It doesn’t matter if one is discussing the “rebalance to Asia,” the rebalance in Europe with Russia, or even the rebalance in the greater Middle East, America is in reality carrying out its plan of containment through the balance of power. In regard to this, we absolutely must have a clear understanding.
How to look at and deal with the present state of the world’s “great chess game” is a question that politicians and strategists most certainly ought to focus on and research. Of special importance is that in recent years, international flashpoints have been springing up frequently, their growth erratic and difficult to predict. There has been sudden change in situations where there was once only stalemate, in addition to the rapid arrival of unheralded turmoil. Sometimes, a great power will unexpectedly deliver a master stroke, appearing to consistently come out on top. And at the same time, another great power might act tit-for-tat, greatly sapping its rival’s vitality. In an international climate that has grown increasingly unstable despite efforts to bring order, a situation that defies comprehension, it is still as important as ever to understand what strategic ploys the “lone superpower” America has up its sleeves. In the effort to develop and protect the peace and security of China’s international environment, the importance of this understanding goes without saying.
Historically, America’s international strategy has two major traditions. The first is represented by Theodore Roosevelt, and the second is represented by Woodrow Wilson, their thinking forming the basis for what are now known as the schools of realism and idealism. In actuality, looking at previous American administrations, these two schools of thought were not mutually exclusive, and were used concurrently. The only real difference between them is that when those in power found that their global power had limits, they were more inclined to realism, and when the government was in a position of great power, it was inclined toward idealism.
Currently, in a situation where the United States has not given up exporting its value system, it appears that America has increased its emphasis on geopolitics. American strategists have felt that in the wake of the rise of the developing nations and the invigoration of the Asian economies, America’s comprehensive national power has already gone into relative decline. Compared to the height of America’s superpower status at the conclusion of the Cold War, the present state of affairs is a different beast entirely. Despite the fact that at present the United States still engages in frequent displays of its “muscle” and aggressive side, America cannot flaunt its superiority everywhere, nor wantonly squander its power as it could in days past. This has forced America to come down from the heights it enjoyed during its victory around the globe at “the end of history,” transitioning to an international strategy that makes frugal use of its power. Consequently, geopolitical considerations have led to the gradual ascendance of realism as the school of choice for the American government.
Some great American thinkers, such as Henry Kissinger and Zbigniew Brzezinski, have strong admiration for the geopolitical tenant put forth in the 20th century by Halford Mackinder, the claim being that whoever controls “the great land bridge of Asia” controls the world. These great thinkers believe that the Asian continent is America’s most important geopolitical objective. In their view, Asia is the largest continent in the world and functions as a geopolitical axis. To have mastery over the countries of Asia would allow one to control two of the most advanced and economically developed regions in the world; the other being North America, a region undoubtedly controlled by the United States. Additionally, controlling Asia would naturally lead to the control of Africa, turning the Western Hemisphere and Oceania into peripheral regions to this geographic center.
Asia makes up three-fourths of the world’s population. In addition, its gross national product and known and unknown resources also exceed three-fourths of the world’s overall totals. This is especially prevalent in the area around the Asian tectonic plate, which has already become the region with the most economic vitality. Consequently, for an America that refuses to relinquish global hegemony, it has not been able to avoid making the struggle for control of Asia into the focus of its geopolitical strategy. Naturally, things are just as Brzezinski says: “American hegemony means exercising decisive influence… this differs from the old empires in that this does not involve direct control.” This requires the use of incredibly brilliant strategic techniques, and “deep thought on the deployment of American power.” *
Previously, America has used the method of garrisoning troops in the lands of its allies in Asia, holding access to the sea at both ends of the Asian continent. From this the United States gained control over the politics and economies of Asia. At present, everything is in flux, forcing America to once again make adjustments to its policies due to having overextended its power. Now it cannot avoid increasingly placing its hopes in developing the capabilities of its allies, following the example of the British Empire’s strategy of maintaining the balance of power in Europe. America is using “smart power” foreign policy, doing its best to use a little to control a lot. Naturally, this “balance of power” is the same as its counterpart, differing from the British Empire’s choice to avoid taking sides. America fixes its eyes on maintaining the regional balance of power in its strategy. On this note, we can tentatively call this strategy “controlling the balance of power through a strategy of containing the situation.”
