readers digest

Reader’s Digest: Kissinger the Terrible, technology obsolescence and productivity…


The European Strategist bring you a selection of interesting news and publications that captured our attention in the last weeks – from international politics, to ecology and technology. The Czech version of this article can be found here.

Kissinger the Terrible

Henry Kissinger committed a sin: despite his credentials as a Cold War hardliner, the 99-year old American geostrategist disappointed quite a few attendees of the World Economic Forum by calling for a quick diplomatic settlement in Ukraine. How? By Ukraine acknowledging the reality on the ground and ceding territories to Russia: Crimea, over which they have no control since the 2014 coup d’état in Kiev, as well as occupied areas of Donbas. While such advice, given the escalatory trajectory of the conflict, would seem as a rather sensible one– and the sooner taken, the better perhaps for both Ukraine and Europe – at Davos it did not earn him much comprehension. One Ukrainian MP suggested Kissinger ‘still lives in the 20th century’, while Dutch Prime Minister Mark Rutte felt the need to declare his ‘official disagreement’. Mykhailo Podolyak, Adviser to President Zelensky, was even less diplomatic, tweeting that Ukraine has no time to listen to such panickers, while simultaneously accussing Kissinger that he would also give up Poland and Lithuania if it stopped the war.

Those who accuse Kissinger of ‘appeasement’ forget that he faced such criticism before when he still played a key role in the US foreign policy between 1969 and 1977. For one side of his opponents, he was a warmonger, while for the others his détente with the Soviet Union and opening of relations with the ‘communist China’, felt well below the expectations of the Washington hawks. In fact, a key factor of Kissinger’s success was that could play with both the cards of war and diplomacy, simultaneously involving the US in the 1973 Chilean military coup that brought the dictator Pinochet to power, and signing within the same year the Paris Peace Accords that led to the withdrawal from Vietnam. In other words, Kissinger has been foremost an adherent to Realpolitik, with a keen sense for which of the two instruments of foreign policy a given moment calls for. This should be a sufficient reason to give sufficient credit to his advice. (Along with the bigger picture of not driving Russia towards China, which he had pointed out in a recent interview for Financial Times.)

Could the war have been prevented?

This is of course one of the subjects of on-going debate, which is usually resolved only many years later as historians gain access to relevant archives. However, looking at the situation prior to the start of the Russian invasion, Canadian political science professor Ivan Katchanovski (expert on Russia and Ukraine at the University of Ottawa) argues that an agreement on neutrality and fulfilment of the Minsk accords would have preserved peace. He thus reacted to comments made by Canadian Ambassador to Ukraine, Larisa Galadza, who had depicted Putin as irrational and claimed no one could stop him ‘doing what [he] did’. Katchanovski argues this is not supported by the evidence we have, including that since 2014, there was an effort to end fighting in the Donbas region diplomatically.

To be a walker rather than a leader

Sylvain Tesson, French writer and traveller (or ‘travelling writer’?) is far too modest about the wisdom that he acquired along his multiple adventures around the world. Little known outside of his native France, in a recent interview at Figaro Vox, his quiet tao shows its force against somewhat boastful and self-congratulory remarks of the second interlocutor, philosopher and journalist Régis Debray. Tesson meditates on two paths that are given to us to face time: either ‘building cathedrals’ in a titanesque defiance of its current, or contemplating its shine in an effort to fully live through its moments of happiness and splendour. No doubt, the epicurean hedonist Michel Onfray would agree… The pilgrim’s sagacity is to grasp and harvest what one can, in experience rather than in laurels or rewards. In one beautiful phrase, ‘to be a walker rather than a leader, a prowler of the edges rather than a schemer.’ Despite that this website bears the title ‘European Strategist’, I would much more happilly follow in Tesson’s brisk footstep, on a country path, rather than on a hyper-connected asphalt road leading up to the fortress in Davos… Our readers can judge for their own and even more so if they have access to this fascinating interview (which is unfortunately for subscribers only.)

Technology obsolescence reduces productivity growth

This is the conclusion of a research paper by Seda Basihos (“Blue Screen of Death? Obsolescence and Structural Change in the Computer Age”, pending peer review). The author argues that rapid obsolescence, particularly in computing, is not going well with economic growth. Every digital solution creates new problems, leading to increasing rates of obsolescence of computer systems – and this comes with every software update, hardware change, or withdrawal of OEM support. As the replacement rate of technology accelerates, also workers have to continually re-learn their jobs. In consequence, also production becomes relatively more capital-intensive, but this increase in capital per workes does not lead to greater productivity. An interesting reading that corresponds to the day-to-day experience of any office employee having to battle through dozens or hundreds of e-mails a day!

To replace one nuclear power plant, you need 50 – 150,000 wind turbines

Jean-Marc Jancovici is an engineering consultant, energy and climate expert, who is well-known – in France. He is also one of the non-conformist supporters of greening our societies, who regards the mainstream proposals to fight climate change with quite some scepticism. On one hand, he is an advocate of greater resource-sobriety, since he believes that shifting from using fossil fuels to depending on other raw materials (for example, to build battery electric vehicles) without addressing the overall level of consumption is not a solution. On the other, he sees nuclear power as a good source of energy, which has comparably less downsides than other options. Readers can see more of his views in a recent interview, where he stipulates that 10 to 50 times less materials are required to produce 1 kWh of electricity with the nuclear than with solar or wind powerplants. In his estimate, this entails that replacing one nuclear power plant necessitates constructing between 50 to 150 thousand wind turbines.