Many see the First World War as the end of the Prussian monarchy, or the birth of Communist Russia, but overlook the eclipse of one of the world’s greatest empires, that of the Ottomans. Since the defeat of Christian Byzantium at the sack of Constantinople, Europe’s south-eastern flank would be dominated by the world of Islam. This reality – born in the middle-ages – would persist until 1918. The First World War marked the end of an age and the beginning of another in many respects, but perhaps the defeat of the Ottoman Empire is the most drastic example of this historic watershed.
While Europe was trapped in centuries of dark ages, the world of Islam had been culturally and technologically ahead. Muslim cities in the medieval period possessed advanced infrastructure and architecture, the accomplishments of their universities and libraries meant they were the world’s best in many areas of science and industry. Once North Africa and much of the Middle East had belonged to the Romans, but by the Medieval period these lands had fallen to the Caliphate. Byzantium was the Medieval continuation of the Eastern Roman Empire. The Western Roman Empire had been overrun by barbarian hordes, its title reused by the first Holy Roman Emperor, the Frankish King Charlemagne. To medieval Europe, the Muslim threat was embodied by the Ottoman Turks, a reality which continued into the Renaissance and the Age of Discovery, and indeed until the Great War. The Turks were the face of Islam from the defeat of the Byzantines at Battle of Manzikert in 1071 until 1918; only recently have the Arabs been recognised as the head of Muslim civilization.
Constantinople had at one point been the greatest city in Europe. It had been the capital of Byzantium, which had remained a Christian entity since the Eastern Roman Emperor Constantine ruled from its seat. But the city fell to the Turks in 1453. If this caused anxiety for the Christian monarchs of eastern and southern Europe, the next century would cause considerably more.
Following Turkish conquest of Damascus in 1516 and their subsequent advances on Egypt and Arabia, the janissary armies of the Ottomans turned on Hungary, which had become the great eastern christian bastion after the fall of Constantinople. Following the Battle of Mohacs in 1526, Hungary was overrun. The Ottoman Empire was now at its height, and covered more territory than that of Rome. One could hardly blame scholars at the time for concluding that the future would belong to the Islamic world, and much of the continent would inevitably belong to the Sultan. This inclination nearly became reality when the Ottomans besieged Vienna in 1529, and when they did so again in 1683.
The capitulation of the Ottomans: a drawn-out affair
Yet the Ottoman Empire would inevitably falter and collapse. Its armies and navies, however formidable, were overextended – needing to maintain frontiers in Central Europe, the Crimean, the Mediterranean, the Red Sea, and the Near East where the Ottomans were challenged by the Persians. This geographic challenge of the area is one I explore further in The Geopolitical Realities of Eurasia. Its challenges were not insurmountable, but as a single entity the Ottoman Empire was overly centralised. Whereas European division was in many ways the continent’s strength, as competing states would challenge one-another to explore and expand, one foolish Sultan could do more damage to the Ottoman Empire that any lone European monarch or pope could ever hope to accomplish. From 1566 on, there reigned thirteen incompetent sultans in succession, sealing the empire’s doom.
It was the slow retreat of the Turks that caused the European powers to look towards the Balkans and consider who would benefit from the Turkish collapse. It was this power struggle, known as the ‘Eastern Question,’ that among other things motivated a Habsburg Archduke to parade himself and his nation’s power in Sarajevo, whose death in turn triggered the Great War that would divide the lands that still remained under Turkish control.
The First World War severed the Arab provinces from the sultan’s grip. Ironically, early twentieth-century Arabian warfare was remarkably similar to that of fourteenth-century Europe, allowing the medieval-military historian Thomas Edward Lawrence to exploit the Arabic advantages. Of course, this legendary figure did not engineer the Arabic revolt on his own, his own account of the events in The Seven Pillars of Wisdom, was admitted to be part myth. Furthermore, the Arabs would not get what they had fought for, as the ever imperialist states of Britain and France would divide the Middle East between themselves. This, after-all, was inadvertently why the whole war had begun.
