Is it possible to detoxify the United States’ relations with Russia, China and the Muslim world? Is there a grand strategy that could maintain the honor of America and at the same time introduce stability in areas of the globe fraught with tension?
With a new administration taking hold in DC, new ideas abound. Among them is the offering of a grand strategy, i.e. an ideology that transcends and yet ameliorates competitive states. An example often cited is the Congress of Vienna (1814 to 1815), chaired by Klemens Wenzel von Metternich, which provided a long-term plan for the resolution of conflict resulting from the French Revolution and the Napoleonic Wars. Despite conflicting claims and regional wars, the Congress accord did maintain relative tranquility for Europe till World War I, through an elaborate balance of power arrangement.
This model has reemerged with Alexander Dugin’s The Fourth Political Theory and the work of several U.S. political theorists from the Kissinger School of Thought. While different in content, all rely on the supposition that “realists” can determine the fate of global affairs based on a system of “recognition and acceptance.” Dugin, for example, contends that if the U.S. were to accept Russian interests in Crimea and Syria, harmony with the U.S. might emerge.
More significant is what Dugin describes as “regional globalization,” what is usually referred to as spheres of influence. Presumably that would include an Anglo-American sphere, a European sphere and a Eurasian sphere including Russia, Eastern Europe, the Baltics and Iran. Dugin is not alone, in my judgment, albeit the carving out of spheres may vary from one philosopher to the next.
It is also presumed that this reconfiguration would occur peacefully through democratic means, on the order of a twenty-first century Congress of Vienna. This, of course, would be a metaphysical shift in world affairs were it to be anything more than a utopian fantasy.
But a fantasy it is. Clearly this idea would legitimate Putin’s imperial vision violating the sovereignty of several states. Second, it is hard to believe eastern Europe and the Baltic states would willingly accede to antebellum Russian domination. Third, the Chinese are already engaged in the subtle, but discernible effort to convert the Pacific Ocean into a Chinese Basin. Alarm bells throughout Asia have already gone off. Yet these arguments stand in stark contrast to America’s core belief in a liberal international order guided by an Enlightenment faith in individual liberty, the rule of law and the free market. Should the U.S. concede on this front in order to acquire global equilibrium, the tenets of international liberalism will be interred.
There are pragmatists in the U.S. and elsewhere who are willing to sacrifice liberty for a secure world order. In an age of weapons of mass destruction, this notion has its appeal. Moreover, it can be argued that the West has lost its commitment to liberal ideals. A change in demography, a fatigue with the burden of freedom, an ignorance about the history of the West conspire to undermine faith in our founding tenets.
Now come the grand design scholars seeking a strategy for order that regard liberal ideals as an impediment to peace or perhaps a peaceful design. Arguably the major backlash can be found in those who embrace a Judeo-Christian mind set in which individual rights are still considered the essence of Western societies. Can this mind set prevail? The answer to this question lies in the education of the young, of those who may be like Ray Bradbury’s characters in Fahrenheit 451 memorizing the works of great western books that have fallen in desuetude. This is a slim reed on which to save us from contemporary pragmatists, but it is the only one that offers hope for the future.