lunes, 13 de mayo de 2013


Lectura para un lunes por la mañana. En el semanario suizo Current Concerns del 15 de Abril (, el historiador Tobias Salander resume un reciente libro de Franz Betschon. Nada que los lectores de Astroboy no sepan ya, pero conciso y bien escrito. El título de la nota es: “The strategy of the new Silk Roads – a peace model for Eurasia”. Acá va:

"While the US is reeling from one crisis into the next and Europe gazes wide-eyed at its former protector, hoping not to be torn down with him, optimism prevails in Asia, Latin America and Africa. For quite some time, authors like Kishore Mahbubani have been trying to show the contemporaries of the Western Hemisphere that they are obviously facing a turning point in history. But what is to be done, especially in Europe? With whom to cooperate if not with the descending belligerent power USA?

Would it not be logical to turn our sight to the East? Europe is situated on the edge of the big world island Eurasia. Our sight – but not in the imperialist sense of Bismarck, who pinpointed “his Africa” in Eastern Europe, neither captivated in thought patterns of the Cold War, which has fortunately been over more than 20 years ago. Why not an approaching those countries in partnership, friendship and respect for the achievements of their peoples?

If we do not perceive how Asia is developing, Asia will develop into a new center of gravity of the world economy without us: This is the point of view of an analyst who has widely travelled, who is cosmopolitan and educated and still rooted in the best Swiss tradition: Franz Betschon entitled his book “The Eurasian Chess Tournament”1, reviewed below, following the title of the similar-sounding work of Zbigniew Brzezinski. However, the tone, the basis of the analysis and the view is a counterpoint to the negative standard work on imperial geo-strategy and superpower hubris.

“The Empire is over.” The US empire, the hegemony of the world‘s only superpower USA, is over, a Eurasia-centric world order is spreading, however an Asia-centric, only in case Europe does not make a move toward Asia. This is the quintessence of the exceptionally readable and clarifying book “The Eurasian chess tournament. Crises, background and forecasts” written by Franz Betschon. The Swiss citizen has a doctor’s degree in sciences and is a certified mechanical engineer of the FIT Zurich; he is also a graduate of the Harvard Business School in Boston, a retired Colonel of the General Staff of the Swiss Air Forces, hence a scientist and cosmopolitan economist trained in the best Swiss manner, with a sharp analytical mind. As one who has traveled around the world, worked among others as a member of the board of an Israeli high-tech company, which – built with Swiss help – has become one of today’s leading companies of its kind in the world, the author tries to compare and deepen his experiences and observations with the study of publicly available sources in order to understand the present times and not to run the risk of lagging behind the general development. Thus Betschon draws on sources from many corners of the world, since during his studies he noticed that the European perspective on the world is quite narrow and has been tainted by the decades of the Cold War, whereas in other parts of the world the same problems are seen in a very different light. Recognizing the signs of the times also means adjusting to new developments and meeting any possible dangers more adequately. 

As his great role model, a thing which is painfully lacking in today’s world and especially in Switzerland, Betschon mentions the great historian Jean Rodolphe von Salis. What that Swiss and world citizen achieved in World War II starting off from Switzerland which gained him and our country worldwide respect, namely providing a coherent assessment of the military situation, von Salis could do merely because of his widely ramified network of relationships. In telephone conversations with acquaintances in the various countries von Salis had built up his knowledge despite intelligence eavesdroppers. How much easier this is today! In times of the World Wide Web a mouse click takes us to newspapers from the Asian, African or Latin American regions.

From what time on did the US become so violent? Keyword “QDR”

The analysis which Betschon collected on over 200 pages and which culminates in the above-quoted conclusion is a compelling read and puts in order the thoughts that can get into a deadlock so easily by today‘s tide of mainstream tittytainment.

