This blog (adapted from earlier blogs from Temporanea) was prompted by Bruce's blog on Europe and arms sales to China.
I have been pondering the hypothesis that the XIX century Great Game is about to be replayed in the XXI century, but on a larger scale (see here for a good description of the earlier Game). The discussion of arms sales by Europe to China, with the USA bristling at the prospect, is a preview of what is to come.
My hypothesis is based on certain assumptions. First, the new Great Game, like the old, would be played and won through diplomacy, espionage and with subtlety, rather than with overwhelming shows of force. My judgment is that the USA has a poor record in both diplomacy and espionage and that subtlety is not its strong suit.
On the other hand, the Europeans, Chinese and Japanese have a very strong record, when it comes to using state powers and home-owned corporations to spy and plot to their own advantage.
Second, the USA has economic and military might on its side, but these advantages are waning in importance. This is because by the middle of the century, at the latest, Europe and China/Japan will match the USA economically and could, if they chose to do so, match the USA militarily. Also, in a globalised economy military power must be used sparingly, to minimise the risk of irreparably damaging the economic and financial flows on which all developed nations depend.
The attitude the USA is displaying vis a vis Iran and North Korea is illustrative of this point. These are not developed countries, but a war with either of these nations could have catastrophic implications for the world economy. This could not be said of Iraq or Afghanistan. Wars between countries that are capable of fighting back and are in pivotal geopolitical spaces are going to be avoided like the plague by anyone who understands the likely consequences.
Wars between developed countries are going to become even less likely later in the XXI century than they are in its first decade. After all, excluding the Falklands aberration (if Argentina in the 1980s rated as a first world economy, which is itself doubtful), the last war between developed countries was World War 2, which ended sixty years ago.
This is not dissimilar, in a way, from what Samuel P Huntington concluded in The Clash of Civilisations and the Remaking of World Order, though I disagree profoundly with many of his assumptions, a point to which I will return another time.