Kimberly Daniels, a member of our Emerging Fellows program reviews the history of Heartland power in her third blog post. The views expressed are those of the author and not necessarily those of the APF or its other members.
Events over the past thirty years have shaped the current geopolitical environment of Eurasia’s Heartland. From the collapse of the former Soviet Union to struggles for influence, power assertion, or empowerment following the Cold War, these events signal high stakes for Russia, the U.S., and China. They inform possibilities for a world-power pivot.
The collapse of the former Union of Soviet Socialist Republics (USSR) in 1991 ended the Cold War and left Russia trying to expand her influence throughout a fragmented Heartland. As some post-Soviet Eastern European countries pursued new visions of independence, Russia looked back to the former Soviet Empire’s past glory. From the early 1990’s, she organized or joined bilateral regional organizations to promote the security, economic, and or political interests of Eurasian member states. In 2008 and in later years, she supported separatist regions in other Heartland countries to ensure their dependence on her for their economic and political development. In 2014, she annexed Crimea from Ukraine, strengthening Russia’s military influence through uninterrupted access to the Black Sea. Over time, Russia expanded her influence throughout the Heartland, though at the cost of leaving it fragmented.
Winning the Cold War propelled the U.S. forward with momentum to chase an elusive goal of fully asserting her power to leverage the Heartland’s fragmentation. She waged a war on terror in Afghanistan in 2001 after the devastating 9/11 attacks on the U.S. She invaded Iraq in 2003 and overthrew Saddam Hussein when he continued to defy U.S. containment strategies intended to stop his ruthless dictatorship. She provided security and economic assistance to Central Asian countries in exchange for access to their military bases and air space. Yet, despite the interventions, containment strategies, and attempts to establish a long-term U.S. military presence in the region, the U.S. fell short of her goal. Unable to leverage the Heartland’s fragmentation for a full power assertion, the U.S. lost much of her influence in the Middle East and in Central Asia.
China’s Cold War pivot away from the former USSR and towards the U.S. empowered China to extend her reach into the Heartland. Aligning her economic interests with the U.S. gave rise to China’s growth from foreign investment and trade. Undeterred by the global financial crisis of 2008, she looked to new possibilities for trading Chinese goods across Afro-Eurasia along a New Silk Road. Through increased investments in foreign infrastructure development, China began improving trade routes. Later, she announced plans for a One Belt One Road international market system or Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) in 2013, revealing a competing interest in the Heartland. The 2015 announcement of her “Made in China 2025” strategic plan further revealed her ambitions for economic growth through technological capabilities. A high-speed rail system, for example, would support the BRI and an empowered China’s extended reach into the Heartland.
Post 20th-Century Cold War, the U.S. faces a high-stakes change in geopolitical power rivalry for the Heartland. Having lost her influence in Central Asia and in the Middle East, the U.S. seemingly has conceded vying for Heartland control. Instead, her focus is on containing Russia and China as these two civilizational states increasingly shape Heartland power. For Russia, it’s a matter of uniting Afro-Eurasia in Eurasian solidarity. For China, it’s a matter of integrating Central Asia and parts of the Middle East into her sphere of influence. Could these and other stakeholders influence a world-power pivot to the Heartland? Any number of possible futures could unfold.
Kimberly Daniels, a member of our Emerging Fellows program checks the key features of Heartland phenomenon in her second blog post. The views expressed are those of the author and not necessarily those of the APF or its other members.
Eurasia’s Heartland is a living organism of complex interconnected systems, which shapes the geopolitical environment by which it is itself shaped. It is characterized to some degree by the interaction of demographic, socio-cultural, political, economic, and technological changes that impact the Heartland as a whole. To another degree, it also is characterized by the impact it has on its geopolitical environment.
Demographically, the Heartland includes populations in Russia, twelve other Slavic East European countries, three other Caucasus countries, five Central Asian countries, Mongolia, and parts of Turkey, Iran, Afghanistan, Pakistan, and China. Over 500 million people strong, the Heartland spans the spectrum of contrasting demographic trends. Low fertility rates, aging populations and workforces, and year-to-year improvements in education are matters of reality in some countries. By contrast, the realities of other countries exist as higher fertility rates, high mortality rates, and a decline in educational achievements. These and other demographic trends impact socio-cultural changes in the Heartland.
