3/ Still, to understand where this war is going, what conditions military operations will create in the coming weeks, and how they may set conditions for a negotiated settlement an attempt to surmise a logical course of action is necessary.
5/ I have added what I feel are the Ukrainian government’s war aims to this assessment. Essential they are the opposite of Russia’s aims but contain important nuances that offer a “golden bridge” (i.e., making the Russians feel they have achieved a goal).
This new stage of the war, however, promises to be much harder for Ukraine. Before considering Kyiv’s strategy we first need to consider Moscow’s options.
Russia’s forces have been badly depleted and so they must make choices about where to concentrate their efforts. Estimates vary about how many of the Battalion Tactical Groups (BTGs), the main unit with which the Russian army organises its operations, they have left. Of those involved in the first wave of the invasion, often elite units, some half, maybe more, have either been damaged beyond repair or can be repaired but are not usuable in the near future. The casualties – wounded and captured as well as killed – perhaps represents about 20 percent of the original force of 190,000.
We know from assiduous work that Russian equipment losses have been heavy. For example 425 tanks are known to have been destroyed, damaged, abandoned or captured. There are reports that many of the replacement weapons being brought out of storage suffer from the effects of age and corruption, lacking key components and with ordnance that does not work. Aircraft and helicopters have shown themselves to be vulnerable to air defences, and many have been shot down. The inability of Russian airpower to impose itself remains one of the remarkable features of this campaign.
Russian personnel reserves are also not in a good state. Moscow has been casting about for extra bodies – whether Syrian volunteers or the mercenary Wagner group. As already noted the Belarusian army is no longer available, while troops from South Ossetia, the breakaway enclave in Georgia, have decided, when asked to go to Ukraine, to decline the invitation. There is a huge new cohort of conscripts about to join the army. Conscripts have already been used (Putin claimed without his knowledge) but there can only be risks in putting unwilling young men into battle without training.
Of course, even half the original Russian force is still substantial and it now has fewer and more manageable tasks to accomplish. But its position is not straightforward. Having decided to concentrate their effort, the Russian high command still has choices to make about priorities. They do not yet appear to have wholly given up on Kharkiv. Meanwhile they have been shelling Mykolaiv, on the southern coast, on the road to the important city of Odessa. For some time there has been speculation about an encirclement operation that would enable them to trap the considerable, and capable, Ukrainian forces in the Donbas region. But these objectives are easier to accomplish by drawing red arrows on a map than in practice. And they carry risks. Are they prepared to relinquish their gains in Kherson, where Ukrainian troops have bene pushing them back? If Ukrainian forces can take back Melitopol might Russian forces to the south get caught?
Simplifying somewhat the Russians must work out what offensive operations they wish to complete before they feel that they can then move into a largely defensive stance so that they can hold on to what they have. An analysis from the Washington-based Institute for the Study of War suggests that the most immediate Russian objective will be to take the city of Sloviansk, with a population of 110,000. There is some irony in this city taking a pivotal role because exactly eight years ago a small force led by Igor Girkin, the subject of my last post, took this city, marking the start of military actions in the Donbas, until he was forced out by Ukrainian forces.
Evidence of this intention can be found in a rare Russian military success at the start of April when they took Izyum (southeast of Kharkiv), inflicting heavy losses on the Ukrainian defenders, and they have now advanced beyond that. According to the ISW, they
‘have conducted active preparations to resume offensive operations for the past three days—stockpiling supplies, refitting damaged units, repairing the damaged bridge in Izyum, and conducting reconnaissance in force missions toward the southeast. Russian forces will likely begin offensive operations towards Slovyansk, 50km southeast of Izyum, in the coming days.’
