The Suez is at last unblocked. But listen all the same to our Saturday night Cosmopolitan Globalist Partycast, because it is a fine discussion of global shipping and a rollicking good Saturday night—by pandemic standards.

We marvel at the weirdness of China’s recent diplomatic self-sabotage. We drink. We ask what Macron’s thinking about Russia. We wonder just who actually believes it. Does he? We gossip about Germany. We gossip about the Atlantic Council. We wander around looking for popcorn. We ask if the United States is really so broke that it should sacrifice Estonia. We miss smoking.

Vivek Kelkar weighs in from Mumbai. Jon Nighswander from Vienna. Rachel Motte from Houston. Owen Lewis from Alberta. Akshaya Jose from Paris—me, too, of course. Toomas Hendrik Ilves from Estonia. (We don’t know where in Estonia he is, exactly, but we understand it involves a promising herd of moose.) Monique Camarra, as usual, runs the Cosmopolicast out of Siena. Thank you, Monique!

Part I: The Cosmopolitan Globalists resolve that the Suez Canal crisis is bogus

First we did a go-round to see who had the best idea for getting that ever-loving ship unstuck.

Toomas: Zeus! SOS, Suez! I came up with that yesterday.

A moose snorts in the background.

Claire: Why can’t we just blow it up?

Toomas: The environmental damage wouldn’t be so nice.

Claire: Owen, you’d be good at this. What do we do?

Owen: I’m a geologist, not an engineer.

Claire: I don’t get why the US hasn’t fixed this. You can understand all of US foreign policy in the 20th century if you think of the US as this giant machine designed to keep the SLOCs open. That’s our whole mission in life.

Toomas: A man, a plan, a canal, Panama!

Jon: A lot of Chinese trade to Germany goes through that canal. It’s going to have a lot of knock-on effects.

Claire: I wouldn’t expect Germany to do anything, but this is what America exists to do.

Vivek: The US has never been able to do much about the Suez Canal. Ever. It was shut for eight years between 1967 and 1975! Even after the Sinai accords, you still couldn’t use it for two years because it was full of mines.

Toomas: Maybe it’s not so bad, and global warming has come to our assistance. You can go along the northern route, so who cares?

Claire: Huh? I’m having trouble visualizing this.

Monique gets a map.

Jon: It’s great for China and Russia. Turns Harbin into a major shipping center. Awful for India.

Toomas: Look at Russian side of the northern route. Look at coast of Russia, which used to be frozen in winter. Now it’s open. This is why the PRC is a member of the Arctic Council.

Owen: It’s mostly summer shipping, though.

Toomas: It’s April. You have six months to deal with the Suez Canal. Screw it.

Claire: So this whole Suez Canal crisis is bogus?

Toomas: For India, it’s a disaster.

Rachel: It’s bad for all the boats that are stuck.

Toomas: The next problem—if you go around the Cape of Good Hope: Somali pirates.

Claire: That’s just what I thought! Why did Twitter make fun of me for saying it?

Toomas: They’ll have an orgy.

Claire: I mean yeah, right? Banquet!

Jon: Wouldn’t the Americans come in then?

Toomas: No, they have to go around, too. Imagine a traffic jam in Los Angeles, and people decide this is a perfect time to start robbing cars. The police can’t get to you—they’re stuck in traffic, too—

Claire: How would you fight off Somali pirates if you’re stuck on a ship off the coast of Africa and you’re not properly insured for fighting pirates?

We do a quick go-round.

Claire: And what good does it do to be the mightiest seafaring power the world has ever seen if we can’t deal with a blocked canal and a bunch of pirates? Where is our tax money even going?

Toomas: We’ll see. You do have a US naval presence in the Indian Ocean, and you have Diego Garcia. Maybe they could start doing renditions there again. It doesn’t take that long to get any fleet anyplace—six or seven days, max.

Claire: This has got to be our special area of expertise. If it isn’t, what are they doing with the money?

Toomas: It wasn’t wasted, all kinds of things were prevented.

Jon: If you were to be cynical, US-China trade isn’t really affected, because it mostly goes across the Pacific. So what’s mostly affected is Europe-China trade. It has a dire effect on China. From the US point of view, maybe this isn’t such a bad thing.

Claire: Wow, yes.

Jon: Show Europe there are some risks associated with that relationship.

Part II: The Cosmopolitan Globalists wonder what’s wrong with Chinese diplomats

Toomas: Moving on, the utter collapse of EU relations with China in the past week—it’s like progressive FM rock in the late 1960s. Chinese Wolf Warrior diplomacy—

Claire: Yeah, what are they thinking?

