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Tue. November 28, 2023
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IA-Forum Interview: David A. Andelman
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International Affairs Forum: Some say we are in a watershed era, with nations (and blocs of nations, e.g. EU, Mercosur) pulling back from globalization as such, at least in economic affairs. "Free trade" is not a popular phrase right now. Do you agree, and see an analogy to the Post-WWI economic retrenchment that followed the great age of imperial, and colonial, expansion of international exchange? David A. Andelman: We have learned some important lessons since Versailles—after WWI, all the US wanted to do was get back home, pull back, and avoid entanglements. Ultimately one of the results of that was the creation of barriers to exchange with the world, the Smoot-Hawley Tariff, and preferring autonomy over interdependence. We have to remember that the US was the last man standing after WWI. It financed the Allies, who in turn demanded German reparations to cover their own obligations. In effect they sought to impose a sort of Carthaginian Peace. Keynes, initially hopeful about his ability to secure a more rational result as advisor to the British delegation, resigned in disgust and moved to an academic career, writing with considerable foresight about the dangers of forcing Germany to be Europe’s financier. The Allies tried to redesign the entire world, created nations joining widely divergent ethnic groups (Iraq, Yugoslavia, Czechoslovakia), for essentially selfish reasons doing things we would never do today—motivated by the need to maintain clear trade routes to Asia rather then creating viable self-governing states. Today, trading blocs are important and powerful forces, including not just the NAFTA and other western hemisphere accords, but also the Gulf Cooperation Council, the Asian pacts, and the WTO overlaying all. If the nations comprising these blocs can work together, as central banks seem to be pushing to do right now, we should avoid the kind of beggar-thy-neighbor attitude that did so much harm after Versailles. We truly need, at a minimum, a globally coordinated interest rate and trade structure. IA-Forum: Could the often violent fragmentation of heterogeneous countries have been predicted, given that heterogeneous empires were the rule, rather than the exception, prior to Versailles? DA: The fragmentation should have been clear—Harold Nicolson, Allen Dulles and others among the younger generation of diplomats at the talks, thought perhaps they could unlearn the lessons taught by Europe’s experience after the Congress of Vienna in 1815. But we failed to learn these lessons. Because of self-serving interests, the powers at Versailles focused on creating nations that were large, heterogeneous and weak, not little Balkan-type homogeneous nations that might proven troublesome for the major powers to control. In terms of diplomatic and strategic relations, they were looking to minimize their workload as much as possible. They lacked the foresight to see what would happen when peoples started to assert themselves in the interest of autonomy. The illusory joining of ethnic opposites in Palestine, the emerging Soviet Union (which the West did nothing to stop) was not considered an issue. They simply did not understand historical enmities (Japan and China, for example) that would unravel their neat packages of compromise. IA-Forum: Is it fair to say the great powers were looking for political (and economic) one-stop shopping, so to speak? DA: Countries ultimately wind up with the governments that their people want and effectively deserve if left alone. I’m persuaded that Iraq will yet evolve that way, with at least partial autonomy for the diverse ethnic regions. It may take time, but with genuine self-determination (in the Wilsonian sense, as articulated in the 14 points) nations really can find their own way. We expected Indochina to be a horror show after the Vietnam war, but today it is one of the most prosperous regions….by accident or design, we left them alone and the old enmities evaporated. IA Forum: How can you explain the convergent trends of fragmentation and unification—i.e. that the first order for a newly seceded government is usually the application to NATO or the EU? DA: When Sheik Feisal approached Versailles in 1919 he suggested a collection of semi-autonomous states, pointing out that the US had 48 states (then) and comprised one nation, so why couldn’t the Arab nations as well? Something like that has happened with the Gulf Cooperation Council, but it was not in the interest of the great powers then. Today the EU allows divergent social and economic identities for its member states. While banding together for the common good, those member states maintain governments that suit their local needs. Imagine if all of Central Asia were federated, and that federation were empowered to deal collectively with Russia and China on oil and trade. That could work very effectively. The diversity-in-unity balance might produce political and economic blocs that could be very useful IA-Forum: Since the US, being more heterogeneous than any of the countries at Versailles, has not experienced the kinds of upheaval seen in Europe during last century, would it be fair to say that the dividing principle for a heterogeneous Europe is the lack of a common idea or ideology? In other words, there is nothing quite as inherent in (racial, ethnic) heterogeneity causing conflict, than there is in perception and psychology? DA: Lewis Lapham says he is a great believer in republicanism (small-r) and the US is really 6 or 8 different countries; California, Texas. New England, the South (which did try separation of course) the Upper Midwest and so forth. But as I see it we’ve had 300 years to work this through by growing organically as a nation, bit by bit, over time, which we couldn’t do in one swoop today….and we did have a civil war as our own upheaval. The US experience with being a heterogeneous nation may not be a replicable model due to the great time scale over which it matured. Truly we need to think about what defines a nation, a subject at the forefront of the 25th anniversary edition of the World Policy Journal—asking contributors to describe the world 25 years from now, including, for example, virtual communities that may not be ‘nations’ as we have thought of them before. IA-Forum: What is the 'thing' that allows Croats, Serbs, and Kosovars to live in relative harmony together under some regimes—and be mortal enemies under others? Could it be that the very insistence on homogeneity (often for political ends) is as much the cause of violence as is the heterogeneity? DA: There are many forces of division—historical, sociological, linguistic religious. There are also many different unifying forces. China is not really one huge nation but an agglomeration of distinct regions and ethnicities, and