The establishment of world order is the main task of politics and international relations, yet there is no such thing as “world order” in our current state due to the lack of strategy and clear sense of objectives on the part of statesmen in recent times. Theorists and practitioners of politics and international relations like Henry Kissinger have borne the responsibility of creating a world order in the past, but the outcome of their efforts have been somewhat inconclusive because there has not been a clear inheritor to the passing of the torch per se.
In the past, however, most arduous were the efforts of Franklin Delano Roosevelt towards the end of World War II to craft both a consensus among the world’s major powers and a constructivist framework for the creation of an international order that would preempt another descent into all-out war. Roosevelt was essentially the glue that kept the consensus among the major powers intact, and with his passing in 1945, the Cold War immediately erupted. By some estimates, approximately 25 million people around the world would perish as a result of the Cold War, despite the fact that the United States and the Soviet Union never fought each other directly.
Despite the toll that it took on human lives particularly in third world countries, the outcome and result of the Cold War was conclusive and resolute in the sense that an international system and bloc based on Marxism could not withstand the pressures and vitality of an American alliance system that based itself off the ideological triad of capitalism, democracy, and freedom. Basically, there was a clear winner and a clear loser in the Cold War. One would have to acquiesce to the other in the spirit of good sportsmanship.
In the latter days of the Cold War when the Soviet Union invaded and occupied Afghanistan, China tilted the balance per se against the Soviet Union in favor of the United States, which in turn led to what is known as the American “unipolar moment”. Whereas geopolitics between the United States and the Soviet Union was the most pressing international issue during the Cold War, America’s brief unipolar moment between 1991 and 2003 saw the rapid expansion of U.S.-led institutions such as the European Union and NATO throughout Western and Eastern Europe.
The rapid expansion of U.S.-led institutions throughout Europe was a sign of a civilizational expansion on the part of the U.S., and that was exponentially more important than successes in mere geopolitics. The expansion of the Western world led by the United States was proving to be a successful project soon after the collapse of the Soviet Union, and the expansion of Western civilization based on U.S. values and ideas can be the only guarantee of U.S. hegemony over the world.
The tragic events of September 11, 2001 are considered by many to be the moment when America pivoted away from its unipolar moment and towards what many consider American “relative decline”, given the rapid rise of China in recent years as well as the revamping of a nationalist Russia under Vladimir Putin. On the other hand, one can argue that U.S. “relative decline” and the gradual deterioration of the American-led post-WWII international order was of America’s own doing, first as a result of occupying Iraq, which in turn empowered Iran and allowed Iran to harness Russian and Chinese momentum in the Middle East (an area of the world that is not only of strategic interest to the U.S., but is also of vital interest to the U.S.), as well as the international financial meltdown of 2007-2008 that began inside of the United States.
After all, one cannot rationally attribute American “relative decline” and the breakdown of world order to a handful of rag-tag terrorists. The swift and impressive manner in which the United States wiped Afghanistan clean of the Taliban and Al-Qaeda in 2001 shows that if America is committed and determined, it can take on any challenge or threat that comes its way. Indeed, the initial successes of America in its Global War on Terror (GWOT) served as a vindication of “American Exceptionalism” in the sense that America not only did what was right, but also did what it promised to do.
The impact that the Iraq War and the international financial meltdown of 2007-2008 had on the breakdown of world order cannot be overstated. For one, the Iraq War and the subsequent U.S. withdrawal from Iraq led to the creation of ISIS in the heart of the Middle East, which in turn has triggered a sectarian backlash on the part of Iran. Iraq before 2003 was the buffer between Iran and Israel. After America’s invasion of Iraq and its subsequent withdrawal from Iraq in 2011, Iran’s reach over the Middle East has extended all the way to Israel’s border along the Golan Heights.
As a result, America is losing ground to Iran in the all-important Middle East, and the Russians and Chinese are piggybacking off Iranian advances all the way to the Israeli border. As far as the financial meltdown of 2007-2008 is concerned, the result was an economic crisis that made the Great Depression of the 1930’s look like a blip. The confluence of wars and economic depression stemming from an unprecedented financial meltdown led to a drain on U.S. resources, and the result of a drain on U.S. resources was the breakdown of what is known as world order, given the fact that the United States has been the anchor for world order ever since World War II.
