the West

Heading Towards a Frightening Awakening – Part 1 of 2

1 March 2024

10.7 MINS

The first speaker for the National Civic Council’s 2024 Democratic Conference held on the weekend of February 2-4, was Greg Sheridan, who spoke on the state of geopolitics and how Australia is responding to a dynamic situation. Greg was in conversation with the NCCs’ Senior Advisory Council members Patrick J. Byrne and Peter Westmore. Greg’s assessment is sobering, to say the least.

Greg Sheridan is The Australian newspaper’s foreign editor and he is one of the nation’s most influential national security commentators. He has written extensively on American, Asian and international affairs. His latest two books are: God Is Good for You: A Defence of Christianity in Troubled Times; and Christians: The Urgent Case for Jesus in Our World.

Patrick J. Byrne: Greg, the Australian Strategic Policy Institute has just published its “2024 Geopolitical Calendar for a World Near the Brink”, inferring the world is now facing a loose alliance of aggressive states with dangerous potential. Can you give us your overview of what we are facing in Ukraine, the Middle East, the Pacific and China? Let’s start with Ukraine.

Greg Sheridan: Well, Pat, I think ASPI is right – the central strategic fact of our time is the growing alliance between China, Russia and Iran and their various clients and satellites like North Korea and probably Cambodia, and then all of Iran’s proxies.

In Ukraine, I think the tide is turning, and Russia is starting to win the war. It has been a war very much along the traditional lines that Russia wages. Russia typically starts out very badly in a war because of its logistical incompetence, its corrupt officer class and its lack of good non-commissioned officers. But then, over time, the willingness of the Russian Government – whether it’s a tsar or communist or post-communist like President Vladimir Putin – to inflict enormous suffering on its own people (and the sheer size of Russia) starts to tell.

Western support for Ukraine is starting to get fatigued, even though not a single Western soldier has had to go into battle in Ukraine. On both the Republican right and the Democrat left in the United States, we see a lot of impatience with the Ukraine conflict.

The Biden Administration has given the Ukrainians aid but never enough to win – only enough to prevent them from being defeated. So, my guess is that there will be a settlement that leaves Russia in occupation of large chunks of Ukrainian territory, but it is very unpredictable, and we don’t know where Putin’s ambitions will end.

As for Iran, it’s not clear why, but Iran has decided to escalate conflict in the last 12 months. It is now a very powerful regional player. The United States under Biden has lost influence in the Arabian Gulf – it is not really keeping the Gulf states solid.

There is the basic Sunni-Shia split in the Middle East – Iran is Shia, and the Gulf states are Sunni. Traditionally, most of the Gulf states have been de facto allies of the United States and even de facto allies of Israel to some extent.

Biden, in trying to make a deal with Iran and in pursuing a human-rights case against Saudi Arabia, has weakened the American position in the Gulf. And his withdrawal from Afghanistan has worried the Gulf states as to whether he would really protect them from Iran.

As a result, Iran is using its proxies – Hamas in the Gaza Strip, Hezbollah in Lebanon, the Houthis in Yemen and Shia militia in Iraq and Syria – to strike Israel and also to strike American targets in the region. They just recently killed three Americans in Jordan and are also attacking international shipping in the Red Sea. This is extraordinarily dangerous because they may well provoke America into a conflict.

The third big challenge is China. China is an aggressive, authoritarian communist state – it’s the last great remaining communist state. I have always argued that communism is best seen as a kind of a religious system and that China’s leadership are true believers in it.

The Chinese are behaving very aggressively in the region. They have taken possession of Philippine islands in the South China Sea, they’ve been ramming Philippine boats with PLA Navy boats disguised as Coast Guard, and they are constantly threatening Taiwan and breaching Taiwanese airspace and Japanese airspace.

The Chinese are a little constrained at the moment because the Chinese economy is not doing very well, but it is very hard to know what their intentions are.

So, we’ve got three giant authoritarian powers dedicated to the defeat of the United States and the defeat of the West: Russia, Iran and China. Three very different systems – they all probably hold each other in contempt, but that doesn’t matter; they are allied together, and they are striking the West.

The situation is very much like the old Cold War. But, in the first Cold War, we had a degree of moral and political unity in the West – clear leadership in the United States and Britain, and our enemies were scared that we might fight. All those three things are under threat now: we do not have moral unity, we do not have clear leadership, and our enemies are beginning to think we might not fight.

The one thing that the Albanese Government says, which I agree with, is that we face the most dangerous circumstances we’ve faced since the end of World War II.

Peter Westmore: Greg, picking up that last point about the dangerous situation in which we appear: Henry Kissinger, former U.S. Secretary of State, once made the remark that the capacity of countries, the willingness of countries to defend themselves – by force if necessary – was in a sense the sine qua non of preserving freedom in the world.

