The Year of the Tiger and of living dangerously?

Artist of Xi’an, painting on roller, private collection ©PP

          The Year of the Tiger will be celebrated, on February 1, in all the Chinese and Asian world. Our best wishes to those who respect and observe with attention this cycle of twelve years, each year bearing the sign of an animal. The first day of the lunar year was originally an agrarian festivity. And the tiger in this astrology is supposed to represent values of dynamism, courage but also combat when it is necessary.

Will the Year of the Tiger also be “The Year of Living Dangerously”, to quote the title of a remarkable Australian film, or a key moment for new opportunities? The movie recounted the extreme violent repression in 1965, in Indonesia ruled by Sukarno, designed to eliminate the communists under the pretext of a putsch attempt.

We are no longer in the Cold War, or at least we believed it. The Cold War, in its original version, deserved its name when great powers were facing each other, for example in Cuba or Berlin, and when any escalation could have meant an “ascent to the extremes” that had to be avoided. But the price to pay for this face-to-face, underpinned by the will of power and domination and ideological differences, was the multiplication of peripheral conflicts by allies and proxies interposed.

These conflicts have not disappeared in a world where ideologies have sometimes been replaced by the exploitation of religious beliefs and where new challenges, such as development and climate, are new vectors. The lack of regulation of the international system – even if it is ensured by a condominium -, because of the multiplication of emerging big powers and a fatigue of some past interventionism – whether it is the Middle East, South Asia, or even Africa – resulted in particularly volatile and unstable international relations.

 Will we also be witnessing the resurgence of bloc politics, with restructured components? Russia’s policy towards Ukraine is both an expression of opposition to NATO and its eastward expansion, but at the same time an attempt to reaffirm its influence, or even a plan to restore an area that had pre-existed the decomposition of the Soviet Union. The recent AUKUS Alliance in the Pacific is taking the shape of a western bloc against China, in an updated form of bloc-to-bloc relationship. In this regard, it is fortunate that Europe or its Member States are not taking part and keep a more free determination in the area. This is the most positive consequence of France’s loss of the nuclear-powered submarine contract.

To these concerns due to the current evolution of the international system characterized by increased tensions, is added a phenomenon that could be named by a neologism: « infra-deterrence». The Cold War did not generate between the Super powers because of their nuclear weapons arsenals. The doctrine of “assured mutual destruction” (MAD), a terrifying expression in itself, has been in practice a safeguard that has taken another name for the same reality: “the balance of terror”. But what about today? The Russian military posturing on the Ukraine borders must naturally be taken very seriously because the “poor power”, as Russia is sometimes called, is based on an indisputable military power, modernized in recent years. This was demonstrated, for example, with the intervention in Syria, starting in 2015. American prudence in the face of this Russia on the European continent (see President Biden’s mention of a “small intervention”) can be explained by the basic principle according to which military nuclear power is only conceivable for the defence of vital interests. The Ukrainian leadership itself understood what that meant.

The situation around Formosa is potentially even more serious because if China is “a partner and a competitor”, or even a “systemic rival” of Europe – a term that does not necessarily reach consensus within the EU -, it is clearly more than that for Washington. But while the imbalance remains 1 to 10 for naval forces in the South China Sea, the Chinese Ambassador to the United States has just declared that the latter and his country could «end up making war on Taiwan». Here again, a country whose power is certainly not in decline but on the contrary on the raise, but whose military capacities are still considered inferior, takes the risk of resorting to such a language that its nuclear status and the dynamism of its technological development make credible.

Would the novation of this new Cold War therefore be that direct clashes could theoretically be envisaged between the major powers, or blocs dominated by them, under the condition that they have nuclear weapons? If this were the case, it would be a particularly worrying drift that would encourage nuclear proliferation, not limited to “rogue states”. To the extent, at any rate, that the more acute international tensions are currently centred on the European continent, it is legitimate for Europe to tackle this issue once again. The urgency is first of all the dialogue and, beyond this primary objective in the context of this “new cold war”, should be drafted a “new détente” of which Europe, pole of civilization would be the promoter.

The “Year of Living Dangerously” does not begin outside the borders of States, nor does it stop at them. Problems considered as domestic are already stirring up debates against the backdrop of important electoral deadline: immigration, security, purchasing power, identity, sovereignty… None of these issues are actually exempted of being determined by external factors. Is not the problem of immigration rather the global issue of migrations? These are primarily the result of war, demography, poverty and climate. No wall will stop them and they should be also dealt with outside national borders. Is the pandemic a domestic issue? Is this also the case with global warming, which can cause havoc, as was the case in Germany during the summer? Is Nord Stream 2 a German-Russian question or will it also determine the price of gas for a European consumer? 

It is up to politicians and opinion to answer in a democracy. Let us hope that they retain the positive virtues lent to the Tiger in lunar astrology: courage, dynamism and mastered strength. 

Rajah, 9 years old and 250 kg white Tiger, Asson (France) © PP

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