Socio-culturally, the Heartland is a system of complex diversity. Its spoken languages include Slavic Indo-European dialects, Mongolic, Turkic, Arabic, and native Himalayan dialects. Its religions, those professed and or practiced, are Orthodox Christianity, Islam, Buddhism, Hinduism, Folk Religion, and atheism. Its historical transitions, from social migration patterns to the rise and fall of political empires, have fueled competing cultural preferences for Turkish clannism, Mongolic pastoralism, or Russian nationalism. There are efforts toward increased gender equality in Eastern Europe, and struggles between radicalization and social inclusion among youth in countries such as Afghanistan and Iran. Such complex socio-cultural diversity could be the environmental force that brings together nations to co-create a desirable future, yet impedes the political transformation to a unified Heartland.
Politically, the Heartland is shaped by the opposing tug of differing ideologies. On one side is Russia, geographically situated on the continents of Europe and Asia. Neither identifying as belonging solely to one or the other, it culturally identifies with both. Adamantly against Westernization, Russia has pushed for Eurasianism. It’s an ideology premised on extending Russia’s influence and power, while driving world dominance from the West to the East. On the other side are Eastern European countries that support Westernization and opportunities for knowledge sharing, trade, economic growth, etc. Between these ideologies is Turkey, strategically positioned between Europe, the Middle East, and Asia. Turkey aligns its political or military agenda with Russia when cooperation works to its advantage, yet it also is a bridge to connecting the West and the Middle East. Some Heartland governments are authoritarian and others democratic. From one side to the other and in-between, political ideologies in the Heartland have shaped the competing economic systems of communism and capitalism, with influences of socialism from China.
Economically, the Heartland has systems that thrive and others that merely survive. Deposits of hydrocarbon, minerals, coal, oil and natural gas reserves have supported the thriving economies of Russia, Poland, Kazakhstan, and others. These countries alone had GDP values worth over five percent of the world’s economy in 2018. The agrarian economies of Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan reflect lower GDP values. Not only have they incurred rising amounts of external debt for survival, they also depend on income earned by citizens who work abroad and send money home. In the past, proximity to the old Silk Road trade routes boosted the economies of some Heartland countries. Today, China’s New Silk Road or Belt and Road Initiative (BRI), and other technological advancements, could help many more nations across the Afro-Eurasian World Island to thrive.
Technological change in the Heartland’s geopolitical environment is spurring multiple pathways of change. In addition to the BRI, developments in artificial intelligence, robotics, blockchain, advanced-tech agriculture, and green infrastructure could open up new possibilities. Such possibilities could include new job creation, more international cooperatives, improved trade relations, or increased drug-trafficking. Undoubtedly, these changes will influence a geopolitical environment in a future increasingly characterized by competition among world powers for power, control, or dominance.
The Heartland is a living system. It is characterized by the interaction of changes to and the impact it has on its geopolitical environment. These demographic, socio-cultural, political, economic, and technological changes influence increasingly complex system impacts. Likewise, they will impact the Heartland’s future, starting with its past.
Kimberly Daniels, a member of our Emerging Fellows program initiates publishing a series of blog posts aimed at envisioning the world power pivot towards the Heartland by 2050. This is her first post in our EF blog. The views expressed are those of the author and not necessarily those of the APF or its other members.
Will world power pivot from the West towards Eurasia’s Heartland in 2050? Given recent events, it is the question many are presently pondering. The question of a world power pivot to the Heartland dates back to a theory by British geographer, academic, and politician, Halford John Mackinder in 1904. Mackinder theorized a shift in world power to, and world domination by, the international power that controls the continental “pivot area” — Eurasia, and to some extent, Africa.
Mackinder’s theory of a world power shift is known widely as the “Heartland Theory”. It reflects the intricate dynamics of and relationships between geography, political power, and military strategy, interwoven with demography and economics. It is these dynamics and relationships, which Mackinder viewed as strengths, that characterize the Heartland and speak to its importance.
Geographically, the connected landmass of Europe, Asia, and Africa, what Mackinder called the “World Island”, is centrally positioned in the world. To Mackinder, this geographic positioning means that as a united force, the World Island could both project power in a way that demonstrates her global supremacy and protect herself against external powers. He viewed the external powers in relation to the World Island as the offshore islands (mainly China, India, Turkey, Germany, and Austria) and the outlying islands (the rest of Europe, Australia, North America, South America, and South Africa). Thus, Mackinder saw three world power systems as competing international forces, with the World Island at the forefront in geopolitical importance.