With a drain on resources and the draw-down of its uni-polar moment, U.S. global strategy aimed at sustaining both American preeminence and order around the globe will require a reevaluation and an innovative form of implementation. Given that world order depends first and foremost on American vitality, the current situation in which a rising China is seizing the opportunity to challenge the United States globally means that the world is characterized first and foremost by turmoil. It is turmoil that serves as the basic characteristic of international relations in this day and age. Overcoming turmoil in the Middle East is the first but most important step towards the establishment of world order, given that turmoil in the Middle East could spill over into Europe and even into China through the radicalization of China’s Muslim population in the Western Chinese province of Xinjiang.
If the United States does not proactively resolve the myriad of conflicts and crises in the Middle East, Russia and China will fill the vacuum and as a result U.S. influence in the most important geostrategic part of the world will diminish. U.S. involvement in the Middle East is crucial for the re-establishment of order there, because the disshelved involvement of the U.S. in the Middle East after the Iraq War without a grand strategy is what led to the current state of Middle Eastern turmoil in the first place.
One can legitimately argue that involvement in the Middle East and the kind of foothold a country has in the Middle East is the basic metric for a country’s overall power. Therefore, America will have to determine what kind of involvement it will pursue in the Middle East and it will have to measure the weight of its foothold in that particular region of the world in an effort to boost American power in its totality. But in order to be successful in the Middle East, the United States will have to alter its basic paradigm of power projection in the Middle East from one that is fully based on military might to one that also takes into account what Joseph Nye calls “Soft Power”. After all, politics is the changing of minds in its most basic sense, according to the late Hans Morgenthau.
In his final book titled Strategic Vision, which was published in 2012, the late Zbigniew Brzezinski argued that in order to establish and maintain a “stable global order”, America would have to play a dual role. For one, America will have to “promote” and “guarantee” the revitalization and expansion of what is known as the Western world through the incorporation of Russia and Turkey into the American orbit. Secondly, America will have to “balance” and “conciliate” conflicts in Asia, including the conflicts in the Middle East, a region of the world that is technically known as Southwest Asia.
America can fulfill this dual role only if two conditions are met. First and foremost, America will have to focus on revitalizing itself domestically through social and economic programs that will improve the welfare of many of its neglected citizens in an age of economic transformation and automation. Second, the United States will have to avoid getting involved militarily in all Asian conflicts, at all costs. The best thing that the United States could do in regards to the myriad of Asian conflicts is to reconcile the differences between China and Japan, to mediate between China and India, and to remain neutral in the growing conflict between India and Pakistan. President Barack Obama’s weapons sales to India in 2011 correctly steered American foreign policy towards a direction that would enable the United States to develop and improve ties with India, which is on course to becoming the third largest economy in the world. India is also the world’s largest democracy and shares many of the same political and social values with the United States.
Staunchly opposing Indian designs in Kashmir, for example, would mean an endorsement of Pakistan’s military dictatorship and sponsorship of terrorism that led to the situation in Kashmir today. The aim of American involvement in Asia is not the conflagration of conflicts, according to Brzezinski. Rather, the aim of American involvement in Asia is the creation of what Brzezinski called a “framework of cooperation” between the United States and China. If the United States can expand and revitalize the West by incorporating Russia and Turkey into its orbit all while improving ties with India and at the same time creating a “framework of cooperation” with China, then Brzezinski would have surely considered U.S. global strategy as credible and viable.
To create a “framework of cooperation” with China would require identifying core Chinese interests and objectives. Brzezinski identified six core Chinese interests and objectives:
1.Avoiding encirclement by the United States
2.Establishing a “favored position” in East Asia
3.Gaining access to the Persian Gulf through Pakistan
4.Tapping into the plethora of natural resources in Central Asia
5.Resolving the status of Taiwan in its own favor
6.Accessing Third World markets and resources
In terms of the first Chinese core objective, America’s effort to reconcile China’s differences with Japan would serve as a signal that America’s intention is not to encircle China, but instead to integrate China into a network of American allies that have long been established in East Asia and in a sense it would propel China’s advancement of the second core interest.
