The Case for a Grand Strategy of Responsible Competition to Defend the Liberal International Order

The Case for a Grand Strategy of Responsible Competition to Defend the Liberal International Order

Octavian Manea

SWJ interview with Thomas J. Wright, author of All Measures Short of War: The Contest For The 21st Century & The Future OF American Power, published by Yale University Press, 2017.

Thomas J. Wright is the director of the Center on the United States and Europe and a fellow in the Project on International Order and Strategy at the Brookings Institution. Previously, he was executive director of studies at the Chicago Council on Global Affairs, a lecturer at the Harris School of Public Policy at the University of Chicago, and senior researcher for the Princeton Project on National Security.

Let’s start with the title. Why do you feel that the “all measures short of war” concept captures the essence of the competition of our time?

The title of the book was inspired by the famous lecture gave by George Kennan in the mid 1940s but also by the strategy that president Roosevelt pursued against Germany in the late 1930s. What I really mean is that we are entering a period of renewed geopolitical competition between the major powers. They do not want to fight each other directly in a general war. I don’t think China has any interest in waging a hegemonic war against United States. But they will compete vigorously beneath the threshold and they will use a lot of strategies and tactics, all measures short of war to achieve their strategic objectives. So it is likely to see economic, cyber and proxy warfare, coercive diplomacy and all sorts of other measures. That doesn’t mean of course that general war won’t occur. When FDR pursued that strategy, general war did occur, but it does mean that it is more likely to see that the intention of these powers is to use all of these other measures. We are looking at a long period of greater competition between big countries.

How do you assess the role kinetic/hard power plays in advancing contemporary revisionism? Although not central, hard-power capabilities are always in proximity, offstage. Moreover, the proliferation of A2/AD capabilities is changing the calculus about what is achievable regionally, making limited war more likely.

Hard power remains a crucial element of this. But the point that I am trying to make in the book is that it is not just about the overall level of defense expenditures, not just about the overall balance of power but about strategic power and the strategy you pursue where hard power remains a key aspect. For example in Crimea the overall balance of power between Russia and U.S. has mattered less than of the deployable power that Russia had in that particular crisis, the stronger Russian will to act or the proximity and the fact that they could take the initiative. All of these things were decisive and mattered a lot in that case. To me it is not really about an overall balance of power as it is about the strategic advantages and disadvantages that each side has in a particular strategic competition.

At the core, your book is about preserving and defending a certain type of international order, one with liberal traits. What are the virtues of the liberal international order, of the world that America made? Why is preserving a liberal international order a strategic and vital interest for the U.S.?

When we look at foreign policy and strategy we need to think about the type of world we want to create. What is the type of system we want to live in? I think there are basically two fundamental options available. One option is some version of the liberal international order that existed in the Western world since the mid-late 1940s and in most of the world since the end of the Cold War. That would not be identical to what it was in the past, but it would be somewhat similar to that. The second option is a sphere of influence system where China is the preeminent power in East Asia, Russia is much stronger in Eastern Europe, the European Union has disintegrated, the global economy is much more mercantilist, the world is much more nationalistic, the U.S. still has influence in some parts of the world but essentially has retreated from the proactive role that has had in promoting regional equilibriums in the key regions of the world.

To me the liberal international order is far preferable because the mercantilist alternative is much less stable, is much less likely to provide prosperity for the world as a whole, it would be far less cooperation on transnational issues and it will be extremely difficult and dangerous in getting to a sphere of influence system. The liberal international order is preferable in absolute terms but it is increasingly contested, under severe pressure internally because of the rise of the populism, but at the same externally with the return of the revisionist powers and of a more nationalistic geopolitically competitive world. U.S. has a fundamental strategic choice to which path to take. The real debate in American strategy is between two schools of thought one favoring restraint and retrenchment, and the other, increased engagement and competitiveness, one that puts at the heart of U.S. strategy the existential geopolitical challenge against the liberal order.

It is often said that Vietnam War was lost in the minds of the American people. Are we in danger of losing the competition for hearts and minds when it comes to persuading the American people that the costs of defending a liberal order are worth paying? What does the rise of Trumpism tell us about the consensus regarding U.S. foreign policy? He campaigned on a narrative that is the anti-thesis of the core beliefs that were articulated after WW2.

It is true that Trump is the first elected president that is critical of this international order. It is also true that he wasn’t elected on foreign policy. The people that cared about foreign policy tend to vote for Hillary Clinton. From this perspective I don’t think the country has moved and fully believes in Trumpism internationally. It is also true that he had to moderate its position while in office. As people see the alternative of what America first would look like they will recoil and not become fans of it. It does present a big challenge, we need to ask some fundamental questions but I don’t think it necessarily signals an irreversible shift in how America thinks about the world. I think there is a general support for the alliances and liberal order. The real problem is a strategic one-how we respond strategically to some of these challenges.