Lawrence’s companion, Prince Feisal, spoke to the delegation in the Paris Peace Conference while Lawrence translated. They must have looked an odd pair, especially the Englishman who had donned the white robes and gold sashing normally reserved for a senior sheik. Feisal said that the Arabs wanted self-determination, and while he was prepared to exempt Lebanon and Palestine from this demand, the rest of the Arab world should be given independence as the British and French had promised. When the French reminded Lawrence that their forces had fought in Syria during the crusades, Lawrence replied: “Yes, but the Crusaders had been defeated and the Crusades had failed.” Against the wishes of Lawrence and the Arabs, Britain was also determined to get a piece of the Middle East. Forced to prevent the non-colonial aspirations of the American President Woodrow Wilson by co-operating, the two imperial rivals came to a quick compromise; Britain would get Mesopotamia (Iraq) and Palestine, while France would get Syria and Lebanon. The Arabian Peninsula did not concern the imperial powers much, probably because all those ‘miles of sand’ were not of much value at the time.
The British motives were clear. For long they had supported the Ottoman Empire to keep the eastern end of the Mediterranean safe for their shipping, but now they needed an alternate hold in the area. This motivation highlights the geopolitical value of the area. Where once the Muslims had dominated the Silk Road which provided medieval Europe with eastern riches, now the British needed to protect its trade route to India. Of course, the Industrial Revolution had created new interests in the area’s oil, but the old geopolitical motives persisted as well.
Constantinople was promised to the Russian Czar at one point in the war, but the concessions made by the Bolsheviks cancelled that agreement. While the once-great Ottoman Empire was divided, Constantinople would remain in the hands of its owners since 1453. It was occupied by the allied powers (unofficially at first), but this would not survive the determination of Mustafa Kemal Atatürk. Remarking at the presence of allied warships in Constantinople’s harbour, he proclaimed: “As they have come, so they shall go.”
A modern Turkey would rise from the ashes
As a young officer in the Turkish military, Atatürk oversaw Austria’s annexation of Bosnia, and Bulgaria secession from Turkish influence. The Balkan wars of 1912 and 1913 result in the Ottomans loss of Albania and Macedonia, and Libya had been lost to the Italians. By 1914, the European portion of the Ottoman Empire, which had once stretched far into Hungary, was almost wholly gone – all that remained was an enclave in Thrace. Throughout the Great War, Atatürk remained the only undefeated Ottoman general. His reputation was made at Gallipoli, the same battle where many allied reputations were destroyed. In his eyes Turkey was defeated not by greater armies, but by greater civilization. Henceforth, he would ensure Turkey would adopt European-style culture and politics. Indeed, Turkey remains a secular state to this day.
Atatürk sent Inonu Ismet, a trusted general, to the Paris Peace Conference to negotiate. He was instructed to achieve an independent Turkey, and as a good soldier he intended to achieve just this by any means. Turkey’s new borders included almost all the Turkish speaking territories of their former Ottoman Empire, but the fact was the empire had ended and a new very different state had been birthed. It was truly the end of an age.
Anderson, Scott. Lawrence in Arabia. New York: Random House, 2013.
Kaplan, Robert D. The Revenge of Geography. New York: Random House, 2012.
MacMillan, Margaret. Paris 1919. New York: Random House, 2002.
North Korea is a state that has made it clear it does not intend to act according to international standards; it fulfills the definition of ‘rogue state’ perfectly. It also threatens the security of its neighbours. China, North Korea’s only ally, holds the key to resolving this dangerous situation. However China is caught in a precarious position. I argue that China and America can work through the North Korean dilemma together. To do this I present a past example of compromise.
To understand the nature of the Kim dynasty and North Korea’s foreign policy today, one must first understand history. The United States and the Soviet Union divided Korea, a colonial possession of a defeated Japan, in 1945. North Korea fell into the Soviet sphere of influence, while Japan and South Korea would remain allied with the United States. In June of 1950 North Korea invaded South Korea. The world’s Cold War-era balance of power meant a civil war between communist and democratic factions would lead to foreign intervention. A UN sanctioned ‘police action’ meant a US led coalition would act to defend democratic South Korea.
Initial North Korean victories meant United States and South Korean forces were pushed back to the Pusan Perimeter, on the southernmost tip of the peninsula. Meanwhile China acted to secure the Korean border, fearing the potential consequences of an American victory. During the Battle of the Pusan Perimeter, UN forces led by General Douglas MacArthur repelled the Korean People’s Army forces and turned the tide of the war. Subsequent campaigns saw US and South Korean forces push the Korean People’s Army forces past the 38th parallel: the North-South Korean border. When US forces neared the Chinese-Korean border, China intervened. Chinese and North Korean forces would push the United States back to the border area. Negotiations would bring about an armistice however the war would never officially end; the border between North and South Korea remains the world’s most heavily defended. To this day North Korea remains both allied to China and an enemy of South Korea and the United States.
