MANIPUR, India, June 3 (UPI) -- After it became clear that Winston Churchill had been right at Fulton, Missouri after World War II and that the Soviet Union had imposed an "Iron Curtain" on postwar Europe, the United States began a policy of "containment" against Moscow.
This involved the putting in place of a cordon sanitaire that blocked Moscow from access to significant sections of Western markets and technology. Countries that were not already communist were sought to be kept away from Soviet influence, while within that bloc, those republics such as Yugoslavia that demonstrated some independence of the Soviet Union were encouraged in their behavior by access to Western financial and other resources
The Soviet Union, both individually and through its satellites, imposed a quarantine on Western -- principally American -- scholars and others from civil society, who were given either zero or highly restricted access to the Soviet bloc. However, the choking-off of such non-official contacts was not one way. Successive Cold War U.S. governments encouraged neither tourism nor investment to the Soviet bloc. In the case of countries such as Cuba, they were explicitly banned by Washington
This denial of markets and direct knowledge of the functioning of a modern economy resulted in the Soviet Union having to re-invent not one but several wheels, either by stealing or by developing technology on its own. Refused the chance of cross-fertilization with Western financial and mercantile infrastructure, the Soviet economy remained mired in a command system that often relied exclusively on quantitative measures of performance.
This resulted in huge distortions. For example, in plants making furniture, heavy items such as tables were preferred to lighter ones such as chairs, with the result that dozens of dining tables got produced but very few chairs to be sold along with them
Refused access to key Western technologies, the Soviets had to expend considerable resources in the search for substitutes, thus further setting back their economic progress, and making the manufacturing structure imbalanced, with the military sector far better provisioned than the civilian.
It can be argued that George F Kennan's brilliant policy of containment prevented any chance that the Soviet Union may have had into developing into a "Market Communist" state such as what the Peoples Republic of China has become. Had the West engaged rather than contained the Soviets over time the system may have been able to make the transition to a market economy, although this would have meant significant changes in the political structure.
Instead, what followed was the steady ossification of the internal sap of the Soviet Union, leading finally to the collapse of its empire when its last president Mikhail Gorbachev removed fear of the consequences of dissent from within the Soviet system.
Had Gorbachev not come forward, the system may have gone on for decades more, getting increasingly more moribund, until it collapsed in violent revolution the way its predecessor, Tsarist Russia, did. However, long before it died of decrepitude, the Gorbachev reforms killed the Soviet Union.
Perhaps because of the geopolitical need of the United States to enlist China as an ally against the Soviets in the 1970s,or the ascendance of the non-ideological Deng Xiaoping to full control as China's Paramount Leader in the early 1980s, or even the romanticism about China of those like Henry Luce who were descended from missionary families, the United States never maintained the rigors of containment on China after the rise of Deng. Instead, access to both markets and technology were thrown open, and non-political contacts were encouraged. The Red Emperors in Beijing saw the Soviet Union as the worse foe, and pragmatically allied with the lesser enemy against Moscow
The death of the Soviet Union by the start of 1992 made China irrelevant as a U.S. counterweight against Moscow. However, by then the Sino-American economic relationship had developed a powerful momentum, with China becoming the location of choice for low-value mass-produced items.
It can be argued that the flood of China-produced goods in US supermarkets has resulted in a significant reduction in the cost of living for most US consumers, while the loss of jobs as a result of the shift of such plants to China has been in other developing countries rather than in the United States. Had China not been the source for many of the items that were -- and are -- coming from it, Sri Lanka, India, Bangladesh or such other countries would have been, rather than the United States itself. The world's most powerful country has moved up the food chain into the services and value-added sectors, leaving the lower part to poorer nations
The Chinese Communist Party has therefore been fortunate in avoiding the noose of containment that had slowly strangled its Soviet counterpart. The reality is that America's geopolitical need for China as an ally diminished considerably after 1992. This should have changed the behavior of Beijing and made it more accommodative of U.S. concerns. Washington is, after all, far and away China's biggest market, and the source of much of the growth that to date has given a degree of legitimacy to the CCP.
However, on the contrary, the 1990s have been precisely the years during which China has differentiated itself more sharply from US interests than during any decade after the 1950s.
China has become the supplier of high-technology military hardware and communications to Libya, Iran, Syria and other countries with which the United States has strained relations. Beijing was among the principal suppliers of such items to the two regimes that have been felled by President George W Bush: the Taliban led by Mullah Omar in Afghanistan and the Baath led by President Saddam Hussein in Iraq.
Most worrisome of all, entities that are linked to others which in turn are controlled by elements of the CCP and the Peoples Liberation Army have ensured the development of both North Korea and Pakistan as nuclear and missile powers, the first acting as a distraction for Japan and the other serving a similar purpose for India.
Not coincidentally, these are the two biggest democracies in Asia -- indeed, for a long time they were, together with Israel, the only democracies in that vast continent -- and the two principal rivals of China in Asia.
Clearly, the policy of the Clinton administration, to attempt to recruit Communist China as a strategic ally that would help Washington defend U.S. interests, has failed. The reason is that the long-term interests of China are significantly different from those of the United States.
(This is the first of two parts. Next: America's Options. M D Nalapat is director of the School of Geopolitics at the Manipal Academy of Higher Education, India)