Taking Slovyansk would be a first step to a more ambitious objective of cutting off Ukrainian forces in eastern Ukraine, but to encircle the Ukrainian forces they will still need to meet up with Russian forces advancing from the South. Slovyansk is preparing for the battle, and many of its civilians have been evacuated. As the ISW note:
If Russian forces are unable to take Slovyansk at all, Russian frontal assaults in Donbas are unlikely to independently breakthrough Ukrainian defences and Russia’s campaign to capture the entirety of Luhansk and Donetsk oblasts will likely fail.
If this analysis is correct this new stage of the war could be critical. Another Ukrainian victory will not see the Russians pushed out of Ukraine but will make their position more difficult for the stage after that. Ukrainian losses have also been significant, both in personnel and equipment, although with the country now mobilised for war they are not short of committed and reasonably well trained soldiers. Their problem is with equipment. Their successes up to this point have largely been with judicious use of portable, light equipment, including drones, anti-tank weapons, and air defence systems. They have a shopping list that has been discussed with Western donors to fill some of their gaps. This means keeping up supplies of the equipment they already use, but also providing the extra armour, aircraft, and artillery to raise their game for the coming operations. Here there has to be balance between taking in aged kit from the former Soviet Union, which could be put to use quickly, or getting more modern kit, which may require more training.
Yet even if Russia does acquire the territory it seeks in the Donbas and prepares for a climactic defensive battle, there still remains the perplexing question about the nature of Putin’s end game. From the start the most baffling aspect of this war has been the incoherence of Russian strategy. The gap between stated aims and available capabilities was wide enough when it started but it has now widened even further, especially after being defeated in the war’s first round.
Western onlookers have marveled at plucky little Ukraine’s ability to hold at bay the Russian Military juggernaut and as the Russian advance has continued to stall and Russian casualties mount, we’ve come to suspect that Ukraine may actually be winning and we cannot avoid thinking that Vladimir Putin made a very serious mistake in overestimating Russian capabilities and launching a failed attempt to conquer all of Ukraine.
DNYUZ, however, proposes a completely different view of Putin’s goals and strategy, in the light of which, he comes off not as an incompetent loser, but as the superior player of the Great Game.
[W]hat if the conventional wisdom is wrong? What if the West is only playing into Putin’s hands once again?
The possibility is suggested in a powerful reminiscence from The Times’s Carlotta Gall of her experience covering Russia’s siege of Grozny, during the first Chechen war in the mid-1990s. In the early phases of the war, motivated Chechen fighters wiped out a Russian armored brigade, stunning Moscow. The Russians regrouped and wiped out Grozny from afar, using artillery and air power.
Russia’s operating from the same playbook today. When Western military analysts argue that Putin can’t win militarily in Ukraine, what they really mean is that he can’t win clean. Since when has Putin ever played clean?
“There is a whole next stage to the Putin playbook, which is well known to the Chechens,” Gall writes. “As Russian troops gained control on the ground in Chechnya, they crushed any further dissent with arrests and filtration camps and by turning and empowering local protégés and collaborators.”
Combine that with Russia’s previous territorial seizures in Crimea (which has huge offshore energy fields) and the eastern provinces of Luhansk and Donetsk (which contain part of an enormous shale-gas field), as well as Putin’s bid to control most or all of Ukraine’s coastline, and the shape of Putin’s ambitions become clear. He’s less interested in reuniting the Russian-speaking world than he is in securing Russia’s energy dominance.
“Under the guise of an invasion, Putin is executing an enormous heist,” said Canadian energy expert David Knight Legg. As for what’s left of a mostly landlocked Ukraine, it will likely become a welfare case for the West, which will help pick up the tab for resettling Ukraine’s refugees to new homes outside of Russian control. In time, a Viktor Orban-like figure could take Ukraine’s presidency, imitating the strongman-style of politics that Putin prefers in his neighbors.
If this analysis is right, then Putin doesn’t seem like the miscalculating loser his critics make him out to be.
