Geopolitics is back again in full force. The rise of the new competitors in Asia, India and China, has fueled the revival of the new-old geostrategic thinking. Much of it is, as before, great power competition. Robert Kagan has once more provided an elegant argument for the rise of geopolitics (The Return of History and the End of Dreams, 2008). Western opinion after the collapse of the Soviet Union thought Russia and China would soon converge with the United States around democratic norms. That was of course mostly leftist thinkers who in the 1980s believed in a slow change in the Soviet Union into a democratic system. Now it seems to be, according similar so called experts, time for China to change slowly, politically that is. Instead there has been a revival of nationalism on mainland China. The Communist regime in Peking is today actually more nationalistic than communist.
The United States differs widely from the other powers of significance. It has a classical liberal view of believing in spreading democracy. There is however also the view that America is exceptional. The rise of the United States has indeed been exceptional from a small assembly of colonies on the American east coast to perhaps the strongest hegemon world history has ever seen.
Kagan argues that it is time for the large democracies of the West to form a league against the group of autocratic and totalitarian regimes that is forming. One of the main purposes of the league would be to join the United States in promoting democracy world wide.
Important is also the just claim of Kagan that the United States is a guarantor of the present international order: political, military, and economic. If Kagan is right we seem to be heading once more for the great game of the past turn of the century. There is one great difference, however. At that time the players were mainly the great European powers. They are all now on the side of the United States (although sometimes there is a bit of anti-American rhetoric).
There remain three dangerous players on the autocratic side: Iran, China and Russia. Iran is under challenge by the democracies. The regime in Teheran seems presently weak. A change of regime might mean a fast reduction of the threat to the West. A democratic Iran would after regime change rather be on the side of the West. China might not be as formidable a regime as commonly believed. Many predict a slowdown of the Chinese economy in 2010. A collapse of China further on is not impossible. Remains Russia, which is not a very strong country economically and demographically. The only greater problem could be a possible Eurasian alliance between Russia and China. This seems however to be prevented by an age old rivalry in Eurasia and a downtward trend of both regimes.
Based on such an optimistic interpretation it seems to be time for American conservatives with their European partners to create a tough new strategy. There is a new (but old) type of international conflict out there that needs to be addressed: great power rivalry. So in addition to the onslaught of Islamism in primarily the Middle East there is the autocratic group to contend with. Fortunately the democracies have several powerful friends in Asia: Japan and India to mention two of them.
It seems the recession will go away in the West during 2010. The U.S. remains the science and technology leader of the world although other nations are gaining ground. American lead in innovative activity is clear. In spite of the Chinese forward move researchers in China accounted for only 1 % of U.S. patents granted in 2008.
In a recent book, Sonic Boom, Globalization at Mach Speed (2009) Gregg Easterbrook is arguing that despite the recession, world economy is going forward like never before. Worldwide prosperity and innovation cannot be brought to a halt,
the larger global economic trend for three decades was rising prosperity for almost everyone, accelerating growth, higher living standards for average people, better education, increased ease of communication, low inflation, few shortages, and more personal freedom across most of the family of nations.
The last generation has seen the greatest advances in the human condition, ever. We are richer, we live longer, we are smarter, we are safer, we are more productive, and we are freer. The recession was bad but it will come to an end.
No doubt the West will benefit most in the new economic upturn. Combined with the upper hand the democracies of the West have with their great power allies in Asia the new great game is bound to lead to a bright future for freedom.