All in the family
Kim Il-sung ruled North Korea from 1948 – 1994, his son Kim Jong-il would secede him and his grandson Kim Jong-un embodies the dynastic chain today. The Jong-il and Jong-un governments have made provocative military actions a cornerstone of the regime’s foreign policy. In March of 2010 the North Korean navy is believed to have sunk the South Korean vessel Cheonan with a torpedo. In November North Korea shelled the South Korean border island of Yeonpyeong. North Korea’s 2006 and 2009 nuclear tests lead most to assume the nation possesses limited nuclear capabilities. However nuclear capabilities are not enough to threaten the security of neighbouring state, the Korean People’s army must possess a way of launching a nuclear warhead.
The security threat North Korea’s ‘space program’ presents
Even if North Korea were able to mount a nuclear weapon to one of its existing military rockets (a technology it has yet to master) its nuclear capabilities would only threaten South Korea and Japan. The only North Korean military rocket to have been successfully launched is its Nodong missile, an improved version of the Russian ‘scud’ chain of missiles. This missile’s range is limited, only South Korea, Japan, China, Russia, and Mongolia fall in its potential trajectory. Although China, Russia, and Mongolia all fall within this range, Pyongyang is not likely to attack these states. North Korea is still ‘at war’ with South Korea and the United States.
Although North Korea possesses military rockets with further range, it has yet to successfully test them as tests like these are extremely provocative. However last Wednesday North Korea launched a satellite into space. Not surprisingly mastering this feat and the feat of successfully launching an intercontinental ballistic missile with much further range than a Nodong missile takes transferable technology. After all, both techniques are considered rocket science. Therefore North Korea’s 12 December launch can be seen as a step in the direction of launching a missile at farther targets. The Unha-3 rocket that carried the regime’s satellite into space in effect extends the potential range in which existing Korean missiles reach. With further technological advances North Korea could threaten the United States‘ security, its enemy since 1950.
A call for action
There have been repeated rounds of sanctions and condemnation from the international community, however North Korea’s complete disregard for international peace warrants a stronger response. Should Kim Jong-un become further emboldened, the violence will surely escalate. It is likely Pyongyang will continue to push the limits. Past incidents of North Korean military aggression prove South Korea already faces major security threats. Therefore the time to act on North Korea is now, before the situation deteriorates further.
China’ precarious position
China hopes to gain great-power status in the international state system, but its ally in Pyongyang continues to put the region’s security in jeopardy. By being allied to a state that makes no attempt to abide by international norms China risks its legitimacy and thus its acceptance as a great-power in the region and the international community. Although China has expressed regret over North Korea’s nuclear testing and rocket launches, and the two regimes have often clashed, Beijing has yet to fully abandon its ally. This is because Beijing fears that should it attempt to forcefully influence North Korea, a spurned Kim Jong-un would lash out violently, provoking South Korea and subsequently America. A war against a Chinese ally on the Chinese border in which US forces are involved would be anathema to Beijing, it would mean China was losing influence in its region. A unified Korea would likely be an American ally, and could be used to check China’s rise. Thus China believes its only hope is that the situation remains as it appears today, it hopes for stability on the Korean Peninsula above all else.
The ticking time bomb
Although the above call for action is certainly warranted, the United States will not become involved militarily on the Korean Peninsula today because North Korea is China’s ally and falls in China’s sphere of influence. But should North Korea continue to act violently (a likely development) it could cause a war with America. This seems especially likely when one considers the North Korea’s satellite launch, as previously mentioned this is a step in the direction of endangering US security. The Pentagon constantly stations around 30,000 troops in both South Korea and Japan and as I argued in the Dragon’s Navy – Chinese Capabilities and American Policy, the United States must remain the dominant naval power in the Western Pacific. Therefore assuming the situation continues to grow more dangerous, the United States will eventually become involved. North Korea thus represents a ticking time bomb to Beijing.