It also makes sense of his strategy of targeting civilians. More than simply a way of compensating for the incompetence of Russian troops, the mass killing of civilians puts immense pressure on Zelensky to agree to the very things Putin has demanded all along: territorial concessions and Ukrainian neutrality. The West will also look for any opportunity to de-escalate, especially as we convince ourselves that a mentally unstable Putin is prepared to use nuclear weapons.
Francis Pike, in the Spectator, warns that China is well on the way to adding strategic domination of the Bay of Bengal and the sea lanes to the Middle East to its ruthless appropriation of the South China Sea. Only the superior power of the US Navy stands in China’s way, but China is planning a massive naval expansion, and the US is not.
The forthcoming geopolitical struggle for supremacy between China and India will not be on land. It will be on water and a much larger body of water than Pangong Lake. The Bay of Bengal and the Andaman Sea will become the defining-battleground.
Xi Jinpingâ€™s â€˜Maritime Silk Roadâ€™ policy is less talked about in the western press than â€˜One Belt One Roadâ€™. The economic and military strategy is to dominate the sea lanes between China and the Middle East. As in the ancient Chinese board game of territorial control, Go, which inspired the great military theorist, Sun Tzu, Xiâ€™s China is in the process of placing â€˜stonesâ€™ (Goâ€™s playing pieces) on Asiaâ€™s maritime seaboard that will enable it to achieve this dominance.
Chinaâ€™s first offshore naval port in Djibouti, adjacent to the Suez Canal, is already built. Pakistanâ€™s Chinese-financed port of Gwadar on the Arabian Sea, guarding the approaches to the Strait of Hormuz, is another one of the stones. Closer to home, China, by its placement of airfields and naval facilities on reclaimed reefs in the Spratly Islands, has now gained probably irreversible control of the South China Sea.
From Chinaâ€™s viewpoint this is not enough. A third of global shipping and most of Chinaâ€™s oil imports pass through the Strait of Malacca between Singapore and the Indonesian island of Sumatra. As a Portuguese envoy noted in the 16th century, â€˜whoever is lord of Malacca has his hands on the throatâ€™. With the US navy embedded in Singaporeâ€™s Changi naval base, China sees the Malacca Strait as the weakest link in its maritime strategy. Thus, the digging of a $30 billion, 80-mile canal across the Kra Isthmus in southern Thailand is being mooted. The canal would bypass the US-controlled Malacca Strait and give China unimpeded access to the Andaman Sea and the Bay of Bengal. Reputedly, Chinese companies are already buying up land around the projected route of the canal. Importantly, over the past 20 years, Thailand, once a staunch US ally, has become a quasi-satellite of China.
Further inroads into the Bay of Bengal are being established by Chinese financing of the new port at Chittagong in Bangladesh, a country whose relationship to India, if not hostile, is nevertheless equivocal. It is somewhat overlooked that Bangladesh, a country of 165 million people, is now one of Asiaâ€™s fastest-growing economies.
Myanmar is even more in thrall to China. As the old Burmese saying goes: â€˜When China spits, Burma swims.â€™ Here too China is financing a major port development on the coast of Rakhine state, home of the Rohingyas. In January, during Xiâ€™s state visit to Myanmar, there was a joint announcement that they would push ahead with the construction of a new port in the Kyaukpyu Special Economic Zone. It is planned to link both this and the port in Chittagong by rail and road to Kunming, the capital of western Chinaâ€™s Yunnan Province. An oil pipeline is also planned. Meanwhile in the southern reaches of the Bay of Bengal, the Peopleâ€™s Republic of China and the Democratic Socialist Republic of Sri Lanka have been close allies since the 1950s.
Although India is fully alive to Chinaâ€™s â€˜string of pearlsâ€™ strategy, the West appears to be asleep. …
With 11 aircraft carriers to Chinaâ€™s two, America still commands maritime Asia. However, the balance is changing rapidly. As the US congressional report on Chinese naval modernisation concluded in May, by year end the US will have 297 naval vessels, the same number as 15 years ago; China will have 360, up more than 50 per cent over the same period. A third Chinese aircraft carrier is under construction and the hull of a fourth is expected to be laid down next year.
