Austin Bay: 2023’s strategic challenges: Introducing big debt
When the year 2022 began, Vladimir Putin’s Russia was fighting a slow but deadly war with Ukraine – a war to restore what Putin believed to be Russia’s historically legitimate empire.
In the slow war, the Kremlin can control the level of violence on the battlefield and assess the economic costs. For example, Russia could slowly destroy Ukraine’s eastern provinces and largely lift international political and economic sanctions.
As the year 2023 begins, Vlad’s Russia is embroiled in a heavy war that Russia is definitely not winning – and maybe Ukraine is.
What difference does a year make?
On the very obvious level of Russia vs. Ukraine, the answer is yes. Russia is paying huge costs in lives and in rubles for Putin’s megalomania and misjudgments. I discussed both in last week’s column.
But on a global level, human affairs are still plagued by a growing list of big, deadly problems that have no simple answers.
In January 2022, I wrote a column addressing “the four strategic challenges to the post-World War II international order.” While this is a reasonable introduction to an essay, a week after I wrote it, I said the line requires qualification.
Here are the four challenges, and I note that they are not in order. They all have great importance. Unfortunately, they are not discrete. They intertwine.
Challenge no. 1: Imperialist powers set on recovering lost empires (and fulfilling the grandiose dreams of their current leaders.) Commentary 2023: Russia in Ukraine, China threatens Taiwan.
Challenge no. 2: Failed states, failed states, and completely bogus states mired in anarchic violence that spills over political borders. (Note: Flailing means collapsing. In fake states, local thugs control the capital, the UN headquarters, and little else.) 2023 Commentary: Over the past year Mexico has been exposed as a fake border state. (It works on purpose.)
Challenge no. 3: Radical, militant, megalomaniac dictatorships trying to obtain weapons of mass destruction (nuclear, chemical, biological) and the ways and means of using them to kill with history-changing lethal surprise. 2023 Commentary: Iran is closer to a nuclear weapon, but the Iranian regime is failing (see Challenge #2).
Challenge no. 4: Widespread corruption of influential but dishonest individuals and abusive institutions in democratic countries. Corruption is so internally corrosive to these nations that a timely and effective political and military response to Challenges No. 1 to 3 is systematically delayed, undermined or immobile.
2023 Commentary: The 2022 Twitter revelations exposed massive corruption in the US, in the FBI, the so-called legacy media, and the Biden family in particular. Hunter Biden’s Laptop Is Not Russian Disinformation; is powerful and detailed testimony that exposes the corruption that taints the highest levels of American government.
Big 2023 US Diplomatic Punishment for Corruption: Hunter Biden’s Blatant Corruption Has Real National Security Costs. If protecting Ukraine is a US security interest – and I think it is – then the corrupt activities of the Biden family and the government’s failure to penalize their corruption undermines US efforts to address Ukrainian economic corruption.
So why did I decide that challenges to the “international order” sentence needed a better purpose?
The trick word is “command”.
The post-World War II international order never managed to “mandate” Challenges No. 2, 3 and 4. The US-dominated world, with the overlay of the United Nations, tried to placate, buy off, ignore or suppress them. As for Challenge no. 1, the great grab for empire, the nuclear stalemate of the Cold War froze or suppressed it in a strange way. Small hot wars were fought on the periphery – Southeast Asia, Central and South America, Africa, the Middle East.
Time to introduce Challenge no. 5: Big debt. The hyperinflation of 2022 and the government’s budget surplus justify it.
For the last two decades, Greece has been the poster child of Big Debt. Greek governments violated fiscal agreements and borrowed money they could not pay back. The debt became unsustainable.
Based on GDP, resources and — even after COVID-19 — work ethic, America has yet to face a dire debt crisis like Greece.
Communist China threatens the world. That said, America’s structural debt is the biggest self-inflicted threat facing the US.
Austin Bay is a syndicated columnist and author.
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