Mackinder maintained that the balance of global power favored the World Island, owing to her vast resources, including social capital, her distribution channels for exploiting or leveraging those resources to her advantage, and her land mobility. He surmised that her land mobility, 21 million square miles of continuous land stretching across Eurasia, technological changes, such as the continental dispersion of railway and communication networks, and also her social capital, a population size equal to two-thirds of the world’s total population, gave her a strategic military advantage. Countries of the two other world power systems can only advance their global military strategy, and thus, global political power, by sea. The World Island’s resources, demography, and military advantages were important then and now in that it could give her an unmatched competitive advantage in these areas. Mackinder also deemed that her land mobility better supports commerce than does sea power, conceivably giving her a competitive advantage economically.
Mackinder believed that the World Island's combined strengths fortified the Heartland as the pivot region of world politics. He also viewed Russia as the pivot state, because of her central position to assert power throughout the World Island, despite her weaknesses. He felt that historical events leading to Russia’s demographic evolution and widespread expansion engendered her as the logical Heartland pivot power.
Mackinder speculated that control over Eastern Europe would ensure control over the Heartland; control over the Heartland would ensure control over the World Island; and control over the World Island would solidify power over the world. Many have criticized Mackinder’s Heartland Theory for various reasons. However, others are reconsidering its plausibility and ongoing importance today.
The Heartland’s perceived importance often has been reflected in the geopolitics of countries such as the United States, Russia, and China, to name several. These countries have either maintained, expanded, or adapted their foreign policies and geopolitics, depending on their resolve for affirming, reclaiming, or capturing global superpower status. As if playing a game of chess, they are advancing their geostrategies and positioning for a struggle to control, influence, or constrain power over the Heartland.
Globalization, as a growing geostrategy, is closing the gap between international economies. Likewise, the World Island economies could leverage their combined strengths to demonstrate a potentially unmatched power assertion. Hence, the Heartland’s importance also seems connected to superpower positioning and possibly, a power pivot towards Eurasia.
Should we care if world power pivots to the Heartland in 2050? What characterizes the Heartland today? What past and current events might shape Heartland power? Who will influence this power shift? How might it play out? What might be some implications of a power shift? What might signal how the future unfolds? Geostrategic moves over the Heartland are in play today.
Paul Tero a member of our Emerging Fellows program envisions the future of offline world in our social affairs. The views expressed are those of the author and not necessarily those of the APF or its other members.
As we consider what life could be like at the half-way point of this Century, it is instructive to step back and view the flow of history. It is through an appreciation of how human affairs have changed, and what has driven those changes, that we can grasp what lies ahead. That we can begin to form answers to the questions at hand.
Questions such as: will the offline world matter in 2050? Will the teenage grandchildren of today's teenagers interact with the physical world as is currently the case? Will the limitations of our physical world be overcome by then? Will the digital realm be a greater source of influence than the temporal?
Prior to recent times, our lives were centred on the world of the atom rather than the world of the bit. It was solely in physical spaces that we built relationships, grew economies and exercised political influence. From the villages of the agricultural age to the cities of the industrial age, domestic, business and government activities were conducted exclusively through analogue means.
It is without question that we are in a period of transition. The balance is shifting from the physical to the digital. For although the online world is ubiquitous, we are still beholden to our physical world. Even though the domain names and the virtual properties they represent sell for millions, the power and opportunity that is afforded through the ownership of real-estate is even more significant. Even though a cadre of eminence grise wield the power of social media in commercial and political spheres, we still respond through our presence at the checkout or the ballot box. And even though the value of digital services is rising, our nations’ export earnings still tend to be dominated by that which can be carried in ships.
Given that the trees of tomorrow are todays seedlings, that the systems of tomorrow and the way things will be nascent today. What do we see around us? Today our social and retail transactions are dominated by ever-present digital transaction. And, as we grow more comfortable with its safety and ease, tomorrow digital transactions are more than likely to become ubiquitous in all other aspects of our lives such as our domestic, employment, health, romantic and spiritual affairs.
Today, most of us are generally free to live our lives free from statutory manipulation. But as we see administrations around the world learning to leverage digital tools to achieve social outcomes, opposing voices may well be reduced to obscurity. For even the phenomena such as the growing Tech-Lash or the various uprisings coordinated through social media will surely fade into impotence as the State develops and controls the digital-only narrative to maintain political control.
