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Buenos Aires Weather | Crystal balls get cloudier

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What English speakers call “think tanks” – well-funded groups of brilliant people surrounded by computers trying to imagine what will happen in the coming decades – have their uses. Although the predictions they make are often totally wrong, they will always be needed by politicians and businessmen who must look into the future and prepare for whatever seems to come.

It all depends on their judgement. As Argentines discovered in the decades following World War II, finding themselves “on the wrong side of history” as a result of choices made while change was in the air can be horribly costly; three quarters of a century later, the country is still paying a heavy price for letting its government flirt too ostensibly with the Axis powers. While it might have seemed reasonable enough to hedge your bets in the early 1940s, when Nazi Germany was invading its neighbors with dismissive ease, the future that many foresaw, whether with fear or pleasure, did not hold. did not materialize and Argentina had a lot of trouble fitting in. the international order that would be built by the United States. Over the years, a reluctance to realize that anything definitive had happened persisted and continued to hold back development.

The US-led order is now in trouble, not only because Russia has engaged in an imperialist rampage, but also because its creator, and primary beneficiary, is going through a monumental crisis of confidence, while the China, which until recently was only a minor player on the world stage, has become a far more formidable rival to the United States than the Soviet Union ever was.

Like many of his compatriots, Vladimir Putin thinks that Russia, which, with a lot of territory, inherited from the Soviet Union many vices and some virtues, among which a real respect for education, fully deserves a place in the top table, an illusion that neither the North Americans nor the Chinese share, even if the latter were careful not to say so out loud. With a population 10 times smaller than China’s and a much smaller economy based largely on the export of raw materials, the late Senator John McCain once ridiculed it as a “gas station run by a mafia pretending to be a country”.

However, in addition to a large amount of gas and oil, Russia has a stockpile of nuclear weapons as well as large armed forces. These had an impressive reputation until they attempted to conquer Ukraine, only to be driven back to the gates of kyiv. The current opinion seems to be that they are an easily demoralized and ill-equipped mob who would not last more than a few days against NATO. It may be an exaggeration, but there are Western military experts who say that once armed with the advanced gadgets that have been promised and are already delivered, the Ukrainians could successfully bring all surviving Russian soldiers back to where they came from.

This prospect worries those who fear that a defeat on the battlefield and the growing impact of economic sanctions could make Russia as miserable and vengeful as North Korea, but officials in Washington and London do not find not at all that worrying possibility. As far as they are concerned, the Russians deserve to be beaten, which is a bit harsh for the millions of people who had never before thought that Ukraine posed an existential threat to their country and should therefore be demolished.

Putin has, or had, his admirers in the West. Lefties like it because it’s against the United States and NATO, righties because it’s against many social trends they find distressing, but for all but the most bigoted, the invasion of Ukraine, followed by the destruction of entire cities and an increasing number of atrocities, was a step too far. By behaving in a manner reminiscent of the horrors perpetrated by Hitler and Stalin, Putin could well have doomed Russia to a Chinese satellite future.

It stands to reason that until he is arrested, Putin will continue to do great damage, not only to his own country and to Ukraine, but also to many other parts of the world. The sudden increase in food prices it has caused is expected to have extremely unpleasant consequences for countries in Africa and the Middle East, which need imports from Ukraine to fight hunger, while that Europeans have grown accustomed to relying on Russian gas and gasoline for heating. their homes and fuel their economies. Even Argentina, which in theory could quickly replace Russia as a major supplier of natural gas but which to do so would require huge investments in stupidly delayed infrastructure projects, is being shaken by the shockwaves emanating from from Ukraine. As the country is flat, there are likely to be severe gas shortages when winter kicks in.

Thanks to its immense demographic size and the talents of its inhabitants, China would already be the first world power if the communists had been defeated by the forces of Chiang Kai-shek; after retreating to Taiwan, the Nationalists implemented policies that led to rapid economic growth. After Deng Xiaoping replaced Mao’s ruinous version of Marxist economics with what might be called neoliberalism with Chinese characteristics, the mainland embarked on a similar path. On a per capita basis, it is still much poorer, but if per capita incomes were to rise, China’s economy would be larger than those of all Western countries combined.

The result is that not only Argentina, but most other countries must decide whether it would be better for them to cultivate their relations with what could soon be the supreme superpower or to assume that the United States will recover from their self-inflicted internal misfortunes and, with the help of Europeans, Japanese, Canadians, Australians and, perhaps, Indians, manage to maintain the predominantly Western “rules-based world order” for many decades to come. The rhetoric coming out of Washington suggests Republican and Democratic politicians are taking the Chinese challenge much more seriously than most did before Donald Trump signaled that now was the time to start pushing back.

Argentina is western. She would find it very difficult to find a comfortable place in the hierarchical system envisioned by Peking men who, like most others of old, firmly believe that their own traditions are superior to those of lesser peoples. However, in many circles, hostility towards the American “empire” means that many see China as a welcome counterweight. If the competition between the two grows fiercer, as seems likely, such prejudices could possibly do as much harm as the feelings aroused by individuals who found fascism attractive – unless, that is, the China does win so and those who favored it. can congratulate themselves on their foresight.a