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Geopolitics in the 21st Century

It does my heart good to see that NATO members have the option to defend one another.It exposes the myth of the Treaty Organization.
Brad Sallows said:
>This raises the question of the Balts: by putting additional NATO forces there we probably reassure those countries, but unless we're making a hollow threat, we're saying that we're prepared to go to war over them?

Membership has its responsibilities, as well as privileges.

I agree about Ukraine.  If Russia decided to take it tomorrow, we should let them have it (and everything else up to NATO member borders).  And we should prepare to assist in the defence of those borders, while turning every possible screw on the Russian economy.

I agree a bit, if Russia say takes just the south and East of Ukraine, or even just the east, I would push to bring it into our sphere as well as finland to contain Russian expansion
Putin is aware that NATO nor the EU will fight him.Its the same dynamic that Hitler pursued.Taking small chunks will inevitably give him the whole cake.He got the Crimea and will soon have eastern Ukraine.Then he could turn his attention elsewhere.Putin doesnt need to invade the former republics,just coerce them to join the USSR,a sort of slavic EU.
If the Cold War zombies are rìsing, Ronald Reagan will be amongst them. He beat the Soviets single handedly before, he can do it again.

Unless a shirtless Putin takes up a Cossak sword and removes his head. We'll have to keep them apart until we can get Ronnie to Berlin.
Well I haven't been to Army.ca in a LOOOOOOOONNNNNGGGGG time. It is good to see such a dynamic discussion on the current regional power struggles.  While I still like discussions on the best small arms and tac vests, the Poli-Sci Major in me relishes a good discussion on international relations. One must look at Russia and China from a different perspective then the expansionist Soviet era state and revisionist Chairman Mao's China.  The two modern states of Russia and China while seeking larger global influence do not seek any expansion in their territory other than those neighbouring regions that they believe are theirs. (Wow crappy sentence structure  ;D ).  Why did Putin's Russia not intervene when Poland or the Czech Republic moved towards NATO.  These are not historically part of Russia. However, when the Ukraine started getting too cozy with the west Putin goes a little mad.  Why, the Crimea and parts of eastern Ukraine were Imperial Russia's territory that Kruschev put under Ukrainian administration, never thinking that the Soviet Empire would ever crumble and that a once puppet state would have issues of national jurisdiction. This is the same for China. If you are Tibetan or Taiwanese you might disagree with me, but in reality these regions are considered, by the current powers at least, to be Chinese Territory.  In Taiwan the general population will tell you that they ARE Chinese and look forward to rejoining the mainland someday if freedom and democracy was to ever be implemented in mainland China.
Here, reproduced under the Fair Dealing provisions of the Copyright Act from Al Jazeera English (no more (nor less) a biased source than, say, the New York Times) is a god overview of the state of President Obama's P2A (Pivot to Asia) policy, especially as it relates to the Philippines:


The Philippines' strategic dilemma: Between an eagle and a dragon
The Philippines granted the US precious access to its military bases, but failed to garner full support against China.

Last updated: 14 May 2014

Richard Javad Heydarian

US President Barack Obama's recent trip to Asia (April 23-29), where he met leading allies across the region, marked an important attempt at demonstrating Washington's commitment to remain an anchor of stability in the region. The trip had both geopolitical and economic dimensions, with the Obama administration demonstrating eagerness to resuscitate ongoing negotiations over the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) Free Trade Agreement, and expand its military footprint in East Asia. In many ways, however, the trip was long overdue.

In October 2013, Obama's no-show at the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) and Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) summits set off alarm bells among regional partners. As Republicans and Democrats in the US Congress bitterly squabbled over fiscal issues, Obama's official trips to Malaysia and the Philippines - two pivotal Southeast Asian countries that have been increasingly alarmed by China's territorial assertiveness in the South China Sea - were also cancelled. Meanwhile, Chinese leaders, President Xi Jinping and Premiere Li Keqiang, took the centre-stage, using Obama's absence as an opportunity to deepen Beijing's economic and political linkages across Asia.

This year, however, Obama wasted no time to remind the world that the Pivot to Asia (P2A) policy was alive and kicking, as he embarked on a state visit to four critical nations in East Asia, namely Japan, South Korea, Malaysia, and the Philippines. During his trip, Obama demonstrated Washington's commitment to stand by its allies against emerging threats from North Korea and China, while pushing Japan and South Korea to iron out their territorial differences as well as historical spats over Tokyo's militaristic past. In Malaysia, Obama managed to strike a new "comprehensive [strategic] partnership" agreement, delicately guiding Kuala Lumpur out of China's sphere of influence in the ASEAN.

The highlight of Obama's Asia visit was certainly the Philippines (April 28-29), where he celebrated the formalisation of a new security pact, the Enhanced Defence Cooperation Agreement (EDCA). Under the new defence agreement, the US has gained inexpensive, convenient access to Philippine bases. After two decades of absence, US troops can finally re-access the Subic and Clark bases, Washington's two biggest overseas military outposts during the Cold War era.

Desperate to stave off China's growing territorial assertiveness in the South China Sea, the Philippine government was quick to hail the EDCA as a concrete manifestation of a deepening military alliance between the Philippines and its principle ally, the US. But critics were quick to dismiss the deal as a strategic blunder, which will further increase the Philippines' dependence on Washington and fuel an already combustible dynamic in the South China Sea, with Beijing lambasting the new basing agreement as a component of the US-led allege encirclement strategy against China.

A geopolitical rollercoaster

Historically, the US has served as the backbone of the Philippines' national security. Throughout the Cold War, the Philippines represented a critical ally against Soviet expansionism in Asia. The eventual collapse of the Soviet Union (1991), however, sparked a nationalist-populist wave in the Philippines, as leading legislators called for the abrogation of the US military bases in the country.

Eventually, the US was forced to vacate the Subic and Clark bases, which were expensive to maintain and increasingly superfluous in a new strategic landscape in Asia. The Philippine government, in turn, pushed for a military modernisation programme to enhance its self-reliance and national security. In 1994, China forcibly  wrestled control of the Mischief Reef, a South China Sea feature formerly held by the Philippine forces. It didn't take long before the Philippines invited back US forces, but now under a more flexible, minimalist Visiting Forces Agreement (VFA), which didn't significantly enhance the Philippines' military capabilities. As a result, the Philippines had to rely on bilateral and regional diplomacy to rein in China's territorial assertiveness.

Thanks to the ASEAN-brokered Declaration on the Conduct of Parties in the South China Sea (DOC), the Philippines and China were able to de-escalate their bilateral territorial tensions. Meanwhile, the Bush administration called on the Philippines to join the Global War on Terror (GWOT), with the southern Philippine island of Mindanao emerging as a critical battleground against al-Qaeda-affiliated groups. Soon, however, an overbearing Washington alienated the Philippines, which began to diversify its foreign relations by flirting with an economically ascendant and increasingly appealing China.

Under the Arroyo administration (2001-2010), the Philippines embarked on a historic rapprochement with China, which culminated in a series of high-profile infrastructure, defence, and trade agreements. Above all, the two countries decided to consider joint-development schemes in the disputed features in the South China Sea. Arguably, the mid-2000s marked the "Golden Age" of Philippine-China relations.

Obama to the Rescue

Towards the twilight years of the Arroyo administration, however, a series of corruption scandals undermined large-scale Chinese projects in the Philippines. To make matters worse, China also began to step up its territorial claims in the South China Sea, undermining earlier diplomatic efforts by the Arroyo administration - increasingly seen as corrupt and too cosy with Beijing.

Upon assuming power in 2010, the Aquino administration embarked on a confrontational path towards China, warmly welcoming the Obama administration's P2A policy. In response, China more assertively pursued its maritime ambitions, increasingly encouraged by the relative decline of the West in the aftermath of the 2008 Great Recession.

It didn't take long before the Philippines was dragged into a wider geopolitical rivalry between the US and China, as the two powers jostled for strategic dominance in the Western Pacific. The Aquino administration, meanwhile, was more than eager to solicit maximum amount of military support against China, offering basing access to external powers such as the US and Japan.

After all, thanks to chronic corruption, low defence spending, lack of strategic vision, and age-old battles against domestic insurgencies, the Philippines failed to even develop a minimum deterrence capability.

During his trip to Manila, however, Obama made it very clear that the Philippine-US Mutual Defence Treaty (MDT) didn't guarantee automatic US military support if a conflict were to erupt over disputed territories in the South China Sea. Obama emphasised Washington's refusal to take any position over the sovereignty of the disputed territories, reassuring China that the EDCA was not aimed at it. At one point, Obama went so far as saying "it's inevitable that China is going to be a dominant power in [Asia] region", encouraging the Philippines to pursue a diplomatic, rule-based solution to prevent conflict.

Soon after Obama's trip, tensions flared up when the Philippines seized a Chinese boat on charges of illegally catching endangered species in the South China Sea, prompting China to demand the immediate release of the apprehended Chinese citizens. Signalling its commitment to defend its claims in the South China Sea, China, in turn, moved an oil rig into Vietnam's hydrocarbon-rich EEZ, provoking uproar in Hanoi and further raising the risks of maritime conflict in the South China Sea.

Nevertheless, the Obama administration is still primarily concerned with freedom of navigation in international waters and considers China its most important bilateral relationship in the 21st century. As a result, Southeast Asian countries like the Philippines have little choice but to re-calibrate their diplomatic approach towards China, having failed to garner full US military support.

Richard Javad Heydarian is a specialist on Asian geopolitical/economic affairs and author of "How Capitalism Failed the Arab World: The Economic Roots and Precarious Future of the Middle East Uprisings"

I would take issue with one point Mr Heydarian makes. I doubt one visit by President Obama was capable of "delicately guiding Kuala Lumpur out of China's sphere of influence in the ASEAN." It may have nudged Malaysia back towards the USA but, I think, one state visit by Xi Jinping, will likely nudge it back.
Further to the item just above and to the P2A (Pivot to Asia) and to the notion of containing China, in general, Prof James R Homes of the US Naval War College suggests, in this article which is reproduced under the Fair Dealing provisions of the Copyright Act from The Diplomat, that the whole idea of containment is both misplaced and unnecessary:


Why America Can’t Contain China
Despite Beijing’s concerns, the U.S. couldn’t contain China even if it wanted to.

By James R. Holmes

May 03, 2014

So Philippine and American officials formally inked a basing agreement during President Obama’s visit to the archipelago. Rather than reestablish permanent bases, the deal will allow U.S. military units to rotate through three to five Philippine facilities — the details are still being sorted out — and to stage equipment and munitions there for combat and disaster-relief missions. Huzzah!

The complexion of the U.S. deployment will depend on the details — as always, the devil’s lair. Either the American presence will be intermittent as forces rotate in and out of places like Subic Bay or the former Clark Air Base, or, more likely, the U.S. presence will be constant while the units anchoring it change. Fresh forces coming from North American bases will relieve those on station in the Philippines, allowing them to return home to rest and refit.

The latter has been the pattern for decades, ever since U.S. leaders decided it was better to keep forces in place along the Eurasian rimlands than to withdraw them after a conflict and return when trouble loomed. The ghost of Douglas MacArthur will confirm how hard it is to return to the Philippine Islands under conditions of extreme duress, and how many lives fighting your way into the theater can cost.

Rather than surge from American bases, ships and aircraft undergo upkeep and training, deploy to some regional command for some months, and return home to restart the cycle. Such is the rhythm of American military life. From the standpoint of physical power, then, the U.S.-Philippine arrangement is welcome. It returns U.S. forces to a position along the eastern rim of the South China Sea, speeding up response times and helping them mass force when and where local circumstances warrant.

More muddled were the reassurances that U.S. leaders winged Beijing’s way. It’s a familiar repertoire: rejuvenating the alliance with Manila isn’t about China; Washington has no desire to contain China; etc. Lather, rinse, repeat. Is it true that alliance management has nothing to do with China? No. Let’s not insult our Chinese friends’ intelligence. They’ll believe their lyin’ eyes before they believe soothing words out of Washington. Then is it really true that the United States has no desire to contain China?

Yes. Containment is a Cold War word, applied to an ideological foe bent on subverting its neighbors and, over time, spreading the delights of Marxism-Leninism across the globe. (Says the former denizen of Cambridge, Massachusetts, the Kremlin on the Charles.) As a strategy, containment meant rendering political and economic assistance to nations bordering the Soviet Union, helping these nations help themselves. Thus emboldened, they could withstand Soviet blandishments on their own. Or at least that’s how George F. Kennan, the father of containment, envisioned it.

Or there’s the more militant strain of containment associated with Paul Nitze. Nitze headed a team that compiled NSC-68, calling on the United States to rearm following its post-World War II drawdown. Only thus could the West face down the East. But even the NSC-68 framers, with their emphasis on martial means, agreed with Kennan on the nature of the challenge and the basic logic of the Western reply. If the West could contain Soviet expansion, it would sap the revolutionary fervor from the Eastern bloc. Over time the Soviet empire would mellow into something the West could live with. Or it would fall. Thud.

Neither paradigm fits China especially well. If Beijing is about to go on the march, it has concealed its intentions exceptionally well. So with apologies to Johnnie Cochran, if the analogy doesn’t fit, we must acquit.

And yet… China evinces no desire to subvert its continental neighbors, still less to foment revolution throughout the world. But it is trying to expand at sea, appropriating islands, atolls, and waters within the China seas. Spokesmen explain that China exercises sovereignty there, meaning a monopoly of force within national territory. Water is territory from an official Chinese standpoint.

How do you respond to that if you’re sitting in the Oval Office, Foggy Bottom, or the Pentagon? Well, Washington and its allies may find themselves compelled to accept Beijing’s interpretation of what the sea is — territory to be governed, rather than a commons open to all — if they’re to resist Chinese efforts to purloin waters and land features within Asian states’ exclusive economic zones.

Redefining coastal states’ EEZs as “blue national soil,” to borrow the Chinese phrase, would clarify matters. It would show that the Chinese fishing fleet, the China Coast Guard, and the PLA Navy are guilty of old-fashioned cross-border aggression when they pierce into the Philippine EEZ at places like Scarborough Shoal and expel the Philippine Navy and Coast Guard — agents of the rightful sovereign — from national maritime territory.

This is an unpleasant conclusion to reach, I grant you. It amounts to accepting China’s repeal of Hugo Grotius’ idea of the free sea — the doctrine on which the international maritime order is founded — within the China seas. John Selden’s vision of the closed sea would prevail there. But accepting China’s terms would show Asian nations they must band together to repel aggression — whether of the terrestrial or watery variety.

In so doing, Washington, Manila, and other Asia-Pacific capitals can send a signal of resolve — bolstering their chances of deterring Beijing. The Chinese Communist leadership may find itself forced to settle its maritime territorial quarrels by negotiation or other nonviolent arrangements — the same way it settled most of its border disputes on land.