And so, in the time ahead, it is conceivable that our lives may well be centred on the world of the bit rather than the world of the atom. It is more than likely that it will solely be in virtual spaces that we build relationships, grow economies and exercise political influence. Where we are headed, transitioning from the cities of the current information age to megapolises of the coming intelligence age it is quite reasonable to assume that all domestic, business and government activities will be conducted exclusively through digital means.
From our vantage point from which we have surveyed the sweep of history, we can indeed be confident of one thing. That the life that the teenage grandchildren of today's teenagers experience will be vastly different to our current reality. We can be sure that the offline world won’t be as ascendant in our social affairs. Nor as influential in the ebbs and flows of economic decisions and transactions. And finally, neither as significant for those actors that gain and wield political power. The dominance of the offline world is set to wane.
Esmee Wilcoxwrites her third blog post in our Emerging Fellows program. She evaluates social entrepreneurs’ potency in terms of power and influence. The views expressed are those of the author and not necessarily those of the APF or its other members.
We’re living in a world where our institutions have been shaped by the power of capital are increasingly less able to meet the changing needs of citizens. Social entrepreneurs can offer alterative pathways through collaborative and creatively intense enterprises. If we fast forward to 2050, how might social entrepreneurs create new forms of power and influence? How might they exert this?
2050 will see the middle age of the next but one generation. We’re just switching on now to the influence of Millennials in the working age population. In 2050 Generation Z will be in charge. They will probably have lived through another global economic crash, after the end of the rapid rise of the next wave of technology. The seeds of that technology are around us now, responding to climate and population change and attempting to tackle the scarcity of food, energy and water. The more open socio-economic systems may be more conducive to these new technologies combining, innovating and solving problems at scale.
Capitalists and the myriad of related institutions derive power and influence by controlling the development of the infrastructure of our dominant technologies. Capital is allocated on the extent to which it can derive private gains to investors, over the most expedient timeframes. What would it look like if instead we allocated capital on the basis of social cost and benefit, over time and spatial dimensions that allowed for systems development? How might we develop the infrastructure of the next wave of technology if decisions are based on social metrics? We might see investment programmes that leverage payback from the creation of social capital as an end in itself and not as a proxy for economic growth. We might see global investment networks that tolerate the risks of start-ups from poor communities with greatest environmental potential.
So how might social entrepreneurs seize the opportunities in the next 15 years to shape the infrastructure around the next wave of technology? How might they use their networked influence that taps into the social concerns of Generation Y and Z?
We know there will be moments where the economic, political and environmental crises will open up spaces to redefine the legitimacy of existing power. Think about our current international concern for tax avoiding corporations that dominate particular technologies. Our political institutions, influenced by capitalist models as they are now, have been unable to collaborate to regulate the exchange of benefits for the social and economic system costs. Corporations play on the different local socio-economic conditions including desires for short-term growth.
Where capital starts to be allocated on a social return and system benefit, short-term policies that court tax avoiders start to decline. Where political institutions have failed to create the pressure for corporations to reform, social entrepreneurs, who derive their political power through networks and the production of known social benefits, may be more able to step in.
But crucially, to shape the infrastructure of the next wave of technologies social entrepreneurs need to be connected into the innovation ecosystems where the technologies will combine. From a number of different reporting metrics, social enterprises are on the rise globally. To capitalise on this growth, they need to be collaborating with enterprises that are seeking to tackle the problems of our environmental limits. This ecosystem leadership requires a step-change in resources and mindset that allows for adaptive, long-term approaches.
2050 could be the place where power and influence are no longer dependent on financial capital but on the systems benefits of sharing new technologies widely. In this future social entrepreneurs could have expanded their political legitimacy and technical credibility to shape the enabling infrastructure. This is a future where networking of accrued social capital has more influence than closed institutions. The question still remains, what are the best routes to expand that network?
Posted By Administration,
Friday, January 4, 2019
Updated: Wednesday, February 27, 2019
Esmee Wilcox has published her first installment in our Emerging Fellows program. She recaptures socioeconomic theories in the light of realities being experienced in our modern age. The views expressed are those of the author and not necessarily those of the APF or its other members.
Societies have sleepwalked into an acceptance of the predominance of capital. We have gone far beyond Karl Marx’s theories of capital driving the ordering of society. We no longer question the consequence of this imbalance for our existence. We need to rebalance the needs of capital and society. Not simply as an end in itself, but primarily because we need new social norms to tackle future global issues. How has this imbalance come about?
Is Marx right that the ordering of society is necessarily driven by the needs of capital? If so, what does this mean for the assumptions we bring to our conception of society? What does this mean for the widely-held view that capitalism has triumphed other economic models?
