The most accurate characterization or generalization of international affairs in the modern period – which coincides with approximately the last five centuries – is that of Sir Halford John Mackinder, a late 19th and early 20th century British historian and strategist. In a nutshell, Mackinder argued that world history in the modern period is defined by a “secular struggle” on the part of the Western world against Eastern domination. But what Mackinder concluded was that the outcome of this “secular struggle” would render “Europe and European history as subordinate to Asia and Asiatic history” given that “European civilization is, in a very real sense, the outcome of the secular struggle against Asiatic invasion.”
After approximately 500 years of European domination over the international system, Europe and European history is once again becoming “subordinate” to the Eastern world, in the sense that the balance of power is fostering the resurgence of Russia, Iran’s growing influence over the Middle East, and the rise of China.
Given that the global balance of power is fostering the rise of the East after 500 years of European domination, European or Western strategy towards the East has to aim for something other than domination. Rather than aiming for domination, the Western strategy towards the East must aim for accommodation and integration. For one, accommodation and integration ultimately consists of Russian and Turkish integration into the European Union (EU). Iran would have to be fully integrated and welcomed into the international system in order to prevent Iran’s nuclear program from becoming weaponized. Also, competition and rivalry with China would have to transform into cooperation and partnership on addressing global issues.
Thus, world history – rather than being defined by Western domination over the East – is actually defined by the West’s accommodation and integration of Eastern nations into the international system that it has crafted over the course of many decades. Military hegemony over the course of the last three decades since the close of the Cold War has been the primary strategy for a policy of domination and hegemony over the Eastern world. But military hegemony has its limits, and as a result, the strategy and the objective have to revert to the original design of the international system. That original design of the international system equates to Western accommodation and integration of Eastern nations such as Russia, Turkey, Iran, and China.
If the original design of the international system is to be flaunted by a strategy of military hegemony aimed at domination, then the strategy will fail and the objective will not be met, as evinced by America’s experience in Afghanistan. Bargaining on the part of Eastern nations will be the segue for their future accommodation and integration into a Western-led international system. Thus, America will have to adjust its military and hard power approach towards an economic, diplomatic, and soft power approach as the bargaining process makes way for future accommodation and integration of Eastern nations into a Western-led international system. Europe will not take the lead for this bargaining, accommodative, and integrative process. As always, America will have to lead this breakthrough and innovation on the global stage. The first step, however, is to acknowledge and trust the process.