When the author concludes that the days of US dominance are irretrievably gone, there are no anti-American sentiments behind this statement, as one might be inclined to think. Quite the contrary, the author appreciates the United States’ selfless commitment during the darkest hours of World War II in Europe – however, he raises the question at what point in time America has suddenly become so violent again: so that it rendered torture acceptable again, waged preemptive wars without ever thinking of the Nuremberg Trial and principles, which had declared the war of aggression the most serious crime and in which the chief US prosecutor Robert Jackson had demanded that in future the US would have to be measured by this standard as well.

It became evident that something was wrong in the state of USA when the Pentagon’s 5-year plans “Quadrennial Defense Review Report (QDR)” for the years 2001 and 2006 were released. They argued in favor of the right to pre-emptive war although this violated international law. In order to let the reader really imagine the monstrosity, the author transfers this attitude on to he neighborly coexistence of individuals, which would then be something like “You can always shoot your neighbor if he bothers you. You have to fulfill two conditions: You have to say that you felt threatened, and you will have to aim so well that he subsequently can not testify.” (Betschon, p 52) The author points out that this shameless contempt for all the values that the West had fought for for centuries would harm the people of the Middle East, first and foremost, but also the civil society of the aggressors in the medium and long term.

The principle of sovereign states vs. the principle of “divide and conquer”

The author classifies the empire’s aggressive and inhumane foreign policy against the backdrop of two principles: the principle of sovereign states on the one hand and that of “divide and conquer” on the other. What the generation that lived through the Cold War would have thought hardly possible, making a clear view on the present so difficult, is the fact that the first of the two principles, the principle of sovereign nation-states, gained after the 30-year war in the Peace of Westphalia, is today no longer represented by the once acclaimed US democracy, but by the once outlawed Russia, while the Machiavellian principle of “divide et impera” has been and still is upheld by George W. Bush and Nobel Peace Prize Laureate Obama. Although the author is not really pleased about this surprising finding, it is to his credit that he presents the genuine facts without being blinded by mindcuffs and personal preferences.

What had become obvious as early as at the Munich Security Conference in 2007, namely that Russia under Putin was no longer the weak and exploitable post-Soviet country, but again a superpower that was willing and capable of defending itself both economically and militarily, became concrete for everyone at the same-named conference in 2008: While presenting a self-confident country the Russian Deputy Prime Minister Sergei Ivanov stressed that this did not mean a new block thinking and confrontation, but the peaceful coexistence of sovereign states. On the other side stood US Defense Secretary Robert Gates,who presented the view of the aggressive hegemon. Therewith Gates positioned himself in the model of the British Empire à la Churchill and not in that of Franklin Delano Roosevelt. Betschon works out these two contrasting policy approaches: While the British Empire pursued a policy of conflict and manipulation, hence the “Divide and conquer!”, the pre- and post-war US President Franklin Delano Roosevelt advocated the other model of cooperation, i.e. that among sovereign nations. Due to the early death of Roosevelt, the hardliner Truman then joined the British line and employed the atomic bomb without any consideration.

Europe and Asia coalesce economically

Even if the US foreign policy before Truman may not always have been quite as unblemished as presented above: it is beneficial anyway that the author avoids the West’s Russia-bashing and opens up new ways of perception. Only if the Russian enemy stereotype is questioned, the road of the long-overdue collaboration between the European countries and the big neighbor in the near but also in the far East will be opened.

In the chapter “Megatrends”, the author dares to make some highly exciting and actually most obvious predictions of future developments: Without tying ourselves down on time and order too much, we might expect the following:

1.    Europe and Asia will irreversibly grow together economically.
2.    Eurasia will develop a federal trade, foreign and security policy.
3.    The term “West” will be unnecessary: Western Europe, North America and Israel will no longer form a unit.
4.    Continental Europe will be oriented eastbound. North America will only be of interest for the trade.
5.    EU and NATO might be reconsidered and replaced by something new.

