Tue, Jan 15, 2019 - Page 8 News List

Becoming a Switzerland of the East

By Jerome Keating

In the complex paradigmatic world of imagined communities, nationalism inevitably trumps ideology. However, in addition, both nationalism and ideology can be easy fodder for manipulation by unscrupulous megalomaniac leaders.

This interplay is what Taiwan must understand as it looks outward at the strong nations surrounding it and their leaders.

Former Russian spy operative Vladimir Rezun (pen name Viktor Suvorov) brought this interplay to the fore in 1990 with his startling work Icebreaker: Who Started the Second World War?

Suvorov cued off the reality that after 50 years, the Kremlin finally admitted to signing the 1939 Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact; he then pointed the finger at former Soviet leader Joseph Stalin as the cause of World War II.

Aspects of his thesis could be challenged and partially discredited, but overlooked in the process was how Stalin worked with and manipulated ideology and nationalism on both his western and eastern fronts.

The counterargument to Suvorov that Russia was not poised to invade Europe in 1941 is strong, yet it does not examine the fact that Stalin could still have had a more distant timeline for his plans.

There are two parts to Suvorov’s thesis. The first is that Stalin provided the tipping point that would be the direct cause of World War II. That becomes evident upon examination.

The second part, that Stalin was poised to invade Europe and Adolf Hitler beat him to the punch, is the flaw in Suvorov’s argument.

As regards the first part, in 1939 knowing that the UK and France were already committed to support Poland, Stalin made this unacceptable offer of support: He would intervene against Germany only if Poland would allow Russian troops free access across their nation.

While this unacceptable offer was on the table, Stalin was at the same time secretly negotiating the Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact, by which Germany and Russia not only divided Poland between them, but also carved out other spheres of influence in Eastern Europe.

Once signed, this pact gave Hitler the go-ahead to safely attack Poland and left the more distant UK and France with no choice but to declare war. Hitler then became Stalin’s “icebreaker” in cracking into European democracies. It allowed him to remain neutral on the sidelines, biding his time as both sides wore each other down through wartime attrition.

Ideologically, Germany and Russia were enemies, but the pact made sense nationalistically for Stalin and Hitler. Neither wanted a two-front war.

A devastating war between the European powers would not harm Russia and it would allow Russia to immediately focus on the threats on its east. However, it is on this point that Suvorov’s analysis breaks down: It neglects the consequences of what was happening on Russia’s eastern front.

Russia had been ideologically committed to supporting the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) and subsequently Mao Zedong (毛澤東) since 1919. It also faced a continuous nationalistic threat from an expanding Japan that had in 1931 taken over Manchuria and was now extending its reach to the mineral resources of Siberia.

In this setting, Russia forged an additional pragmatic alliance with the Chinese Nationalist Party (KMT) and Chiang Kai-shek (蔣介石), whose son Chiang Ching-kuo (蔣經國) studied in Russia from 1925 to 1937.

Stalin knew that the CCP was not strong enough to lead a united China against Japan and so gave strict orders during the December 1936 Xian Incident that Chiang Kai-shek was not to be harmed. This decision quickly proved beneficial as Japan’s attacks in China escalated after the July 1937 Marco Polo Bridge Incident.

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