The story of this administration is really a struggle between the two different camps and it will remain that way. There is a mainstream camp led by the Secretary Mattis and Lieutenant General McMaster and others that basically want to preserve the international order, the U.S. alliances-system and an open global economy. But there is also a more nationalist camp, the America first camp, composed by people like Stephen Bannon and Stephen Miller and most importantly Donald Trump himself who is quite nationalistic in his views. This struggle will never be really resolved. Neither one is going anywhere.

The president will still have all these nationalistic impulses even if he compromises on occasion. The mainstream camp is not going anywhere because they realize that what they are doing is so important. We will never get to a Trump doctrine and to a common strategy because that tension will never be resolved. You will have it swing one way or the other way. As long as somebody like Donald Trump is President we will have high levels of systemic risks in U.S. foreign policy because there is uncertainty about his commitment to the basic tenets of U.S. strategy as has existed over the past 70 years.

What at stake if the international community accommodates China’s South China Sea claims? In Tokyo, for example, there is a perception that it is a matter of when, not if, China will push to establish an ADIZ in the South China Sea. More broadly why does the future of the borderlands/border-regions matter for the liberal international order?

These disputes really go beyond some islands in the South China Sea or for that matter small towns and villages in Eastern Ukraine. What they are fundamentally about is whether China and Russia get to establish a major sphere of influence in their regions. The control of South China Sea for China would be a key part of establishing a sphere of influence in East Asia, one that largely had the control of the Western part of the Western Pacific. That will fundamentally change relations with the U.S. in the region because it will give China a much stronger power base, much more influence regionally and capacity to push U.S. to the side and become the main organizer of the regional politics. China would be in a position to control the sea and airspace within its sphere of influence and dictate key economic, political, and foreign- policy decisions to its neighbors. That will not be welcome by the rest of the region, it will probably lead to more competition, but if it would succeed it would badly damage the U.S. interests and the international order and it be a step towards a sphere of influence system that is fairly unstable. The contest is between two very different visions of regional order: the continuation of the U.S.-led liberal order or a Chinese spheres-of-influence system.

Let’s talk about the nature of today’s revisionism. It is no longer, or not yet, the revolutionary revisionism on the scale that we’ve seen in the inter-war period. It is more calibrated, measured, a version that is more oriented towards salami-slicing tactics. The contemporary revisionism operates more insidious, under the threshold. What are the common denominators and differences in the ways that Russia and China practice revisionism?

What we see in revisionist behavior today is pretty consistent with revisionist behavior in 19th and early 20th century. In this case the common sort of characteristic is that they tend to go out after the non-vital, peripheral interests of a major power because doing so generally doesn’t provoke the retaliatory strike that would come from attacking a vital interest. They send the message that it is not really worth quarrelling over some small villages in Eastern Europe or something that is marginal. It is, in effect, a salami slicing strategy. Such acts appear to be of limited strategic importance, until, in the aggregate, they acquire a much greater value generating sizable regional gains that simply disrupt the status quo. Today we see the return of this behavior in both Europe and East Asia.

At the same time, we need to keep in mind the differences. Russia is a declining power while Russia is a rising power. China is a maritime power while Russia is primarily land power centered. Russia used its hard power in very aggressive ways to achieve its objective where China has pursued a more softer, insidious recipe through civilian fleets and economic leverage. China is generally more supportive of some parts of the international order while Russia tends to be a more robust ideological critic of the liberal order. But both are trying to create their own sphere of influence in the region.

What does “responsible competition” mean when applied to the European theater?

It is basically a deepening of U.S. engagement in order to strengthen the European order and push back against Russia. With the Trump Administration to start is important to go back to basics. The U.S. should support the European Union. It should seek a strong partnership with the EU and not try to undermine it. The U.S. administration should reinforce NATO and article 5. The president should give a speech on article 5. U.S. should downplay the role of burden-sharing, revive and broaden TTIP and make it more ambitious than it was under the Obama Administration. It is also important to bolster democracy in Central and Eastern Europe, strengthening deterrence of Russian aggression, countering Russian efforts to interfere in Western politics. The Europe does need to take into account the competitive nature of the world. The European do need to adopt a strategy that recognizes the challenges that Russia poses and treat Russia as a competitor. In general Russia is taking advantages of a lot of the divisions inside Europe and some of the fears the people have. Particularly the return of nationalism creates a rich environment to exploit. Putin’s number one objective is not the destruction of NATO but the weakening of the European Union. I worry not about a multi-speed Europe (which existed for a long time) but of a multi-tier Europe where you have different classes of countries. If we create a Europe where certain countries are disadvantaged that will work to Putin’s advantage.