Now, if not containment, under what banner can we rally a coalition against a bullying central power? I’ve got it: let’s call it the entente cordiale!
Here, reproduced under the Fair Dealing provisions of the Copyright Act from Foreign Affairs, is an interesting analysis of the emerging geopolitical situation by David Gordon and Jordan Schneider (both of whom are, I think, from the Eurasia Group, a political risk management and consulting group:


Treacherous Triangle
China, Russia, the United States, and the New Superpower Showdown

By David Gordon and Jordan Schneider

May 22, 2014

This week, Russian President Vladimir Putin has been in China, looking to deepen ties between his country and his neighbor to the south. The trip could mark the start of a new era in U.S.-Russian-Chinese relations, the trilateral relationship that dominated the final decades of the Cold War and is now making a comeback. After Russia’s aggression in Crimea, Moscow and Washington are locked in conflict. Beijing has thus become the new fulcrum, the power most able to play one side off the other.

It is hard to overstate just how significant the shift could be. During the Cold War, the United States capitalized on the constant, at times extreme, Sino-Soviet tension. Thanks to the United States’ closer relations with China, first illustrated during U.S. President Richard Nixon’s famous 1972 visit to Beijing, the Soviet Union feared total isolation. It consequently became more willing to accommodate U.S. demands. American leverage increased, manifesting itself in the U.S.-Soviet agreement on the first Strategic Arms Limitation Treaty just three months after Nixon’s trip, and in the Helsinki Accords three years later. In return for Chinese support, Washington gradually normalized its dealings with Beijing, culminating in 1979 in the reestablishment of diplomatic relations, which had been suspended after the communist takeover.

The dissolution of the Soviet Union and the shock of Tiananmen Square marked the end of the first era of triangulation. In the post–Cold War unipolar era, the United States did not need to use a reeling Russia against an internally focused China to achieve its goals. But, thanks to China’s rise as a major power and Russia’s newfound assertiveness, trilateral dynamics are back. This time, though, the United States isn’t the dominant player.


If animosity between China and the Soviet Union defined trilateral relations during the Cold War, today it is U.S.-Russian tensions that drive the triad’s dynamics. Clashing interests, a real ideological divide, and the likely escalation of U.S. sanctions will add to the strain. Unlike U.S. President Barack Obama at the start of his first term, though, the next president will not likely attempt a “reset” with Russia, if only to avoid the domestic political blowback. Likewise, Putin has his own reasons for keeping tensions high; he would like to stir up nationalism to preserve his popularity at home, especially in the face of continued economic contraction.

Between these two clashing powers lies China. As the nation in the triad with the broadest policy options, China is positioned to play Russia and the United States off each other, much as the United States did with China and Russia in years past.

Putin has hoped to convince China to use its influence to provide Russia significant economic and political support. In that, he is likely to be disappointed. For one, the two sides don’t have the same strategic goals. China wants global respect for its peaceful rise to great power status. Russia wants to challenge and undermine the West at every opportunity. Further, China sees the United States as its most important partner because of the two nations’ economic interdependence. In other words, even as China balances between the United States and Russia, it won’t risk provoking a real falling out with the United States. It will, however, drive hard bargains and extract concessions from both sides, particularly from Russia.

For example, Putin would like China to legitimize Russia’s aggressive regional stance. To this, China won’t say “no,” but it won’t say “yes” either. The last thing the country would want to do is lend public support to the principle that issues of sovereignty can be decided through referenda. The spillover effects in Hong Kong, Inner Mongolia, Taiwan, Tibet, and Xinjiang would be too severe. What Russia can reasonably expect, though, is for China’s leaders to maintain their benign neglect, continuing to abstain on UN votes against Russia and undermining Western sanctions.

Putin has also been looking to dramatically expand Russia’s role as an energy provider to Beijing, which would create leverage for Russia in its energy dealings with Europe. And, after a decade of false starts, during the first part of Putin’s trip to China, Moscow and Beijing did ink an agreement for the “Power of Siberia” pipeline, presaging a new phase in bilateral energy relations. On this issue, Moscow’s desire to expand energy exports intersects with Beijing’s search for greater energy security. And although Russia secured some $25 billion in prepayment to finance the pipeline -- very important in the face of Western sanctions -- China got the better the deal. Russia will supply it natural gas at significantly lower-than-market rates, saving China tens of billions of dollars and pushing down the price of gas across Asia.

In addition to energy, China would like Russia to make it easier for Chinese firms to invest in Russia and sell to Russians. For China, Russia’s middle class economy is a huge market opportunity, especially now that Western firms have started to defer investment there. Russia, fearful of competition, has tended to restrict access to the Russian market for Chinese companies. But in the new geopolitical triangle, Russian and Chinese economic interests will converge; Moscow is already loosening restrictions on Chinese investment and will likely speed up the process.

China might also ask Russia for access to Russia's most advanced military technology. Moscow has been reluctant to sell Beijing its highest-end materiel, partially out of fear that China might someday use these weapons against Russia. Russia might now be more willing to share some technology in return for strategic concessions, but such a policy shift will be gradual. And it might have spillover effects outside of the triangle, for instance driving India into the arms of U.S. arms manufacturers in its search to match China’s increased military capabilities.


Just as the United States was emboldened by its lead position in the U.S.-Russian-Chinese triad during the Cold War, so too will China's resolve increase as Russia pursues its affections. For instance, China might become less eager to liberalize its foreign investment policy, something the United States has long wanted as a way to drive down the bilateral trade deficit. With new economic opportunities to China’s north, it simply won’t be as desperate for U.S. money. And the more Russia opens up its technological storehouse, the more willing China will be to press its interests in the South and East China Seas.

Unlike during the Cold War, however, when Washington’s rapprochement with Beijing pressured Moscow to change many aspects of its global policy, the closer Russian-Chinese relationship is unlikely to change U.S. policymakers’ calculations on most major U.S.-Chinese issues. Thus, the dynamics of the new triangle will not exactly mimic the old.

A rising China supported by a desperate Russia will make for a formidable geopolitical pair. Even so, the United States will not weaken its commitments to its allies, such as Japan and the Philippines, in the face of increased Chinese confidence. It will continue to pursue its flagship regional trade deal, the Trans-Pacific Partnership. And it will press China on its state-sponsored commercial espionage with increasing vigor. Unlike the Soviet Union, the odd nation out in the first triangle relationship, the United States today has the military, financial, and political strength -- coupled with a global network of alliances -- to stand on its own. But an emboldened Beijing will nevertheless make it harder for the United States to maintain its current position as the Pacific’s regional balancer.

We must remember that:

    America is the dominant social/cultural, political, economic and military power on earth - China is nowhere near America's equal ... yet;

    China is rising, it's rise since Deng Xiaoping put it on its current course back in the late 1970s has been quite phenomenal. But it is not, yet, anything like
    a global superpower. China's rise will, certainly, be interrupted by domestic social and economic crises, but it is most likely to continue on all fronts: social/cultural,
    economic, political and military; and

    Russia is in decline - "demographics is destiny," said white supremacy apologist/author Arthur Kemp and the demographics point to a weaker and weaker
    future for Russia.

There is, still, in my opinion, an open question about China's aim. I think it wants to create a new bi-polar world in which it shares supremacy (and the responsibility for keeping the global peace) with America; I also think it wants a fractured West in which Europe and America are not in anything like real accord and in which Europe, itself is divided. I'm guessing that China wants to control East Asia, the Sinic 'world' , which includes Japan and Korea. It wants America off the Asian mainland. My sense is that is a vital strategic objective for China. But I also sense that it does not want to intrude into the "Arabic-Islamic world of West Asia and North Africa," or the "Hindu-Buddhist civilization of India and Southeast Asia." In other words, I think China wants a global mosaic in which it shares a dominant position with an American led Anglosphere.

I revive the notion of the Anglosphere because I think America's position will, increasingly, need some shoring up by Australia, Britain and Canada ... including in the Pivot Towards Asia (P2A) strategy. The Anglosphere is, as Thucydides reminds us a maritime coalition and his elephant vs. whale or tiger vs. shark analogy comes into play. A war between an American led West and a Chinese led East is possible, but pointless ... I think (maybe just hope?) that better strategic minds than mine can see that such a war can have no winners, just losers. I think competition on all four fronts, will be the order of the day and I hope that sound leadership will keep that competition peaceful ... rough and tumble, at times, but without resorting to military force.
Part 1

This article is a bit long but well worth the read. It explains how we, the American led West, got led here by the Americans. It is by noted historian Robert Kagan and was originally published in the New Republic; it is reproduced, in toto, under the fair Dealing provisions of the Copyright Act from the Brookings Institution's website:


Superpowers Don't Get to Retire: What Our Tired Country Still Owes the World

By: Robert Kagan

May 26, 2014

Almost 70 years ago, a new world order was born from the rubble of World War II, built by and around the power of the United States. Today that world order shows signs of cracking, and perhaps even collapsing. The Russia-Ukraine and Syria crises, and the world’s tepid response, the general upheaval in the greater Middle East and North Africa, the growing nationalist and great-power tensions in East Asia, the worldwide advance of autocracy and retreat of democracy—taken individually, these problems are neither unprecedented nor unmanageable. But collectively they are a sign that something is changing, and perhaps more quickly than we may imagine. They may signal a transition into a different world order or into a world disorder of a kind not seen since the 1930s.

If a breakdown in the world order that America made is occurring, it is not because America’s power is declining—America’s wealth, power, and potential influence remain adequate to meet the present challenges. It is not because the world has become more complex and intractable—the world has always been complex and intractable. And it is not simply war-weariness. Strangely enough, it is an intellectual problem, a question of identity and purpose.

Many Americans and their political leaders in both parties, including President Obama, have either forgotten or rejected the assumptions that undergirded American foreign policy for the past seven decades. In particular, American foreign policy may be moving away from the sense of global responsibility that equated American interests with the interests of many others around the world and back toward the defense of narrower, more parochial national interests. This is sometimes called “isolationism,” but that is not the right word. It may be more correctly described as a search for normalcy. At the core of American unease is a desire to shed the unusual burdens of responsibility that previous generations of Americans took on in World War II and throughout the cold war and to return to being a more normal kind of nation, more attuned to its own needs and less to those of the wider world.

If this is indeed what a majority of Americans seek today, then the current period of retrenchment will not be a temporary pause before an inevitable return to global activism. It will mark a new phase in the evolution of America’s foreign policy. And because America’s role in shaping the world order has been so unusually powerful and pervasive, it will also begin a new phase in the international system, one that promises not to be marginally different but radically different from what we have known these past 70 years. Unless Americans can be led back to an understanding of their enlightened self-interest, to see again how their fate is entangled with that of the world, then the prospects for a peaceful twenty-first century in which Americans and American principles can thrive will be bleak.

To understand where America, and the world, may be heading, it is useful to remind ourselves where we have been—of the choices that Americans made decades ago and of the profound, world-changing consequences of those choices.

For Americans, the choice was never been between isolationism and internationalism. With their acquisitive drive for wealth and happiness, their love of commerce, their economic and (in earlier times) territorial expansiveness, and their universalistic ideology, they never had it in them to wall themselves off from the rest of the world. Tokugawa Japan and Ming China were isolationist. Americans have always been more like republican Rome or ancient Athens, a people and a nation on the move.

When, roughly 70 years ago, American foreign policy underwent a revolutionary transformation, it was not a transformation from isolationism to internationalism. What Americans had rejected before World War II was a steady global involvement, with commitments to other nations and responsibilities for the general well-being of the world. That was what the so-called “internationalists” of the time wanted for the United States. Theodore Roosevelt, John Hay, Henry Cabot Lodge, Elihu Root, Henry Stimson, Woodrow Wilson, and many others believed that Americans ought to take on a much bigger role in world affairs, as befitted their growing power. The United States had become “more and more the balance of power of the whole globe,” Roosevelt observed, and it ought to behave accordingly. And indeed, following the Spanish-American War and for the first two decades of the twentieth century, the United States did pursue a wider and deeper global involvement than it had ever done before, culminating in the dispatch of two million troops to France. When World War I ended, Wilson, like Roosevelt before him, ambitiously set out to make the United States a central player in world affairs. Beseeched by all the European powers after the war—for American financing aid to steady their economies and for American security guarantees against each other—Wilson wanted the United States to commit itself to an enduring global role. The world, he warned Americans, would be “absolutely in despair if America deserts it.” Wilson’s League of Nations (actually it had been Roosevelt’s idea first), although couched in the idealistic language of universal principles and collective security, was meant above all to serve as the vehicle for American power and influence in support of a new liberal world order.

But Americans rejected this role. Disillusioned by the compromises and imperfections of the Versailles Treaty, mourning the loss of more than 100,000 dead soldiers, skeptical about American participation in the league, and spurred on by Republicans eager to defeat Wilson and recapture the White House, a majority of Americans came to oppose not only the league but also the internationalists’ broad vision of America’s global role. This was no absentminded lapse back into nonexistent isolationist traditions. It was a deliberate decision to turn away from the increasingly active global involvement of the previous two decades, to adopt a foreign policy of far greater restraint, and above all to avoid future military interventions beyond the Western Hemisphere. Wilson’s Republican successors promised, and the American public welcomed, what Warren Harding called a “return to normalcy.”

Normalcy in the 1920s did not mean isolation. Americans continued to trade, to invest, and to travel overseas; their navy was equaled in size only by Britain’s, and had fleets in the Atlantic and the Pacific; and their diplomats pursued treaties to control the arms race and to “outlaw” war. Normalcy simply meant defining America’s national interests the way most other nations defined theirs. It meant defending the homeland, avoiding overseas commitments, preserving the country’s independence and freedom of action, and creating prosperity at home. The problems of Europe and Asia were not America’s problems, and they could be solved, or not solved, without American help. This applied to global economic issues as well. Harding wanted to “prosper America first,” and he did. The 1920s were boom years for the American economy, while Europe’s postwar economies stagnated.

To the vast majority of Americans, normalcy seemed a reasonable response to the world of the 1920s, after the enormous exertions of the Wilson years. There were no obvious threats on the horizon. Postwar Weimar Germany was a faltering republic more likely to collapse than to take another stab at continental dominance. Bolshevik Russia was wracked by civil war and economic crisis. Japan, though growing in power and ambition, was a fragile democracy with a seat on the League of Nations permanent council. To most Americans in the 1920s, the greatest risk to America came not from foreign powers but from those misguided “internationalists” and the greedy bankers and war profiteers who would involve the nation in foreign conflicts that were none of America’s business.

This consensus was broad, deep, and bipartisan, and Americans stayed on the course of normalcy for two full decades. They did so even as the world order—no longer upheld by the old combination of British naval might and a relatively stable balance of power in Europe and Asia—began to fray and then collapse. The Japanese invasion of Manchuria in 1931; Hitler’s rise to power in 1933; Mussolini’s invasion of Ethiopia in 1935; Germany’s remilitarization of the Rhineland, and the German and Italian intervention in the Spanish Civil War, in 1936; Japan’s invasion of central China in 1937; Hitler’s absorption of Austria, followed by his annexation and eventual conquest of Czechoslovakia in 1938 and 1939—all these events troubled and at times appalled Americans. They were not ignorant of what was going on. Even back then information traveled widely and rapidly, and the newspapers and newsreels were filled with stories about each unfolding crisis. Reports of Mussolini’s dive-bombers dropping their ordnance on spear-carrying Ethiopians; Germany’s aerial bombing of the civilian population of Guernica; Japan’s rampage of rape, pillage, and murder in Nanking—they were horrific and regrettable. But they were not reasons for the United States to get involved. On the contrary, they were reasons for not getting involved. The worse things looked around the world, the more hopeless it all seemed, the less Americans wanted to have anything to do with it. The United States, it was widely believed, had no vital interests at stake in Manchuria, Ethiopia, Spain, or Czechoslovakia.

