Why Putin And Xi Must Be More Like Bismarck

Russia and China risk setting off global conflicts for the sake of national pride. A century later, the lessons of Otto von Bismarck are being ignored again.

Chinese navy sailors
Chinese navy sailors
Dominique Moïsi

PARIS – While the world came together in a sincere and legitimate emotion in memory of Nelson Mandela, there is another historical figure – his absolute opposite – whose absence is cruelly felt, at least from Moscow to Beijing. Bismarck, the Iron Chancellor, the man who achieved the unification of Germany around Prussia, is the statesman who knew how to preserve peace in Europe for several decades thanks to a wise policy of restraint. His dismissal by Wilhelm II, who considered him too reasonable, opened the gates of hell.

In her latest book, devoted to the origins of the World War I, "The War That Ended Peace," Margaret MacMillan chooses not to offer conclusions on the ultimate causes of the conflict. For the historian, the only certain thing we can say is that great statesmen like Otto von Bismarck in Germany were badly missing in the Europe of 1914. Nobody really wanted to go on war, but nobody knew how to avoid it.

Political and military leaders were unable to understand that in the midst of the industrial and transportation revolutions, impending war could not longer be "the continuation of politics by other means," as Carl von Clausewitz famously wrote.

At the beginning of 2014, neither Vladimir Putin in Moscow nor Xi Jinping in Beijing seem to have learned the lessons of Bismarck. For the Russian leader regarding his country's relationship with Ukraine, and for the latter concerning his government's policy in the China Sea.

In Ukraine, Russia has to choose the kind of relationship it wishes to settle with Europe. Shall Russia emphasize its nationalism and quest for identity, at the expense of any consideration for the European balance of power? If Kiev winds up back in the lap of Moscow, Russia will almost automatically and mechanically risk repeating what France from 1643 to 1815 and Germany from 1870 to 1945 represented: the "European problem." It is that problematic condition when a country that is both too present and not present enough for its neighbors to achieve its ambitions.

Bismarck at 75 by Franz von Lenbach (Wikipedia)

Ukraine, with its 45 million inhabitants and a territory as large as France, is indeed the key that holds Europe in the balance. We cannot divide it, as it happened three times to Poland in the late 18th century: the western region joining Poland, the eastern region being annexed to Russia. Still, the Ukrainians are facing a "civilization choice” between the democratic European Union and the autocratic Russia, which portends major geopolitical implications for the future of the European continent.

"Tact in audacity is knowing how far you can go without going too far." The formula of Jean Cocteau applies equally well to Russia as to China. Both in the waters and the skies over the China Sea, Beijing seems to gradually be losing its sense of proportion, displaying an impatience that seems to cut against China long-term interests. The regional status of the Middle Kingdom is inevitable, obvious and recognized by everyone. But where is the great peaceful power, confident in the superiority of its civilization, convinced in its bright future and "letting time take its course?"

History's unlearned lessons

Showing off quite openly - not to say brutally - its regional hegemonic ambitions, China manages to unite against itself such disparate nations as Vietnam, the Philippines and Indonesia. These countries more than ever are looking to keep the United States as the greatest power in Asia, going beyond their historical disputes with Japan. They seem to be more tolerant of the perennial discrepancies with Tokyo than to the deterrent effects of Beijing.

For skeptics, history teaches nothing because it contains everything. The only lesson that could be drawn was that it is not good to invade Russia at the end of the summer, and yet Hitler chose not to learn from Napoleon’s experience.

Still, the teachings of traditional diplomacy are probably more useful now than they could have been in the 20th century. If the era of global ideologies is over, the one of national interests is back. In fact, war has changed more than diplomacy and, undoubtedly, for the worse. The destructive power of weapons has grown exponentially, even though the enemy has become more diffuse.

Even as the transportation and information revolutions have transformed the function of diplomats, the rules of diplomacy remain basically the same. They presuppose the understanding and consideration of the interests and perceptions of the other. They require the kind of innate sense of proportion and restraint that both Russia and China clearly lack today.

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Art installation "Greetings From Giza" by French artist and photographer JR faces the pyramids of Giza in Egypt

Anne-Sophie Goninet, Jane Herbelin and Bertrand Hauger

👋 你好*

Welcome to Tuesday, where violence erupts after Sudan's military coup, Australia finally gets onboard with climate change goals, and Harrison Ford stars in Raiders of the Lost Credit Card. From Bogota, we also see what the capture of drug kingpin Otoniel means for Colombia, a country long stained by cocaine trafficking.

[*Nĭhǎo - Mandarin Chinese]


Saving the planet is really a question of dopamine

The elite of the ecologically minded are set to descend on Glasgow next week for the Cop 26 conference on climate change. But beyond debating policy prescriptions, French daily Les Echos explores the role our own brains have on making the right choices for the planet:

Almost every week, a new scientific study alerts us to the degradation of the environment. And yet, we continue not to change anything fundamental in our systems of production and habits of consumption. Are we all suffering from blindness, or poisoned by denial?

In his popular books Le Bug humain (The Human Bug) and Où est le sens? (Where is the Sense?), Sébastien Bohler, a journalist in neuroscience and psychology, provides a much more rational explanation: The mechanism responsible for our propensity to destroy our natural environment is in fact a small, very deep and very primitive structure of our brain called the striatum.

This regulator of human motivation seems to have been programmed to favor behaviors that ensure the survival of the species.

Since the dawn of humanity, gathering information about our environment, feeding ourselves, ensuring the transmission of our genes through sexual intercourse and asserting our social status have all been rewarded with a shot of dopamine, the "pleasure hormone."

Nothing has changed since then; except that, in our society of excess, there is no limit to the satisfaction of these needs. This leads to the overconsumption of food and addictions to everything from sex to social media — which together account for much of the world's destructive agricultural and energy practices.