What would have been the consequence of not expanding the liberal order after the Cold War? It is a scenario highly desired by realists and offshore balancers. Even George Kennan was a supporter of this perspective. To me the age of the gray-zone interference could have come much earlier.

It would have been catastrophic if NATO would not have expanded and included the Central and Eastern Europe. If NATO would not have expanded to include the Baltic states we might be looking at Ukraine style conflict in Baltic and other parts of Eastern Europe. The fact that they are in NATO has made very difficult for Russia to pursue revisionist goals in those countries. Sometime we look to Ukraine as an example of expansion that was too close to Russia. The flip side of that is that if NATO would not have expanded at all then Europe would be a lot less stable, even than it is today. It was really the NATO expansion that insured the spread of democracy and stability.

The 1990s and 2000s were pretty permissive environments for the rise of democracies. You had a growing global economy, growing multilateral forum (EU and NATO) and that caused countries to evolve in a liberal direction and become more democratic. Now we’ve seen the reverse: a financial crisis followed by a great recession and a very slow recovery, the return of geopolitical competition and this environment helps the authoritarian forces. They project a narrative of decline and immigration that reinforces their influence. Spreading democracy will be difficult, but bolstering democracy is vital.

The danger today, to many, is that the old Palmerstonian, transactionalist mindset is becoming the new normal. In the second half of the 2000s, there was a growing support for advancing the creation of a Concert of Democracies or an Alliance of Democracies. Isn’t this idea more necessary today in an environment where you need a mobilization of like-minded stakeholders to defend the rules-based liberal international ecosystem? Has the time come to dust off/revive the 2007 idea of a Concert of Democracies/Alliance of Democracies?

I do think that there is scope for democracies to work together. But it might be a challenge to have a global concert now, especially given the attitude of the president of U.S. Democracies share certain values and interests and should cooperate more together than they have in the past, even if the U.S. is absent.

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Since we are talking about a grand strategy -- for "defending the liberal international order" -- maybe we should start this discussion by asking ourselves exactly which version (Version 1.0: The Post-World War II Version, or, Version 2.0: The Post-Old Cold War Version) of the "liberal international order" we wish to defend. In this regard, consider the following:

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Evolution of Liberal International Order

As John Ikenberry has shown, the current international order is actually a kind of fusion of two distinct order-building projects: firstly the modern state system, a project dating back to the Peace of Westphalia in 1648; and secondly the liberal order, which over the last two centuries was led by the United Kingdom and the United States and which in the twentieth century was aided by the “liberal ascendancy” — that is, rise of liberal democratic states. The Westphalian order was based on the concept of the sovereignty of states. The “liberal vision” of Western democracies, on the other hand, included “open markets, international institutions, cooperative security democratic community, progressive change, collective problem solving, shared sovereignty, [and] the rule of law.”

In other words, what we think of as the “liberalism” of the current international system is based on an older foundation of “order” — what might be called a “realist” rather than a “liberal” international order. The post-World War II liberal international order did not simply replace the previous order but rather developed on top of it. Thus, Ikenberry suggests, the liberal international order can be thought of in terms of a geological metaphor of layers or “strata”: the Westphalian system is a kind of “bedrock” on top of which various forms of order have developed that have become gradually more liberal over time. Moreover, within the liberal international order there is a tension between “liberalism” and “order,” which can be seen most clearly by examining the evolution of the liberal international order since the end of World War II.

Western analysts sometimes see the Atlantic Charter — a joint declaration between President Franklin D. Roosevelt and Prime Minister Winston Churchill signed in August 1941 — as the founding document of the liberal international order. The principles set out in the charter included peace and security (including the right to self-defense and the preservation of the territorial status quo), self-governance (self-rule, open societies, the rule of law), economic prosperity (economic advancement, improved labor standards, social welfare), and free trade and the preservation of the global commons. The Atlantic Charter drew on the “four freedoms” — freedom of speech, freedom of worship, freedom from want, and freedom from fear — that Roosevelt had outlined in his State of the Union Address earlier in 1941. It in turn informed the U.S. commitment to the postwar recovery and security of Europe through the Marshall Plan and the North Atlantic Treaty.

However, these documents based on liberal principles were signed only by Western powers. There was no document that laid out the basis for a specifically liberal international order that was agreed by all the world’s powers. The only shared basis of the postwar order was the United Nations Charter, which was signed by 50 of the 51 original member countries of the United Nations in June 1945. However, this was based largely on Westphalian principles rather than the liberal principles to which Western powers committed after 1945. The global economy did become somewhat more liberal after 1945 though the General Agreement on Trade and Tariffs (GATT). But the Bretton Woods institutions — the World Bank and International Monetary Fund (IMF) — were somewhere in between Western and global institutions: they aspired to be global but were dominated by Western powers and to some extent reflected Western economic interests.