And what if the Bretton Woods institutions and the UN were moved into the new center of gravity of the world economy, to Shanghai for example? Or if the Asian countries came to the conclusion that there was no longer any need for this US-dominated institutions, that we could live well and above all better without them? And that they had lived together with Europe for over 2'000 years – long before the American double continent was marred by the Anglo-Saxons? It took indeed a very long time in the so-called New World until the whites could be brought to apologizing with regard to the genocide of the indigenous population.

Betschon is not sure whether the Europeans already became aware of the signs of the times and will make a move towards Asia – but nonetheless, the Asians are already coming to meet us. We do not only talk about tourism and the booming watch stores in Lucerne and Interlaken, which are often frequented by the rising Chinese middle class, but also about investors from China and India, who increasingly have saved long-established brandsin Europe from ruin, such as India’s Tata Group that did not only take over the British steel company Corus, but also the car companies Jaguar and Land Rover in 2007.

Tomorrow’s world: Latin America, Asia, Europe – and the US on the side

In Africa we realize that we are facing or else that we are amid a turning time in history: more and more Chinese companies are doing what so far has been reserved to the Europeans: establishing trade relations, making investments, exploiting raw materials – but the Chinese are able to combine their profits with real benefits for the locals, something that one has never encountered in European colonialism, imperialism and in the present neo-colonialism.

While the West suspiciously is staring at the Chinese dragon full of distrust, wondering whether it is going to work like the American eagle, i.e. reveal an aggressive militarism, we overlook that the world has turned into a square world: Today it is made up by Latin America, Asia, Europe and North America on the side. On the side? Our Western media like to conceal this: Increasingly important decisions are taken without the former superpower Number 1. Current Concerns reported the Phnom Penh humiliation.2 Since this event was simply non-existent in the mainstream media of the West, we had to resort to an article in the “Asia Times”, which showed quite clearly how far we lag behind the real development in the west. Obama had been disinvited by a meeting of the ASEAN countries. The United States, which wanted to sow a spirit of discord between the Asian countries, especially between the smaller ones and China, saw themselves left out. The world has become a different one, asKishore Mahbubani has been trying to explain to us for a long time – friendly, but very determinedly. And if the West does not want to acknowledge this, the fracture will be irreversible. It would be better for everyone to advance into the future together. But to that end the West would have to really live its values that are highly respected by the rest of the world, rather than operate toughest interest policy under the guise of values.

IMF and dollar hegemony are declining

Betschon mentions several events that illustrate this turning point in time:
The ten Southeast Asian countries of ASEAN – since we hardly know them in the West, they are listed by name here: These are Brunei, Cambodia, Indonesia, Laos, Malaysia, Myanmar, the Philippines, Singapore, Thailand and Vietnam – these ten states together with China, Japan and South Korea have created the Asian Monetary Fund with the RMB/yen as their central currency – a process that makes the US-dominated IMF superfluous.

The same happens in South America: the founding of the Latin American Monetary Fund causes the IMF to close its offices in one state after the other. Venezuela gives its members the necessary loans to pay off the IMF.

In Europe the euro, originally intended as an alternative to the dollar, faces massive attacks, but not from China! Russia, however, neither dances to Washington’s tune any longer: There, the gradual dismissal of IMF and dollar hegemony is taking place by increasingly relying on their own resources and gold.

These are all operations that in the long run will make it impossible for the US to impose their own debts to other countries of the world with the help of the dollar printing press. Especially since the funds for the military should be reduced and thus the well-tried, however no less burglary-gang like gunboat diplomacy will no longer work.

A key year for the waning of US influence on this planet was the year 2008: Coinciding with the Lehman Brothers the following events occurred without any input from the US, so busily concerned with their own interests:

•    In Lima, the 60 nations met at a World Food Summit, with Angela Merkel and China being invited but not the United States.
•    Simultaneously, the foreign ministers of the BRIC countries gathered in Yekaterinburg in Russia. Brazil, Russia, India and China had indeed invited the Europeans, but not the United States.
•    By the end of May, the new Russian president made his first trip abroad. In the past, this trip went to the US first; however this time China was the first stop.
•    At the same time an important summit between Japan and China took place – without the United States, which would have been inconceivable in the past. 

