Wednesday, September 28, 2005

The Next New World Order

This is an early draft of a piece I'm preparing for some woebegone segment of the mainstream media. I've pilfered many of these ideas from "real" political science guys. Some of them are semi-original. Please feel free to critique, suggest, castigate, what have you…

There is no miracle solution in Iraq. If there were, Rumsfeld and his generals would have stumbled across it by now. Come civil war or high water, Iraqis need to ratify their constitution in October and hold their elections in December. And America needs to bring its troops home so we can get organized to face the next new world order.

Another tectonic shift in global power is already taking place. American's days as a "hegemon" are over. We must take prudent steps to ensure we emerge as a "first among political entities." To do so, we need to have a basic grasp of the coming redistribution of power.

A quick look at global gross domestic products suggests we'll soon live in a world with four distinguishable but interconnected tiers of state, super-state, and non-state players: major powers, balance powers, regional powers, and wild cards.

The major powers will be the United States, the European Union, and China. They will establish (reestablish) geographic spheres of primary influence that will look much like the ones that existed prior to World War I. America, for instance, will exert direct influence over and area similar to the one it dominated after the Spanish American War.

England, Russia, and Japan will be key balance powers that exert influence globally, but usually in loose alliance with one or more of the major powers.

Regional powers like India, South Korea, and Malaysia will be the third tier. Their main influences will be somewhat limited to the geographic spheres of their nearest major power, but they too will have effect on certain aspects of the entire global scene (as witness the "brain drain" of American technology jobs to India).

The wild cards will include The Middle East, North Korea, and Africa.

The Middle East is a veritable herd of cats. Post-U.S. Iraq occupation, it could fall into a serendipitous age of relative peace at one extreme or a decades long era of "third world war" at the other. How the Middle East evolves will determine the extent to which the other tiers can coax it into the 21st century or will need to contain it until the region matures sufficiently.

The North Korea situation will likely remain much as it is. The major and balance powers will play a containment game of stick and carrot until North Korea matures and stabilizes.

Africa, I don't know. Henry Kissinger called it "the loaded gun pointed at the South Pole." Barring some truly unexpected phenomenon (like the discovery of extra-terrestrial intelligence), the subcontinent will remain the world's orphan. It may be the best the tiered powers can do to keep it from becoming the annex to a chaotic Middle East.

The major and balance powers will compete and cooperate in the economic realm. Arms races and conflicts among them will be rare; not necessarily because of a breakout of international brotherly love, but because as America's Iraq experience has illustrated, modern symmetric warfare has become an utterly counterproductive means of pursuing national aims.

Economy will be the primary instrument of power for the regional entities as well, though they may cling to armed force as a way of coping with neighboring wild cards.


Though economy will be the primary engines of the major and balance powers, they will also maintain a modicum of military force as a means of keeping the wild cards corralled. And given that the United States presently outspends the rest of the world combined on defense, it will retain the lead in "armed diplomacy." But America will need to cut its arsenal to a realistic minimum in order to stay competitive economically.

"Expert" opinions to the contrary, we do not need to build a bigger Army. We would only need a larger land force to fight more wars like the one in Iraq. And if the Iraq war taught us anything, it's that we don't need to fight any more wars like that one.

For the time being, we'll need to maintain sufficient land power to deter or repel an invasion of South Korea from the north, and keep enough air and naval power to dissuade or interdict a Chinese invasion of Taiwan. Keep in mind, though, that we won't have to do these things alone. Both South Korea and Taiwan have built up defense forces over decades for the sole purpose of countering the specific threats they face.

America will also retain the bulk of the nuclear deterrence arsenal. Ballistic missile defense may prove a fiscally superior alternative to deterrence at some point in the future, but not before significant technological breakthroughs are achieved.


The next new world order will depend on the major and balance powers resolving two key issues, and resolving them fairly quickly.

First is their dependence on Middle East oil. Unless the big powers wean themselves from this energy requirement, they will find it difficult to tame or contain this wild card region.

Second--and this is important to everyone in the upper power tiers--America must transition to a peacetime economy. We have been on a fiscal war footing since Pearl Harbor. Given the ubiquitous influence and power the military-industrial-congressional complex has consolidated over the past sixty some years, changing the economy will be a daunting task. But I'm convinced it’s a necessary undertaking, and an achievable one.
If America truly is dependent on a half-trillion dollar annual input from the federal government to run it's economic engine, there are plenty of things we can pour tax dollars into besides weapons. Rebuilding our national infrastructure (particularly along the Gulf Coast) and undertaking a complete makeover of our energy system are two good places to start.


  1. Very well-said, sir.

    We'll need some serious leadership, over a number of years, to make that transition to peacetime economy.

    I like the Montana governor's line on coal-to-diesel, for example:

  2. Anonymous4:50 PM

    I tend to wonder about the UK being in the second tier, though. I think for several reasons it will be slowly assimilated as a non-confederated junior partner, allied in a fashion similar to Oceania's "Airfield One" in Orwell's 1984.

    I also wonder whether India, with its vast population and (anticipated) growth zoom through participation in the 21st century technological explosion might find itself economically strong enough (and thereby militarily powerful enough) to dominate much of Southwest Asia, beyond the sub-continent. While it may have some serious scarcity in some of the materials needed for heavy industry growth, it could quite easily extend its economic and political control through Malaysia, the east Indies and all those island areas which are most likely mineral-rich.