After the end of the Cold War, the liberal international order evolved further. In some respects, it is Western democracies rather than authoritarian, non-Western, or rising powers that have been the “revisionist” powers during this period. In particular, they drove the creation of the International Criminal Court (ICC) (though the United States has not joined it) and developed the ideas of a “responsibility to protect” (R2P), which was adopted by the United Nations in 2005, and of “humanitarian intervention.” These innovations have qualified the sovereignty of states in important and controversial ways. If state sovereignty is an essential element of the liberal international order (and some would argue that it is its essence), sovereigntist powers such as China and Russia have a point when they argue that it is they rather than Western powers that are defending the principles of the liberal international order — albeit the 1945 version of it.

Seen against the background of this evolution, current arguments between the West and authoritarian powers such as China and Russia are not so much about the liberal international order itself but about different versions of it and in particular about the way Western powers have sought to change it since the end of the Cold War. In particular, Russia seems to want to go back to the order agreed at the Yalta conference in 1945, in which states with different ideologies and political systems co-exist and in particular respect territorial sovereignty — a “purely Westphalian world,” as Peter Harris puts it, which would be “tolerant of pluralism among nations.” In contrast, the more “liberal” order for which many in the West argued in the post-Cold War period “demands that states be obedient to liberal principles in foreign policy (and in significant aspects of domestic policy, too).”

END QUOTE

http://www.gmfus.org/publications/what-liberal-international-order

Note that in the second-to-last quoted paragraph above, the author of this quoted item seems to agree with my suggestion -- made in my first comment below -- that Russia and China are not acting as revisionist powers today. This such characterization properly belonging to the U.S./the West instead?

("In some respects, it is Western democracies rather than authoritarian, non-Western, or rising powers that have been the “revisionist” powers during this period. ... If state sovereignty is an essential element of the liberal international order [and some would argue that it is its essence], sovereigntist powers such as China and Russia have a point when they argue that it is they rather than Western powers that are defending the principles of the liberal international order — albeit the 1945 version of it.")

Bottom Line Question -- Based On The Above:

ALL of our problems today (foreign and domestic), thus, stemming from our efforts to transform -- not only our own countries and other states and societies of the world also but, indeed, the international system/the "liberal internal order" -- along different/alien and profane political, economic, social and/or value lines? Such unwanted "change" requirements being the very recipe/the exact formula for causing/instigating both internal and external conflict/war -- and this on, potentially, a both "worldwide" and an "at home and abroad" scale?

I suspect you know part of your argument is nonsense, the world would have drastically worse security problems if it wasn't for the liberal based international order. History proves this, and contrary to your pet peeve about the U.S. as always being in the wrong, western human rights values are embraced by much of the world, especially those whose rights have been suppressed by tyrants. However, that doesn't mean democracy is a legitimate or effective form of governance in all countries. Our desire to impose democracy instead of set conditions where it can gradually evolve has set us back in recent years.

China and Russia are revisionist states who seek to expand their borders and impose their will upon other states. Mao, Lenin, Ho, we're all revisionists who used extreme measures to impose their systems domestically and beyond. The U.S. and many Western states revised the international order after the great wars in an attempt to prevent future wars. This revision worked relatively well, but is under considerable pressure now. The West ignores this threat at their own pearl, because this outlying behavior by states that reject the rules will lead to armed conflict that will not remain isolated. As for what international order we should defend, it is relatively easy to see the character of the order and rules change as the global system evolves. It has never been written in stone. However, illegal territory grabs and slaughtering innocent civilians should remain against the rules indefinitely, even people like you that don't believe in human rights or state's sovereignty should appreciate the risk to our nation by unmitigated refugee flows, disruption of trade, loss of access to resources, loss of markets, and the increased risk of major war.

First:

Bill M.: Above you said:

"The U.S. and many Western states revised the international order after the great wars in an attempt to prevent future wars. This revision worked relatively well, but is under considerable pressure now. The West ignores this threat at their own peril, because this outlying behavior by states that reject the rules will lead to armed conflict that will not remain isolated."

Next, from the quoted/linked article in my comment above:

"However, during the post-Cold War period, it was often the West that “broke the rules” of the security order. In particular, the NATO military intervention against Serbia in 1999, which was carried out without a mandate from the United Nations Security Council, was perceived by many, especially outside the West, as a violation of international law. This was followed by the U.S.-led invasion of Iraq in 2003. The question here is not whether each or both of these interventions, which were justified in various ways, was right or wrong. It is also important to emphasize that these interventions also did not involve the annexation of territory. But they illustrate that Western powers were prepared to break the rules when they believed there was a compelling reason to do so. It is only more recently, as other powers have broken the rules, that Western powers have insisted on the paramount importance of the “rules-based” order."