Europe: out of the US stranglehold, back to its own values

In this situation of a world that is easily organized without the Empire, Europe faces the question whether it should not continue to live the best values that the US neocons have contemptuously called that of the “old Europe”: on the one hand this would mean a move away from late colonialist ideas, the respect for the sovereignty of other states and non-interference in their internal affairs – in other words a rejection of questionable R2P strategy, the “responsibility to protect”, which, as stated by Dr Hans-Christoph von Sponeck3, has always been used as a pretext to intervene in other countries to secure the raw materials there and keep China out, just like in Sudan, in Libya, and almost in Syria if Russia and China had not objected with a courageous “Nyet”. Or as the Russian political scientist Fursow4 formulated in simple terms: In Syria, the Western crusaders ran into the Great Wall of China!

Finally Betschon advises Europe not to use double standards. There are ample examples listed in the books by Kishore Mahbubani5, but also in the articles of the international law expert Professor Hans Köchler6, who among others sharply criticizes the practice of charges by the International Criminal Courts (ICC).

Development corridors with pearl necklace-like development centers

Europe based on its new-old foundation of this best Western tradition would easily find an ally in the East, which includes about a quarter of today’s world population: the Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO). China, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Russia, Tajikistan and Uzbekistan as members regularly meet in this context with the observer states Mongolia, India, Pakistan and Iran. 

Whoever in Europe is of the opinion that nothing can grow together, because it does not belong together, must rethink his or her world view, which goes back to the ancient Euro-centric antiquity. There is no intra-Eurasian border in a true geographical-geological sense, but only in a historical and cultural one. 

However, the boundaries have been blurred early; we just have to recall the Russian-Western European entanglements, which refer to the exchange of craftsmanship, scholars and blue blood. And behind Russia there is China, which has been working since the mid-1990s on the establishment of five major infrastructure corridors that will connect Asia with Europe: Railways are there to form the backbone. Betschon stresses that this development corridors may similarly establish pearl necklace-like development corridors similar to the ancient silk roads with great effects.

Beijing-Hamburg: Railway faster than ships

However, who was aware of Europe staring at the USA with fascination? For example, that on 9 January 2008 a Pioneer Railway of goods for Europe was set in motion for the first time, from Beijing indeed. Its destination was Hamburg! A distance of 9,800 km across six countries. The result? It reached Hamburg after 18 days – container ships in order to reach the same destination would have taken almost 40 days on sea! An event, which opened up new dimensions – and a glance at the map of Eurasia shows: What is more obvious than the expansion of the land routes from China to Europe? Eurasia is a continent, a contiguous land mass that naturally belongs together – something that we cannot say about the links between Europe and the US, separated by two oceans.

Of course, a historian will also remember dark times when contemplating the issue of trans-Eurasian transport corridors: continental European countries had already tried to connect with the East by land. We remember the project of a “Berlin-Baghdad railway”. As historian Daniele Ganser shows in his book “Europa im Erdölrausch” (Europe in the oil rush) cheap oil could have been transported from Iraq to the Central European business centers, without being dependent on the British fleet and thus the empire of Great Britain. We all know what happened next: a small strip of land was not included in the German-Habsburg-Ottoman land bridge: Serbia. It is a well-known fact that in Austro-occupied Sarajevo the shot was fired which was to secure the oil monopoly in the Middle East for the naval power of Great Britain, we also call it the First World War, though perhaps less frequently with the above-mentioned background.

May the European countries, Russia and China watch out and keep in mind that today’s (as yet) number one naval power, the United States, wanted to stage something similar to the British in 1914. Past attempts to destabilize the Ukraine, Azerbaijan, the Central Asian republics could be filed against this background.