Background: China’s ambassador to France was recently summoned and “firmly reminded” not to call French citizens “ideological pests,” “small-time hoodlums” and “crazed hyenas.” Then on March 22, the US, EU, UK, and Canada announced coordinated sanctions against Chinese officials directly involved in the abominations in Xinjiang. China promptly declared that in retaliation it would sanction pretty much everyone who’s anyone in Europe. Those who weren’t on the sanctions list felt properly ashamed.

Toomas: They’re just shooting themselves—

Monique: They’ve been everywhere.

Toomas: Every member state ambassador to the political committee of the EU—these are the people who make all the decisions—they’ve all been declared persona non grata. Ten think tanks, too, including some of the best! So now you’ve declared all these important, crucial people and institutions in the EU under sanction. And your trade is collapsing! There’s no f— way the EU-China trade agreement will in any way stand a chance of being ratified by the European Parliament—

Claire: Why did Merkel even embarrass herself by trying to make that deal?

Toomas: Because they’ll do anything for trade.

Jon: The German auto industry largely dictates foreign policy. When you’re an export nation, you’re always vulnerable.

Toomas: For thirty years, the Germans have caved into Russia because of “Wandel durch Handel!” Change through trade!

Claire: No one wants to see a vulnerable Germany, though. We all know how badly that can go.

Toomas: No. No. They’re too pacifist.

Claire: Compared to what?

Toomas, Jon: The next Chancellor is going to be a Green.

Toomas: They’re too Franco-centric. Even you, Claire, think France is the center of Europe when in fact it’s just part of the periphery.

Claire: I am not at the center, you say?

Part III: The Cosmopolitan Globalists wonder what Macron could possibly be thinking

Toomas: Macron has this grand vision about how he’s going to proceed while ignoring a population of Europe larger than France. And he thinks he can get away with it. “Oh, we will bring zee Russians in!”

Claire: Yeah, none of us understand this. Which constituency is he flattering?

Toomas: —ignoring 75 million East Europeans who are up against Russia, not listening to them, and he goes and does this.

Claire: But no one serious believes his claim that Russia can be seduced into being a normal European power, right? So what does he think he’s doing?

Toomas: I guess he wants to be the roi philosophe. The visionaire.

Claire: But it’s not very visionary. It’s been tried and failed.

Toomas: For about 200 years. The main problem is that the Russians haven’t been in Paris since 1814.

Claire: But he has a competent intelligence staff. They’ve got to be telling him, “This won’t work?”

Toomas: But he doesn’t listen to them. He thinks he’s smarter than they are. “That’s why I’m president and you’re not.” I don’t know, I can’t figure it out, either.

Claire: It’s weird.

Toomas: There’s also a lot of bizarrely Huntingtonian thinking France. “Our ultimate foe is Islam and Russia is a Christian nation.” I’ve heard this from foreign policy people.

Jon: They’ve never heard of Russia’s Muslim population, apparently?

Toomas: Which just gets bigger the more they invade—

Claire: This is the crazy stuff that Russia puts on the Internet, but why would smart people fall for it? Still, Macron put his finger on something a lot of people in Europe are thinking. America is down for the count, or off to the Pacific, and we need to go it alone, and that means making choices …

Toomas: A, I would work to counteract that—yes, the Pacific is the future theater and China is the—but to equate Russia with—

Claire: —it’s no stupider than the strategic fantasy I keep hearing from Americans: “We’re should team up with Russia to take on China!”

Toomas: But the smart people don’t say that.

Claire: They do! I’ve heard genuinely smart people say this.

Toomas: These are clowns. Think tanks bought with Koch Brothers’ money. The Atlantic Council, which used to be the paragon of transatlanticism, suddenly has a new section built up and paid for by the Koch people—

Claire: —Could they be right? Is the US just too broke to take on anything but China?

Toomas: No, no, no. The stupidity of the US and EU not forming and economic-tech alliance—the EU is obsessed with GAFA; the US doesn’t pay attention to Europe, this is my thesis—

Claire: —That is my thesis.

Toomas: Kinetic warfare as we’ve known it is over. Operationally, since 2007, the Newtonian basis of warfare no longer holds. Geography-based security thinking is dead.

Akshaya: To the contrary, the pandemic has really brough geography-based security thinking back.

Toomas: My point is that now you can just shut countries down, at a distance, without missiles.