Thus, from this latter perspective, it is, obviously, the U.S./the West who first "broke the rules" and who, accordingly, has become the one responsible for:

a. The "armed conflict(s) that will not remain isolated?" And, potentially,

b. "Unmitigated refugee flows (in this regard, think of the Greater Middle East today), disruption of trade, loss of access to resources, loss of markets, and the increased risk of major war?"

Last:

Bill M: Above you said:

"The U.S. and many Western states revised the international order after the great wars in an attempt to prevent future wars."

In this regard, consider this from NSC-68; which suggests a markedly different -- a somewhat more selfish/more realistic/more realist understanding -- of why the U.S./the West revised the international order after the great wars:

"OUR OVERALL POLICY AT THE PRESENT TIME MAY BE DESCRIBED AS ONE DESIGNED TO FOSTER A WORLD ENVIRONMENT IN WHICH THE AMERICAN SYSTEM CAN SURVIVE AND FLOURISH. It therefore rejects the concept of isolation and affirms the necessity of our positive participation in the world community.

This broad intention embraces two subsidiary policies. ONE IS A POLICY WHICH WE WOULD PROBABLY PURSUE EVEN IF THERE WERE NO SOVIET THREAT. It is a policy of attempting to develop a healthy international community. The other is the policy of "containing" the Soviet system. These two policies are closely interrelated and interact on one another. Nevertheless, the distinction between them is basically valid and contributes to a clearer understanding of what we are trying to do.

The policy of striving to develop a healthy international community is the long-term constructive effort which we are engaged in. It was this policy which gave rise to our vigorous sponsorship of the United Nations. It is of course the principal reason for our long continuing endeavors to create and now develop the Inter-American system. It, as much as containment, underlay our efforts to rehabilitate Western Europe. Most of our international economic activities can likewise be explained in terms of this policy.

In a world of polarized power, the policies designed to develop a healthy international community are more than ever necessary to our own strength."

(The capitalization of the two sentences above -- for emphasis -- is mine.)

https://www.trumanlibrary.org/whistlestop/study_collections/coldwar/docu... (see Page 21.)

Thus, to suggest that -- even such things as our post-Old Cold War "human rights"/"R2P"/"Liberal International Order Version 2.0" initiatives -- these, likewise, must be thought of:

a. Less in idealist/idealistic/what's best for others/humanitarian/unselfish/"prevent future wars" terms and

b. More in realistic/realist/what's best for us/selfish/"fostering a world environment in which the American system can survive and flourish" terms?

Thus, terms in which the U.S./the West can, obviously, (a) "break the rules" (b) "make new rules" and, indeed, (c) "pursue/initiate wars;" this, so as to attempt to better provide for our "American system" -- as noted in NSC-68 above?

Your thoughts?

Have I, inadvertently above, made something of a (realist -- not idealist) "Case for a Grand Strategy of Responsible Competition to Defend the Liberal International Order?" (Specifically, Version 2.0?)

I agree there is justification to develop a grand strategy to protect and advance the liberal world order, but if you're advancing a world order, by definition that grand strategy would require the consensus and contributions of many nations. While the concept of a rules based order that somewhat embraces Western human rights has direct ties to security and prosperity, they are not easy to explain in a tweet or a one minute sound byte during the 24 news cycle. Thus generating the political will to implement this strategy will perhaps be the greatest challenge.

Given the rise of populism (to wit: the anti-status quo/anti-establishment/pro status-quo anti movements) -- that we appear to be see emerging/developing throughout the world today -- should we include this apparent "worldwide" (with the Brexit and the election of President Trump) phenomenon in our current "grand strategy" discussions?

First, from our article above:

BEGIN QUOTE

When we look at foreign policy and strategy we need to think about the type of world we want to create. What is the type of system we want to live in? I think there are basically two fundamental options available. One option is some version of the liberal international order that existed in the Western world since the mid-late 1940s and in most of the world since the end of the Cold War. That would not be identical to what it was in the past, but it would be somewhat similar to that. The second option is a sphere of influence system where China is the preeminent power in East Asia, Russia is much stronger in Eastern Europe, the European Union has disintegrated, the global economy is much more mercantilist, the world is much more nationalistic, the U.S. still has influence in some parts of the world but essentially has retreated from the proactive role that has had in promoting regional equilibriums in the key regions of the world.

END QUOTE

Next, from a recent Brookings Institute article:

BEGIN QUOTE

To what extent does the rise of populist forces around the world benefit Russian president Vladimir Putin? Many right-wing and nationalist parties sweeping across Europe have proven more pro-Russian than their mainstream counterparts. They see Putin as an ad hoc ally in their rebellion against the liberal and globalized world order, while Putin sees them as an opportunity.