The obvious question
What if China were to both act to remove Kim Jong-un from power and seek to maintain a strong relationship with a unified Korea? China already does more trade with South Korea, maybe it is time for China to force the two to unify. Perhaps America could agree Seoul’s new government would remain neutral, and would remove its troops from a unified Korea. China would likely agree to reunification on these terms.
Unfortunately there are many problems with this scenario. First of all, Chinese foreign policy rests on a doctrine of non-intervention. China has thus far not exported an ideology or colonized land, it would be simply hypocritical to start now. Secondly, America would want to ensure China was not simply throwing its weight around, it may act to either counter China’s aggression towards North Korea, or act vengefully after. Thirdly, even if China were to ‘ok’ its actions with Washington, the Pentagon would at the very least insist US Special Forces secured North Korea’s nuclear-program sites. As mentioned above, US forces acting within China’s sphere of influence would be seen as a foreign policy failure to Beijing.
But what if China and the United States could overcome their differences on North Korea? Perhaps Xi Jinping and Barack Obama could strike a deal wherein a mixture of covert and non-covert actions would see the Kim dynasty removed and Korea unified. There must be a compromise in which a conflict between the two is avoided while both save-face. The deal would have to specify that a unified Korea would remain neutral, and the US would likely have to withdraw its troops. Although 1950 saw war between Cold War rivals China and America, 1962 saw a compromise between the US and the USSR. John F. Kennedy worked out a secret deal with Nikita Khrushchev during the Cuban Missile Crisis. This deal saw both super-powers compromise. The USSR removed its missiles from Cuba while the US promised not to invade Cuba and removed its missiles from Turkey. To retain his image as a ‘cold warrior,’ the second part of Kennedy’s deal was kept secret. I argue the situation today can also be overcome, but China and America must first make some back-room deals similar to those made 50 years ago.
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Although British Intelligence reports concerning the German navy, air force, and army were more or less accurate, they profoundly miscalculated the way in which Germany would use its navy, air force, and army. Basically Britain expected Germany to launch a defensive war like it had in 1914, but Germany had lost the First World War, instead Germany would launch a highly offensive war. Initial pessimism caused Chamberlain to postpone war through appeasement, but later optimism would cause him to declare war.
In the years before the outbreak of the Second World War, it became apparent Nazi Germany was rearming and preparing for another European conflict. Once Adolf Hitler had taken control of the German government, he made it clear that his intention was to end the restriction imposed on Germany by the treaty of Versailles. Hitler accelerated the build up of armed forces already set in motion, and in 1936 embarked on a second stage of rearmament. Thus, in the 1930s, the British intelligence bodies began assessing the German military’s strengths and weaknesses in case Britain had to go to war. British intelligence estimates on the German ability to wage war and the British ability to defend against this were at first pessimistic, but due to misconceptions these views later became optimistic. These conclusions would influence its government and its Prime Minister, Neville Chamberlain, accordingly. At first the British government would attempt to postpone a war, then as optimism grew in early 1939, it would declare one. The misconceptions that influenced the British view of the German military’s strength were largely brought about because British intelligence reports did not realize the Wehrmacht’s capability in certain critical military campaigns.
British Intelligence on the German Navy
British intelligence estimates of the German navy remained optimistic throughout the pre-war period. These estimates failed to predict the way in which the German navy could attack Britain’s Atlantic Ocean trade routes. This misconception was in part due to the fact that the British government had preconceived notions involving naval strategy and in part due to an intelligence failure. Prior to the Second World War, a sound naval doctrine relied on the “Mahanite concept of preparation for the ‘one big battle’ to secure command of the sea.” Because naval rearmament was a slow, expensive, resource-intensive process, the German navy never enjoyed the same rearmament priority as did the Luftwaffe or the Wehrmacht. This lack of German investment in a navy convinced the British Admiralty’s Naval Intelligence Division (NID) that the German navy was not a threat. Furthermore, the Admiralty based much of its knowledge of the German navy on the Anglo-German Naval Agreement of June 1935. In this agreement Admiral Raeder of the German Navy “told the British naval attaché in Berlin that nobody in Germany dreamed of building a fleet against Britain.” Due to Germany’s lack of investment in a navy, and Raeder’s promise, the NID concluded that the new German warships were being built with a view of dominating the Baltic and that Germany had given up its ambition of challenging the Royal Navy’s command of the sea. This intelligence misconception would lead to naval optimism when the Admiralty considered war with Germany.
