Staunton, January 22 – The concept of a Pyrrhic victory, of a triumph which carries within itself the seeds of future defeat, has long been a part of international discourse about relations between countries. But the concept of “a Brest Peace,” an apparently humiliating concession of defeat that has within itself the seeds of future victories has not but deserves to be.
The original Brest Peace was the agreement Lenin signed with Germany and the Central Powers in 1918 over the objections of most of his Bolshevik comrades that gave away much of the territory of Soviet Russia in order to save his revolutionary government. It achieved its goal and Lenin was able to recoup most of what he had conceded in a remarkably short time.
The possibility that what looks like a humiliating concession may be only a temporary step back, the result of a radically unequal balance of power between the sides involved should always be kept in mind not only because it may explain why the concessions were made but also how those who received them should act subsequently.
As Vladislav Inozemtsev, a Russian economist and commentator points out, on the very day that Vladimir Putin was announcing his “epic changes”, “a no less significant event” was taking place in Washington where the Chinese were making “an honorable capitulation” to the US in their trade war (gazeta.ru/column/vladislav_inozemcev/12914516.shtml).
The Chinese had little choice given the positions of the two countries at present: the US economy is growing while that of China is stagnating or worse, China’s economy is dependent on American technology far more than it wants to admit, and the US had choices in where it purchases goods far greater than China does it where it can sell its own.
Beijing thus made the kind of concessions any country in that position would have to make, but Inozemtsev argues that the American victory and the Chinese defeat are only for a time. “China is investing ever more means in the acceleration of technological development” and views this concession as “a temporary breathing space just as Lenin viewed the Brest Peace.”
That means that both those in the US who view it as a permanent triumph and those elsewhere who view it as a permanent Chinese defeat are certain to be wrong and that the Chinese can be counted on to work to change things even if and perhaps with particular success if the Americans do not imagine that they will be able to do so.
That is the lesson of every “Brest Peace.” And it is a compelling reason why the term should be incorporated into the vocabulary of all those any country inwho talk about international relations.