Contrary to popular belief, the Russian president is no fan of populism. His support for populist parties in Europe and the United States is simply opportunistic: he will seek to bolster their chances, if they can fracture support for mainstream parties that tend to view Russia as a threat and the transatlantic bond as vital for countering it. His support is a pure calculation in order to survive.

Nowhere is the rise of populism more consequential for Russia than in the United States. But will Trump’s populist flair and desire to shake up the Washington establishment benefit Putin in the long run?

Putin and Populism

Despite Putin’s support for anti-establishment forces abroad, he stands as a bulwark against populism at home. For Putin, populism is the “headless chicken” that destroyed the Soviet Union, unleashing unprecedented and uncontrollable political and economic forces for which no one was prepared.

END QUOTE

https://www.brookings.edu/blog/order-from-chaos/2017/03/30/putins-no-pop...

(Herein, the U.S./Western "populist" anti-status quo/anti-establishment/pro-status quo anti movements being the matter that, actually, is driving "the second option" -- noted in my first quoted item from our article above?)

Thus, from Russia, China, Iran and the Islamists' perspective, and re: their "containment" and "roll back" strategies versus the U.S./the West's "expansionist" designs today, these such "populist" movements -- specifically in the U.S./the West currently -- these must be seen as "gifts from God;" this, given that these such U.S./Western "populist movements" -- by their very nature -- tend to (a) bring to an abrupt end U.S./Western expansionist designs and, likewise, tend to (b) cause the U.S./the West to consider retreating -- "Pell Mell" -- from the larger world?

Bottom Line:

"Populist" movements -- in the former Soviet Union as noted in the Brookings Institute item quoted above (see: "For Putin, populism is the 'headless chicken' that destroyed the Soviet Union, unleashing unprecedented and uncontrollable political and economic forces for which no one was prepared.") -- and, indeed, in the U.S./the West now also -- sounding the "death knell" to (or, at least, seriously threatening/compromising) both these great powers' (a) physical and/or ideological expansionist goals and, indeed, (b) their very existence?

Wright refers to the title’s inspiration partly coming from Roosevelt’s prewar campaign against Germany. However, I would say that Roosevelt’s campaign against Japan were much more significant, to the extent that Japan felt reasonably justified in responding to the American “short of war” campaign with war.

Herein lies the problem of focusing on non-combat competition: what if a target state cannot effectively respond without resorting to combat; what if the non-combat measures are too effective on a target and provoke combat?

Wright: “One option is some version of the liberal international order that existed in the Western world since the mid-late 1940s and in most of the world since the end of the Cold War.”

Most of the world? According to the Economist Intelligence Unit, in 2016 only 11% of countries are “full” democracies and only 5% of the world’s population reside in them. The collapse of Communism in East-Central Europe certainly created many more “full” and “hybrid” or “partly free” democracies, and increased the share of population living in these types of societies from one-third to almost one-half, however, little has changed from 2000 to 2016 (per Freedom House indices). We can infer that other factors are retarding the expansion and deepening of democracy than international competition between liberal democratic and authoritarian great powers.

Wright: “The second option is a sphere of influence system where China is the preeminent power in East Asia, Russia is much stronger in Eastern Europe, the European Union has disintegrated, the global economy is much more mercantilist, the world is much more nationalistic, the U.S. still has influence in some parts of the world but essentially has retreated from the proactive role that has had in promoting regional equilibriums in the key regions of the world.”

There are far too many assumptions baked into this “option”, which are more indicative of the author’s political convictions and of popular discourse in the U.S. today, than they are of the author’s prescience with regard to trends over the next decade or so.

Firstly, short of the tectonic plates rearranging themselves or the emergence of a deadly virus to which the Han are uniquely vulnerable, China is the “preeminent power in East Asia” due to the sheer size of its territory, population and economy, as well as the diminutiveness of its neighbors and the Han diaspora in Taiwan, Singapore, Malaysia and the Philippines.