In fact, it was not clear that the United States had vital interests anywhere outside the Western Hemisphere. Even after the German invasion of Poland in 1939, and the outbreak of a general European war that followed, respected American strategic thinkers, priding themselves on “realistic thinking,” the “banishment of altruism and sentiment” from their analysis, and “single-minded attention to the national interests,” advised that, with two oceans and a strong navy standing between America and every great power in the world, the United States was invulnerable.A Japanese attack on, say, Hawaii, they ruled out as literally impossible. Republican Senator Robert A. Taft felt confident in saying that no power “would be stupid enough” to attack the United States “from across thousands of miles of ocean.” Nor would the United States suffer appreciably if Nazi Germany did manage to conquer all of Europe, including Great Britain, which by 1940 the realists regarded as a foregone conclusion. Taft saw no reason why the United States could not trade and conduct normal diplomacy with a Europe dominated by Nazi Germany just as it had with Great Britain and France. As the historian Howard K. Beale put it, nations “do not trade with one another because they like each other’s governments but because both sides find the exchange of goods desirable.”

Holders of such views were tagged with the disparaging label of “isolationist,” but as Hans Morgenthau later pointed out, they believed at the time that they were upholding the “realist tradition of American foreign policy.” The United States should not range “over the world like a knight-errant,” Taft admonished, “[protecting] democracy and ideals of good faith and [tilting] like Don Quixote against the windmills of fascism.” Taft insisted on seeing the world as it was, not as idealists wished it to be. The European war was the product of “national and racial animosities” that had existed “for centuries” and would continue to exist “for centuries to come,” he argued. To make a difference in the war, the United States would have to send millions of troops across the ocean, make an impossible amphibious landing on shores heavily defended by German forces, and then march across Europe against the world’s strongest army. The very thought was inconceivable. Much as they might wish to help Europe, therefore, Americans had “no power, even if we have the will, to be its savior.”

This view was so dominant and so politically popular that Franklin Roosevelt spent his first years in office muzzling his internationalist instincts and vowing to keep America out of another war—“I hate war!” he roared in a famous address in 1936. After Munich, however, he grew panicked, sensing that the Western powers, Britain and France, had lost the will to stand up to Hitler. And so he began trying to warn Americans of what he regarded as the coming threat. Yet it was difficult to counter the realists’ hardheaded analysis. Roosevelt could not prove that American security was directly endangered by what was happening in Europe. He was left making a case that really did appeal more to sentiment and idealism than to demonstrable threats to the American homeland.

Even if the United States faced no immediate danger of military attack, Roosevelt argued, if Hitler, Mussolini, and Imperial Japan were allowed to have their way, the world would be a “shabby and dangerous place to live in—yes, even for Americans to live in.” America would become a “lone island” in a world dominated by the “philosophy of force.” The “institutions of democracy” would be placed at risk even if America’s security was not, because America would have to become an armed camp to defend itself. Roosevelt urged Americans to look beyond their immediate physical security. “There comes a time in the affairs of men,” he said, “when they must prepare to defend, not their homes alone, but the tenets of faith and humanity on which their churches, their governments, and their very civilization are founded. The defense of religion, of democracy, and of good faith among nations is all the same fight. To save one we must now make up our minds to save all.”

Such arguments, along with the fall of France and the Battle of Britain, did help convince Americans that they had a stake in the outcome of the European struggle, but it did not convince them to go to war. That decision followed only after Pearl Harbor. The Japanese attack, Hitler’s subsequent declaration of war, and America’s full-scale entry into the conflicts in both Europe and Asia were a traumatic shock to Americans, especially for those in positions of power. That which had been deemed impossible had proved possible, and long-held assumptions about American security in a troubled world collapsed in a single day.

End of Part 1
Part 2

The events of 1941 forced a fundamental reassessment not only of America’s global strategy but also of how to define America’s interests. Even as they waged the struggle against Germany and Japan, Roosevelt and his advisers during the war began thinking of how the postwar world ought to be shaped, and they took as their guide what they considered the lessons of the previous two decades.

The first had to do with security. The Japanese attack had proved that vast oceans and even a strong navy no longer provided adequate defense against attack. More broadly, there was the realization—or rather the rediscovery—of an old understanding: that the rise of a hostile hegemonic power on the Eurasian landmass could eventually threaten America’s core security interests as well as its economic well-being. As a corollary, there was the “lesson of Munich”: would-be aggressors in Eurasia had to be deterred before they became too strong to be stopped short of all-out war.

Another lesson was that the United States had an interest in political developments in Eurasia. Walter Lippmann argued that, for Americans to enjoy both “physical security” and the preservation of their “free way of life,” they had to ensure that “the other shore of the Atlantic” remained always in the hands of “friendly,” “trustworthy” democracies. For two decades, people had sneered at “Woodrow Wilson’s demand that the world must be made safe for democracy,” Lippmann commented, but Wilson had been right. Under the control of “free governments the shores and waters of the Atlantic” had become the “geographical center of human liberty.” The Atlantic Charter and Roosevelt’s Four Freedoms reflected this revived conviction that the well-being of democracy in the world was not only desirable but important to America’s security.

Then there was the global economy. In the late 1920s and throughout the 1930s, the United States had sought mostly domestic remedies for the Great Depression, raising its own tariffs, choking off lending abroad, refusing to join other nations in a common monetary policy, and generally protecting the American economy while ignoring the world economy. By 1941, however, Roosevelt and his advisers had concluded that both America’s prosperity and its security depended on a healthy world economy. Poverty and economic dislocation had played a major role in the rise of both Hitler and Bolshevism. The United States bore much of the blame, for although it had been the world’s leading economic power in the 1920s and 1930s, it had failed to play a constructive and responsible role in stabilizing the global economy.

Finally, there was the issue of American public support for global involvement. In the 1920s and 1930s, Americans had been allowed and even encouraged by their political leaders to believe that the United States was immune to the world’s troubles. They could not be allowed to fall back into such complacency. They could no longer regard events thousands of miles away as of no concern to them. To Roosevelt, assuring public support for a larger and more consistent American role in the world was going to be among the greatest challenges after the war. Americans had to understand, as Reinhold Niebuhr wrote in April 1943, that “the world problem cannot be solved if America does not accept its full share of responsibility in solving it.”

That share was to be sizeable. convinced that World War II had been the result not of any single incident but rather of the overall breakdown of world order, politically, economically, and strategically, American leaders set out to erect and sustain a new order that could endure. This time it was to be a world order built around American economic, political, and military power. Europeans had proved incapable of keeping the peace. Asia was entirely unstable on its own. Any new order would depend on the United States. It would become the center of a new economic system that would encourage open trade and provide financial assistance and loans to nations struggling to stay afloat. It would take a substantial and active part in the occupation and transformation of the defeated powers, ensuring that some form of democracy took root in place of the dictatorships that had led those nations to war. America would also have to possess preponderant military strength and when necessary deploy sufficient power to preserve stability and security in Europe, Asia, and the Middle East.

Military force played a central part in the calculations of Roosevelt and his advisers as they set out to establish and defend the new liberal world order. “Peace must be kept by force,” Roosevelt insisted. There was “no other way.” He anticipated that an American occupation force of one million troops would be necessary to keep the peace in Europe, for at least a year and perhaps longer. During the war, the Joint Chiefs envisioned establishing military bases around the world in “areas well removed from the United States” so that any fighting would take place “nearer the enemy” rather than near American territory.

Roosevelt naturally hoped to avoid the repeated and extended deployment of American ground forces overseas, since he feared the public would not tolerate it. But he did expect that the United States would have to send at least planes and ships whenever called upon by the U.N. Security Council. As Cordell Hull insisted at the Dumbarton Oaks conference in 1944, American military forces had to be “available promptly, in adequate measure, and with certainty.” In fact, Roosevelt anticipated that requests from the Security Council would be so frequent that he did not want the president to have to go to Congress each time for approval of the use of force. The Security Council had to have “the power to act quickly and decisively to keep the peace by force, if necessary,” Roosevelt explained, and so the American representative had to be given advance authority to act.

Roosevelt supported the United Nations but was not a great believer in collective security. American power, he believed, would be the key. He saw the United Nations much as Wilson had seen the League of Nations, as a vehicle for U.S. global involvement. Indeed, as the historian Robert Dallek has noted, for Roosevelt the United Nations was partly meant to “obscure” the central role American power was to play in the new world order— obscure it, that is, from Americans.

End of Part 2
Part 3

This new American grand strategy for the postwar world could not have been a more radical departure from “normalcy.” Its goals were not simply defense of the territory, prosperity, and sovereign independence of the American people, but also the promotion of a liberal world order that would defend not only America’s interests but those of many other nations as well. The rise of a Eurasian hegemon would threaten other nations long before it would threaten the United States, for instance, yet Americans now accepted primary responsibility for preventing it. The new strategy was not selfless or altruistic. American officials believed that it was in the best interest of the United States. But neither did it fit the normal definition of the “national interest.” As Dean Acheson explained, Americans had to learn to “operate in a pattern of responsibility which is greater than our own interests.” This was the real revolution in American foreign policy.

The new strategy was not directed at any particular nation or any specific threat—at least not at first. The Soviet Union had not yet emerged as the next great challenge to the new global order. During World War II, Roosevelt and most other top officials expected mutual cooperation with the Soviets after the war, and even as late as 1945, Acheson still believed in the possibility of partnership with Moscow. Rather than responding to a specific threat, the new grand strategy aimed at preventing a general collapse of global order, which meant supporting an open international economic system, enforcing principles of international behavior, supporting, where possible, democratic governments, encouraging a minimum of respect for human rights, as defined in the U.N. Charter, and generally promoting the kind of world that suited Americans and those who shared their beliefs.

This new and wide-ranging set of goals and responsibilities completely reoriented the posture of American foreign policy. Instead of essentially leaning back, waiting for threats to emerge, responding, and then pulling back again, the new strategy required a constant and pervasive forward involvement in the affairs of the world. The new economic strategy aimed to prevent economic crises before they resulted in revolution or despotism. The new military strategy aimed to discourage would-be aggressors before they became aggressors, or as Roosevelt put it, to “end future wars by stepping on their necks before they grow up.”

The new forward-leaning posture became especially pronounced as the postwar era transitioned into the cold war. The Marshall Plan aimed to shore up Western European economies and democracies before they collapsed and succumbed to communism. The Truman Doctrine aimed to bolster Greece and Turkey before they fell to communist subversion. When the communist revolution triumphed in China in 1949, American critics blamed the Truman administration for not doing enough to prevent it—a charge, fair or not, that no one would have thought to make before World War II. The unanticipated North Korean invasion of the South produced panic in Washington and, in the minds of Truman and his advisers, powerfully reinforced the “lesson of Munich.” Henceforth the United States would have to be vigilant and ready to act, with force, anywhere in the world.

All of this was precisely what the anti-interventionist critics had warned about in the 1930s. Taft, a thoughtful and intelligent man, had indeed predicted that, once sent off to the war, American forces would never come home again. Victory would prove as much a curse as a blessing. American troops, Taft had warned, “would have to police Europe or maintain the balance of power there by force of arms” indefinitely. Beale had cautioned that, if freedom and democracy were the goals, as Roosevelt claimed, then the United States was going to have to “maintain democracy by armed force on the Continent of Europe” and keep a “navy large enough to establish ‘freedom of the seas’ ... on all the oceans of the world.” It was a prescription at once for bankruptcy and militarism at home and “unadulterated imperialism” abroad.

Roosevelt and other American statesmen originally hoped that the United States would not have to do everything by itself. Roosevelt planned to share global management among the “Four Policemen”—the United States, Great Britain, the Soviet Union, and China. And Truman in 1945 was bound and determined to slash the defense budget and bring as many troops home as possible. Yet within two years after the war ended, the new world order was already teetering on the edge of collapse along with hopes for global partnership with the other great powers. Britain quickly signaled its inability to play its historic role, even in the Mediterranean. China descended into civil war and revolution. And the Soviet Union emerged not as a supporter of the new order but, to American eyes, as its greatest opponent. The result was the disheartening realization that the United States was going to carry the lion’s share of the burden, just as Taft had warned. As Acheson later put it, the United States was going to have to be “the locomotive at the head of mankind,” while the rest of the world was going to be “the caboose.”

Roosevelt had always worried that the American people would never accept such an expansive and seemingly open-ended global role. Three months before he died, in his last State of the Union address, in January 1945, he attempted to rally them for the task ahead. “In our disillusionment after the last war,” he reminded the American public, “we gave up the hope of gradually achieving a better peace because we had not the courage to fulfill our responsibilities in an admittedly imperfect world. We must not let that happen again, or we shall follow the same tragic road again—the road to a third world war.”

That was the last time, before 1989, that an American statesman would think of American global responsibilities without reference to the Soviet Union or to international communism. The onset of the cold war, the panicked American response to Soviet policies in Eastern Europe and in the Middle East, and the recurrent American paranoia about the danger of communist subversion at home answered FDR’s fears about public support. To many Americans, Soviet communism seemed an even more direct threat to their way of life than Hitler and the Nazis. Fighting it, therefore, proved an easier strategy to comprehend and support than shouldering “responsibilities in an admittedly imperfect world.” Although there was intense and often divisive debate over foreign policy during the cold war, and much dissent voiced by critics of anti-communist containment, especially during and just after the Vietnam war, a majority of Americans proved consistently willing to go to great lengths in the name of containing communism. In the late 1940s and 1950s, they provided billions of dollars for European reconstruction and made military alliances with former adversaries such as Japan and Germany and other European powers they had once disdained and mistrusted. They even extended nuclear guarantees to deter a Soviet conventional invasion of Europe, voluntarily making themselves targets of Soviet nuclear weapons in the event of a European war. In the 1950s and 1960s, they often spent 10 percent or more of their GDP on defense. They deployed hundreds of thousands of troops overseas, indefinitely, in Europe and Asia—almost a million during the Eisenhower years. They fought in costly wars in Korea and Vietnam, with uncertain and unsatisfying results.