The direction of travel is clear. The US navy could find itself in Chinaâ€™s wake if current trends continue. â€˜There is no doubt that theyâ€™ve been investing hugely in this,â€™ says Nick Childs of the International Institute for Strategic Studies. â€˜Theyâ€™ve been outbuilding everybody.â€™ Unless the West wakes up to the challenge, it is likely to be outgunned within 15 to 20 years by the Peopleâ€™s Liberation Army navy. The European Union, of course, unwilling even to pay for its own strategic defence, is an embarrassing irrelevance. The risk for India and the West is not armed conflict with China. It is that the struggle for supremacy in Asia will be lost with hardly a shot being fired. Sun Tzu would be proud.
Larry Kummer, at Fabius Maximus, identifies the lessons the leadership of both sides learned from the early Vietnam War Battle of Ia Drang (famously depicted in the Mel Gibson movie “We Were Soldiers” ). Only one side’s leadership got the lesson right.
On 14 November 1965 the 1st Cavalry Division (Airmobile) flew to the Ia Drang Valley of Vietnam, initiating the first major battle between the North Vietnamese and American armies. This marked our transition from advisers to direct combatants. There were two battles. One at Landing Zone X-Ray, where Americans under the command of Lt. Colonel Harold G. Moore (Lt. General, US Army, deceased) withstood fantastic odds â€“ inflicted absurdly disproportionate casualties (with the aid of airpower and artillery), and withdrew. One at Landing Zone Albany, where Lt. Colonel Robert McDade made a series of basic mistakes that led to his unit being mauled. …
Ia Drang tested the new concept of air assault, in which helicopters inserted troops to a distant battlefield, then supplied and extracted them. During that four day â€œtestâ€ 234 American men died, â€œmore Americans than were killed in any regiment, North or South, at the Battle of Gettysburg, and far more than were killed in combat in the entire Persian Gulf War.â€ Both sides drew optimistic conclusions from the result.
We believed that our combination of innovative technology and tactics could achieve the victory that eluded France. We saw Ia Drang as a tactical success that validated our new methods, and so we expanded the war. We absurdly believed the victory resulted from our technology, not the valor and skill of our troops.
â€œIn Saigon, the American commander in Vietnam, Gen William C. Westmoreland, and his principal deputy, Gen William DePuy, looked at the statistics of the 34-day Ia Drang campaign â€¦ and saw a kill ratio of 12 North Vietnamese to one American. What that said â€¦was that they could bleed the enemy to death over the long haul, with a strategy of attrition.â€
North Vietnamâ€™s leaders drew the opposite conclusions.
â€œIn Hanoi, President Ho Chi Ming and his lieutenants considered the outcome in the Ia Drang and were serenely confident. Their peasant soldiers had withstood the terrible high-tech firestorm delivered against them by a superpower and had at least fought the Americas to a draw. By their yardstick, a draw against such a powerful opponent was the equivalent of a victory. In time, they were certain, the patience and perseverance that had worn down the French colonialists would also wear down the Americans.â€
Also, North Vietnamâ€™s leaders believed that US commanders would more often be like McDade than Moore. The next decade proved that they were correct. General VÃµ NguyÃªn GiÃ¡p understand the significance of this battle, and that the war would evolved as he had explained in 1950 to the political commissars of the 316th Division (then discussing France, but eventually true of America as well â€” in Vietnam as well as our post-9/11 wars)â€¦
â€œThe enemy will pass slowly from the offensive to the defensive. The blitzkrieg will transform itself into a war of long duration. Thus, the enemy will be caught in a dilemma: he has to drag out the war in order to win it and does not possess, on the other hand, the psychological and political means to fight a long drawn-out war.â€
â€” From Bernard Fallâ€™s Street without joy: Indochina at war, 1946-54 (1961).