Currently, America’s plans for its strategic direction and deployments have already become quite clear, with the primary focus being on containing three strategic opponents and formulating the balance of power for three major geopolitical regions. The first is the balance of power between China and the Pacific region. China is a socialist country that has persistently rejected an American style system and American values, pursuing a road of modernization and national strengthening that is in line with its own national characteristics. Following 40 years of intense construction, China’s economy has already jumped to the number two spot worldwide, and is now approaching number one. Even though the Chinese government has repeatedly insisted that it has no intention of challenging America and will never pursue hegemony, China has nevertheless made America feel threatened, restless and very worried. In response, America has taken great pains and attacked the situation from two ends. The first approach is the relinquishment of restraints on Japan’s military affairs, inciting claimants to the South China Sea to make trouble. At the same time, America plots to string together nations such as Japan, South Korea, the Philippines, Australia and perhaps even Vietnam as a means of encircling and containing China’s North and Southeast Asian security systems. Additionally, America is supporting India as a way to balance China in the Southwest. Naturally, seeking to bring about these strategic goals will not be easy.
The other means America uses are economic, sparing no effort to promote the Trans-Pacific Partnership, resolutely placing China outside of this group and plotting to delay China’s economic development. America’s wishful thinking is vested in a plan to use Asia’s power in response to China’s rise, with itself acting as a supporting force to its allies or as a biased intercessor as a means to realize the so-called “rebalance to Asia.” This move will manifest itself as the containment of China through the balance of power in the Asia-Pacific.
The second focus is on Russia and the balance of power in Europe. Although the Russian economy is already a first-rate power and poses no threat to the United States, Russia’s military strength still ranks second internationally, especially in terms of nuclear power. Russian nuclear strength is quite similar to that of the United States, and Russia functions as the sole nuclear power that could annihilate the United States. Add to that Russia’s highly ambitious geopolitical goals. With a world dominating superpower complex and historical tradition, Putin is a political strongman that is not afraid to act. Currently Russia appears to have no intention of cozying up to the West. All of this has forced the United States to deploy troops in Europe, requesting that the European countries in NATO take on more responsibility. Acting as a means of encircling Russia in Europe, this is another element of America’s strategy of containment through the balance of power.
The third focus is on Iran and the balance of power in the greater Middle East. The Middle East, North Africa and the Persian Gulf region comprises a geopolitical hub for the world that is also an important energy source. As a result, it has historically functioned as an arena for the clash of swords and the struggle for hegemony among great powers. The political situation for this region is extremely complicated; the countries here all seem to be made up of multiple nationalities and religions, with an extremely unstable political situation. There is the conflict between Israel and the Arab world, the internal struggle between Sunni and Shiite Muslims and the clash between the religious extremist groups al-Qaida and the Islamic State. The conflicts are complex and numerous, the factions are many and interlocking. A multitude of forces unceasingly changes and overlaps. Even though America, Russia and several European powers have operated there for many years, they have found it difficult to realize their objectives. To sum up the moral of directly dispatching troops to Iraq and Libya: one needs to plot out the conservation of strategic resources. After the first steps were taken to resolve the Iranian nuclear problem, America plotted to unite the Gulf nations in a strategic alliance that would stand up to Iran. They make up a part of America’s strategy in that region to achieve containment through the balance of power.
In the recent course of world history, first there was Cardinal Richelieu, then there was the British Empire. Both were excellent geopolitical players, skilled at the balancing of power, always placing themselves outside of the organization that was used to balance power, and acting as a “seesaw.” When the balance became tilted, they cast themselves as a counterweight to the more powerful side as a means to maintain the balance of power. America finds itself distinct from these situations. For most of the Cold War, while the world objectively found itself in a bipolar balance of power, this situation was a matter of who could defeat the other. Up until the point when America, China and the Soviet Union found themselves in a tripolar situation, Nixon was actually adopting and acting out a policy of strategic balance of power. But when all was said and done, what he was trying to establish was the containment of the Soviet Union, and not the classic strategic balance of power. This situation persists to this day; no matter if it is the “rebalance to Asia” or if it is the rebalance in the greater Middle East, America is still carrying out a policy of containment through the balance of power. We cannot afford not to have a clear understanding of this policy.
*Editor’s note: Although accurately translated and attributable to Zbigniew Brzezinski, the exact quotations could not be independently verified.
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