The Empire in retrogression – daily in the newspapers

Franz Betschon published his illuminating analysis in 2009. He needn’t correct anything, just like his revered idol von Salis. On the contrary, many problem areas mentioned by him have only become more visible in the three years since that time. It is very revealing that President Obama appointed Hagel his Secretary of Defense: that a US Secretary of Defense warns of the pro-Israel lobby and seeks negotiations with Iran; or that a Secretary of Foreign Affairs John Kerry visits Cairo, Riyadh, Doha, but misses Tel Aviv, is the one thing. That there are now talks with Iran in which the United States is present, and at the same time China and Russia are present, too, is the other. That the Turkish Prime Minister equated Zionism with racism, fascism, anti-Semitism and anti-Islamism and condemned it, for which he was sharply criticized in Israeli media7, but still remains a close ally of the United States and wants to join the EU despite or even with these statements, is a third thing. It is startling thatKenneth Waltz in Foreign Affairs of July/August 20128 wanted to grant Iran the bomb, because the world might become safer, especially the Middle East, because the nuclear power Israel would have a counterpart – Israel, which according to this grand old man of US political science, represented the main danger for peace in the region. This sounds like a Brzezinski chessboard strategy, to which Betschon refers several times, but as an exit strategy of the Empire’s chess players.

Continuing Roosevelt’s concept of respect for the sovereignty of nation states

We would wish the peoples in Eurasia, but also the peoples of the Middle East, and indeed regardless of nationality or religion, that the Chinese strategy of the new Silk Road and thus the peaceful interaction in economic and political terms without transatlantic disruptions could be realized. How many blossoming landscapes could develop if the great continent grew together, the way Kishore Mahbubani has repeatedly described. If the former mortal enemies Japan and China can cooperate peacefully today after the horrors of World War II, after more than 30 million Chinese killed by the Japanese, why should that be impossible in the Middle East? And why should the US not be oriented towards Roosevelt’s concept of respect for the sovereignty of nation states? Given the horrendous debt this is actually a top priority – and common sense. A task that would befit Nobel Peace Prize Laureate Obama well. And the EU could prove worthy of their Nobel Prize and bury its hostilities towards the East. Moreover, the Swiss population could become involved as a nation of good offices and mediate this complex situation and with their federalism they could be a model for fruitful and peaceful coexistence without flirting with large structures.

If the book by Franz Betschon is able to direct the thinking, feeling and acting into this direction, it will have beneficial effects. We’d like to wish this book a large readership – not only in Switzerland.


1    Franz Betschon: Das eurasische Schachturnier: Krisen, Hintergründe und Prognosen (The Eurasian chess tournament. Crises, background and forecasts.) Frankfurt/Main, 2009. ISBN 978-3-8301-1234-1.
2    David P. Goldman: Post-US world born in Phnom Penh. In: Current Concerns No. 53 of 31.12.2012
3    Dr Hans-Christof von Sponeck: The R2P attempt failed miserably in Libya. In: Current Concerns No. 18/19 of 08.05.2012
4    Hit Syria – Target: Russia. Interview with Professor Andrei Ilyich Fursow. In: Current Concerns No 37 of 10.09.2012
5    Kishore Mahbubani: The New Asian Hemisphere: The Irresistable Shift of Global Power to the East. 2008. ISBN-13: 978-1586484668.
6    Hans Köchler: Weltgericht ohne Weltstaat. Strafjustiz unter dem Diktat der Realpolitik? Kommentar zu Idee und Wirklichkeit des Internationalen Strafgerichtshofes zehn Jahre nach dem In-krafttreten des Römer Statutes. Vienna, 01.07.2012.  
7    At UN conference, Erdogan calls Zionism “crime against humanity”. In: Ha’aretz, 28.02.2013.
8    Kenneth N. Waltz: Why Iran should get the bomb. Nuclear balancing would mean stability. In: Foreign Affairs, July/August 2012. Edited by the Council on Foreign Relations. Current Concerns No. 43/44 of22.10.2012

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