Suvorov's Insights Suggest Taiwan be a Switzerland of the East

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Wednesday January 16, by Jerome F. Keating Ph.D.

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 back 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 Russian President Joseph Stalin as the cause of World War II.

Aspects of his thesis would 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 counter-argument 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 in 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 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 up Poland, 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 German Chancellor and Fuhrer Adolph 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 impact 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 since 1919. It also faced a continuous nationalistic threat from an expanding Japan that had taken over Manchuria (1931) 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 whose son Chiang Ching-kuo, studied in Russia (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 since after the July 1937 Marco Polo Bridge Incident, Japan's attacks in China escalated.

Stalin's megalomaniac purges of competent Russian generals did not help his national effort. However, what Stalin did not anticipate was the sudden betrayal of the pact by the equally megalomaniac German Hitler in 1941.

What has this to do with Taiwan? Taiwan must deal with Russia and China, which are ideologically different and have strong and ambitious, if not megalomaniac, leaders. It is true that Russia and China are no longer "communist" but they also are not democracies like Taiwan.

What then are the nationalistic ambitions of these leaders as regards Taiwan?

As Taiwan surveys its surroundings, it knows little of Russia's intentions but Russia could by past history be expected to support China in matters regarding Taiwan; its strong leader, president Vladimir Putin cannot be seen as a friend of Taiwan. That is sufficient danger in itself.

Chinese President Xi Jinping has made clear his covetous and strategic desire to control Taiwan and force it to be part of China. At best, what Taiwan could hope for with him is either the subservient relationship of "one country-two systems" or war.

Xi may not be as duplicitous as Stalin, but he might also need a war if only to deflect personal criticism if China's economy falters and hinders his plan to rule long-term.

A different internal threat to Taiwan's democracy remains with the KMT, which despite even China's denial of any consensus over "one China with two interpretations," still tries to squeeze the square peg of the bogus "1992 consensus" into an imaginary round hole in its alternative universe where the KMT never really lost the Chinese Civil War.

On a different note, the KMT could serve as China's "icebreaker" in cracking into Taiwan.

On the ideological front, Taiwan does share the practice of democratic governance with Japan, the US and the Philippines. However, Taiwan has no binding treaties of mutual support with any of the three.

Nationalistically, the Philippines is not to be relied upon. It would not even stand up to a China on its doorstep in the South China Sea and would have no reason to support the de facto independence of democratic Taiwan.

As for Washington, President Trump has proven to be temporarily supportive of Taiwan, but Trump is mercurial and unreliable for a variety of reasons. His desire to vacate Syria and Afghanistan against the advice of his generals is questionable.

In addition, his most recent "gamesmanship" with Congress in shutting down the government over an ineffectual "border wall" in the name of border security, reveals a potential megalomaniac character, which would sacrifice the best interests of the nation in an effort to cling to a diminishing power base. Finally, his ambiguous ties to Russia again raise the idea that he could be a Russian "icebreaker" plowing ahead into western democracy.

Of the three, Japan remains the nation with the most to lose if Taiwan were to be taken over by a hegemonic China. Fortunately for Taiwan, it is ramping up its military, but still, the two nations have no mutually supportive treaty.

What position then should Taiwan take?

Former vice president Annette Lu most recently has repeated her belief that Taiwan should declare a position of permanent neutrality akin to that of Switzerland, which has its own army and where military service is required of all youth.

Taiwan is a formidable fortress; any attack on it would require a build up that would be difficult to hide in today's age of satellites and the attacking nation would pay a heavy price. Further a position of permanent neutrality would take away any attempt by China to claim a moral high ground.

Taiwanese must therefore see that their most practical and reliable course remains in maintaining the strength of their democracy, developing militarily strength and avoiding megalomaniac leaders. Being a Switzerland of the East does have merit.