Justifying everything in terms of the anti-communist struggle may have been, to borrow Acheson’s phrase, “clearer than truth,” but it worked. Fear of communism, combined with fear of the Soviet Union as a geopolitical threat, allowed a majority of Americans and American policymakers to view practically any policy directed against communist forces, or even against suspected communist forces, anywhere in the world as directly serving the nation’s vital interests. In 1965, even David Halberstam believed that preventing a communist victory in Vietnam was “vital to our national interest.” A decade and a half later, Jimmy Carter, who had come to office warning, not entirely unreasonably, against an “inordinate fear of communism,” was forced to announce a dramatic shift of policy in response to a Soviet invasion of Afghanistan, a country that not two Americans in a million could have found on a map and where no direct American interest could be identified, other than the fact that the Soviets were there. Yes, the general feeling went, the United States had taken on unprecedented global responsibilities, but it had done so because American interests were directly threatened by an unprecedented global challenge.

So Americans for more than four decades proved willing to support the expansive and active foreign policy that Roosevelt and his advisers had envisioned—indeed, probably much more than they envisioned—and the results were extraordinary. In the half-century following World War II, the United States successfully established, protected, and advanced a liberal world order, carving out a vast “free world” within which an unprecedented era of peace and prosperity could flower in Western Europe, East Asia, and the Western Hemisphere. Although tensions between the United States and the Soviet Union sometimes rose to dangerous levels, the period was characterized above all by peace among the great powers. The United States and the Soviet Union did not come to blows, and just as importantly, the American presence in Europe and East Asia put an end to the cycles of war that had torn both regions since the late nineteenth century. The number of democracies in the world grew dramatically. The international trading system expanded and deepened. Most of the world enjoyed an unprecedented prosperity. There was no shortage of disasters and near-disasters, as well as the two costly wars in Asia—but the strategy was largely successful, so much so that the Soviet empire finally collapsed or voluntarily withdrew, peacefully, under the pressure of the West’s economic and political success, and the liberal order then expanded to include the rest of Europe and most of Asia. All of this was the result of many forces—the political and economic integration of Europe, the success of Japan and Germany, and the rise of other successful Asian economies—but none of it would have been possible without a United States willing and able to play the abnormal and unusual role of preserver and defender of a liberal world order.

America’s ability to play this role at all was due lessto the special virtues of the American people than to some remarkable advantages that put the United States in a historically unique position. The most important advantage was geography. For centuries the world’s cockpits of conflict had been in Europe, Asia, and the Middle East, where multiple powers shared common neighborhoods, jostled for primacy, and engaged in endless cycles of military competition and warfare. When the United States emerged as a great power at the end of the nineteenth century, it alone enjoyed fundamental security in a neighborhood in which it was already the unquestioned hegemon. This, along with its wealth and large population, gave the United States the ability to dispatch the bulk of its armed forces thousands of miles away to engage in protracted military operations. It also allowed the United States to station large numbers of troops permanently overseas if it so desired. And it could do all of this without leaving itself vulnerable to a neighboring power.

No other nation in the world was ever so situated. Even that other great island superpower, Great Britain, sat too close to the European continent to be invulnerable to attack, especially when the airplane and the long-range missile became major tools of warfare. Nor had Britain succeeded in securing its core strategic requirement: preventing the emergence of a hegemon on the continent. Although successful for two centuries in maintaining and managing its overseas empire, Britain failed to prevent the rise of German hegemony twice in the twentieth century, leading to two devastating wars that ultimately undid British global power. Britain failed because it had tried to play the role of balancer in Europe from “offshore.” Britons’ main concern was always defense of their far-flung empire, and they preferred to stay out of Europe if possible. Their inability or unwillingness to station troops on the continent in sufficient number, or at least reliably to guarantee that sufficient force would arrive quickly in an emergency, led would-be aggressors to calculate that decisive British military force would either not arrive on time or not arrive at all.

After World War II, Americans’ unique geographical advantage made possible an unprecedented global strategy. The United States was able to move beyond traditional national defense and beyond offshore balancing. It was able to become effectively both a European power and an Asian power, with troops permanently stationed “onshore” in both theaters simultaneously. The presence of American troops acted to remove doubt by potential aggressors that the United States would fight if its allies were attacked. For the next seven decades, this American presence enforced a general peace and stability in two regions that for at least a century had known almost constant great-power conflict.

Just as remarkable was the degree to which the rest of the nations in the liberal world generally accepted and even welcomed America’s overwhelming power. Again, the reason had as much to do with power and geography as with ideological affinity. It was true that for most nations in the world the United States appeared to be a relatively benign hegemon. But the core geopolitical reality was that other nations faced greater and more immediate threats from their neighbors than from the distant Americans. When those neighbors grew menacing, they looked to the United States as a natural partner—comforting for its ability to project power and defend them but comforting also for its distance.

The United States thus violated some of the cardinal rules of international relations. For decades, realists had believed that the only peaceful and stable world order was one based on a multipolar balance of power, a “concert” of nations poised in rough equilibrium in a system that all the players regarded as necessary and legitimate—like Europe in the years following the Congress of Vienna. This was the world with which Henry Kissinger felt comfortable and which he constantly predicted, even in the 1960s, was just right around the corner. Unipolarity was supposed to be inherently unstable and short-lived, because other great powers would always band together to balance against a power grown too strong—as had happened in Europe in response to the rise of France and Germany in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries. Richard Nixon expressed this alleged realist truism in a speech, no doubt penned under Kissinger’s influence, in 1972. “We must remember,” Nixon declared, that “the only time in the history of the world that we have had any extended period of peace is when there has been balance of power. It is when one nation becomes infinitely more powerful in relation to its potential competitor that the danger of war arises. So I believe in a world in which the United States is powerful. I think it will be a safer world and a better world if we have a strong, healthy United States, Europe, Soviet Union, China, Japan, each balancing.” But the United States was already disproving this thesis.

The broad acceptance of American power, best demonstrated by the large number of its allies and the absence of powerful nations joining the Soviet Union against it, created a unique situation in the world. No other nation in history had ever played such a role on a global scale, and arguably no other nation possibly could. The situation could not conform to a theory because it could not be replicated. It was sui generis.

Geography made it possible for the United States to play this unique role in the world, but as the 1920s and 1930s showed, the question of whether the United States would take it on was up to the American people. Nothing required them to play such an abnormal part in world affairs. During the cold war, they did it primarily out of fear of communism. But what would happen when the Soviet Union disappeared and the threat of communism vanished? The question seemed moot for four excruciatingly long decades when no one ever really expected the Soviet Union to give up the geopolitical competition. But the unanticipated fall of the Soviet empire and the collapse of international communism after 1989 inevitably raised anew the question of how to define America’s purpose and its interests in the absence of an obvious threat. Suddenly, Americans were back to where Roosevelt had left off in the early 1940s, when the challenge had been to avoid the mistakes of the 1920s and 1930s. But would anyone remember the original grand strategy, devised in the brief moment before the Soviet Union arose to dominate American strategic thinking? Would the original grand strategy still seem relevant at the end of the twentieth century? Or had Americans, as the political scientist Robert Osgood worried in the 1950s, “become so transfixed by their fears of communism” that they had forgotten “what they are for in their obsession with what they are against”?

End of Part 3
Part 4

When the cold war ended, many did believe that the United States could finally unburden itself of the vast global responsibilities that it had shouldered for more than four decades. As in the 1920s, the world of the early 1990s seemed safe enough. The former Soviet Union was in a state of economic and political collapse; China, following the Tiananmen Square massacre, was diplomatically and economically isolated. Americans’ biggest concern at the time was the booming economy of Japan, which, as it turned out, was just about to fall into 20 years of stagnation. So what grave threat required America to continue its abnormal, outsized role in the world? Could not the United States return to being more of a normal nation with a more normal definition of its national interests?

In September 1990, in an article titled “A Normal Country in a Normal Time,” Jeane Kirkpatrick argued precisely that. With the Soviet Union collapsing, there was no longer a “pressing need for heroism and sacrifice.” The cold war had given foreign policy “an unnatural importance” in American life. The “foreign policy elite” had grown accustomed to thinking of the United States as having “expansive, expensive, global purposes” that “transcended ... apparent American interests.” It was time for the United States “to focus again on its own national interests,” by which she meant national interests as “conventionally conceived”—“to protect its territory, wealth, and access to necessary goods; to defend its nationals.” This was the “normal condition for nations.”

Kirkpatrick expressed what many felt after the fall of the Berlin Wall in 1989, and not just the followers of Patrick Buchanan, who found much to praise in her essay. Francis Fukuyama also argued that with communism vanquished and democracy triumphant, there were no other great geopolitical or ideological challenges on the horizon. The chief threat of the future­—as he suggested in his famous essay “The End of History?”—would be boredom, the empty tediousness of life lived under a vapid, soul-killing Western liberalism. Others noted Paul Kennedy’s warnings about “imperial overstretch” and worried that America’s extensive global military commitments, no longer justified by a Soviet enemy, would put it at a disadvantage in a world where geoeconomics trumped geopolitics. Realists called for a sharp retraction of American military commitments overseas, the withdrawal of troops from Europe and Asia, and even a return to what they called the “offshore balancing” of the 1920s and 1930s.

Still, and remarkably, for the first two decades of the post-cold-war era the United States pursued the original pre-cold-war grand strategy. The event that set the tone for the next dozen years was comparatively minor. In August 1990, Saddam Hussein’s Iraqi army invaded Kuwait, and in a matter of days conquered and annexed it. Brutal though the action was, by comparison with the seismic events of the bloody twentieth century, it was small beer. The border between the two nations, like most boundaries in the Arab world, had been arbitrarily drawn by the British Empire. Kuwait had been under Iraqi suzerainty under the Ottomans, and leaders in Baghdad had long regarded it as an Iraqi province. Saddam further justified the invasion as support for an allegedly popular (though largely manufactured) rebellion against the Kuwaiti royal family.

Inside and outside the Bush administration, self-described realists argued that the United States draw the line not at Kuwait but at Saudi Arabia. Kuwait’s oil was not that important, Colin Powell argued, and the risks of “a major confrontation” with Saddam and his army were high, so the “most prudent” option would be to defend the Saudis. “We can’t make a case for losing lives for Kuwait,” Powell argued, “but Saudi Arabia is different.” Dick Cheney worried that driving Saddam out of Kuwait was going to cost “one hell of a lot of money,” that Americans had a “short tolerance for war,” and that, after all, “the oil goes mostly to Japan.” James Baker took a similar view, as did a majority of Democrats in Congress, as did a majority of Americans. A poll taken in November 1990 showed that 51 percent of Americans were opposed to trying to drive the Iraqis out of Kuwait by force and that only 37 percent were in favor of it. Most favored economic sanctions to punish Saddam.

Other Bush advisers, however, led by Brent Scowcroft, saw things differently. Saddam’s invasion, they believed, was “the first test of the postwar system.” For half a century the United States had taken the lead role in deterring and punishing would-be aggressors. Although driving Iraqi forces out of Kuwait would be “costly and risky,” Scowcroft feared that failure to do so would set “a terrible precedent—one that would only accelerate violent centrifugal tendencies—in this emerging ‘post-Cold War’ era.” Appeasement of aggression in one region would breed aggression elsewhere. To President Bush, it was all reminiscent of the 1930s. This time, he recalled in his memoirs, “I wanted no appeasement.” Speaking to the American people on the eve of war, Bush described American objectives not in terms of national interests but in terms of a “new world order,” in which “the rule of law, not the law of the jungle, governs the conduct of nations.” Much like Roosevelt in 1939, he argued that “a world in which brutality and lawlessness are allowed to go unchecked isn’t the kind of world we’re going to want to live in.”

Thus did Roosevelt’s original grand strategy—the defense of a liberal world order against collapse, responding not to any single, specific threat but to whatever political, economic, or strategic challenges might arise—seem to reemerge after the long cold war. After 1990, the United States, despite occasional protectionist pressures at home, generally sought to expand free trade and worked in cooperation with other governments, even at moments of economic crisis, to prevent a collapse of the global economic system. The United States also undertook to expand its alliance system, especially in Central and Eastern Europe.

In the decade following the fall of the Berlin Wall, moreover, the United States also conducted a number of sizeable military operations—seven to be precise, roughly one every 17 months: in Panama (1989), Iraq (1991), Somalia (1992), Haiti (1994), Bosnia (1995), Iraq again (1998), and Kosovo (1999). None were a response to perceived threats to vital national interests. All aimed at defending and extending the liberal world order—by toppling dictators, reversing coups, and attempting to restore democracies in Panama and Haiti; preventing mass killing or starvation in Somalia, Bosnia, and Kosovo; deterring or reversing aggression in the Persian Gulf in 1991; and attempting to prevent the proliferation of nuclear or other weapons of mass destruction in Iraq in 1998. When Bush sent 30,000 troops to remove the corrupt dictator Manuel Noriega, it was not, as George Will wrote approvingly at the time, in order to pursue national interests “narrowly construed,” but to fulfill “the rights and responsibilities that come with the possession of great power.” When Bush then carried out in Somalia what was arguably the most purely humanitarian, and therefore most purely selfless, intervention in American history, he told the public, “I understand that the United States alone cannot right the world’s wrongs.” But the “people of Somalia need ... our help” and “some crises in the world cannot be resolved without American involvement.”

The United States, in short, was the “indispensable nation,” as Bill Clinton would proclaim—indispensable, that is, to the preservation of a liberal world order. Such was the thinking behind most of Clinton’s foreign policy initiatives: the enlargement of NATO, which included the extension of unprecedented military guarantees to such nations as Poland, the Czech Republic, and the Baltic states; the billions sent to try to save Boris Yeltsin’s faltering democratic experiment in Russia; and the intense focus on containing North Korea, Iraq, and Iran, designated as “rogue states” because they defied the principles of a liberal world order. Conflicts in remote and troubled parts of the world were not considered irrelevant to American interests but were viewed within this broader context. After the massacre at Srebrenica in 1995, Clinton officials argued, according to David Halberstam, that “Serb aggression” was intolerable— not because it threatened American interests directly, which obviously it did not, but because it tore at “the very fabric of the West.”

Even the American confrontation with Iraq, beginning in the late 1990s and culminating in the U.S. invasion in 2003, had begun as a world order issue, before it became subsumed by George W. Bush’s “War on Terror.” When President Clinton ordered four days of bombing and missile attacks against suspected Iraqi weapons production facilities at the end of 1998, he warned that, if Saddam were not stopped, “The community of nations may see more and more of the very kind of threat Iraq poses now: a rogue state with weapons of mass destruction, ready to use them or provide them to terrorists. ... If we fail to respond today, Saddam and all those who would follow in his footsteps will be emboldened tomorrow.” In the twentieth century, Americans had “often made the difference between chaos and community, fear and hope. Now, in the new century, we’ll have a remarkable opportunity to shape a future more peaceful than the past.” At the end of the day, George W. Bush’s decision to remove Saddam Hussein, whether that decision was wise or foolish, was driven more by concerns for world order than by narrow self-interest. Of all the American interventions of the post-cold-war era, only the invasion of Afghanistan could be understood as directly related to America’s own national security.