Hitler based much of his naval strategy on a book for which he expressed “unbound admiration” for. Seestrategie des Weltkrieges by Admiral Wolfgang Wegener was known as Hitler’s ‘naval bible,’ however the British Admiralty was unaware of it until ten years after its publishing, in 1939, by which time it was too late. The book not only “remarks on the folly of concentrating on ‘one big battle,’” but stressed the importance of “the acquisition of naval bases on the Norwegian coast to outflank Britain’s control of Germany’s North Sea ports to make possible a strategic offensive against Britain’s vital trade routes.” By not coming across this extremely valuable intelligence source, the NID was guilty of an intelligence failure. The NID never predicted the vulnerability of British Atlantic trade routes, instead choosing to believe the German navy was focused on securing the Baltic for eastward operations. Because of the British Admiralty’s traditional preconceptions that naval battles would be fought on the surface of the sea the NID never predicted that the German navy could instead be used to attack British sea lanes in the Atlantic. Furthermore, even when the possibility that the German navy might expand westward finally dawned on the Admiralty, its focus was on battle fleet actions, not on the German ability to use submarines to attack merchant ships. This strategy would prove extremely effective during the course of the Second World War. This intelligence failure meant the British government relied on traditionally held beliefs on naval doctrine, a misconception that would lead to optimism within the British government when considering war with Germany.
British Intelligence on the German Air Force
Like the Admiralty, the British Air Staff had preconceived notions of how Germany would use its air force. The British Air Staff felt much anxiety when coming to the realization in 1936 that Germany’s air force rearmament was surpassing their own predictions. Originally Air Marshall Ellington believed the Luftwaffe could only reach parity with RAF by 1945, however in March of 1935 Hitler announced just that. Much of the Air Staff’s anxiety was based around the preconceived notion that Germany would use long range bombers to execute a ‘knock-out blow.’ This logic was “predicted upon nothing more than the possession of a large number of bombers and a sufficiently vulnerable target,” for which the Luftwaffe had both. These original assumptions led to pessimistic thinking on the part of the British government. However this pessimism quickly changed to optimism at the beginning of 1939. Much of British intelligence on the German air force came from an individual positioned within the German Air Ministry, who was codenamed “X.” Long range bombing which could result in a ‘knock-out blow’ require four engine bombers capable of flying great distances. Even when X began reporting in 1936 that the Luftwaffe had abandoned the production of four engine bombers, British Air-Staff were slow to come to this reality. In actuality by 1938, the German ‘long range’ bombers consisted almost entirely of two engine planes. The longest ranged of these could barely reach the British Midlands from German bases. Thus in early 1939, the Air Staff came to the realisation that a ‘knock-out blow’ by the Luftwaffe was unlikely. This changed the British government’s view from one of pessimism to a more optimistic view when calculating the outcome of a war with Germany in the context of air operations. This change in viewpoint would shape the way in which the British government and Chamberlain reacted to the German threat.
The British Air Staff’s optimistic belief that because the Luftwaffe was unable to execute a ‘knock-out blow’ by using long range bombing was accurate, however this did not mean the Luftwaffe was no longer a threat. Instead of long-range bombing, the German air force was working towards an air force which would concentrate on the battlefield. German planes were being built for ground-attack and battlefield capabilities. Te RAF gave little consideration to the possibility that such forces might provide support on the battlefield. The German army would use the Luftwaffe for just that; to support its rapid invasion of Europe. This new highly offensive style of warfare would come to be known as blitzkrieg, and would prove to be a very successful strategy for the Wehrmacht up until its invasion of Russia.
British Intelligence on the German Army
Like the British estimates concerning the German air force’s rearmament, predictions of the German army’s rearmament were initially understated. The British War Office accepted Hitler’s assurance that the German army would never exceed a peacetime strength of 36 divisions. In September of 1936, however, it was announced that the 36-division limit had been exceeded, and by the summer of 1938 intelligence reports indicated the German army had attained a size of 90 to 100 divisions, a size the War Office had originally thought could not be reached before 1943. This created a degree of pessimism within the British government when contemplating a possible war with Germany.
