THE GREAT GEOPOLITICAL CHALLENGE confronting the United States is that the Americas are separated from Eurasia by two broad oceans. Since the end of the Second World War, from which it emerged as the undisputed global hegemon, this geopolitical challenge has required the American government to transform Western Europe into a military, economic and cultural appendage of the United States.
Had the United States failed to effect this transformation, its own economy would have faltered, and capitalism, as a global system, could very easily have collapsed. Making the nations of Western Europe part and parcel of the American economy – principally as borrowers of American dollars and consumers of American exports – was crucial to preserving the American people’s economic prosperity and, hence, the USA’s political stability.
Had the USA not launched the “Marshall Plan” for European recovery, and intervened aggressively in the domestic politics of France and Italy, it is practically certain that the formidable Communist Parties of those two countries would have come to power, bringing the whole of Europe under the tutelage of the Soviet Union.
And Great Britain?
The United States had taken a majority shareholding in Great Britain Ltd during the darkest days of 1940. In return for the US President, Franklin D. Roosevelt, keeping his country in the war, Winston Churchill, was forced to set in motion the dissolution of the British Empire.
It is likely Churchill consoled himself for this capitulation to necessity with fairy tales about a “special relationship” between the USA and Great Britain. No doubt he truly believed that in the unfolding history of the English-speaking peoples, Britain would be seen to have played the role of Ancient Greece to America’s Ancient Rome: peacefully blending its old empire into something new and altogether larger and more powerful.
The Americans would not have disagreed with the last bit, but they were never foolish enough to believe in the rest. Since becoming the world’s banker during the First World War, US capitalism had been aching to get its hands on the protected markets and resources of the geographically vast British Empire. The only thing the Americans were willing to share with the British was the English language.
As the Brits found out to their cost during the Suez Crisis of 1956, the sun had well and truly set on the British Empire. It had become an expensive joke. The British lion was stuffed.
Which still left the USA facing the problem of Eurasia. The Soviet Union and China might be broken and destitute after years of oppression and war, but beneath the graves and the rubble lay resources that could make them rich enough to one day compete with the United States for the rest of the world’s allegiance.
The geopolitical planners in Washington understood that American hegemony could only be sustained by making damn sure that neither Russia nor China ever arrived at that strategically critical position. What they were in the process of doing to the British Empire, they were determined, eventually, to do to the Russians and the Chinese: break them into pieces and transfer their markets and resources into the safekeeping of Uncle Sam.
By 1991 it looked as though America’s geopoliticians had done it. The Soviet Union had collapsed, Eastern Europe was theirs for the taking, and the People’s Republic of China had allowed itself to be transformed into a giant American factory. No wonder a US State Department analyst, Francis Fukuyama, had jubilantly penned a paper entitled “The End of History”.
But, the clever boys and girls in the State Department, and their moronic friends in the military and the CIA, had not factored in the extraordinary historical resilience of the Russians and the Chinese. Henry Ford had told his fellow Americans that “history is bunk” – and they had believed him. Drunk on the heady brew of their “unipolar world”, US geopoliticians had called their global victory too soon. Eventually, after twenty years of getting its ass kicked in the Middle East, the United States had to confront the inconvenient truth that Eurasia wasn’t beaten yet – not by a long shot.
Inevitably, Russia and China had produced leaders in possession of the requisite political steel to exploit the Americans’ mistaken assumption that they could command the rest of the world to dance – and it would dance. Only when it was too late did Washington understand that Moscow and Beijing has music of their own, and dance-steps with which America was entirely unfamiliar. In the global edition of Dancing With The Stars, Vladimir Putin and Xi Jinping made Bush, Obama, Trump and Biden look like flat-footed rubes.
Snapping out of their premature imperial bender, the Americans did their best to re-energise the Drang nach Osten (Drive to the East) that had been set in motion by the Soviet Union’s collapse. The United States’ geopolitical catspaw, Nato, had been expanded all the way to the borders of the Russian Federation. Washington and its surrogates were stirring up trouble in China’s western border province of Xinjiang. Bait the Bear and Poke the Dragon had become the only games in town.
But these were no sand-blasted Middle-eastern dictators they were facing. Russia and China were nuclear powers. Getting rid of Putin and Xi would require something the Americans have never been over-endowed with – guile.
Regardless, they laid a trap for Putin, baited it with Ukraine, and waited. If Russia took the bait, the United States and Nato would unleash, as one pundit put it: “an economic and cultural Barbarossa”. And if Xi was foolish enough to come to Putin’s aid, then they were quite willing to declare full-scale economic war on the People’s Republic as well. A geopolitical twofer!
Except, the imposition of crippling sanctions cuts both ways. The USA is pinning all its hopes of finally subduing Eurasia on both Russia and China succumbing to the impact of the West’s economic warfare before it blows back into Europe, Africa, the Middle East, South Asia and, ultimately, and perhaps a lot faster than Washington anticipates, into America itself.
The Russian Federation has released a map of the world showing all those nations who have declared themselves “Enemies of Russia” by joining the economic blockade. The most striking thing about the map is that it identifies not only Putin’s (and potentially Xi’s) enemies, but also those parts of the world inhabited by white people.
If Eurasia survives the sanctions; and if, in the process, it creates a new economic order from which the great American hegemon and its hangers-on are excluded; then it will not be the USA that wins the “Great Game”, it will be Russia and China, the masters of Eurasia.
Because, as the inventor of geopolitics, Sir Halford Mackinder (1861-1947) wrote more than a century ago:
Who rules East Europe commands the Heartland; [Russia] Who rules the Heartland commands the World Island; [Eurasia plus Africa] Who rules the World Island commands the World.
This essay was originally posted on The Daily Blog of Friday, 8 April 2022.