The long interventions in Iraq and Afghanistan certainly played a part in undermining American support, not just for wars but for the grand strategy that led to those wars. However, that support had been shaky from the beginning. Polls throughout the 1990s showed Americans wary of overseas interventions, even though the public generally supported their presidents when they used force. Opposition parties generally opposed the interventions undertaken by both Democratic and Republican presidents. Democrats voted against George H. W. Bush’s Persian Gulf war; Republicans opposed the Clinton administration’s interventions in Haiti and the Balkans as superfluous “international social work” and “nation-building” that were divorced from American national interests. Realists in the academy and the think tanks pecked away at successive administrations, warning of overreach and “imperialism.” Perhaps like the cartoon character that runs beyond the edge of the cliff and hangs with legs churning in the air before falling, support for the globally active policies of the 1990s was a kind of forward inertia, fueled by the energy of the late cold war, and gravity was eventually going to bring it to Earth.

The conventional wisdom these days is that Americans are war-weary. But it may be more accurate to say they are world-weary. During the cold war, after all, Americans had much greater reason for war-weariness—Korea and Vietnam were 14 times more costly in terms of American deaths than Afghanistan and Iraq—but they never fully rejected the global anti- communist containment strategy that had gotten them into the wars. Today’s mood seems more analogous to the 1920s. More than 50 percent of Americans today believe that the United States “should mind its own business internationally and let other countries get along the best they can on their own”—the highest number ever recorded since Pew started asking the question 50 years ago.

At the core of this public attitude is no doubt the desire to avoid more wars. But as the 1920s and 1930s showed, a determination to stay out of war can affect broader foreign and economic policies. In the 1930s, the desire to avoid war led Congress to pass the Neutrality Acts, to prevent Americans from even trading with belligerents in a foreign war lest the United States be dragged in on one side or the other. Such an action may be inconceivable today, but the reasoning behind it is visible. Polls these days show that Americans are not only averse to using military force but also to actions short of war. More than 50 percent agreed that it was “more important” that the United States “not get too involved in the situation in Ukraine” than that it “take a firm stand” against Russia, which 29 percent found more important. Many of those not wanting to get “too involved” may fear that any involvement could eventually lead to a possible military confrontation—and they’re not entirely wrong. As in the 1920s and 1930s, Americans can see the slippery slope.

End of Part 4
Part 5

Historians often refer to the “maturing” of American foreign policy since the nineteenth century. But if nations can learn, they can also unlearn. These days it is hard to watch both the conduct and the discussion of American foreign policy and not sense a certain unlearning, a forgetting of the old lessons on which the grand strategy was premised. Perhaps this was inevitable. World War II is as distant from today’s “millennials” as the Civil War was from the generation of the 1930s. A generation that does not remember the cold war, but grew up knowing only Iraq and Afghanistan, is going to view America’s role in the world differently. Combine that with the older generations that have tired of playing the old role, and it is hardly surprising that enthusiasm is flagging. Americans today are not isolationists, any more than they were in the 1920s. They favor the liberal world order insofar as they can see how it touches them. But they are no longer prepared to sacrifice very much to uphold it.

This is understandable. Americans have been Atlas carrying the world on their shoulders. They can be forgiven for feeling the temptation to put it down. Under the best of circumstances, playing the role of upholder of the liberal world order was always a monumental task. At the dawn of the American era, Truman called it “the most terrible responsibility that any nation ever faced.” George Kennan was convinced that the American people were “not fitted, either institutionally or temperamentally, to be an imperial power in the grand manner.” Actually, he underestimated them, for Americans maintained their global commitments for decades, better than most nations.

Yet the burden has been immense, and not just the obvious costs in lives and treasure. Americans have spent vast amounts on defense budgets, more than all other major powers combined. Can’t U.S. allies carry more of the burden? The question has been asked since the dawn of the cold war, but the answer has always been: probably not. The same factors that have made the United States uniquely capable of supporting a world order—great wealth and power and the relative security afforded by geography—help explain why American allies have always been less capable and less willing. They have lacked the power and the security to see and act beyond their narrow interests. So where they failed before they will fail again. Even twenty-first-century Europeans, for all the wonders of their union, seem incapable of uniting against a predator in their midst, and are willing, as in the past, to have the weak devoured if necessary to save their own (financial) skins. There are moral costs, too. Like most people, Americans generally like to believe that they are behaving justly in the world, that they are on the side of the right. If possible, they like to have legal or institutional sanctions for their action, or at least the general approval of like-minded nations. On the two occasions in the past 100 years when the United States contemplated taking on a central role in global affairs, in 1918 and 1945, American leaders insisted on simultaneously creating world organizations that could, at least in theory, provide this legitimacy for American actions.

The problem is, the world lacks any genuine overarching legal or institutional authority, much less a democratic authority, to which all nations subordinate themselves. Questions of right and wrong are settled not according to impartial justice but usually according to the distribution of power in the system. Americans have usually had to use their power to enforce their idea of justice without any assurance beyond their own faith that they are right. This is a heavy moral burden for a democratic people to bear. In their domestic lives, Americans are accustomed to having that burden spread evenly across society. The people make the laws, the police enforce the laws, judges and juries mete out justice, and the prison officials carry out the punishment. But in the international sphere, Americans have had to act as judge, jury, police, and, in the case of military action, executioner. What gives the United States the right to act on behalf of a liberal world order? In truth, nothing does, nothing beyond the conviction that the liberal world order is the most just.

This moral conundrum was easier to ignore during the cold war, when every action taken, even in the most obscure corners of the world, was justified as being in defense of vital national interests. But actions taken in defense of world order are fraught with moral complexity. Americans and Europeans argue that Ukraine’s sovereignty should be inviolate and that the people of Ukraine should be allowed to pursue their aspirations to be part of Europe. Vladimir Putin justifies his invasion of Crimea on the grounds of ancient historical ties and in response to American and European meddling in Russia’s historical sphere of influence. Who is there to adjudicate between these competing claims of justice? Who can determine which side is right and which side is wrong? It does no good to invoke some allegedly superior twenty-first-century morality against an inferior nineteenth-century morality. No more in this century than in previous centuries is there either perfect morality or perfect justice to be found in the international system. Nor do great powers come to disputes with clean hands, in this or any other century. All are selfish; all are morally compromised. And indeed, the more power a nation has, the more it is likely to act in ways that cannot be squared with a Christian or Enlightenment morality.

Who is to say that even defense of the liberal world order is necessarily good? The liberal world order was never put to a popular vote. It was not bequeathed by God. It is not the endpoint of human progress, despite what our Enlightenment education tells us. It is a temporary and transient world order that suits the needs, interests, and above all the ideals of a large and powerful collection of people, but it does not necessarily fit the needs and desires of everyone. For decades many abroad and some Americans at home saw it as a form of Western imperialism, and many still do. Communism may have failed, but authoritarianism and autocracy live on. And it is that form of government, not democracy, that has been the norm throughout history. In recent decades the democracies, led by the United States and Europe, have had the power to shape the world. But who is to say that Putinism in Russia or the particular brand of authoritarianism practiced in China will not survive as far into the future as European democracy, which, outside of Great Britain, is itself only a little over a century old?

A liberal world order, like any world order, is something that is imposed, and as much as we in the West might wish it to be imposed by superior virtue, it is generally imposed by superior power. Putin seeks to impose his view of a world order, at least in Russia’s neighborhood, just as Europe and the United States do. Whether he succeeds or fails will probably not be determined merely by who is right and who is wrong. It will be determined by the exercise of power.

This is a disturbing thought for a nation that has grown weary of exercising power. Hans Morgenthau once observed that Americans are attracted to the “illusion that a nation can escape ... from power politics,” that at some point “the final curtain would fall and the game of power politics would no longer be played.” Many escapes have been offered over the past two decades. In 1989, Fukuyama told Americans that with the end of history there would be no more “serious ideological competitors left to liberal democracy.” Liberal progress was inevitable, and therefore nothing need be done to promote or defend it. Such thoughts were echoed throughout the 1990s. The age of geopolitics had supposedly given way to the age of geoeconomics. What America needed in the new era was less “hard power” and more “soft power.”

Such was the reigning conventional wisdom, at least from the end of the cold war until 2008 and the beginning of the financial crisis. Then the paradigm shifted. Suddenly, instead of the end of history, it was the end of America, the end of the West. Triumphalism turned to declinism. From the post-cold-war utopia it became the post-American world. Yet this, too, turned out to be a form of escapism, for remarkably, whether the liberal world order was triumphing or America and the West were declining, the prescription remained the same: There was nothing to be done. Whereas before it had been unnecessary, and even wrong, for the United States to use its power to shape the world, now, suddenly, it was impossible, because the United States no longer had sufficient power.

Today more than 50 percent of Americans believe the United States plays “a less important and powerful role as a world leader than it did a decade ago.” One senses that, for many Americans, this decline is not a reason for panic but comes as something of a relief. Less power means fewer responsibilities. A sense of futility, today as much as in the 1920s and 1930s, is both an invitation and a justification for a return to normalcy.

The sense of futility has affected policymakers, too. Senior White House officials, especially the younger ones, look at problems like the struggle in Syria and believe that there is little if anything the United States can do. This is the lesson of their generation, the lesson of Iraq and Afghanistan: that America has neither the power nor the understanding nor the skill to fix problems in the world.

This is also escapism, however, for there is a myth embedded in this plea of futility. It is that wielding power effectively was ever any easier than it is today. With rose-colored glasses we look back at the cold war and imagine that the United States used to get others to do what it wanted, used to know what it was doing, and used to wield such overwhelming power that the world simply bent to its will or succumbed to its charms. But American policy during the cold war, despite its ultimate success, was filled with errors, folly, many near-disasters, and some disasters. From the beginning, allies proved rebellious, resentful, and unmanageable. American domestic politics made sensible policies difficult and sometimes impossible to sustain. The world economy, and the American economy, lurched from crisis to crisis. American military power was at its best a most uncertain instrument. In Vietnam, whether inevitably or because of bad policymaking in Washington, it failed miserably. In Korea, it almost suffered a complete catastrophe. The most successful presidents of the era, from Truman to Reagan, did not always seem successful to their contemporaries and suffered significant setbacks in their foreign policies. Can the architects of today’s foreign policies really believe that Acheson and his colleagues, or the policymakers in the Johnson or Nixon or Carter administrations, had an easier time of it?

Any nation’s foreign policy is bound to fail more often than it succeeds. The attempt to influence the behavior of people even in the domestic setting is difficult enough. To influence other peoples and other nations without simply annihilating them is the most difficult of all human tasks. It is also in the very nature of foreign policy, as in human affairs generally, that all solutions to problems only breed more problems. This is certainly true of all wars. There is no perfect ending to any war, even those fought with the clearest and most straightforward of objectives. The Civil War did not put an end to the terrible plight of blacks in America, though it cost over half a million lives. World War II ended with the Soviet Union in control of half of Europe and opened the way to another four decades of superpower confrontation.

When a nation uses its power to shape a world order, rather than merely for self-defense or conquest, the tenuousness of solutions is even more pronounced. Military actions for world order preservation are almost by definition limited both in scope and objectives. World order maintenance requires operating in the gray areas between victory and defeat. The measure of success is often not how wonderful the end result is, but whether the unsatisfying end result is better or worse than the outcome if there had been no action. To insist on outcomes that always achieve maximum ends at minimal cost is yet another form of escapism.

Today, however, Americans seem overwhelmed by the difficulty and complexity of it all. They yearn to return to what Niebuhr called “the innocency of irresponsibility,” or at least to a normalcy in which the United States can limit the scope of its commitments. In this way America has perhaps returned to the mood of the 1920s. There is a difference, however. In the 1920s, it was not America’s world order that needed shoring up. Americans felt, mistakenly as it turned out, that it was Britain’s and Europe’s job to preserve the world order they had created. Today, it is America’s world order that needs propping up. Will Americans decide that it matters this time, when only they have the capacity to sustain it?

End of Part 5

Part 6 ... the last Part!


You never miss the water ’til the well runs dry, or so the saying goes. One wonders whether Americans, including their representatives and their president, quite understand what is at stake. When President Obama first took office five years ago, Peter Baker of The New York Times reported that he intended to deal “with the world as it is rather than as it might be.” It is a standard realist refrain and has been repeated time and again by senior Obama officials as a way of explaining why he decided against pursuing some desirable but unreachable “ideal” in this place or that. What fewer and fewer seem to realize, however, is that the last 70 years have offered Americans and many others something of a reprieve from the world “as it is.”

Periods of peace and prosperity can make people forget what the world “as it is” really looks like, and to conclude that the human race has simply ascended to some higher plateau of being. This was the common view in Europe in the first decade of the twentieth century. At a time when there had not been a war between great powers in 40 years, or a major Europe-wide war in a century, the air was filled with talk of a new millennium in which wars among civilized nations had become impossible. Three-quarters of a century and two world wars and a cold war later, millennial thoughts return. Studies cited by Fareed Zakaria purport to show that some “transformation of international relations” has occurred. “Changes of borders by force” have dropped dramatically “since 1946.” The nations of Western Europe, having been responsible for two new wars a year for 600 years, had not even started one “since 1945.” Steven Pinker observes that the number of deaths from war, ethnic conflict, and military coups has declined—since 1945—and concludes that the human race has become “socialized” to prefer peace and nonviolence.

The dates when these changes supposedly began ought to be a tip-off. Is it a coincidence that these happy trends began when the American world order was established after World War II, or that they accelerated in the last two decades of the twentieth century, when America’s only serious competitor collapsed? Imagine strolling through Central Park and, after noting how much safer it had become, deciding that humanity must simply have become less violent—without thinking that perhaps the New York Police Department had something to do with it.

In fact, the world “as it is” is a dangerous and often brutal place. There has been no transformation in human behavior or in international relations. In the twenty-first century, no less than in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries, force remains the ultima ratio. The question, today as in the past, is not whether nations are willing to resort to force but whether they believe they can get away with it when they do. If there has been less aggression, less ethnic cleansing, less territorial conquest over the past 70 years, it is because the United States and its allies have both punished and deterred aggression, have intervened, sometimes, to prevent ethnic cleansing, and have gone to war to reverse territorial conquest. The restraint showed by other nations has not been a sign of human progress, the strengthening of international institutions, or the triumph of the rule of law. It has been a response to a global configuration of power that, until recently, has made restraint seem the safer course.

When Vladimir Putin failed to achieve his goals in Ukraine through political and economic means, he turned to force, because he believed that he could. He will continue to use force so long as he believes that the payoff exceeds the cost. Nor is he unique in this respect. What might China do were it not hemmed in by a ring of powerful nations backed by the United States? For that matter, what would Japan do if it were much more powerful and much less dependent on the United States for its security? We have not had to find out the answers to these questions, not yet, because American predominance, the American alliance system, and the economic, political, and institutional aspects of the present order, all ultimately dependent on power, have mostly kept the lid closed on this Pandora’s box.

Nor have we had to find out yet what the world “as it is” would do to the remarkable spread of democracy. Skeptics of “democracy promotion” argue that the United States has often tried to plant democracy in infertile soil. They may be right. The widespread flowering of democracy around the world in recent decades may prove to have been artificial and therefore tenuous. As Michael Ignatieff once observed, it may be that “liberal civilization” itself “runs deeply against the human grain and is achieved and sustained only by the most unremitting struggle against human nature.” Perhaps this fragile democratic garden requires the protection of a liberal world order, with constant feeding, watering, weeding, and the fencing off of an ever-encroaching jungle. In the absence of such efforts, the weeds and the jungle may sooner or later come back to reclaim the land.