The 1990s view of the ‘triumph of capitalism’ came out of the toppling of the old communist order in Eastern Europe and the Soviet Empire. Alongside this came a slow opening up of China to trade and privately run enterprise from the late 1970s. However, there is a flaw in the logic to present capitalism as the only alternative to communism. Without any credible alternative models on the table, it is easy to see why the ideology of capitalism took hold. 25 years on, with rising populism coupled with pervasive neo-liberal power, there are three interconnected trends that illuminate the contradictions and flaws in the predominance of the economy in our patterns of local and global behaviours.
First, the enduring power of the interests of capital at the heart of government. Politically-centrist governments have gained and retained power with policies that appeal to lower-income communities. They appeal to the interests of capital because they have done so without transferring political influence.
At the same time, the interests of capital have subtly influenced the organising of public and social value to be more ‘commercial’. It has confused being responsive to citizens needs with being economically driven. The ‘McKinsey effect’ on public policy-making should not be underestimated. In more recent years there has been some recognition of the need to rebalance social with economic value within UK local government: the 2012 Social Value Act created a space for public policy-makers to utilise its purchasing power to balance economic efficiencies with social benefits. However, it hasn’t challenged the underlying economic model whereby one’s life expectancy and life chances can be predicted by one’s mother’s educational status and the extent of your vocabulary at age two.
Second, our attachment to material possessions – aptly described as ‘affluenza’ – at the heart of our economic growth model, placates the reality of our diminishing ability to influence capital power. Credit is freely available, we can buy our housing association property, but we can’t persuade governments to pay for sufficient modern housing stock to have a home and a family life. This consumerist economic model drives income generation over friendships and developing community capital. Coupled with business interests creating a more precarious working environment, we are increasingly squeezing out time to care.
Third, the status anxiety that comes from our awareness of our social position in any social interaction. We’re so worried about people who have more income. More luxurious experiences than us. Retaining our rung on the ladder. Our status dominates our social interactions and reduces the joy in them. As social encounters become harder to have, we shy away from them and become lonelier and more isolated.
This is why it’s interesting to consider alternatives to the predominance of economic drivers on our society. It doesn’t just affect people at the bottom of income distribution, but the powerful interests of capital. Society can’t be divided into economically self-supporting strata when social phenomena exist as a response to the whole. We can no longer ignore these feedback mechanisms.
Marx’s theories were conceived of in far less connected societies. They have remained intact as we have become more globally connected. However, they are not a guide to our future that is more complex, interconnected and unpredictable. We know that self-organised, adaptive and resilient communities are more able to respond to changes in the external environment. This requires high levels of co-operation and collaboration, the antithesis of atomised economic self-supporting behaviours. These are a clue to the social norms that have to be in abundance if we are to tackle global late 21st Century issues.
The triumph of capitalism is a binary argument suited to the interests of 20th century phenomena. It has taken hold because we have become seduced by its simplicity and its immediate rewards. It is much more difficult, and yet more compelling, to seek out the 21st Century socio-economic norms that will help us face up to scarce physical resources. It will be disruptive but offers hope for future generations.
Posted By Administration,
Thursday, November 1, 2018
Updated: Tuesday, February 26, 2019
Craig Perry, a member of our Emerging Fellows program inspects the anarchy in the light of international relations. The views expressed are those of the author and not necessarily those of the APF or its other members.
The international system has changed considerably since the appearance of the modern nation-state in the 17th century. Over time, more and more countries around the world have discovered the advantages of democratic governance, economic integration, and political cooperation in multilateral forums—and their interactions with each other have evolved as a consequence. Although anarchy continues to lurk behind the scenes, many actors on the international stage no longer seem bound by scripts of power politics or structural imperatives.
In recent decades, a new theory has emerged to explain this evolution. Constructivism asserts that international relations are not the immutable result of human nature or material structures, but instead are socially created through shared ideas. Alexander Wendt and other constructivist scholars contend that social interactions give meaning to ideas, which in turn shape the identities and interests of international actors—and it is these social constructions, not anarchy itself, that determine the nature of international relations. In other words, anarchy is what states make of it—and while some may respond with self-help schemes, others increasingly choose international cooperation and collective security.
