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The growing danger of re-running the 1930s

The “Axis of Ill Will”: Xi Jinping, Vladimir Putin, Ali Khamenei, and Kim Jong-un

Nothing frightens Joe Biden more than the thought that he might “inadvertently stumble” into World War Three, says Niall Ferguson in The Sunday Times. But despite America’s increasing reluctance to get bogged down abroad, he should remember: it was “appeasement and the failure of deterrence” that led the West into World War Two. And as former US defence secretary Robert Gates wrote shortly before the recent attack on Israel, America today faces “graver threats to its security than it has in decades, perhaps ever”. Never before, he said, has Washington faced “four allied antagonists at the same time – Russia, China, North Korea and Iran – whose collective nuclear arsenal could within a few years be nearly double the size of its own”.

It has been clear for several years that the US is already in a new Cold War, this time with China. And the war in Ukraine has revealed a deep ideological divide between the countries of the “Rimland” (the Anglosphere, western Europe and Japan) and those of the Eurasian “Heartland” (China, Russia and Iran, plus North Korea). The crisis in Israel may be just the latest in a “cascade of conflict” that has the potential to escalate to the global war Biden fears, especially if China seizes the moment to impose a blockade on Taiwan. Whether we slide into war depends on two things: the extent of collusion between the new “Axis of Ill Will”, and the extent of American resolve. “There are reasons to fear that the former will be considerable, and the latter will not.” I’ve long argued that we risk “re-running the 1970s”. Now I increasingly fear “we may be re-running the 1930s”.