WASHINGTON, Jan. 17 (UPI) -- Finlandization is back in vogue in the geopolitical handbook.
In Cold War jargon, Finlandization meant the danger of some NATO allies, cowered by mounting Soviet military power, shifting to the art of fence-sitting. Plucky Finland should never have been a pejorative.
In 1939, Moscow demanded land concessions from Finland "in defense of the motherland." The Finns refused, the Soviets invaded and Finland surrendered in March 1940 after heavy losses. For eight years after World War II, 3.5 million Finns were condemned to produce some $300 million (in 1938 dollars) in reparations -- e.g., 525 locomotives, 340,000 railroad cars, 619 vessels -- while neglecting their own needs.
An ungainly posture but some -- mostly on the left -- felt far more secure demonstrating against their own governments as the Soviet Union began deploying the intermediate-range SS-20 and short-range nuclear missiles, at the rate of two a week.
A first-strike weapon of unmatched power, the United States and its NATO allies concluded it was designed to start and win a nuclear war. Its three independently targeted nuclear warheads would take only 15 minutes from launch to impact in London, Paris and NATO headquarters in Brussels.
Finlandization was biting.
Beginning in 1977, the Soviet Union began deploying several hundred SS-20s along its western and southwestern borders. Moscow's geopolitical shorthand for NATO's European members was clear: "Distance yourself from NATO and you'll be secure."
Post-Cold War, Moscow used the Finlandization process to dissuade former Warsaw Pact members from joining NATO. It failed.
The magic formula -- pursue a foreign policy of neutrality that takes Moscow's strategic interests into account while preserving Western democratic systems -- is working its way through the South China Seas and the bilateral relations that Taiwan maintains with Beijing and Washington.
Taiwan's pro-Beijing, Harvard-educated president Ma Ying-jeou, who favors more integration with China and is seen by many as a realist, was recently re-elected. He concedes that the United States, following failure in Iraq, an uncertain future in Afghanistan, possible confrontation with Iran and faced with major defense cutbacks, is no longer the automatic deterrent it once was.
Ma has negotiated 16 agreements with China to expand air, sea and economic links. Daily flights across the 100-mile wide Taiwan Strait and cargo and passenger ferries are routine.
Ma's opponent, Tsai Ing-wen, is committed to independence, which is China's red line. Neither China nor the United States seek confrontation over Taiwan.
Some 2 million young Taiwanese have moved to the mainland and found life more exciting in Shanghai than in Taipei. Hong Kong, now an integral part of China, has kept its independence. So has Macao, a Las Vegas on the South China Sea. And some younger Taiwanese have been asking, "If one China three systems works, why not four systems?"
Is Taiwan under Ma also under the influence of Finlandization? Many fear so and many hope so.
Ma would have to be geopolitically myopic not to see the constant growth of China's military power and the fact that almost 6 million Chinese workers are deployed throughout what was once called the Third World, building and mining for raw materials and its future export markets. Some 6,000 are building a Macao-type gambling complex 10 minutes from Nassau airport in the Bahamas.
Is Finlandization also spreading to the South China Sea? A report by the Center for a New American Security describes "American interests (as) increasingly at risk (there) due to the economic and military rise of China and concerns about its willingness to uphold existing legal norms."
The South China Sea, says the report by Patrick M. Cronin and Robert D. Kaplan, "functions as the throat of the Western Pacific and Indian Oceans -- a mass of connective economic tissue where global sea routes coalesce … the demographic hub of the 21st-century global economy."
Defending U.S. interests and promoting the status quo, say the authors, "need not -- and should not -- lead to conflicts with China." But it will require strengthening America's naval presence by building back up to a 346-ship fleet instead of retreating to the 250-ship mark under new budget cuts.
The 11-carrier task forces are also facing cutbacks, first to 10 and then nine. One former defense chief said privately he thought eight carriers would be the final number picked a year or two hence.
But this would face monumental opposition from many Republicans who are convinced China is another Soviet Union in the making, stealing our secrets, planning to put a man back on the moon -- and that this expansionist power must be contained.
The South China Sea will be a geopolitical test case for the Finlandization process. Countries that border this sea -- Vietnam, Malaysia, the Philippines -- "face 'Finlandization' by China if U.S. naval and air power diminishes," the report says.
Faced with recently published books in the United States, policy makers in these countries cannot help but be alarmed.
Michael O'Hanlon, the Brookings Institution's prolific U.S. defense strategic expert, writes in his latest book titled, "The Wounded Giant -- America's Armed Forces in an Age of Austerity," that "the military budget may be cut by up to a trillion dollars over a decade, far more than the $400 billion in 12-year savings that President Obama had proposed in his April 13, 2011, speech that signaled the White House's full engagement on the deficit issue … above and beyond savings that will result, and indeed are already resulting, from troop drawdowns in Iraq and Afghanistan."
"America the Vulnerable," is by Joel Brenner, a veteran of the inner sanctum of U.S. espionage, who takes the reader "inside the new threat matrix of digital espionage, crime and warfare."
This former inspector general of the National Security Agency and then head of counterintelligence for the director of National Intelligence, describes at close range the battleground on which our adversaries are eating our lunch -- cyberspace.
Brenner writes we are at the mercy of a new generation of spies who operate from China, Russia and the Middle East, who have already stolen our latest naval technology, robbed our banks and invaded the Pentagon's secret communications system.
Results of our "special friends" activities are yet to surface in mainstream America. When they do, Republicans will have their campaign manual.