»  New English Review

October 2007

   An Arctic Alliance?


A Chinese (Chinese-born, Chinese-educated, came to the West as an adult) friend of mine made a remark to me a few months ago that has been bobbing up to the surface of my mind at intervals ever since.

I should preface my retailing of it by noting that the Chinese are considerably more outspoken on issues of human biodiversity than is considered polite in the West. This should not be taken as crude or insensitive. It is only that China is an overwhelmingly monoracial country. Away from a few expatriate communities in major cities like Shanghai, and small non-Chinese minorities on the fringes of the empire, wellnigh everybody you meet in China is Chinese: black straight hair, dark eyes with epicanthic folds, yellowish glabrous skin, small hands and feet, and — according to the late Carleton S. Coon (The Living Races of Man), crumbly earwax. Only rarely, if ever, meeting people of other human stocks, Chinese people have had no need to develop much in the way of racial etiquette.

Well, my friend and I were talking about demographics. It's a popular topic of conversation nowadays, as it has hooks into so many of our contemporary concerns: the Islamization of Europe, our own ructions over illegal immigration, the future funding of our welfare systems, and so on.

We shared the opinion — it is pretty much a commonplace among educated Chinese people — that China's demographic future will follow the example already set by Japan and South Korea, both of which nations have rates of fertility that are sensationally low, and still falling. (Total fertility rates for Japan, South Korea, China are 1.23, 1.28, and 1.75. The U.S.A. is at 2.09.)

My friend repeated the observation, which I have heard many times from Chinese acquaintances, that so far as urban young women are concerned, the One Child Policy is nugatory. These yuppie gals are far too busy building careers and sampling the newfound delights of consumerism to bother with breeding. If not for parental pressure and the remnants of Confucian filial piety, they would forgo even the one child.

"Ah," sighed my friend, "I am afraid that the civilized races—yours and mine, the white and the yellow — are finished. We will die out. The browns and the blacks will inherit the earth."

Please do not be shocked, gentle reader. As I said, there is a different standard of outspokenness at work there. And if you drop the offensive word "civilized" — I am not here going to argue the relative merits of Chartres, the Taj Mahal, the Temple of Heaven, Great Zimbabwe, Angkor Wat, and Tenochtitlan's Great Temple — my friend may very well be right. From a U.N. press release:

Because of its low and declining rate of population growth, the population of developed countries as a whole is expected to remain virtually unchanged between 2005 and 2050 ... Very rapid population growth is expected to prevail in a number of developing countries, the majority of which are least developed ... The population of 51 countries or areas, including Germany, Italy, Japan and most of the successor States of the former USSR, is expected to be lower in 2050 than in 2005 ... During 2005-2050, eight countries are expected to account for half of the world's projected population increase: India, Pakistan, Nigeria, the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Bangladesh, Uganda, the United States of America, Ethiopia and China, listed according to the size of their contribution to population growth...

The actual numbers for the projected increases in those eight named countries, in tens of millions, are: 58, 14, 17, 13, 11, 6, 10, 12, and 8. The figure of 10 (that is, a hundred million) for the U.S.A. is, as that last link points out, about 30 percent due to projected immigration, with much of the rest due to the high birthrates of recent youthful immigrant cohorts. Practically all of it will be minorities.

Still leaving aside the implied slur in "civilized" (not going there, just not), let's contemplate the question: Can we all get along?

A striking thing about the great existential military conflicts of the industrial age, from Napoleon's wars to the Cold War, is that the principal nations involved were European or East Asian. Let's take a hint from my friend and consider these nations all together: the EuroSinoNippons, or (very loosely speaking) the Arctics.

From the perspective of 2007, the intra-Arctic nature of all 19th- and 20th-century major conflict really is striking. I recently went to look something up in Niall Ferguson's fine book about World War One. I got to browsing in it, and found myself reflecting on how unthinkable such a clash of nations would be today, if the nations were all Europeans. You can even throw Vladimir Putin's glowering Russia into the mix: a great existential war between Europeans is simply not going to happen again. Who thinks it is? Who even talks about it?

Can the same be said more broadly of the Arctics? People do talk about, and I suppose even worry about, a war between China and the U.S.A. I am not one of those people. There is simply no sufficient casus belli. A Chinese blockade of Taiwan, or even an attempted invasion, would outrage Americans, but I very much doubt there would be any real support for going to war. China is not — trust me — going to make a grab for Alaska or Hawaii.

Other possibilities — a Russo-Chinese war for resources in Siberia, a Sino-Japanese war over... what? — seem to me equally remote. The inclination of the modern Chinese is to buy what they need, with at worst some diplomatic browbeating of competitors, and covert support to willing but undemocratic supplier regimes. To the degree that the U.S.A. remains an Arctic nation, I see no prospect of future intra-Arctic conflict.

The Temperates and the Tropicals are a different matter. Taking the Temperates to be the swathe of peoples from North Africa, through the Middle East, across Pakistan, north India, and Bangladesh, we are already in a state of conflict or serious tension with several nations, on account of the fact that this is the primary zone of Islam. Whether the current conflict is an existential one is a matter of opinion. Norman Podhoretz thinks it is, but many of us disagree with him.

Islam is a factor in the Tropicals, too — the nations of sub-Saharan Africa and Southeast Asia — but not such an essential one, even in Indonesia. (I am assuming throughout that the Latin Americans will continue to vegetate in inconsequentiality as they did through the last century.)

The determinants of geopolitics over the next few decades will be:

Perhaps it is time that we Arctics resolved to sink our minor differences and address our common problems, beginning with those demographic ones.