A new role for America
‘Blocpolitik,’ spheres of limited influence, would replace the United States as the arbiter of global hegemony
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.’’