One wonders if even the current economic order reflects the world “as it is.” A world in which autocracies make ever more ambitious attempts to control the flow of information, and in which autocratic kleptocracies use national wealth and resources to further their private interests, may prove less hospitable to the kind of free flow of commerce the world has come to appreciate in recent decades.

In fact, from the time that Roosevelt and Truman first launched it, the whole project of promoting and defending a liberal world order has been a concerted effort not to accept the world “as it is.” The American project has aimed at shaping a world different from what had always been, taking advantage of America’s unique situation to do what no nation had ever been able to do. Today, however, because many Americans no longer recall what the world “as it is” really looks like, they cannot imagine it. They bemoan the burdens and failures inherent in the grand strategy but take for granted all the remarkable benefits.

Nor do they realize, perhaps, how quickly it can all unravel. The international system is an elaborate web of power relationships, in which every nation, from the biggest to the smallest, is constantly feeling for shifts or disturbances. Since 1945, and especially since 1989, the web has been geared to respond primarily to the United States. Allies observe American behavior and calculate America’s reliability. Nations hemmed in or threatened by American power watch for signs of growing or diminishing power and will. When the United States appears to retrench, allies necessarily become anxious, while others look for opportunities.

In recent years, the world has picked up unmistakable signals that Americans may no longer want to carry the burden of global responsibility. Others read the polls, read the president’s speeches calling for “nation-building at home,” see the declining defense budgets and defense capabilities, and note the extreme reticence, on the part of both American political parties, about using force. The world judges that, were it not for American war-weariness, the United States probably would by now have used force in Syria—just as it did in Kosovo, in Bosnia, and in Panama. President Obama himself recently acknowledged as much when he said, “It’s not that it’s not worth it. It’s that after a decade of war, you know, the United States has limits.” Such statements set the web vibrating. In East Asia, nations living in close proximity to an increasingly powerful China want to know whether Americans will make a similar kind of calculation when it comes to defending them; in the Middle East, nations worried about Iran wonder if they will be left to confront it alone; in Eastern Europe and the Baltic states, American security guarantees are meaningless unless Americans are able and willing to meet them.

Are they? No one has taken a poll lately on whether the United States should come to the defense of its treaty allies in the event of a war between, say, China and Japan; or whether it should come to the defense of Estonia in a Ukraine-like conflict with Russia. The answers might prove interesting.

Meanwhile, the signs of the global order breaking down are all around us. Russia’s invasion of Ukraine and seizure of Crimea was the first time since World War II that a nation in Europe had engaged in territorial conquest. If Iran manages to acquire a nuclear weapon, it will likely lead other powers in the region to do the same, effectively undoing the nonproliferation regime, which, along with American power, has managed to keep the number of nuclear-armed powers limited over the past half century. Iran, Saudi Arabia, and Russia are engaged in a proxy war in Syria that, in addition to the 150,000 dead and the millions displaced, has further destabilized a region that had already been in upheaval. In East Asia, nervousness about China’s rise, combined with uncertainty about America’s commitment, is exacerbating tensions. In recent years the number of democracies around the world has been steadily declining, while the number of autocracies grows. If these trends continue, in the near future we are likely to see increasing conflict, increasing wars over territory, greater ethnic and sectarian violence, and a shrinking world of democracies.

How will Americans respond? If the test is once again to be “national interests” narrowly construed, then Americans may find all of this tolerable, or at least preferable to doing something to stop it. Could the United States survive if Syria remains under the control of Assad or, more likely, disintegrates into a chaos of territories, some of which will be controlled by jihadi terrorists? Could it survive if Iran acquires a nuclear weapon, and if in turn Saudi Arabia, Turkey, and Egypt acquire nuclear weapons? Or if North Korea launches a war on the South? Could it survive in a world where China dominates much of East Asia, or where China and Japan resume their old conflict? Could it survive in a world where Russia dominates Eastern Europe, including not only Ukraine but the Baltic states and perhaps even Poland? Of course it could. From the point of view of strict “necessity” and narrow national interest, the United States could survive all of this. It could trade with a dominant China and work out a modus vivendi with a restored Russian empire. Those alarmed by such developments will be hard-pressed, as Roosevelt was, to explain how each marginal setback would affect the parochial interests of the average American. As in the past, Americans will be among the last to suffer grievously from a breakdown of world order. And by the time they do feel the effects, it may be very late in the day.

Looking back on the period before World War II, Robert Osgood, the most thoughtful of realist thinkers of the past century, discerned a critical element missing from the strategic analyses of the day. Mere rational calculations of the “national interest,” he argued, proved inadequate. Paradoxically, it was the “idealists,” those who were “most sensitive to the Fascist menace to Western culture and civilization,” who were “among the first to understand the necessity of undertaking revolutionary measures to sustain America’s first line of defense in Europe.” Idealism, he concluded, was “an indispensable spur to reason in leading men to perceive and act upon the real imperatives of power politics.” This was Roosevelt’s message, too, when he asked Americans to defend “not their homes alone, but the tenets of faith and humanity on which their churches, their governments, and their very civilization are founded.”

Perhaps Americans can be inspired in this way again, without the threat of a Hitler or an attack on their homeland. But this time they will not have 20 years to decide. The world will change much more quickly than they imagine. And there is no democratic superpower waiting in the wings to save the world if this democratic superpower falters.

End of Part 6

Why does this matter?

Countries, Canada, too, do things for reasons ... they send you to sea, in harm's way, or into battle for what you need to hope are good geo-political reasons. It helps to consider why natons, not just national leaders, make the choices they do. Why was America so resolutely isolationist in the 1920s and '30s? Why is it so timid today? Robert Kagan helps to answer those questions.
Here is a (blessedly short) provocative look at geopolitics from a pretty well qualified source, Prof Randall Schweller. It is reproduced under the Fair Dealing provisions of the Copyright Act from Foreign Affairs:


The Age of Entropy
Why the New World Order Won't Be Orderly

By Randall L. Schweller

June 16, 2014

Since the beginning of the twenty-first century, foreign policy experts have been predicting that the United States' days as global hegemon are coming to a close. But rather than asking themselves which country is most likely to replace the United States, they ought to be asking themselves whether the concept of global hegemony still applies in our era.

It increasingly seems that the world will no longer have a single superpower, or group of superpowers, that brings order to international politics. Instead, it will have a variety of powers -- including nations, multinational corporations, ideological movements, global crime and terror groups, and human rights organizations -- jockeying with each other, mostly unsuccessfully, to achieve their goals. International politics is transforming from a system anchored in predictable, and relatively constant, principles to a system that is, if not inherently unknowable, far more erratic, unsettled, and devoid of behavioral regularities. In terms of geopolitics, we have moved from an age of order to an age of entropy.

Entropy is a scientific concept that measures disorder: the higher the entropy, the higher the disorder. And disorder is precisely what will characterize the future of international politics. In this leaderless world, threats are much more likely to be cold than hot; danger will come less frequently in the form of shooting wars among great powers than diffuse disagreements over geopolitical, monetary, trade, and environmental issues. Problems and crises will arise more frequently and, when they do, will be resolved less cooperatively.


How did we get here? The shift began in the twentieth century, with the advent of nuclear weapons and the spread of economic globalization, which together have made war among the great powers unthinkable. As many scholars have pointed out, the world has enjoyed the longest period of relative peace in recorded history. The absence of cataclysmic wars among great powers has obviously been a great boon. But it has also come at a real cost. For the past several centuries, wars between the extant power in the international system and the rising challenger or challengers have occurred every hundred years or so, crowning a new leading power, which is responsible for organizing international politics and shouldering the burdens of global leadership.

In crowning new kings, these hegemonic wars also obliterated the old orders, wiping the institutional slate clean so that a new global architecture, better suited to the times, could be built from scratch. The wars were thus a good thing in some sense, because they replenished the international system with new energy in service of world order and lasting peace. In their absence, we no longer have a force of “creative destruction” capable of resetting the world. And just as seas become foul without the blowing of the winds, prolonged peace allows inertia and decay to set in.

Power is already more diffuse than it ever has been. And it is growing more so by the year. The United States remains an important power, but it knows that it no longer towers over all contenders. Plagued by ballooning debt, Washington has narrowed its foreign policy to a few basic objectives. Yet the deterioration of Pax Americana is not due solely to the United States' declining power. It is also a problem of will -- one rooted in fading national resolve to use those power advantages that the United States still enjoys.

Interactions between political actors are also characterized by greater entropy. The digital revolution has allowed information to spread farther than ever before, empowering average citizens, celebrities, corporations, terrorists, religious movements, and shadowy transnational criminal groups. The power these groups can exert, however, is unconventional. They have the power to disrupt, to stop things from happening, but they don’t have the power to enact their own agendas. Twitter, Facebook, and text messaging have allowed citizens to organize massive demonstrations and topple dictatorial governments. But there is little reason to believe that citizens organized via social media are able to institute political changes.


Entropy is not only on the rise in the international system. Individuals, too, are experiencing greater personal entropy, as they discover that they are incapable of handling the speed at which digital information is transmitted. Information rains down faster and thicker by the day. Increasingly, modern people may feel, as the psychologist and philosopher William James did in 1899, that an “irremediable flatness is coming over the world.” Flatness here refers to a general sense of banality and loss of meaning. Rather than a heightened sense of stimulation and awareness, information overload produces boredom and alienation. As the economist Herbert A. Simon has explained, a “wealth of information creates a poverty of attention.” This is because in “an information-rich world, the wealth of information means a dearth of something else: a scarcity of whatever it is that information consumes. What information consumes is rather obvious: it consumes the attention of its recipients.”

In that sense, modern society suffers from collective attention deficit disorder. No matter how much we pump up our brains with drugs originally intended to treat Alzheimer’s and narcolepsy or attempt to “train” our brains using Cogmed or Lumosity, we are likely to remain terminally distracted by the flood of digital information from Google, Twitter, e-mail, RSS readers, Netflix, Firefox tabs, and Flickr photostreams. Organizations, too, face this problem. The U.S. National Security Agency alone intercepts and stores nearly two billion separate e-mails, phone calls, and other communications every day. “The complexity of this system defies description,” lamented John R. Vines, a retired U.S. Army general who reviewed the U.S. Defense Department’s intelligence efforts last year. “We consequently can’t effectively assess whether it is making us more safe.”

Having greater quantities of information at our fingertips has not produced greater wisdom. Instead, it has led to information entropy. As the volume of information processed or diffused increases, the information becomes noise. In the digital age, information is routinely distorted, buried in noise, or otherwise impossible to interpret. The result is that people respond to the many contradictory “facts” and “informed opinions” being hurled at them by essentially selecting and interpreting facts in ways that accord with their own personal, idiosyncratic, and often flat-wrong ideas about the world. Knowledge no longer rests on objective information but, rather, on seductive “true enough” facts. Knowledge that is pocked with holes but that seems true enough will continue to hold sway over those who simply want to believe something that feels right.


The new world of rising structural and informational entropy means that history can no longer repeat itself. We will not endure the hell brought on by a world war, for example, or by utter economic catastrophe. But this lasting peace won’t be the heaven on earth that one might wish for either. Instead, we are on the cusp of an eternal purgatory. It will be a world full of confusion and instability. The age of entropy will be a time of restless disorder, an aimless but forceful hostility to the status quo -- a hostility that inspires the pervasive use of the dismissive prefixes anti- and post- (as in anti-Western, post-American, postmodern) and the promise to reinvent much or all of the present global order and its associated institutions. But the hope that getting rid of “what is” will by itself spawn something new and workable to take its place is just that, mere hope. In his Delphic interview with Time, former Egyptian President Mohamed Morsi put it this way: “The world is now much more difficult than it was during your revolution. It’s even more difficult. The world. More complicated, complex, difficult. It’s a spaghetti-like structure. It’s mixed up.”

None of this is to suggest that we will inhabit a miserable world of endless gloom and doom, that we and future generations are fated to endure wretched lives of perpetual unhappiness. Although we can’t reverse the process of information overload, we can figure out how best to adapt, and maybe even learn how to turn floods of information into useful and reliable knowledge. There are no strategies that can guarantee success. But the focus should be on creating decentralized and self-organizing networks that are capable of responding to rapidly changing environments.

The age of entropy will not be a utopia, but it need not bring us to despair. Disorder does not suppress all that is good in the world. Without great wars, we have enjoyed prosperous and peaceful times. Nor is disorder itself something to fear or loathe. “The struggle itself,” as Albert Camus famously pointed out, “is enough to fill a man's heart. One must imagine Sisyphus happy." Like Sisyphus, we need to embrace the unknowable, to accept our unintelligible world and our futile struggle to come to terms with its incomprehensibility. For better or worse, we have no other choice.

I think his points about information overload (and its restrictive rather than liberating effect) and non-state actors (including corporations, organized crime, international humanitarian organizations and terrorists) both merit consideration and discussion.
I'm living the dream, the current projects I am working on likely contain roughly 60,000+ pages of information at the Environmental Assessment level and that is not counting the lower level technical documents. I spent yesterday on a teleconference, while scanning 3,000 pages and dealing with my e-mail, this is becoming the norm.
Part 1 of 2

More words, I'm afraid ...  :bla-bla: ... this time in an essay by James B Steinberg and Michael E Hanlon which is reproduced under the Fair Dealing provisions of the Copyright Act from Foreign Affairs. This essay suggests that "More signals, less noise," "each side [being] clear about its true redlines and the price, at least in general terms, it is willing to pay to defend them ... can be enough to help keep full-scale conflict at bay, an outcome that prudent people on both sides should be seeking:"


Keep Hope Alive
How to Prevent U.S.-Chinese Relations From Blowing Up

By James B. Steinberg and Michael O'Hanlon

From the July/August 2014 issue

At their summit in California last June, U.S. President Barack Obama and Chinese President Xi Jinping committed themselves to building trust between their countries. Since then, new official forums for communication have been launched (such as the military-to-military dialogues recently announced by the two countries’ defense ministers), complementing existing forums such as the Strategic and Economic Dialogue (which features the countries’ top diplomats and economic officials). But despite these efforts, trust in both capitals -- and in the countries at large -- remains scarce, and the possibility of an accidental or even intentional conflict between the United States and China seems to be growing. Given the vast potential costs such a conflict would carry for both sides, figuring out how to keep it at bay is among the most important international challenges of the coming years and decades.

The factors undermining trust are easy to state. East Asia’s security and economic landscape is undergoing massive, tectonic change, driven primarily by China’s remarkable economic rise in recent decades. That economic miracle, in turn, has made it possible for China to increase its military capacity and ramp up its political role in the region and beyond. China’s leaders and prominent strategists have been at pains to insist that China’s rise will be peaceful and poses no threat to its neighbors or the existing international political and economic order. But many members of the world community remain concerned and even skeptical, noting that history and international relations theory are replete with examples of conflict arising from clashes between a dominant and a rising power.

