The defining event of this post-Covid era (whomsoever wins in the U.S. elections), will likely be the U.S. de-coupling from China – Tech de-coupling of telecoms (from Huawei’s 5G); de-coupling from Chinese media and chat platforms; the purging of all China tech from the U.S. microchip ecosystem; the disconnecting of China from internet, from app stores, from undersea cables; and from access to U.S. cloud-based data storage systems – under Pompeo’s Clean Network programme. This represents the first heavy artillery barrage to a prolonged, and mud-laden, trench-warfare ahead.
This is not Cold War, but a reversion to an earlier era that then ended with hot war – when policy-makers (and markets) famously failed to appreciate the rising danger that was accreting during the sleepy-summer hiatus that elapsed between the assassination of Archduke Franz Ferdinand in late June 1914, and the outbreak of the First World War, five weeks later.
Diplomats of course understood that two heavily-armed alliances were on potential a collision course, but there had been episodes of sabre-rattling for several years before, whose failure to come to a head had induced a sense that the status quo would extend indefinitely. Opinion then had been influenced by Norman Angell’s 1909 best-seller, The Great Illusion, arguing that war had become impossible, because global trade and capital flows were too closely interlinked.
What they did not understand at that earlier moment was that the circumstances of mid-1914 (the Sarajevo moment) seemed so propitious both for Germany to aspire to empire, and for Britain to believe that it could quash it utterly. Just as circumstances are believed – by some in Washington – to be serendipitous today.
Trump et al seem convinced that the U.S. can use its financial and trade muscle – whilst America still predominates – to crush China’s rise, contain Russia, and arm-twist Europe into tech vassalage. The Balkan war in the early 20th century locked Germany’s fickle ally Austria-Hungary into Germany’s greater fight against Russia. And today, Pompeo hopes to lock (fickle) Europe into America’s containment of Russia. The Nordstream threats and the Navalny scam are just some of Pompeo’s ‘levers’.
Pompeo’s Clean Network assault is today’s ‘Sarajevo moment’. Policy-makers, and markets, remain blasé (as in 1914, when markets awoke to the risks, only in August, on the outbreak of war). By late January next year, the U.S. is very likely to be paralysed in an intractable, possibly violent, constitutional crisis – and in all-out tech war with China. By then, Europe and America are likely to be in full recession, as Coronavirus fires up for the winter.