Tuesday, December 31, 2013


We are supposed to get accustomed to a tailored worldview wherein the remnants of post-World War II coexist with a number of ad hoc "avatars," which are supposed to represent new regional or other specific interests.  A third category of non-state actors and the mestastizing Al-Qaeda further complicate any rational overview.  This shortened summary is totally misleading. The former great powers cling to the leftovers of a system which is actually still working (UN Security Council and specialized UN organisations, the World Bank and the IMF) . Outsiders  prefer to be become part of the Institutional architecture (Security Council) they dispize rather than trying unsuccessfully to wipe it out, ending up ingloriously outsmarted and devoid of alternatives, which are by the way beyond the reach of their expertise.

The "others," inter alia the BRICS , the OAU or the Arab League, lack cohesion and are more preoccupied undermining or exploiting each other, than formulating a comprehensive model for cooperation. Their impact remains marginal, if not non-existent. This being said, they can do a lot of harm by diverting the potentially positive to the structurally negative. On most issues, self-interest undermines common determination.  Hence it becomes urgent for like-minded countries (to a point) to accelerate the negotiations which could lead to the TPP (Transpacific partnership) and a free-trade agreement between the EU and the USA. China could join the TPP by the way, because economy and trade are becoming strategically more important than any other alternative and China shouldn't be ostracized.  Besides, this might contribute to lower or normalize China's ambitions in the South and East China Seas. After all, Beijing has agreed to join the US-hosted RIMPAC next year, the most ambitious annual international maritime exercise. Trade needs freedom of navigation!

I know that the Chinese Document 9 regarding the "seven perils" of Western ideas does not bode that well for the future.   In the end, interdependence will beat divergence, and restraint in American foreign policy will beat isolationism.  I am the first to lament the bygones from the good old Wilsonian, Atlantic or Kissinger brushstrokes, but few admit that the size of the canvass hasn't grown, while the group of painters has increased disproportionately.  At the same time, the quality of political science has taken a nose-dive.  The "old" post Berlin Wall order is under siege, conscious of the traps (as Putin lays them out so well), which are becoming "minefields" (but may come back to haunt him). China, for its part, had better control its nerves because those "anodyne" island disputes with the likes of Japan or the Philippines or Vietnam might easily get out of hand. In this category of "melodramatic" scenarios the role and responsibility of the United States remain unique. Only Washington can talk to all and has both the soft-power to induce and the hard-power to deter. Last, but not least, the fight against terrorism will be a stronger bond than any pact or agreement and could very well warm up current chilly relations.

It doesn't sound fair maybe, but the fact is that the Americans (rightly so) no longer consider the Middle East an imminent strategic imperative.  Europe, for its part, is considered as a Wodehouse nice uncle, whom you consult more out of courtesy than for any necessity other than commerce. Asia is the "Thing" and one can rightly ask the question why there is still so much travel in the sand and too little on the Silk Road. The cynics might argue that there is haste to get rid of the inconvenience (Middle East) so that there may be more room for the imperative (Asia).  The United States had better remain focused!

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