Secondly, Russia is situated in Eastern Europe, and is also the most powerful country in that neighborhood. Yet after reaching its peak in the aftermath of the war, Russian power in the region has been declining gradually and in convulsions from 1962 to present. Although the Russian diasporas in the Baltic republics, Belarus and Ukraine (to which I would add “Transnistria”) are irredentist irritants, the very sovereignty of these countries is a historical aberration. Is Russia “stronger” now that it has invaded Ukraine? I would say: no. Russia’s use of force demonstrated the weakness of its soft power compared to Western Europe’s. A major portion of those living on the territory of Ukraine east of the Dnieper as well as the vast majority of those living in Crimea, have been Russophones and Russophiles for centuries, and so Russia only gained the support of those in 2014 that it had more or less already had. For Westerners, we should acknowledge that merely because our 1990s nightmares of Eurasian warlords running amok with ICBMs never happened (thanks to dedicated Russians and Americans alike), that did not mean that the dissolution of the world’s most powerful empire was clean and quick. Yeltsin was actually as aggressive as Putin, but the West gave his partly free/hybrid democracy the benefit of the doubt; yet each is keenly aware of what is NATO and what is not. If Putin was prepared to take on NATO, then why not wait to intervene in Georgia and Ukraine? Why menace Sweden and Finland before potential accession? If Putin strikes out anywhere, it will be in Kazakhstan to forestall Astana hiding behind Beijing’s skirts, to gain a few million more ethnic Russian citizens, and possibly to capture some lower-cost oil and gas sources. Having said all of this, if Putin does take the political decision to strike at NATO militarily, I doubt he will appear in Suwalki or Narva; rather, Russian soldiers will appear on an uninhabited island or ice floe claimed by Canada, Denmark or Norway. Such a challenge would be initially bloodless and the target would be forced to request American assistance.

Thirdly, is the author’s issue that Russia and China are great powers, or the character of their governments?

Fourth, the EU is not disintegrating, but the creeping supranationalism imposed on its member states is being rolled back. In all probability, use of the euro, wealth transfers between member states, and the imposition of German and Swedish immigration policies on the rest of the EU, will end. There is a clear conflict of interest between Brussels and Berlin, on the one hand, and the rest of Europe on the other. Belgium is a dysfunctional multinational state and Germany believes that it has a historic duty to transform itself from an ethnic nation-state to a purely civic society that adheres to supranational values and subsidizes them. Should Europe be united by the chaos of Brussels and the war guilt of Berlin?

Fifth, free trade is objectively good, but we must acknowledge that state capitalist economies are participating in this system along with mixed economies, and that developed economies all benefited at some stage from protections and privileges. American complaints about Chinese intellectual property theft are ironic considering how Germany and the U.S. used such methods to compete with Great Britain during the industrialization period. As non-Western economies are increasingly competitive, low-skilled Westerners increasingly demand to be paid because they are Westerners, and they vote accordingly. A new “New Deal” of sorts will be required to placate this portion of the Western electorate.

The postwar U.S. grand strategy has not been to be “proactive” or to promote “regional equilibriums”. On the contrary, it was engaged to contain the Communist threat and to prevent the resurgence of a hostile military threat in West-Central Europe; today, it seeks to disrupt the formation of a hostile power on the order of the Axis or Warsaw Pact. In the absence of such existential threats, the U.S. has no interest in or need to be very “proactive”. One must question why the U.S. should defend Philippine sovereignty and advance Philippine interests with more enthusiasm than the Philippine state, for nothing in return.

Wright: “These disputes really go beyond some islands in the South China Sea or for that matter small towns and villages in Eastern Ukraine. What they are fundamentally about is whether China and Russia get to establish a major sphere of influence in their regions. The control of South China Sea for China would be a key part of establishing a sphere of influence in East Asia, one that largely had the control of the Western part of the Western Pacific.”

The author fails to grasp that the West is itself a “sphere” and that he is promoting alliance systems and trading blocs that exclude Russia and China on the one hand, and that border them, on the other. He is not promoting non-alignment or neutrality. Nor does he explain why the U.S. should take on this burden when there are other Western powers more proximate and interested in these areas.

To me, at least, the proper understanding of China and Russia's strategic approach today is not "revisionist" in nature.

Rather, their strategy, in my mind, looks to be more "reactionary" in nature and, thus, more "containment" and "roll back"-oriented.

Thus, A RESPONSE to our post-Old Cold War efforts to gain greater power, influence and control throughout the world by (a) transforming outlying states and societies more along modern western political, economic, social and value and lines and by (b) incorporating same more into the U.S./the Western sphere of interest.

(And, thus, I suggest, it is exactly as per this"cold war" concept that such things as "all measures short of war" [a] were easily understood during the Old Cold War of yesterday and [b] are again easily understood in the similar, but reversed, conflict environment that we find ourselves in today.)

In this regard, let me provide an alternative thought to our interviewer's, Octavian Manea's, question above:

BEGIN QUESTION QUOTE OF OCTAVIAN MANEA:

What would have been the consequence of not expanding the liberal order after the Cold War? It is a scenario highly desired by realists and offshore balancers. Even George Kennan was a supporter of this perspective. To me the age of the gray-zone interference could have come much earlier.