Like the British government’s views concerning the German air force, the British view concerning the German army would become more optimistic in 1939. This was not because of an intelligence misconception of the German army, instead it was a misconception based on the Industrial Intelligence Center’s (IIC) estimates of the German economy’s ability to support its own war effort. Britain did have much intelligence on the German raw materials situation, after all Germany did more trade with Great Britain and the British Empire than with any other. When looking at raw materials needed for war, Germany was ill-equipped for a massive European invasion. “Germany was not well endowed with oil, the loss of the Lorraine iron ore fields at the end of [the First World War] had made her heavily dependent on imports from Sweden, and in many other categories of raw materials essential for her arms industry, Germany was deficient.” The British Government was aware of this fact before 1939, however it realized in a short war (such as one with Czechoslovakia) Germany’s economic weaknesses would not hinder its military performance, and views remained pessimistic. By 1939 the British Government strongly believed Germany was not prepared for a long war, and in this way its thinking became more optimistic. In a February 1939 report, MI3, a British Intelligence body, reported that German rearmament had “taxed the endurance of the German people and the stability of the economic system to a point where any further effort can only be achieved at the risk of a breakdown of the whole structure.” This economic optimism on the part of the British government convinced Neville Chamberlain that Germany was unable to go to war. The IIC pushed for British economic restrictions to deter Hitler from War, and this caused Chamberlain to believe that even in a worst case scenario, a blockade could be used as a substitute to military action.
This new economic optimism was again based on intelligence misconceptions. The German army was in short supply of raw materials, however German military campaigns leading up to Barbarossa were short and consumed relatively little in the way of resources due to the nature of blitzkrieg. The belief that the Third Reich itself would collapse under economic pressure did not take into account the nature of the Nazi totalitarian state where the attitude of the populace had no influence over the policies of the Furher. Furthermore the IIC was unable to appreciate that Germany could expand its resource base significantly in Central Europe. So although British reports were correct in the fact that German raw material stocks were low, this would not effect its war effort.
Delaying War because of Intelligence
In the summer of 1938 it became clear to the British that the newly rearmed German army was preparing for a war with Czechoslovakia. The War Office’s response was pessimistic, it regarded the military outcome as an inevitable and swift victory for the German army. The British Director of Military Operations and Intelligence shared the Air Staff’s and War Office’s pessimism towards a potential war with Germany. He stated in a report written on September 27th that the situation in Czechoslovakia was “definitely in favour of postponement.” Initial pessimism in the British government’s intelligence reports involving the German air force and army led Neville Chamberlain towards a strategy of appeasement. This would result in the Munich Settlement in the fall of 1938. Effectively, this was an agreement to grant Hitler part of Czechoslovakia. It was an attempt by Neville Chamberlain, the British Prime Minister, to appease Hitler and postpone war. However a few months later British officials’ views would become more optimistic, and this would cause the British government to declare war.
Declaring War because of Intelligence
However because of misconceptions in British intelligence reports concerning the German navy, air force, and economic support of the army, a surge of optimism occurred about three months after the Munich settlement. Whereas in 1938 the British government had assessed the military balance in terms of their own weaknesses, in 1939 they tended to judge the balance in terms of their own prospects. After the Prague coup in the spring on 1939, London began offering guarantees of military support to Poland, Greece, and Turkey. It was the new optimism in British intelligence reports that prompted the War Office to hastily construct this Eastern front, in the hope of encircling Germany. It was this guarantee to Poland that would draw Britain and France into war in September of 1939. Even during the Second World War’s outbreak optimism prevailed in the British government, Chamberlain stated “however much the Nazis may brag and threaten, I don’t believe they feel sufficient confidence to venture on the great war.” This optimistic thinking would survive during the “Phoney War,” and in many ways until the transformation of the conflict in the second half of 1941.
This change of view from that of pessimism to that of optimism within the British Government was due to reports by the British intelligence bodies, and more specifically because of misconceptions within these reports. Although overall intelligence was accurate, the British were unable to predict the outcome of certain German campaigns. Initial pessimism within the British government would cause Neville Chamberlain to attempt appeasement in late 1938. However, intelligence misconceptions would lead to optimism within the British government in early 1939. This optimism would change Chamberlain’s foreign policy, leading to a British guarantee to Poland, which ultimately would lead to war.
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