Claire: You’re both right. So we’re in trouble.

Toomas: We’re in trouble.

Part IV: Pandemic Redux.

Claire: It seems as if with the pandemic we’ve slipped into an entirely new era, doesn’t it? We’re just standing at the edge of a void, staring at it, with no idea what’s on the other side.

It’s the party you’ve always wanted to be invited to. So invite yourself. Our subscribers are always welcome.


  1. Something I would say in response to Toomas is I think one problem Central and Eastern Europe have a vis a vis Macron is beyond opposition to Russia(and even then there are notable exceptions like Hungary) the CEE countries especially post Brexit are very divided among themselves on what type of European Union they want. Estonia for example seems to be much closer to the Franco-German idea of a United States of Europe whereas Poland and the Czech Republic are far more hostile to it and want more of an old pre-Brexit UK version of the EU as a free trade zone without currency and fiscal union for example. The issue for countries like Estonia I think is when these debates get going with people like Macron they will turn into France vs Poland arguments with Poland’s hostility at least under its current ruling party to liberal democracy and European integration used to dismiss Poland’s views on Russia with some of the smaller CEE countries like Estonia, Slovakia, etc that favor more European integration but don’t rapprochement with Russia lost in the discussion.

    Second I would argue what is even the current definition of Central and Eastern Europe. Are Finland and Sweden Eastern European countries? Should Hungary given its pro-Russian tilt as a political matter still be classified in this group? At the moment is Finland actually a closer bilateral ally of Estonia than Poland is?

    And maybe the third point I will make is one reason Macron and France are so influential is they have for legacy reasons certain instruments of the 20th century like a permanent seat on the UNSC and nuclear weapons. This brings me to my final open question is to what extent does even a fairly Euro-enthusiast country like is Estonia is willing to actually go down the road to a “real” full fledged United States of Europe where Estonia like New Jersey would no longer be a UN Member State but where a USE would hold what were formerly’s France’s(which be like more like what California is to the USA) nuclear weapons and permanent security council seat. NOTE: the rest of the world including Russia would have a hard time stopping it just as Russia inherited the “superpower” status of the USSR in 1991. In fact, former French Ambassador to the UN and US Gerard Araud has been frequently said that the EU as a supranational organization under the UN Charter cannot be a UN Member State or security council member but if individual EU Member States were to cease to exist as UN Member’s akin to US states, the EU/United States of Europe by succession would inherit the nuclear weapons state status under the non-proliferation treaty and a permanent seat on the UNSC on the day the French Republic shifted from being a sovereign state internationally to having the same status as Texas or Florida as a domestic subdivision(The reverse of what happening going from USSR to the Russian Federation). In fact on two occasions already multiple UN Member States have merged into a single resulting nation East and West Germany and North/South Yemen and basically, there is nothing the rest of the world say like the post Brexit UK or India, deeply embittered about its own lack of great power status can do to stop this. This leads me back to France’s importance to the EU. Without France, even a United States of Europe would still be stuck in the same position as India in the halls of the great powers, whereas a United States of Europe as a successor entity to the French Republic automatically gets a seat at the great power table.

  2. Enjoyed the podcast as usual. To add to Wolf Warrior diplomacy, our PM has recently been called a “boy” and a “running dog”. In fact, until he grows a pair and stands up to China holding two Canadians hostage, that is probably pretty accurate. But not very diplomatic.

    Check out Destined for War by Graham Allison. He reviews Thucydides history of the Peloponnesian War, where the dominant and established state, Sparta, was challenged by the upstart, impatient and respect demanding Athens. Sound familiar? He goes on to summarize 16 similar cases in history, 12 of which ended in war.

    The Chinese economic, technical and military growth has been unprecedented, eclipsing even the US growth early in the 20th century.

    The US was not unblemished in demanding its place in the sun. Interesting that for a country that eschews imperialism, Teddy Roosevelt chased the Europeans out of the Western Hemisphere, declaring that to be America’s backyard, taking Cuba, Guam, Puerto Rico and the Philippines from Spain, routed Britain, France and Germany from their interests in Venezuela, cast a covetous eye on Canada (Manifest Destiny) and cost Canada the Alaskan panhandle because Britain was not willing to fight for it, and the US was.

    Now China beckons. To quote Hillary Clinton, ” I do not wish to live in a world dominated by China.” We may not have a choice. American aircraft carriers can no longer stray too close to China as they are within range of missiles on the mainland. Hongkong, Taiwan and the South China Sea are soon to be lost.