END QUOTE

Now: Let's see what George Kennan actually said about NATO expansion:

BEGIN (1998) QUOTE OF GEORGE KENNAN INTERVIEW:

His voice is a bit frail now, but the mind, even at age 94, is as sharp as ever. So when I reached George Kennan by phone to get his reaction to the Senate's ratification of NATO expansion it was no surprise to find that the man who was the architect of America's successful containment of the Soviet Union and one of the great American statesmen of the 20th century was ready with an answer.

''I think it is the beginning of a new cold war,'' said Mr. Kennan from his Princeton home. ''I think the Russians will gradually react quite adversely and it will affect their policies. I think it is a tragic mistake. There was no reason for this whatsoever. No one was threatening anybody else. This expansion would make the Founding Fathers of this country turn over in their graves. We have signed up to protect a whole series of countries, even though we have neither the resources nor the intention to do so in any serious way. [NATO expansion] was simply a light-hearted action by a Senate that has no real interest in foreign affairs.''

''What bothers me is how superficial and ill informed the whole Senate debate was,'' added Mr. Kennan, who was present at the creation of NATO and whose anonymous 1947 article in the journal Foreign Affairs, signed ''X,'' defined America's cold-war containment policy for 40 years. ''I was particularly bothered by the references to Russia as a country dying to attack Western Europe. Don't people understand? Our differences in the cold war were with the Soviet Communist regime. And now we are turning our backs on the very people who mounted the greatest bloodless revolution in history to remove that Soviet regime.

''And Russia's democracy is as far advanced, if not farther, as any of these countries we've just signed up to defend from Russia,'' said Mr. Kennan, who joined the State Department in 1926 and was U.S. Ambassador to Moscow in 1952. ''It shows so little understanding of Russian history and Soviet history. Of course there is going to be a bad reaction from Russia, and then [the NATO expanders] will say that we always told you that is how the Russians are -- but this is just wrong.''

One only wonders what future historians will say. If we are lucky they will say that NATO expansion to Poland, Hungary and the Czech Republic simply didn't matter, because the vacuum it was supposed to fill had already been filled, only the Clinton team couldn't see it. They will say that the forces of globalization integrating Europe, coupled with the new arms control agreements, proved to be so powerful that Russia, despite NATO expansion, moved ahead with democratization and Westernization, and was gradually drawn into a loosely unified Europe. If we are unlucky they will say, as Mr. Kennan predicts, that NATO expansion set up a situation in which NATO now has to either expand all the way to Russia's border, triggering a new cold war, or stop expanding after these three new countries and create a new dividing line through Europe.

But there is one thing future historians will surely remark upon, and that is the utter poverty of imagination that characterized U.S. foreign policy in the late 1990's. They will note that one of the seminal events of this century took place between 1989 and 1992 -- the collapse of the Soviet Empire, which had the capability, imperial intentions and ideology to truly threaten the entire free world. Thanks to Western resolve and the courage of Russian democrats, that Soviet Empire collapsed without a shot, spawning a democratic Russia, setting free the former Soviet republics and leading to unprecedented arms control agreements with the U.S.

And what was America's response? It was to expand the NATO cold-war alliance against Russia and bring it closer to Russia's borders.

Yes, tell your children, and your children's children, that you lived in the age of Bill Clinton and William Cohen, the age of Madeleine Albright and Sandy Berger, the age of Trent Lott and Joe Lieberman, and you too were present at the creation of the post-cold-war order, when these foreign policy Titans put their heads together and produced . . . a mouse.

We are in the age of midgets. The only good news is that we got here in one piece because there was another age -- one of great statesmen who had both imagination and courage.

As he said goodbye to me on the phone, Mr. Kennan added just one more thing: ''This has been my life, and it pains me to see it so screwed up in the end."

END QUOTE

http://www.nytimes.com/1998/05/02/opinion/foreign-affairs-now-a-word-fro...

Bottom Line:

Post-the Old Cold War, (a) "we" took up the "expansionist" mission (and, thus, incurred all the strategic -- and domestic and foreign policy -- problems and difficulties that are inherent to/that are part and parcel to such an approach) and (b) "they" -- in reaction to our such "expansionist" approach -- happily took up the "containment" and "roll back" missions (and, thus, reaped all the strategic -- and domestic and foreign policy -- advantages that come with same)?

Re: the perils of "expansionism," could this have been avoided/were we adequately "warned?" In this regard, note this from Paul Nitze in 1993:

"The lessons of the past era and the needs of the future argue that the fundamental U.S. foreign policy goal should be accommodating and protecting diversity within a general framework of world order. We should seek a global climate in which a large array of political groupings can exist, each with its own, perhaps eccentric, ways. ... The overriding principle must be a respect for sovereignty: there should be no effort to impose political, economic, or social preferences on others."

http://www.au.af.mil/au/awc/awcgate/whitehouse/nsc68/nsc68.pdf (Go all the way down to Page 131.)