Monday, April 30, 2018

The Grand Chessboard: American Primacy and Its Geostrategic Imperatives 2nd Edition by Zbigniew Brzezinski (Basic Books), a review by Stephen Darori ( #Stephendarori, #Stephendrus,@stephendarori), Bard of Bat Yam (#BardOfBatYam), Poet Laureate Of Zion (#PoetLaureateOfZion)

Here is the second edition of a well-known text on how the United States should interact in diplomacy with the nations of the Eurasian continent. The 1997 edition is reprinted unchanged, with a four-page epilogue chastising the US for engaging in unilateral wars, for "failure to prevent the emergence of a significant power rival" and for not "preventing global anarchy". "A framework of cooperation and pressure is needed in order to promote long-term collaboration between all three sides: China, the problem of the future; Russia, the disrupter of the present; and the United States, the aging superpower caught in the vice of history." I would add that the dominant power must be willing and able to act alone at times.

In the first edition, the author described the US as the hegemonic (dominant) nation and added, "America's global primacy is directly dependent on how long and how effectively its preponderance on the Eurasian continent is sustained." The author never mentions the military power underlying the primacy, but the factors which sustain power such as economic strength and prestige. From this vantage point, US hegemony has decreased since 1997, but we cannot be sure how much. Some of the decrease resulted from budget sequesters, some from lowered American morale (and lowered foreign esteem) due to the problematical war in Iraq and the financial crisis of 2007. (The author's 'Strategic Vision' spells this out in detail). Clearly power in this overall sense is difficult to evaluate. But the US remains dominant and this is as it should be. "A world without U.S. primacy will be a world with more violence and disorder and less democracy and economic growth than a world where the United States continues to have more influence than any other country in shaping global affairs." In a burst of plain speaking the author says the imperatives are "to prevent collusion and maintain security dependence among the vassals, to keep tributaries pliant and protected, and to keep the barbarians from coming together." (p.40)

The first task in understanding the strategic game is to identify the resources and dispositions of the players. The game is played on an oblong chessboard called Eurasia with the US on one side and China on the other. The author identifies five countries that are "major and active players" (France, Germany, Russia, China, and India) and other countries (Great Britain, Japan, and Indonesia) of lesser importance, which although important, do not qualify as major players. The distinction is in their political and diplomatic dynamism. The two major players on the Western side are France and Germany. Both are motivated by a vision of a united Europe, though they differ on how much and in what fashion such a Europe should remain linked to America. Five additional countries are "pivots": Turkey, Iran, Azerbaijan, and Ukraine. Their importance is in being adjacent to two or more important areas such as the Caspian Sea or another country's mineral deposits, frequently near to adjacent countries that are major players. Turkey is one example, adjacent to the Mediterranean and the Black Sea. South Korea, between China and Japan, is a Far Eastern pivot.

The author is concerned that the US-European alliance should be a true unity. So Washington must treat Europe (NATO and the European Union) as equal to it in all respects, even in view of the larger financial contributions of the US to NATO. To make Europe more united and more independent, America must "throw its weight behind those European forces that are genuinely committed to Europe's political and economic integration. [I don't know why Europe should need American help with this.] Such a strategy will also mean junking the last vestiges of the once-hallowed U.S.-U.K. special relationship." (p. 50) The demarcation between the European part of Eurasia and the Asian part is related to a system of human rights issues and an all-embracing domestic social and economic benefits. (This is explicitly stated in his book 'Strategic Vision".) The presence or lack of the system is part of "the international democratic and cooperative order." that is to be projected by an enlarging Europe into Eurasia. He considers Ukraine and the Baltic States to be European, while Turkey is on the way to becoming European (perhaps because it is a NATO member) and Russia is not so far along. Russia is considered rather savage and needs taming by Europe. I do not know the exact basis for his evaluations, but I cannot agree with him that Russia, a country that has produced Nobel prizewinning scientists and writers, should be rated below Turkey. My reason is that within common sense a country should be allowed to have its own values.

China and Japan are simpler to deal with than Europe because the situation is simpler and there are fewer alternatives. The author feels that America should be a natural ally of China because it has no designs on the Asian mainland and has historically opposed both Japanese and Russian encroachments on China. All the same, many Chinese see the US as constraining their country's influence merely by being so large and so powerful. Even if China grows at its rate of ten percent for 25 years it will still be be a very poor country. (Fact check: as of 2013, China's GDP per capita was $6807, higher than other Southeastern Asian countries while much lower than Japan's $38633.) There are contentious issues between China and other Asian countries but to me they appear small. Concerning the Taiwan issue, he suggests "one China, several systems", a natural addition to Hong Kong. But China is making this natural step difficult.

In the Epilogue, the author comments "The majority of Americans are largely skeptical of US involvement in world affairs." Being one of them, I understand their skepticism; the demands on the US seem excessive and contradictory.

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