If anarchy really is what states make of it, then their changing worldviews ought to have some effect on international relations. There are many schools of thought as to what drives such social change, but one of the more intriguing was advanced by Ken Wilber as a “theory of everything.” Building on the “spiral dynamics” model of human development first formulated by Clare Graves, Wilber contends that individuals pass through discrete developmental stages—from egocentric to ethnocentric to “worldcentric” and potentially beyond—as they mature, contributing to the aggregate mix of developmental levels present in the larger society. If enough people within a society begin exhibiting emerging levels of consciousness, its developmental “center of gravity” may shift toward this higher-order worldview.
The impact of such social evolution on international relations could be profound. Referring to developmental levels as color-coded “memes,” Wilber suggested that societies where an ethnocentric worldview (“blue” meme) prevails would likely see others as threats, while those at the next higher level (“orange” meme), embracing autonomy and scientific materialism, might treat them as competitors. Among those societies in Europe and North America where a pluralistic, postmodern “green” meme is more pronounced, international cooperation has become the norm. However, upward progress is not inevitable; even in “advanced” Western societies, approximately 70 percent of the population remains at the “blue” level or below, making regression to previous levels of development an ever-present possibility.
The corollary of shared ideas shaping international relations is that not everyone is always reading from the same script. States where the “green” meme is manifest still have to deal with countries operating at the “orange” and “blue” levels—not to mention the occasional power-hungry, egocentric “red” regime. Put another way, while liberal democracies like the United States and its allies traditionally see international relations in cooperative, “win-win” terms, states whose worldviews center around competition and conflict cannot be easily ignored.
Unfortunately, until all the great powers embrace a more cooperative, less confrontational vision of international relations, war among them remains a real possibility. There are few signs that Chinese or Russian societies are developing in this direction—or that their autocratic political systems would respond well to such social change. Meanwhile, U.S. advocacy for the liberal world order it helped create has become lukewarm in recent years, while less lofty ethnocentric and authoritarian sentiments are making a comeback across the globe, threatening to drag a number of nations back down the proverbial development spiral.
Even if we suppose that further progress in international relations is simply a matter of shared belief, getting all the great powers to imagine anarchy in the same way is no simple matter. And until they each construct worldviews centered on international cooperation and mutual interests, conflict among them is far easier to envision.
Posted By Administration,
Tuesday, September 25, 2018
Updated: Tuesday, February 26, 2019
Craig Perry has written his ninth installment in our Emerging Fellows program. His entire series explores the potential for another Great-power War. This piece asks whether international institutions can constrain great-power conflict. The views expressed are those of the author and not necessarily those of the APF or its other members.
Since at least the time of Thucydides, realism has dominated the study of international relations, explaining the propensity for great-power conflict in terms of human nature and systemic anarchy. But what accounts for cooperation among states? Liberalism emerged from the Enlightenment as a competing school of thought, emphasizing the importance of international institutions, free trade, and the spread of democracy in mitigating conflict—and positing a theory of change promising a more peaceful future.
For all the talk of anarchy in international relations, states do tend to cooperate on a myriad of issues. Unlike the classic “prisoner’s dilemma” that rewards defection, states have to live with the lasting consequences of their iterative foreign policy choices, making mutual cooperation an eminently rational choice. As their interests converge in a given area, states routinely enter into arrangements with one another, from informal consultations to binding treaties and international organizations, that more efficiently and productively manage their interactions. In practice, such cooperative regimes produce far more “win-win” outcomes than zero-sum solutions.
The 1648 Peace of Westphalia, which famously introduced the modern concept of state sovereignty, also inaugurated the use of multinational gatherings to resolve international disputes. Such ad hoc conferences became a recurring feature of European diplomacy following the 1815 Congress of Vienna—which also established the world’s first intergovernmental organization, to manage navigation on the Rhine—and it wasn’t long before international conventions in Geneva and The Hague began codifying laws of war.
Founded following World War I, the League of Nations was the first international organization focused on maintaining world peace, and it failed miserably owing in part to poor institutional design and lack of U.S. membership. However, this idealistic experiment paved the way for the United Nations, which has successfully resolved numerous conflicts since the Second World War through diplomacy, economic sanctions, peacekeeping operations, and even the use of military force. Nowadays, most countries insist on UN Security Council authorization before going to war, and even the great powers pay lip service to this influential institution as a forum for registering their foreign policy positions.
Beyond the UN, the United States championed a variety of multilateral regimes to promote global economic growth and regional integration in the wake of World War II, including the International Monetary Fund, World Trade Organization, NATO military alliance, and the European Union. These institutions not coincidentally served as bulwarks against Soviet expansion during the Cold War, and were instrumental in the transition of Eastern Europe to “Western” democracy and capitalism after the collapse of the USSR. They have unquestionably contributed to making Europe whole, free, and at peace.