    Thucydides and Allison both point out the missteps, and the possible strategies to avoid war in the inevitable conflict. One of interest is that alliances can be fatal. Sparta and Athens went to war over a disagreement between two allies, not between themselves. They were driven by fear and honour. (See World War I)

    That is not to say like minded democracies should not collude and prepare to face down the monster, but iron clad mutual protection may not be the right answer. Accommodation may be necessary. Realpolitik?

    I look forward to hearing the CG comments on what to me is the ONLY issue of existential significance.

    • Claire Berlinski | April 1, 2021 at 7:43 am | Reply

      Monique will, in fact, be hosting our China Cosmopolicast *today.* Any specific questions for the participants?

      • Great. How about, what strategies should we take, what are China’s weaknesses, where is India relative to China? Tks

      • Are the Chinese statements about their ownership of Taiwan to be considered literally? Or is it more of a cynical Realpolitik? Or is it way too complicated to answer in brief?

        • I think the Chinese have been very clear about their intentions towards Taiwan. By realpolitik I mean Taiwan may have to be sacrificed to accommodate China’s growing dominant position (as distasteful as that is) while the West determines what it’s critical interests are and where to draw the line.

          • I really hope you’re wrong, for their sake.

            I guess there’s something about the rhetoric regarding Taiwan as if they’ve never really lost it. It has a certain historical denialism that frightens me. It’s one thing to say “They broke away and we’ll take it back.” It’s quite another to say, “Well, you’ve always been ours, you just misunderstood.”

          • Eric Dyke | April 1, 2021 at 3:38 pm |

            I guess the Wilsonian principle of self determination is irrelevant here. The question is will the US go to war over it. It appears the Chinese might once they have their ducks lined up

          • Tim Smyth | April 3, 2021 at 3:17 am |

            Taiwan is a tricky issue as the world in general doesn’t recognize Taiwan as a sovereign state. This makes it much different than even say Russia invading parts of Ukraine(which the world does recognize of a sovereign state), Saddam invading Kuwait, Ghaddafi invading Chad etc. Now there was a period of time back during the Charles De Gaulle era when De Gaulle was willing to open about the policy of recognizing both Taiwan and Mainland China as sovereign states but the Taiwan side rejected it wanting to hold on to it’s claim of being the government of all of mainland China in exile.

  3. Thomas M Gregg | April 1, 2021 at 6:23 pm | Reply

    Predictions of a digital revolution in the art of war remind me of nothing so much as the forecasts of the airpower prophets of the 1920s and 1930s. Supposedly armies and navies had been rendered obsolete by the airplane, which in its military form was capable of delivering a knockout blow to an enemy country’s heartland, destroying its war industries, reducing its cities to rubble and shattering the morale of its civilian population.

    But when the next war came, these prophecies proved to be wide of the mark. Though airpower did indeed add a new dimension to war, it did so in ways of which the airmen had disapproved, e.g. close air support of ground forces and naval aviation. These were precisely the roles that the RAF for example had shortchanged in the interwar years, choosing instead to focus on strategic bombing. And while it’s true that the Allied strategic air offensive against Germany did great damage and killed around half a million civilians, it was not in itself decisive. Indeed, its greatest contribution to victory was not measured in tons of bombs dropped: The Luftwaffe suffered its greatest defeat in the skies over the homeland, ensuring Allied air superiority for D-Day and the rest of the war.

    Strategic airpower seemed to realize its potential with the advent of nuclear weapons, but once the US lost its atomic monopoly it quickly became clear that weapons so obviously decisive could never be used. This may well prove to be the case with strategic digital warfare also: effective deterrence through the threat of massive digital retaliation.

    Clausewitz reminds us that (1) war is a clash of living wills, not an exercise in mathematics or engineering, and (2) that war is a “true political instrument” whose character and course are determined by factors not organic to war itself. The possibilities of digital war should be analyzed with these principles in mind.

    I’ve written about the history of strategic bombing here (ongoing project):

  4. Something else that didn’t come up in the podcast is that Claire’s suggestion of an America is Back, Vaccinate the World program seems to be less and less likely to happen. So what are the geopolitical implications? Will actually anyone outside the US care that the US has not to date been particularly helpful to the rest of the world? Or will they care big time and will you see a coming erosion of US power and prestige?

    Which brings me to my second is the current lack of interest in a vaccinate the world program on the US’ part I think shows just how shallow internationalism as among even parts of the American population that claim publicly to support America’s global role.

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