Lorenzo Barteloni, statue of NiccolÃ² Macchiavelli, Uffizi Gallery, Florence.
What a shame it is that US presidents from George W. Bush on did not read, and deal with Islamic terrorism on the basis of the wisdom contained in, Angelo M. Codevilla’s 2001 essay.
Common sense does not mistake the difference between victory and defeat: the losers weep and cower, while the winners strut and rejoice. The losers have to change their ways, the winners feel more secure than ever in theirs. On September 12, retiring Texas Senator Phil Gramm encapsulated this common sense: “I don’t want to change the way I live. I want to change the way they live.” Common sense says that victory means living without worry that some foreigners might kill us on behalf of their causes, but also without having to bow to domestic bureaucrats and cops, especially useless ones. It means not changing the tradition by which the government of the United States treats citizens as its masters rather than as potential enemies. Victory requires killing our enemies, or making them live in debilitating fear.
The terrorists and terrorist nations such as Saudi Arabia only fear one thing: the destruction of the religion of Islam. There is nothing in this life that has greater value to them than Islam. They are willing to sacrifice and even die to promote Islam. This religious motivation is the engine that drives the Jihad against us.
The path to Paradise, according to the Five Pillars of Islam, involves the city of Mecca and its stone temple called the Kabah. Muslims pray toward Mecca five times a day. What if Mecca didnâ€™t exist anymore?
They must make a pilgrimage to Mecca and engage in an elaborate set of rituals centered around the Kabah once they arrive. What if Mecca and the Kabah were only blackened holes in the ground?
What if Medina, the burial place of Muhammad was wiped off the face of the planet?
What if the Dome Mosque on the Temple site in Jerusalem was blown up?
The greatest weakness of Islam is that it is hopelessly tied to sacred cities and buildings. If these cities and buildings were destroyed, Islam would die within a generation as it would be apparent to all that its god could not protect the three holiest sites in Islam. …
The US government and its allies must agree that this is the final solution to the Muslim problem. We must tell all terrorist groups that the next time they destroy the lives and properties of Americans at home or abroad, we will destroy Mecca, Medina and Dome Mosque. They will be responsible for destroying the three most holy sites in Islam and bringing the religion to its knees.
We must tell all the Muslim countries that are presently supporting and harboring terrorists that if they do not cease and desist at once, we will destroy the heart of their religion.
Saudi Arabia and the rest of the Islamic world would, for the first time in their bloody history of oppression and tyranny, have to give civil rights and human rights to women and non-Islamic religions. They would have to allow their people to decide for themselves what religion, if any, they want in their lives. The â€œreligious policeâ€ would be disbanded.
All Islamic laws would have to give way to the UN declaration on human rights, civil rights, womenâ€™s rights and freedom of religion. Once Muslim governments took their foot off the neck of their people, millions of Muslims would convert to Christianity as they have had enough of oppression and violence from their Imams and Mullahs.â€
Last Saturday, the left-wing British Guardian launched a full-scale marginalizing and discrediting attack on William C. Bradford, an assistant law professor teaching at the US Military Academy at West Point.
The attack on Bradford was occasioned by his publication of an academic paper last April which made a couple of colorful and controversial proposals.
An assistant professor in the law department of the US military academy at West Point has argued that legal scholars critical of the war on terrorism represent a â€œtreasonousâ€ fifth column that should be attacked as enemy combatants.
In a lengthy academic paper, the professor, William C Bradford, proposes to threaten â€œIslamic holy sitesâ€ as part of a war against undifferentiated Islamic radicalism. That war ought to be prosecuted vigorously, he wrote, â€œeven if it means great destruction, innumerable enemy casualties, and civilian collateral damageâ€.
Other â€œlawful targetsâ€ for the US military in its war on terrorism, Bradford argues, include â€œlaw school facilities, scholarsâ€™ home offices and media outlets where they give interviewsâ€ â€“ all civilian areas, but places where a â€œcausal connection between the content disseminated and Islamist crimes incitedâ€ exist.