    Other than those two minor quibbles, I think you're onto a really interesting think-piece, jeff. Congratulations.


  3. Jeff,

    Yeah, we need SERIOUS leadership to guide us throug these waters. Not the talking point cowboys we've had recently.


    You bring up some excellent points. I'm taking a "snapshot" of the present situation, and don't pretend to assert that things won't stay fluid. I'll probably write more about this tomorrow.

    Thanks for the input.


  4. There is the global competition for oil and China's rapidly expanding energy needs. That could generate a significant crisis between the major powers.

    I don't know very much about China's leadership so I don't know what they are likely to do. Perhaps you could include a brief comment on their ideology/political viewpoint?

  5. If the big powers wean themselves from oil then what will be the point of world order?

    Sure right now it seems like there is so much globalization but a lot of it is based on trade imbalances that cannot be sustained.

    The steady state for any nation based world order has to be large mostly independant blocks of power that don't really need each other. Or nations take a back seat to class warfare.

  6. Planning to cross-post this? Great post, btw.

  7. Great post - I've been wondering a little too much lately what the country would have been like had Carter won reelection and the US had begun to shrug off its oil dependency....

  8. Lots of great feedback, gang, thanks.

  9. Parting shot: China looks at $24bn coal-to-oil plan as Beijing bets on oil price staying high

  10. Smedley Butler10:35 AM

    A very interesting analysis. However, I disagree with your hypothesis that arms races will be few and far between amongst the "major powers". Military development, necessary or not, seems likely to continue for several reasons:

    1)Military superiority, even just perceived military superiority, will be viewed by the major powers as essential to maintaining their sphere of influence.

    2) Institutional memory and the Five Monkey Syndrome apply. Governments will insist on developing new and better weapons systems because that's what they've always done, that's what everyone's always done, and they'll worry that if they don't, the others will and they'll be out-flanked by a rival. Take, for instance, China's recent efforts to improve its Navy, including acquiring aircraft carriers.

    3) I find it highly unlikely that the military-industrial complex will simply roll over and allow itself to be dismantled. There's a reason America has had a war economy since Pearl Harbor: because it's a major cash cow for a lot of key players.

    So, unfortunately, I fear arms races will continue to be a fundamental component of foreign policy for a long time to come, particularly as non-renewable energy sources continue to be depleted without viable alternatives.

  11. I hear what you're saying, Smedley, but why isn't anyone racing with us now. We spend as much on defense as the rest of the world combined. China (number 2) spent $68 billion in 2004, compared to out $400 billion and change.

    Not even close.

    "A" carrier, even if they can actually pull off making and operating one (which I doubt) doesn't really do all that much for them vis-a-vis our Navy.


  12. Anonymous12:24 PM

    Uh, you've just re-structured the world, without mentioning South America!

    And good luck with talking to the people in the 'upper power tier' about a peace-based economy. I've found that, on liberal blogs, any mention of the unsustainability of the war economy is met with the polite silence usually accorded to the total idiot.

    Dwight Eisenhower said once that the people of the world would eventually make such a strong demand for peace that the leaders would have to let them have it. As true now as it was then.

    serial catowner

  13. Not sure exactly where the "total idiot" comment is aimed, but I'm here to tell you that sans America, the upper tier has already steered toward a peace based economy.


  14. Referring to Africa as a subcontinent shows the bias we in the northern hemisphere operate under. From space, whence cometh E.T. intelligence, there is no north or south, east or west. As for calling it the world's orphan, unfortunately, you couldn't have picked a more poignant title.

  15. Superb point, Cynthia, and remarkably bad turn of phrase on my part.

    Maybe "sub-Saharan Africa" would have been more apt.

    I'll be sure to make that change.

    Appreciate the tip.


  16. Anonymous6:09 PM

    What I meant was, when I say that the military spending can't go on forever, there is a polite silence, my point evidently being considered too stupid to even be worth refuting.

    I certainly agree that outside the U.S. the peace economy is the goal. Unfortunately, the U.S. has about 10,000 nuclear warheads.

    However, as I hinted, it's hard to really understand an estimate that leaves out South America.

    serial catowner

  17. I noticed the omission of Latin America but they're really not a driving force in world events, imo. Yes, there's oil/poverty/instability but their governments are not as bonkers as the Rwandans, for example.

    As for decreasing U.S. military expenditures, well, you can't spend if you're bankrupt and all your credit cards (Asian central banks) are cancelled. I thought Jeff was saying that we ought to try to fix the problem before we're screwed.

    I'm too cynical to believe that today's politicians will behave in a patriotic manner. The problem with my viewpoint is that I've given up the fight to save America (well, mostly given up).

    Allowing the vultures to pick at the corpse of America is not going to solve anything.

  18. Anonymous10:50 PM

    Jeff, I really hope you do follow through, and expand this. You've got a good think-piece here.


  19. Thanks again to all for the outstanding feedback.

    The Latin America piece is certainly something I need to flesh out. Right now, I'm seeing that part of the world as a piece of the US sphere of influence, and as TL suggests, mainly contributors to the American power engine. I might say the same for Canada... I believe, for example, that Canada and Venezuela combined account for around 25 percent of US oil imports.

    And as far as arms racing with potential major power adversaries goes, I'm convinced we can narrow that down to China, and I think China is a far more rational player than many give it credit for being.

    I much appreciate everyone's contribution to what became a rather interesting forum.