The third core objective, however, serves as a threat to U.S. vital interests in the Persian Gulf region. Pakistan cannot be used as a springboard for Chinese military projection in a region of the world vested with U.S. vital interests. If the United States can ensure China’s access to Persian Gulf oil and natural gas while precluding the need for China to ensure this access militarily through Pakistan, the United States can essentially kill two birds with one stone in the sense that it will preempt China’s military expansion into the Indian Ocean and Persian Gulf while buoying a Chinese economy that is interconnected and interdependent with the economy of the United States through ensuring China’s access to the world’s largest supply of oil and natural gas.
Leaving Pakistan to falter and face backlash from India would be a better route to take rather than allowing China to make inroads into Pakistan and forcing China to become economically dependent on Pakistan. Opening Chinese access to Central Asian natural resources and in a sense inducing the retrenchment of Russia out of Central Asia and towards peaceful integration into Europe would also serve U.S. interests well. As far as Taiwan is concerned, it is not outlandish and outrageous to consider the possibility that Taiwan will one day meet the same fate as Hong Kong. In the 1990’s, the British transferred Hong Kong back to the Chinese, and it is not far-fetched to claim that the simple act of transferring Hong Kong back to the Chinese stabilized British-Chinese relations. Nor is it far-fetched and outlandish to argue that Taiwan is the sole key to the establishment of that “framework of cooperation” between the United States and China that Brzezinski promoted.
It is important to note that the United States does not have treaty obligations towards Taiwan that are the equivalent of the Article Five treaty obligations the United States has with Europe through the NATO charter. And in regards to the sixth and final core Chinese objective that Brzezinski outlined, third world markets and resources can be delineated through multilateral trade agreements like the elusive “Trans-Pacific Partnership” as long as both the United States and China are mutually involved in these multilateral trade agreements and frameworks.
And what is the goal of expanding the West and creating a “framework of cooperation” with China? The goal, in essence, is the establishment of a Wilsonian “collective security” arrangement that is of a global nature because the threats that each and every nation in the world faces today are of a global nature. Brzezinski identified the biggest threats to international order and security:
1.Nuclear proliferation from countries like North Korea and Iran
2.Unfettered exploitation of cyber technology
3.Drone and weapons sophistication
4.Terrorist networks funded by petrodollars and drug sales and orchestrated by Pakistan
5.Populism and nativism
6.Multi-polarity and the disparate distribution of power throughout the international system
7.Climate change, natural disasters, water scarcity, and the humanitarian disasters that can ensue from them
8. Poverty and inequality
To solve the wide range of problems and to diffuse the myriad of threats that humanity faces, one can begin to resolve the problems and threats if they are seen as fitting within concentric circles. The core circle of the global problems and threats are the conflict between Iran and Israel as well as the never-ending conflict in Afghanistan, according to Brzezinski. Chas Freeman, a former American diplomat, once suggested during a conference on Capitol Hill that the United States should diligently pursue a peace deal between Iran and Israel. A peace deal between Iran and Israel would dampen the broadest of the conflicts taking place in the Middle East.
As far as Afghanistan is concerned, addressing the threat of international terrorism is what legitimized the U.S. presence there in the first place. To revert to the core mission of combating extremism, radicalism, and international terrorism stemming from Pakistan and in essence rolling back what has definitely been “mission creep” in Afghanistan, the United States would legitimize yet again its presence in Afghanistan in the eyes of regional powers like China, Russia, and Iran by providing a moral justification for the U.S. presence in the region, and this moral justification will ensure the sustainability of a U.S. presence in Afghanistan because it will garner for the United States the support of regional powers for an American mission in Afghanistan.
Without the moral justification, the U.S. mission in Afghanistan would merely amount to a mercantilist endeavor aimed at the extraction of uranium, lithium, rare earth materials, and opium for pharmaceutical conglomerates. To clearly identify U.S. objectives and strategy in addition to acquiring a clear sense of the threats that the world faces, the United States and China can achieve a form of equilibrium that no two major powers have achieved in the past, which in turn would guide the international community towards a stable global order that is unprecedented in the history of mankind. If there’s a will, there’s a way.