Regional integration has been much less successful in Asia, however, where U.S. influence has been exercised primarily through bilateral arrangements among mutually mistrustful partners that only recently began to fear a rising China. Since taking up its UNSC seat in 1971, Beijing has proven itself more adept than Moscow at playing well with others in multilateral forums, joining Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation and the WTO before its northern neighbor and establishing the Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank as a potential rival to the World Bank and IMF. With the launch of its massive Belt and Road Initiative and the U.S. withdrawal from the Trans-Pacific Partnership, China is institutionalizing its regional hegemony—and challenging U.S. leadership—in ways Russia must envy.
While the proliferation of cooperative international regimes has certainly bound most states together in ways that makes war among them less likely, it puts far fewer constraints on the great powers, who jealously guard their privileged positions atop the international system. Beijing rejected arbitration under the UN Convention on the Law of the Sea over its South China Sea claims; Moscow annexed Crimea in contravention of the Budapest Memorandum on Security Assurances; and Washington routinely engages in bombing campaigns with the flimsiest of legal pretexts.
Moreover, the future of international cooperation seems increasingly uncertain. The current American president disdains the very multilateralism that for generations enhanced U.S. power and prosperity; China is promoting alternative arrangements that promise far less transparency and accountability; and Russia is intent on undermining NATO and the EU at any cost. The less committed these great powers become to prevailing security regimes, the more likely they are to disregard longstanding norms of international cooperation and multilateral conflict resolution—which could be a very dangerous development, indeed.
Ultimately, international institutions can constrain conflict—but only insofar as the great powers play along. And for Beijing, Moscow, and Washington, it’s an anarchic world after all.
Posted By Administration,
Monday, February 5, 2018
Updated: Sunday, February 24, 2019
Craig Perry is one of our Emerging Fellows, and this is his second article for the program. As you can see from the title, he has a few points to make about the great powers.
Before we can answer the question of whether another great-power war is inevitable, we should first clarify what constitutes greatness in the context of international relations. Scholars have debated this issue over the years, focusing primarily on military strength underpinned by economic vitality—which in turn are functions of population, resource endowment, and territorial expanse. A state’s political system can also contribute to its great-power rank, especially when it mobilizes its potential in pursuit of global interests. And of course, a state’s ability to shape the preferences of others through diplomacy, culture, and values—its soft power—augments its military and economic instruments of national power.
Given all that, the number of prospective great powers will remain quite small through the middle of the 21st century—with the world’s sole remaining superpower continuing to top the list. Although China and India will likely overtake the United States as the world’s largest economies by 2050, America’s steadily growing population should compensate for lackluster growth. Washington shows no sign of retreating into isolationism as it did after the First World War, and it will almost certainly continue investing in formidable military forces to defend its expansive interests around the globe, as well as exercising a significant—if increasingly contested—role in institutions ranging from the United Nations and North Atlantic Treaty Organization to the World Bank and International Monetary Fund.
By mid-century, however, America will no longer be the world’s unrivaled hegemon. The People’s Republic of China has already surpassed the United States in the gross domestic product at purchasing power parity, and this lead will only widen in the coming decades regardless of the Middle Kingdom’s impending demographic decline. The People’s Liberation Army is emerging as a near-peer competitor to the U.S. military, bolstering China’s increasingly assertive foreign policy ambitions in Asia and around the world. Frustrated by U.S.-dominated international institutions, China is developing a rival framework to advance its foreign-policy ambitions.
If China is slowly reemerging as a great power after a century and a half of foreign domination, the Russian Federation clings to delusions of Soviet grandeur despite the collapse of its empire, economy, and political system within the past three decades. Russia retains an enormous landmass and a wealth of natural resources, but it has less than half the population of the USSR—and it is expected to shrink further in the coming decades. Nevertheless, Russia is projected to remain the world’s sixth largest economy through mid-century—its overreliance on oil and gas exploitation notwithstanding—and Moscow will remain capable of fielding ever-more sophisticated military forces and projecting power across much of the globe. Moreover, unlike the Chinese, Russians can recall what it was like to be a superpower within living memory, and their leaders are determined to restore the Eurasian bear to (what they believe is) its rightful place in the international community.