Such skepticism has been fueled, moreover, by China’s own recent actions, from its assertive maritime operations in the East China and South China seas to its unilateral proclamation of an “air defense identification zone” around the Diaoyu Islands (known in Japan as the Senkaku Islands), in the East China Sea. And U.S. military planners have become increasingly concerned about the trajectory of China’s military modernization and about its “anti-access/area-denial” (A2/AD) doctrine, which they see as an ill-disguised effort by China to weaken the United States’ ability to defend its interests and support its alliance commitments in the western Pacific.

At the same time, the Obama team has been actively promoting its own strategic reorientation, the “pivot,” or “rebalance,” to Asia. The administration insists that its motivation is to enhance regional stability for the benefit of all, rather than to contain or threaten China. But few Chinese, particularly in the military and national security communities, are convinced. They, too, read their history and international relations theory and conclude that the United States, like most dominant powers before it, is determined to maintain its hegemonic dominance, thwarting China’s rise and keeping it vulnerable. As evidence of malign American intent, they point to enhanced U.S. capabilities, such as expanded regional missile defense; new and augmented basing arrangements in Australia, Guam, and Singapore; and recent military exercises and reconnaissance conducted close to Chinese territory, as well as the persistence of Cold War–era security alliances. And the only plausible justification for the emerging U.S. military concept of “air-sea battle,” they claim, is a desire to coerce China with the threat of a decapitating preemptive attack.

Given the uncertainty surrounding the future of Asian security, each side’s actions can be understood and legitimized as measures designed to hedge against the possibility of future hostility or aggression on the part of the other. But it is just such rational short-term thinking that can generate a longer-term spiral into even greater mistrust, making future conflict a self-fulfilling prophecy -- which is why it is crucial to find ways of transcending or minimizing such a classic security dilemma.

One way to head off unnecessary conflicts is to reduce the malign role played by misperceptions. These can emerge from two quite opposite directions: from one side either perceiving a threat where none is intended or failing to believe in the credibility of the other side’s intent to defend its interests. This means that the practical challenge for both Washington and Beijing is to dispel false fears while sustaining deterrence by making credible threats where they are seriously intended. The good news is that history and theory suggest four tools can be helpful in this regard: restraint, reciprocity, transparency, and resilience.

Restraint is the willingness to forgo actions that might enhance one’s own security but that will appear threatening to somebody else. Reciprocity is a response in kind by one side to the other’s actions -- in this case, a signal that restraint is being understood as forbearance (rather than weakness) and is being met with emulation rather than exploitation. Transparency helps allay fears that the other side’s visible positive gestures mask hidden, more hostile intentions. And resilience provides a margin of safety in keeping crises from escalating and in making it easier for either side to try to start a virtuous cycle of restraint, reciprocity, and transparency. Fortunately for everybody, there are a variety of practical measures both Washington and Beijing can take in national security policy that can bring these tools to bear in increasing trust and reducing the risk of conflict.


From Washington’s perspective, the greatest uncertainty about China’s future intentions stems from the rapid and sustained growth of Chinese military spending and the accompanying investment in sophisticated conventional armaments that challenge U.S. capabilities. It is true that even the most generous assessments of China’s current military spending -- that it approaches $200 billion annually, or about two percent of GDP -- still put it at less than a third of U.S. spending (currently $600 billion a year, or about 3.5 percent of GDP). At current rates of growth, Beijing’s annual military budget would not equal Washington’s until around 2030. And even then, the United States could rely on large accumulated stocks of modern weaponry, years of combat experience, and the spending of its allies and partners (now around $400 billion annually).

But if China wants to calm international fears and signal that its goals are legitimate self-defense rather than the ability to project power abroad and threaten others, there are several constructive steps it could take. Given that U.S. spending covers capabilities not just in Asia but around the globe, a convincing case can be made that China can achieve adequate self-defense by spending about half of what the United States does. By reducing the current rate of growth of its military budget in coming years, therefore, China could telegraph that its objective is self-defense rather than complete parity. And it could exercise restraint in acquiring weapon systems (such as long-range antiship ballistic missiles) whose purpose, especially if procured in large numbers, seems inconsistent with a claim that it welcomes the U.S. military presence in the western Pacific. More broadly, China could offer greater transparency about its military budget and spending and provide greater clarity about the goals of its A2/AD doctrine.

The United States, in turn, could take steps to make clear that its own conventional military modernization is not designed to threaten legitimate Chinese security interests. The declining U.S. military budget is one such show of restraint. But Washington could do more in this regard, such as by clarifying the purpose of its air-sea battle concept, changing the concept’s name to “air-sea operations,” including military services besides the navy and the air force more centrally in U.S. Asia policy, and modifying some of the more “offensive-minded” features of the air-sea doctrine that appear to directly threaten China’s command-and-control and strategic assets with a possible preemptive attack early in a conflict. To enhance the credibility of such doctrinal modifications, the United States could cap its procurement of long-range, precision-guided ballistic missiles and strategic bombers, which if acquired in sufficient numbers could be seen as posing an existential threat to China. By deploying a mix of conventional assets that did not require a heavy reliance on early escalation (including bases that were more effectively hardened and assets that were more survivable in the face of an attack), Washington could help mitigate a U.S.-Chinese arms race and lessen the risk of a conflict breaking out early in a crisis.


The most iconic confidence-building measures during the Cold War were strategic arms control agreements, which despite some problems ultimately helped Washington and Moscow increase crisis stability and limit offensive and defensive nuclear arms races. For various reasons, formal arms control agreements are less well suited to contemporary U.S.-Chinese relations than they were to U.S.-Soviet relations and could in some cases prove counterproductive. That said, there are a number of steps in the unconventional weapons arena that could help allay mutual suspicion and reduce the likelihood of accidental or premature escalation of conflict.

Take space, for example. Given the deep U.S. dependence on satellites for both military and civilian purposes, Chinese planners are clearly considering how to neutralize the advantages space offers for U.S. military operations. Yet precisely because of that dependence, the United States would be under pressure to act forcefully and quickly if it believed those assets were at risk, leaving little time for fact-finding or diplomacy to defuse a crisis. For this reason, measures that can enhance the security of Washington’s space assets are particularly compelling, and they will become more attractive to Beijing, too, as it increases its space capability over time. Absolute security in space cannot be guaranteed, since every maneuverable civilian satellite has the inherent capacity to destroy another satellite. But by adopting measures such as agreed-on “keep-out zones” around satellites, norms of behavior can be established that legitimate the use of force in self-defense without having such use be seen as provocative. Resilience is important here, too, as the United States will need redundancy in space and aerial systems to compensate for a certain unavoidable degree of vulnerability.

Similarly, the United States and China could agree to a treaty, ideally involving other countries as well, banning collisions or explosions that would produce debris above an altitude of roughly 1,000 miles in space, the zone where low-earth-orbit satellites routinely operate. This area is already becoming cluttered with debris in ways that could render future space operations dangerous, and since tests of missile defense systems typically take place at a lower altitude, such an arrangement would be all gain with little pain. The two sides could also agree not to develop or test dedicated antisatellite weapons or space-to-ground weapons. Testing constraints alone would not eliminate the potential for such capabilities, of course, but they could reduce the confidence each side had in them, along with the willingness to invest in and rely on what would be rendered potentially destabilizing systems of uncertain effectiveness.

Restraint can play a particularly important role in enhancing confidence in the nuclear realm. China’s restraint thus far in its nuclear deployments, for example, helps give credibility to the defensive nature of its nuclear doctrine. Similarly, U.S. restraint in deploying large numbers of ballistic missile interceptors that could neutralize China’s retaliatory capability offers reassurance of American defensive intent. Even without formal codification, continued observance of this restraint would build trust, which could be further strengthened by both sides’ ratification of the Comprehensive Nuclear Test Ban Treaty and implementation of the verification regime that accompanies it.

Such measures could be enhanced by transparency agreements, such as an “open skies” regime, which would give further credibility to each side’s restraint. This regime could build on the arrangement by which the United States and Russia, and other NATO and former Warsaw Pact states, conduct overflights of each other’s territories (at the rate of roughly 100 flights a year) under an accord dating from the early 1990s. Countries know how to protect their most precious secrets from such overflights, so the arrangement presents no true national security concerns. But such an accord could lessen Beijing’s frustration over routine U.S. reconnaissance flights near Chinese coastlines. Such flights could even be modestly reduced, as former National Security Adviser Zbigniew Brzezinski has proposed -- a step that merits serious study, particularly if China shows a willingness to reciprocate with greater transparency.

Cyberspace is especially challenging. As in space, the United States’ high degree of dependence on its cyber-infrastructure poses vulnerabilities and creates pressure to respond quickly to any attack, possibly even before its source can be fully identified. And the recent U.S. focus on “active defense” of this infrastructure seems to imply Washington’s willingness to act offensively to neutralize emerging threats, with all the attendant danger of escalating retaliation.

There are many reasons to believe that both Washington and Beijing are unlikely to target cyber-infrastructure unless and until they find themselves on the brink of a major conflict. If nothing else, the countries’ mutual economic dependence offers protection against a surprise attack. But other parties, including nonstate actors such as terrorists or hackers, might have an interest in faking such an attack in order to trigger a crisis or even war. For that reason, the United States and China should agree to joint investigation of “anonymous” cyberattacks, establishing transparency and a credible commitment to avoid targeting each other’s civilian infrastructure. And resilience is particularly important in cyberspace, since the more each side reduces its vulnerability to a “bolt from the blue” attack, the more time will be available to try to figure out what actually happened and reduce the risk of an unintended spiral of escalation.

End of Part 1
Part 2 of 2

The most likely prospect for a direct military encounter between the United States and China in the near term comes from the growing tensions in the East China and South China seas. U.S. security commitments to Japan and the Philippines, both of which have territorial disputes with China, and U.S. willingness to assert basic navigational rights in the region (which set the stage for a close encounter between the USS Cowpens and Chinese ships last December) could entangle Washington in a conflict even though the United States itself has no territorial claims in the area. These tensions are not likely to be resolved anytime soon. The actual interests at stake are small, and many of the conflicts involved could be managed were there sufficient mutual will to do so. But all involved seem to fear that any show of restraint or accommodation will be taken as a sign of weakness, leading to even more assertive behavior in the future. This makes it all the more important to find ways of preventing crises from emerging or keeping them contained once they do so.

China could provide reassurance about its intentions by agreeing to and implementing the Association of Southeast Asian Nations’ proposed code of conduct for the South China Sea. Restraining its military deployments and agreeing to operational procedures that would reduce the danger of accidents or miscalculations would make Beijing’s assertions of peaceful intent more credible, and similar procedures could be agreed on in connection with the Diaoyu/Senkaku Islands. (This is an area where the bigger policy change needs to come from Beijing; there are other areas where a disproportionate burden of the responsibility lies with Washington, such as in a reduction in the size of offensive nuclear forces in coordination with Russia.)

U.S. and Chinese officials, moreover, need to establish better mechanisms for clear and direct communication during a crisis. Since 1998, the two countries have had a hot line connecting their political leaderships, but they have little military-to-military communication, due largely to Beijing’s wariness of such engagement. A military maritime agreement, also dating to 1998, encourages consultation and transparency on each country’s respective activities but doesn’t cover operational rules of the road or specific tactical movements. It would make sense to establish a formal military hot line patterned after the U.S.-Soviet one; at a minimum, the two countries should each possess a much more complete set of contacts for the other’s top military leaders to facilitate rapid communication in crisis situations.

The two sides, and perhaps other regional actors, could also agree to an incidents-at-sea accord comparable to that between Washington and Moscow during the Cold War, including not only navies but also coast guards and perhaps even merchant vessels as well. Both sides will inevitably and legitimately continue their surveillance, but they could do so with far less risk. The accord would be designed to ensure that ships do not approach one another too closely, that carrier air operations are not interfered with, and that submarines do not surface or behave in other potentially risky ways.

Regarding regional issues, even though another Korean war seems unlikely, events on the peninsula in recent years (such as North Korea’s ongoing nuclear and missile programs and its sinking of the South Korean frigate Cheonan and shelling of Yeonpyeong Island in 2010) serve as reminders that the risk of escalation to a wider conflict persists. Should a crisis erupt as a result of new provocations or a North Korean collapse, it is not hard to imagine the United States and China being drawn in, with potentially tragic consequences. So taking practical steps now to lay the groundwork for a coordinated response to a possible future crisis makes sense.

At the least, each side could reassure the other that its crisis response plans (including to secure North Korean nuclear materials or restore political order) are designed to be stabilizing rather than threatening. For Beijing, the reluctance to talk about such subjects for fear of offending Pyongyang could be circumvented by beginning the conversation as a track-two discussion among academics and retired officials. Beijing should also recognize that on a reunified peninsula, Seoul would have the decision over whether American forces should stay. Washington, for its part, should assure Beijing that any future U.S. force posture on the peninsula (assuming that Seoul would still want some U.S. presence) would be smaller than the current one and not based any further north than it is now. And both Seoul and Washington should be prepared to invite China to help in any future contingency, at least in the northern sectors of North Korea.

Even though cross-strait tensions have eased in recent years, Taiwan remains a contentious issue in U.S.-Chinese relations, in part because China has not renounced the use of force to reunify Taiwan with the mainland and in part because the United States continues to sell arms to Taipei. Some tension would seem to be inevitable given the fundamental differences in interests between the parties. Yet even here, reassurance can play a role. For Beijing, this means making its stated intention of seeking a peaceful path to unification credible, by putting some limits on its military modernization and stopping military exercises focused on intimidating Taiwan through missile barrages or blockades. For Washington, it means making sure that the arms it sells Taipei are in fact defensive and demonstrating a willingness to scale back such arms sales in response to meaningful, observable, and hard-to-reverse reductions in China’s threatening stance toward Taiwan.

Fortunately, both sides are already pursuing key elements of such an agenda. However, Beijing’s current missile buildup, and the possibility of Washington’s countering it by helping Taiwan improve its missile defenses, creates the potential for a new round of escalation -- or it could lead to a new round of reassurance. China could usefully start the latter process by reducing its deployed missile force.


The key to stable U.S.-Chinese relations over the long term is for each side to be clear about its true redlines and the price, at least in general terms, it is willing to pay to defend them. As with reassurance, accurately communicating resolve requires more than just words; it involves demonstrating both the will and the capacity to make good on threats.

That means Washington needs to make Beijing understand that it will defend not just its own territory and people but also those of its formal allies and sometimes even its nonallied friends. This is partly what the Obama administration’s rebalance was supposed to do, but to achieve that effect, it needs to be followed up on and be executed seriously rather than be allowed to languish. Of course, demonstrating resolve does not have to mean meeting every provocation with a direct military response. Sometimes, nonmilitary responses, such as sanctions and new basing arrangements, may make the most sense, as may using negotiations to offer appropriate “off-ramps” and other avenues for de-escalation of a crisis. The best way to signal resolve prudently in a particular case will depend on various factors, including the degree of coordination Washington can manage to achieve with its allies and partners. But it is crucial to signal to Beijing early and clearly that there are some lines it will not be permitted to cross with impunity.