Do you think that the critical weakness that the West has at the moment is an unwillingness to commit, if necessary, to fight for the system which, in a sense, the West has given the world, and its unprecedented prosperity?

Greg Sheridan: Yes, but it is even more basic than that, Peter. Are Western nations willing to fight for their own existence, let alone for the system that they’ve given the world?

You see, Ukraine and Israel are part of the West. Israel is a much more intimate part of the West than Ukraine, but both are Western nations. And they are being attacked by monstrous dictatorships and terrorists. Yet, they are not asking the West to sacrifice a single soldier – not one.

The argument against the intervention in Iraq was that eventually, the Americans had to do all the fighting. The argument in Afghanistan was that the only Afghans who would not fight were the ones employed by the Afghan army and the Afghan national government. It’s a bit of a slander on the Afghans, but there’s something in it. As soon as the Americans left, the Afghan government collapsed.

Well, Ukraine and Israel are nothing like that – they are willing to do all the fighting themselves. And Ukraine has suffered terrible, terrible casualties, and Israel is suffering very monstrous, sadistic, depraved, unimaginable terrorism against their citizens. But the West is getting tired of supporting them, and all they need is ammunition.

OK, Ukraine does need a bit of economic aid, but Israel doesn’t really need any economic aid – it just needs military equipment.

So, at the moment, all the West’s enemies are either attacking the West or promising that they will attack the West. North Korea is supplying missiles and ammunitions to Russia; Iran is supplying drones and ammunition to Russia; both North Korea and Iran make their stuff much more cheaply than we make it in the West, yet hardly anyone in the West has ramped up in response.

So, everyone in the West, including Australia, is the psychological equivalent of the Afghan government – we just believe that the Americans will take care of it.

We can’t believe the Americans will ever be defeated – we can’t believe the Americans will ever desert us. But even the Americans have a limit on their power and are also limited in their willingness to use that power on behalf of everybody else.

I read a headline on the way here: America has 54 allies. What if they all called for help at the same time?

Moreover, no one in the West is really significantly ramping up their capabilities. Japan may be an exception – it is committed to doubling its defence expenditure, but it is starting from a very low base, 1 per cent of GNP, and is committed to moving up to 2 per cent.

Germany has made a commitment to increase defence expenditure, but has done very little about it. Even the United States is only increasing its industrial production of weapons, ammunition and platforms very, very slowly.

Australia, of course, is doing absolutely nothing – absolutely zero. In fact, the Australian Government is doing less about defence than if it was doing nothing at all, because our defence capabilities are eroding, and we are not replacing them.

Patrick J. Byrne: Greg, the United States, the EU, Japan and their allies have about 50 per cent of the global economy. In contrast, Russia, China and Iran have about 20 per cent of the global economy. Given that the Western allies have a much greater industrial power if they want to use it, if they want to stand up for their principles, what measures need to be taken to tackle these aggressive states?

Greg Sheridan: The Western powers have a much bigger economic capacity, but I’m not sure they have a much bigger industrial capacity. One of the bizarre things that has happened over the last 20 or 30 years – partly due to climate change but also partly due to free trade – is that the industrial capacity has left the West and gone to China and other nations in Asia and Africa. Western economies have essentially been hollowed out. They are service economies now – they are financial economies.

We in Australia are a classic example. Five minutes ago, we had an automobile industry that produced 50,000 automobiles a year.

That meant that, if you were in a crisis and you had to switch to defence production, you could do it. We don’t have anything like that now.

But, if you have no industry and you’re in a crisis, and you have got to switch to defence production, there is nothing you can do – it is much harder to start from zero.

Nonetheless, the underlying reality is that the West is much richer than its enemies. So, why is it not much more capable? I do think – without becoming too apocalyptic about it – that it comes down to a civilisational crisis.

All the Western nations are suffering the same malaise: they are internally very divided; they have an academic class that hates the Western project; they’ve abandoned their transcendent religious beliefs; and they are completely overstretched in terms of budgetary resources but they are spending all their money on transfer payments to themselves – they spend prodigious amounts of money on welfare payments for themselves, which doesn’t leave much money to spend on military capabilities.

Historical analogies can be a bit too facile, a bit too easy, but I’ve just been reading a lot lately about St Augustine and the last part of the Roman Empire. At the end of the Roman Empire, life was very decadent and corrupt in the cities, and Rome could only get its soldiers from the countryside. The countryside had fewer and fewer people and they were alienated from the cities, and Rome lost its ability to fight against much more primitive enemies. So, Rome was defeated not by sophisticated Greek or Persian armies, but by Vandals and Goths and very primitive Germanic tribes.

