A new role for Amer­ica

‘Blocpoli­tik,’ spheres of lim­ited in­flu­ence, would re­place the United States as the ar­biter of global hege­mony

The Washington Times Daily - - COMMENTARY - By Robert W. Merry Robert W. Merry is ed­i­tor of The Amer­i­can Con­ser­va­tive. His bi­og­ra­phy of Wil­liam McKin­ley will be pub­lished by Si­mon & Schus­ter in Septem­ber.

If you’re puz­zled by the swirl of geopo­lit­i­cal forces be­set­ting the globe, and the de­bates un­leashed by that swirl as to the na­ture of the world we will in­herit or should in­herit, then you must read Michael Lind’s cover ar­ti­cle in the cur­rent is­sue of The Na­tional In­ter­est. Mr. Lind, a se­nior fel­low at the New Amer­ica think tank and au­thor of books on Amer­i­can his­tory and grand strategy, posits a the­sis on where the world is headed that is both orig­i­nal and co­gent. It breaks through the tired de­bate that has gripped the coun­try since the end of the Cold War a quar­ter-century ago.

On one side of that de­bate are the neo­con­ser­va­tive Repub­li­cans and liberal in­ter­ven­tion­ist Democrats (John McCain and Robert Ka­gan are two ex­am­ples of note), who yearn for a united world of in­de­pen­dent na­tions shar­ing an in­ter­na­tional free mar­ket and po­liced by a benev­o­lent global hege­mon, the United States, which must and will pre­vent any smaller re­gional hege­mons from emerg­ing any­where in the world.

On the other side are the re­al­ists (the Univer­sity of Chicago’s John Mearsheimer, for ex­am­ple, or Sen. Rand Paul), who fore­see a mul­ti­po­lar world in which the wis­est U.S. geopo­lit­i­cal ap­proach would be what Mr. Lind calls“one or an­other vari­ant of an off­shore­bal­anc­ing strategy, with the United States shift­ing its weight to the least threat­en­ing great power’’ in an ef­fort to main­tain an equi­lib­rium of global sta­bil­ity and U.S. se­cu­rity.

Mr. Lind, him­self a mem­ber of the re­al­ist school, sug­gests that nei­ther of those vi­sions will come to pass. In­deed, he de­scribes the global-hege­mony strategy of neo­con­ser­va­tives and ne­olib­er­als as “now mori­bund,’’ how­ever tena­ciously its ad­her­ents may cling to it even in the face of its man­i­fest fail­ures since it be­gan guiding U.S. for­eign pol­icy in the Ge­orge W. Bush ad­min­is­tra­tion.

As for the re­al­ists’ off­shore bal­anc­ing strategy, which fore­sees a kind of geopo­lit­i­cal flu­id­ity, with na­tions en­ter­ing into tem­po­rary al­liances based on shift­ing geopo­lit­i­cal cir­cum­stances, Mr. Lind sug­gests this vi­sion may sim­ply be “ir­rel­e­vant’’ be­cause it pre­sup­poses a greater num­ber of ma­jor pow­ers, able to play in the U.S. off­shore bal­anc­ing game, than we are likely to see.

In­stead, Mr. Lind be­lieves the world is more likely to di­vide it­self into “a small num­ber of more or less per­ma­nent hi­er­ar­chi­cal, multi­na­tional blocs, each led by one or more dom­i­nant na­tion-states.’’ After all, he notes, this wouldn’t be far re­moved from what emerged dur­ing the Cold War, when there were two such blocs in a bipo­lar world. But now we seem headed into a mul­ti­po­lar world, and thus it is rea­son­able to ex­pect the emerg­ing re­gional hege­mons to pull un­der their ban­ner other, more sub­servient na­tions will­ing to sac­ri­fice a mea­sure of na­tional in­de­pen­dence for mil­i­tary and eco­nomic se­cu­rity.

Cer­tainly China will be one of th­ese re­gional hege­mons. Most likely, so will Rus­sia. “The cur­rent con­flicts with China and Rus­sia are not bumps on the road to U.S. global hege­mony but bar­ri­cades,’’ writes Mr. Lind. “There is not the slight­est chance that Chi­nese and Rus­sian regimes, of any char­ac­ter, no mat­ter how liberal or demo­cratic, will ever ac­cept as le­git­i­mate a per­ma­nent U.S mil­i­tary pres­ence along their bor­ders.’’ Peer­ing fur­ther into the fu­ture, Mr. Lind be­lieves In­dia also could emerge “as a lead­ing mil­i­tary and eco­nomic power, per­haps as the cen­ter of its own bloc.’’

What we see un­der the Lind vi­sion is a di­vi­sion of the world into spheres of in­flu­ence — “the night­mare sce­nario in­voked as a warn­ing by pro­po­nents of global hege­mony,’’ says Mr. Lind. It’s their night­mare sce­nario be­cause the very con­cept of spheres of in­flu­ence shat­ters their hopes for Amer­i­can global dom­i­nance and a “rules-based” global free mar­ket po­liced by Amer­ica. But, as re­al­ists know, spheres of in­flu­ence have char­ac­ter­ized ma­jor por­tions of world his­tory, in­clud­ing pe­ri­ods of on­go­ing peace and sta­bil­ity.

In­deed, the power and sus­tain­abil­ity of geopo­lit­i­cal blocs can be seen in the fact that, even after the Cold War, the Amer­i­can bloc pieced to­gether to fight it con­tin­ued to op­er­ate as if that strug­gle were still on­go­ing. And re­gional pow­ers that wish to curb Amer­ica’s rise as a global hege­mon — China and Rus­sia in par­tic­u­lar — will have to build blocs of their own in or­der to blunt Amer­ica’s global am­bi­tions. Thus, it could be that the emer­gence of “Blocpoli­tik’’ (the ti­tle of Mr. Lind’s ar­ti­cle) is an al­most in­evitable geopo­lit­i­cal de­vel­op­ment.

Un­der this sce­nario, the United States will re­main the hege­mon of North Amer­ica, prob­a­bly of Europe, parts of the Asia-Pa­cific zone, and other re­gions within its reach. China will pull un­der its um­brella nu­mer­ous Asian na­tions and per­haps other Third World na­tions, while Rus­sia will dom­i­nate what might be called “Eura­sia,’’ an en­tity, says Mr. Lind, that will be “much smaller and weaker than the for­mer USSR.’’

Such a sys­tem, in Mr. Lind’s view, could be con­ducive of a sig­nif­i­cant level of sta­bil­ity, with “cen­turies of low-level skir­mishes along the fron­tiers with­out the con­flicts es­ca­lat­ing to wars of an­ni­hi­la­tion.’’

Per­haps that ar­gues for a U.S. for­eign pol­icy de­signed to fos­ter the emer­gence of such blocs of in­flu­ence and force, a for­eign pol­icy based on the view that there’s merit in spheres of in­flu­ence and bal­ance of power diplo­macy, in power shar­ing based on geopo­lit­i­cal real­i­ties rather than power hoard­ing based on wispy con­cepts of Amer­ica as be­nign hege­mon. But it may be that Mr. Lind’s vi­sion of the fu­ture will emerge ir­re­spec­tive of what the coun­try does to fos­ter it or pre­vent it.

Mr. Lind be­lieves the world is more likely to di­vide it­self into “a small num­ber of more or less per­ma­nent hi­er­ar­chi­cal, multi­na­tional blocs, each led by one or more dom­i­nant na­tion-states.’’

ILLUSTRATION BY LI­NAS GARSYS

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