The flip side of this is that the United States needs to understand and respect China’s determination to defend, with force if necessary, its own vital national interests. To the extent that those interests are defined appropriately, this would be an acceptable assertion of China’s legitimate right of self-defense under Article 51 of the UN Charter, and given its history of past vulnerability to invasion and aggression, it is understandable for China to take steps to make its own resolve credible. The difficulty here is that in recent years, Beijing has seemed to assert an ever-expanding list of “core” interests and has often handled them truculently, turning even relatively minor and routine disputes into potentially dangerous confrontations and needlessly risky tests of mutual resolve. Beijing needs to recognize that over time, such behavior dilutes the legitimacy and force of its more important claims, sending conflicting signals and undermining its own long-term interests.

U.S.-Chinese relations may be approaching an inflection point. A long-standing bipartisan U.S. consensus on seeking constructive relations with China has frayed, and the Chinese are increasingly pessimistic about the future of bilateral dealings as well. Yet U.S. fatalism about China’s rise could lead to resigned acceptance of a new reality or muscular resistance designed to protect old prerogatives -- both unpromising and ultimately self-defeating strategies. Building a relationship around the principles of strategic reassurance and resolve offers the prospect of a more promising future without jeopardizing legitimate interests on either side. In effect, rather than simply hoping or planning for trust, it substitutes a “trust but verify” approach. This is much sounder than classic hedging, since it seeks to reduce the possibility of unintended provocation and escalation. And with luck, it can be enough to help keep full-scale conflict at bay, an outcome that prudent people on both sides should be seeking.

In my opinion this, the Sino-American relationship is the biggest, maybe the only really big threat to global peace and security. Global terrorism and the civil war within Islam can be either ignored (dealt with by the occasional swat) or isolated. But we cannot, as Napoleon might have suggested, "let China sleep." China is awake and it is, indeed, "shaking the world." The "shaking" cannot, should not be avoided but it can be managed and, in my opinion, Steinberg and O'Hanlon offer some useful ideas, for both America and China, on how to manage it.
Geopolitics in the 21rst century will resemble that of the 19th century, or for that matter from the time of the Pelloponnesian Wars. Power, resources and the willingness to use power remains at the bottom of everything. As Thucydides (the Athenian general and author) told us:

"The strong do as they wish, while the poor suffer as they must."

E.R. Campbell said:
Part 2 of 2


The key to stable U.S.-Chinese relations over the long term is for each side to be clear about its true redlines and the price, at least in general terms, it is willing to pay to defend them. As with reassurance, accurately communicating resolve requires more than just words; it involves demonstrating both the will and the capacity to make good on threats.

That means Washington needs to make Beijing understand that it will defend not just its own territory and people but also those of its formal allies and sometimes even its nonallied friends. This is partly what the Obama administration’s rebalance was supposed to do, but to achieve that effect, it needs to be followed up on and be executed seriously rather than be allowed to languish. Of course, demonstrating resolve does not have to mean meeting every provocation with a direct military response. Sometimes, nonmilitary responses, such as sanctions and new basing arrangements, may make the most sense, as may using negotiations to offer appropriate “off-ramps” and other avenues for de-escalation of a crisis. The best way to signal resolve prudently in a particular case will depend on various factors, including the degree of coordination Washington can manage to achieve with its allies and partners. But it is crucial to signal to Beijing early and clearly that there are some lines it will not be permitted to cross with impunity.

The flip side of this is that the United States needs to understand and respect China’s determination to defend, with force if necessary, its own vital national interests. To the extent that those interests are defined appropriately, this would be an acceptable assertion of China’s legitimate right of self-defense under Article 51 of the UN Charter, and given its history of past vulnerability to invasion and aggression, it is understandable for China to take steps to make its own resolve credible. The difficulty here is that in recent years, Beijing has seemed to assert an ever-expanding list of “core” interests and has often handled them truculently, turning even relatively minor and routine disputes into potentially dangerous confrontations and needlessly risky tests of mutual resolve. Beijing needs to recognize that over time, such behavior dilutes the legitimacy and force of its more important claims, sending conflicting signals and undermining its own long-term interests.
In my opinion this, the Sino-American relationship is the biggest, maybe the only really big threat to global peace and security. Global terrorism and the civil war within Islam can be either ignored (dealt with by the occasional swat) or isolated. But we cannot, as Napoleon might have suggested, "let China sleep." China is awake and it is, indeed, "shaking the world." The "shaking" cannot, should not be avoided but it can be managed and, in my opinion, Steinberg and O'Hanlon offer some useful ideas, for both America and China, on how to manage it.

More on  the "More Signal, Less Noise" theme from Prof Jennifer Lind in this rticle which is reproduced under the Fair Dealing provisions of the Copyright Act from Foreign Affairs:


Pivot Problems
What Washington Should Concede in Asia

By Jennifer Lind

JUNE 25, 2014

The United States’ promises to protect its allies in East Asia underwrite the region’s security. Yet whispers about the credibility of those promises are growing louder. China, meanwhile, continues to assert its claims to disputed islands in the East China and South China Seas through so-called salami tactics: making one provocative move after another, as if taking a salami slice by slice. Each provocation slightly enhances China’s position but is too small to merit a forceful response. Many commentators argue that the United States must enhance deterrence by making clearer and stronger commitments to its allies.

But the United States will not solve its problems in East Asia by declaring itself in lockstep with its allies. For guidance, U.S. policymakers should instead look to a previous case that the United States managed successfully: West Berlin during the Cold War. In that case, a major power -- the Soviet Union -- was also pushing, pressuring, and trying to divide the United States from its allies. Washington solved the problem by standing firm in the face of both sides. The Kennedy administration clarified the vital interests that it would fight to protect, while explaining to its West German ally that the United States would not fight to achieve every German goal in the standoff.


In the coming years, territorial disputes between China and its neighbors will create tension, crisis, and possible conflict in East Asia. In the South China Sea, Beijing asserts sovereignty over an area (enclosed by the so-called nine-dashed line) in which six nearby countries -- Brunei, Malaysia, Philippines, Taiwan, and Vietnam -- maintain competing territorial claims of their own. In the East China Sea, China has claimed sovereignty over the Japan-controlled Senkaku Islands (which the Chinese call the Diaoyu Islands).

It will prove difficult to settle these disputes through negotiations; the countries involved have issued a bewildering tangle of competing legal and historical claims, and the contested islets have become a rallying cry for nationalist politicians. Moreover, many of the territories in question come with rich fishing grounds and are thought to lie near substantial oil and natural gas deposits.

These disputes have intensified in recent years. In the South China Sea, for example, China began drilling for oil in waters claimed by Vietnam in May 2014, and armed Chinese Coast Guard ships menaced Vietnamese ships that approached the area. A Chinese vessel nearly collided with an American one, the U.S.S. Cowpens, last December. Since 2012, Beijing has kept the Philippines out of the disputed Scarborough Shoal; it is now trying to push the Philippines from its tenuous perch in the Ayungin reef as well.

The East China Sea has also grown more dangerous. In the past few years, Japan has repeatedly scrambled fighter jets to fend off Chinese aircraft encroaching on disputed territory. Last year, a Chinese vessel locked weapons-guiding radar on a Japanese destroyer. China also flew an unmanned aerial vehicle over the Senkaku/Diaoyu Islands, prompting protests in Japan and an order from the country’s prime minister to shoot down drones that ignored warnings to leave Japanese airspace. Beijing said that it would view such a move as an “act of war,” to which it would respond with “decisive action.”

As East Asia’s territorial disputes heat up, Washington’s alliances with Japan and the Philippines risk drawing United States into a regional war. This is a new development; during the Cold War, the risk of entanglement in these alliances ran in the other direction. Because Japan and the Philippines hosted strategically significant U.S. military bases, those countries found themselves in Soviet crosshairs. Frequent crises between the superpowers, over Berlin, Cuba, and Taiwan, threatened to escalate to war that would include nuclear strikes against Japanese and Philippine territory. Furthermore, Tokyo faced constant pressure from Washington to increase its role in the alliance, and to participate in U.S. military adventures in such places as the Korean Peninsula, Vietnam, and the Persian Gulf.

Today, however, it’s the Americans who fear entanglement, in an unwanted and potentially devastating war with China. Given this profound change, it is unsurprising that U.S. allies question Washington’s commitment to their security. In March, for example, the Japanese newspaper Asahi Shimbun discussed how increasing tensions over the Senkaku/Diaoyu were leading many Japanese observers to cite “the unreliability of Japan’s main ally.”

Responding to such doubts, Washington has reiterated its commitment to Japan’s security in broad terms. U.S. President Barack Obama and other U.S. officials have announced that although Washington does not take a position on the sovereignty of the Senkaku/Diaoyu Islands, its security guarantee for Japan would apply to attacks against the islands because they are “administered by Japan.” In the South China Sea, Washington has similarly declared its neutrality on territorial claims, but it has not stated that the United States would support the Philippines militarily in the event of conflict.

This approach only invites more challenges. Simply declaring that the United States will defend areas administered by Japan does not address the core strategic problem that Washington and Tokyo face -- China can still use salami tactics to harass and provoke. In Washington, such acts will simply be seen as annoyances; but in Tokyo, they will be perceived as infringements on Japanese sovereignty, and will continue to raise doubts among Japanese that the Americans may not protect them. As a result, the alliance will weaken.


All this has a familiar ring. The U.S. predicament in East Asia recalls the late 1950s, when the Soviets and their East German allies began to challenge Western access to the highways, or Autobahns, that connected the Federal Republic of Germany to the isolated city of West Berlin. The West Germans saw these actions as dire threats to their claim on West Berlin and their hope for eventual reunification. Accordingly, West German officials made the preservation of access to the Autobahns a key barometer of NATO’s credibility and value.

At one point during the crisis, the Soviets demanded that West German convoys present documents to be stamped by East German (rather than Soviet) border guards. Allowing East Germans to stamp the papers, West German officials said, gave de facto recognition to the East German state, and implied that East Germany could decide not to grant access to the roads in the future. West Germany, supported by some senior U.S. officials, declared that this seemingly trivial issue was central to NATO’s credibility, and that the United States must take a firm stance -- to the point of risking what would have been a nuclear war.

After months of wrangling with its allies, the Kennedy administration said no -- to both the Soviets and the West Germans. The allies’ core interests (in the president’s words, “our presence in Berlin, and our access to Berlin”) were nonnegotiable, and the United States would fight if necessary to defend them. However, as one senior administration official explained, the United States was “not prepared to risk war over rubber stamps.” Whether the Soviets wanted to imprint paperwork with red or blue stamps, in triplicate or in duplicate, or if they wanted Soviet, East German, or any other guards to stamp them, was beside the point.

The West Germans were initially unhappy. But the United States’ clear and reasonable position on Berlin, underscored by the military reinforcements that Kennedy immediately sent to Europe, essentially ended the long-running crisis -- and Soviet salami tactics there -- once and for all. And by distinguishing between core and symbolic issues, the United States laid the foundation for a stronger alliance: one in which each side believed that its partner would fight if necessary, because the alliance was built on shared vital interests, not on symbols that mattered principally to only one side.

In East Asia today, the challenge for Washington is to distinguish vital U.S. interests from the rubber stamps -- and to convey those distinctions to U.S. allies and partners. Here’s one way that might be done:

In the East China Sea, the United States has committed itself to defending the territory that Japan administers, including the Senkaku/Diaoyu Islands. Chinese provocations -- such as flying aircraft over the islands or sending ships through disputed waters -- are annoyances. They do not seize for Beijing the finite benefits of ownership. But if China were to build civilian or military structures on those islands, encamp troops or establish settlements, or extract finite resources from the islands, Beijing would be taking assets that Japan believes it owns. If China were to build a pier on one of the Senkaku/Diaoyu Islands, for instance, the United States should help Japan disassemble it -- just as they would if China built a pier on Okinawa.

The situation is different in the South China Sea, as Washington has not promised to defend the Philippines’ territorial claims there. Whether the U.S.-Philippine alliance is sufficiently important to justify a U.S. guarantee for Manila’s claims remains an open question. But one can still distinguish symbolic issues from important American interests when it comes to Philippine claims in the South China Sea. When Beijing harasses Philippine ships, it’s regrettable. But when China seeks to reap the benefits of ownership -- by establishing settlements and extracting resources, for example -- it crosses a meaningful threshold.

The key insight here is not what constitutes core interests versus rubber stamps -- but simply that Washington must distinguish between them. Today, it has become commonplace for pundits to argue that everything matters, everything is interconnected, and slippery slopes abound. But everything doesn’t matter equally. The brilliance of the Kennedy administration’s approach to Berlin was that it simultaneously neutralized Soviet salami tactics and strengthened the U.S. alliance with West Germany. Honest talk between the United States and its partners in East Asia could similarly strengthen their relationships -- while thwarting China’s efforts to divide them.

I'm sure that Prof Lind will not mind me pointing out that the key issue, 60ish years ago, wasn't distinguishing between the treaty right of access and the minutia of rubber stamps, it was the fact, and in the 1950s in was a fact, that the US ~ the American people and government ~ were ready and willing to go to war, to global thermonuclear war, over Berlin. That's what settled the issue: President Kennedy warned the USSR and reassured the Germans that America would fight, all out, for Berlin.

I wonder if any Asian country, even Japan, believes that President Obama any American president the American people are willing to go to war, a real war, with China for or against or even about anything.

(Many, many years ago the American author James A Michener put a line into the mouth of one of his characters: "I know what you're against ... what are you for?" That's a key to a sound strategy: it is insufficient to be against something; there has to be an AIM ~ something we want, some outcome, for which we, the people, (mostly) agree we will fight. In the 1950s and '60s we weren't just "against communism," we were for liberal, Western democracy, including for our recent enemies. We believed that liberal democracy was necessary for the West and desirable, at least, for everyone. It was something for which we were willing to fight.)

The Chinese government appears to know what matters to it ... it has been modestly clear, as clear as the Chinese can ever manage to be, about the issues for which it will risk war. It seems to me that Taiwan (and, of course, China, proper, including Tibet) is at the top of that (very, very short) list and, in my own, limited, experience, that is understood and agreed by the Chinese people. (Maybe that popular support is the result of an aggressive domestic advertising campaign.) It is not clear to me that China is willing to risk a war over anything in the China Seas. Confrontation? Yes, willingly and confidently. Even the "accidental" downing of an aircraft or two or the equally "accidental" and tit-for-tat sinking of a couple of patrol boats? Yes, if the risk is manageable. War .. with anyone? No, not as far as I can read the tea leaves.

But I am more certain that America, circa 2015 is not prepared to go to war for anyone, except in its own defence, and maybe, Canada's, and is certainly not ready to go to war against a bit of Chinese aggression ... at least I'm pretty sure that's how Vladimir Putin and Xi Jinping see it.