While China and Russia are revisionist states challenging the U.S.-dominated international order, several other former great powers are less likely to disturb the status quo. Japan’s demographic decline and meager economic growth do not bode well for its future influence in a region increasingly dominated by its archrival, China. While Germany’s trajectory is similar to Japan, its influence is amplified by its membership in the European Union, whose combined population and economic output will continue to surpass America’s even after Britain exits the bloc. If Germany, France, and other EU member states were to renew their quest for an ever closer union by further pooling sovereignty in the foreign and security policy domains, it is not farfetched to imagine a European super-state could one day emerge as a great power alongside the United States—or even its rival, should America’s NATO commitments waver.
Of the remaining states whose economic and demographic growth ought to inspire great power aspirations, none are likely to overcome their internal weaknesses or emerge from the shadow of powerful neighbors anytime soon. India, for example, will boast the world’s largest population and second-largest economy by mid-century, but its unwieldy political system and China’s regional dominance will limit its great-power prospects.
Ultimately, what makes great powers great depends not only on what they bring to the table but also on which other states have already claimed a seat. The United States, China, Russia, and (perhaps) the EU will continue to crowd out most regional rivals through a combination of economic strength, military prowess, and soft-power appeal while leveraging their privileged positions in international institutions like the UN Security Council to advance their interests. Rogue regimes, terrorist and criminal networks, and transnational corporations and other nongovernmental organizations will undoubtedly nudge international relations this way or that, but it is the great powers who will continue writing the rules of the game.
Posted By Administration,
Thursday, December 14, 2017
Updated: Sunday, February 24, 2019
Craig Perry is one of our Emerging Fellows. He and our other Emerging Fellows will be posting throughout the year. This first article about war asks an important question for the present and the future.
“Anarchy places a premium on foresight.” – Kenneth Waltz
A century ago, with the world embroiled in what was then naively dubbed the “war to end all wars,” few people imagined a second global conflagration igniting just a generation later. Since the end of World War II, however, humanity has experienced over seven decades of relative peace, with the frequency of war deaths trending sharply downward throughout this period. This is largely attributable to the Cold War between the United States and the Soviet Union, a standoff that spawned numerous proxy conflicts but never turned truly hot. It remains to be seen whether the ongoing reemergence of a multipolar world, with potentially several states capable of exerting influence on a global scale, will lead to yet more wars among these so-called great powers.
There are good reasons to fear a return to great-power conflict. Warfare has been endemic to the human condition since the dawn of civilization, and remains the ultimate way of resolving conflicts among states even in the modern era. World affairs are inherently anarchic, with states pursuing their own advantages in a Hobbesian struggle of each against all. While the weak may occasionally band together to balance would-be hegemons, the prevailing self-help system of international relations features no permanent friends or enemies, just interests. “Countries have always competed for wealth and security, and the competition has often led to conflict,” the late neo-realist scholar Kenneth Waltz noted. “Why should the future be different from the past?”
Indeed, war has accompanied the rise and fall of great powers throughout recorded history. In his classic account of the Peloponnesian War, Greek historian Thucydides concluded that the growth of Athenian power and the fear this inspired in then-dominant Sparta made war between these city-states inevitable. This dynamic, which political scientist Graham Allison calls the “Thucydides Trap,” has ensnared rising and established powers in more than a dozen wars over the last 500 years—and it threatens to do so again as other states challenge the United States for global influence.
Such systemic, structural factors are not the only aspects of international relations that can drive states towards armed conflict. Marxists argue that capitalism compels the core, industrialized powers to compete for dominance as they exploit peripheral countries for labor and raw materials. Political scientist Samuel Huntington suggested it is culture—rather than ideology, politics, or economics—that is shaping patterns of conflict, with the Western belief in the universality of its values leading to clashes with rival civilizations. Constructivists similarly believe ideas shape international relations, as each state perceives world events in its own peculiar way.
So why should the future be different from the past? With nearly 200 sovereign states around the globe, it seems inevitable that at least some of them will come into conflict in the coming decades—and great powers will occasionally intervene if only to enforce international law or for some other ostensibly noble purpose. Yet it is far from certain that these great powers will again come to blows with each other, for several reasons. While anarchy will continue to characterize international relations for the foreseeable future, a number of developments—including nuclear deterrence, globalization of trade and investment, relevant international institutions, shifting social norms, and widespread competition below the threshold of war—are incrementally reducing the likelihood of another great-power conflict. Will these trends be enough to prevent the eventual outbreak of World War III?