“World order after Pax Americana?” As Virgil would say, ‘Horresco referens:” Telling it makes me shudder.
A few years ago the wise political columnist Bill Safire occasionally would interview Richard Nixon in Hell (there for having imposed wage and price controls). So let’s get the old master of strategy on the “hot line” and ask him about it.
RMN: “Sorry about the crackling noises on the line; I can hear you perfectly well.”
“Rome did not fall so much as it changed. My current successor in the White House has announced his goal of fundamentally transforming America, and he is doing it brilliantly, with the 'opposition' party falling in line.
“World orders do not last forever; most come to an end through a declining vision of wide horizons, increasing focus on the self, and a disinclination for the difficult. The ‘meaning of life’ itself changes as revealed in that full-page ad in the New York Times (we read it like Pravda down here) depicting the chief ambition of today’s young Americans is ‘to retire earlier than your father did.’ So the country has retirement on the brain and this will continue whether the next presidency is won by Elizabeth Warren or Rand Paul.
“As Pax Americana fades, each pillar of world order will weaken, causing its neighbor to slide as well; not a cascade, but a slow downward spiral of the entire international structure.
“World order requires diplomacy and power to be used in tandem; but following the Europeans, we want diplomacy to work on its own. Our flawed approach has been exploited by one dictatorial regime after another to play games with our negotiators. Iran’s nuclear weapons drive is a long-running example, and by now is unstoppable. This will undermine the nonproliferation treaty, itself a pillar of world order.
“The Arab Spring, begun with youthful hope for a freer, better life, has been commandeered by the old military, Islamist, and political gangs.
“Let me be perfectly clear: the media boys have it all wrong. The US decision to overthrow Saddam Hussein, far from being the worst foreign policy decision in our history, will be seen in years ahead as one of the most courageously correct presidential acts ever. Our war in Iraq produced two major consequences: first, it ignited the flames of liberty in the hearts of young Middle Easterners, inducing the 2005 Cedar Revolution in Lebanon, the 2009 Green protests in Iran, and the 2011 Arab Spring itself. Second, surprising everyone, it lifted the lid of tyrannical suppression to reveal what has become in one place after another a maelstrom of innumerable contending parties, a war of all against all which will have to burn itself out before the original Arab Spring generation – or the next – rises once more.
“Until that happens, which may take decades, the Middle East as a whole will become a ‘sphere of influence’ either under Iran or perhaps an Iran-Turkey-Saudi triumvirate. In either case, the region will not be part of world order but dangerously adversarial to it.
“Another sphere of influence will take shape in Asia. China’s long-held objective to control the region’s maritime waters will perforce compel the acquiescence of the other Asian states, as their naval assets together will not match those of the PRC. The US will make sporadic ‘pivotal’ shows of force on behalf of its friends, but ultimately not persuasively. Japan and the US will lapse into a sullen rhetorical stance, but accept Asia’s future as Beijing’s sphere.
“Other spheres of influence will emerge. Russia slowly will consolidate its post-Cold War goal to exercise suzerainty over the Eurasian lands lost by the collapsed Soviet Union; an informal partnership will be created between Beijing’s new empire and Moscow’s. Russia will be alarmed, but soon bought off by Beijing as the PRC takes the paramount position of influence over Europe, which will shelter under China’s aegis in return for a ‘bailout’ of the entire EU.
“Most of Africa will become an adjunct of the Middle East sphere, as Islamist forces move from the Maghreb into Sub-Saharan territory. Africa’s ‘southern cone’ will become South Africa’s sub-regional sphere.
“The US will respond to this massive global realignment by seeking to lead a Western Hemisphere sphere but will fail as a result of lingering Latin American resentment over past ‘Yanqui’ interventions. South America, led by Brazil, will then proceed to play one sphere off another, angling for the highest bidder.
“The US, by now awakened and alarmed, will belatedly try to rebuild its military power but find that ‘mothballed’ assets and skills have atrophied beyond repair.
“The long-established international system having ended, a political theory for the New World Order will emerge. Chinese intellectuals have been designing this since the opening of this century. Based on Confucian principles, the international future will be hierarchical. In place of the doctrine of ‘the equality of states,’ the larger and more powerful regimes, with China at the top, will provide direction to the lesser states. Mercantilism will be restored, supplanting the open global economy. Nationalism will regain its old potency to become the ideological equivalent of religion.
“In each region there will arise flash points of confrontation in which the strongest will prevail – as in the South China Sea and the Persian Gulf – after minor displays of resistance. The Freedom of the Seas will be only a memory. The major crisis will come over Taiwan, for when absorbed by the PRC the entire Western Pacific will fall under Beijing’s control, Japan included. The US will be summoned to ‘a moment of truth’ when this prospect is undeniable. Some in what used to be known as 'The West' will demand action, but most will be undismayed, having grown accustomed to this Brave New World.
"So the international state system of the modern age will be replaced by a world of separated and rivalrous spheres of influence. But it won’t be that simple. Sometime in the next generation, China will collapse because it cannot continue half panda—the capitalistic economy—and half dragon—the communist party.
"Russia will not be able to manage its neo-Soviet empire as it devours itself in corruption and shrivels in demographic decline. The Middle East will be cannibalized by Sunni-Shia hatreds. And Latin America will be engulfed by racial-ethnic revolutions yet to come. The US will continue obliviously to imitate a Europe already long gone to its grave.
"By the middle of the 21st century the world will have returned to the Dark Ages.
“Thanks for calling. I look forward to seeing you soon down here.”