizes the traditional Chinese strategy of preparatory WARCE, or weaponised peace (we do need this new word for it).
In stage 1, you put down smoke, confuse and tie down the target with all sorts of peacetime weapons and stratagems, from industrial espionage, internet hacking, proxy guerillas, unbalanced trade and sovereign capital investment to talented women. Stage 2 comes when the enemy is so constrained and distracted as to be ripe for the threat of an armed assault (stage 3) "like a millstone crushing eggs" - preferably, execution of that stage should not even necessary.
This is the game in which Moscow and Beijing are now placing pawns with a view to the future of possible global warming and their resource needs; not just in Central Asia, but in the "Cold Rush" under the floating Arctic ice and in the rocks under the ice of the Antarctic.
While Canada, Denmark and Norway as well as the US and Russia pursue potential sovereign rights to Arctic energy and mineral resources, not to mention the North-West Passage, Antarctica is coming on the radar as possibly a more practicable source of hydrocarbons (under the melting Ross Ice Shelf)and metals (in the Pensacola Mountains). Under the North Pole, remember, the land with Putin’s pennant on it is deep under water. In the South, there is a continent under the ice, some of it at the edge already settled.
China and India, as well as Russia and the U.S. have bases there though they do not yet claim any sovereignty. Claims are presently frozen by the Antarctic Treaty to Australia and some others including Britain, France and Argentina which maintains several bases, as does Chile. The Russians are drilling and the Americans are putting big money into infrastructure, including over 1000km. of road.
So far we cannot say whether the Antarctic resources could safely and viably be exploited; as in the Arctic, the Powers are more concerned to secure a strategic position in case the Antarctic Treaty System should collapse. Australia claims about a quarter of the continent; it is also investing a lot of money, and just started a new air link from Hobart to its bases. Should we watch that space for sudden flag-planting events?
Ian Adie is WSN Editor Australia.