Now, China is much less wealthy than the West, Iran much less so again, and Russia much less so again. But they do have martial cultures and they do have governments that are willing to inflict a lot of punishment on their own people.

Henry Kissinger once remarked that no Western government can now ask anything of its people. Look back at the sacrifices and the heroism of World War II – people flocked to the recruitment agencies. The only Western nation where you see that now is Israel. When the October 7 attacks took place, Israelis holidaying all over the world rushed back home to fight for their homeland. And you saw it in Ukraine. You don’t see it much in Britain or France or Australia.

Australia, moreover, like Ancient Rome, is now very heavily dependent on rural folks to go into the army, and an even smaller percentage of our population is rural. So, with a population of 27 million, much bigger than we ever were before, we can’t man any of our defence services.

Peter Westmore: The Government of Papua New Guinea is seeking a security pact with China. This is really quite close to home. What should Australia be doing to meet the challenge from the continued aggressive push by China into the island states in our neighbourhood?

Greg Sheridan: This is one area where I think our governments have not done a bad job, but it is a very difficult problem. Australia’s intelligence agencies believe – and they are completely right in this belief – that the Chinese have a long-term strategic aim to acquire a military base in the South Pacific. In this, they will replicate the Japanese strategy in World War II of being able to isolate Australia from the United States. If they ever acquired a military base in the South Pacific, be it in the Solomon Islands or Vanuatu or wherever, this would be a catastrophic development for Australia.

Australia has a strong policy aim – shared by both sides of politics – to diminish Chinese influence in the South Pacific, limit its political influence and limit its strategic and security presence.

Now, the South Pacific nations – wonderful nations, God-fearing, good people, and they’re our friends – are all mendicant nations; not one of them makes a proper living. They have very big needs and a lack of resources. Now, they are quite sensibly going to auction themselves off again and again and again.

When the Albanese Government came into office, it had a more pro-climate-change policy, so the South Pacific islanders loved it. Penny Wong won my great respect when she spent a lot of time in the South Pacific. She prevented the Chinese from finishing various security agreements, and we got lots of security agreements.

All that was good, but each one of those security agreements has unravelled. The Tuvalu Prime Minister has just lost his seat in Parliament, and the people who might replace him say they don’t want that security agreement. In Vanuatu, the Prime Minister is being replaced, and Parliament is going to think over the security agreement again.

We negotiated a security treaty with Papua New Guinea. The Papua New Guinea Government changed its mind, saying this won’t be a treaty it will be in agreement with. They did that because it would have had enormous difficulty getting ratified in the PNG Parliament.

In the meantime, China has enormous resources and is just determined to keep pushing. It recently got Nauru to switch diplomatic recognition from Taiwan to Beijing, and that will make a huge increase in China’s influence in Nauruan life. This is our absolute front yard, backyard, living room, next-door neighbour, whatever you want to call it. This is our primary area of strategic vulnerability, and we have to be all over the place.

I think the Government’s got its ministerial structure wrong. The Pacific Minister is a junior minister, and he has another portfolio – he is simultaneously the Defence Industry Minister. Well, the Pacific Minister really needs to be a senior minister, and probably a cabinet minister, and you’ve got to dedicate a lot of money to him.

The Chinese will do lots of things that are uneconomic to gain influence, and sometimes, you can only counter that by doing it for free as part of the aid budget. The Chinese will say, we’ll give you a mobile phone network at 80 per cent of the cost. We can’t get any of our companies to do that, quite rightly, so we just have to do it as part of the aid budget. And you’ve got to keep doing it.

The Melanesian world is now, I think, well north of 10 million people, and we are only 27 million, so this is proportionally a very big territory for Australia to be concerned with. But, on the whole, Australian governments have been reasonably effective.

___

Originally published in News Weekly. Photo by Lara Jameson.

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6 Comments

  1. Jillian Stirling 1 March 2024 at 11:37 am - Reply

    Why does the west deserve to be saved militarily? The only country truly fighting for its existence is Israel. Ukraine did negotiate an agreement but the west tore it up. Most people in the Donbas speak Russian and there has always been lots of toing and froing of Ukraine people into and out of Russia.
    I find Sheridan a bit of Hawke with everyone tiptoeing around his opinions.

    • Jim Twelves 1 March 2024 at 8:06 pm - Reply

      Jillian, I have great sympathy with your stance, thank you.