â€œShocking and extreme as this option might seem, [dissenting] scholars, and the law schools that employ them, are â€“ at least in theory â€“ targetable so long as attacks are proportional, distinguish noncombatants from combatants, employ nonprohibited weapons, and contribute to the defeat of Islamism,â€ Bradford wrote. …
[A] clique of about fortyâ€ scholars, Bradford writes, have â€œconverted the US legal academy into a cohort whose vituperative pronouncements on the illegality of the US resort to force and subsequent conduct in the war against Islamismâ€ represent a â€œsuper-weapon that supports Islamist military operationsâ€ aimed at â€œAmerican political willâ€ to fight. They are supported by â€œcompliant journalistsâ€ marked by â€œdefeatism, instinctive antipathy to war, and empathy for American adversariesâ€, but Bradford considers the lawyers a greater threat.
The offending legal scholars â€œeffectively tilt the battlefield against US forces [and] contribute to timorousness and lethargy in US military commandersâ€, he writes. They are among several â€œuseful idiotsâ€ who â€œseparate Islam from Islamists by attributing to the former principles in common with the West, including â€˜justice and progressâ€™ and â€˜the dignity of all human beingsâ€™â€. …
The West Point faculty member urges the US to wage â€œtotal warâ€ on â€œIslamismâ€, using â€œconventional and nuclear force and [psychological operations]â€, in order to â€œleave them prepared to coexist with the West or be utterly eradicatedâ€. He suggests in a footnote that â€œthreatening Islamic holy sites might create deterrence, discredit Islamism, and falsify the assumption that decadence renders Western restraint inevitableâ€.
The Guardian’s hatchet job appeared on Saturday, and the next day Bradford was being bundled out the door of West Point, whose representatives were busily disavowing ever having known him.
Yesterday, the Guardian was gloating and finishing up a thorough job of carpet-bombing the heretic’s reputation.
‘Dr William Bradford resigned on Sunday,’ army lieutenant colonel Christopher Kasker, a West Point spokesman, told the Guardian on Monday. Bradford had taught five lessons for cadets in a common-core law course, from 17 to 27 August.
We are given to understand that Bradford is, naturally, some kind of complete crackpot and congenital liar. Bradford, you see, is alleged to have exaggerated his academical positions (never a problem in the case of University of Chicago Law Professor Barack Obama) and –with no actual proof– his military service.
David Samuels, in an important essay, argues that Osama bin Laden out-strategized a series of dimbulb American administrations, astutely predicting precisely how they would respond.
judging from his last known private letter, dated April 25, 2011, Bin Laden died a happy man. â€œWhat we are witnessing these days of consecutive revolutions is a great and glorious event,â€ he mused, after watching the fall of the secular, Western-backed regimes in Tunisia and Egypt, which he watched on CNN, before the daring Navy SEAL raid on his compound in Abbottabad, Pakistan. â€œ[T]hanks to Allah things are strongly heading toward the exit of Muslims from being under the control of America.â€
Even at this late date, it seems difficult for American policymakers to grasp exactly how Bin Ladenâ€™s mastery of the inherently paradoxical logic of warfareâ€”a logic very different than the linear cause-and-effect style of reasoning that governs normal life and electoral politics alikeâ€”allowed a man without a country, heavy weapons, or even broadband Internet access to reshape the world to his advantage. The clarity of Bin Ladenâ€™s strategic insight, which now seems obvious, also suggests that the dynamic that he deliberately set in motion is still unfolding, in ways that he foresaw before his deathâ€”ways that continue to roil the Middle East and will continue to pose a threat to the safety of Americans at home. …
Bin Laden was never shy about explaining what he was doing and why. His public statements about his strategic logic and goals in targeting â€œthe far enemyâ€ remained remarkably consistent, from his first fatwa against America until the last letter he wrote before his death. In his 1996 â€œDeclaration of War Against the Americans Occupying the Land of the Two Holy Places,â€ published soon after the Khobar Towers bombings in Saudi Arabia, he explained that â€œit is essential to hit the main enemy who divided the Ummahâ€â€”the Muslim worldâ€”â€œinto small and little countries and pushed it, for the last few decades, into a state of confusion.â€