would not be viable without the overlay of a powerful communist government. Absent that, you would see many more instances of centrifugal forces pulling China apart. But today’s China was formed centuries before the US and the modern, western notion of the nation-state. When Soviet Russia moved into Outer Mongolia it imposed a Cyrillic alphabet, but when communism collapsed and Mongolia won true independence, that linguistic overlay was quickly and easily jettisoned. The graft didn’t take. Still China will not let go of its own province of Inner Mongolia, or even Tibet for that matter, and such harmony as does exist comes as a function of central control, tempered by a strictly limited degree of freedom. The balance is always precarious. IA-Forum: One main theme of "A Shattered Peace" is the inability of the 'Big Four' (and other major powers) at Versailles to see beyond their networks of personal associates in making hugely consequential decisions in divvying up power after WWI. You cite Paderewski (to name just one) as a highly-effective networker, bolstering his faction in Poland. Today are these kinds of personal networks a hindrance, on balance, to formulating policy, or a plus? George Bush for instance cited his personal relation with Putin as a path to mutual trust. DA: Sometimes it prevents them from arriving at a thorough understanding of the society in question. When Bush sits across from Putin, he may forget that Putin represents the entire Russian people for better or worse. It is important not to lose sight of what he stands FOR. Personal magnetism works, but it can delude. At Versailles the West European leaders—Britain’s Lloyd George, France’s Clemenceau, Italy’s Orlando—had no respect for Wilson, which proved a huge flaw in whole process. Wilson could have stayed home and let his chief of staff, Colonel House, negotiate the whole process with maybe a better result. Instead he gambled on pressing his vision of a League of Nations, and ultimately his broader vision of self-determination collapsed. In bargaining, the whole nation is across the conference table, not one just one person, so it is critical to understand how that nation works. The Brits and the French thought they could browbeat the US, fresh from successfully concluding a bloody war, to go and fight the Bolsheviks. It wasn’t going to happen. Wilson didn’t believe in war, and he, like most Americans, wanted US forces to disengage and return home as soon as possible. IA-Forum: The way you present many of the players at Versailles sort of pre-figures the Age of Globlization: cultural and political cross-fertilization already being facilitated by technology (telegraph) and growing transmigration from continent to continent (cf. Ho Chi Minh making his way to Paris with menial jobs in Boston and London). Is today's globalized world merely different in degree, and not in kind, from the world cira 1919? DA: Yes, really the only change is the speed and pace of integration. Steamships, telegraph, and even the telephone served as rudimentary instruments of globalization back then. Today things move much more rapidly—the reason markets are much more tightly integrated and react to each other instantly. That gives us a critical mass we didn’t have back then, and is why we must all stick together for better condominiums between nations and groups of nations. IA-Forum: Are today's G7, G8, G20, ASEAN, and on and on, really just the Big 4 writ large, and made into a sort of permanent supra-national authority? Can 'leading powers' working together really decide policy for, say, the developing world? DA: Ultimately a lot of these countries will negotiate from positions of their bloc—for instance, the European Union, not just the G-7; the Middle East bloc known as the GCC [Gulf Cooperation Council], not the G-20. Smaller systems like the G-7 will work only as long as they have some utility, but ultimately will find them subsumed by blocs that are larger and more targeted. For instance, we need Russia involved in the system—hence we need the G-8 rather than the G-7. We probably need included in such systems the BRIC nations—Brazil, Russia, India, China—as well as the key Middle East countries. If not, we risk missing the boat. Global decisions must be taken by representatives of the big trading blocs rather than individual members IA-Forum: Would you agree that your insights into Western neglect of minority peoples and rising powers in Asia, especially, are greatly informed by the benefits of hindsight. With that hindsight, what is the worst mistake the West is making today in trying to regulate our political and economic future? DA: What I would say is that the negotiators at Versailles nearly a century earlier made little real effort to understand the world that they readily conceded they were remaking (though very much in their own image). I suspect strongly, alas, that our leaders today are all too often making the same errors in their efforts to deal with some of the more remote and emerging corners of the world. How many Americans really understand Georgia in terms of any geopolitical region that does not include Atlanta as its capital? Recall that Woodrow Wilson’s principal Middle East expert was a Columbia professor who was a scholar of the Crusades, which meant that his understanding of the whole region ended somewhere around the year 1300 at the end of the Seventh Crusade. Our leaders, our voters, need to understand our world and its people before we go in and try to start remaking it, and all too often at gunpoint. David A. Andelman is the Editor of World Policy Journal. Previously he served as Executive Editor of Forbes.com, the world's largest business and financial website and before that he was a domestic and foreign correspondent for The New York Times in various posts in New York and Washington, as Southeast Asia bureau chief and East European bureau chief. For seven years he served as CBS News’ Paris correspondent, followed by service as a Washington correspondent for CNBC, news editor of Bloomberg News and Business Editor of the New York Daily News. He is the author of three books, "The Peacemakers", published by Harper & Row, and "The Fourth World War", published by William Morrow, which he co-authored with the Count de Marenches, long-time head of French intelligence. His third book, "A Shattered Peace: Versailles 1919 and the Price We Pay Today” was published in November 2007 by John Wiley & Sons. Andelman has written for such publications as Harpers, The Atlantic, The New Republic, The New York Times Magazine, Foreign Policy and Foreign Affairs. He is a graduate of Harvard University and the Columbia University Graduate School of Journalism, and is a member of the Council on Foreign Relations, the Harvard Club of New York, The Grolier Club and the Overseas Press Club.
available at Amazon D.A.Andelman, A Shattered Peace: Versailles 1919 and the Price We Pay Today, Wiley Publishers

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