  2. David higgins 1 March 2024 at 4:51 pm - Reply

    Why do we always report that Russia, China etc are evil and out to get us? All men are evil Americans, British and Australians we all have done and continue to do and fund others to commit horrendous acts for our benefit. And why is China our enemy? what have they done to us? Should we not do what the scripture says that is to love our enemies and do good to them that hate us? I am not concerned about the so called enemies it’s our friends that are taking advantage of us. If you look for enemies you will always find them. I would hope our government would make friends out of our so called friends.

    • Jim Twelves 1 March 2024 at 7:33 pm - Reply

      David, I have huge sympathy with your perspective. Thank you for this. Also, thank you for going against the tide with your views. Very encouraging.
      However, I Jesus says, I am sending you out like sheep among wolves. So be as wise as snakes and as harmless as doves (Matthew 10:16). I take this to mean that we should ‘understand Russian, Iran and China really well’. We should not lump them into a a simplistic evil basket and just want the worst on them. David prayed for his enemies (Psalm 35: 14).

  3. Jim Twelves 1 March 2024 at 8:38 pm - Reply

    Many thanks for this piece. I think it collects a good number of pieces of the jigsaw that our daily monitoring of the ‘news’ misses. So in that regard its an excellent synopsis.
    However, to pick up Jillian’s point, ‘Why does the west deserve to be saved militarily?’ I long for the day when the government of the day seeks to build some national pride again and some genuine appreciation for the wealth we have in this Great South Land.

  4. Countess Antonia Maria Violetta Scrivanich 3 March 2024 at 7:04 am - Reply

    Australians face REALITY that Greg Sheridan is spot on and the West (including Australia ) are in a perilous state . We are importing people from the Middle East and Africa with mental illness, disabilities, criminal records or no love for our Christian values and way of life. Some of these people are here as a Moslem 5th Column to betray Australia and destroy our freedoms. if you think that a Communist Chinese take-over of Australia would be peaceful ,you’re out of touch with reality! Whenever they have invaded, they have done their best to destroy that country’s culture and religion –vide Tibet where they raped Buddhist nuns in the street and destroyed hundreds of Buddhist temples !Why do you think the Dalai Lama and others fled to live in India in exile ? Why do you think the people of Hong Kong tried so hard to preserve their British way of life and its Legal system and Press Freedom ? Why do you think Taiwan, Japan and the Phillipines fear China so much ? Why did Chinese flee after Tianamen Square to live in freedom as my next-door neighbours in Rosslyn Park and Wattle Park, Adelaide ? Other Chinese fled Hong Kong in the early 1980s because they saw the “writing on the wall “, ie that the UK would relinquish Hong Kong to the Chinese Communists , so, they got out before that happened ! When I returned home in 1992 I was one of a few White People and my suburb’s nickname was now “Chinese Hill “where I lived in peace with freedom -loving Chinese doctors , engineers , etc who wanted to integrate, asked me to teach their wives Australian cooking, etc. These were educated Chinese, some of whom loved European Opera and Classical Music as much as me. Their sons learnt how to play European music at Marryatville High School. An invasion force will NOT be composed of the Intelligensia, but, of brain-washed rural Chinese out for revenge for the British imposing Opium on China in the 19th century which drained their Treasury as Britain would only receive payment in silver for the opium !What followed was the Boxer Rebellion by the Chinese empress and the Chinese people who had had enough of the drugs ( Opium ) forced on them and the financial exploitation by Britain, Belgium, Germany, France and Italy . ( Have I left out any other countries ? )The Chinese were defeated in that WAR, the Imperial Palace was sackedand some of it destroyed (ROBBED OF ITS TREASURES ) by the European armies —none of this the Ruling Class of Chinese Communists have ever forgotten and the FORCING of their people by the British that their people be Drug Addicts. For these GREAT WRONGS they want REVENGE on Whites, so, if you think they will treat us decently when they invade, you are out of touch with Reality ! The LOYALTY of Moslem imports to Australia is to Palestine and Lebanon and to the Koran which teaches forced conversion to Islam and to the establishment of an Islamic State led by its Caliphate. With the only people ( Moslems ) in Australia having large families , in a few years we will be well on the way to becoming a Moslem State and these people will not bother to join the Armed Forces. As Greg said, without an industrial base we are “Sitting Ducks ” unable to convert to manufacturing for war. Our IDIOT, uneducated population is high on Chinese -imported drugs and obsessed with internal divisions about gender and, in my opinion , other stupidities . Australia has lost its way and deserves all it will get! As for the USA, it is led by an old, SENILE man SO CONFUSED , who in the last 24 hours said he had ordered a ” FOOD DROP to UKRAINE” ! Instead , the Food Drop is to Gaza ! And this man wants another term !!! He is the Laughing Stock of the non-Western world ( China, Iran and Russia ). Biden has been a disaster !The only hope we have to save us is God—we better start praying hard !

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