Americaâ€™s response to an attack would be to get sucked into a war, he predictedâ€”and when the going got tough, the United States would cut and run. Responding to then-U.S. Defense Sec. William Perry, who had called the Khobar bombers cowards and had sworn not to give in, Bin Laden asked, â€œWhere was this false courage of yours when the explosion in Beirut took place on 1983 AD (1403 A.H). You were turned into scattered pits and pieces at that time; 241 Marine soldiers were killed.â€ …
In public and private following the Sept. 11 attacks, he returned to the same themes, over and over again, in at least three-quarters of his public statements and in private letters to other jihadists that were seized from his compound in Abbotabad and later made public. â€œThe goal is to weaken America until it can no longer interfere in Muslims affairs,â€ he explained, in a letter whose contents were entirely typical of his communications. â€œOnce the American enemy has been defeated, our next step would be targeting the regionâ€™s leaders who had been the pillars of support for that American hegemony.â€
It is proof of Bin Ladenâ€™s mastery of the unexpected logic that animates strategic thought, and of the glaring inability of Americaâ€™s political leaders to think strategically, that not one but two American presidents have faithfully acted their roles in his geo-political script: George W. Bush, the hawk, with his open-ended and heavy-handed occupation of Iraq; and Barack Obama, the dove, with his precipitous and wholesale withdrawal of American military forces and influence from the Middle East. Both menâ€”and their many advisersâ€”should have known better.
Read the whole thing. It’s depressing reading and hard to argue with.
The innermost circle of the Tianxia is formed by the rest of the Politburo and top Beijing officialdom, while its outermost circle comprises the Solomon Islands along with the twenty or so other utterly benighted â€œouter barbarianâ€ countries that still do not recognize Beijing, preferring Taipei. In between, all other Chinese from officials and tycoons to ordinary subjects and overseas Chinese fit in their own circles, further and further from the imperial coreas do foreign states both large and small, both near and far, both already respectful (too few) and those still arrogantly vainglorious. It is the long-range task of Chinaâ€™s external policy to bring each and every state into a proper relationship with the emperorâ€”that is, a tributary relationship, in which they deliver goods and services if only as tokens of fealty, in exchange for security and prosperity, but even more for the privilege of proximity to the globally benevolent emperor1. All this is of course nothing more than an exceptionally elaborate rendition of universal ambitions that are merely grander for the greaterâ€”the Byzantine ranking of foreign potentates by their proximity to the emperor was only slightly less elaborate.
Nor is there anything peculiarly Chinese about the desire to bring other states into a tributary relationshipâ€”often better than a full incorporation, which may be unwanted for any number of reasons, and obviously superior to an alliance however close and secure but between equals, whereby there must be reciprocity, a quid for every quo, usually costly or irksome in some way. Hence from time immemorial, stronger clans, tribes, potentates, and entire nations have done their best to impose tributary relations on weaker clans, tribes, potentates and nations, obtaining goods and services for their forbearance and perhaps protection, or at least tokens of respectful subordination. Chinese emperors wanted no more than that, and unlike most recipients, not infrequently gave gifts more valuable than the tribute they received (as did many Byzantine emperors, by the way).
What is peculiar to Chinaâ€™s political culture, and of very great contemporary relevance is the centrality within it of a very specific doctrine on how to bring powerful foreignersâ€”indeed foreigners initially more powerful than the empireâ€”into a tributary relationship.
Be sure to read on in order to find out how it would be applied to us.