No matter how much we realize that this is leading to our downfall, we can't help but relapse because we are prisoners of the dopamine pump in the striatum, which cannot be switched off.

According to Bohler, the only way out is to encourage the emergence of new values of sobriety, altruism and slowness. If adopted, these more sustainable notions could be recognized by the striatum as new sources of dopamine reward. But there's the challenge of promoting inspiring stories that infuse them with value.

Take the photo-collage exhibition "J'agis ici... et je m'y colle" ("I'm taking action here... and I'm sticking to it"), a collection of life-size portraits of residents committed to the energy transition, displayed on the walls of the French coastal city of La Rochelle.

Backed by the French National Center for Street Arts, photographer Martin Charpentier may be employing artistic techniques, but he's also tinkering with neuroscience in the process.

Stefano Lupieri / Les Echos


• Sudan in chaos following military coup: After Sudan's military seized power from the transitional government, defiant anti-coup protesters have returned to the streets of the capital city Khartoum, for a second consecutive day. At least seven people have been killed and 140 injured. Coup leader General Al-Burhan has announced a state of emergency across the country, while the military cut off access to the internet and closed roads, bridges, and Khartoum's airport. Washington condemned the coup and suspended aid, and the U.N. Security Council was expected to discuss Sudan behind closed doors later today.

• Egypt lifts state of emergency in force since 2017: Egyptian President Abdel Fattah el-Sisi, announced the end of a four-year-old state of emergency, undoing powers that had given the government sweeping authority to quash protests, make arrests, search people's homes without warrants, and control everyday life in the most populous Arab country.

• Platforms take down Bolsonaro video linking vaccine and AIDS: Facebook, Instagram and YouTube have removed an anti-vaccine video from their respective platforms posted by Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro. Beyond blocking the video, in which Bolsonaro falsely linked the COVID-19 vaccine with developing AIDS, YouTube went further and suspended the far-right leader for a week.

• COVID update: The U.S. will launch a new travel system on November 8, imposing new vaccine requirements for most foreign national travellers and lifting severe travel restrictions over China, India and much of Europe. Meanwhile, authorities in northern China are reimposing lockdown, and other emergency measures as COVID-19 infections spread to 11 provinces.

• Australia pledges net zero emissions by 2050: As one of the world's largest emitters of greenhouse gases per capita and a major exporter of fossil fuels such as coal, Australia has finally committed to becoming carbon-neutral by 2050. This is a target already adopted by most nations heading to next week's COP26 international climate conference, but that Australia had so far refused to pledge.

• Japanese princess loses royal status over wedding: Japan's Princess Mako married her boyfriend Kei Komuro, giving up her royal status. Under Japanese law, female imperial family members lose their status upon marriage to a "commoner" although male members do not.

Raiders of the Lost Credit Card: A tourist returned the credit card of American actor Harrison Ford, who had lost it in Sicily while shooting scenes for the latest Indiana Jones movie.


"Out of control," titles German daily Süddeutsche Zeitung, reporting on the release of a series of articles by a consortium of 17 U.S. news outlets, called the "Facebook Papers," that reinforce whistleblower Frances Haugen's claims that the social media giant is prioritizing profits over the well being of its users and society.


$1.01 trillion

After striking a deal to sell 100,000 electric vehicles to car rental firm Hertz, Elon Musk's Tesla has joined Apple, Microsoft, Amazon and Google's Alphabet in the club of companies that have reached a $1 trillion valuation.


What the capture of a drug kingpin means for Colombia

While the capture of Otoniel, Colombia's most wanted drug trafficker, made global headlines, Bogotá daily El Espectador writes about the significance of the news for a country that has battled narcotrafficking for decades.

👮 The arrest of the Colombian mobster Dairo Antonio Úsuga David, a.k.a. "Otoniel," is a victory for Colombian intelligence, law-and-order forces and the broader fight against crime. Details of the eight-year-long pursuit of the head of the Gulf Clan, of the tireless and meticulous work, testify to the capabilities that the police and army have managed to develop in the fight against the narco-trafficking that has long been a stain on Colombia.

🇨🇴🇲🇽 Otoniel is responsible for a criminal organization with more than 3,800 members and influence on 12 departments and 128 districts in Colombia (though data from the Bogotá-based Peace and Reconciliation Foundation counts 211 districts). The Gulf Clan sends half the drugs going out of Colombia, and is the main exporter to Mexico. Its ties to the Mexican cartel chief Joaquín "el Chapo" Guzmán are well-documented — and Otoniel had aspired to fill the power vacuum left by Guzmán's capture.

⚖️ Some have observed that the ensuing power vacuum will engender more violence, which is true. But we are, in any case, far from eliminating drug trafficking in Colombia or cutting its tentacles across public life. That shows the limitations of the hard-line response to drugs, when we have seen it is not enough. Still, it is essential in any fight against crime for the state to show its operational capabilities. The message is clear: not even drug overlords are above the law in Colombia.

➡️


"I love Mako. I would like to spend my one life with the person I love."

— Kei Komuro said during a news conference after his wedding with Japan's Princess Mako, the niece of the current emperor and the sister of the likely future sovereign. The princess lost her royal status as a result of her marriage with Komuro, a "commoner."


An art installation "Greetings From Giza" by French artist and photographer JR faces the pyramids of Giza in Egypt, as part of the 2021 exhibition "'Forever Is Now," the first international art exhibition to take place there — Photo: Balkis Press/Abaca/ZUMA

✍️ Newsletter by Anne-Sophie Goninet, Jane Herbelin and Bertrand Hauger

Send all commoner and royal well wishes to Mako and Kei — and let us know what the news looks like from your corner of the world!

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