Abstract: American foreign policy has gone through three distinct stages: isolationism, containment, and global hegemony. But instead of transitioning into a policy of globalization, American foreign policy has reverted to a policy of containment vis-à-vis Russia and China, thus dividing the world between a Western bloc and Eastern bloc yet again. It is unclear as to whether the political and social divide can be bridged between these two distinct blocs.
Eurasia is the world’s largest, most populous, and wealthiest landmass, wielding over 70 percent of the world’s population and close to 65 percent of the world’s GDP. Thus, there are economic, political, and social gains to be made through engagement with the Eurasian landmass from an American standpoint. But historically, the American psyche is shaped by a “schizophrenic” approach towards Eurasia, oscillating between a desire to be involved in Eurasian affairs all while being constrained by the tradition of isolationism. Thus, America’s engagement with Eurasia over the past several decades since World War II has been a balancing act between the imperative of involvement and intervention on one hand, and the logic of isolation and minding one’s own business on the other hand.
Establishing global order and preserving the global peace is the imperative which has driven American involvement in Eurasia since World War II. America created and shaped the global institutions and security architecture which have largely preserved the peace around the world since World War II. To a large extent, America’s creation of global institutions and a security architecture was a public good provided to the world as part of a “containment” strategy vis-à-vis the former Soviet Union during the course of the Cold War. Now that the Cold War has been over for thirty years, the rationale for providing this public good to the rest of the world has come under question by many individuals and groups in American society. Moreover, America has become a shaky anchor for global order since its costly involvements in Afghanistan and the Middle East over the course of the last two decades. America’s shakiness as an anchor for global order now manifests along the divide between Europe and Russia, the Middle East, Afghanistan, Southeast Asia, as well as the Korean Peninsula.
In response to America’s “relative decline” vis-à-vis China, Eastern nations such as Russia, Iran, Pakistan, and obviously China have grown more assertive from a geopolitical standpoint. Russia’s annexation of Crimea and its troop buildup along the border with Ukraine, Iran’s extension through the heart of the Middle East, Pakistan’s revamping of the Taliban in Afghanistan, and China’s claims to territorial sovereignty combined with China’s carving of a sphere of influence in Southeast Asia all amount to a reaction towards the weakening of the United States as an anchor for global order. America has long had two core foreign policy objectives, namely, preventing Russia from achieving hegemony over Europe on one hand, and preventing China from achieving hegemony over Asia on the other hand. Although the American security architecture largely remains intact in Europe, the Persian Gulf region, and Northeast Asia, there are limitations to covering every nook and cranny of the geopolitical space. Thus, Eastern powers will extend their reach where it is possible and will take advantage of America’s weakened position on the international level.
To an extent, chaos and turmoil will result in certain geopolitical pivot points as a result of a weakened American position. We are already witnessing some of the chaos and turmoil in certain geopolitical pivot points such as Ukraine, Yemen, Afghanistan, and Myanmar. North Korea’s intransigence and its lack of willingness to relinquish its nuclear weapons program is yet another case of America’s limits in imposing its political will over other nations. The question remains as to where America will draw the line when it comes to the assertiveness of its “adversaries.” America has already begun the process of abandoning its commitments to Afghanistan by virtue of announcing a full troop withdrawal by September 2021. America also lacks leverage over the situation in Myanmar. America has also reversed its hardline approach towards Iran to a large extent. Where America has doubled down, however, is on its commitments to NATO and Ukraine, at least verbally. Recently, the Biden Administration has revitalized a classic American policy of “containment” vis-à-vis Russia while leaving open the possibility of finding opportunities to cooperate with Russia on global security matters such as nuclear weapons and strategic missiles.
Thus, the foremost priority of the Biden Administration from a foreign policy standpoint is the revitalization of partnerships with traditional allies. President Biden’s first in-person meeting with a foreign leader was with the Prime Minister of Japan. Much of the time spent overseas by America’s Secretary of State, Tony Blinken, has been in Brussels and Northeast Asia. Europe and Northeast Asia were the foremost foreign policy priorities for the United States during the Cold War, and it appears as though these regions of the world are back in the forefront for American foreign policy considerations. Therefore, after three decades of advancing a policy of global hegemony, America has reverted to a policy of containment vis-à-vis Russia and China. American foreign policy has gone through three distinct phases through the course of its history. Isolationism characterized the first phase. Containment of the Soviet Union characterized the second phase. Global hegemony has characterized the third phase of American foreign policy, which began after the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991. Now, as a result of America’s relative decline vis-à-vis Russia and China, America has reversed its policy of global hegemony and has gone back to a policy of containment.
America and its traditional allies in Europe and Northeast Asia have the resources and the wealth to sustain a policy of containment vis-à-vis Russia and China. But preferably, a political settlement between America and China would mitigate the military tensions which result from a policy of containment. Ideally, global hegemony should have transformed into a fourth phase of American foreign policy, namely, a policy of globalization. Instead, global hegemony – which is the third stage of American foreign policy – has been reversed only to go back to the second stage of American foreign policy, namely, the containment of Russia and China. Instead of globalization, we are headed towards a world divided between an Eastern bloc on one hand, and a Western bloc on the other hand. How to bridge the divide between these two blocs in the future is anyone’s guess.